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Daily News - Monday, 21 April 2008

Fernandez leads in Gallup poll
Gallup-Hoy poll results released today show President Leonel Fernandez (PLD) in the lead for the 16 May Presidential election, with 51.7% of the vote. Miguel Vargas of the PRD is second with 37.4%, and Amable Aristy follows with 4% of the vote. The percentages stood at 51.8%, 34.7% and 7.5% in the previous Gallup poll, which was carried out in February. Some 25% of those polled said that they were still undecided.

Book Fair opens today
The XI International Book Fair opens in Santo Domingo this evening. For the next two weeks, until 4 May, books will be reigning in the capital of the Dominican Republic. This year's theme is "Be seduced by books" and the event is dedicated to historian Emilio Rodriguez Demorizi and the Association of Caribbean States that will have a large exhibition area. According to data from the Minister of Culture Jose Rafael Lantigua, 142,000 people will visit the fair each day on average. Four hundred exhibitors have set up shop in 216 tents in the Plaza de la Cultura complex, across the street from the United States consulate.
Pulitzer Prize-winner Junot Diaz and Nobel Prize of Literature author, Derek Walcott will be guests of honor. Other special visitors are Jose Luis Ripoll, president of the Fundacion Vodafone of Spain, Jorge Urrutia, director of the Instituto Cervantes, and Enrique Rubio Cremades, vice presidente of the Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes, presided by Mario Vargas Llosa.
For the schedule of events, see http://www.ferilibro.com/2k7/images/programa.pdf

Metro to offer free rides to fair
Visitors to the XI International Book Fair in Santo Domingo will be able to get free rides on the Metro system as part of the attractions for attending the fair. The Metro will operate from 2pm till 7pm, going to the fair and leaving the fair from 7pm till 10pm. The Transport Reorganization Office (OPRET) has reportedly trained 200 assistants to control the crowds and instruct them in proper subway behavior. There will also be a strong contingent of security agents along the way. Two three-car units that are now in the country will do the job, carrying 650 passengers on each trip. One train will leave from the Centro de los Heroes station, making a stop at the UASD university. Another will leave from Estacion Hermanas Mirabal in Villa Mella, making a stop at the Ovando station.

KEPCO in the DR
Korea Electric Power Corp. (KEPCO) announced signing an agreement with EGE Haina power generation company to build and operate a coal-fired plant in the DR. Rolando Gonzalez Bunster, presidente of EGE Haina traveled to Seoul, Korea for the signing of the agreement with Lee Won Gul of Kepco. The plant would be worth an excess of US$500 million. Gonzalez Bunster explained this is part of the company's strategy to move to alternate fuel generation operations. He mentioned the conversion to natural gas of their 300 MW CESPM plant in San Pedro de Macoris, and the installation of 120 MW in wind power generation capacity by the CEPM branch in Punta Cana.
EGE Haina, has an installed capacity of 600MW and would expand its production by 240MW to be generated by the new coal-fired KEPCO facility.
Construction is due to begin this year and will be completed by 2011, according to the company press release.
KEPCO is South Korea's top energy company, producing, managing and distributing most of the electric power that the country uses.

Maternity hospital deaths
The doctor in charge of the maternity ward at the largest maternity hospital in the Caribbean, Nuestra Senora de la Altagracia, in Santo Domingo, has expressed his concern about the fact that ten young mothers have died of post-partum infections due to crowded conditions in the wards. Dr. Justo Nicasio said that just one specialist supervises 400 beds at the public hospital. Dr. Nicasio also criticized the lack of specialized equipment for assisting with patients' recovery. All the reported deaths were the result of infections, the normal death rate for the center being two over the same time frame. In 2006 there were 22 deaths, in 2007 there were 38, and so far this year there have been 10 deaths. Dr. Nicasio said that this situation seriously endangers the national mission to fulfill the Millennium Goals, and that a death rate of between 120 and 125 per 100,000 births is not acceptable.

