The Dominican Republic continues to be the main command center for drug trafficking in the Caribbean region, with an increase in the past two years of 800 percent of the cocaine to United States and Europe.
According to the European Union’s COPOLAD Program (drug partnership cooperation program between the European Union and Latin America), the lack of control and technological resources of the Dominican ports Multimodal Caucedo and Haina pose a major threat to the national security interests of United States and European countries.
The current system in place to control the shipments through the Dominican Republic is inadequate and makes easy the increased violence and the corruption in the country, said the COPOLAD report after a meeting held in December 2012 in the Dominican Republic with the participation of the head of the anti-narcotraffic offices of 47 countries from Europe, U.S., Caribbean and Latin America, plus the Organization of American States.
The pressure from powerful groups of businessmen against increased security in Dominican Republic ports is hindering strict control of thousands of containers every year, despite the U.S. Homeland Security Department requirements to inspect all the containers.
Last November, the U.S. Ambassador Raul Yzaguirre supported the proposed installation of X-rays in the ports of the country because the current system in place is done only by “visual inspection”. The diplomat said that the U.S. government is doing everything possible to prevent the flow of drugs through the country.
The inspections in the ports of Multimodal Caucedo and Haine are only made to the empty containers without any merchandise and with a small penetration of 140 millimeters.
The screening machines now in place, donated in 2006 by the US Ambassador in Dominican Republic, Hans Hartell, can inspect no more than 50 containers per hour and cannot detect the shipment of illicit drugs and other dangerous goods, according to several specialists.
Izaguirre highlighted the need to increase the control of all shipments through the Dominican Republic during a meeting with the Dominican American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAMDR).
Strangely enough, the Executive Director AMCHAMDR, William Melamud, requested to the Minister of the Presidency, Gustavo Montalvo, the cancellation of the contract law (approved by the Dominican Congress and signed by President Leonel Fernandez) with the American company ICSSI that has the license to establish a system of digitalization of containers and the installation of X-rays in the ports at one third of the current price.
The presence of such a large number of drug traffickers has resulted in a boost in the use of all kinds of drugs within the Dominican Republic and, consequently, violence and street crime.
The violence on the streets
The tragic case of young Francina Hungria is symbolic of the violence Dominicans face on the streets while thousands of containers continue to pass through the ports without being properly inspected.
On November 23, Hungria, 28, was driving through the streets of Santo Domingo running some errands for work, when two strangers who wanted to take her car suddenly attacked her. They shot her and threw her out into the street, driving off in her car. A bullet took her eyesight.
In a country where violence is on the rise, more and more innocent people have been caught in the crossfire.
“The situation [in the Dominican Republic] is really tough,” Hungria said. “And it is all tied to the fact that so many people have access to firearms, and there is no control. And the fact that there are so many drugs right now going into the country… it is a mess what we are living these days.”
Players in the battle for control of inspections include a group of influential businessmen, both importers and exporters, as well as those representing the narcotraffickers’s interests.
At the same time, the U.S. company that has the contract for inspection of the containers passing through the ports is pressuring those in charge to let it start using the new inspection system, which is cheaper and much more effective than the current one.
The Dominican government is, for the moment, unable to implement the contract, while the status quo persists and the threat to the security of the United States, the Caribbean and the European countries, alarmed by the intense flow of drug traffic, grows.
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 drugs themselves instead of cash to native smugglers as payment for their services, several analysts said.
Dominican Republic: A record for cocaine seizures
As an example of the level of drug trafficking, during the first two weeks of 2013, the Dominican Republic is well on track to set a record for cocaine seizures.
According to Edward Fox at Insight Crime, the Dominican government “has already seized more than a quarter of the total amount of cocaine it confiscated in 2012.”
Insight Crime analyzed the stats of this year so far, and then compared them to 2012’s statistics. 2,770 kilograms have been seized this month, in only two seizures, while in 2012 the entire amount of cocaine seized was 8,300 kilograms.
The traffic of cocaine through the Caribbean is a major cause of concern for the authorities, given that it has had a dramatic rise over the last two years. Experts say that corruption combined with the lack of vital technology in ports has been a major weakness for the Dominican Republic, making it hard to intercept drug shipments.
With the same weak inspections system in place, the increase of violence and criminal activities will affect dramatically the tourism industry of the Dominican Republic and spread the image of the country as unfriendly toward international companies.
Marino Vinicio Castillo, advisor to the Executive Branch on drugs, said that large amounts of drugs continue to be moved out of Dominican ports, and called for strengthening of security and oversight measures.
Castillo said that, in spite of intervention by the National Drug Control Directorate and enhanced vigilance, the Haina and Caucedo Multimodal ports continue to experience drug trafficking problems. He stressed the need to include X-rays in Dominican ports to ensure more comprehensive oversight of the merchandise entering and leaving.
A plague upon the Caribbean
At the same time, Puerto Rico Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla has activated the National Guard to help fight drug and weapons trafficking on his island.
That was the Garcia Padilla’s first executive order. The plan to put the National Guard to work in this manner had been on the governor’s platform from the start.
When he first presented the proposal during his campaign, the governor said that, in the past, the National Guard had been used ineffectively, but the plan this time was to right those wrongs.
“As a national security issue, we will activate the National Guard intelligently so they are present in seaports and airports, working to interdict the offering of drugs and illegal weapons in Puerto Rico,” Garcia Padilla said last year.
Puerto Rico has often been called the United States’ third border, and drug smuggling is a huge issue on the island. In 2011, an estimate by an economist at the University of Puerto Rico’s Mayaguez campus indicated that $9 billion in drug trafficking activities might have been contributing to 20 percent of Puerto Rico’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
But this is not a problem that only affects Puerto Rico—the trafficking problem extends to the Dominican Republic and other Caribbean nations as well.
The high levels of crime on the island are greatly tied to drug trafficking, and the statistics rival those of Mexico. The United Nations’ Office on Drug and Crime said that in 2011, there were 26 homicides for every 100,000 Puerto Ricans vs. 18 for every 100,000 Mexicans.
The fact that both the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico are struggling with the detection of illegal items entering their shores is a dangerous indication that the Caribbean is a great gateway for the distribution of drugs and that assistance is needed, like Fortuno and Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi had been asking the United States for years before.
Disclaimer: The Chairman of VOXXI, Salomon Melgen, has an ownership stake in ICCSI.