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.
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Rep. Connie Mack IV (R) of Florida, ranking Republican on the House Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, calls it a "balloonlike effect." As Colombia cracked down on its drug trade, illicit shipments through Venezuela grew fourfold from 2004 to 2007, according to the US Government Accountability Office. Likewise, now that President Obama has signed a $600 million security bill for increased surveillance of America's borders, "traffic through the Caribbean is expected to increase even further," says Colin Frederick of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs.Skip to next paragraph
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This has a direct effect on crime. From 2001 to 2009, the Dominican Republic's homicide rate nearly doubled to 23 murders per 100,000 residents. President Leonel Fernandez said in May that he is "overwhelmed" by the rise in drug-trafficking violence and organized crime. In Puerto Rico, murder rates are spiking. In Tobago, gangs are growing. In tiny Antigua, police are making the biggest drug busts in the country's history.
"It's not just the violence associated with the drugs passing through here. It gets down to the street level, into the communities," says Guillermo Somoza Colombani, Puerto Rico's attorney general. Such was obvious in May, when 70 people died as Jamaican police sought to capture drug kingpin Christopher "Dudus" Coke in Kingston.
The islands have dealt with this before. Notorious Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar's cocaine empire ran through the Caribbean in the 1980s, and Mexican cartels have also utilized the region. But successful efforts in the 1990s to target the source of drugs, not transit points, saw even the UN Office on Drugs and Crime close its Caribbean office.
The White House is reengaging the region and conceding that US consumption is a major cause. "Demand in the large market in the [US] drives the drug trade," Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in March after meeting with Latin American presidents in Guatemala.
The Caribbean Basin Security Initiative now aims to help 15 nations take down criminal groups. Critics say it lacks the crucial partners of Cuba and Europe, whose demand fuels the cocaine trade. The number of cocaine users in Europe doubled to 4.1 million over the past decade, says the UN World Drug Report, making the $34 billion European market nearly as valuable as the $37 billion North American market.
The State Department is in talks with Canada and European allies to join the initiative. "You can only do so much if you don't have patrol boats, night vision, and the necessary equipment," says Ms. James.
Such assets could prove crucial to the Dominican Drug Control Agency. Recent raids included capturing the alleged kingpin of operations in La Romana, but the agency finds itself outmatched. "It's not just the shipments," says Rodriguez. "We also have dealers and people on the streets. We now have kids that are controlling distribution points."
An October sweep netted one alleged drug dealer who was 14 years old. "It's not uncommon," Rodriguez says.