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Tuesday, October 4, 2011
Global Toolbox

Dark side of the Dominican Republic

By Bruce Swaffield

By most accounts, the Dominican Republic is a lovely place. In fact, 4 million tourists — a new record — visited the country last year, according to the Ministry of Tourism.

If you look deeper, past the white-washed resorts with their clear-blue pools, you will discover an unattractive side to all this beauty. And the picture is growing dimmer each year.

The real trouble in paradise is that the Dominican Republic acts as a sort of weigh station for drug trafficking. The cartels use the tiny nation to transport cocaine between Colombia and Mexico as well as to other places throughout the Caribbean.

Journalists are doing what they can to expose the corruption, but it is risky business. On Aug. 2, one reporter was assassinated because he knew too much.

“It is a tale of the killing of a muckraking journalist on a crusade to expose links between drug traffickers, public officials and businessmen in the Dominican Republic,” Fox News Latino said on Aug. 10. The report continued:

“A resort owner is suspected of orchestrating the killing of a Dominican journalist, José Silvestre, a prosecutor said.

“Hotel owner Matias Avelino Castro wanted to prevent journalist José Silvestre from publishing a planned story that linked Avelino to a murder and drug trafficking, Deputy Attorney General Frank Soto said at a news conference.”

The article added that a police investigation showed Avelino also wanted revenge because of past stories Silvestre had reported both in his weekly magazine and radio program, “The Voice of Truth.” Silvestre revealed information that linked Avelino to the recent assassinations of at least two business owners in La Romana.

In May, Silvestre was sued for slander by a local prosecutor whom he also accused of dealing in illegal drugs. Silvestre spent six days in jail and was then released on bond. The case was still pending at the time of his death.

Known to his friends as “Gajo,” Silvestre had 11 children and was well known in the southeastern province of La Romana. It is interesting to note that several rounds were fired at his house after his allegations against the prosecutor aired on Caña TV and that he was driven off the road a few days after leaving prison.

The details of Silvestre’s death were recounted in DiarioLibre.com: “The investigators established that Mañon Gutierrez, following the orders of his boss ‘Daniel’ [Matias Avelino Castro], during the early dawn hours of Tuesday, 2 August, set out headed for La Romana in company of three other persons to carry out the criminal action.

“The authorities stressed that the accused related how after they kidnapped the journalist José Silvestre and putting him in the SUV, in order to take him to the capital, he started to resist and he, Mañon Gutierrez, hit him with the Ranger revolver that he carried with an out-of-date license.

“He said that . . . the journalist continued to resist and this caused them to shoot him mortally and then abandon his body.

“Investigators said that the alleged mastermind, who is a partner in some businesses with the former Major League ballplayer José Rijo [Cincinnati Reds], is shown as the owner of the Gran Aparte Hotel Las Galeras, located in Samana.”


The Latin American Herald Tribune explained that, “The men were supposed to grab Silvestre and bring him to Santo Domingo, where Avelino Castro would kill him, but the reporter put up so much resistance that his captors shot him en route and dumped the body, according to police.”

Officials found him alongside a road halfway between the cities of La Romana and Santo Domingo. Silvestre, 59, had been shot three times: in the head, neck and abdomen.

As of late August, four of the five people charged with Silvestre’s murder had been arrested; Avelino remained at-large.

“We hail the effort that has been put into this investigation and its rapid results,” Reporters Without Borders (rsf.org) said on its website. “Solving this case will send a signal in the fight against impunity. Now that it has been confirmed that the victim’s work as a journalist was the motive, we must point out that the Dominican Republic continues to be a risky country for journalists who try to cover such subjects as street violence, corruption and organized crime.”

You can view a picture of Silvestre as he was found by police. It is a tragic photo, but it reminds us of the dedication and service by journalists in other countries. Go to dominicantoday.com. Type “José Silvestre” in the search box and look for the story published on Aug. 4.

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