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EDITOR’S NOTE - The tropical pleasures of San Fr

January 4, 1994 GMT

EDITOR’S NOTE - The tropical pleasures of San Francisco de Macoris seem worlds away from the violent horrors of upper Manhattan. But this is where many of the young men who sell drugs in Washington Heights come from, and this is where they often return - wealthy or dead. The final part of a two-part series.

Undated (AP) _ By DANA KENNEDY Associated Press Writer

SAN FRANCISCO DE MACORIS, Dominican Republic (AP) - Near a hillside of shacks stands a colony of mansions: Brightly colored stucco homes, with luxury cars in the driveway and satellite dishes soaring overhead.

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It is a jarring sight on the main street leading into San Francisco de Macoris - a world of new wealth amid Third World poverty.

Authorities say millions of dollars earned by Dominicans in the New York drug trade have flooded this country, the fourth-poorest in the hemisphere. And this town is the nexus of what locals refer to as the ″bad business.″

More than 400 young Dominicans from San Francisco de Macoris - known as ″Dominican Yorks″ - have been killed in the United States since 1985, most in drug-related murders in New York.

But even more have returned as wealthy young men, transforming what was once a rice-farming center of 65,000 into a menacing haven for drug lords. Mansions and discos have sprung up near hillside shacks where families live in grinding poverty.

″These kids all say the same thing,″ said Julio Gonzalez, 52, who has owned the local radio station for 30 years. ‴I’m going up to New York and I’m either coming back with money or in a box.′ ″

The money has transformed this town: In 1984, there were five banks. Now there are 10. There were two travel agencies, now there are 20. There was one disco, now there are nine. There was one car dealership, now there are six. Fifteen carwashes exist where none did before.

But the price for this new prosperity has been steep.

Tabloids regularly feature stories of rickety boats capsizing and young men drowning in the shark-infested Caribbean waters as they cross to Puerto Rico on the first step of the journey to New York.

Among those who get to New York, the more fortunate return wearing gold chains, wardrobes from the Gap and holding keys to a Lexus. They move into expensive homes in a section of town dubbed ″Little Manhattan,″ where about 600 houses have sprung up on what was empty farmland eight years ago.

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Others return in coffins. From the airport in Santo Domingo they are driven 85 miles north to the Las Mercedes funeral home here and finally, to the ″Old Cemetery″ in the center of town.

The cemetery is so crowded that families must pay rent on burial plots every four years. If they miss a payment, the remains of their loved ones are removed and burned.

James ″Kiko″ Garcia, 23, is among those buried here. He was killed by police in Washington Heights, setting off a week of sporadic rioting in 1991. His headstone reads in Spanish, ″Tragically Felled in the City of New York.″

Weekly body counts are dutifully reported in the tabloids and no one is unaware of the risks. It doesn’t stop them.

″I’d like to get a decent job in New York but if that doesn’t work I’ll go into the bad business,″ said Martin Acosta, 23, who sat aimlessly with two friends outside a tiny bodega one weekday.

Acosta said he and his friends are unable to find jobs. The average wage for the unskilled here is about $10 a month. Doctors and lawyers make about $200 a month, soldiers $50 a month, taxi drivers $30 a month.

″To tell you the truth,″ said Acosta. ″it’s sometimes better to get killed than be a poor person.″

Local officials estimate there are at least 300 drug dealers who keep at least part-time residences in town. They set an ominous tone, one that engenders fear in some and awe in others.

″Things have gotten so horrible there. People from my town have grown so obsessed with money and power it really gives me the chills,″ said a former resident, a doctor who now practices in the United States.

The dealers range from 18-year-olds who work by themselves on the streets in Manhattan and commute back and forth, to one well-known dealer who lives behind heavily fortified gates in a shocking pink house in the center of town. His house is guarded by a tall, beefy man with a submachine gun.

Locals say that dealers talk freely in bars and on streetcorners about business. ″If someone gets shot in Washington Heights, they’ll know about it down here before the police up there do,″ said Pedro Fernandez.

Most people in town know who the dealers are and where they hang out. But many dealers were wary of talking to outsiders.

Jose, 26, was supervising construction of a small nightclub with a group of others said to be known drug dealers. He wore baggy American jeans, a Lacoste shirt, several gold chains and two gold rings.

″Refrigeration,″ said Jose, when asked what he does in New York.

Only a man who gave his name as Aris, 27, admitted that he got the money to open his modest restaurant from six years of selling crack cocaine in Washington Heights. He said he no longer is involved with drugs and cut the interview short.

Just blocks from the flashy discos and hamburger joints, where hard-eyed Dominican Yorks in Levi 501 jeans sip El Presidente beers and chain-smoke cigarettes, are desperately poor neighborhoods.

Raymond Rodriguez, 19, lives with seven other family members in a two-room, tin-roof shack on the side of a hill. Naked children chase chickens and skeletal dogs in the mud as flies buzz overhead.

″I always think about getting on a boat and going to Puerto Rico,″ said Rodriguez, who added that his grandfather sold drugs in New York ″They say it’s good there. There’s always work. I’d do whatever I had to do.″

Many local residents bemoan the allure that New York, and the drug business, holds for the youth of San Francisco de Macoris.

″No one wants to go to school. All they think about is going to New York,″ said Pedro Fernandez, 39, a local journalist who was born and raised here but spent 12 years in America.

″They see these guys coming home with money and they want the same thing.″

Several community groups have gone so far as to march through town holding signs reading, ″Get Out, Dominican Yorks. We Don’t Want Your Money.″

Not every teen-ager aspires to the drug life. Wilton Garcia, 18, used to sell fruit for a few pesos a day. More recently he got a low-level local government job so he can save money for the trip to New York.

His mother, Ahora, 47, proudly displayed a letter attesting to her son’s new employment. ″I want him to go to earn money so he can take care of me,″ she said, clutching one of her younger children.

Garcia said firmly that he wants to work as a mechanic. ″I don’t believe in selling drugs. It’s risky. It’s not a good idea because they can kill you. It’s dangerous.″