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Daily News - Wednesday, 21 February 2007

The incentives still divide the JCE
Central Electoral Board (JCE) judges are still divided over the issue of the incentives that were created by former JCE members, but which were denounced as illegal and unconstitutional by recently appointed judge Aura Celeste Fernandez. According to Diario Libre, at least five of the current board members are reticent to relinquish their incentives. At least three of the judges, Aura Celeste Fernandez, Mariano Rodriguez and chief judge Julio Cesar Castanos Guzman have publicly rejected the money that is added to their paychecks. Now, according to the newspaper, the JCE itself will be considering the issue since the government auditors at the Chamber of Accounts reported that the JCE is in sovereign control of its own finances and administration. This meeting is to take place next Friday with all nine members present. Apparently none of the remaining members of the board are so willing to give up their rights to the extra monthly payment, which is worth US$2,000, even after chief judge Castanos sent them a letter explaining his position. One of the judges, Eddy Olivares, told Diario Libre that the judges' decisions did not oblige the rest to follow suit. El Caribe says that Olivares' opinion is shared by fellow board members John Guiliani and Francisco Feliz Feliz. Press reports indicate that judges at the Chamber of Accounts and the Supreme Court of Justice also receive similar incentives.
Meanwhile, Hoy newspaper's "Que Se Dice" columnist is optimistic in his comments today: "The tone of the long and moving letter that the JCE president sent his colleagues, even if it was not his intention, hints that he is calling for a general rejection of the incentive, convinced that the public is opposed to the extra privilege. If that ends up happening, which is very likely, then one should not jump to the conclusion that it is a victory for Aura Celeste Fernandez and her particular sense of ethics and transparency, but rather a win for decency and probity that this society, with all its anti-values and relativisms, should embrace with renewed pride."

Traffic woes in Santo Domingo
The Office for the Reorganization of Transport (OPRET) has announced that traffic from Maximo Gomez Avenue will be diverted towards Ortega y Gasset Avenue as soon as the bridge that joins Los Reyes Catolicos with the New Market (Mercado Nuevo) is finished. This bridge was taken out of service due to the Metro construction, but it has now been refitted and is almost ready to take traffic from Villa Mella along the north-south Maximo Gomez route. According to El Caribe, Leonel Carrasco from OPRET said that the new detour would facilitate the excavation of the tunnel at the intersection of Nicolas de Ovando and Maximo Gomez Avenues. Currently, drivers are using the streets that cross the Cristo Rey area to avoid tie-ups.
Of a more immediate nature is the announcement made in today's papers that the entire area around the Plaza de la Bandera (the large archway with the Dominican flag) will be closed to traffic as from 9:00am tomorrow. The plaza is located at the intersection of Luperon Avenue, 27 de Febrero Avenue and Isabel Aguiar Avenue. The detours will be controlled by AMET traffic policemen, and the closure will remain in effect until the Flag Day celebrations are over.

Cespedes gets literature prize
Writer and journalist Diogenes Cespedes was awarded the National Literature Prize last night. The Ministry of Culture and the Corripio Foundation sponsored the prize, which included a check for RD$500,000. Much of Cespedes's works are devoted to literary criticism. In his acceptance speech, Cespedes suggested that the ministry and the foundation should limit the prize to the traditional literary areas of poetry, novels, short stories, theater and essays. He argued for the creation of a similar prize for areas such as history, economics or sociology.

Victor Capellan to lead DANR
The Dominican-American National Roundtable, the leading advocacy group for the empowerment of Dominicans in the US and Puerto Rico, announced that it has appointed Victor F. Capellan as its new president, effective 19 February 2007. Capellan succeeds Cid Wilson, who declined to seek re-election so he could focus on civic obligations in New Jersey, and will continue in an advisory capacity to the new president. "I am deeply honored and blessed to have the opportunity to lead the Dominican-American National Roundtable as we spread our mission of empowerment of Dominicans and Latinos across America," said Victor Capellan. Capellan was DANR's first president in 1997. Victor Capellan is the principal of EBC Bushwick High School for Public Service in Brooklyn, New York. He is serving in his third year as principal after his associate director position at the Office of New Schools in the central headquarters of the Department of Education.
Capellan was formerly the facilitator of the Student Registration Center with the Providence School Department and also served as Executive Director of the Center for Hispanic Policy and Advocacy in Providence, Rhode Island. He served on the boards of Rhode Island Hospital, the Providence Public Library, and chaired the board of the Rhode Island Housing Mortgage and Finance Corporation. He attended the University of Rhode Island where he earned a Bachelors Degree in Political Science. He also holds a Masters Degree in Human Development and Family Studies as well as a Masters in Education from the University of Rhode Island. Capellan was born in Santiago.
See www.danr.org/ip.asp?op=news

