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Daily News - Friday, 11 July 2008

Thinking local, acting global
President Leonel Fernandez threw journalists a curve ball yesterday during a press conference held at the Presidential Palace. Instead of speaking about the state of the economy or how the DR would face the current fuel and economic crisis, Fernandez chose to discuss speculation on the trading market and how this is inflating the real price of fuel.
Although the nation was expecting Fernandez to announce a set of measures aimed at alleviating the current situation, the President said that this plan would be announced some time next week and that he would submit a budget to Congress for the plan to be funded by surplus tax revenues.
Local business groups have been pressing for the government to set an example by cutting its own spending, but President Fernandez instead shared his broader picture of the oil problems and listed his international efforts to tackle the problems on a global level.
He stressed that he was working on creating a US$40 billion solidarity fund to benefit a block of 57 nations in Asia, Africa and Latin America (Haiti included). This would come from a small percentage of the 1.3 trillion dollars that he says oil producer countries have accumulated for crude sales at record prices. This way, the countries that are benefiting from the oil bonanza can funnel a small portion of their earnings into development projects in the countries that are hardest hit. He says that former US President Bill Clinton and former UN secretary general Kofi Annan are supporting this initiative.
Fernandez also said that the DR would support initiatives proposed by the US Senate aimed at halting speculation on the petroleum market and bringing down fuel prices. According to Fernandez, who cited commentary by the head of Exxon Mobil, speculation has caused fuel prices to balloon by 40% and that if speculation were to be regulated a barrel of oil would sell for US$90 per barrel and not at the current price of US$140 per barrel.
Fernandez added that during his visit to Maracaibo, Venezuela he would ask President Hugo Chavez if the DR could access an extra 20,000 barrels per day of Venezuelan fuel as part of the PetroCaribe oil agreement. This would bring the DR's total fuel imports from Venezuela to 50,000 barrels per day.
At one point Fernandez was asked whether the government bureaucracy should be downsized. Fernandez acknowledged that there is a need to downsize government, but in the same breath he once again referred to international fuel prices and said that the reduction of government would not be an issue if subsidies on the energy and transport sectors weren't so high. He said that the subsidies are so high because fuel prices are so high. Fernandez warned that because of the fuel crunch inflation could reach double digits by the end of the year and said that the growth of the GDP would only reach 0.7% as a result.
On the issue of immigration, Fernandez mentioned recent European policy changes towards immigrants and commented on the increased levels of illegal Haitian migration to the DR. The President stated that any sovereign nation has the right to enforce its laws, especially in the area of migration. He said the repatriation of thousands of Dominicans would be financially as well as socially devastating, because the DR would lose out on millions of dollars and euros in remittances from those immigrants. The President said that he was opposed to the random searches of foreigners in Europe based on appearance alone, describing the practice as degrading and inhumane.
Fernandez also stated his opposition, as has been reported in some European news outlets, to immigrants in Europe being stopped and asked for documentation or arrested because they did not have their documents to hand. The President said that in no way can he support illegal immigration of Dominicans to Europe, while denying the same here with regards to Haitians.
Fernandez also quelled concerns that the government would try to implement a new fiscal reform. Fernandez said there would not be any new taxes, but added that the government is looking into cost-cutting mechanisms and ways to increase its revenues. He stated that the energy sector is the nation's biggest headache and that the government is working on a way to make it more efficient.

Valentin makes suggestion
Chamber of Deputies president Julio Cesar Valentin suggests that the DR's presidential, congressional and municipal elections should be held at the same time, instead of being staggered. Valentin says that the current system is absurd because it does not get rid of the problems it was meant to eliminate. Valentin described the current electoral and political system as "very clientilistic" and questioned why it was allowed to remain in place. Valentin said that it was a leftover from the Joaquin Balaguer period. Valentin also expressed his admiration for the Chilean and Uruguayan political systems, considered among the most efficient systems in the region, saying that the DR should follow their examples. Valentin said that a nation could not progress when elections interrupt the democratic process every two years. Valentin then explained the difference between a man who thinks just of himself and a true patriot is that the patriot makes long-term decisions.

OMSA gets credit line
Hacienda Minister Vicente Bengoa has announced the authorization of a US$20 million line of credit in order for the government to cover the costs of 102 new OMSA buses. The buses are currently stuck in Brazil. Bengoa did not say when the new public transport vehicles would be arriving in the DR. The new buses would provide a much-needed boost for the OMSA bus system. Currently, half of the system's buses are in terrible condition and many fear that the OMSA system could collapse without the injection of new buses. Last week Mercedes Benz Brazil began to penalize the Dominican government for delays in issuing the line of credit. Although this line of credit is for 102 buses, the total order is for 300 buses.

Mobile documentation unit
The Central Electoral Board (JCE) and the Ministry of Education will use a mobile registration unit to issue 18,000 birth certificates to children who do not have the document. The unit will start work at the Pan American Union School in the Miraflores area of Santo Domingo and will remain at the current location until 436 children receive their birth certificates. The unit will then move to Azua where 156 students will be given their birth certificates. The unit will move around the DR until 18,000 children are documented. The unit was partially funded through the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and was inaugurated during a ceremony with Education Minister Alejandrina German and JCE Administrative Chamber president Roberto Rosario.

Government and doctors at impasse
A meeting between the government and the Dominican Medical Association (CMD) has failed to produce concrete results. CMD president Waldo Ariel Suero described the meeting as 'a complete failure'. The meeting lasted for an hour and a half after which Suero said the CMD would continue fighting for what they believe is fair. Suero added that doctors wouldn't stop until they received fair salaries. Suero said the government seems unwilling to comprise. Doctors have been fighting for a wage increase of RD$25,000 per month. Currently, the average monthly salary for a doctor is RD$23,000 per month.

