Government lends money for fishing boats
State of the Nation speech to mention Odebrecht
No record details of Dominican bribes
Calls for thorough investigation of CEA land sales
Gambling big in San Juan de la Maguana
Recall of HP laptop batteries
Hipolito Mejia would like to run for President again
Potential rocky economic future
Tourists found after being lost in Puerto Plata mountain

Government lends money for fishing boats
On Sunday, 19 February 2017, President Danilo Medina visited the Fishermen’s Cooperative of Andres Boca Chica (Coopabocb) and met with its members. Afterwards, he announced the government would finance a project to make their jobs more secure and increase their earnings.

He authorized a RD$13 million loan at 5% interest rate for the purchase of new boats for the 137 members of the fishing cooperative. Medina expressed his wish the fishermen grow their business and move into the middle class, leaving poverty behind and giving a better future to their children who could also work in the fishing businesses. 

“I don’t want to make anyone rich. I want to help the community,” said the President during his visit to the fishermen. He reminded the beneficiaries of their responsibility to pay back the loans so that his administration is able to finance other development projects around the country.

The project also includes funds for a fish delivery center and a truck. The funding will be managed by the Special Fund for Farm Development (FEDA) under the Presidency Office.

State of the Nation speech to mention Odebrecht case
According to the Administrative Minister of the Presidency Jose Ramon Peralta, President Danilo Medina will refer to the Odebrecht scandal during his State of the Nation speech on 27 February 2017.

Being questioned by journalists at the Presidential Palace, Peralta said he would not comment further on the issue.  He said the press would have to wait until the speech was given. The speech is used for the President to render his account for the year past. Peralta said the President would also cover achievements of his government term from 2012-2016, as established in Art. 114 of the Constitution.

Art. 114 of the Constitution refers to the Annual Report of the President. The article states: The President of the Republic shall render accounts annually to Congress of the budget administration and the financial and administrative affairs during the previous year. The President shall also present to Congress a message explaining the macroeconomic and fiscal forecasts, the economic, financial and social expectations, and the main priorities that the government intends to implement within the framework of the National Budget for the current year.

No record details of Dominican bribes
The Brazilian construction company Odebrecht has told the judicial authorities of the United States that bribes made to government officials in the Dominican Republic between the years 2001 and 2014 were not documented. The company reportedly used its influence in the Dominican government to ensure that the financing for the projects that it would carry out in the country were included in the National Budget each year. 

The information is part of the brief submitted to a New York court where the case was heard. The information was published online for the investigators and lawyers involved in the case to review. The court established the company had paid US$92 million in bribes to secure contract work in the Dominican Republic.

The information highlighted that “in order to assure certain contracts for public works in the Dominican Republic, Odebrecht paid bribes to an intermediary responsible for mediating with the government in the understanding that part of the money would be handed over to government officials. It goes on to say that “most of the payments were made using undocumented funds of the Structured Operations Division authorized by Employee 6 of Odebrecht, who was not named.

Listin Diario newspaper reported that more than US$92 million was paid to government officials and intermediaries who were working in the name of the Dominican Republic. 

The investigation on irregularities in the operation of Odebrecht in the Dominican Republic is being carried out by the Attorney General. The Attorney General has interviewed several former and current government officials. Odebrecht has agreed to an eight year plan with the Attorney General’s Office to pay US$184 million in compensation to the Dominican state. 

So far no one has been named in the case as having received the bribes apart from businessman Angel Rondon who says the US$92 million he received was his payment for services and not for bribes.

Well-reputed judge Alejandro Vargas is due to announce his court’s validation or not of an eight-year agreement with Odebrecht on 1 March 2017.

Being in government pays well for many
The government officers who have the most wealth declaration increases since 2012 include Administrative Minister of the Presidency Jose Ramon Peralta, former deputy and today Santo Domingo city mayor David Collado and president of the Chamber of Deputies Lucia Medina. The analysis is from a report presented by Fernando Ferrán, director of the Dominican Development Studies Program (PED), under the Center for Economic and Social Studies Father Alemán of the Catholic University (PUCMM). It follows up with the compliance by government officers of the Law 311-14 on Statements of Worth Declarations.

