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May 1 / Jon

In search of the Caribbean ‘Pablo Escobar’

Translated by Matt Shepherd.

The reason for choosing this article was the relation to the Latin American criminal under world, probably one of the most prominent issues in the region right now along with the drug war in Mexico. The criminal world has always been of profound interest to me so after not being able to find any automotive articles that expressed a Latin American point of view, I resorted to searching for a recent Latin American Cartel article. After reading a few articles about “The Pablo Escobar of the Caribbean” and the ongoing search for him and knowing about the legendary Pablo Escobar the cocaine king, it became something interesting to translate that came from a Latin American journalists perspective rather than an American perspective.

Source text: “Abogada boricua admite ayudó a ‘Junior Cápsula'”

In search of the Caribbean ‘Pablo Escobar’
Posted: 2010-04-26 15:14:54

SANTO DOMINGO, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC. They call him the ” Pablo Escobar of the Caribbean”, although in the underworld his nick name is “Junior Capsula” or Junior capsule in english, by either name the Puerto Rican is the most sought after man in the Dominican Republic.His near impossible escapes and mockery of the police have fueled his legend for the last ten years. Now the search for the supposed drug trafficker Jose Figueroa Agosto has intensified, after a police operation lead to the discovery of a laptop computer full of pseudonyms, a fleet of luxury cars and a country villa with its own private zoo.

American agents and Dominican police are on the hunt for any clues. The United States Secretary of Justice, Eric Holder, has personally committed to a full collaboration to capture the fugitive; who has avoided authorities from both countries since his escape from prison a decade ago in his native Puerto Rico.

“He’s classified as the Pablo Escobar of the Caribbean”, said Rafael Escobar, an American spokesperson who is of no relationship to the notorious Colombian drug trafficker. Just like Pablo Escobar in the 80’s, Jose Figueroa has accumulated a large quantity of jewels, land and luxury cars according to the Dominican police. For years he hid in plain sight, developing connections with elite Dominican personalities which often appeared in social magazines. Since September at least five people have been incarcerated under suspicion of money laundering or other means of aiding Figueroa.

America authorities issued a warrant for Figueroa’s arrest under charges related to his prison escape and trying to obtain a passport using false documents. The fugitive is also on an American units list responsible for investigating the main providers of drugs to the United States, said a member of the department of Justice, who only spoke to us under the conditions of remaining anonymous, because the investigation is still underway. It is believed that the 45 year old man ships drugs from Colombia to the continental United States through Puerto Rico, a United States territory and a associated free state which is attractive to traffickers for being the closest point of entrance to the south.

The political link in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is also Figueroa’s old base of operations, where he cultivated a extensive list of contacts during the years he became a drug trafficker. The case has been at the center of the scandal on the islands since last week after it was revealed that various politicians interceded, before the governor seeking a pardon for Figueroa as he was incarcerated for murder during the 90’s. The president of the Puerto Rican Chamber of Representatives asked for an investigation into the connexion between the fugitive and another civil servant in particular, Antonio Silva, a lawyer who denies having done anything illegal.

His misdemeanors

Figueroa escaped from the Puerto Rican jail in November 1999 when he showed the guards a false order of release. He had only fulfilled four out of the 209 years of his sentence for the murder of a man suspected of robbing a cocaine shipment. In less than a month Jose Figueroa had moved to the Dominican Republic, where in 2001 he was detained during a drug trafficking investigation. But within two weeks, he was on the streets again; after using an alias and because the authorities did not realize who he really was.

Now there’s posters with pictures of both Figueroa and his lover Sobeida Morel who is the second most sought after fugitive on the island; both are sought after far and wide in Santo Domingo. Morel was detained last year for money laundering, but managed to post bail and disappeared before authorities discovered her ties to Figueroa.

Although no one can tell exactly how much cocaine he’s capable of moving, the scale of Figueroa empire became evident near the end of last year during a raid to one of his luxury apartments in Santo Domingo. A police brigade following the leads provided by the American authorities stormed into Figueroa’s luxury building on September 3rd. But the suspect barely managed to escape, fleeing on foot after the police shot the tires out on his Jeep. In fleeing he left behind the keys to his cars, including a Mercedes Benz with 4.6 million dollars cash and a laptop computer full of evidence within.

The operation lead to new clues to Figueroa’s new false identities and strengthened the search for the fugitive. Six of his properties where confiscated including an apartment valued at one million dollars in Puerto Plata known as a vacation area and a country villa in Santo Domingo where authorities found a zoo and at least nine vehicles including two Ferrari’s; but the slippery Figueroa is still at large.

Investigators fear that Figueroa has civil servants and even members of the police on his side. Subsequently, on December 30 a man calling himself Figueroa called into the countries most popular radio program, to say that the police let him go during the raid on his apartment in 2009 in exchange for one million dollars. He explained that the police chief, Jose Amado Gonzalez was the one that arranged for the bribe. The chief had died one week before the phone call and the police continue to say that he died during a fight; but many believe that he was really murdered by another police officer in a dispute over the bribe. Dominican and American agents said that based upon there analysis the man that called in was in-fact Figueroa; who during his second radio speech offered 800 thousand dollars to anyone who kills a Dominican police chief.

Drug trafficking has lead to an epidemic state of corruption within the Dominican police force, according to the Department of Justice, which announced at a press conference this month that full police units are being investigated in relation to their connections to the drug lord.

Ricardo Ivanovich Smester, who is allegedly Figueroa’s organizations accountant, was apprehended on January 8th. An accounting book was confiscated from him which outlined a two day operation cost of two million dollars in October of the previous year. Amongst the expenses, there’s payments of 175 thousand dollars which are believed to have been bribes to a unidentified civil servant and a judge.

During a conference last month in Brazil, the United States Secretary of Justice, Eric Holder and the Dominican Republic’s Minister of Justice, Radhames Jimenez, insisted that Figueroa’s case remains a priority. Holder has committed the American agencies to assist in any way possible according to Jimenez’s office; the American Department of Justice did not comment on anything discussed during the meeting.

Just last month there where reports of people having seen Figueroa in the Bayamon suburbs in Puerto Rico where his family lives, but the sightings have not been confirmed. “Everything that turns up in relation to Figueroa is being investigated and re-investigated”, said Rafael Escobar.

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Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Canada
This work by Spanish 401, UBC, Professor Jon Beasley-Murray is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Canada.