The Dominican Republic, in the midst of a national emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has already left 183 dead, lives in parallel with another serious problem due to adulterated alcoholic beverages, which caused about 30 deaths in the last week alone.
Due to the state of emergency and the curfew decreed by the government, social activities are prohibited in the country. Even so, images of groups of people appear daily, especially in the poorest neighborhoods, living, drinking, watching cockfights or playing dominoes.
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Last week it was reported that six people died in the Brisa del Este sector, in the city of Santo Domingo Este, neighboring the capital Santo Domingo. They all died after consuming clerén, a drink made by hand and without health licenses, which is widely used in the region and in Haiti.
This was just the beginning of a large list of deaths in a similar situation, creating another serious problem for the country in the midst of the coronavirus crisis. This led the Ministry of Public Health to issue, last Friday (10), an epidemiological alert for the use of adulterated drinks.
Public Health Minister Rafael Sánchez Cárdenas said on Tuesday (14) that 31 people died from ingesting clerén and triculí, another home-made drink, in addition to eight who are in critical condition. He also announced the dismantling of a location where these drinks are made.
Police said most of the cases were in the Santo Domingo metropolitan region and confirmed that the clandestine beverage laboratory was found in Santo Domingo Este.
At that location, a man identified as Emo Rafael Ruíz, 31, was arrested, and 19 tanks containing more than 200 liters of raw material for the manufacture of these drinks were confiscated.
Two of the first deceased are Dante Sánchez, 54, and his son Ambiorix Sánchez, 32, residents of Brisa del Este, who met on April 5 with several friends. Four of them also died, two others were "totally blind" and two others are still hospitalized.
That's what EFE told Alba Iris Quezada, Dante's widow and Ambiotrix's mother. All of them are from the region of San Juan de la Manguana, in the west of the country, where clergy and triculí are part of the daily routine of residents.
Dante, she fumed, got up on Monday "without any strength, with pain in the stomach, very weak". After being questioned by his wife, he confessed that he had drunk clergy. She decided to make a soup, but he didn't even take it because, "suddenly", she passed out and died.
The next day, in the middle of Dante's funeral, his son Ambiotrix started showing the same symptoms, but he denied having taken the drink. At the insistence of his mother, he went to the hospital, but he lied during the screening and said he was feeling bad due to a motorcycle accident.
"If he had told the truth, that he took clergy, he could have saved himself," lamented Alba, who said that neither her husband nor her son wanted to say who sold them the drink. "They took that information to the grave," she said, who asked the authorities to investigate the situation thoroughly.
Clandestine and dangerous
According to the Minister of Health, the adulterated clerén and triculí bottles were sold "in grocery stores and supermarkets" in the capital and metropolitan region. Health authorities and the prosecution opened investigations to determine the composition of the product and try to identify the manufacturers.
Clerén and triculí are very cheap cane distillates, made by hand and clandestine, without sanitary supervision, and are not considered suitable for consumption.
These drinks can be contaminated with methanol, a very toxic type of alcohol, when the manufacturer distills wood as a raw material or as a flavoring, or when solvents are added to make the product cheaper.
In December 2017, a similar case occurred, when at least twelve people died after taking clergy at a funeral in Pedro Santana, a municipality on the border with Haiti.