As reported from official wealth declarations, Peralta has declared his assets have increased by RD$80,221,125 over four years. Collado has declared an increase in his wealth of RD$45,625,713 in the last six years. Lucia Medina, who is also the sister to President Danilo Medina, has declared her wealth increased by RD$69,910,883.

Other ministers with significant increases in wealth declarations include Education Minister and former Foreign Minister Andres Navarro, with nearly RD$20 million in two years, Agriculture Minister Angel Estevez RD$21,435,464 in four years and the vice president of the Senate, Dionis Sanchez, with a RD$24,085,617 increase in six years. 

Some increases have not been significant such as the governor of the Central Bank, Hector Valdez Albizu, whose wealth statement only increased by RD$141,522 in four years.

Some have even seen their personal wealth statements decrease, such as Gonzalo Castillo, minister of Public Works who reported RD$54,317,691 less since 2012, Senator Amable Aristy Castro, who reported RD$32, 752,705 less than in 2010 and others including Attorney General Jean Alain Rodriguez, RD$12 million less over four years and Tourism Minister Francisco Javier Garcia, who declared RD$1,723,829 less than in 2012. 

President Danilo Medina’s wealth declaration has increased by nearly RD$70 million in 14 years.

Calls for thorough investigation of CEA land sales
The eastern chapter of the National Commission on Human Rights (CNDH) called for the commission set up by President Danilo Median to investigate the irregular sale of land by the State Sugar Council (CEA) in San Pedro de Macorís to extend its investigation to the entire of eastern part of the country. The commission was named following a real estate transaction that was suspected to have gone sour, leading to the murder of two radio broadcasters and the wounding of the radio station’s secretary on 14 February 2017. 

Spokesman for the CNDH said that the CEA had illegally sold and handed out “like a piñata” around 18,000 tareas (1 tarea = 629 square meters) of land to high-ranking military and police officials and businesses linked to the sugar sector and current government officials in Hato Mayor, Bayaguana, Boca Chica, El Seibo and San Pedro de Macoris. 

According to a document signed by José Guzmán, national vice president for the CNDH, the handing over of the CEA land began in 1997 with the privatization of the sugar cane mills during the first government of former President Leonel Fernández. Land sales also occurred in the administration of former President Hipolito Mejia and are still occurring to this day. 

According to the complaint from the CNDH, the land that has been handed over belongs to the sugar mills at Boca Chica, Quisqueya, Porvenir, as well as Bayaguana and Monte Plata. In addition, Guzmán said that the commission should thoroughly investigate the supposed sale of thousands of tareas of land in the cattle-raising area of Capote in Hato Mayor del Rey as well as the complaints of citizens in Consuelo, some six kilometers to the north of San Pedro de Macoris.

The CNDH confirmed that the sale of the CEA land at rock bottom prices was illegal and suggested the President should declare all of such sales to be illegal and null and void.

Gambling big in San Juan de la Maguana
A report in El Nacional reveals that more than 5,000 betting shops operate in the southwestern province of San Juan de la Maguana. In addition to taking bets from people that drop in, these shops can deliver tickets using the more than 1,000 Veriphones they have been installed in the region. As reported, RD$10 million is gambled in these businesses every hour. The report says these shops handled bets for more than RD$416 million last year. It makes the point that an estimated RD$120 million was gambled away by some of the most poor and vulnerable sectors poor of the province.

There are betting shops seemingly on every corner, on the sidewalks, in grocery shops, mechanics workshops, pharmacies, vehicle repairs shops, cell phone shops, wherever there is movement of people. Most of the gambling shops are illegal. 

As reported, the betting shops have the backing of lawyers who threaten legal action against anyone who opposes their operation whether these are municipal authorities, environmental authorities or radio and TV journalists. 

The betting shops follow six lotteries – La Real at noon, Nacional at 2:50pm, Loteca at 6:50pm, Leisa at 8:45pm, La Nacional at 8:50pm and New York at 12 midnight. 