Blackouts are back
Dominicans are once again experiencing prolonged blackouts. The communities of Los Alcarrizos, Herrera, Manoguayabo, Monte Plata, Cotui, Boca Chica, Sabana Perdida, Haina, Villa Altagracia and Pedro Brand are complaining of blackouts lasting between 12 and 16 hours. Listin Diario reports that citizens in Cienfuegos took to the streets and burned tires in protest at the blackouts. Officials have yet to give a reason for the blackouts. EGE-Haina says that yesterday they only had 165 MW of energy online and EGE-Itabo only had 240 MW of energy online. AES says they produced 300MW of energy. Earlier this week, State-run Electricity Companies (CDEEE) Vice President Radhames Segura said the government is currently working to try and regulate the situation, but detractors said that Segura repeated the same rhetoric and did not present any new solutions.

Basques donate for ducts
The Basque autonomous government has donated EUR300,000 for the reconstruction of 21 aqueducts that were destroyed during Tropical Storm Noel late last year. The announcement was made during the signing of a cooperation agreement between Vice President Rafael Alburquerque and Basque Housing Director Javier Madrazo Lavin at the Presidential Palace in Santo Domingo. As part of the agreement the DR must provide EUR71,265 for the aqueducts' construction, as well as fully accounting for the use of the donated funds. In all, 480,000 people will benefit from the aqueducts.

Government to help immigrants
Alejandro Santos, Executive Branch representative for the Dominicans Abroad Council, said that the Dominican government would try to help Dominicans who are currently living illegally in Europe. Santos said that he would suggest that President Leonel Fernandez set up a legal assistance program for Dominicans living in Europe illegally. The program would try to help these citizens get their residence papers. Santos said that it is unclear how many Dominicans were currently living in Europe but because of the large numbers there should be help available to them. He said that immigrants should not be considered criminals.

USAID supports farmers
USAID is making US$3 million available to small farmers as part of the 2008-2011 rural diversification plan. USAID-DR director Richard Goughnour said the funds would be made available through the Rural Diversification Fund. The plan's goals are to help small and medium-scale farmers enter the local and global markets by diversifying their products. Jesus de los Santos said that the project will allow farmers to make contact with different agricultural sectors and seeks to promote farming based on preserving the environment. Andres Van der Horst of the National Competitiveness Council said the project would help increase quality and would enhance farmers' access to new markets. Goughnour said that the DR's products have become less competitive in international markets, and that the DR as well as other nations now needed to find niche markets.

DR big hit at Zaragoza
Dominican food, rum and music made the DR stand out at this year's Expo Zaragoza, being held in Spain. The DR presented its "Madres de las Aguas 2008" conservation model earlier in the week and wooed participants with the vibrant sounds of Sergio Vargas, Yleana Reynoso and Carlos Alfredo. Participants also enjoyed typical dishes like fish with coconut sauce, sancocho and other Dominican delights. Even after the doors had closed, participants made their way back to the Dominican stand to see if they could get a few more bites to eat. The food was prepared by Tourism Ministry head chef Lourdes Esperanza Pena. Listin Diario writes that the Expo was a mainly quiet affair until the DR delegation began playing typical Dominican sounds. The instant energy led other nations to follow suit and play music.

Soldier's body found
The body of Alex R. Jimenez, a Dominican-American soldier from Lawrence, Mass., has been found in Iraq. The announcement brings a year-long family ordeal to an end. Jimenez and two other soldiers disappeared on 12 May 2007 while patrolling an area 30 kilometers outside of Baghdad. In the days following Jimenez's disappearance, an Al-Qaeda affiliated organization released a video claiming that they did in fact have the soldiers in their custody, displaying their military identity cards and such, but no sign of the soldiers themselves appeared in the video. US military forces sent out a search unit consisting of 4,000 troops, but no trace was found of Jimenez or the other soldiers. Ramirez, an Army specialist with the Second Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division was 25 years old at the time of his disappearance. The city of Lawrence and the Dominican community have supported Jimenez's family through the ordeal.

Swedes want Dominican cacao
Swedish chocolate company Gefle Chocolaterie is praising the quality of Dominican cacao, describing its taste as 'exquisite'. Gefle representatives made their comments while on a visit to the Dominican Institute for Agricultural and Forestry Research Center (IDIAF) in San Francisco de Macoris. Ana Sofia Wallstorm, representing Gefle, is in the DR trying to build a relationship with Dominican cacao growers. Her hope is to guarantee the continued export of Dominican cacao to be used by Gefle. Gelfe is known as one of Europe's premier chocolate makers, specializing in dark chocolates.

A doctor's final gift
Doctor Josefina Garcia Coen decided to donate all her organs after her death and as a result her corneas were given to two children who had been on a waiting list. Garcia passed away on Wednesday from complications due to Alzheimer's disease. As well as her corneas, Garcia also donated her skin for cancer research and treatment.

DR at Miss Universe contest
Watch Miss Dominican Republic as she competes for the title of Miss Universe in Vietnam this weekend. Miss DR Marianne Cruz Gonzalez was voted among the top 10 in the Best National Costume Contest held as part of the beauty pageant. Her costume, a white and red pinstriped baseball styled uniform, lined with silver touches, red high-heeled boots, a glittery hat and a tri-colored glittery baseball hat, was the creation of Dominican designer Leonel Lirio. The suit pays homage to the DR's national pastime, baseball.
The event will be telecast live on NBC on 13 July at 9pm (EST) and local TV channel Telemicro 5 will broadcast the pageant on Sunday at 9pm.
For more information or to vote for Marianne Cruz, log on to: www.nbc.com/Miss_Universe_2008/
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