Dominican Authorities Seize 1,500 Kilos of Cocaine from Speedboat
SANTO DOMINGO- Dominican counter-narcotics agents seized about 1,500 kilograms of cocaine from a speedboat, arrested three Venezuelans and are pursuing six other suspects allegedly linked to a drug kingpin arrested last year.
The seizure, which concluded a months-long investigation called Operation Earthquake, marks the country's biggest drug bust of the year. It also adds to a string of high-profile operations in which Dominican authorities have seized thousands of kilos of cocaine.
Operation Earthquake was carried out during the morning hours of March 25 near the Caribbean beach town of Juan Dolio. National Drug Control Directorate (DNCD) officials said the vessel, a 40-foot speedboat with three 250-horsepower outboard motors, had been tracked from the Guajira Peninsula on Colombia's Caribbean coast near the Venezuelan border.
The Dominican Tactical Division of Sensitive Investigations, an elite unit in the country's counter-narcotics fight, began tracking the boat when it was about 100 miles south of the Dominican coast.
The DNCD, National Police and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents converged, confiscating 1,236 packets of cocaine and arresting the three individuals. Aboard the boat, agents found sophisticated communication devices and night vision equipment the alleged traffickers used for navigation.
The three arrested Venezuelans were identified as Richard Chirino Primera, Eliezer Hernández Guanita and Cruz Rafael Natera Fermín. DNCD officials also said they are close to arresting six Dominicans they believe were supposed to receive the cocaine.
Puerto Rico involvement suspected
The individuals were allegedly part of a drug trafficking ring linked to Ramón Antonio del Rosario Puente, a kingpin who was arrested last year and extradited to Puerto Rico at the request of U.S. federal authorities, who then had him transferred to New York.
Rosario, known as “Toño Leña,” is accused of running drugs from the eastern Dominican Republic into Puerto Rico as part of a massive trafficking operation overseen by José Figueroa Agosto, who has been called the "Pablo Escobar of the Caribbean.”
Figueroa Agosto was apprehended last year in Puerto Rico and is serving a 209-year prison sentence in New York. He also recently pleaded guilty to drug-trafficking charges in a U.S. Federal Court in Puerto Rico. His punishment for those crimes will be added to his sentence.
Rosario has denied any links to Figueroa Agosto. But DNCD officials said pieces of the criminal organization are still in place in the Dominican Republic.
“This network of drug traffickers uses the services of Venezuelans, Colombians and the remnants of the Toño Leña band to bring narcotics to the country and then to the United States and Europe,” said Gen. Rolando Rosado Mateo, chief of the DNCD. “These individuals were in charge of directing and coordinating the drug trafficking operations until the Dominican Republic.”
The cocaine seized in the operation was sent to a laboratory where it was to be tested for purity and weighed. DNCD officials said the cocaine had a street value of $75 million.
Latest in string of D.R. drug seizures
It was the third major bust for Dominican authorities in little more than a month.
On March 14, the DNCD confiscated 807.4 kilos of cocaine from a shipping container aboard an ocean liner docked in the port of Caucedo. The drug had been divided into smaller packets and stashed inside bales of tobacco that were bound for Valencia, Spain. Eight people were arrested in the operation.
On Feb. 22, the DNCD carried out Operation Volcano, a two-month investigation that led to the seizure of 633 kilos of cocaine that was allegedly being trafficked by boat from South America to Puerto Rico via the Dominican Republic's southern coast.
The prevalence of maritime seizures reflects a growing concern by Dominican authorities. The country virtually eliminated illicit drug flights from South America when it began to deploy its own aircraft.
The reduction in drug flights, however, “has resulted in redoubled efforts by traffickers to use maritime methods such as go-fast boats, privately owned fishing and recreational vehicles, and cargo containers,” Anibal de Castro, the Dominican ambassador to the United States, said in February during a hearing on Caribbean drug trafficking.
The big seizures in the early months of 2012 followed a year in which the DNCD and other counter-narcotics authorities set a record for cocaine seizures. In 2011, authorities confiscated 6,715 kilos of cocaine, a 48 percent increase from the previous year when authorities seized 4,527 kilos, according to DNCD statistics.