Drug wars in Mexico, Colombia push drug trade to Dominican Republic
As authorities in Mexico and Columbia crack down on the drug trades in their countries and the US-Mexico border becomes harder to sneak across, drug rings are moving their operations into the Caribbean.
La Romana, Dominican Republic
This coastal province lures hundreds of tourists every day. If watchful, they might look up from the soft sand and swimming pool-like Caribbean water to see low-flying airplanes dropping bundles of South American-grown cocaine in the sugar fields just miles inland.Skip to next paragraph
The Dominican Republic's 1,100-mile coastline has become the center of the Caribbean's drug-trafficking business and a turnstile for cocaine shipments reaching as far north as Massachusetts. Last year alone, 123 small planes buzzed over the country's rolling farmland, dropping drug bundles. In 2008, authorities registered 200 illicit flights.
Approximately 10 percent of the US cocaine market, and 40 percent of the European market, flows through the Caribbean. The sugar cane fields around La Romana, a bustling city of 250,000 people, have become a favorite drop-off point.
"We're an important location for the drug traffickers because we essentially border the United States," says Col. Ramon Rodriguez of the Dominican Drug Control Agency. "They'll use whatever methods necessary to get the drugs here. If you stop the flights, they'll use boats or cross ... from Haiti."
"The Dominican Republic is really the center. It's the main transit point," agrees Kevin Brown of the US Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. Drugs are then loaded on boats and sent to Puerto Rico or directly to the US, according to authorities.
It may sound like a plot from "Miami Vice." But it's a real and worsening scenario fueled by crackdowns in Mexico and Colombia, a tightening of the southwestern US border, and changes in cocaine consumption around the world.
To combat it, the Obama administration in May launched the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative with $45 million for 2010. Born amid discussions between Caribbean leaders in 2007, it is seen as an extension to US initiatives in Latin America to seize and eradicate drugs.
Those past US efforts seem to be paying off. According to the United Nations' 2010 World Drug Report, cocaine seizures more than doubled worldwide from 2000 to 2008, when 711 metric tons of cocaine were captured – an estimated 42 percent of the overall supply. (A decade ago, the UN report states, only about 24 percent of the global supply was interdicted.)
The thing about the $88 billion industry is that it's like playing whack-a-mole: Squeeze cartels in Mexico, and they pop up in the Caribbean. Squash shipments from Colombia, and they shift to Venezuela. In that analogy, the Caribbean's misfortune is that it's stuck in the middle.
"As you are successful in [Mexico and Central America], you see drug trafficking pushed toward the Caribbean," Makila James, director of the US State Department's Office of Caribbean Affairs, tells the Monitor. "Our partners in the region say crime is increasing at a rapid rate, and they're deeply concerned."