Are the Mafia Moving into the Dominican Republic?

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Reports from the Dominican Republic warn of the presence of Russian and Italian mafia on the island, buying up land, perhaps with more than just holiday plans in mind.

The comments came from the Dominican Presidential Advisor on Antinarcotics, Marino Vinicio Castilo, speaking to Dominican Today.

The lure for organized crime of the island of La Hispaniola, made up of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, is nothing new. The island has been traditionally used by Colombian drug traffickers as a hub for shipments on their way to the U.S. In 2006, the DEA tracked over 150 such flights. A report in 2008 by the International Crisis Group (ICG) mentioned how the system was set up. Apparently, flights would land on the south of the island and the drugs were then transported by land to another exit point in the north. Money returned, and part of this was laundered in the Dominican Republic.

Corruption is a decisive factor in this dynamic. Not only do criminals take advantage of the massive corruption in Haiti, which after the devastating earthquake in January 2010 is veering towards becoming a failed state, but have also targeted Dominican officials. In 2010 police officers in Santo Domingo’s biggest airport were accused of running an illegal ring that included human trafficking to the U.S. via Mexico, along with the extortion of passengers, according to Dominican Today.

In 2007 the International Relations and Security Network, a project funded by the Swiss Department for Defence (DDPS) and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, reported the first incursion of the Italian mafia into the island. Allegedly, the Cosa Nostra-Gambino Family alliance, apart from their businesses in the U.S. and Canada, “set up a joint food import and export business to act as a cover for drug trafficking,” the ISN said.

Underpayment is a principal factor in police corruption. Figures in the ICG report state that one ton of cocaine in 2008 was enough to pay the salaries of all of the National Police Corp in the Dominican Republic. In Haiti, things are marked at a different price. Poverty and hunger are the main engines that motivate corruption at all levels. In fact, Transparency International rates the country as one of the worst in Latin America (third after Venezuela and Paraguay, in that order) in the 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index.

La Hispaniola’s geostrategic significance is undeniable. As a hub for cocaine consignments it is a perfect transshipment point into the U.S., either by air or with go-fast boats. Corruption on both sides of the island make it easy for criminal networks to set up arrival and departure points, as well as to launder the profits of the illegal drug business.

As long as corruption soars in both countries, and Haiti lacks strong government, organized crime will take advantage of the opportunities the current situation presents, perhaps through buying up real state to use as “independent territories”, as Marino Vinicio Castilo asserted, or by establishing legal businesses as facades for illegal operations and money laundering.

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