SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic — The Sinaloa cartel, Mexico’s largest drug-smuggling organization, is working with Dominican criminal groups to establish a Caribbean trafficking route, Dominican and US officials said.
In recent months, Dominican officials have blamed the Mexican group for a handful of murders and stealing a corporate jet under the cloak of early-morning darkness from an airport here. The jet, which was later recovered in Venezuela, was going to be used to transport cocaine from South America, officials said.
The Sinaloa presence was confirmed when authorities, working with the US Drug Enforcement Agency, the DEA, arrested a Mexican national and confessed Sinaloa member. During interrogation, Luis Fernando Bertolucci Castillo admitted to having a direct line to reputed cartel boss Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. He was later extradited to the US to face drug charges late last year.
“The Sinaloa cartel is seeking to create a route to Europe using the Dominican Republic,” Dominican Ambassador to the US Anibal de Castro said this month, citing Bertolucci’s statement. That marked the government’s first public acknowledgement of the group’s presence.
The cartel members are also seeking logistical support from Dominicans, according to a member of the Dominican National Direcorate for Drug Control, a branch of the military that combats trafficking, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
That includes relying on Dominicans to provide them with small planes for drug flights from the southern Venezuelan state of Apure, as well as obtaining precursors to synthetic drugs such as amphetamines used for crystal meth, the source said.
So far, the group’s presence appears limited to small cells. However, Sinaloa’s mere existence adds a level of complexity to a country already struggling with a handful of international criminal groups. It also suggests cartels are examining the Caribbean as a supplement to the preferred Central America-Mexico route — a shift US officials have feared.
The Obama administration has warned that the drug war in Mexico would push cartels to increasingly run drugs through the Caribbean. The islands were the preferred routes for notorious kingpins like Pablo Escobar in the 1980s until a US crackdown pushed the trade toward Mexico.
The DEA and officials in the State Department believe Mexican cartels are looking to gain greater control of turf outside the Central America and Mexico corridor, which receive the bulk of US focus and financial support.
“The handwriting is on the wall. We can see the train. It is coming down the tracks. They will return” to the Caribbean, Assistant Secretary of State William R. Brownfield told a US Senate subcommittee in November. “We know we’re going to have to deal with this crisis again. It is in our interest, in fact it would be the height of folly and stupidity for us, not to prepare for it now and in advance.”
Yet, funding for the chief US program to combat drug trafficking in the region, the Caribbean Security Basin Initiative, dropped to $73 million in the current fiscal year from $77 million last year. By comparison, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton pledged $300 million in funding to Central American countries during a conference last year in Guatemala.
Officials across the Caribbean say they lack the money and training necessary to combat an increase in the drug trade. Some 10 percent of the cocaine bound for the US passes through the islands, with the vast majority still traveling through Central America and Mexico, according to estimates.
Traffickers largely utilize go-fast boats, capable of carrying more than 4,000 pounds of cocaine, to transport drugs.
Source: Global Press
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