Reggae Stars Denied Visas to U.S.

The apparent visa revocations are hitting the Jamaican music scene in Southern California and elsewhere in the U.S.

The island nation is abuzz with reports that the U.S. has cancelled visas for a number of top entertainers. At least one major concert has been postponed, and some say it's all about the extradition of a politically connected drug lord. Others wonder what a Los Angeles law firm was doing in the middle of the mess.

There's not much clear about the case of Christopher Coke, but all of the allegations swirling around the suspected drug lord from Jamaica appear to be feeding a wave of immigration difficulties that's sweeping through the community of reggae musicians on the Caribbean island nation, producing a trail of confusion that's reached the dance halls of Los Angeles as well as the offices of a high-powered law firm based here.

Reports making the rounds in Jamaica say that at least five top reggae entertainers have had their U.S. visas revoked in recent months. The Jamaica Star and various blogs have reported that Bounty Killer, Beenie Man, Adonia, Ricky Trooper, and Movado have seen their permission to travel to the U.S. cancelled. Other reports say that two other well-known reggae artists — Eek-a-Mouse and Sizzla — have also had their visas revoked.

The apparent visa revocations are hitting the Jamaican music scene in Southern California and elsewhere in the U.S., according to music industry sources. Producers of the 13th Annual Seabreeze Festival, which has traditionally offered a lineup of reggae performers in Long Beach, recently said their decision to postpone the July 11 event owed in part to the "uncertainty of guaranteeing artist performance based on the current visa revocation issue surrounding Jamaican Dancehall Reggae artists."

These alleged revocations have been the subject of intense interest and speculation within the reggae community. Another Jamaican reggae star, Jah Cure, recently released a song entitled, "Save Yourself" about this very issue. Cure recently made the news for something else: Jamaican authorities busted him for possession of marijuana.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles law firm of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips is said to have signed a $400,000 contract to lobby the U.S. on behalf of the Jamaican government, with attorneys spending several months talking to officials of the Obama Administration about reasons to skip the extradition of Coke, according to the Washington Post. The government of Jamaica initially denied it ever hired Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, and the attorney who handled the contract for the law firm itself called it a misunderstanding.

Such a misunderstanding seemed to be a stretch, since the head of the law firm, Charles T. Manatt, is hardly inexperienced in international affairs. Manatt is a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, served as co-chair of the Clinton/Gore presidential campaign in 1992, and is a former ambassador to the Dominican Republic. Things got stretched a bit further when the online edition of the Jamaican Observer reported that Prime Minister Bruce Golding acknowledged the hiring of the law firm.

The whole situation appears to have made it tougher for clubs in Los Angeles and other U.S. cities line up top reggae acts — and also touched off a political storm in Jamaica. Opposition leaders are claiming that Golding is using his influence to keep Coke from facing the authorities in the U.S.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) are said to suspect Coke oversees a significant drug trafficking operation that distributes on the East Coast of the U.S. Agents contend that Coke operates a criminal organization, commonly known as the "Shower Posse," that's based in area of Kingston that is controlled by the Golding's Jamaica Labor Party (JLP).

This is not the first time that the United States has tried to prosecute a member of the Shower Posse. Vivian Blake, the co-founder of the Shower Posse, was sentenced to 28 years in U.S. federal prison in 2000. He was paroled in 2009 and deported to Jamaica, shortly thereafter. Blake died from kidney disease earlier this year. He was 53.

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This report is from The Carib Press.