Dominican Republic Scores Record Cocaine Seizures as Trafficking Routes Change
By Dialogo January 30, 2012
Dominican drug enforcement authorities set a record for annual cocaine seizures by seizing more than 8,000 kilograms of the white powder last year — reflecting a determination by the government of President Leonél Fernandez to fight drug trafficking in the country.
Regional security expert Bruce Bagley, who’s written widely about drug trafficking in the Caribbean, said drug cartels — having been dismembered in Colombia by the $8 billion Plan Colombia — are meeting fierce resistance in Mexico under the Merida Initiative and are now rebuilding old routes in the Caribbean.
“There has been a massive increase in traffic into the Caribbean in the last two years,” said Bagley, “There is a reverse dispersion of organized crime increasingly re-establishing routes that were previously in place.”
The country’s geographic location also makes it vulnerable to drug trafficking from a number of angles, Bagley said.
“The Dominican Republic is a jumping-off point to Europe, where the market is booming and the prices are high,” he told Diálogo. “It’s on the supply route through Florida, up the East Coast into Canada and also the supply routes to West Africa, where it continues on into Europe from the South.”
Record drug bust at La Romana airport
On Dec. 15, members of the country’s Tactical Division of Sensitive Investigations (DITIS) confiscated 1,077 kilos of cocaine at La Romana airport on the country’s southeastern shore. Dutch citizen Nicolass Johannes Maria and British citizen Edgar Rowson were arrested, along with 17 members of the Dominican government’s Specialized Airport Security Corps, the Immigration Department and the National Drug Control Directorate, said spokesman Roberto Lebrón.
The cocaine likely traveled by speedboat from South America to La Romana, where it was loaded on a 24-seat Challenger jet plane that had filed a flight plan taking the jet to Antwerp, Belgium, said Lebrón.
Security officials lowered the boom on the drug-trafficking operation after 20 suitcases containing the cocaine had already been loaded on the aircraft, surprising Maria and Rowson just prior to takeoff.
Members of the immigration department were arrested under suspicion of creating conditions for trafficking by expediting the departure of the two Europeans from the Dominican Republic in return for an unspecified amount of money.
The detained members of the Specialized Airport Security Corps and National Drug Control Directorate (DNCD) are also suspected of having taken bribes for their cooperation in transporting the drugs.
DNCD chief Rolando Rosado told reporters that proceeds from the sale of the cocaine were to have been used for terrorist activities in an unnamed foreign country. According to a story posted on the directorate’s website, authorities are seeking individuals of Lebanese descent in connection with the seizure.
In October 2011, members of the DNCD made another huge bust, seizing 1,098 kilos of cocaine camouflaged as medical equipment bound for Le Havre, France, though the multimodal port of Caucedo, near Santo Domingo.
Drug kingpin extradited to Puerto Rico
Another indication of Fernández’s emerging political will to attack the drug trafficking problem was the arrest Dec. 9 of Puerto Rican drug kingpin Miguel Rivera Díaz, who had hid out in the Dominican Republic — carrying on business with impunity — for 10 years.
The Dominican National Police tracked Rivera Díaz down in a neighborhood in western Santo Domingo, arresting the drug boss as he walked out of his hideout for a haircut, according to press reports. Following his capture, Rivera was quickly returned to Puerto Rico, where he had been one of the island’s most wanted fugitives.
Rivera pocketed $40 million from the trafficking at least 2,500 kilos of cocaine through Puerto Rico over the last few months, according to official sources.