The head of a major political party in the Dominican Republic has become the latest high-profile figure to denounce the influence of organized crime in the Caribbean nation's political scene.
Carlos Cota Lama, leader of the Dominican Liberation Party (Partido de la Liberación Dominicana - PLD), recently expressed his concern that some of the candidates who emerged victorious in May's general election had received support from actors tied to drug trafficking and other criminal activities.
"Investigating these citizens that were elected as legislators, mayors, aldermen in the past electoral process … will not be enough to stop the claims of these sectors permeating the national congress, as well as other government agencies, including those charged with combating drug trafficking and organized crime," said Cota Lama in comments reported by El Viajero.
Last month, Attorney General Francisco Domínguez Brito also warned that some of the elected candidates were suspected of having criminal ties.
"It is worrying that there are elected congressmen who were involved in matters of drug trafficking," Domínguez said in comments reported by Acento. "The next Congress will have to pay close attention, because there are legislators who received drug money and before the [election] process we did everything possible to investigate that the law would allow."
Prior to the May elections, civil society organizations warned that the Dominican Republic's campaign finance laws do not allow for regulation of private contributions, opening the door for politicians to accept funding from dubious sources.
These concerns were echoed in a preliminary post-election report (pdf) from the Organization for American States Electoral Observation Mission, which monitored the elections. Media outlets also published reports of rampant vote buying on election day.
InSight Crime Analysis
Allegations that criminal elements are attempting to gain influence in Dominican politics are neither new nor surprising. But they are nonetheless worrisome given the Caribbean nation's importance as a hub for trafficking drugs and other contraband.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of the Dominican Republic
Last year, a high-level Dominican prosecutor suggested that security forces may be involved in 90 percent of organized crime cases, including drug trafficking, gun running and murder for hire. Earlier this year, a police officer and several members of the military were arrested and charged with arms trafficking in another indication of the deep ties between the Dominican security forces and organized crime. The corruption of lawmakers and executive officials is the next logical step for criminal organizations seeking protection from the state.
Although violence in the Dominican Republic has been declining recently, some experts have warned that this trend may represent a "calm before the storm." Corruption of state institutions could make it much more difficult for the country to handle a potential escalation of violence should Dominican criminal organizations come into conflict with one another or with outside groups.