SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic – A top Dominican narcotics official said anti-drug units recently arrested a Mexican who allegedly served as a pilot to Sinaloa cartel kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.
Dominican drug czar Marino Vinicio Castillo, advisor to the president on matters of drug trafficking, confirmed two Mexican nationals were arrested on April 8.
The men were identified as Víctor Manuel Alvarado Torres and Héctor Andrés Chávez Ramírez. However, authorities did not say which of the two men was the alleged pilot because the investigation is ongoing.
The men were promptly turned over to U.S. authorities to fulfill an extradition request. They were wanted in the U.S. on charges of conspiring to smuggle South American cocaine into the country.
U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agents assisted Dominican agents in a sting operation in which the two men were arrested in a hotel in the Dominican capital of Santo Domingo.
The operation provided fresh evidence regarding the existence of the Sinaloa cartel’s expansion into the Dominican Republic, a key narco-trafficking transshipment point. The arrests of Alvarado Torres and Chávez Ramírez bring to 10 the number of suspected Mexican drug traffickers with ties to the Sinaloa cartel that have been arrested in the Dominican Republic in a little more than a year, according to the National Directorate for Drug Control (DNCD).
“It’s not a new situation in the country,” said Directorate President Gen. Rolando Rosado Mateo to Dominican media.
Officials have said Mexican drug gangs are increasingly looking to the Caribbean country, particularly the areas near its Atlantic coastline, to establish trafficking routes.
While authorities have long suspected a Mexican presence, it was not until Luis Fernando Bertolucci Castillo, known as “Capitán Rey,” was arrested in the middle of 2011 that they were able to confirm details.
Information received from the interrogation of Bertolucci suggested the cartel was working with Dominican criminal groups to establish trafficking routes, mainly to Europe.
Authorities have attributed the increasing Sinaloa cartel activity in the Caribbean to the increasing narcotics activity in Colombia, Central America and Mexico.
Although one of the men arrested April 8 was allegedly Guzmán’s pilot, authorities would not say how close they were to apprehending the cartel leader.
Guzmán, also called “Shorty” as a reference to his 5-foot-6 stature, is considered the world’s most powerful narco-trafficker.
He was arrested in 1993 and sentenced to 20 years and nine months in prison for drug trafficking before he escaped from a Mexican correctional facility in 2001.
Under his leadership, the Sinaloa cartel has grown into Mexico’s most powerful narco-trafficking organization.
The expansion of the cartel’s operation into the Dominican Republic comes as Dominican agents have redoubled efforts to control the flow of narcotics through the island.
An estimated 70 metric tons (154,323 pounds) of drugs used to flow through the country. Rosado said that number has been reduced to about 13 metric tons (28,660 pounds), of which anti-drug agents seized 7.6 metric tons (16,755) last year, slightly more than half of the total shipment.
Through the first three months of this year, the department seized nearly four metric tons (8,818 pounds) of cocaine.
In “Operation Earthquake” on March 25, officials confiscated 1.5 metric tons (3,306 pounds) of cocaine from a speedboat en route to the country from South America. They arrested three Venezuelans in the operation.
Earlier in the month, officials confiscated 807.4 kilograms (1,780 pounds) of cocaine from a shipping container aboard an ocean liner docked in the Caucedo Port outside the capital. The drugs were bound for Spain. Eight suspects were arrested.