Gang life in the Dominican Republic is no different from gang life in any other
part of the world. Large groups of mostly young disenfranchised males, find
themselves caught in the ‘live or die’ mentality of gang activity, with little
or no prospect of ever finding a way out. Many who enter into the gang lifestyle
do so because they seemingly have no other choice. |
Many who live outside this world argue that there are other possibilities rather
than just surrendering oneself to the ‘eat or be eaten’ codes of big city
living, but a drive through some of Santo Domingo’s most impoverished
neighborhoods, some almost completely controlled by the youth gangs, quickly
challenges this train of thought.
Young people aged between 15 and 35 make up close to 36% of the total Dominican
population, almost 3,082,599 people. Of these, almost 63% can be found in urban
areas, while only 38% of Dominican youth resides in rural areas of the country.
It is these urban youths, such a large proportion of the total youth population,
who are at highest risk of succumbing to gang life.
Gang members, or bandoleros, in Santo Domingo and throughout the Dominican
Republic, aren’t the king pin drug Mafiosi so commonly portrayed in Hollywood
movies, or the types we see on nightly news reports. Instead they are a loose
collection of individuals who use the gang lifestyles and mentalities for
protection, and are consequently used as pawns in international crime rackets.
Equally dangerous and burdensome on the Dominican correctional system are the
many jailhouse gangs within the country’s prisons, who control life behind bars,
and wield a tremendous amount of power over society, even after they have been
What has added to the gang problem in the DR, and has become problematic in
recent years is the emergence of internationally linked gang activity present in
the country. It is a known fact that there are many Dominicans living in the
United States, and these Dominicans send remittances worth billions to the small
Caribbean country, but, unbeknown to many, this is how even gang activity has
been exported from the United States to the Dominican Republic.
Member gang nations, or naciones, of some of the United States biggest gangs,
like the Bloods, Crypts, Folk, and Latin Kings, have spawned disciple gangs in
the Dominican Republic and follow the rules set forth by gang life, not by
police authorities. Dominican gang members flash colors, protect their “sets,”
and hold allegiances to their gangs, above anything else. These gangs are active
here in the DR, as they are on the streets of New York or LA, and are just as
defiant of any authoritarian efforts to control them.
In turn there are, though it may be hard to believe, youth gangs around the
Dominican Republic who are the antithesis of gang members. At first glance they
have every opportunity available to them. Gangs like los Cielos or los Dorados
are made up of the children of middle or upper class Dominicans who, for reasons
known only to them, engage in gang and criminal activity. They can be found
living in some of the Dominican Republic’s nicer neighborhoods, but below the
“nice-boy” façade are young people who are just as dangerous as their more
What is lost in the rumble of gang life in the Dominican Republic is the
reasoning behind the need to be part of this lifestyle. Most young people who
enter into gang life don’t do it because it is a glamorized lifestyle they want
to be a part of. For them it is a lifestyle they feel they need to join in order
to survive. For these youths, gangs provide protection from other people or
gangs who may want to hurt them. Gangs provide the concept of brotherhood that
may be missing in their lives, and also provide a source of revenue, in some
cases. For some youths gangs provide something to be proud of. Inclusion into a
group, in contrast to the exclusion they might face from family or society at
large is something that some young people crave, and existing members prey on
The majority of gang members are in their early to late teens, with some members
being as young as 8, or as old as 30. Because of the violent lifestyle they
lead, older gang members are not so common.