Sunk

An American sailor's Caribbean sojourn comes to a watery and excruciating end

By truck, he traveled the three and a half hours back to Enriquillo and found that his boat had sunk and washed up onto the reef. It had been picked clean. Even the brass shaft connecting the motor to the propeller had been removed. "They took my clothes, my cigars, my wine. They took the lifejackets, everything."

On March 24, a judge fined Farson 200,000 pesos, or $7,400. She cited Farson's flawed itinerary showing that he was going to travel to Puerto Rico, not Beata Island. "That is absolutely unprecedented," says Farson's Dominican lawyer, Juan Miguel Garcia. "They try to kill him on the beach, demand money from him, and assault him in jail; hold him incommunicado; then find that he has broken a law that should require a 25-peso fine and charge him 200,000."

I spoke last week with the U.S. Embassy about Farson's claims. Authorities there say Farson told them that a low-ranking officer had burned him on the hand with a cigarette while demanding money. He didn't mention being beaten with the switches or starved, they said, though such things are sometimes reported in the Dominican Republic. "American citizens have reported being mistreated by authorities, some have complained about being slapped by police, others have said they were beaten with a stick," explains Patricia Hawkins, the embassy's public affairs counselor.

Low-level officers sometimes demand bribes, say several experts I questioned. And, with the country in economic crisis and the government cutting back, they often force inmates to buy their own food. Moreover, on the Haitian/Dominican border, where drug and immigrant smuggling are perhaps more prevalent than anywhere else in the Caribbean and where vigilante justice rules, trouble can be expected. (Dominican police officials could not be reached for comment.)

"He was not dealing with a top-of-the-line, trained police force," Hawkins says acerbically. "That is the problem. When Americans travel to less-developed parts of the world, it is not like downtown San Diego."

Adds another embassy spokeswoman, Susan Emerson: "People think they can come here and English will do. It won't."

Farson says he didn't tell the authorities about the beating or starving because "at that point, it didn't matter. When they finally visited me in Santo Domingo, the worst was over." Indeed, he keeps a sheath of papers including interrogation transcripts, medical reports, and insurance documents that seem generally to confirm his story.

Recently, Farson's boat was declared a total loss. In April, doctors examined him and described "severe welts" on his knee and an inability to walk. They cited a beating. Though a Dominican newspaper, Listin Diario, reported twice on his problem, this is the first time he has spoken about it at length.

Farson has refused to pay the fine levied by the Dominican judge, so he is wanted in that country. He doesn't know the fate of Cleto and Copiano. He was separated from his crew after arrest, and neither has a telephone. I tried without success to track them down by calling a man who knows the pair.

Last month, Farson rented an apartment on the beach in Hollywood. "It's quiet, it's out of the way, no one knows me, and I'm gonna write a book," he says. He likes looking at the water but isn't planning another Caribbean sojourn. "Would I go back to the Dominican Republic?" he asks. "Hell no, I wouldn't even fly over."

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