Dominican Republic's Importance Grows As Transit Point for US-Bound Cocaine

Dominican Republic cocaine seizure

Recently released figures on the Dominican Republic's annual cocaine seizures show the country's importance as a transit country continues to grow, worrying news for the island nation on the back of a huge corruption scandal involving the disappearance of police-held cocaine.

Figures published by the country’s anti–narcotics agency, DNCD (Dirección Nacional de Control de Drogas), show that the amount of cocaine seized last year stood at 8.7 tonnes, a marginal increase on 2013 figures of 8.6 tonnes.

This slight uptick marks a continuation of a trend witnessed over the past decade where annual cocaine seizures have jumped markedly, peaking in 2012 (see graph, below). 

Of course, seizures alone are an unreliable indicator of the size of the drug trade moving through one particular country. For one, an increase could represent the improved efficiency of government agencies.

However, the case of the Dominican Republic could well be representative of the so-called "balloon effect" dynamic so often witnessed in international drug law enforcement. This is the process whereby increased focus from counter-narcotics operations in a particular country or region force drug trafficking organizations to alter their routes/operations to areas under less focus.

A 2012 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) stated that in the 1980s around 75 percent of US-bound cocaine passed through the Caribbean, though this eventually shifted to Central America which accounted for around 80 percent of cocaine trafficking in 2010 as criminal organizations escaped the pressure from counter-narcotics agents.

This trend appears to be reversing, though, with US Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield stating last year that the US government estimates that the fraction of US-bound cocaine passing through the Caribbean had increased from five to 16 percent in three years. The Dominican Republic is seemingly a prime contributor to this.

One reason traffickers could be favoring the Dominican Republic is a common issue that helps facilitate the drug trade; corruption in the security forces. In a recent case at the end of last year it emerged that over $67 million worth of seized cocaine had disappeared from various locations around the country under the control of the national police force’s anti-narcotics division (Dirección Central Antinarcóticos - DICAN).  The director of DICAN, Col. Carlos Fernández Valerio, has been suspended and is under investigation along with 17 officers and two assistant prosecutors.

Furthermore, in 2013 186 DNCD officers were dismissed for illegal activity

With the average salary of a Dominican police officer estimated to be one of the lowest in the region in 2012 at just $153, it is perhaps unsurprising that some in the police who come into contact with drug trafficking would be lured by the prospect of aiding such operations to add to their income. Indeed, the public's perception of the level of corruption (see chart, below) within the country's security forces has risen significantly in line with the rise in cocaine seizures, according to a survey carried out by the Dominican Republic’s Office of National Statistics (Oficina Nacional de Estadistica - ONE).

With corruption clearly taking root in certain parts of a lowly paid police force and pressure mounting on drug trafficking routes in Central America, it seems that the cocaine seizure trend witnessed in recent years shows no sign of abating.