In Villa Liberación alone, considered the poorest neighborhood in the capital city of the province, there are 80 betting shops, confirming the poorer the person, the more the person will gamble.

Recall of HP laptop batteries
The National Institute of Protection of Consumer Rights (ProConsumidor) has warned the population that Hewlett Packard laptop computers might have a problem of overheating or catching on fire, affecting the safety of their users.

It involves those computers manufactured between 2013 and 2016 that were said to have been sold with defective batteries. 

The models affected are: HP Compaq: HP Compaq CQ45, HP Compaq CQ58, HP Envy: HP Envy DV6. HP Pavilion: HP Pavilion 14, HP Pavilion 15, HP Pavilion 17, HP Pavilion G4, HP Pavilion G6, HP Pavilion G7; HP: HP 240, HP 245, HP 246, HP 450, HP 455, HP 650, HP 655, HP 250 G1, HP 255 G1, HP 1000, HP 2000.

In addition HP ProBook: HP ProBook 440 G0, HP ProBook 440 G1, HP ProBook 445 G1, HP ProBook 450 GO, HP ProBook 450 G1, HP ProBook 455G1, HP ProBook 470 G0, HP ProBook 470 G1, HP ProBook 470 G2, HP ProBook 4440s, HP ProBook 4441s, HP ProBook 4445s, HP ProBook 4446s, HP ProBook 4540s, HP ProBook 4545s, with bar codes 6BZLU, 6CGFK, 6CGFQ, 6CZMB, 6DEMA, 6DEMH, 6DGAL y 6EBVA.

The director of Proconsumidor, the government consumer protection agency, Anina Del Castillo, said that the company that represents HP in the country, Omegatech has promised to cover the costs of new batteries and asks all users of the computers listed above to stop using them and return them to the stores where they bought them for a free replacement. 

The batteries are black, measure between 8 to 10.5 inches long, two inches wide and around one inch high depending on the size of the computer. The recall also applies to batteries bought separate from the models mentioned above.

Hipolito Mejia would like to run for President again
Former President Hipolito Mejia has declared that once again he would like to be the candidate for President representing the Modern Revolutionary Party (PRM) for the general elections in 2020.

Mejia, who was President from 2000 to 2004, made the declaration on Sunday, 19 February 2017, when visiting the La Vega carnival.

Former PRM candidate, Luis Abinader has also expressed interest in winning the party’s presidential nomination for 2020.

Potential rocky economic future
According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the countries of Central America and the Dominican Republic (CARD) will have an average growth of 4.5% this year, whereas Latin American and the Caribbean together will have average growth of 1.3%. 

However, the organization warns that the traditional engine of growth for Central American and the Dominican Republic is under threat in the short and medium term due to the impact of the trade, migration and investment policies by the new United States government, leading to a concern for future reductions in international trade, direct foreign investment and remittances. 

In addition, the increase in international energy prices and the increase in interest rates are expected to have a negative effect on consumption and investment. 

ECLAC is therefore recommending countries to back Central American integration and to diversify markets, as well as to strengthen their domestic markets. 

Looking at 2016, the reduction in fuel prices and low interest rates have strengthened the macroeconomic position of the CARD countries, with average annual inflation at 2% in 2016, the second lowest figure over the last 25 years.

Tourists found after being lost in Puerto Plata mountain
Tourists that had gone on a hike in Cupey in Puerto Plata and became lost have been found, as reported in El Nacional. They were accompanied by a guide. The tourists, who were staying at a resort in Costa Dorada, were accompanied by a guide during the hike.   

The six Canadians went on the hike of Isabel de Torres Mountain, a scientific reserve, in Puerto Plata on Monday, 20 February 2017. 

Once notified that the tourists were missing, the authorities of the Ministry of Tourism, under deputy Minister Julio Almonte and Civil Defense under Colonel Ignacio Peña Grullón sent out crews to search the area. They were found around 6pm. At the rescue site, the provincial director of Public Health Dr. Wady Musa checked each of the tourists – four women and two men. He reported the tourists were shaken by the experience, but otherwise were in good shape. 

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