US-Funded Naval Base Stirs Controversy in Dominican Republic

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Plans for a US-funded naval station on an island off the coast of the Dominican Republic have sparked a controversy over sovereignty and natural resource issues.

Earlier this month, the Dominican government announced that the US military’s Southern Command (SouthCom) would contribute $1.5 million to the construction of a naval base and dock on the eastern island of Saona. The funds will come from the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative, a multi-million dollar US State Department security aid fund established in 2009.

Vice Admiral Nicolas Cabrera Arias (pictured) told local press that the facility is intended to help target drug trafficking and smuggling on the eastern coast of the country. According to Cabrera, the base “will increase the operational capability of the Navy to address the all kinds of trafficking, from the illegal drug trade to smuggling, in order to protect this part of the country and promote tourism.”

Some in the country have objected to the plan, however, claiming it represents a violation of sovereignty and could potentially have a negative environmental impact.

In response to this criticism, the US Embassy in the Dominican Republic issued a statement last week assuring Dominicans that “there will not be any military personnel involved in the construction or operation of the base or based on the island of Saona.”

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With a price tag of only $1.5 million, the facility is likely to be small and relatively unobtrusive. If the facility is to actually be staffed by only Dominican personnel, concerns about sovereignty seem overblown, considering that the country’s president requested more anti-drug aid in 2011. With an election approaching in May, much of the controversy likely amounts to opportunistic politicking by the opposition.

Politics aside, the Dominican Republic has its share of challenges in the fight against drug trafficking, as the island nation is a key transshipment point for cocaine bound for the US. In 2011, a top anti-drug official was gunned down in Santo Domingo, the country’s capital. What’s more, corrupt security forces make the drug fight difficult.

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