Flea Market overflows
The stalls at the Flea Market located underneath the elevated portion of Luperon Avenue have spilled out and now occupy parts of Independencia Avenue and the 30 de Mayo Highway. Three thousand vendors are currently registered by the market management association. One of the more pressing issues is the lack of sanitary facilities in the area, and the other is lack of space for the market, which does an estimated RD$4 million worth of business each Sunday. Association president Marques Geraldino de los Santos is asking mayors Francisco Pena and Roberto Salcedo to make provisions for the market to use space along the Malecon, the oceanfront highway, and thus free up traffic that is being blocked by the unruly sellers.

Tourism not reaching the poor
Miguel Ceara-Hatton, of the United Nations Development Program and coordinator of the Human Development reports for the DR, highlighted the fact that the DR has many challenges ahead if tourism is to translate into progress for the poor of the Dominican Republic. He said that new data that is just becoming available because of in-depth research into development indicators at municipal level has made it possible to compare national indicators with indicators in the leading tourism areas, Puerto Plata and La Altagracia (Punta Cana). He says that the findings show that human development indicators lag behind in these two provinces, which are home to the largest concentration of hotel rooms.
Speaking at a presentation during the "All Under the Same Roof" Workshop sponsored by the Dominican Sustainable Tourism Alliance (USDSTA) in Santiago, Ceara-Hatton pointed out that while the average income for La Altagracia is 17% above the national average, the province lags considerably behind the average when it comes to the number of poor people, average years of education, number of high school graduates, adult illiteracy, and high school education of head of family indicators.
Furthermore, Ceara-Hatton commented that social tension could be generated because there is an increasing trend towards the privatization of beaches by hotels and luxury residential communities. He said that a better option would be the Blue Flag Certification, a program that calls for management of beaches and ensures quality of the beach but requires that beaches remain public.
He also pointed out that we are already feeling the impact of tourism on the environment, and mentioned how damage caused by hurricanes and tropical storms can be attributed in great part to the inadequate handling of water resources, hotels built on wetlands, destroyed mangroves and interruptions of the natural flow of water. He questioned the "inexhaustible" slogan of the Ministry of Tourism.
"It is not enough to grow, to increase foreign exchange income, to increase the number of visitors or increase the number of rooms", he stressed. "All that can happen while the population gets poorer, the environment is destroyed, our values are destroyed, there is more inequality of income, and people's living conditions deteriorate", he added, and pointed out that this is borne out by the statistics for Puerto Plata and La Altagracia provinces.
"Tourism is an opportunity for development only if it incorporates the people as direct beneficiaries, if it promotes culture, creates internal linkages, increases value added, respects culture and the environment and integrates communities", he concluded. "Otherwise, we will be building an excluded society, that is hostile, fragmented and with greater propensity for conflict" Ceara-Hatton explained that most Haitians living in these areas were not polled, and that if they had been taken into consideration the spread between those benefiting from tourism and those who are not would be much wider.

Ten-year plan for agriculture
Economist Frank Tejada is proposing a ten-year plan for restoring prosperity to the agricultural sector, providing exports and satisfying local demand. The economist stressed that the government needed to work in partnership with private interests to bring about these changes. Tejada sees agro-business and industrialization as part of the process. Tejada, not known as a utopian, also calls for the fusion of three government ministries, Agriculture, Environment and Industry and Commerce, into one "super" ministry to oversee the huge changes needed to achieve the three goals. In addition, Tejada also wants to combine the Agriculture Bank, the Housing Bank and Banco de Reservas to provide better financing for the sector. In his exclusive interview with Hoy reporter Aleida Plasencia, Tejada said that in order for this program to work, the quality of education also needed to improve, so that the workforce is capable of understanding and working within the new mindset that is needed for large-scale food production.

Diesel behind hikes in food
The nearly 60% increase in the price of diesel fuel over the past 16 months has added RD$300 million to food production costs in the Dominican Republic. This reality increases costs by 20%. In January of 2007 a gallon of diesel fuel was RD$100.50. The current price is RD$159. Osmar Benitez, a leading farm producer and former executive vice president of the Agro-Industrial Board (JAD), has called on the government to reduce the taxes it receives on diesel sales as a quick way of reducing farmers' operational costs. In the Dominican Republic, over 1000 hectares of beans and 6000 hectares of plantains are irrigated with diesel pumps. Rice, the nation's number one food, costs RD$1.44 billion to harvest and 12% of this expenditure is on diesel fuel for tractors and other equipment. The price increases have added another RD$70 million to these costs.

