DEA Congressional Testimony [print friendly page]
October 10, 2002

Statement of
Rogelio E. Guevara
Chief of Operations
Drug Enforcement Administration
Before
House Committee on International Relations
Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere
October 10, 2002

Executive Summary

Guatemala and the Dominican Republic each serve as critically important transit points for illegal drugs destined for the United States. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) maintains a presence in this important arena through its Guatemala City Country Office and Santo Domingo Country Office. Both of these offices play an integral role in U.S. counterdrug efforts.

Guatemala is a transshipment and storage point for Colombian heroin enroute to the United States and a primary stopover for cocaine coming northward from Colombia, utilizing virtually all types of conveyances. Widespread corruption has had a major impact in all areas of the Guatemalan government, including the counter-drug effort. Although various high-level officials have pledged to engage the counter-drug effort, persistent and worsening corruption has made it extremely difficult for the DEA to conduct counter-drug operations. Consequently, cocaine seizures have steadily declined.

The DEA has taken into account the situation in Guatemala and has shifted its operational strategy in order to compensate for the host government's relatively weak judicial system. Currently, new and significant DEA drug investigations are conducted with the intent of eventually obtaining indictments in the United States. In spite of the difficulties in Guatemala, however, the DEA has seen some success and continues to focus on major trafficking organizations in Guatemala.

An example of enforcement success in Guatemala is Operation Mayan Jaguar. The most recent Mayan Jaguar operation resulted in the eradication of approximately 281,000 marijuana plants.

The Dominican Republic's primary role in regional drug trafficking is as a center for command, control, and communications. This country is an important transshipment point for illicit drugs smuggled from South America and destined to the United States. Cocaine is the principal drug smuggled, however, heroin transshipment through the country is increasing. The Dominican Republic also continues to be a major player in the flow of ecstasy from Europe to the United States.

President Hipolito Mejia is addressing the issue of corruption within the Dominican government. Historically, the Dominican Republic served as a haven for fugitives, seeking to evade arrest from U.S. authorities. More recently, however, the Dominican government has demonstrated substantial progress in assisting with the extradition of U.S. fugitives. Outstanding Dominican cooperation has enabled successful joint U.S. and Dominican operations, such as the Martires Paulino-Castro case, which resulted in important seizures and arrests and the extradition of Paulino-Castro and others to Puerto Rico. The Paulino-Castro case established that evidence legally obtained by foreign law enforcement agencies, including court authorized wire intercepts, could be used in U.S. Federal courts in the prosecution of narcotic traffickers.

While implementation issues remain, the Dominican Republic has taken important legislative measures to combat money laundering, to allow for seizure and forfeiture of drug-related assets, and to provide for international cooperation in forfeiture cases.

Chairman Ballenger, Ranking Member Menendez, and distinguished members of the subcommittee, good morning. I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you to discuss United States counternarcotics efforts in Guatemala and the Dominican Republic. Both of these countries serve as critically important transit points for illegal drugs destined for the United States. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) focuses its efforts in these important countries through the Guatemala City Country Office and Santo Domingo Country Office. I will discuss Guatemala first and then address the Dominican Republic.

GUATEMALA

Trafficking Trends

Guatemala is a transshipment and storage point for Colombian heroin enroute to the United States. Guatemala's geographical location, porous borders, sparsely populated coastlines, highway infrastructure and ongoing corruption problems all contribute to the presence of drug smuggling ventures, utilizing virtually all types of conveyances.

Go-fast vessels departing Colombia are used to transport cocaine loads of approximately 1000 to 2000 kilograms to Guatemala's Pacific and Caribbean coasts. Current intelligence indicates that the Ocos area, located on the Pacific coast near the Mexican border, is the most frequently exploited point of entry. Cargo containers aboard commercial maritime vessels making calls at Guatemala's two major seaports, Puerto Quetzal and Puerto Barrios, are used to transship cocaine to the United States and Europe.

