Army Major General José Eugenio Matos de la Cruz, deputy minister of Defense for Military Affairs of the Dominican Republic, had a very clear message for security officers and service members who participated in the Caribbean Nations Security Conference (CANSEC): The Dominican Republic will continue to strengthen its activity against transnational crime to reduce drug trafficking and its related crimes. CANSEC took place December 5th-7th, 2017, in Georgetown, Guyana.
At the event, Maj. Gen. Matos gave a presentation on the role of the Armed Forces of the Dominican Republic to manage security threats and regional stability. Sharing information in real time and strengthening joint strategies, he said, will lead to efficiently countering narcotraffickers in the region. Maj. Gen. Matos spoke with Diálogo on this and other issues, including binational agreements and actions to combat drug trafficking in his country.
Diálogo: What is the importance of the Dominican Republic's participation in CANSEC?
Army Major General José Eugenio Matos de La Cruz, deputy minister of Defense for Military Affairs of the Dominican Republic: The Dominican Republic's participation in this conference allows us to be more efficient in actions we take as armed forces in the region for regional security challenges.
Diálogo: During your presentation on your country's security challenges, you discussed narcotrafficking and related crimes. Can you elaborate?
Maj. Gen. Matos: In our country, everything that has to do with murder-for-hire, arms trafficking, human trafficking, illegal migration, and common crime is connected to drug trafficking one way or another. Our southern maritime zone is very vulnerable to this situation—that’s where the majority of drugs entering the Dominican Republic come from, through the so-called go-fast boats, container ships and passenger ships. We’re also vulnerable in the almost 400-kilometer open border with Haiti. However, we took back Dominican airspace, which is now under control thanks to the acquisition of Super Tucano airplanes—which gave very positive results to eliminate almost 99.9 percent of illicit flights to our country.
Diálogo: In addition to the acquisition of airplanes, what other initiative does the Dominican Republic take to counter narcotrafficking?
Maj. Gen. Matos: We increasingly participate in the fight against drugs. We work with the Attorney General’s Office to be able to prosecute these cases, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the National Anti-Drug Office, the Colombian Armed Forces, and the authorities of Central America through the Central American Armed Forces Conference.
Diálogo: What kinds of laws are there in your country to combat narcotrafficking?
Maj. Gen. Matos: Up until 1988, we didn't have any laws related to narcotrafficking, so Law 50-88, which targets drugs, was created. Narcotrafficking operations are the responsibility of the National Directorate for the Control of Drugs with the support of the Armed Forces, the National Police, and state security and intelligence agencies. However, it wasn't until 2013, through the implementation of the 2007 Criminal Code, that the penalty for narcotrafficking increased to up to 30 years.
Diálogo: What actions do the Dominican Republic and the United States develop jointly to eliminate narcotrafficking?
Maj. Gen. Matos: In the fight against drugs, we have agreements or memorandums of understanding on the use of U.S. aircraft, the use of their vessels on our territory, and the use of communications equipment to support our operations. We have agreements with U.S. Southern Command, the Joint Interagency Task Force South, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative, as well as Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Coast Guard, and the Office of Customs and Border Protection.
Diálogo: One of the most discussed topics in CANSEC was real-time information sharing. How important is that in the fight against narcotrafficking?
Maj. Gen. Matos: We know that in our countries, we have legal aspects that limit the dissemination of certain information, so to share certain information, the best is to have bilateral agreements and/or memorandums of understanding. It’s of vital importance to continue signing such important agreements like the one that Dominican President Danilo Medina just signed in the Caribbean Community meeting to share information related to the fight against drugs, arms trafficking, human trafficking, etc.
Diálogo: Does terrorism represent a threat to regional and national security?
Maj. Gen. Matos: Yes, it constitutes both a regional and a global threat. With respect to the Dominican Republic, the Armed Forces Joint Staff Directorate of Intelligence—under which lies the office of the National Counterterrorism Directorate, which includes representatives from all the military and police institutions—worked within the framework of a new counter-terrorism law. In 2016, an individual received a penalty of 35 years in prison for a terrorist act, which had to do with self-immolation in the Santo Domingo Metro in 2014. This situation helped us realize that we are vulnerable, with millions of tourists entering the country annually. That’s why we develop memorandums of understanding with the counternarcotics authorities of some countries to exchange information. Likewise, we create closer ties with other European countries to have memorandums of understanding, like the ones we have with the Belgians, French, British, Spanish, Dutch, and Germans to find out if there are high-risk individuals we should be aware of among the people who visit us from those countries.
Diálogo: Regional stability threats due to natural disasters were discussed at CANSEC. What is the role of your country's Armed Forces to respond to disasters?
Maj. Gen. Matos: We are in the path of hurricanes, so historically, we’ve been prepared for them. The Armed Forces developed specialized bodies. The Air Force has an air rescue unit; the Navy counts on the Dolphin (Delfín) rescue unit, which uses chalanas, small flat-bottomed boats to get to flooded areas. The Army has the Humanitarian Rescue Unit that became a battalion. All of them form the Disaster Mitigation Operative Brigade, which has aerial mobility, special forces for security, transport, first aid, etc., all at the same time. Our Armed Forces work hand-in-hand with Civil Defense and the Emergency Operations Center.
Diálogo: What are those specialized bodies?
Maj. Gen. Matos: We have three Defense Corps for National Security and four specialized corps comprising members of the Army, Navy, and Air Force. In the Defense Corps, we have one for land border, port and airport security; and the specialized corps is responsible for tourist security, subway, environment, and fuel control.
Diálogo: What types of programs are you developing to professionalize noncommissioned officers?
Maj. Gen. Matos: We receive advice from the U.S. Army and we shared information on the issue in meetings and seminars. The 2013 Organic Law of the Armed Forces includes provisions on the career of noncommissioned officers, and we already have an Army School for Noncommissioned Officers. But our intention is for each branch to have its own school for noncommissioned officers. Lieutenant General Rubén Darío Paulino Sem, minister of Defense of the Dominican Republic, laid out general guidelines such as: uniform design, ranks, and the stipulation for the first 15 noncommissioned officer graduates to specialize in the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.
Diálogo: What was the Armed Forces’ biggest achievement in 2017?
Maj. Gen. Matos: The most important achievement was curbing dangers to citizens with the Joint Task Force Peaceful City (Ciudad Tranquila – CIUTRAN, in Spanish). The police doesn’t have the necessary manpower and equipment to be everywhere, and as a way to help fulfill the presidential mandate, we involved more than 2,700 men in civilian security at the national level.
Diálogo: And the military patrols the streets like the police?
Maj. Gen. Matos: They patrol, and what we plan is to professionalize our soldiers on issues of civilian security.