Going Techno Against Narcos
By Dialogo October 01, 2012
With its ability to deliver a combination of rockets, missiles and bombs, the
Brazilian-made Super Tucano has become the most feared guardian of the Dominican
Visitors to San Isidro Air Base, located 25 kilometers east of Santo Domingo,
like to be photographed near the aircraft, and the civilian population expresses
admiration when the sleek turboprops cross the Caribbean sky during special
demonstrations. The aircraft’s signature is the drawing of a voracious shark mouth
on its pointed nose.
The Super Tucanos have been a key weapon in the fight against drug
trafficking since they were delivered in 2010. Prior to that, illicit aircraft
loaded with up to 600 kilograms of cocaine landed almost every day on roads
accessing the country’s vast sugarcane fields and other clandestine airstrips, Major
General Rolando Rosado Mateo of the Dominican Republic National Police and director
of the National Drug Control Directorate (DNCD, for its Spanish acronym) told
Small planes that usually took off from the Venezuelan state of Apure, which
borders Colombia, also dropped drugs in the Caribbean Sea, where drug traffickers in
go-fast boats picked up the bundles and carried them to the island.
The Dominican Republic sits in the center of the Caribbean, a geographical
position that benefits trade and tourism and is also a very attractive waypoint
between the major centers of drug production (Colombia, Bolivia and Peru) and
consumption (the United States and Europe).
Before 2010, approximately 90,000 kilograms of cocaine entered the Dominican
Republic by air and about 45,000 kilograms by sea. The drug planes avoided Puerto
Rico due to its advanced defense systems, Maj. Gen. Rosado said.
That all changed when the Super Tucanos entered service.
With the purchase of eight Super Tucanos by the government for more than $93
million, the number of illegal flights was reduced to practically zero by 2011.
“When the air fleet became operational, illicit flights were completely
eliminated; traffickers do not dare bring a plane to the Dominican Republic,” said
Maj. Gen. Rosado. “If they enter our airspace, they will be at the hands of the
Super Tucano aircraft.”
A combination of factors made this success possible, including technology,
the imprisonment of drug traffickers and the elimination of illicit Colombian
organizations operating from the Dominican Republic with networks in the United
States, Maj. Gen. Rosado said.
One key technological platform that contributed to the reduction of illegal
flights was the Cooperating National Information Exchange System (CNIES), according
to Maj. Gen. Rosado. With the support of the United States Southern Command, partner
nations have access to satellite information relating to their airspace and can
coordinate drug interdiction operations. In mid-2012, the U.S. Government also
loaned the Dominican Republic an unmanned aerial vehicle that works as a radar
platform to monitor air and sea traffic, according to the Dominican newspaper Diario
The Stronger, the Better
Major General Israel Aníbal Díaz Peña, vice minister of the Dominican Armed
Forces (Air Force), said that in addition to the Super Tucano fleet, the country has
fighter jets, T-35B trainers, and 26 helicopters for different purposes. He has
flown the Super Tucano several times. “Very good and very versatile aircraft, very
fast,” he said. “It is the ideal type of aircraft for use here on the island.”
The Dominican Republic has the best technology in the Caribbean when it comes
to this type of aircraft, according to Maj. Gen. Díaz. He added that with the
information the United States provides with its radars, as well as an agreement with
Colombia, it is much easier to detect suspicious aircraft. Now, he said, planes
carrying drugs fly into Central America.
The challenge today for the Dominican Republic is to protect its sea from
drug traffickers. Many narco boats land in Haiti and from there bring drugs to
Dominican territory, according to Maj. Gen. Rosado. Once inside the country, they
send the illicit drugs onward through airports and sea ports to Puerto Rico, the
United States and Europe.
Actions that Speak
In 2009, the Dominican Navy inaugurated the Maritime Operations Center, which
is equipped with modern technology to coordinate the movements of naval forces in
response to drug trafficking and other illicit activities, according to Dominican
newspaper El Nuevo Diario. “We believe a lot in technology platforms,” said Vice
Admiral Homero Luis Lajara Solá, vice minister of the Dominican Armed Forces (Navy).
Vice Adm. Lajara said improved communication systems are in place, in
addition to CNIES. For instance, the Over-the-Horizon Tactical Information System
allows communication with the Navy’s interceptor boats via satellite. Moreover, the
Automatic Identification System provides information about each vessel to other
ships and coastal authorities automatically, including the type, position and speed,
according to the International Maritime Organization.
He is confident that with the acquisition of additional equipment, a national
military strategy, training, a strong political will, and support from the National
Police, victory against drug trafficking and transnational criminal organizations is
possible. “I believe regional and global security will be strengthened further with
what we have to do now,” he said.
The country also takes part in joint operations with partner nations.
In June 2012, the Dominican Navy reported the successes of “Sea Wall,” a
joint operation by air, sea, and land, with the U.S. Coast Guard, the Border Patrol
of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Air Force. The operation intercepted several
illegal trips to the neighboring island of Puerto Rico and resulted in the arrests
of more than 100 people. Through Sea Wall and other like operations, the country
indirectly supports Operation Martillo, a multinational effort targeting illicit
maritime traffic along Central America.
Maj. Gen. Rosado sees the fight against drug trafficking as the battle
between David and Goliath. “We are David, because we are a small country with
relatively few means, but with a strong will to deal with the problem,” he said
For Vice Adm. Lajara, the military has human resources that drug traffickers
do not have. “We also have the doctrinal formation which they don’t have,” he added.
“They fight for money and power, we fight for the homeland.”