Gualey, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic: Like in any place where drug smuggling is done, a strong clandestine support structure is needed. A list of packers, sellers, messengers, gunmen, guards, lawyers, policemen, drug-storage-home owners and front men are supposedly kept on payrolls, and the financial benefits are still enough to make the capos richer.
Gualey is no exception.
“Drug trafficking is a very strange behavior,” says Pastor Rodríguez of the Church of God of Gualey. “I’ve stayed worshiping over night at the church and seen the vehicles enter the community and leave. You can see the moves.”
The national anti-drug agency is constantly doing drug raids, and it arrests many involved.
In October of 2007, in only 24 hours, the Dominican authorities disbanded a total of 223 drug rings nationwide and stripped several kilos of cocaine, pounds of marijuana, hundreds of portions of crack, and arrested several hundred people.
A press release published by the Dominican government on June 21, 2007 revealed that since August 2006, the national anti-drug agency had performed 8,715 raids and confiscated 5.5 tons of drugs.
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Sociologists believe that drug smuggling is like a symptom of a disease, and if you treat only the symptom and not the cause of the disease, you won’t get a real cure.
“This is the reason why ever since we arrived we made a proclamation that Jesus Christ is King and Lord of Gualey,” says Pastor Rodríguez. “If there is no transformation through Jesus Christ and through education in this barrio, we understand that there is no other way.”
Drug trafficking in Gualey seeks to perpetuate itself under the disguised face of a helping hand, and children are at the top of the list for recruitment as prospects. At Compassion’s partner Church of God of Gualey they’ve had to deal with attempts of traffickers to gain the kids for their network.
One of these events took place in 2007 while making arrangements for the summer break recreational tour for three hundred children in the community, for which a minimum sum of money is requested from the families to cover some costs of the trip.
“A lady approached and said to me that a drug trafficker near the river used to pay for the trip for 15 or 20 of the children down there,” reports Eugenio, 51, a member of the local church. “He did so to start to coax them into that atmosphere, and he also gave them 20 pesos so they could buy some ice cream on the trip.”
Drug traffickers in Gualey begin by giving 20 or 30 pesos to children for running small errands. Then they send them to deliver a package at the corner, and that’s when children become drug mules.
If the police catch the children carrying drugs, there is no criminal consequence for anybody, not for the child because he is a child, or for anybody else because they are prepared to cover for the supplier for fear they will lose their source of income.
“When a 12-year-old kid gets a 500 peso bill, he no longer wants to study or work,” says Robinson, an evangelist at the Church of God of Gualey. “But when that boy tries marijuana, and then he tries cocaine and then crack, that boy who was the one in charge of delivering the drug is now stealing, and if necessary killing people, in order to buy from the same guy who gave him the 20 pesos to deliver the drug.”
Robinson gives thanks to the Lord because He transformed him. As a former drug addict in Gualey, Robinson has a very clear understanding of the problem there:
“Drugs enter a neighborhood by helping those who don’t have food to put food on the table so they will be able to set up a quiet sales spot. They will pay for medical prescriptions for the sick and cover any other need. The lack of employment also makes the neighbors cover the drug sellers.”
The neighbors that don’t agree with that illicit trade will not dare denounce it because, if arrested, the sellers may be out of prison soon, and they will gain a dangerous enemy.
“Family values are put aside,” says Eugenio. “Drug traffickers use a system here. They give bicycles, dolls, shoes, a lot of food and money to the kids. The child who is hungry at home, they send him to buy a fried chicken for them and one for himself. At Christmas eve, they give the child good clothes for free and on the Kings’ Day they give him his bicycle. That’s how the child begins to cherish money with no sacrifice.”
Sometimes after the family provider is arrested for drugs, a close replacement will keep the business. “When the parents are arrested, the children will continue to save the drugs for the sellers, and they will even pack it, because they have seen their parents do it,” says Robinson. He has been a witness of how drugs influence the children.
