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Daily News - 27 September 2002

Lobbying for trade and Haiti
President Hipolito Mejia pressed the case of the Dominican Republic during the forum of the US Chamber of Commerce luncheon. He brought up the consequences of continued impoverishment and the burgeoning drug trade in Haiti. He also voiced his concern over the possible exclusion of the Dominican Republic from the Free Trade Agreement the US is to sign with many countries of Central America. 
President Mejia implored the United States to go from words to actions in the case of Haiti. He spoke of the heavy burden of the droves of impoverished Haitians crossing the border seeking survival and the effects of the transshipment of drugs to the Dominican Republic on its way to US territory. He said that despite the presence of the Dominican military at the border, the contraband of drugs has not slowed its pace. Dramatizing the case further, Mejia said, “Time is running out to help Haiti and it is probable that aid to that country may only begin once the international community sees a hat flying away, only to notice that under the hat is the head.” 
He asked the US to grant equal trade conditions to the Dominican Republic. “We need to receive the same opportunities as others to participate and compete in free trade,” he said, urging the United States not to discriminate against the Dominican Republic. 
The US is aiming to launch free trade negotiations with Central American countries at the start of next year. Assistant US Trade Representative Regina Vargo has reiterated that the US and Central American countries aim to complete the FTA negotiations by the end of 2003. 
The Dominican Republic countered with a request for a bilateral FTA, but this is not yet on the trade talks agenda of the United States. 
Otto Juan Reich, Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs of the US Government, was present at the US Chamber of Commerce event. Also in attendance were legislators who support the Dominican Republic’s petition to receive the same concessions as the signing of a FTA with Central America would bring. These are Charles Rangel, Jose Serrano, Ileana Ros, Lincoln Diaz Ballar, Xavier Becerra and Bob Martinez, Benjamin Gilman, Benjamin Cardin, Eliot Engel, Robert Menendez, and Donna Christensen. 

Strong PRD slant in new election board
The PRD majority Senate confirmed Manuel Ramon Morel Cerda’s title of president of the Central Electoral Board (JCE), the government body in charge of organizing presidential, congressional and municipal elections in the Dominican Republic. The Senate went a step further and appointed two government officers as judges and promoted the legal advisor of the JCE to judge. 
The Senate also approved judges Salvador Ramos, Luis Arias and Roberto Leonel Rodriguez in their posts. 
The new judges are Nelson Jose Gomez, Rafael Diaz Vasquez, and Rafaelina Peralta Arias. Gomez is a lawyer who has been president of the bar of Santiago and was one of the lawyers to represent the Mejia administration in the highly politicized PEME corruption case against the former Leonel Fernandez government. Rafael Diaz Vasquez practices law and at the time of his appointment was deputy of finance and administrative director of the Ministry of Public Health. Rafaelina Peralta Arias, worked as legal advisor at the JCE under Morel Cerda and is also a lawyer. 
The Senate also appointed Luis Mera Alvarez, Martha Miguelina Figuereo Baez, Margarita Gil, Porfirio Hernandez Quezada, Jorge Eligio Mendez Perez, and Luis Ernesto Pantaleon as substitute judges.
As reported in Diario Libre newspaper, 25 of the 28 senators present voted in favor. 
Only senator Tonty Rutinel (PRD-Santo Domingo Province) voted against the decision, on grounds that the election of the partisan board would set a dangerous precedent. PRSC senator Jose Hazim said that his party disputes the choice of what he called a unilateral, arbitrary and politicized board.
PLD senator Jose Tomas Perez said that the country was tired of political confrontations, but the imposition of a board without consensus means the confrontations will continue until after the 2004 presidential elections. 
Following the vote, Senator Cesar Augusto Matias (PRD-Valverde) said, “We crushed the opposition and those that had asked for consensus.” 

Marcial Valera is new senator for El Seibo
The Senate approved yesterday the appointment of Marcial Valera as the new senator for El Seibo. Roberto Rodriguez won the seat, but opted to remain as director of the government aqueduct department, the Instituto Nacional de Aguas Potables y Alcantarillados (Inapa).

Military doesn’t like Supreme Court ruling
The Minister of the Armed Forces, Jose Soto Jimenez, yesterday criticized the decision of the Supreme Court of Justice for releasing former Dominican consul in Haiti, Radhames Garcia. Garcia is accused of smuggling Chinese citizens into the Dominican Republic. The Supreme Court of Justice, while recognizing that there was evidence to incriminate Garcia, said that it is up to the Chamber of Deputies to rule on this case, given Garcia’s privileged status as a legislator. 
Acting President, Milagros Ortiz Bosch, ordered the arrest of Garcia when military and migration authorities at the border revealed he had assisted a group of Chinese in entering the country illegally. 
“I think the courts should provide greater support to the military and be more severe in their efforts to impede the smuggling of merchandise or people at the border, and to eliminate the use of the Dominican Republic as a bridge for the transshipment of drugs, illegal aliens and contraband,” he told the press. He said that he respects the independence of the government branches and does not mean to exercise pressure on the justice system.

