In the search to achieve “the American dream” at all costs, every year hundreds of Dominicans embark on an illegal trip aboard fragile overloaded boats on a journey in which they put their lives and heritage at risk.
On the high seas, danger lurks. Some manage to cross the La Mona Canal and successfully reach their destination: Puerto Rico; others die in the attempt and a significant number enter the list of missing persons.
On November 10, 2020, Welbis Reyes embarked on a trip from La Romana to the neighboring island. It was not the first time for him, years ago he managed to enter American territory, by sea, but when he stepped on land he was arrested by the coast guard of that country and later returned to the Dominican Republic
He hoped that this time his luck would be different. At that time, he was unemployed, and an invitation from a friend fed him hope for a better future and he tried again, without imagining what would await him. He pawned the only thing he had, his car. He had to give an advance of RD$50,000 to the organizers of the trip with the commitment that when he arrived at his destination he would pay an additional US$4,000. At one in the afternoon, he boards the small boat together with 22 passengers. Seven hours later, the yawl capsized and panic gripped everyone. Welbis held on to a life preserver and an air tube, which he had with him, which was snatched away by a wave at dawn.
In the middle of the darkness and with arms tired from swimming, he said “My God, show me where there is land, don’t let me die here”. He suddenly thought he saw an island, but it was nothing more than an illusion.
He says that he allowed himself to be guided by a rainbow, it was when a strong wave hit him against some reefs, directing him towards the mainland. With a strong injury to his right eye, he arrived at a place that he thought was Puerto Rico, but was still in Dominican territory, specifically in Capcana, where he was rescued by the Dominican authorities.
On this trip, 10 lost their lives. Webis, lived to tell the tale. His story was part of the documentary “Una vida de pelicula”, directed by Vicent Carmona, known as “Dotol Nastra”.
Between 2014 and 2020, some 118 people lost their lives on this migration route. Of this number, 107 are Dominicans, as reported by the International Organization for Migration, in the document “If it is not out of sheer necessity” deaths and disappearances on journeys in North and Central America.”
It is complex to quantify the number of illegal trips with successful arrivals, however, a look at the statistics of people and vessels detained via the Dominican Republic Navy from July 2018 to March 2022, shows an increase in this type of activity.
In the last four years, the Dominican authorities have detained 13,151 travelers and a total of 1,858 boats were seized.
Every year, the number of people arrested in such activities increases. The highest wave of detainees was recorded in 2021, with 744 boats seized and 4,959 people detained, some 3,874 more citizens than those held in the last half of 2018.
2022 aims to be a very active year in the organization of illegal trips by sea. In the first quarter, the authorities detained 1,931 people, of which 1,047 are Dominicans and 823 are Haitians.
Not only Dominicans and Haitians venture on this dangerous journey. The Dominican Republic-Puerto Rico route is also a bridge for Ecuadorians, Cubans, Argentines and even Americans.
In the list of foreigners who face the rough waters of the Caribbean Sea on irregularly organized trips on Dominican soil, registered in the last 15 months, appear nationals from countries as far away as Uzbekistan, China, the Czech Republic, Russia, France, Italy, Albania and Canada.
Classified by nationality, in the list of people detained in frustrated trips in the last four years, Dominicans lead the line, with a total of 8,808 captured, followed by Haitians (2,834), Cubans appear in third place (548) followed by Argentines (324), Americans (236) and Ecuadorians (234). Likewise, Venezuelans (56), Brazilians (27), Colombians (18), Russians (18), Canadians (7), Albanians (7) and Uzbeks (7) were detained for investigation purposes. The French (6), Chinese (6), Italians (5), Czechs (4), Chileans (2), Puerto Ricans (2) and Spaniards (1) had the same fate.
In 2021 boat seizure skyrocketed
ARD statistics also show an increase in seized vessels. In the last half of 2018, the authorities seized 172 clandestine vessels, in 2019 it increased to 381 and in 2020 they seized 337. In 2021, 744 vessels were seized, while in the first quarter of 2022, 224 were seized.