“What all the young kids long for is wearing Nike Jordan shoes, 22 and 23, and then they see those people who buy those shoes five pairs at once and even wear two pairs a day. That traumatizes them and entices them into that lifestyle.”
Eugenio has witnessed how entire homes have been ruined by the scourge of drugs.
“Sometimes both parents have to go for work because they have many needs and they leave the children alone at home, and before they can figure it out they don’t have children any longer — what they have is monsters, and they have completely lost their family.”
Unfortunately, illegal drug consumption is one factor that sternly regenerates the cycle of poverty. It is a cause of crime and prostitution, resulting in early pregnancy, homes run by single mothers, and children living with relatives because one or two of their parents are in prison for drug trafficking. These events cause a lot of pain, especially in the children, who don’t understand what’s going on.
“Recently, the center director informed me that a child’s mother went to jail,” says Pastor Rodríguez, so, around three days ago we went to his home to see how he was doing. The father is in prison too. What did they tell the boy? That the police is the bad side because his parents were at their business and they were taken to jail. Hatred has been growing in the heart of this little boy; for this reason the church is taking actions to provide this boy with professional help so that he will be able to better assimilate why his parents are in jail.”
Gangs inspire fear in the residents of Gualey and neighboring communities. Sometimes they fight for the control in one area and start a dangerous shootout. In many needy neighborhoods, innocent people are injured and killed by stray bullets during these criminal shootouts.
This was the case of a daughter of one sister of the church. The young girl went out to rescue another girl who lay in the middle of the street, shot, but young girl was shot, too.
“That was a time when a gang from Las Cañitas and a gang from Gualey were so upset between them that they shot one another, even with M-16’s,” reports Pastor Rodríguez. “Our church sister’s daughter died.”
“I know a boy from the Compassion child development center whose father uses drugs,” says Eugenio. “His sister died during a shootout. A sniper from Las Cañitas shot her in the chest and killed her. The family is traumatized, the mother cries a lot, and also the boy has a violent attitude because his sister was taken way from him.”
In Gualey, having a drug-addict at home is a very tough situation. “When a family has a person who uses drugs, he will steal all the things that they have to buy drugs,” says Eugenio. “He will be very violent and aggressive and not understanding. He will be somebody with low self esteem, and his family will reject him.”
The phone rings at many homes at night. Those are the wives and youth coming back from work, and the children coming back from school. Many call when they are arriving to the entrance so that a mature adult will come for them, for fear that they might be robbed, or that the police might mistakenly arrest them in a raid.
“You cannot walk the streets at night because you are robbed or killed,” says Eugenio. “You have to be careful when walking in the streets, because you don’t know who is watching you.”
Extensive parades with placards, prayer campaigns, and child ministry with the support of Compassion International are some of the efforts that the Church of God of Gualey is doing to fight the empire of drugs. This church has gained the respect of the community since many of its members are former drug consumers and traffickers and lived a life of crime. The neighbors are never too tired to confess to them “God has changed you in deed”.
When Pastor Rodríguez was appointed Pastor of the Church of God of Gualey in the year 2003, the members of his former church in Gaspar Hernández could not believe it. “The change was as big as from heaven to earth”, testifies Pastor Rodríguez.
“In Gaspar Hernández the people run away from the bullets, and here, when there is a shootout with the police, the people run to see what is happening” (The Pastor paraphrases the well known saying that in Gualey the people run away from the rain but run towards the bullets).
The Community of Gualey
Some say that the first residents of Gualey settled in the 1950’s during the dictatorship of General Rafael Leonidas Trujillo. Gualey is located on the western bank of the Ozama River in Santo Domingo. It is a gathering of mostly poor construction homes built on hilly land. It has few paved roads, and most of it consists of a lot of narrow alleys and long and steep stairs that wander in a puzzled labyrinth of crammed homes down to the edge of the river.
When people say that they are from Gualey, a preconception arises in people’s minds. “When our youth go to a firm for a job, the first thing they ask is where they live. ‘Ah, in Gualey’, and they won’t employ them. They will believe they are criminals,” reports Eugenio.