Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A Massacre in Jamaica

The New Yorker story that won the Livingston International Reporting Award 2011.

A Massacre in Jamaica

After the United States demanded the extradition of a drug lord, a bloodletting ensued.
by Mattathias Schwartz

Most cemeteries replace the illusion of life’s permanence with another illusion: the permanence of a name carved in stone. Not so May Pen Cemetery, in Kingston, Jamaica, where bodies are buried on top of bodies, weeds grow over the old markers, and time humbles even a rich man’s grave. The most forsaken burial places lie at the end of a dirt path that follows a fetid gully across two bridges and through an open meadow, far enough south to hear the white noise coming off the harbor and the highway. Fifty-two concrete posts are set into the earth in haphazard groups of two and three. Each bears a small disk of black metal and a stencilled number. The majority of these mark the unclaimed dead from the last days of May, 2010, when the police and the Army assaulted the neighborhood of Tivoli Gardens, in West Kingston. The rest mark the graves of paupers.
The trouble that led to the Tivoli Gardens deaths began in August, 2009, when the United States government requested the extradition of Christopher (Dudus) Coke. In the U.S., Coke stood charged in federal court of trafficking in narcotics and firearms; in Jamaica, he was known as the country’s most powerful “don,” a community leader who also runs a criminal enterprise. He lived in Tivoli, where everyone called him “president,” and, since 2001, Jamaican police had not been able to enter the neighborhood without his permission. Coke was so powerful that Prime Minister Bruce Golding spent months resisting the extradition order. But in early May, 2010, under heavy international political pressure, Golding authorized Coke’s arrest. In response, Coke converted Tivoli and nearby Denham Town into a personal fortress. Barricades of rubble and barbed wire sprang up across major intersections. Armed sentries took up posts around Tivoli’s perimeter. It looked as though Coke were preparing for war with the Jamaican state.

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