Dominicans and Colombians check into entire blocks of hotel rooms for a week or more and sit by the pool talking on rented cellular phones until the shipment is set up, according to another DEA official. From there, the official said, the Dominicans take charge.
Dominican "armies for hire" have taken over entire housing projects in Puerto Rico and in New York City's Washington Heights neighborhood--staging areas to vastly expand Colombia's U.S. drug market, DEA officials contend.
Dominicans also control a two-block area in Queens that is full of wire-transfer businesses set up to launder money, said one DEA official.
"Everything's in line," he said. "They are set in the States."
Targeting Puerto Rico
Colombians looking for new alliances in the drug trade have also targeted Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory that lies 70 miles east of the Dominican Republic.
"Cocaine and heroin traffickers from Colombia have transformed Puerto Rico into the largest staging area in the Caribbean for smuggling Colombian cocaine and heroin [into] the U.S.," James Milford, DEA deputy chief, said during testimony before a U.S. House subcommittee in July.
When Jimenez's agents cracked a major Puerto Rican drug ring in April, they arrested two Colombians and nine Dominicans. The alleged leader of the ring, Jouhan Rivera Rosa, had been arrested earlier in the Dominican Republic on separate drug charges.
Traffic has also picked up over the past three years on the island of Aruba, a landing site for drug planes for nearly two decades, according to law enforcement sources.
Proximity to Colombia--as well as connections to Europe and North America that the tourist trade has already established--has made Aruba an excellent transshipment point, U.S., Colombian and Caribbean authorities agree.
In addition, Aruba is well equipped to provide money-laundering services, they said.
Aruban smuggling fame dates to the days of the Dutch pirates. In this century, Arubans have established close contacts on the Guajira peninsula, Colombia's traditional entry point for contraband.
Still under the protection of the Netherlands, Aruba is now a major passageway for cocaine and heroin entering Europe, Dutch authorities say.
The Colombians also appear to be turning to Central America for new drug routes into Europe.
Guatemalan and German authorities are investigating a case that has so far resulted in the arrest of Andreas Haeneggi, the local general manager of the Swiss corporate giant Nestle, and his son. They, along with the police chief of the tourist resort of Antigua, are suspected of being part of a major drug ring that hid $100 million worth of cocaine in cut flowers bound for Germany. All three have denied the charges.
With the operations of Italian allies curtailed, the Colombians are finding that their most reliable drug partner in Europe is the Russian mafia, officials say.
With an explosion of drug consumption, especially heroin, in the former Soviet Union, criminal organizations--made up in part of ex-members of the KGB and former military and police officials--are making a bid for control of the East European market, according to Colombian authorities.
"The Russian mafia has set itself up on the Caribbean islands so as to be able to contact the Colombians," said Gen. Rosso Jose Serrano, commander of the Colombian police. For example, more than two dozen Russian banks have offices on the island of Antigua, raising questions about why so many faraway financial institutions would have so much interest in such a small island, Caribbean law enforcement sources say.
Serrano readily admits that this emerging alliance worries him. "These are tough people," he said. "An alliance between the Russians, the Italians and the Colombians would finish us off."
Darling reported from Bogota, Puerto Rico, Miami, Barbados and Guatemala. Times Caribbean Bureau Chief Mark Fineman contributed to this report from Miami and Washington, and Special Correspondent Steven Ambrus contributed from Bogota.
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New Drug Partners
In an attempt to break Mexico's preeminence in narcotics smuggling, Colombian traffickers are establishing new ties to bring their drugs to market. Places where they have found new allies: