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How Dominican Gangs Became Major Security Threat in Spain

CRIMINAL MIGRATION / 2 AUG 2021 BY ALESSANDRO FORD EN

Spiraling violence around Madrid is being blamed on the fracturing and spread of Dominican gangs, which have become Spain's primary urban security threat.

On July 23, Spanish authorities announced the arrest of seven members of the Dominicans Don’t Play (DDP) street gang and the dismantling of a local chapter that operated in the Henares corridor of the greater Madrid area.

A month earlier, on June 12, law enforcement reported the arrest of five members of the DDP on charges of attempted murder after they attacked a rival gang member with machetes in the province of Toledo, just outside greater Madrid. And in April, six members were arrested for assault and armed robbery in the town of Valdilecha, in the region of Madrid.

SEE ALSO: Madrid Dismantles Contract Killing, Money Laundering Network

The arrests come amid rising gang violence this year, particularly between the DDP and the country’s other Dominican street gang, the Trinitarios.

In April, El Comercio attributed the growing conflict to a breakdown of the non-aggression pact between the DDP, the Trinitarios and Spain’s other two Latin gangs -- the Latin Kings and the Ñetas.

Gang cells have also proliferated, adding to the 88 existing chapters recorded in Spain, according to El Comercio, which cited national law enforcement. Of those, 75 percent currently belong to the four big Latin gangs: 29 to the Latin Kings, 16 to the Trinitarios, 11 to the DDP and 10 to the Ñetas.

InSight Crime Analysis

While clashes are common among Spain's Dominican gangs, which emerged in the early 2010s, the renewed violence indicates the DDP and Trinitarios are feuding over control of neighborhoods and criminal activities. Both, however, face intrinsic limitations.

Youth street gangs are by their very nature low-level criminal actors. In Spain, most recruits are underage, with one report by El País finding some are as young as 11 and almost none above 30 years of age. Gang members also don't last long, with a turnover rate of 30 to 50 percent. Every year some 100 to 200 members are arrested, while gang membership nationwide hovers at around 350 to 400 people, according to the report.

As a result, they are mainly involved in street-level crimes, such as drug sales. While there have been fears in the past about the movement of the Dominican gangs into transnational organized crime, it is now clear this has not happened.

These groups also do not appear to maintain any meaningful connection to street gangs in the Dominican Republic or to the struggling European branches of other street gangs like the MS13 or Barrio 18.

SEE ALSO: Spain Arrest of Barrio 18 Leader Signals Gang's European Expansion

In fact, according to Spanish law enforcement, their only connection to higher-level organized crime is as a filter for criminal talent.

“The gangs are a school of criminals, those who are 'good' end up in organized crime and those who are not, in common crime,” the head of the Latin gangs section of Madrid’s National Police told El País.

That is not to say, however, that groups like the DDP or Trinitarios should be dismissed. Besides their use of extreme violence, they are strongly centralized and hierarchically structured entities capable of recruiting, arming and deploying significant numbers of disillusioned teenagers across the country. Internal cohesion is maintained through a strict set of codes and collective capital generated via monthly membership fees.

Media reports suggest the gangs’ leadership structures may even be more formalized than those of their Central American counterparts. Each chapter allegedly has a leading “supremo,” backed up by a lieutenant (an “ángel”) and third-in-command. It is this third who is in charge of administering discipline and giving members permission to change neighborhoods.

When all is said and done though, Kattya Núñez, a Madrid-based anthropologist involved in research on the gangs, offers some perspective.

“In Spain, gangs are never going to be a problem as they have been in other countries,” she told El País.

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