February 25, 2009 / 4:25 PM / in 10 years

Scandal nixes Dominican Republic military parade

By Manuel Jimenez

SANTO DOMINGO, Feb 25 (Reuters) - The Dominican Republic canceled an Independence Day military parade amid public outrage over scandals linking soldiers and police to crime and drug trafficking.

President Leonel Fernandez’s cancellation of the Friday parade marking the Caribbean nation’s 165th independence anniversary followed a succession of cases implicating military and law enforcement officials with serious crime.

"The military march-past has been suspended by decision of the president," an armed forces spokesman said on Wednesday.

The crime involving soldiers and police has raised alarm among local business and church leaders who fear it will damage the Dominican Republic’s image as a major Caribbean tourist destination for North American and European tourists.

Caribbean governments are already worried about a sharp fall in tourist arrivals in the global recession.

Dominican Republic’s national police service said it had arrested 22 of its own officers and three assistant prosecutors in the northern city of Puerto Plata who were accused of links with organized crime and drug trafficking.

In a case that made headlines last week, authorities detained an air force major they suspect was the ringleader of an assault by an armed gang that robbed $115,000 from the local premises of the Italian dairy group Parmalat.

The bandits wore uniforms of the national anti-narcotics squad in their raid on the Parmalat facility, police said. Two lower-ranking officers, one from the air force and another from the police, were also detained.

In May, several navy officers were accused of involvement in the kidnapping and killing of seven Colombians in the southern coastal city of Bani, in what authorities described as an apparent settling of scores among drug-smuggling gangs.

Dominican Republic’s police chief, Major-General Rafael Guillermo Guzman, said he had received instructions from the president to clean up the national police force. "There will be zero tolerance," Guzman said.

The country’s influential Catholic Church appealed to the authorities to purge the military and law enforcement agencies of corrupt officers and criminals.

"It’s really worrying to see how the armed forces have been infiltrated by delinquents," said leading church official Monsignor Agripino Nunez Collado. (Editing by Pascal Fletcher)

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