Dominican Republic Country Profile

13/01/2015

Key Statistics

Population: 10.53 million (World Bank, 2014)

Capital: Santo Domingo

Languages: Spanish

Major Ethnic Groups: Mixed/Multiracial 73%, White 16%, Black 11%

GDP per capita (current US dollars): 5,945 (IMF World Economic Outlook, 2015)

GDP per capita PPP (current international dollars): 13,347 (IMF World Economic Outlook,2015)

Security Sector Stats

Active Armed Forces: 46,000 (Military Balance, 2014)

Small Arms: The estimated total number of guns (both licit and illicit) held by civilians in the Dominican Republic is 600,000; The defence forces of the Dominican Republic are reported to have 56,000 firearms; and Police are reported to have 32,000 (Gun Policy, 2015)

Military Expenditure: 0.6% of GDP (World Bank, 2013)

Executive Summary

As the Dominican Republic’s importance as a transhipment point for illicit narcotics has increased over the last decade, so too has its violence levels with homicides doubling in that time. This has been attributed to the presence of international drug trafficking organisations, though a thriving local gang scene is also a key driver.

Exacerbating the problem is a corrupt and inefficient judiciary, overcrowded penal system and corrupt security forces. Impunity rates for homicide are high while a high number of police and military personnel have been implicated in drug trafficking rings. In addition, the police are notoriously violent, contributing to over 10 percent of the country’s murders and raising the possibility that they may be carrying out extrajudicial killings.

Efforts to reform historically weak institutions have fallen short to date. The one bright spot is a decade-long initiative that has seen the creation of prisons with professionally trained staff and that focus on rehabilitation. Increasing the number of these will be vital to helping combat corruption and overcrowding in the penitentiary system.

Police and military reform is arguably the most pressing concern thanks to the involvement of corrupt officials in contributing to key crime rates.

Security and Justice Context

The Dominican Republic has struggled to control its violence levels over the last decade, seeing the homicide rate double between 2001 and 2011 from a rate of 12.5 murders per 100,000 people, to 25 per 100,000 (See Figure 1.).

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Fig. 1 Dominican Republic Homicide Rate 1999-2011

The country serves as the primary transit point[1] for cocaine being trafficked through the Caribbean on its way to the United States and Europe. This importance has been on the increase in recent years, with the country’s annual cocaine seizures more than doubling from 2008-2012 (See Figure 2.). Cocaine is smuggled primarily via maritime operations as the Dominican Republic has successfully managed to decrease the number of drug flights transiting its territory. Much of this aerial traffic has been shifted to the Central American isthmus.

As its importance as a narcotics transhipment point has grown, so too has the presence of Mexican and South American criminal organisations. The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has linked this increased presence to the rise in violence the nation has seen. As the US State Department notes, these transnational groups often pay local partners in the Dominican Republic in narcotics, thus helping to fuel the local drug trade and drug-related violence. The government advisor on drug policy estimated in 2012 that some 300,000 youth[2] in the Dominican Republic had a drug problem.

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Fig. 2 Dominican Republic Cocaine Seizures 2000-2012

In addition to Latin American trafficking groups, European criminal organisations—among them the Russian and Italian Mafias— are said by high-ranking Dominican officials to have established a presence in the country.

In 2012, the head of the country’s Central Directorate for the Management of Groups in Conflict with the Law (Dirección Central de Manejo de Grupos en Conflicto con la Ley) identified 14 domestic criminal groups who are principally engaged in local drug trafficking, armed robberies and kidnapping. These gangs can have up to 300 members spread across the country.

The country is listed by the US State Department as being a jurisdiction of “primary concern” with regards to money laundering. While its importance as a site for this crime is not on a level with Colombia and Mexico, for example, it is a strategically vital country for transnational criminal groups to launder illicit proceeds, particularly money earned from the drug trade. The 2012 breakup of a money laundering ring comprised of Dominicans, Venezuelans and Colombians highlights this; the group was estimated to have laundered $350 million through the country over a period of five years.

Estimates by the government in 2009 put the total amount laundered through the country as roughly equivalent to two percent of the Dominican Republic’s gross domestic product (GDP)[3] . This estimate is believed to be on the conservative side, though.

As a point of comparison, Colombia, one of the major sites for money laundering in the region, estimated that laundering activities accounted for three percent of its GDP in 2011, totaling $8 billion annually.

