The Miami Herald
May 29, 2000

U.S. cuts aid to protest killings by Dominican Republic police


 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, Almanzar
 estimated. The rest, he added, ``are simple assassinations . . . vigilante-styled
 executions of career criminals.

 Almanzar, 46, said that after he started complaining last summer about the
 killings, police stopped issuing news releases on some cases of alleged
 self-defense shootings.

 ``They would simply take the bodies to the morgue and notify relatives to pick
 them up, with no investigation at all of the circumstances, he said.

 Human rights groups have since established a network of morgue and hospital
 employees who notify them of any police shootings, he said.

 A U.S. State Department report on the Dominican Republic's human rights record
 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
 last year.

 ``There's an army guy in charge of the police down there who refuses to reform
 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, rampant in
 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 ``an ongoing
 process to eliminate unqualified or abusive police officers.

 But Almanzar and foreign diplomats here say Candelier's get-tough approach also
 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.''


 Candelier declined a request for an interview.

 Gisela Cueto, chief legal aide to Attorney General Francisco Dominguez Brito,
 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 year, Cueto
 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 reforms that
 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 of future
 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 police was
 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 said, apparently
 because police fear interference with their ability to cover up any police abuses or
 manipulate evidence.

 ``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.


 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
 and regulation.

 Almanzar, son of a police captain killed in a 1972 shootout with leftist guerrillas,
 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.