Dominican authorities recently intercepted a cocaine-laden speedboat destined for Puerto Rico – the latest in a series of maritime seizures showing a flourishing drug trade between the Dominican Republic and the US territory.
The boat was pursued by authorities to a beach in the Dominican Republic’s eastern province of La Altagracia, where five people were arrested and some 450 packages of cocaine were seized, according to a Dominican National Directorate for Drug Control (Dirección Nacional de Control de Drogas - DNCD) news report published February 11. A DNCD official said in the report that the vessel and those arrested were part of a larger smuggling ring that used go-fast boats to move drugs from the Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico.
The interdiction comes after a series of seizures in Puerto Rico. In January, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents discovered 464 kilograms of cocaine on a ferry destined for San Juan. The cocaine was concealed in canvas sacks on the ferry, which set sail from the Dominican Republic, according to EFE news. In November 2021, a US Coast Guard patrol vessel intercepted a go-fast boat off the northern coast of Puerto Rico. Onboard, officials said, were 125 kilograms of cocaine and three Dominican nationals, who were arrested on drug smuggling charges.
In the first two months of 2022, Dominican authorities have seized over 3,500 kilograms of cocaine and more than 800 pounds of marijuana, according to the country’s drug control agency.
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The string of cocaine seizures has revealed that Dominican traffickers are employing a range of maritime smuggling methods to reach Puerto Rico, which serves as a springboard to the US mainland.
While most South American cocaine destined for the US is still smuggled through Central America and Mexico, the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) estimates that up to 8 percent is trafficked through the Caribbean. The Dominican Republic is an ideal transport hub for South American cocaine. There, it can be stashed and then moved by go-fast boats across the Mona Canal, an 80 mile stretch of water between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.
While the recent interdictions indicate that maritime law enforcement in both the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico are on alert for drug smuggling, their job is made more difficult by a massive influx of cocaine to the Dominican Republic. Between August 2020 and December 2021, Dominican authorities seized 33.7 tons of drugs, of which more than 85 percent was cocaine.
Puerto Rico is a perfect entry point for illicit shipments to the continental United States. Smugglers favor cargo ships, but have also used conventional mail, shipping services, personal luggage on commercial flights and cruise ships. As InSight Crime has previously reported, Puerto Rico’s status as a US territory means citizens can move freely between the island and the continental US, making smuggling easier.
Puerto Rico’s role as a springboard can be seen in the fact that the island, just 5,300 square miles, tallied the fourth-highest amount of cocaine seized in all US states and territories. Only California, Florida, and Pennsylvania seized more.