Ministry of Public Works announces construction projects for 2017
Delays in issuing Dominican passports
Santiago begins sewage treatment
Central Bank freezes interest rate at 5.5%
World Bank: Improvements for Ministry of Industry & Commerce
Judge rejects validating Odebrecht agreement
Judicial Branch Council orders Rizik-freeing justices investigated
CEA held responsible for double crime in San Pedro de Macorís
Government goes forward on Los Tres Brazos recommendations
Senate approves Alvárez Pérez to head Chamber of Accounts. 
Maybe Abel should meet Donald Trump
Valle Nuevo farmers granted stay
Ecology of lakes in Boca Chica threatened
23-year old dies after drinking a bottle of tequila
Soprano Stephany Ortega at Bellas Artes

Ministry of Public Works announces construction projects for 2017
Public Works Minister, Gonzalo Castillo, announced yesterday several of the main infrastructure works to be executed in 2017. He spoke of the Navarrete-Puerto Plata road that is being expanded to four-lanes. Also the expansion of Azua-Barahona road and the completion of the construction of the San Juan de la Maguana bypass roads are set for this year. 

Others road construction projects for 2017 include the Padre las Casas-Bohechío road, the Azua bypass and the Baní bypass in the south. 

He said the Ministry of Public Works would build a third overpass on the Las Americas Expressway at La Caleta. This would replace the crossing located in front of the Las Americas Technology Institute (ITLA).  

Other roads planned for 2017 are: San Pedro de Macorís-Hato Mayor; Sabana de la Mar-Hato Mayor, Hato Mayor-El Puerto, El Puerto-Los Llanos, El Puerto-Bayaguana. 

He announced that all works for the Circuito Vial del Este, that connects Santo Domingo with the east coast beach areas, will be completed by 2018.

Delays in issuing Dominican passports
The Passport Agency (Dirección General de Pasaportes) announced a temporary suspension of one-day passport issuance services (Servicios VIP). The VIP service cost an additional RD$2,650 with which a passport can be received the same day.

As reported, the usual procedures for issuing a passport will be extended to 12 working days while the technological platform at the department is changed. The cost for normal passport renovation is RD$1,650 and this takes at least 10-working days.

Santiago advances on sewage treatment
The director general of the Santiago Water and Sewage Corporation (Coraasan), Silvio Duran inaugurated a pumping station to treat sewage in Arroyo Hondo, in the southern part of the city yesterday, 1 March 2017. This represents a major effort by Coraasan to clean up the Yaque River by treating some 600,000 gallons of water a day in this first phase. 

When the entire project is completed the pumping stations will gather 3.4 million gallons a day and provide water treatment that will contribute greatly to bringing aquatic life back to the river. 

The huge investment includes more than half a kilometer of 20-inch piping that will take the waters to the treatment plant in Rafey. 

Some 63,000 inhabitants of the city will benefit from the decontamination of the creeks and streams in their neighborhoods. Several neighborhood groups were at the inauguration and applauded this first step in the cleanup of what is perhaps the nation’s most important river.

Central Bank freezes interest rate at 5.5%
During a meeting on monetary policy, the Central Bank of the Dominican Republic officials decided to maintain the basic interest rate at 5.5%. The decision regarding the basic interest rate was adopted after an analysis regarding the possibilities of inflationary risks as well as the state of the economy, using its principal indicators, the market expectations and the international economic environment. 

During the month of January, the monthly inflation rate was 0.62% and the year-to-year inflation was 2.33%. 

According to Central Bank projections, inflation during the first six months of the year is estimated at 4%. 

According to a notice from the Central Bank, the world economy will grow by 2.8% in 2017 and possibly by 2.9% in 2018, while some emerging economies will experience more robust growth rates. 

The note says that the Dominican economy grew by 6.6% in real terms in 2016, while a 5.5% growth is projected for 2017. This is above the average for Latin America.

