Illegal Alcohol Shops Shut Down in Dominican Republic After Dozens Die

Clandestine dispensaries were mainly operating in the capital Santo Domingo but authorities also found them in other provinces, showing a spread of the deadly speakeasies.
April 14, 2021, 2:54pm
Bars in the heart of Santa Domingo in the Dominican Republic. Other illegal establishments have been shut down after people died from consuming illicit alcohol.
Bars in the heart of Santa Domingo in the Dominican Republic. Other illegal establishments have been shut down after people died from consuming illicit alcohol. Photo: De Simone Lorenzo/AGF/Universal Images Group via Getty Images.

Authorities in the Dominican Republic have shut down a number of illicit alcohol dispensaries after dozens died from alcohol poisoning in recent weeks.

The undefined number of busted clandestine booze shops were mainly in the capital Santo Domingo but authorities also found them in other provinces throughout the country.

At least 30 people died over the last week alone from consuming tainted alcohol, and others have been hospitalized, according to the authorities. 

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The illicit alcohol thought to be killing people includes “clerén,” a beverage produced from corn or sugar cane, fermented fruits, and even paint thinner. The brew can also include bird feces as well as chicken heads and intestines.

Clerén, which is a rum-like spirit, is generally consumed by the nation’s low-income residents because it is much cheaper than other distilled spirits. A rise in unemployment from the COVID-19 pandemic could be one of the culprits behind the outbreak in the capital as the jobless and poverty-stricken turn to cheap booze for comfort. Even before COVID struck, unemployment in 2019 in Santo Domingo’s west and east peripheries hovered at around seven percent, higher than the national average of 6.2 percent.

Authorities say that some of the deadly counterfeit alcohol is sold in colorful, disposable cups as a fruity, margarita-like frozen drink called Monday’s. But a Monday’s representative told local media that people are reusing their cups and that their drink is not the culprit for the recent intoxication outbreak. The Ministry of Health has also identified another spirit, ‘Kapicúa’, which has high levels of methanol, as another to blame for the outbreak of poisoning deaths. 

Also known as “triculí” or “pitrinchi,” clerén can produce a loss of vision, severe headaches, and respiratory difficulties. It  is made in rudimentary, clandestine distilleries inside impoverished neighborhoods and sold to buyers in reused bottles. Some buyers bring their own bottles to be filled with what they buy.

One survivor of clerén intoxication told local media that the drink is “like a fire that goes inside your body.” But his friend and neighbor, a 32-year-old in the Santo Domingo district Engombe, died after they recently drank clerén together.

Just a year ago, over 200 people died in the Dominican Republic from drinking “clerén” and other adulterated alcoholic products.

Latin America is no stranger to adulterated alcohol. Over 100 died from consuming spiked booze last year in Mexico last year. In the resort-packed city of Cancun, it was not uncommon for partygoers to drink fake tequila, rum, vodka or whiskey before COVID-19 took over. A Wisconsin family sued a Cancun resort in 2018 for the death of their 20-year-old daughter.