Drug cartels invade the Dominican Republic

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Mexican drug cartels set their sights on the Dominican Republic. In this February 2009 photo Mexican federal agents prepare to enter border city of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, a city that has been ridden with violence by a turf war between drug cartels. (Photo by Shuttershock)

The Dominican Republic is emerging as the command and control center for increased drug trafficking in the Caribbean region, several analysts told a recent Congressional panel investigating the security of the region.

“The Dominican Republic is becoming the place where numerous drug trafficking transnational organizations are settling their scores,” said Dr. Eduardo Gamarra, with the Florida International University, whose expertise is in the Caribbean region.

This distinction, he warned, brings with it increased violence, increased corruption among government officials and increased drug addiction problems for the island nation of 9.5 million people.

The net effect of this is fear, Gamarra said. In one recent survey of the Dominican people, 60 percent of them said they did not feel safe in their own neighborhood.

Concerns about the Dominican Republic came up during a December hearing in front of a subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that was looking into increased violence throughout the Caribbean islands.

“A 2011 United Nations report on homicides worldwide reports that the homicide rate has been increasing every year since 2006 and concludes that the region exhibits some of the highest levels of lethal violence in the world,” said Sen. Robert Menendez, D-NJ, who oversaw the hearing.

There was unanimous agreement between government and private analysts familiar with the Caribbean that illicit drug trafficking was behind most of the violence. The Caribbean has historically been a favorite route of overwater smugglers. And in the 1980s, Colombian drug cartels favored the Caribbean as a smuggling gateway that enabled the flow of cocaine into the United States mostly through Florida, as well as on to Europe.

Stepped up international pressure helped to dismantle most of the major Colombian cartels only to have operators in Mexico take over and become the major conduit of U.S.-bound drug trafficking. Mexican cartels went overland, leaving the Caribbean in relative peace until recently.

Now that international pressure is being exerted on the drug cartels in Mexico and moving into Central America, the Caribbean is once again seeing increase smuggling activity – and violence – the subcommittee was told.

While Jamaica was cited as the murder capital of the Caribbean and even U.S.-controlled Puerto Rico was reeling from its own violence, Menendez said he was particularly concerned about the Dominican Republic.

“I am concerned about the consumption and drug trafficking…as well as the presence of international crime syndicates,” he said.

Analysts testifying before the subcommittee agreed with the concern.

“The Dominican Republic is a major trans-shipment point,” said Rodney Benson, an assistant administrator with the Drug Enforcement Administration. “It’s still probably the most significant transit point (in the Caribbean) for criminal organizations to take those loads of cocaine. We see significant loads of cocaine leave the Dominican Republic headed for Europe as well.”

The smuggling operations are becoming so sophisticated that law enforcement is beginning to see the use of submarines by the cartels intent on smuggling large quantities of cocaine beneath the sea, Benson said.

Beyond the violence and corruption that the increased drug trafficking is bringing to the Dominican Republic, there is evidence of increased signs of drug abuse on the island. That’s because cartels are offering the drug itself instead of cash to native smugglers as payment for their services, several of the analysts said.

The push by drug cartels who are reviving the Caribbean smuggling routes is being abetted by the pull of countries such as Venezuela, who are hostile to the United States. Venezuela is attempting to seduce Latin American countries with cheap oil into an alliance against the United States.

That creates an ongoing need for Venezuela to find new sources of non-oil revenue and draws them closer to the mega-profits generated by the drug cartels, the analysts said.

Read related Analysts warn of Mexican drug cartels’ next target, Caribbean

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