World Bank: Improvements for Ministry of Industry & Commerce
The Ministry of Industry and Commerce (MIC) and the World Bank signed a cooperation agreement to improve the management of the ministry on 1 March 2017. The agreement calls for the World Bank to conduct a survey and analysis of the current operation of the ministry, and then propose a strategy to achieve the desired objectives. 

The senior public sector specialist for Latin America and the Caribbean for the World Bank, Joanna Alexandra Wadkins, explained to El Nacional newspaper that a diagnosis will be carried out on how the ministry is working now in terms of personnel, budget, division of work and whether there are functions that overlay those of other institutions.  As a result of the study, the World Bank would make recommendations on how the Ministry of Industry and Commerce should function in the future.

Judge rejects validating Odebrecht agreement
Judge José Alejandro Vargas did not validate the agreement reached between the Attorney General Office and executives of the Brazilian Odebrecht construction project. Attorney General Jean-Alain Rodríguez had revealed that the agreement called for compensation to the Dominican government for US$184 million, or double the confessed US$92 million in bribes paid by Odebrecht, over an eight-year period. 

In his legal opinion, Judge Vargas stated that the agreement did not meet the procedures established in the Penal Procedures Code. While Vargas acknowledged the agreement was the result of a consensus between parties, he said it could not be applied given the seriousness of the matter. He said for the conciliation agreement to be valid, the participation of the victims, the accused and the complainants is required, which was not the present case.  While rejecting the form used by the Attorney General, the judge said the parties should instead choose a mechanism established in the Penal Procedures Code. 

The Green Campaign (Marcha Verde) that seeks an end to government impunity had protested at the Justice Palace demanding that the judge reject the validation of the agreement.

Judicial Branch Council orders Rizik-freeing justices investigated
The Judicial Branch Council has reacted after it learned that the United States has removed travel visas to three judges that had issued a sentence favoring accused drug trafficker Winston Rizik. 

The Judicial Branch Council (CPJ) on Tuesday, 28 February 2017, ordered an investigation into the legal procedures and processes followed by the three Court of Appeals of the Province of Santo Domingo Penal Chamber that annulled the jail sentences of Winston Rizik Rodríguez and his brother Nelson Rizik accused of drug trafficking. 

The Council presided by the president of the Supreme Court of Justice, Mariano Germán Mejía, ordered the investigation of judges Manuel del Socorro Pérez García, Saulo  Ysabel Díaz and Rosaly Yovianka Stefani Brito. In their ruling, the judges ordered the case reviewed from its beginning to final, controversial ruling.

CEA held responsible for double crime in San Pedro de Macorís
The high-ranking government commission appointed by President Danilo Medina to investigate the murder of two broadcasters in San Pedro de Macorís concluded that the State Sugar Council (CEA) should be held responsible for three deaths, as reported in MetroRD. The murders happened on 14 and 15 February 2017, when enraged José Rodríguez barged in on the broadcasters who were at the radio station that is located in a city shopping mall. The Police reported that Rodríguez committed suicide from accosted by the Police. 

In a press conference on Wednesday, 1 March 2017, legal advisor to the President Flavio Darío Espinal read from the commission report: “What can be said is that José Rodríguez was a victim of an obscure dysfunctional system, questionable from an ethics perspective, that operates in the State Sugar Council (CEA), causing him an enormous frustration, anxiety and desperation that unleashed the rage that caused the tragic deaths of Leo Martínez and Luis Medina and his own death, and the serious injuries to Dayana García.” 

The investigation revealed that Rodríguez had been negotiating for two years with the CEA and had paid RD$627,739 for the land in San Pedro de Macorís, only to discover that the government entity would maneuver and renegotiate the same property and when Rodríguez demanded the money he had paid, he only received RD$119,000. 

On the day of the crime, Rodríguez had demanded the missing cash and when he did not receive a satisfactory response from Leo Martínez, who had served as mediator between himself and the CEA, filled with rage he opened fire against the three persons that were in the radio station where Leo Martínez worked. 

