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Dominican Republic: The Theft of Cables and Scrap Metal

Some of the recent newspaper headlines around the Dominican Republic read, “Cables Stolen from Duarte Bridge,” “Peña Gómez Monument Dismantled,” and “La Salle School Without Power.” All of these headlines are related to the same topic that left many people  perplexed: the theft of cables and metal around the capital city of Santo Domingo and other cities around the country. Apparently, the items are then sold in a very lucrative business.

Car: "I Swear There was a Bridge Here This Morning" - Truck is taking bridge to The Purchaser of Metals. Drawing by Cristian Hernández of El Nacional and used with permission from artist.

Car: I Swear There was a Bridge Here This Morning. Truck is taking bridge to The Purchaser of Metals. Drawing by Cristian Hernández of El Nacional and used with permission from artist.

The thefts began very subtly at first, with the disappearance of some sewer covers and plaques that adorned busts and sculptures in various locations across the city. At the beginning, many did not pay much attention to it because it seemed to be commonplace. However, over time the number of holes that appeared, and the number of busts vandalized began to increase across the city, and it soon became apparent that something was happening. Megamonchy of El Rincón del Mega [es] writes about some of the places where the thefts took place, such as 50 light posts around the Jacobo Majluta Avenue, which needed cranes and heavy machinery to move them:

Ahora se estan robando los rieles de los trenes que funcionaron una vez en el país y en los ingenios. Ahora yo me pregunto ¿Es tan difícil dar con estos ladrones de metales, que lo usan para fundirlos? NO Simplemente no hay voluntad para acabarlos. Pues cuantas compañías en el país tienen la capacidad para fundir estos metales. Lo que hay es vigilarlas.

Si los representantes de guinness world records visitaran el país de seguro que le adicionarían varias páginas a la próxima impresión del libro donde los dominicanos estaríamos bailando.

Now they are stealing the rails from the trains that once ran in the country and in the sugar plantations. Now I ask myself, is it so hard to stop these metal thieves, who melt down the metal? NO. There simply is no desire to stop them. How many companies around the country have the capacity to melt down these metals? They must be watched.

If representatives from the Guinness World Records came to visit the country surely they would add more pages in the next edition of the books, where the Dominicans will be dancing (for having the record for the most amount of metal stolen).

Later, reports of the theft of cables began to arrive, including electrical cables, as well as fiber optic leading to the conclusion that there was a preference for the copper, which is then exported to China where there is a high demand. Héctor Minaya of Diario Digital RD [es], summarizes the export situation this way and how the government turns a blind eye:

Para detener el saqueo de cables, tapas, placas y monumentos de cobre que comenzó el año último alentado por el alto precio del metal, es necesario que se prohiba la exportación de cobre y otros metales, los cuales no son de producción nacional. De aquellos metales que se extraen en el país, se presume que el Gobierno, a través de la Dirección General de Aduanas y otras instituciones, tiene algún control y hay un registro para los exportadores. Se ha publicado que semanalmente viene un barco, al parecer ante la indiferencia de las autoridades, para llevarse material producto del saqueo de estos metales.

In order to stop the looting of cables, lids, plaques, and copper monuments that started last year because of the high price of metal, there needs to be a ban on the export of copper and other metals, which are not produced nationally. Of those metals that are extracted from the country, it is presumed that the Government, through the General Customs Department and other institutions, have some type of control and a registry for the exporters. Every week, they publish that a boat is arriving, facing the indifference from the authorities, to take away the material from the looting of these metals.

Thanks to these thieves, numerous streets, avenues, bridges and highways in Santo Domingo and around the country were left in the dark, providing competition to the power outages that have also been taking place for decades without solution. When the streets and avenues are left in the dark, traffic lights are also left useless, which contributes to vehicular chaos.

What about the telephone companies? Joan Guerrero of Duarte 101 [es] writes that the telecommunications sector in the Dominican Republic has been the victim of the growing “industry” of the theft of cables and equipment, which directly affects the consumer. These companies calculate that their losses total 53 million pesos [es] (approximately 1.5 million dollars) this year alone. When the companies add in customer complaints,  it becomes a very serious problem that needs addressing. Guerrero also notes that the telecommunications company Tricom has been taking to YouTube to show video of some of the thefts and to offer a reward for information leading to the arrest of the cable thieves:

Despite some control measures implemented by the government to differentiate the real scraps from the fake scraps, Diario 27-F states that it is impossible to separate the metal. There have been some arrests and two people are being tried in court. However, the robberies continue, such as in the case of the La Salle School in Santiago earlier this week, where classes were suspended until further notice.

  • gypsy

    Thanks for the enlightening summary. My country of birth never ceases to amaze me. It is simply unbelievable that in spite of companies losing so much money (which usually trumpets costs to consumers and disruptions to society as a whole) the authorities continue to look the other way. Who is paying them off? Are they doing the stealing themselves? Are they middlemen, making a commission?

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