Ocean World side to controversy
Ocean World, the DR's leading entertainment park located in Puerto Plata, has distanced itself from accusations by Dominican environmentalists that it is complicit in the slaughter of dolphins in Japan. In a press release, Ocean World says that the Japanese have been slaughtering dolphins for food in Taiji and other villages for hundreds of years, and that no endangered or threatened species are taken. Ocean World explains that by purchasing the dolphins, they are saving the lives of animals that would otherwise be killed in the slaughterhouse. Stefan Meister, spokesman for the park, explains: "The animals destined for Ocean World were taken early out of the herding dolphins into coves or bays and do not witness the killing of their pod mates as the extremists would like you to believe."
He points out that the dolphins were in no way harmed during the collection, "as this would be counterproductive to selling animals to an aquarium which require healthy, strong and good looking animals. He explains that the animals selected for aquaria are taken to floating sea-pens by Taiji Whale Museum staff, while the ones not chosen for aquaria are killed for their meat by local fishermen.
Meister says that facilities like Ocean World allow people to experience dolphins up close and make people appreciate dolphins so that their existence in the wild can be guaranteed for future generations.
Meister stresses that the dolphins are content at Ocean World. "Ocean World has the largest man-made dolphin lagoon in the world, with a state of the art filtration system that provides clean water and an environment conducive to the reproduction of dolphins," he points out. "This is evidenced by the birth of the first dolphin baby in the Dominican Republic under human care, 'Lili' on August 21, 2006." Meister forecasts more births since the female dolphins are now reaching breeding age.

Transparency costs more
A noted developer and builder, Jaime Gonzalez, has said that the cost of housing would increase by nearly 10% due to the new tax reporting regulations. Gonzalez explained to reporters from Hoy that as a result of the latest tax increase, called a correction by government, construction companies now must pay a 16% VAT tax for labor costs incurred when building a house. Suppliers of the raw materials that go into a house are also adjusting their pricing in order to adapt to the new tax regime. All this will be reflected in the cost of a housing unit, according to the builder. Another issue facing the housing industry is the evident slowdown of new housing starts, attributable in part to the problems facing more informal suppliers that have not yet obtained the new invoice documents required by the new taxes and reporting rules. In turn, builders are waiting to start up new projects until their suppliers have the necessary documents that will allow them to discount costs incurred during the construction process.

Free zones ask for emergency measures
The Association of Dominican Free Zones (Adozona) publishes a large advertisement in all today's papers. In it, the association basically says that unless emergency measures are taken, there will be a catastrophic breakdown of the entire free zone system. One of the first suggestions is for the country to enter into the DR-CAFTA agreement without further delay. Another is for the exchange rate to be relaxed. All companies operating under the aegis of the free zone model are also asking for a reduction in energy costs. The press release says that internal costs in dollars have increased and some aspects of the labor market are too rigid for them to be able to compete in the international markets. The free zones also have the same complaint as the petroleum companies: there is too little freedom in choosing transport of merchandise from the factories to the ports. For these companies, which formerly employed over 150,000 men and women, neither the government nor the nation has any provisions or plans to alleviate the plight of the tens of thousands of workers now faced with unemployment. The Adozona note rejected President Fernandez's comment that the free zone model was "worn out" and declares that the sector can still provide great opportunities for the country. The note says that this is not rhetoric. Adozona says that there is an urgent need to remedy the damage already caused by the government's inactivity or disdain, and prevent further closures. One of the major factories closed down last Friday, dismissing thousands of workers. Besides the country's immediate entry into DR-CAFTA and relaxing the exchange rate, the associates want the government to seriously consider the other points on the agenda that has been on the table for several months. Business leader Felix M. Garcia told reporters from El Caribe that "without the treaty, there is no more free zone sector." The president of the Santiago Development Association was quite explicit on two important points. The first was the customary annual dismissal of the entire workforce at each factory, which is not covered under any of the current labor laws, but which forces the factory to keep a massive amount of capital in reserve. This does not just lead to the loss of the use of the reserve fund, but labor courts are obliging employers to pay severance packages for the entire time an employee worked for the factory, in spite of the fact that each December the employee received a yearly severance package! Garcia called on the government to sponsor a case all the way to the Supreme Court to see if this contradictory situation can be cleared up. The second issue is the use of the dollars that the free zone companies receive for their work. Under current controls, this money cannot be sold on the open exchange market, and they are forced to sell them at below-market prices. However, the same companies are forced to purchase dollars at an above-market price, and this is yet another contradiction that needs to be dealt with by the authorities.