The commission prepared a 24-page chronological summary of the events leading to the murder of the two broadcasters. 

Espinal said that the commission has recommended an overhaul of the management of the CEA (that had already taken place), removal of the eastern regional director of the CEA, and the intervening of the CEA departments that deal with the sale of property to third parties. Changes in the directors for Boca Chica and Hato Nuevo are recommended.  

An assessment of the administrative staff to determine if these have the necessary skills and if not proceed with their cancellations is also recommended. The commission also recommends a purge of all staff that does not carry out any valuable role. 

It also recommends that the CEA receive budget allotments so not to depend on the sale of property to avoid more corrupt acts. 

The commission recommended giving six months to the commission that is assessing the CEA property to complete the land inventory. 

The commission also delegates in the Attorney General Office determining if any CEA officer should be sent to justice. 

In addition to legal advisor Flavio Darío Espinal, the other members of the commission are the director of the Permanent Commission for State Land Titling José Dantes and the director of Government Ethics and Integrity, Lidio Cadet.

Government goes forward on Los Tres Brazos recommendations
Administrative Minister of the Presidency, José Ramon Peralta told reporters from the Diario Libre on 1 March 2017 in Santiago that the government would proceed with a legal case against those found responsible for irregularities in government land sales in the Los Tres Brazos area in eastern Santo Domingo. 

A high-level commission that reviewed the sales discovered several irregular operations in the Corde-private sector transactions. 

Peralta spoke while accompanying President Danilo Medina at the inauguration of new Infotep offices in the city of Santiago. Infotep is the largest center for vocational training in the country.  

Senate approves Alvárez Pérez to head Chamber of Accounts 
On Wednesday, 1 March 2017, the Senate approved the appointment of Hugo Francisco Alvárez Pérez as the presiding member for the Chamber of Accounts, the auditing body of the government. 

Alvarez Pérez is the son of a former justice of the Supreme Court of Justice, Hugo Alvárez Valencia. He graduated in law from the Catholic University Madre y Maestra (today PUCMM) in 1977. 

He has served as a state prosecutor for the judicial district of La Vega and has held diplomatic positions at the Dominican Embassy in Bonn, Germany. 

Judge Alvárez Pérez was also the head of the Legal Department at the Superintendence of Banks for the northern region of the country. He has taught at the Cibao Catholic Technological University in La Vega and at the Fernando Arturo de Meriño Agro-forestry University in Jarabacoa. 
A well-known participant in the carnival activities in La Vega, Alvárez Pérez was crowned King Momo of the 2010 Carnival in La Vega. 

Judge Alvárez Pérez had a moment of show business fame when he was the civil justice that married singer Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley in La Vega in 1994.

Maybe Abel should meet Donald Trump
The Mayor of Santiago Abel Martinez called on the migration authorities to undertake actions to control the entry of thousands of undocumented persons who continue arriving in Santiago, where he said they invade plazas, parks and other sectors while the authorities are doing nothing to deal with the situation. 

Answering questions from reporters from the Diario Libre regarding the prohibition that undocumented foreigners occupy spaces in the new flea market that is now functioning in the sector of El Ingenio, the Santiago Mayor took advantage of the situation to again issue a call to the authorities to deal with the illegal entry of Haitians that he said are invading the city of Santiago as well as other nearby towns. 

The mayor said that the authorities should rigorously apply the migration law, especially after having spent more than US$50 million on a legalization plan that was open to all immigrants. He criticized that every day more and more illegal Haitians can be seen on Santiago streets. Abel said the city should not permit the parks and plazas to be occupied by illegal foreigners. 

The Mayor urged the authorities to take measures to repatriate anyone who is residing illegally in the Dominican Republic, regardless of their country of origin.  He added that the Dominican Republic cannot continue to support persons who do not pay taxes, who cannot produce proof of legal status in the country or even basic documents to establish their identity. 

