The standoff over Jamaican drug lord Christopher "Dudus" Coke, who has turned a Kingston slum into his own personal bunker to avoid extradition to the U.S, has forced his country into a state of emergency.
To local law-enforcement officials, the situation is all too familiar. Coke's ultra-violent cartel, called "The Shower Posse" for its members tendency to indiscriminately shower enemies and bystanders with bullets, seized South Florida in the late-'80s.
The posse's penchant for bloodshed rivaled that of the era's notorious Colombian cocaine cowboys. "They operated without any kind of ethics or morals," says Joe Vince, a former Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent. "When they suspected that one of their members was cooperating with the authorities, they killed that individual, cut him up with a chainsaw, put him in a 50-gallon drum, and sent it to his mother in Jamaica. They relied on intimidation."
The Shower Posse, helmed by Christopher Coke's father Lester Lloyd Coke -- nicknamed "Jim Brown" -- and Vivian "Jamaican Dave" Blake, first invaded Miami in the early '80s. Initially, they trafficked only in Jamaican marijuana.
Then they started working with Colombian cocaine wholesalers, making Jamaica a trans-Atlantic rest stop for smuggling to Miami, says Broward County Sheriff Al Lamberti, who was a police captain at the time: "If you were to draw a straight line between Colombia and Florida, it goes right through Cuba or Jamaica. The Jamaicans were in a perfect position to tap into the cocaine market."
With increased profits came intensified violence. The Shower Posse terrified South Florida's Jamaican community with its trademark bullet barrages. A few of the more brazen:
- In 1985, posse hitmen open fire on a packed Fireman's Benevolent Hall in Fort Lauderdale, wounding three and killing their target-- a reggae DJ.
- That same year, gang members shot up a Bunche Park soccer match, killing pro soccer star Colin Fowles.
- The Shower Posse apparently really hated mic controllers. In 1987, they riddled with bullets the Village Inn in unincorporated Broward, once again injuring bystanders and killing a DJ who was affiliated with a rival gang.
- In 1990, two gangmembers were killed when they opened fire on twenty cops in an industrial stash house. "It was just like a gun battle in the old canyon," says Vince, who was dispatched to the shootout's aftermath.
- In 1992, four posse shooters killed four and wounded 17 at Miami nightclub Taste of the Islands.
- And in 1998, posse capo Charles "Little Nut" Miller, hiding on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts after his role in a Miami crackhouse massacre that left five dead, threatened to start randomly killing American veterinary students at a university there.
By the time Little Nut took his last stand, a RICO case had crippled Shower Posse's South Florida operation, squeezing most of their smuggling west, through Mexico. Lloyd Lester Coke died in a mysterious Jamaican prison fire in 1992 as he awaited extradition to the United States. Vivian Blake served ten years in American prison and this March died of natural causes in Jamaica.
While Colombian cowboys like Pablo Escobar sought mainly to create anarchy in their home countries to evade extradition, the Shower Posse has always been political. It aligns itself with the Jamaica Labor Party, of which the country's Prime Minister Bruce Golding is a member -- which may explain Golding's apparent hesitancy to serve Christopher Coke to the United States.
The conspiracy theory has it that the jailhouse fire that killed the elder Coke was orchestrated by Jamaican politicians nervous that he might reveal corruption in an American courthouse.
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Now the power struggle is repeating itself.
"A nation in upheaval over one person -- it shows you what kind of tentacles this guy has," Sheriff Lamberti says of the current stalemate. " It's like deja vu. This is something that I was doing with his father, and now it's happening again."
UPDATE: The deadly violence has continued to escalate in Tivoli Gardens today.