Cabinet minister in Dominican Republic slain in his office

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SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic — The Dominican Republic’s minister of the environment and natural resources — the son of a former president — was shot to death in his office by a close friend Monday, the office of the president said in a statement.

Authorities said Orlando Jorge Mera was shot by Fausto Miguel de Jesus Cruz de la Mota, who was later arrested at a church dozens of blocks away after telling a priest he committed a crime and handed over a gun to him.

Officials gave no motive for the shooting, and it wasn’t immediately clear if Cruz, 56, had an attorney.

“We express our deepest condolences,” the office of President Luis Abinader said.

As shots rang out late Monday morning, people on the street yelled and took cover as those fleeing the buidling climbed over a tall fence after first throwing over purses, backpacks and even a pair of shoes because the building’s main gates were locked.

Authorities said that in a phone conversation with Cruz while he was at the church, he promised to turn himself in if they guaranteed he wouldn’t be killed.

Heavily armed police officers took him into custody at the church, which is about a 15-minute drive from the office where Jorge was shot.

When he was brought out, Cruz was wearing a helmet and bulletproof vest and kept his head mostly down as the glasses he wore slid slightly down his nose. A witness shouted, “You murdered a man!” Murderer!”

The victim came from a powerful political family. Jorge Blanco was the son and former Dominican President Salvador Jorge Blanco’s sister. His sister is vice-minister in Abinader’s administration. Jorge’s son, Jorge, is a lawmaker in the Modern Revolutionary Party of which Jorge was one of its founding members.

The family issued a statement saying that Cruz had been Jorge’s friend since childhood and that Jorge was shot multiple times.

“Our family forgives the person who did this. It said that Orlando had left a lasting legacy of not holding grudges.

Police and emergency officials swarmed the office of Environment and Natural Resources Ministry in the capital of Santo Domingo and barred entry as mourners gathered nearby. Jorge’s office is located on the fourth floor of the building which also houses the Ministry of Tourism.

“We are troubled by the situation,” Jorge’s ministry said in a brief statement.

Bartolome Pujals, executive director of the government’s Cabinet of Innovation, wrote that he lamented the killing.

“His death is a tragedy,” Pujals said. We Dominicans must come together in order to reach a peaceful and mutually beneficial pact. No more violence.”

Jorge, a lawyer, was appointed minister of the environment and natural resources in August 2020.

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Associated Press writer Danica Coto in San Juan, Puerto Rico, contributed to this report.

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