Guatemala is a primary landing zone for general aviation aircraft transporting cocaine northward from Colombia. Traffickers frequently exploit the more than 490 clandestine landing strips that are located throughout the country, from the Pacific coast to the remote northern border with Mexico. Couriers board commercial passenger flights to and from La Aurora International Airport in Guatemala City to transport heroin and cocaine from South America to the United States and Europe.

map of South America

Inadequate border enforcement and well-developed highways, stretching from the Pacific and Caribbean coasts to Guatemala City and transiting the country from Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico, facilitate smuggling ventures via commercial cargo trucks, buses and private vehicles.

Corruption and Drug Law Enforcement

After nearly thirty-six years of violent guerilla and civil war, Guatemala has only recently attempted to move from military to judicial rule. Criminals with political connections function within the various departments of the government, including the courts and national police. Widespread corruption has had a major impact in all areas of the Guatemalan government, including the counter-drug effort. The United States embassy has continually expressed concern regarding corruption problems within the Guatemalan government.

The political structure in Guatemala is fluid, resulting in a lack of stability for Guatemalan law enforcement. Since January 2000, Guatemala has seen four different Ministers of Government, seven Policia Nacional Civil (Guatemalan National Police (PNC)) Directors, and at least nine Departamento de Operaciones Anti-Narcoticos (DOAN) Comisario Generales. (The DOAN is the section within the Guatemalan Treasury Police dedicated to counter-narcotics and is DEA Guatemala's direct counterpart.) This lack of continuity has made it very difficult for the DEA to establish effective working relationships with the individuals in these positions.

Although various high-level officials have pledged to engage the counter-drug effort, they have been unable to affect or control the deep seated and well-entrenched culture of corruption that exists within the PNC and the DOAN. Corruption within the DOAN became so intolerable that, in April of 2002, the force was reduced from 650 to 140 members. The criminal behavior of the DOAN far exceeded bribery -- it had become as grievous as kidnapping and murder. The impact of this situation on DEA counter-drug efforts in Guatemala is obvious. Counter-drug operations are constantly under threat of being compromised. DEA has had to be very judicious in sharing of intelligence and operational leads with host nation counterparts, for fear of compromising the information.

Persistent and worsening corruption limits the ability of the DEA to work closely with our host nation counterparts. Monetary assistance for the DOAN and PNC from the U.S., as well as other foreign governments, has been curtailed sharply. The U.S. Government has completely stopped funding the DOAN with money for training, equipment and operations. Nevertheless, a relationship does exist. The PNC has been generally cooperative and supportive of DEA's efforts.

Judges and prosecutors are routinely bribed. Judges have compromised search warrant operations by revealing the impending operations to targeted narco-traffickers and have taken large sums of money to dismiss court cases against narco-traffickers. In 2001, for example, Judge Delmi Castaneda accepted thousands of dollars to dismiss a criminal case against narco-traffickers. The judge was observed meeting with and transporting the defendants in her own car. Although she has lost her judgeship, there has yet to be a successful arrest or prosecution against her.

Prosecutors are reluctant to vigorously pursue criminal cases because they fear being compromised at every level. Police officers are mistrustful of their peers because corruption is pervasive within their ranks. The courts, the prosecutors and the police are afraid of compromise, and all are without mutual support of each other. The result is an almost complete refusal by any of these three entities to effectively engage in the counter-drug mission.

Issues of corruption and involvement in narco-trafficking have long existed in the Guatemalan military, as well. Even within the ranks of the military, there is considerable mistrust because of the trafficking activities of some of the armed forces. This has hindered the anti-narcotics efforts of legitimate members of the Guatemalan military.

The situation in Guatemala has made it very difficult for the DEA to conduct counter-drug operations. Complicated, protracted drug investigations being conducted in this country with local law enforcement have effectively stopped.