Four removed from PEME trial
National District prosecutor Jose Manuel Hernandez has taken Diandino Pena, Simon Lizardo, Haivanhoe Ng Cortinas and Noe Camacho Ovalles off the list of accused in the PEME fraud case now in the courts. Pena is in charge of the metro construction, Lizardo is Controller General, Ng is Superintendent of the Stock Exchange and businessman Camacho. The Minimum Job Program (PEME) handled billions of pesos during the first Fernandez administration (1996-2000) and the four were accused of mishandling RD$1.438 billion of the funds, along with Luis Ynchausti, Grecia Peguero Rivera and Leon Lopez Mata. Just yesterday Ynchausti resigned as one of the major promoters of President Fernandez's re-election bid. Ynchausti and his associates' trial is set to begin on 3 April.

Five runaways found in Higuey
Police have found five children, who apparently ran away from their homes in the capital, in a shack in the Otra Banda area of Higuey. At a midnight press conference, police chief Bernardo Santana Paez reported that the children had left their homes, headed for the Basilica of La Altagracia in Higuey, and then traveled on to the little shack were they were discovered. Also present at the press conference was prosecutor Marilyn Castillo Presinal from the Department of Children and Young People. General Santana Paez handed the children back to their parents. The children, two sisters and a brother from one family and a brother and sister from another family, were friends, but the families did not know each other. Hoy reports that they went to different schools. According to Listin Diario, the kids left their homes in the Belleza de Los Alpes neighborhood on Charles de Gaulle Avenue last Saturday. Hoy newspaper reports that the children were sent to medical facilities for psychological and medical examinations. The police are continuing their investigations in order to determine if any adults were involved in the escapade.

Steals car and goes to work in it
A 24-year old man went and stole a car in the Peking section of Santiago de los Caballeros. The vehicle, one of the hundreds of "publicos" used to transport passengers along a fixed route, was then used by the same man to earn money for drugs. The accused thief was spotted by local residents as he plied his "trade" along the same route the car's real owner worked to earn his living. Owner Tony Vasquez chased the car and eventually captured the thief on the Beltway along the Yaque River. According to Listin Diario, the drug addict, who is known only as "Cuncun" is a neighbor of Vasquez, and the car was recovered near a gas station in the Ingenio area. One of the members of the small posse that gave chase to the stolen car told Listin Diario reporters that when Cuncun was cornered he gave up and admitted that he had taken the car to earn some money to feed his drug habit. Fortunately, local security people were able to keep the thief from being lynched, and he was turned over to the police. According to one witness, Severino Cabrera, "Cuncun" told the arresting officer that he had not "stolen the car, but just borrowed it..."

What the country doesn't know
The head of the National Drug Control Department (DNCD) has told reporters covering the installation of new detection equipment in the Las Americas Airport that the "public is unaware of the scale and severity" of the drug problem in the Dominican Republic. Major General Rafael Ramirez Ferreira said that drugs are costing the nation dearly at all levels of society due to a lack of awareness about the seriousness of the problem. General Ramirez praised the work of the prosecutors who work with the DNCD and promised to continue the fight. The new x-ray machines are designed to cause less inconvenience to passengers suspected of being drug mules, and will prevent the bother of taking suspects to hospitals for closer inspections.

Carnival supplement
There is a marvelous supplement in today's Diario Libre, covering different aspects of Dominican carnival festivities. The supplement deals with traditions, costs and the organizations involved in the Santiago, La Vega and Santo Domingo carnivals. The papier-mache construction of the famous masks is explained, as well as the tremendous cost associated with a really special carnival outfit. Groups such as the Magoyos from La Vega budget over a million pesos each year for their outfits and train for months in order to be fit enough to work the parades. The supplement also explains the relationship between commercial publicity campaigns associated with the carnival as well as the photographic opportunities for professional and amateur alike.

Master of the Ocean 2007
Master of the Ocean is the only triathlon that combines surfing, windsurfing and kitesurfing in waves. The winner is an ironman of the ocean. It takes place in Playa Cabarete and Playa Encuentro, on the north shore of the Dominican Republic, two side by side beaches that offer prime conditions for the three sports. It is in its third year. For 2007, the prize money is US$10.000.
For information on other upcoming events, see http://www.dr1.com/calendar
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