Attempts to arrest an alleged drug kingpin in Kingston, Jamaica turned into urban warfare that has left dozens dead in Tivoli Gardens, the Kingston neighborhood that has been under siege for days as the security forces battle heavily-armed gangsters defending their leader, Christopher Coke, known as Dudus.
In the midst of this violence sits St. Anne’s parish, as well as the Jesuits and the schools that they oversee. Canadian Jesuit Father Peter McIsaac, Regional Superior of the Jesuits in Jamaica, recently sent this letter to the New England Province of the Society of Jesus. Since 1929, the New England Jesuits have overseen the Jamaica Mission for the Society.
Below is a message received by the New England Province of the Society of Jesus from Jesuit Father Peter McIsaac, Regional Superior, Jamaica regarding the Jesuits in Jamaica:
Many thanks for your concern and prayers for the Jesuits in Jamaica, and for the stability of the country at this time.
Over the past few months tensions have escalated between inner city “garrison” communities, particularly those in West Kingston (Tivoli Gardens and Denham Town), and the Jamaican government over the U.S. request for the extradition of Christopher “Dudus” Coke, one of the most powerful criminal “dons” in Jamaica, a man with strong links to crime in the U.S., Canada and the U.K.
After a political crisis over a week ago in which the Prime Minister apologized for his exposed connection to a legal contract intended to protect the West Kingston strongman, the extradition papers were signed. The network of Tivoli Gardens and Denham Town gunmen in reaction erected road blocks and barricaded the two communities in an effort to frustrate the execution of the warrant for the arrest of Coke.
On Tuesday, just a short distance from St. Anne’s Church and schools, an army vehicle that attempted to clear a roadblock was assaulted by gunman and made a retreat. The roadblocks were intensified by the local gunmen, and by Saturday morning there was no road access to the two communities (in which St. Anne’s is located). The St. Anne’s Infant, Primary and High Schools were closed Thursday and Friday.
On Sunday, the police attempted a preliminary incursion into the communities, but were repelled, and in retaliation the Hannah Town Police Station (about two hundred meters from the Church) was overtaken and burned. Two other police stations were attacked and bombed. The Prime Minister announced a limited state of emergency.
On Monday, May 24, the army began their offensive. The gun battles continued for eight hours, and it seems that they have successfully recaptured the communities. One soldier and two policeman have been killed, and many more have been injured. There is no official count of the civilian dead (including the gunmen), but given the length and intensity of the gun battles, it seems as though the casualties will be very high. Gun battles were often accompanied by the bomb explosions.
This morning, the soldiers are out in full force, and going from corner to corner. There is sporadic gun fire, and no one is permitted on the road.
Peter McIsaac and John Sullivan have been at St. Anne’s Rectory throughout the conflict, and remain confined to the house, but are fine. Chris Llanos and John O’Brien are not far away on St. George’s College at the novitiate community, and are also fine. We thank you for your continued prayers for peace in West Kingston, and for the safety of our Jesuits here.