More than 5,000 members of the Dominican security forces have been fired over the last three years amid accusations of widespread corruption, as Hispaniola remains an important transshipment point for cocaine heading to the U.S. and Europe.

A report by the Miami Herald recounted testimony of a former police officer of the Dominican Republic (DR), Elias Enmanuel Nuñez, who was fired for allegedly accusing his bosses of involvement in drug trafficking. The newspaper also cited a professor at the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo, Julio De La Rosa, saying that a university study showed that six of every ten reported crimes were committed by police officers.

President Leonel Fernandez is well aware of the vulnerability of the security forces and made a public call to all military personnel in January 2011, to resist the temptation of drug trafficking bribes.

The position of the Dominican Republic and its neighbor on Hispaniola, Haiti, is the perfect stop over for drugs moving from South America to the mainland U.S. Added to that are the large number of international flights to Europe and Canada, in part due to the booming tourist industry and also to Haiti’s historic ties to France.  This makes Hispaniola a good place to break down large cocaine shipments that arrive by boat or air and move them, using mules, across the world. 

One such attempt was foiled earlier this month, when 12 soldiers, among them a captain and lieutenant colonel, were arrested as part of a plan to smuggle 33 kilograms of cocaine to Toronto, Canada, using a little girl’s suitcase.  Eight of the men were working with the Dominican anti-drug agency, the National Drug Control Directorate (DNCD), at the airport in Puerto Plata, and four were with the airport security agency.

Investigating either the security forces or drug trafficking in the Dominican Republic brings with its high levels of risk.  The Miami Herald report highlighted the case of an internal affairs lieutenant investigating police corruption being murdered in January, while a commission that investigated the capture of Puerto Rican kingpin Jose David Figueroa Agosto recommended the dismissal of thirteen police officers, six of them high ranking. In February, the lead prosecutor in the case against Figueroa Agosto resigned just days before the trial was due to start.

The U.S. government works closely with the DNCD, which has not been exempt from corruption allegations.  Last year the DNCD fired 418 of its 2,000 officers. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) worked with the DNCD earlier in April to dismantle a Dominican drug trafficking organization (DTO) dubbed the Cibao Cartel, after the region of the DR where the gang was based.  The Cibao Cartel had links to both Colombian and Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs).

According to the National Drug Intelligence Center’s (NDIC) 2010 National Drug Threat Assessment, Caribbean-based traffickers exploiting the Puerto Rico and Florida coastlines account for a small but persistent amount of all drug shipments to the United States.

The situation in Haiti is even worse than that of the DR. The 2011 U.S. State Department International Narcotics Control Strategy Report noted that the institutional chaos caused by the January 2010 earthquake significantly decreased the capacity of the Haitian government to combat drug trafficking. As of 2011, the Haitian national police only have about 160 officers devoted to anti-drug efforts, and although the report claims that its ranks are growing, the police force remains “relatively small, poorly funded and badly equipped.” The report also cites a high level of corruption in the force, which is also due mostly to the poverty of its officers.

With corruption rampant in both countries, made worse by Haiti’s lack of strong government institutions, organized crime will doubtlessly continue to take advantage of Hispaniola. This climate may be contributing to an influx of Russian and Italian real estate investment in the Dominican Republic, recently explored by InSight. Because of this trend, officials in the country are now worried that the notorious Russian and Italian mafias are seeking to increase their criminal influence in the area.

Additional reporting by Geoffrey Ramsey.

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Jeremy McDermott is co-founder and co-director of InSight Crime. McDermott has more than two decades of experience reporting from around Latin America. He is a former British Army officer, who saw active...