Dominican Republic ups fight against narcotics, organized crime

By Dialogo
October 16, 2013

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic – The early October seizure of more than a metric ton of cocaine by Dominican counter-narcotics agents is another sign of the Caribbean country’s success in fighting transnational organized crime groups.
The Caribbean’s biggest transhipment point for illicit drugs going to the United States and Europe, the Dominican Republic also is leading the way in the battle against drug smuggling.
With a series of recent seizures, Dominican authorities said they are on pace to break the record nine tons of cocaine seized in 2012.
Maj. Gen. Julio César Souffront Velázquez, president of the National Directorate for Drug Control (DNCD), recently said Dominican counter-narcotics forces are “committed not to allowing drug trafficking and its tentacles take ownership of a society that aspires to follow the path of healthy and peaceful development.”
He said various arms of Dominican law enforcement were working together against drug smuggling, which has resulted in a series of successful counter-narcotics operations.
On Oct. 9, the authorities seized more than a ton of cocaine from a small boat 14 nautical miles off the country’s southern coast in another major raid. Agents arrested three men after a counter-narcotics operation involving aerial, maritime and terrestrial arms of the Dominican military.
Aboard the blue, bi-motor Eduardoño vessel, agents found 1,060 packets that tested positive as cocaine, making the 1,110.5-kilogram shipment one of the largest seized by Dominican authorities in months, according the National Institute of Forensic Sciences (INACIF).
Miguel Medina, a spokesperson for the DNCD, said the operation required coordination among the Dominican Navy, Air Force and a tactical unit of the Sensitive Investigations department that “combed the land searching for possible accomplices” while the raid was carried out at sea. Medina highlighted the assistance of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and U.S. Coast Guard as well.
The successful operation comes amid an increase in trafficking through the Caribbean, as 27 metric tons of cocaine was shipped through the Dominican Republic in the first half of the year – a 23% increase compared to the same period a year earlier – according to the DEA.
The country is the main transhipment point in the Caribbean, a region responsible for trafficking 14% of cocaine into the United States during the first six months of the year, according to the DEA.
But traffickers have taken note of the Dominican Republic’s sizable busts and are beginning to move elsewhere, according to Daurius Figueira, a Trinidad-based narcotics researcher and author.
“You’re going to see a dramatic tapering off in interdictions in the Dominican Republic because what has happened now is that Colombian and Venezuelans using go-fast boats to bring drugs to the country’s coastline is going to become a thing of the past,” said Figueira, author of the recently published Cocaine Trafficking in the Caribbean and West Africa in the Era of the Mexican Cartel.
In the Dominican Republic, “the wild days are over,” he said.
The Dominicans effectively eliminated illicit drug flights from South America, which had been bombarding the country with hundreds of bundles of cocaine, causing traffickers to shift to maritime routes.
With the help of U.S. radar that can spot suspect vessels, Dominican officials have recorded major seizures off the southern coast.
On Sept. 4, authorities seized roughly 446 kilograms of cocaine and arrested more than a dozen alleged drug traffickers after a dawn raid on a maritime shipment resulted in a deadly gunfight.
The operation capped a run in which Dominican authorities made three major narcotics busts within the span of three weeks.
In mid-August, DNCD agents seized 1,500 pounds of cocaine from speedboats presumably coming from Santo Domingo.
On Sept. 2, Dominican authorities busted a clandestine cocaine laboratory that was discovered on a farm in a small town 40 kilometers west of the capital, Santo Domingo. Police seized 225 kilograms of cocaine paste, enough to make 2,000 kilograms of cocaine. It was the first such facility discovered in the Caribbean country.
Dominican Republic, Colombia work together to combat narcotics
Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón visited the Dominican capital, Santo Domingo, and held high-level meetings with his Dominican counterpart, Adm. Sigfrido Pared Pérez, and Dominican President Danilo Medina on Oct. 3.
Colombia has offered to share more intelligence with Dominican security forces and to coordinate on missions against drug trafficking and organized crime, the defense ministers said in a press briefing following the meetings.
“The collaboration offered by the Colombian government is aimed at training personnel, as well as maintaining and improving levels of information they share with intelligence agencies [of the Dominican Republic]," Pared said in the briefing.
The agreement with the Dominican Republic comes amid a “security diplomacy” tour by Pinzón. A day before he met with Dominican officials, Pinzón signed an agreement with Guatemala to work together to secure maritime, narco-trafficking routes.
“We have been touring brother countries in Central America and the Caribbean principally looking for ways to cooperate and ways to help each other … to improve security and peace for our citizens,” Pinzón said.