U.S. cuts aid to protest killings by Dominican Republic police
BY JUAN O. TAMAYO
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic -- The U.S. government has halted
nearly $1 million in aid to the Dominican police amid a dramatic increase in
execution-style killings of suspected criminals, and other abuses.
``They've made no effort to reform the National Police, so the
decision was made
not to support them until they do, said a Justice Department official in
Police killings of suspected criminals increased from 168 in 1998
to 221 in 1999,
said Virgilio Almanzar, head of the independent Dominican Human Rights
Committee. Another 70 killings by police have been reported so far this year.
Only 5 to 10 percent of these were legitimate slayings in self-defense,
estimated. The rest, he added, ``are simple assassinations . . . vigilante-styled
executions of career criminals.
Almanzar, 46, said that after he started complaining last summer
killings, police stopped issuing news releases on some cases of alleged
``They would simply take the bodies to the morgue and notify relatives
them up, with no investigation at all of the circumstances, he said.
Human rights groups have since established a network of morgue
employees who notify them of any police shootings, he said.
A U.S. State Department report on the Dominican Republic's human
for 1999 said the ``vast majority of these killings were questionable.
``Police reportedly committed well over 200 extrajudicial killings
during the year,''
the report said.
It added that police often beat and torture suspects, sometimes
detain relatives to
force suspects to surrender and ``in many cases commit such abuses with
U.S. officials, Almanzar and foreign diplomats blame the spike
in killings on army
Gen. Pedro Candelier, who vowed to halt a crime wave lashing the Dominican
Republic when he was named head of the 23,000-member National Police early
``There's an army guy in charge of the police down there who refuses
the police, the Justice Department official said.
Candelier is credited with implementing some reforms -- but not going far enough.
``They [the police] are green-lighting more people to use more
force, one diplomat
in Santo Domingo said.
Dominican officials blame a large part of the crime wave on the
U.S. deportation of
several thousand Dominicans, convicted of crimes in the United States, under
immigration regulations tightened in the mid-1990s.
The United States deported 2,618 convicted Dominicans in 1999
alone -- nearly
half convicted on drug charges -- under new laws that require aliens convicted of
felonies to be deported even if they are U.S. residents.
Almanzar credits Candelier with cracking down on police corruption,
this nation of eight million people where police receive little formal training and
earn almost minimum salaries. Candelier fired 2,300 police officers in 1999,
including scores who tested positive for drugs and several officers accused of
taking payoffs from cops in exchange for posts where they could collect bribes,
such as traffic patrols.
The State Department report also noted that Candelier had launched
process to eliminate unqualified or abusive police officers.
But Almanzar and foreign diplomats here say Candelier's get-tough
signaled to the police that they could make freer use of their guns when
confronting suspected criminals.
``Whether he intended to or not, his approach gave the police
on the street the
sense that they could shoot criminals on sight,'' said Almanzar, ``that they would
not be punished for simply gunning down career criminals.''
WILL NOT SPEAK
Candelier declined a request for an interview.
Gisela Cueto, chief legal aide to Attorney General Francisco Dominguez
said the Dominican government does not condone illegal police killings, ``although
these things can happen in any country.
Some policemen accused of abuses were put on trial over the past
added, and received harsh sentences ``that in some cases even seemed
disproportionate to the charges.
But U.S. officials say Candelier has failed to undertake significant
would justify continued U.S. aid from the Justice Department's International
Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program.
Washington informally notified the Dominican police of the suspension
funds from the program in December, and will officially inform President Leonel
Fernandez' government in coming days, U.S. officials said.
The frozen aid funds, estimated at nearly $1 million, were to
have financed training
for a new unit to investigate official corruption and several other judicial reforms.
One Western aid official said Candelier's failure to reform the
underlined by the failure of a U.S.-funded program that provided forensic training to
22 police crime-scene technicians last year.
The technicians have never been called to the field, the official
because police fear interference with their ability to cover up any police abuses or
``Any nice pistol seized in a crime goes right into police holsters,
the official said,
adding that police and court clerks also sometimes take bribes to make legal files
and reports disappear.
OTHER AID FROZEN
In an unrelated move, the U.S. Congress last month froze some
$6 million in U.S.
aid to the Dominican Republic to pressure officials here to extradite a Dominican
man accused of murdering his wife in Tarrytown, N.Y.
Carlos Daniel Grullon fled to the Dominican Republic after the
1991 murder. He
was jailed here for six months but was released because of an error in his bail. He
later disappeared, and his extradition case is mired in a tangle of Dominican laws
Almanzar, son of a police captain killed in a 1972 shootout with
said he had met with Candelier several times to discuss the alleged abuses but
found him unreceptive.
``I told him there is a civilized way of dealing with our crime
wave, Almanzar said.
``But he told me I was defending the side of the criminals.