He also noted that all the deadlines of the National Plan of Foreigner Regularization (PNRE) have passed. He said: “It is now up to government to carry out their responsibilities regarding the deportation of illegal persons in our territory.”

Valle Nuevo farmers granted stay
The Block of Campesinos (small farmers) in Valle Nuevo, Constanza decided to grant the government a truce until Saturday, 4 March 2017, with the hopes that a solution can be negotiated regarding the conflict over the application of Resolution 14-2016 that prohibits farming inside the Valle Nuevo National Park. 

Norberto Rosario, the president of the farmers’ block, told Diario Libre that after meeting with Father Rogelio Cruz they decided to accept his proposal for a truce. “If there is no solution with the authorities from the Ministry of the Environment by Saturday, then we will redouble our efforts and our struggles, since we are not going to let them throw us out into the streets with our hands empty,” he told the Diario Libre reporters. 

The spokesman also said that they are going to hold a larger meeting with all of the farmers affected by the measure from all seven communities in the sector of El Convento. He said: “In this meeting we’re going to report to the press a lot of the facts that have not been made public regarding Valle Nuevo. In addition we are going to unmask the lies of many public officials.” 

Since last Monday, brigades from the Ministry of Environment have begun to dismantle the infrastructure on the farm belonging to Miguel Crouch In Alto Bandera. 

Ecology of lakes in Boca Chica threatened
Some 36 ponds and lakes created by three rivers, the Brujuelas, Tosa and the Caganche, are about to disappear. Indeed, 15 of ponds are already nearly dry.  Deforestation around the lakes and the extraction of underground water are to blame for the disappearance of these bodies of water. As a result, there has been  an increase of saltwater detected in the aquifers in the area. 

According to the article in Diario Libre, a report that studied the availability and demand of water in each of the provinces suggests that the extraction of subterranean water is between 500 and 600 m³ per inhabitant. The extraction of the underground water has led to the contamination of wells in the area, principally due to saltwater intrusion.  

The study also shows that because of a loss of quality in the available water, there is a marked decrease in amount potable water available for area households and businesses. 

It is projected that by the year 2020, the per capita availability of water will be 1,502 mm per habitant per year, which is not a good forecast.

23-year old dies after drinking a bottle of tequila
The Public Ministry ordered the closing of the Vacca Lounge discotheque in La Romana where a tequila-drinking contest ended with the death of the winning participant. 23-year old Kelvin Mejía died shortly after winning the RD$30,000 prize money for drinking non-stop an entire bottle of tequila all by himself. The business was closed to allow the authorities to investigate Mejia’s death. 

The discotheque management denies having had anything to do with the contest. The late Mejía’s family accuses the nightspot of being responsible for his death. The family said that as a requirement to participate in the contest is to deposit RD$4,000, so if the bottle is not emptied, the discotheque does not lose money, a relative told the press. The contest took place on the evening of Sunday, 26 February 2017.

News reports say that while Mejía was conscious when he collected his prize, he passed out shortly after because of the severe alcohol intoxication. 

To make matters worse, there are reports that Mejía was apparently robbed of his prize money as he was being driven to the hospital. Mejía’s was the father of a one-month old baby.

Soprano Stephany Ortega at Bellas Artes
Dominican soprano Stephany Ortega will perform the recital “Duo Rosa” with Belgian pianist Léna Kollmeier on Wednesday, 19 April 2017 at the Palacio de Bellas Artes. The performance is part of the duos “Return World Tour.”  

The program includes all time European favorite songs, including works by Debussy, Fauré and Saint-Saëns, Granados, Rodrigo, Falla and Latin American favorites by Piazzolla, Grever, Villa-Lobos. Also by Dominican composers, including “Por amor” by Rafael Solano,  “Serenata en Lab” by Luis Rivera and “Pajarito Cantador” by Julio Alberto Hernández.

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