As of June 2012, there were 207,107 legally registered firearms in the country. In addition, there are thought to be around 60,000 firearms with expired licenses[4] circulating. This means the number of illegal firearms is likely greater and helps make the Dominican Republic a key player in the regional illicit arms trade. The Association of Caribbean Commissioners of Police (ACCP)[5] estimated that there are some 1.6 million illegal weapons circulating in the whole Caribbean.

According to studies, guns are used in around 60-64 percent of the Dominican Republic’s murders prompting calls for greater gun control.

The Dominican Republic is a source and transit point for international human trafficking rings. Dominican victims have been detected throughout the Americas and in Europe where they accounted for 1 percent of victims detected in Western and Central Europe from 2007-2010.

The country’s rating with regards to efforts made against human trafficking has been improved in recent years by the US State Department, rising from a Tier 3 country in 2010, to Tier 2 in 2012[6] .

Perceptions of Insecurity

According to Vanderbilt University’s Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP), the perception of insecurity among the Dominican Republic’s population has fallen from a 2006 peak of 50.7 points[7] . The latest figure was 43.6 points in 2012, down from 46.5 in 2010 (See Figure 3.).

However, while the perception of insecurity may be following a downward trend, the 2012 figure still ranks the Dominican Republic 7th worst out of 26 countries surveyed in the region.

Fig. 3 Dominican Republic Perceptions of Insecurity 2010 and 2012

Security and Justice Institutions

Justice Institutions

The Dominican Republic has an independent judiciary and adversarial legal system. The country’s highest court is the Supreme Court (Corte Suprema de Justicia) comprised of 16 judges elected by the National Judicial Council (Consejo Nacionalde la Magistratura). Below the Supreme Court are Courts of First Instance (Juzgado de Primera Instancia) below which are Courts of Peace (Juzgado de Paz). The Courts of Peace have jurisdiction over localised matters, while Courts of First Instance are more specialised with separate chambers to hear cases relating to civil, criminal and commercial matters respectively.

Appeals over the Court of First Instance’s ruling can be handed to the Court of Appeals (Corte de Apelacíon) though final appellate jurisdiction rests with the Supreme Court.

The 2010 Constitution[8] saw the creation of the Constitutional Tribunal (Tribunal Constitucional) which hears matters relating to the constitutionality of legal rulings. The Constitution also established the position of a Human Rights Ombudsman (Defensor del Pueblo), following a 2001 law which mandated its creation. As of August 2012, however, no ombudsman had been appointed, something which was criticised heavily by both domestic and international human rights organisations.

In addition, there are police and military tribunals whose role it is to hear cases relating to official misconduct within the security forces. Cases of alleged extrajudicial killings and similarly serious offenses are typically handled by civilian criminal courts, however.

The country’s Attorney General (Procurador General de la República-PGR) is appointed by the president and serves as the government’s legal advisor. Each of the country’s provinces has their own district attorney.

According to the US State Department, though the judiciary is constitutionally independent from the executive, there are concerns of political interfering in judicial decisions and corruption in the courts. In the 2012-2013 World Economic Forums’ Global Competitiveness Report, the Dominican Republic placed 120th out of 144 countries for judicial independence. Additionally, corrupt government officials have often been able to avoid prosecution despite the law providing criminal penalties for such acts, drawing attention to problems of impunity within the judicial system.

The attorney general stated in November 2012 that the rate of impunity was roughly 60 percent for homicide cases, meaning six of every 10 cases are never resolved. Not only does this highlight inefficiency in the courts, but also in the police.

Public confidence in the justice sector has slipped over the years; the country had a score of 50.1[9]  points in 2008, and 42.7 points in 2012, according to LAPOP.

The General Directorate of Prisons (Dirección General de Prisiones)—housed under the PGRmanages the country’s penitentiary system. As of 2011, prisons were at 184 percent capacity.  Pre-trial detention is one factor contributing to this, with many pre-trial detainees being held for between three and six months. Many of these inmates are housed with convicted criminals.

Conditions inside the prisons are generally poor with violence commonly reported. Some of the country’s jails are believed to be under the control of inmates rather than the authorities. Corruption is a significant problem with inmates having to pay prison guards bribes simply to be taken to trial in some cases, and visitors having to bribe their way into facilities to visit inmates. Though prison wardens who report to the attorney general are supposed to be in charge of the institutions, 80 percent of guards were police or military personnel in 2010 rather than civilian officers, according to the US State Department.