Euro adds to medicine bills
The cost of medicines from European sources as well as from local pharmaceutical houses has increased due to the strengthening of the Euro against the dollar. The Euro is being quoted above US$1.50 in many places, and, as a result, medicines for treating hypertension, diabetes, pain and colds have increased by as much as 25%. Fernando Ferreira, executive vice-president of the Pharmaceutical Association (ARAPF), told Listin Diario that despite the rising value of the Euro, many medicines have maintained their prices over the past few months. Some locally produced medicines have see slight increases due to the fact that they import raw materials from Europe.

Alert system for Tavera
For many years in the future the word "Tavera" will only bring sorry memories to thousands of Dominicans. The events following Tropical Storm Olga in December will not be forgotten, and the Cibao Ecological Society is warning that the entire watershed that carries water to the reservoir behind the Tavera Dam is a disaster waiting to happen. Nonetheless, the director of the National Hydraulic Resources Institute (INDRHI), Hector Rodriguez Pimentel, has announced the strengthening of the telemetric rainfall measurement network in the watershed as part of the efforts to get better information faster. Rodriguez said that sensors would be placed in the upper reaches of the Yaque, Yuna and Mao rivers in order to obtain better information on the use of the Tavera, Hatillo, Rincon and Moncion dams. The equipment was donated by the European Union.

Tornadoes hit three provinces
At least one death was reported and several people were wounded as tornadoes struck La Vega, Santiago and San Pedro de Macoris yesterday afternoon. The Dominican Republic does not have a tornado warning system because they are such a rare occurrence. The only reported fatality, Mercedes Torres, 62, died while being treated for her injuries after being crushed and trapped by a collapsing wall in her home. Four others were slightly injured by the storm that hit La Vega at 2:40 in the afternoon with high winds, hailstones and heavy rain. In Villa Gonzalez, Santiago and San Pedro de Macoris, the strong winds tore roofing materials off several houses. Reports also filtered in from San Francisco de Macoris telling of more dwellings damaged. Luis Luna Paulino, the chief of the Dominican Civil Defense told El Nuevo Diario reporters that, so far, only one fatality has been reported.

Green Alert for much of the DR
The National Emergency Commission (CNE) is maintaining a Green Alert for the provinces of Puerto Plata, Santiago, Samana, Maria Trinidad Sanchez, (especially Rio San Juan and Nagua) and Espaillat (Gaspar Hernandez and Moca), Duarte - especially the Lower Yuna River Basin, Hato Mayor and El Seibo. The Green Alert has been extended to include San Pedro de Macoris. Residents in these provinces, especially people who live in low-lying areas or close to rivers and creeks, should take precautions against landslides and flash floods. The Weather Department (ONAMET) is forecasting continuing rains, electrical storms and hail over parts of the country today. Through noon, though, at least for Santo Domingo, it was a very sunny day.

Car falls three floors
A young woman apparently drove her car off the third floor parking garage at the Body Shop Gym in Naco last Thursday, and was lucky enough to walk away with no visible injuries. Photographs in Diario Libre showed the vehicle lying upside down in the adjacent parking area. The accident occurred at seven o'clock in the morning, and the watchman heard a "bump" and hurried to the scene, expecting the worst. He found the unidentified, as yet, young lady struggling to get out of the car, and helped her. She left the scene, and the newspaper has not managed to identify her.

Cyber-criminals jailed
Two young men from Moca, one of whom is a minor, have been arrested for defamation after they published doctored nude photographs of the daughters of local officials and other lewd photographs. The two, Michael Rodriguez, 23, and the minor, known as "Mandingo" published an Internet site that shocked Moca society. The two were tracked down by the National Police Hi-Tech Crimes Department. Rodriguez worked at the Confecciones Jubon factory in the Moca Free Zone, but 'Mandingo', the creator of the page, did not. The pair was held on charges of violating Law 53-07 on cybernetic crimes.
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