New Approaches in Drug Law Enforcement

The DEA has understood and accepted this reality and recently shifted its operational strategy. New and significant drug investigations are now conducted with the intent of eventually obtaining indictments in the United States. This is the only viable method wherein it can reasonably be expected that, not only will an arrest be made, but that there will be a meaningful prosecution and sentence.

This approach has a downside, however. Evidence is much more difficult to collect and, in many instances, is not acceptable in U.S. courts. Moreover, DEA has no investigative or law enforcement authority in Guatemala. What evidence DEA's Guatemala office can collect must be accomplished through a local task force that is not vetted, is understaffed, under trained, under-equipped, and underpaid. This has left the DEA in Guatemala with very little resources by which to accomplish its mission.

Enforcement Operations

We have seen successes in Guatemala. In June 2002, for example, the DEA dismantled the Guatemalan wing of the Colombia-based Jose Jairo Garcia-Giraldo heroin organization. This organization transported heroin from Colombia to the United States via La Aurora International Airport in Guatemala City. The Garcia-Giraldo group was responsible for trafficking approximately 15 to 20 kilograms of heroin to the U.S. per month.

Operation Mayan Jaguar is the Guatemalan component of Operation Central Skies, a joint DEA-Department of Defense operation that utilizes U.S. army helicopters based in Honduras and host nation law enforcement agents to conduct tactical, 2-week operations twice a year. This program has been very successful, both operationally and as a liaison activity. The most recent Mayan Jaguar operation, completed in January 2002, resulted in the eradication of approximately 281,000 marijuana plants.

Guatemala Summary

Guatemala is both a major transshipment point for Colombian heroin enroute to the United States and a primary stopover for cocaine coming northward from Colombia. Corruption there has created barriers to DEA enforcement efforts. In spite of the difficulties in Guatemala, however, the DEA has had some success and continues to focus on major trafficking organizations.

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC

Trafficking Trends

The Dominican Republic's primary role in regional drug trafficking is as a center for command, control, and communications (C3) operations. We see indications that Dominican, Puerto Rican, and Colombian traffickers have made the Dominican Republic their location of choice for C3 operations for the movement of cocaine, via go fast boats, from Colombia and Venezuela to Puerto Rico, through St. Martin and other Caribbean countries.

The Dominican Republic is an important transshipment point for illicit drugs smuggled from South America and destined for the United States. Cocaine is the principal drug smuggled through the Dominican Republic; however, heroin transshipment through the country is increasing. Drugs are smuggled into the Dominican Republic via maritime vessels, airdrops, couriers, and overland from Haiti. Once the drugs are in the Dominican Republic, traffickers often smuggle drugs in small maritime vessels to Puerto Rico for transshipment to the United States.

Dominican nationals play a major role in the actual transshipment of drugs. Many go-fast crews in the Caribbean include Dominican nationals, mostly fisherman recruited from the local docks. Human carriers bring drugs (in luggage or swallowed by "mules") on flights originating in Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, and Europe. This method accounts for the highest number of seizures/arrests, mostly of cocaine and heroin.

One of the primary methods for smuggling cocaine into the Dominican Republic involves go-fast vessels that depart Colombia or Venezuela and arrive at remote areas along the southwest or southeast coast of the Dominican Republic. The go-fast vessels are usually met by Dominicans in smaller yola type boats, in close proximity to the Dominican shoreline. The narcotics are then stored in the Dominican Republic until they are later transported to the United States and/or Puerto Rico.

map of Dominican Republic

Cocaine shipments from the Dominican Republic bound for Puerto Rico are transported via go-fast boat or yola, departing the Dominican Republic's eastern coast and crossing the 70-mile stretch to Puerto Rico's western shoreline. Multi-hundred-kilogram amounts of cocaine occasionally are shipped from the Dominican Republic to the United States via maritime containerized cargo vessels.