Security Institutions

The National Police (Policía Nacional de la República Dominicana) is the primary body charged with citizen security and local law enforcement. It is part of the Interior and Police Ministry (Ministerio de Interior y Policía) and as of 2011 had 29,627 agents.

The police force has a reputation for being corrupt and inefficient. In 2012, seven percent of people involved in the more than 14,000 robberies and thefts that took place in the country were either police, or people using police uniforms, victims reported. As Amnesty International highlights, low salaries are believed to be a significant contributing factor to this problem; in 2011, the lowest ranking members of the force (some 45 percent of total officers) only received around $140 per month in salary. This was well below the private sector’s minimum wage of $221 per month.

More worrying is the high incidence of police killings. From 2005-2010 Dominican police officers accounted for over 15 percent of all murders in the country.  Based on preliminary figures for homicides in 2012, the police accounted for 12.8 percent of all killings. Many of these killings are described as being “exchanges of gunfire.” However, there are a number of reports that claim extrajudicial killings. Torture by the police is also a serious concern.

According to the 2012 LAPOP survey, confidence in the Dominican police force was among the lowest in the region. Out of the 26 countries surveyed, the Dominican Republic’s police came third to last, with a score of only 34.9 points (See Figure 4.).

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Fig. 4 Dominican Republic Confidence in Police 2010

The police’s intelligence branch is the Central Criminal Intelligence Directorate (Dirección Central de Inteligencia Delictiva–DINTEL).

The country has a military[10] force of 46,547 personnel over half of which are in the army. The military’s role, aside from national defence, is in counter-narcotics operations and to control illegal immigration and contraband flows along the border with Haiti. The institution is generally more trusted than the police, registering a confidence score of 58.2 points in the 2012 LAPOP survey.

Like the police, the military are battling problems with corruption. Between 2007 and 2012, for example, 516 military and police personnel[11] were dismissed for drug trafficking ties. Those removed from their post included officials from the Specialized Airport Security Corps (Cuerpo Especializado de Seguridad Aeroportuaria–CESA). In October 2012, it was announced that three high ranking officers—an Air Force lieutenant, an Army lieutenant colonel and a sergeant major—had been detained on suspicion of belonging to a drug trafficking ring that smuggled illicit narcotics using commercial airlines.

According to the 2011 Small Arms Survey, there were 30,000 private security personnel in the Dominican Republic in 2008. If this number has remained consistent, it would mean that the private security force outnumbers the police.

The National Development Strategy 2010-2030 (Estrategia Nacional de Desarrollo República Dominicana 2010-2030) was enacted by the president in 2012. Among the priorities of the Strategy are bringing down crime and increasing citizen security; the strengthening of the judicial system with an emphasis on transparency; strengthening the penitentiary system and offering rehabilitation to prisoners who have completed their sentence; and, professionalising the police force and putting internal control systems in place to ensure greater transparency.

State of Security and Justice Sector Reform

Justice Sector Reform and Initiatives

The most significant justice sector initiative to have been embarked on recently is the attempt to modify the country’s penal code[12] . The amendments, which at the time of writing were still to be approved, include codifying the crime of kidnapping, increasing the maximum sentence for so-called “serious offences” from 30 to 40 years, and reducing the penalty for some forms of domestic violence. Additionally, abortion would remain illegal. The initiative has been heavily criticised by women’s and human rights groups.

No major reform initiatives aimed at re-structuring the judiciary have been undertaken in recent years. There is, however, a permanent Commissioner for the Reform and Modernisation of the Justice System (Comisionado de Apoyo a la Reforma y Modernización de la Justicia–CARMJ) which was created in the 1990s and aims to promote reform and modernisation initiatives within the judiciary and prison system.

The government began a sweeping restructuring programme of the country’s penitentiary system in 2003 under the New Prison Management Model (Nuevo Modelo de Gestión Penitenciario), which saw the creation of Correctional and Rehabilitation Centres (Centros de Corrección y Rehabilitación – CCR). These housed around 19 percent of the prison population in 2011. Between 2006 and 2012, nearly $50 million (RD$2 billion) was invested in the model.

The facilities focus on preparing the inmate for reintegration into society, offering educational and training opportunities. The CCRs are not overcrowded and are run by an entirely civilian force which has to go through one year of training prior to being qualified. Thus, conditions are considerably better than in traditional jails.

