July 31, 2006


The Caribbean's Shady Side: Organized Crime


KEVIN NOBLET, AP--A bout of political mudslinging in the sunny Dutch dependency of Aruba has revealed a glimpse of the Caribbean's shady side: organized crime's extensive presence.

In the aftermath of a hotly contested January election, Prime Minister Nelson Oduber and his opposition have been tarring each other with allegations of ties to a notorious Sicilian Mafia family that moved into Aruba in the late 1980s.

Many officials in the Caribbean are loath to discuss crime and corruption openly, lest the region's carefully cultivated reputation as a vacation paradise be tarnished.

But in many islands, from the Caymans to Curacao, a criminal underground is laundering money and stolen goods, running drugs or guns. Law enforcement experts say the Caribbean's politics, economics and even geography have combined to make it especially vulnerable to the mob. Its small governments, often less than professional, are ill-equipped to cope with the problem.

Organized crime is hardly new to the region. Pirates and buccaneers plied the blue-green waters centuries ago. Havana was rife with mobsters before Fidel Castro's revolution in 1959. Thieves and con men such as fugitive financier Robert Vesco, now living in Cuba, traditionally have found safe haven in the Caribbean. Law enforcement experts say events in the last two decades created an even more powerful magnet for big-time crooks.

As the cocaine industry developed in nearby South America to feed the American and European markets, British and Dutch islands were becoming independent or achieving greater political and economic autonomy.

With few natural resources, the new governments turned to tourism, casino gambling and tax sheltering as sources of income. Tourist services "are all cash-intensive businesses," said Merill Parks, operations chief of the FBI-organized crime drug branch in a telephone interview from Washington.

More recently, Italian crime groups began forging alliances with Colombian cocaine cartels, often working from bases in Caracas, Venezuela. They found the Dutch islands, just off Venezuela and not far from Colombia, especially attractive.

"They've infiltrated casinos, hotel and tourism businesses on the islands of Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, St. Maarten," Parks said. Officials in the Netherlands took direct control of St. Maarten's finances last year, responding to allegations of corruption.

The mudslinging in Aruba involves the Sicilian brothers Pasquale, Paolo and Gaspare Cuntrera. Dutch and Italian press reports say the brothers made extensive investments in Aruba in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Foes of Oduber allege that members of his cabinet had dealings with the Cuntreras, who were arrested in Venezuela... They were sent to Italy to face charges of laundering hundreds of millions of dollars in drug-smuggling profits.

Money-laundering scandals also periodically arise -- and often are quickly hushed up -- in the current or former British dependencies of the Bahamas, the Caymans, Montserrat, and Turks and Caicos.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Oduber is half Sicilian and half Dutch by dippit nose anf flaper ears. He hushes in low grawl when he speaks. People knows him a lying wolf. He conspired with Venezuela to trap the DEA officails and had them arrested as CIA spies by the Chavez counter-revolutionaries. Money-laundering is Oduber's crime family monopoly on the Aruban island Central Bank. Aruban Central Bank has been printing billions of worthless Florins dollar bills to default the Aruban Treasury and smuggle the money to the secret Swiss bank accounts. Aruba will nosedive and bankrupt the IMF and collapse in any given day. Hunger and wild dogs can wipe out all the women and children in Aruba in less than a month under boiling sun.