The Dominican Republic continues to be a major player in the flow of ecstasy from Europe to the United States via local airports. Ecstasy seizures have been on the rise. Dominican nationals as well as middle-aged Europeans who have relocated to the Dominican Republic continue to be the primary ecstasy couriers. Over 71,500 tablets of ecstasy were seized in the Dominican Republic in the third quarter of FY-2002.

Anti-Corruption Efforts

While corruption is known to exist in the Dominican Republic, the DEA does not believe that corruption significantly affects DEA's law enforcement efforts or relationship with the Direccion Nacional de Control de Drogas (DNCD), the organization primarily responsible for the enforcement of counternarcotics efforts in the Dominican Republic and DEA's principal partner in anti-narcotics enforcement in the country.

In August 2000, Hipolito Mejia was elected President of the Dominican Republic. One of President Mejia's goals is to address the issue of corruption within the Dominican government. He appointed retired Major General Manuel Antonio LaChapelle Suero as President of the DNCD. General LaChapelle is a well respected, law abiding official. During his tenure he has demonstrated his honesty and has striven to rid the DNCD of anyone suspected of corruption. This positive atmosphere has allowed the DEA Santo Domingo Country Office and the DNCD to successfully coordinate major international narcotics investigations.

Enforcement Operations

Historically, the Dominican Republic served as a haven for fugitives, seeking to evade arrest from U.S. authorities. More recently, however, the Dominican government has demonstrated substantial progress in assisting with the extradition of U.S. fugitives. The Andujar-Guzman and Paulino-Castro cases illustrate the success of coordinated international efforts.

Wilfredo Andujar-Guzman, a Dominican national who has lived in Puerto Rico, was the subject of a joint DEA/DNCD investigation. His organization coordinated multi-hundred kilogram cocaine shipments from Venezuela to Puerto Rico via St. Martin. He was a DEA fugitive, wanted by the Southern District of New York for shipping in excess of 450 kilograms of cocaine from Puerto Rico to the Bronx, New York, in 1995.

During the investigation, the DNCD conducted court-authorized interceptions on over 25 telephones belonging to the organization, resulting in the total seizure of three (3) tons of cocaine and more than $2.5 million. Dutch authorities seized two go-fast vessels and made six (6) arrests during the enforcement operation. DEA San Juan arrested 14 members of the Andujar-Guzman organization in Puerto Rico. Four targets within the investigation, including Andujar-Guzman, were subsequently extradited to Puerto Rico.

On July 2, 2002, in Puerto Rico, Priority Target Wilfredo Andujar-Guzman pled guilty, to charges related to the seizure of approximately 2,776 kilograms of cocaine over a nine month period. Andujar-Guzman received a 20-year sentence. On June 28, 2002, Manuel Buenaventura Brito-Tolentino, Andujar-Guzman's right hand man, also pled guilty. He has not yet been sentenced.

Without the cooperation of all involved in this process, these defendants would not have been successfully investigated, arrested, extradited and convicted.

In September 2000, the DEA, in coordination with the DNCD, culminated a year-long investigation into the drug trafficking activities of the most significant Dominican drug trafficker in recent history, Martires Paulino-Castro. The International Drug Trafficking Organization headed by Paulino-Castro was involved in the transportation and distribution of hundred kilogram quantities of cocaine from Colombia to Puerto Rico and the United States, via the Dominican Republic. Paulino-Castro was considered virtually untouchable in the Dominican Republic due to his contacts in law enforcement and political circles.

On September 29, 2000, based on evidence gathered during the investigation and a Federal Grand Jury indictment in Puerto Rico, Paulino-Castro and several associates were arrested. A total of twenty (20) people were arrested during the execution of search warrants at nineteen (19) separate homes and businesses, which were seized by the DNCD. Also seized during the execution of arrest warrants: thirty four (34) personal vehicles, forty-three (43) greyhound type buses, seven (7) commercial trucks, several mopeds, titles and deeds to fifty (50) properties, keys for forty-eight (48) rental properties, six (6) shotguns, eleven (11) pistols and handguns, U.S. and Dominican currency totaling $643,277.00 USD, loan documentation, and miscellaneous documents.