Security Sector Reform and Initiatives

Efforts to reform the police have generally come up short in recent years, in spite of the creation of various commissions to work on the issue. Most recently, President Danilo Medina created the Presidential Commission for the Reform of the National Police (Comisión Presidencial para la Reforma de la Policía Nacional) in November 2012, highlighting police reform as an urgent priority. Its responsibilities include formulating policy initiatives for reforms that will be submitted to Congress for debate, and evaluation of any subsequent measures.

The Commission includes the police chief, the interior and police minister, and the attorney general, and is presided over by the minister of the presidency. There is concern that the high concentration of government personnel on the Commission could mean the required reforms to create a fully professional and transparent force may not be recommended.

At the time of writing, a military reform bill that would amend the Organic Law of the Armed Forces (Ley Orgánica de las Fuerzas Armadas) was making its way through the legislature. This amendment—which focuses predominantly on the structure of the military—would see the reduction of the number of generals from 123 to 40 and would create a Joint Chiefs of Staff Commander who would have control over the Navy, Army and Air Force. The reform has experienced some pushback from within the military, notably from senior officers.

Under the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI), a US government-funded program, the Dominican Republic has received aid to help increase the capacity of its police through training programs and technical assistance, improve counter-narcotics operations, combat money launder, reduce corruption, and improve efficiency in the justice sector.

Parliamentary/Congressional Capacity for Oversight

The Dominican legislature (Congreso de la República) is split into an upper Senate (Senado) and lower Chamber of Deputies (Cámara de Diputados) and is constitutionally independent from the executive. Thus, it has the power to exercise oversight. Congress has received aid from a variety of international bodies, notably the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), to help strengthen its operational capacity. Its powers for oversight are generally considered weak thanks to the power held by the executive in practice. This is especially true with the police. Though Congress technically is able to exercise an oversight role with regards to the police, Amnesty International has highlighted that the only institution with real power is the executive.

Security and Justice Opportunities

Corruption is a pressing concern within the Dominican government meaning that engagement on reform initiatives should be approached with caution. Though the rating it received from Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index improved from 2011 to 2012, the country is still poorly ranked sitting in 118th place out of 176 countries.

Political infiltration by drug traffickers is particularly worrying. In 2012, the country’s police chief, head of intelligence, chief of border security and the armed forces minister all had their US visas revoked for alleged ties to drug traffickers. What’s more, one of 2008’s presidential candidates has been accused of accepting bribes from a Puerto Rican drug lord.

Justice Sector Opportunities

Efforts could be made to ensure that the judiciary remains completely independent from political interference. The accountability of the courts system and alleged corruption among justice sector officials should also be addressed, with efforts made to ensure complete transparency. The fact that few efforts have been made to date to tackle this issue is a concern.

The prison reform program that has seen the creation of facilities emphasizing rehabilitation is a hugely promising initiative. The government appears to be pushing this project forward in earnest. Given the poor state of the rest of the country’s penitentiaries, helping to push this initiative forward would be advised as a way of combating the corruption and poor conditions in prisons by offering an alternative to where the majority of inmates remain housed.

Security Sector Opportunities

Police reform is arguably the most pressing issue. There have been few signs of improvement in the force in recent years and efforts to tackle corruption have generally stalled. The president’s creation of a commission on the topic is welcome, but it needs to be ensured that its work is transparent and that it engages with civil society actors so that any recommendations take into account a wide variety of factors rather than those solely under the consideration of government officials.

Similarly, the issue of corruption in the military and how it helps facilitate drug trafficking should be addressed due to the fact that many see increased trafficking activity as being correlated to the country’s deteriorating security situation.

Civil Society Actors to Engage With

Engagement with civil society actors, particularly on the issue of police and military reform and oversight, is highly advised given the problems of governmental corruption. There are a number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Citizen Participation[13] (Participación Ciudadana–PC) is the national chapter of Transparency International and works towards tackling corruption and impunity in the country primarily through strengthening institutions and working to increase involvement of the citizenry.

Among other organisations working toward greater transparency and human rights are the Santo Domingo Human Rights Institute[14] (Instituto de Derechos Humanos Santo Domingo) and the National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos). There is also the Global Democracy and Development Foundation[15] (Fundación Global Democracia y Desarrollo–FUNGLODE) which works towards developing public policy proposals and strengthening democracy. It was founded by ex-President Leonel Fernandez.

