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Daily News - Thursday, 03 April 2008

Castanos speaks on realities
During a speech at the monthly American Chamber of Commerce luncheon, Central Electoral Board (JCE) president Julio Cesar Castanos Guzman said that the real challenge facing the DR is not the 16 May presidential election, but the eradication of the dangers involved with political parties, the political system and democracy, clientelism and the unequal distribution of funds in politics. Castanos added that this current system and the way it is funded opens the doors to the corruption and degradation of the Dominican citizenry. Castanos also spoke about the propaganda campaigns common in political parties when election results are released, and said that after each election the same people always cry wolf. He assured his business audience that the JCE would fulfill its responsibilities on Election Day with honesty, impartiality, courage and firmness. Castanos also promised efficiency in the voting process, saying that the traditional delays in the announcing of the results has been eliminated. Castanos also welcomed external observers as a further guarantee to the transparency of the elections.
Central Electoral Board President Julio Cesar Castanos Guzman favors introducing debates between presidential candidates in order to give voters a better idea of where the parties stand on the issues. He said that the DR aspires to debates that are centered on visions and solutions and not on personal attacks.
AmCham president Christopher Paniagua expressed his confidence in the JCE, and the experience and professionalism of the JCE judges. This is why, according to Paniagua, the AmCham opened itself up to host presentations of the major presidential candidates in election years. He quoted Thomas Jefferson, saying that an informed citizenry is the best guarantee of democracy.

All FTAs bad?
Ignacio Mendez, president of the Federation of Industrialist Associations, says that all the free trade agreements (FTAs) the DR has signed have been detrimental to the country. Mendez argued that when the DR and similar countries opened their doors to the FTAs, they were already in a position to succeed in a globalized international economy, making the need for an FTA null and void. Mendez, speaking during the TV show "Uno+Uno" said that the DR has much work to do in order to become competitive. "We can not be competitive as industrialists if the country is not competitive, if businesspeople, the banks and the government aren't competitive", he said, adding that the country is in need of a long-term development plan and that the competitiveness law should be regarded as a way of developing the country. He also believes that strengthening education and employee training were the best ways to increase competitiveness.

UASD runs on deficit
According to UASD University dean Franklin Garcia Fermin, the state university runs on an average deficit of RD$30 million per month. According to vice dean Maritza Camacho, the UASD has monthly revenues of RD$14 million. Camacho says that no government has ever fulfilled the law that designates 5% of the national budget to the UASD. Garcia says that the deficit is due to the fact that the government has not paid for the 20% wage increase awarded to teachers following the last teacher's strike at the university, in 2006. Garcia says that the University has paid for the wage increase through loans from the Teachers and Employees Cooperative. Garcia also explained that the government has made some payments towards the loan and that although the UASD has paid about RD$10 million of the loan, they are still RD$68 million in debt to the Cooperative. According to the dean, the UASD is waiting for RD$195 million to pay off its debt. A UASD technical advisor says that in order for the UASD to continue development, the university needs to make connections with the private sector so that students can make the most of internships and get real work experience. UASD employees and professors have the best wages and benefits package in the country.

Time's run out for Alejandrina
Time has run out for Education Minister Alejandrina German to file defamation charges she threatened TV journalist Nuria Piera with. German had a two-month window to file charges against Piera for a report in which the journalist reported on a lavish weekend home built by the minister in Jarabacoa. Piera showed vehicles registered to the Ministry of Education leaving the house that is in its final construction phase. The TV report also presented the contradiction of the expensive mountain residence with the precarious and unsanitary conditions at the small public school in the same area. The report was part of a series Piera has carried out on lavish houses built during their term in office or shortly after by government officers.

Pinocchio press
Minister of Industry and Commerce Melanio Paredes says he doesn't attribute the increase in basic food prices to national and international factors, but to the vivid imagination of the press, which he classified as "speculation." Quoted in Hoy, Paredes said that the price increases are only "speculation by the press." He added that in a case of any price increase, the ministry calls producers to revise the cost increases and provide reasons for them. He added that the situation is being monitored and that when there is an unreasonable price increase, steps will be taken to regulate the situation. Paredes' comments coincide with the Ministry of Agriculture's announcement that 14 products from the basic food basket, including legumes, grains and other products were cheaper in 2008 than they were one year ago. Although the decreases are minimal, it contradicts reports earlier this week that rice, beans, chicken and other basic foods have all increased in prices throughout the DR.

Unfinished buildings
Santo Domingo, together with many other parts of the country, is littered with unfinished construction projects. According to Jaime Gonzalez, president of the Housing Constructors and Promoters Association (ACOPROVI), this is due to the increase in the prices of basic building materials like cement and metal bars. He added that even projects with large budgets at their disposal have slowed down the rates of construction. Juan Tomas Hernandez, head of the Dominican Engineers, Architects and Surveyors Association (CODIA) said that once the fear of price increases hits, constructors reduce the speed at which they build. Gonzalez said that March was a "dark" month for builders, as prices went up everyday, but that April looks to be promising. He explained that the quintal of metal bars cost RD$2,000 in February and went up to RD$2,700 in March.