On May 30, 2001, Martires Paulino-Castro was turned over by members of the DNCD to U.S. law enforcement authorities for extradition and subsequently flown to Puerto Rico under protective custody.

This investigation is significant, first, in that it established that evidence legally obtained by foreign law enforcement agencies, including court authorized wire intercepts, could be used in U.S. Federal courts in the prosecution of narcotic traffickers. According to U.S. prosecutors, this investigation was a "test case" and a major accomplishment in counternarcotics worldwide efforts. This accomplishment can be attributed to the outstanding cooperation between the United States and the President Mejia administration.

Also of importance in this operation was the extradition of Paulino-Castro to San Juan, Puerto Rico. Intelligence developed in this investigation established that Paulino-Castro had strong connections with high-ranking Dominican law enforcement officials and political figures. His extradition demonstrated the willingness of the Mejia administration to combat corruption and, at the same time, send a message to other drug traffickers that the Dominican Republic was no longer a sanctuary for their illegal activities.

Money Laundering

Bulk cash carried via human couriers or concealed in vehicles shipped to the Dominican Republic aboard shipping vessels is a primary method for transporting drug proceeds from the United States to the Dominican Republic. Intelligence also indicates that drug proceeds are often used to buy personal vehicles in the United States for export to the Dominican Republic.

The use of local banking systems and casino complexes to launder money has increased. However, the majority of drug money laundering in the Dominican Republic is done via casa de cambios or remesadoras (currency exchange houses), which are attractive to drug traffickers because of the flexibility they offer in making drug proceeds appear legitimate, sometimes disregarding U.S. reporting requirements. These businesses can be set up for the sole purpose of laundering money because they provide a perfect mechanism to launder proceeds expeditiously. The fact that these exchange houses are used by thousands of legitimate persons and businesses provides an ideal cover to conduct drug related financial transactions.

Since 1995, the Dominican Republic has criminalized drug-related money laundering. Among other things, the Dominican legislative framework also has required financial institutions to establish "know your customer" programs and to report suspicious and large currency transactions to the Dominican Superintendency of Banks, which has a financial intelligence unit. Dominican legislation also has provided for the seizure and forfeiture of drug-related assets and international cooperation in forfeiture cases. In 2002, the Government of the Dominican Republic promulgated new money laundering legislation in an effort to better combat money laundering. We are hopeful that this legislation will enable the Dominican Republic to more effectively combat money laundering and enhance both domestic forfeiture in the Dominican Republic and forfeiture cooperation with the United States..

Dominican Republic Summary

The Dominican Republic is an important transshipment point for cocaine smuggled from South America to the United States, as well as a regional drug trafficking center for command, control, and communications operations for the movement of cocaine. Other drugs and laundered money flow through the country, as well. The administration of President Hipolito Mejia has made notable progress in fighting corruption, however. This has resulted in joint DEA/DNCD enforcement successes and the extradition of significant drug traffickers to the United States.

CONCLUSION

Corruption obstructs any country's efforts to fight drug trafficking and the violence that accompanies it. While Guatemala and the Dominican Republic are both small nations, located between North and South America on major drug routes, and relatively lacking in wealth, the Dominican Republic has made a noticeable break with its past of corruption. Guatemala has not come as far, although there are fine, honest officials there, willing to place their lives on the line for justice. The DEA welcomes upright officials, in any nation, to vigorously join us in our mission to target and eliminate major drug trafficking organizations throughout the world.

Chairman Ballenger, Ranking Member Menendez, and members of the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, this concludes my prepared remarks. Again, I would like to thank you for inviting me here today and giving me an opportunity to speak to you regarding United States counternarcotics efforts in Guatemala and the Dominican Republic. I will be glad to address any questions you may have.

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