Resources

Amnesty International, “’Shut up if you don’t want to be killed!’ Human rights violations by the police in the Dominican Republic,” October 2011

Red de Seguridad y Defensa de América Latina, “Atlas Comparativo de la Defensa en América Latina y Caribe Edición 2012,” October 2012

Small Arms Survey, “The Small Arms Survey 2011: States of Security,” July 2011

The AmericasBarometer by the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP), Vanderbilt University, “The Political Culture of Democracy in the Americas, 2010: Democratic Consolidation in the Americas in Hard Times,” December 2010

The AmericasBarometer by the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP), Vanderbilt University, “Cultura política de la democracia en República Dominicana y en las Americas, 2012: Hacia la igualdad de oportunidades,” November 2012

The AmericasBarometer by the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP), Vanderbilt University, “The Political Culture of Democracy in the Americas, 2012: Towards Equality of Opportunity,” November 2012 (Preliminary Version)

Transparency International, “Corruption Perception Index 2012,” December 2012

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, “Homicide Statistics 2012,” Data set retrieved from https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/data-and-analysis/homicide.html

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, “Transnational Organized Crime in Central America and the Caribbean: A Threat Assessment,” September 2012

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, “Global Report on Trafficking in Persons 2012,” December 2012

U.S. Department of State Bureau of Diplomatic Security, “Dominican Republic 2012 Crime and Safety Report,” April 2012

U.S. Department of State, “2012 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report Volume 1: Drug and Chemical Control,” March 2012

U.S. Department of State, “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011,” May 2012

U.S. Department of State, “Trafficking in Persons Report 2012,” June 2012

U.S. Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, “Preventing a Security Crisis in the Caribbean,” September 2012

World Economic Forum, “The Global Competitiveness Report 2012-2013,” September 2012

Endnotes

[1] The majority of the trade flows through Central America, with the Caribbean believed to be a transhipment point for roughly 5 percent of the cocaine on its way to the United States.

[2] The country’s population as of July 2012 was a little over 10 million people.

[3] The GDP in 2011 was $54.86 billion. If money laundering that year was two percent of GDP, it would mean the total laundered would be slightly over $1 billion.

[4] This figure was given by the country’s Interior and Police Minister in October 2012.

[5] The ACCP has a membership of 24 Caribbean nations and is designed to facilitate cooperation between the region’s police forces and help with the development of officers’ technical skills and professionalism. 

[6] This means that 2012 the US has deemed the Dominican government as “making significant efforts to bring [itself] into compliance with [the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s] standards.” A Tier 3 placement means no efforts are being made.

[7] LAPOP recodes respondents’ answers into a scale of 0-100 with a higher score representing a higher perception of insecurity.

[8] This replaced the 2002 Constitution.

[9] LAPOP recodes respondents’ answers into a scale of 0-100 with a higher score representing a higher level of confidence.

[10] The military is housed under the Ministry of Armed Forces (Ministerio de las Fuerzas Armadas).

[11] This figure maybe a great deal higher. In 2011 it was reported that 5,000 corrupt police and military officers had been fired in three years for having drug ties. Of these, 20 percent belonged to the National Drugs Control Agency (Dirección Nacional de Control de Drogas–DNCD).

[12] Changes to the penal code had been debated for 12 years prior to being pushed for in 2012.

[13] More information on their website: http://www.pciudadana.org

[14] More information on their website: http://idhsd.org

[15] More information on their website: http://www.funglode.org/

Igarapé Institute

The Igarapé Institute is a southern think tank devoted to evidence-based policy and action on complex social challenges including global drug policy, citizen security and international cooperation. Its goal is to stimulate humane engagement on emerging security and development issues. Across all its programs, the Institute adopts a three-prong approach:

  1. Diagnose challenges through cutting-edge research;
  2. Trigger informed debate and action across public and private spheres; and
  3. Design tailor-made solutions that are people-centered.
Organisation

The International Security Sector Advisory Team

The International Security Sector Advisory Team (ISSAT) provides practical support to the international community in its efforts to improve security and justice, primarily in conflict-affected and fragile states. It does this by working with a group of member states and institutions to develop and promote good security and justice reform practices and principles, and by helping its members to build their capacity to support national and regional security and justice reform processes.

Organisation