Jamaica’s prime minister met with top advisers Friday as calls mounted for him to resign over his opposition to a U.S. extradition request for an accused drug lord – a case that has raised questions about government ties to organized crime.
Prime Minister Bruce Golding has been under fire since he acknowledged this week that he authorized a lobbying firm to help the government contest the extradition of Christopher “Dudus” Coke, who presides over a barricaded neighborhood in the west Kingston area that Golding represents in parliament.
Golding has not yet publicly addressed the outcry. The leadership of his Jamaica Labor Party called an emergency meeting for Sunday in the resort city of Ocho Rios to discuss its biggest political crisis since Golding was elected in 2007.
“He is calm and in good spirits and has the full support of the Cabinet,” Information Minister Daryl Vaz said after the Cabinet meeting at Golding’s office.
At the heart of the outcry is the appearance that Golding is helping a man described by the U.S. Justice Department as one of the world’s most dangerous drug kingpins. Coke, 41, is wanted in New York on charges he smuggled drugs and guns between the two countries as leader of the notorious “Shower Posse” gang.
The calls for Golding to resign have come from opposition parties, civic groups and hundreds of islanders who have expressed outrage on Facebook and other social networking sites.
“I think there is growing grounds that he no longer has the moral authority to lead the country,” said Peter Bunting, a national security spokesman for the main opposition party, the People’s National Party.
The human rights group Jamaicans for Justice said Golding should quit because he has abused citizens’ trust and hurt the country’s international standing.
“We can no longer turn a blind eye to the nexus of politics and criminality and the deception and moral degradation that this engenders. To do so risks the capture of our democracy by criminal elements and would fail Jamaica, our children and history,” the group said in a statement.
Gang leaders in Jamaica have loose allegiances to both major parties dating to the 1970s, when political factions provided guns to intimidate elections rivals.
Since the U.S. revealed an indictment of Coke last August, Golding has led opposition to the extradition request, claiming evidence was illegally obtained. His stance has strained relations with Washington, which earlier this year questioned Jamaica’s reliability as an ally in the fight against drug trafficking.
It became a full-blown scandal on the Caribbean island of 2.8 million people after Golding told parliament Tuesday that he authorized his party to pursue a lobbying contract with the Los Angeles-based firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips. Golding, who denied any government role in the contract, said he acted in his capacity as party chief, not prime minister.
Golding said the $50,000 paid to the law firm came from party donors and not Coke.
Coke is accused of leading a gang that sold marijuana and crack cocaine in New York and elsewhere and funneled profits and weapons back to his stronghold in the Tivoli Gardens neighborhood of Kingston, a city with one of the highest homicide rates in the Western Hemisphere.
Associated Press Writer Howard Campbell in Kingston, Jamaica, contributed to this report and carried in The Washington Post