Leading article: Gang warfare and political failure

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The Independent Online

It can hardly be considered an ideal outcome of US foreign policy. What is going on in Jamaica at the moment is not far off a civil war, with more than a thousand heavily armed troops and police storming the downtown stronghold of the warlord Christopher "Dudus" Coke. The violence has erupted as the result of an attempt to extradite Mr Coke, whom Washington says is one of the world's most dangerous drug lords, but whom local people regard as a Robin Hood figure who provides them with food, pays for their children to go to school and mediates in their disputes.

For almost a year the Jamaican government of prime minister Bruce Golding has refused to extradite him, fearing that exactly this kind of mayhem would ensue. But a few days ago Mr Golding caved in to pressure from the Obama administration to prove he is serious about combating the drugs trade.

Jamaica is the largest producer of marijuana in the region and a conduit for cocaine. US policy is to choke off the drugs at source. But repeatedly, in Colombia, Mexico and now Jamaica, its clampdowns have only further destabilised unstable countries in an unstable region. The Americans would be better trying to staunch their own domestic demand for these drugs.

Jamaica does need to address the powerful organised crime networks which dominate the island. The problem is that they are intimately related to the island's political parties, which created the gangs in the 1970s to rustle up votes. The gangsters have since diversified into drug trafficking but each remains closely tied to a political party. Mr Coke's gang is linked to the governing Labour Party. It has carved out its own fiefdom in West Kingston, which includes Trenchtown, part of the prime minister's own constituency.

Since the end of Michael Manley's experiment with democratic socialism in the 1970s, a deep corruption has grown around this gang/political party nexus. In a nation with a weak civil society, and no regulations on party financing, the links between politics and the gangs have intensified. As government divested itself of its responsibilities to its citizens, many were assumed by warlords like Dudus Coke. The way to remove them is not with inner-city military assaults but with a purging of the corrupt political system. Jamaica is not a failed state so much as failed government. But the way forward is through political reform, re-socialisation and re-education. US-backed violence on the streets is not the way to begin.