Christopher Coke is a powerful figure in the Jamaican capital [Afp]
Christopher “Dudus” Coke is described by the US justice department as one of the most dangerous drug lords in the world.
From a slum stronghold in Kingston, the Jamaican capital, the 42 year-old is said to run a sprawling drug and gun running empire that reaches around the world.
On the impoverished streets of the Tivoli Gardens ghetto, one of Jamaica’s notorious “garrison” slums, Coke is revered as a man of the people who has used his vast wealth to invest in the local community and provide jobs for people who would be otherwise unemployed.
His patronage has brought him a passsionate following of slum-dwellers who have vowed to protect him at any cost.
But the alleged leader of the so-called “Shower Posse”- named for their habit of showering enemies with bullets- has attracted unwelcome attention from further afield.
US authorities accuse him of heading a ruthless and violent global network of criminals that has sold crack cocaine and marijuana on the streets of New York and have demanded his extradition so that he could be put on trial.
Known as a modest man who has largely shied away from the showmanship associated with many Jamaican kingpins, Coke rarely speaks to the media or makes public appearances.
Instead, he has exerted his influence through close ties to the ruling government of Bruce Golding, the Jamaican prime minister.
Jamaican politicians have long cultivated relationships with gangland figures, who can deliver huge blocs of votes by endorsing candidates and instructing followers from the garrisons to support them.
Golding had for months resisted US demands to extradite him.
But US authorities took a dim view of Jamaica’s failure to deliver their target, and last week Golding bowed to pressure and vowed to arrest him.
In doing so, he has severed political ties with one of his most powerful backers.
While many of the residents of Tivoli Gardens voted for Golding, their loyalties lie firmly with Coke, and they have vowed to defend the alleged kingpin with their lives as Jamaican forces hunt for him.