Authorities in the Dominican Republic have broken up a people smuggling ring that moved Cubans to Puerto Rico, highlighting how criminal groups are cashing in on new routes now taken by Cubans seeking asylum in US territory.
The network, composed of Dominicans and foreigners, used private boats to move Cubans to the Puerto Rican islands of Mona and Monito, which lie approximately 40 miles off the Dominican coast, reported El Nacional. Once in Puerto Rican territory the Cubans requested asylum.
The ring apparently made use of the Dominican Republic's tourist infrastructure, using hotels as safe houses for the Cuban migrants then taking them out to the islands under the guise of boat tours.
The operation also smuggled Haitians to Puerto Rico, many of whom were in the Dominican Republic working in the tourist industry.
So far this year, the Dominican navy has detained 80 Cubans and over 700 Haitians trying to illegally reach Puerto Rico.
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Nowadays, the sight of Cubans trying to make the treacherous sea crossing to Miami on homemade rafts is rare compared to the past. However, this does not mean the flow of migrants and asylum seekers has dried up. Instead, various alternative routes, such as the route through the Dominican Republic, have opened up, which have presented criminal groups with the opportunity to profit from the migration.
Another popular route for Cuban migrants begins in Ecuador, where Cubans can travel without a visa. Migrants then move up through Colombia and cross into Panama through the jungle and swamps of the Darien Gap -- territory largely controlled by the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
According to the Colombian army, the FARC's 57th Front has cashed in on this development by charging migrants to guide them through the inhospitable terrain, utilizing networks of paths used by the guerrillas to traffic drugs and move troops and supplies.