The Dominican Republic is tightening controls on fuel sales in a bid to reduce the number of drug flights that use it as a refueling point, as the island remains an important staging post for cocaine heading to the U.S.

According to Spanish news agency EFE, the Dominican government will require small planes to purchase their fuel via the government’s anti-narcotics agency, the National Drug Control Directorate (Direccion Nacional de Control de Drogas – DNCD). The shift came after officials said that local drug trafficking organizations had been getting fuel for their planes from companies engaged in aerial pesticide spraying and crop dusting.

The director of the DNCD, General Rolando Rosado, told reporters that the agency made the decision “to prevent this type of fuel reaching the hands of drug traffickers or being smuggled to Haiti as has been detected in recent months.”

The new policy is part of a larger move to tighten the country’s anti-drug measures, as Dominican anti-narcotics agents continue to make slow but steady inroads against organized crime. For years, the Caribbean nation — along with its neighbor, Haiti — has been a hotspot for drug-trafficking activity and a major transit country for cocaine. Because of its proximity to the United States, it is a well-located midpoint for drug shipments to the U.S. from South America.

Additionally, the country’s thriving tourism sector has resulted in a massive increase in air traffic to Europe and Canada.· This makes the island of Hispaniola an ideal hub for the international cocaine trade.

Over the past few years, however, this has begun to change. While battling entrenched corruption, rampant impunity and a political system marked by clientelism, DNCD officials have managed to reduce the number of drug-carrying flights into the country from South America almost to zero.

As the Dominican Republic’s Diario Libre reported, this has been accomplished mostly through strategic use of the country’s newly-acquired fleet of Embraer EMB 314 Super Tucano warplanes. Because of their advanced radar and communications system, the air force can quickly intercept illegal aircraft which enter Dominican air space.

This drop in drug flights has been accompanied by a decrease in the share of cocaine that enters the U.S. from the Dominican Republic. Last year alone, Dominican authorities managed to seize nearly five metric tons of cocaine destined for Europe and the United States, as indicated in the 2011 U.S. State Department International Narcotics Control Strategy Report. The report also states that only three percent of the cocaine in the U.S. is estimated to have come through the Caribbean nation, down from seven percent the year before.

Despite these successes, the country still faces hurdles in its struggle against corruption. As InSight has reported, more than 5,000 members of the Dominican security forces have been fired over the last three years for alleged links to organized crime. Furthermore, according to an Autonomous University of Santo Domingo study cited in a recent Miami Herald report, six of every ten crimes reported in the Dominican Republic were committed by police officers.

For the country to consolidate its recent security gains, the government now faces the daunting tasks of rooting out corrupt police officers and strengthening the integrity of the justice system. A key step in this process will be improving the public’s perception of the government. As the anti-corruption organization Transparency International noted in its 2010 Global Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), faith in public officials in the Dominican Republic is among the lowest in the region, scoring 3.0 on the CPI’s 10-point scale. This puts the country immediately below notoriously corrupt Mexico and Guatemala, which received 3.2 and 3.1, respectively.

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