Soldier charged with rape of Haitian minor in case that rocked the Dominican Republic

An air force recruit has been arrested in the Dominican Republic and charged with raping a 14-year old Haitian migrant. The incident took place during an immigration check in the eastern Dominican Republic, not far from Punta Cana, the popular tourist destination.

On Wednesday, Dominican authorities confirmed the arrest of a member of the country’s air force in connection with the alleged rape. The Altagracia Prosecutor’s Office said it plans to request the detention of accused rapist Paulino de la Cruz, 18, for acts committed against a minor. Though de la Cruz was believed to have been an immigration officer, he is not, authorities said. De la Cruz told investigators he is a soldier who works in immigration control.

Military officials in the Dominican Republic are involved in immigration operations to protect agents and maintain public safety, according to Julio Caraballo, communications director for the General Directorate of Immigration. However, those operations take place between 6 a.m. and 6 p .m. The alleged raped occurred around 5 a.m. on April 5. Caraballo previously told the Herald he has no record of a scheduled immigration raid at that time.

The incident, described as “embarrassing” by government authorities, was immediately condemned by officials, who began an investigation after the girl’s mother filed a police complaint.

According to a 53-page report by the prosecutor’s office obtained by the Herald, the alleged rape occurred during an immigration raid in the Bávaro neighborhood. The raid was overseen by an immigration supervisor and involved 13 people. De la Cruz was arrested Tuesday after the 14-year old identified him, the report said. The prosecutor said the evidence includes an interview with the victim, accounts from officials involved in the raid and physical evidence from a bedroom in the home. The report says De la Cruz denies entering the young victim’s residence and taking advantage of the fact that she was alone. No one on his team would do such a thing, he told investigators.

The case has sparked outraged among Haitian and Dominican human-rights activists in the country, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti. The Haitian government also expressed outrage and called for protection of Haitian migrants and minors, while a United Nations official in the country has called on the Dominican Republic to take steps to protect the girl and her family and ensure that future incidents do not occur.

In public statements, the region’s top bishop also reminded officials that the dignity of individuals needs to be respected and protected.

“The protection of minors, regardless of their origin and nationality, is a sacred obligation of the authorities,” Jesús Castro Marte, the bishop of the Diocese of Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia in Higüey, said in public comments soon after the incident was made public. “They are not animals.”

Both the girl and her mother say the teen was sexually violated when a man, believed to be an immigration officer, knocked on the door of the family home early in the morning. After he saw that the girl was home alone, the man preceded to rape her, they said. She had rejected his advances and repeatedly told him she was a minor, according to a video testimony that the Miami Herald obtained. Local activist Santiago Molina, who has supported the girl and her family, said the victim had recognized the suspect earlier this week. The family lives in Bávaro, a beach resort near the Punta Cana.

The rape accusation is the second time in less than a year that a Haitian migrant is accusing a Dominican official of sexual assault. In September authorities arrested an immigration agent accused of raping a Haitian woman in front of her 4-year-old son after she was detained at the international airport in Santo Domingo. The woman was on her way to Nicaragua and was placed in a detention cell, where the alleged assault occurred.

Despite the speed in which Dominican authorities responded to the latest incident, Haitian rights activists have said that the incident is part of a pattern of abuse and human rights violations, including by. the Dominican Republic’s government, toward Haitian migrants in the Spanish-speaking country, which has historically had an acrimonious relationship with Haiti.