Unwanted Fame: Dominican Republic -- Headquarters for Narcotraffickers

Article excerpt

While President Leonel Fernandez has committed his new administration to an agenda to consolidate democracy and provide economic opportunities in the Dominican Republic, another potentially corrosive process is underway in this country. In Santo Domingo's halls of power and academic circles, the prospect of a new political and economic era is discussed with excitement and anticipation. Not discussed, however, is the ongoing problem of narcotics trafficking and the consolidation of power by Dominican drug trafficking organizations. The Dominican Republic is now considered by the US DEA the command, control, and communications center for Caribbean drug trafficking activities. Dominican organizations oversee and monitor most of the logistical requirements to move cocaine: aircraft, boats, global positioning systems for transportation, and radios and cellular phones for communications and management of organizations that stretch from New York to Colombia. The consolidation of power by Dominican narcotics trafficking organizations has the potential to undermine the Fernandez agenda.

The Dominican Republic has been a key transshipment point for illicit narcotics throughout the 1990s. A number of factors contribute to this phenomenon. The most important is the close link between the Dominican Republic and New York, where most of the cocaine, and recently Colombian heroin, is destined. Dominicans have become an important force in New York's political and economic life, with over an estimated 500,000 residents.

THE SAN FRANCISCO CONNECTION

The Dominican Republic lies midway between the United States and Colombia, the source of most of the cocaine consumed in the US. Dominican traffickers share a language and cultural legacy with their Colombian partners. In recent years, they have developed close ties at the production, transportation, and distribution points of the cocaine trade. Furthermore, they have been able to exploit well-developed family and business ties in New York. Consequently, Dominican traffickers have become prominent players in the US cocaine trade.

At home, a long history of Machiavellian ploys and political corruption has encouraged behavior that further facilitates Dominican participation in the drug trade. A prominent Dominican counter-drug official traces the origins of the Dominican drug trade to groups that were exiled by President Joaquin Balaguer in 1965. This official points to a group from San Francisco de Macoris as the most notable example. This region has a long history of resistance against authority and familiarity with arms. The San Francisco group developed an "ends justify the means" ideology, and once exiled, sought funds to overthrow the Balaguer government. One way the group obtained funds was by forming a drug trafficking "cartel." Today, many Dominican traffickers hail from San Francisco de Macoris.

In addition, some judges, politicians, and law enforcement personnel can be bought for the right price. The low wages of public servants in the Dominican Republic allow the traffickers to buy the services of these bureaucrats at a relatively low cost. The inability of these institutions to pursue, prosecute, and punish traffickers is another structural feature encouraging Dominicans to participate in the lucrative drug trade.

Dominican drug trafficking organizations have evolved since the formation of the San Francisco Cartel in the 1960s. In the 1980s, the Colombians developed trust in Dominican traffickers as a group that could effectively move and distribute Colombian cocaine-while remitting the proceeds. In fact, Dominicans modeled their drug trafficking "style" after the Colombians, becoming more and more sophisticated with time. As the Dominicans achieved success in running drug trafficking enterprises, they displaced the formidable Jamaican "posses" in New York. Underlying the Dominicans' success was a willingness to use violence to protect their drug trafficking "turf" and product. …