Colmados going hi-tech
Need food and have no cash? No need to worry because more and more colmados are accepting credit and debit cards. The National Traders and Businesses Federation (FENACERD) registered at least 3,500 colmados that accept plastic payment, and according to federation president Antonio Cruz Rojas, this represents at least 5% of colmados. According to FENACRED, for the 5% of colmados that accept credit cards, 10% of their sales are paid for by plastic. Colmado owner Marcos Rosario said that offering the credit card payment option had been a good business move because many people like to keep as much cash as possible in their pockets. According to FENACRED, the minimum value for paying with plastic is RD$300.

Operation Walk a success
Thanks to the free program "Operation Walk", 37 patients have had knee and hip replacement surgeries, giving them a new lease on life. The program was carried out at the Plaza de la Salud. When presenting the patients who had the surgery, Dr. Luis Alcantara lamented the lack of quality in the Dominican medical system and said that 2,000 people were on the waiting list for similar programs. He said the program would be offered next year. It was was made possible thanks to a cooperation agreement with Brigham and Women's Hospital.

Education law changed
The Chamber of Deputies ha voted in favor of a change to the General Education Law, which reduces teachers' retirement limit, increases pensions to RD$10,000 in the case of teachers who receive less, and that after a teacher has worked for 30 years they will receive the equivalent of 25 of their salaries. Teachers must work 30 years in order to retire with all benefits, no matter their age.

Fighting for funds
The DR is asking for 20 development indicators to be revised in order for the country to become eligible for money from the Millennium Account. On Monday it was announced that the DR and Guatemala were the only CAFTA countries that didn't qualify for the funds that would help the countries meet the Millennium Development Goals. The Foreign Commerce Department (DICOEX), a department of the Industry and Commerce Ministry, said that it would work to access the funds. DICOEX will work with the Hacienda, Economic, Planning and Development ministries, and the Customs Department as well as with the National Competitiveness Council (CNC) to try and access the funds. Chief among these indicators are corruption, governance, and improving the general population's quality of life. Jose E. Signoret, the director of the Office for Strengthening Commercial Capacity, part of the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) said that, "a country does not have to score high on all 20 indicators, but some are critical for the Dominican Republic". Because the DR has a higher per capita income than Honduras and Nicaragua, there are stricter rules to follow, according to the original article in Listin Diario.

I said, you said
Deputy Minister for Public Health Nelson Rodriguez Monegro claims that Health Minster Bautista Rojas Gomez has met with Dominican Medical Association (CMD) representatives in an attempt to negotiate a deal. But CMD president Waldo Ariel Suero denies these claims, saying that he hasn't sent any representatives to meet with Public Health officials. Quoted in El Caribe, Suero said that the claims were false. Rodriguez, however, said that he met with Dr. Lopez Camacho, the regional CMD president in Santiago. Rodriguez said that he and Camacho had agreed to hold off continued protests until after the 16 May elections. Suero denied that the agreement had taken place, and directed his anger at President Leonel Fernandez, whom he said had promised to improve the quality of health in the country but has yet to see his promise through. The CMD, which is demanding improved pay and other conditions, has staged three strikes in the last three months.

Is this the end?
Once again Dominican pitcher Pedro Martinez is heading back to the disabled list after he suffered a minor injury to his hamstring. He has been placed on the 15 day DL and is expected to be out between four and six weeks. The New York Mets pitcher has suffered a series of injuries that have kept him sidelined through most of the last three seasons. Mets manager Willie Randolph admitted that things didn't look good for Martinez.
In other baseball news, Dominican slugger David "Big Papi" Ortiz swatted a two-run homerun during the Boston Red Sox's 5-0 pounding of the Oakland A's. This is Papi's first hit in 12 turns to the plate this year, but if past history is an indicator, Ortiz and fans are in for another big number, high powered offensive season. Experts say Ortiz is looking good in early after recovering from a knee injury that affected him last year.
Finally, Dominican power forward Al Horford continued his stellar rookie season by scoring his 22nd double-double of the season after scoring 14 points and 12 rebounds, in 35 minutes of play in a win against the Toronto Raptors. Horford is making a strong case for Rookie of the Year and has been a leading piece in the resurgence of the Hawks, who are currently holding on the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference.
Also having a good night was Dominican forward Charlie Villanueva, who scored 24 points and had 11 boards in the Milwaukee Bucks' win over the Washington Wizards.

DR moves on in TT
Both Dominican table tennis teams have moved on to the next round of competition during the Latin American and Pre-Olympic Table Tennis Championships. The tournament includes the participation of 90 athletes from 18 countries. Male players Luis Lin Ju, Emil Santos and Juan Vila Junior helped the DR beat Peru, 3-0 while the women's team beat Colombia by the same score. With a victory today the Dominican men's team could still win a spot in the Beijing Olympics and the World Championships that will be held in Belgium.
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