U.S., Dutch seize 688 kilograms of cocaine, arrest 3 suspects
By Dialogo July 10, 2013
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic – U.S. and Dutch authorities teamed to arrest three suspected Dominican Republican narco-traffickers in connection with the seizure of 688 kilograms of cocaine and a speed boat in the Caribbean Sea last month.
The interdiction, which was not announced until the cocaine was brought to land in late June, involved a host of law enforcement agencies, including the Royal Netherlands Navy, which is playing an increased role in the fight against narco-trafficking in the Caribbean.
The seizure and arrests were the result of personnel from three missions – Operation Unified Resolve, Operation Caribbean Guard and the Caribbean Corridor Strike Force – working together.
“This recent interdiction shows again that cooperation at sea is extremely important for counter-drug operations,” Cmdr. Chris van den Berg, the commanding officer of the Royal Netherlands Navy’s Holland vessel, said in a prepared a statement. “Not only did we have interagency cooperation between the U.S. Coast Guard and the Royal Netherlands Navy, but we also had multinational cooperation between the United States and the Kingdom of the Netherlands.”
Operation Unified Resolve has brought together U.S. and regional law enforcement authorities, as well as European countries with a stake in the Caribbean. In little more than a year, the operation has carried out 18 interdictions, seizing 14,282.8 kilograms of cocaine and 3,866.6 kilograms of marijuana. The drug shipments were worth more than US$387 million, the U.S. Coast Guard said.
The United States’ Joint Interagency Task Force South (JIATF) is involved in the operations, and while partner nations may take the lead role on some missions based on politics or jurisdiction, the U.S. always provides its full support.
“These arrests and multi-kilogram seizures are a clear indication of the success of the Caribbean Corridor Strike Force Initiative,” Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico, said in a prepared statement. “We will continue maximizing all of our combined resources to investigate and prosecute those who in flagrant disregard of our laws and way of life try to smuggle illegal contraband into our area of jurisdiction.”
The June 11 interdiction, where the narcotics seized had a street value of about US$24 million, occurred after a U.S. Coast Guard aircraft detected three men in a go-fast boat waiting in the open sea about 105 nautical miles southeast of Puerto Rico.
As surveillance planes kept watch, a Coast Guard cutter and the Dutch naval vessel were sent to intercept the boat.
The Dutch Navy sent its own high-speed pursuit boats, which chased the alleged drug smugglers, who threw narcotics overboard. U.S. Coast Guard personnel detained the three men, who have been identified as René Peña-Almonte, José Antonio Toribio-Sánchez and Raúl Rodríguez-Pascua.
Authorities discovered seven bales of drugs floating in the water that had been thrown overboard. A surveillance plane later located additional bales, bringing the total to 20 bales that at-sea tests revealed to be cocaine.
The suspects were sent to Puerto Rico, where they will be prosecuted.
Authorities highlighted the interdiction as another example of how the U.S. territories in the Caribbean are being protected.
“Our local, federal and international partnerships are making a difference to stem the flow of drugs into Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands as far as possible and bring those responsible to justice,” said Coast Guard Capt. Drew Pearson, the Sector San Juan commander. “Our commitment and resolve to protect our coasts and the citizens of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands from the threats that come from the sea is unwavering.”
The seizure comes amid an apparent shift in drug-trafficking patterns. Authorities believe criminal organizations have started to move more operations from the established Central America-Mexico route back to the Caribbean, which was a principal trafficking route in the 1980s.