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Dominican Republic: Fuel smugglers take advantage of chaos in Haiti

HAVANA — As gangs in Haiti block and loot key fuel supplies, the fuel crisis is now spilling over into the neighboring Dominican Republic.

An illicit oil smuggling industry on the countries’ common 240-mile border has flourished in the wake of soaring gasoline prices in Haiti.

Dominicans and Haitians buy subsidized fuel for $5 a gallon from Dominican Republic border towns and smuggle it into Haiti, where it costs up to $50 a gallon.

It has caused gasoline shortages, long lines at gas stations and caused gasoline sales to at least double in the border town of Dajabón, said Santiago Riverón, the town’s mayor.

“It’s a worrying situation because it’s not just Haitians who are crossing to buy gasoline,” Riverón said. “Now many Dominicans are smuggling gasoline, and that’s a danger.”

Because trade in goods like flour, meat, and eggs between the two countries has been curtailed due to the crisis in Haiti, many people have turned to smuggling.

The situation in Haiti deteriorated sharply last year following the assassination of former Haitian President Jovenel Moïse. Things got worse in September when Prime Minister Ariel Henry announced fuel subsidies would be scrapped, causing prices to double.

Protests erupted and Haiti’s most powerful gang blocked the country’s main fuel source in Port-au-Prince. This, in turn, has spurred shortages of other basic necessities like clean water at a time when Haiti is facing its worst cholera outbreak in years, and has left hospitals and universities without a source of funding. ‘electricity.

“The shortages and rising black market gas prices that we were already seeing have only grown,” said Diego Da Rin, an analyst at the International Crisis Group.

Jhonny, a resident of the border town of Pedernales in the south of the Dominican Republic, said poorer people have taken advantage of the price spike, spending their days crossing the border on motorbikes.

“A lot of people fill up motorcycles at the gas station and then go home, take them out and store gallons,” said Jhonny, who asked that his last name not be used.

Just two weeks ago, Dominican border security forces said they seized nearly 2,700 gallons of fuel smuggled into Haiti in one go. Ramón Pérez Fermín, Deputy Minister of Internal Trade, said such meetings have intensified in the past six weeks.

This is a major economic loss for their country, noted Pérez Fermín, as the Dominican Republic has paid considerable sums to subsidize fuel prices following the Ukrainian crisis.

In the first nine months of this year alone, the Caribbean government paid out $574 million in fuel subsidies, more than double what it paid for all of 2021, he said. .

“The government subsidizes gas that doesn’t even go to the Dominican Republic,” he said. “It does not end up in the hands of the Dominican consumer.”

Dominican President Luis Abinader said last week he was banning two-wheeled vehicles from crossing the border in an attempt to stop the growing smuggling network, and said he would close the border in the event of international intervention in Haiti, which the United Nations Security Council will discuss on Monday.

Last year he began construction of a border wall, a move his government says will improve security.

But Dajabón Mayor Riverón and other officials have said the only real solution to a situation they view with growing concern is foreign intervention.

“The solution is in the hands of international authorities,” Riverón said.

Associated Press writer Martín José Adames Alcántara contributed to this report from Santo Domingo.

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