Just another nut
Intelligence units of the Dominican government determined that 30-year-old Badar Munir Khalid, the Pakistani citizen arrested for being in possession of an eight-inch knife prior to boarding an Air France flight at Las Americas International on 11 September, “is just one of those nuts that hang around”. Fernando Cruz Mendez, director of the National Department of Investigations told Diario Libre that he was released because they couldn’t find anything against him. 
Air France refused to transport him unless sent with an army officer, and so he has remained in the country, however Cruz Mendez says they do not know his whereabouts. 
Diario Libre explains that Munir came to the Dominican Republic to study and had his parent’s financial support until some time ago. Neighbors say his life got complicated when he started using drugs. 

Germany donates to education
The government of Germany donated EU€5.1 million to be used to build schools in the southern provinces. Acting President Milagros Ortiz Bosch, who is also Minister of Education, received the donation from Ambassador Eva Count Van Kendeffy who signed for Germany. The schools will be built in the provinces of San Jose de Ocoa, Peravia (Bani), Azua, Barahona, Pedernales and Bahoruco. The German government agency KFW has been responsible for the construction and maintenance of 240 public schools nationwide.

The danger of self-censorship
El Caribe newspaper journalist Fausto Rosario Adames alerted the public to the dangers of self-censorship upon receiving the Rafael Herrera Cabral Award to excellence in journalism. Rosario has written extensively on corruption in government. 
Upon receiving the RD$200,000 award, he thanked his newspaper for allowing the space for his reports. He also expressed his concern for an increasing self-censorship in Dominican press.

SuperClubs in the Dominican Republic
SuperClubs announced that the Puerto Plata Beach & Spa Resort and the Punta Cana Spa & Casino Beach Resort will become the chain’s first properties in the Dominican Republic. The hotels were formerly marketed as LTI Sol de Plata resorts. 
Under SuperClubs, the beachfront all-inclusives will continue to cater to singles, couples and families. SuperClubs currently operates resorts in Jamaica, the Bahamas, Curaçao and Brazil and will manage the sales and marketing operations for the new hotels from its sales office in Hollywood, Florida. On 15 December 2002, both resorts will be re-branded Breezes resorts, giving SuperClubs ten Breezes properties in six countries. SuperClubs also manages the Grand Lido Resorts and Hedonism Resorts brands. 
“We’ve had our eye on the Dominican Republic for years – and are excited that the right opportunity has finally come along to allow us to introduce our Breezes operation to such an alluring island paradise,” said SuperClubs executive chairman Hon. John J. Issa. Issa was in the Dominican Republic last week to make the announcement.
“This Caribbean retreat has long been favored by Europeans and we are eager to bring SuperClubs’ proven vacation experience to this highly desirable market, while continuing to establish ourselves in new ones. I couldn’t think of two better properties to start this venture with than these fine Sol de Plata resorts.”
The Puerto Plata Beach & Spa Resort offers 471 rooms and suites, which are fully air-conditioned and feature either a patio or balcony. On-site facilities include six restaurants, four bars, three swimming pools, tennis courts, mini golf course, nightly entertainment, nightclub and a host of water sports.
The Punta Cana Spa & Casino Beach Resort is a 733-room resort located at Arena Gorda Beach, on the north side of the eastern beach strip.

Dominican volleyball ranked 15th
Hoy newspaper says that the Dominican Women’s Volleyball Team is ranked 15th in the world. The Dominican team moved down one notch from its 14th-place spot after losing to Puerto Rico in the World Cup, held recently in Germany. The Germany World Cup went well for Puerto Rico, who moved from a ranking of 59th place to 19th in the world. The world’s best women’s team is Russia, followed by China, the United States, Brazil and Cuba.

Sancocho Festival
Raul Perez Peńa announces the festival honoring the most delicious national stew, will be held this year with the finals set for 19 November at the Gran Hotel Lina. As in previous years, there will be three categories: bean, guandules and traditional. A first qualifying round will be held at the Melia Santo Domingo Hotel on 5 November. 
For more information, write to Perez at [email protected] or call 476-7972, 688-6774, 238-5492, 508-3772. 
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