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Daily News - Thursday, 07 August 2008

Senate approves extra funding
Senators unanimously approved the government's supplemental budget in two consecutive readings yesterday. The budget now passes to the Chamber of Deputies for approval. There were no changes to the RD$31 million budget requested by the Presidency. However, there is an addendum stipulating that next year the government should disburse RD$5.1 billion in past due funds to the Central Bank to go towards the quasi-fiscal deficit and recapitalization of the Central Bank. The recapitalization funds are to be paid out every four months.
Commenting on the decision to postpone the payment, former Central Bank governor Bernardo Vega, writing in Clave newspaper, states that the decision to postpone the payment comes at a high cost to the government itself. He says that borrowing will now be more expensive, and notes that the government has yet to secure financing for the second line of the Santo Domingo Metro.
The RD$31 million budget is comprised of RD$20.7 billion in revenue from the PetroCaribe oil financing agreement and RD$10.2 billion in revenue surplus registered by the government this year. Fifty-three percent of the budget will be used to subsidize the energy sector as well as focusing the liquid gas propane subsidies on public transport drivers and Solidaridad welfare cardholders for home consumption.

Heads of state coming
So far nine heads of states have confirmed their attendance at President Leonel Fernandez's 16 August third term inaugural. Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez have both said they will be here for the event. President Ma Ying-jeou from Taiwan, Oscar Arias Sanchez from Costa Rica, Oscar Berger from Guatemala, Elias Antonio Saca from El Salvador, Rene Preval from Haiti, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero and Belizean Prime Minister Dean Barrow have also said they will be here for the ceremony.

Taiwan wants FTA
Taiwan ambassador Eduardo Chen is optimistic that President Ma Ying-jeou's one-day visit for the 16 August Fernandez inaugural will be positive step and will help push forward talks leading to a DR-Taiwan free trade agreement. Talks began in 2005, but Ambassador Chen says they have stalled due in part to opposition from local business groups, as reported in Diario Libre. The Santo Domingo and Santiago chambers of commerce oppose the treaty on the grounds that the Dominican Republic practically sells nothing to Taiwan while importing millions worth, and thus has little to gain with a FTA. As reported in Diario Libre, bilateral trade totaled US$415.19 million last year, but of this only US$55.7 million were in Dominican exports. Instead, local business groups favor strengthening trade with traditional partners such as the United States, Canada and Europe, countries from which the DR has much more to gain.

DR and Spain sign agreement
Frank Rodriguez, on behalf of the National Institute for Potable Water (INAPA) and Miguel Angel Encinas, on behalf of the Spanish International Agency for Cooperation (AECID), have signed an agreement whereby AECID will help update the DR's water analysis laboratories and help strengthen INAPA. The project is worth RD$32 million, of which AECID is paying RD$13 million and INAPA RD$19 million. Part of the funds will be used to build a water testing facility in Barahona. Samples will no longer need to be taken to Santo Domingo for quality testing. Rodriguez welcomed the agreement and said, "what's the point of building aqueducts if you don't have an organization that can manage them?"

More IT jobs
According to Microsoft Dominicana, the informatics sector will create 4,000 new jobs and generate close to a RD$1 billion in taxes in the next four years. This will make the IT sector one of the biggest revenue-generators for the Dominican economy. This year alone Microsoft looks to generate RD$900 million through the businesses that carry their products. Currently the IT industry employs 13,000 workers. Of these, Microsoft employs 7,000 workers. According to Listin Diario, the DR's IT market is dominated by hardware, 74% and software 11%, and that less the 0.6% of the GDP is dedicated towards IT development compared to the world average of 2.5%.

Where's the investigative journalism?
Former Central Bank governor Bernardo Vega looks back to 2001-2002 when he was director of El Caribe, to remind readers that the newspaper investigated the now infamous CODACSA contract and warned about the pitfalls it contained. Prior to it being signed by then Minister of Public Works, former PRD presidential candidate Miguel Vargas, El Caribe published statements from the PLD's Alejandro Montas, who said that a concession could not be granted to a company that has not invested a cent. But Congress approved the contract regardless. CODACSA disputes the right to keep the concession for the construction of the San Pedro de Macoris-La Romana highway. The government claims that the company has not met contractual obligations.
Bernardo Vega feels there is a need for more investigative journalism. He suggests that journalists look into how much the government is losing in the Sun Land financing (a case pending a Supreme Court decision because Congressional approval was not sought for the loan), the total of the fiscal deficit for the first half of the year, and what has delayed the start of the construction of two coal-fired power plants approved by the government. He also calls for a journalistic investigation into the figures for the operational subsidy that the Santo Domingo metro is requiring and will require.

Bani massacre raises concerns
This week's shooting of eight suspected drug traffickers has exposed deep-rooted concerns, especially among citizens and officials in Bani. Of the eight, only one person survived the massacre, after playing dead. According to Peravia Senator Wilton Guerrero, for years the National Police, the National Drug Control Department (DNCD) and state prosecutors (Public Ministry) have all aided in the growth of drug trafficking in the province. Guerrero says that, with some exceptions, all that the police do is charge a toll so that drug traffickers can move about freely. He says the Public Ministry has become little more than a drug, crime and prostitution entity in Peravia and that the District Attorneys are little more than workers for drug traffickers.
Guerrero said that the DNCD needs to be strengthened with better equipment and funding. As reported in Diario Libre, he says that drugs arrive by air and land, but many enter by sea because patrols have slacked off, and called on the Navy to reinstate the patrols to their former levels.
The government has appointed Roberto Lugo Betancourt as the new state prosecutor for the province, replacing Victor Cordero Jimenez, who resigned after the murders.
Residents in Bani are wary about commenting on the deaths for fear of retaliation. However, reports by Hoy indicate that citizens have been aware about the increased drug trafficking in the region for some time. According to witnesses, the beach at Playa de Sabana Ubero, located near Paya in Bani, is a main drop-off point for drugs. According to some, the beach has become a sanctuary for traffickers, with the authorities looking the other way.
Witnesses say the massacre victims had been staying at the house for weeks, but maintained a low profile, rarely socializing or bringing attention to themselves. According to Nori Carmona, a resident of Ojo de Agua, Peravia, the group was quiet and would occasionally be seen at night purchasing a beer or fried fish in an SUV and a pick-up truck. Carmona told Hoy that they were not suspected of being drug traffickers.
Monsignor Francisco Jose Arnaiz says that drug-fighting organizations are involved in trafficking and ultimately they are responsible for their consumption by the citizenry. The Monsignor says that because there is money involved and people don't want to end up dead it is almost impossible to ever diminish this evil.

Complicity of authorities?
Dominican housekeeper Mercedes Carvajal, who witnessed the shooting in Bani, told Diario Libre that the claim that drug enforcement authorities were involved in the murders is not far off. Carvajal says that around 10pm on Tuesday night, seven unknown men arrived at the home in Paya. The men were dressed in Drug Control Department (DNCD) vests and urged the victims to get the shipment of drugs. No one has been arrested for the murders, but this is one lead for police officials to follow.
In the course of their investigations, officials have found three nine-millimeter guns, two Pietro Barettas and a Jericho, five cellular phones, two radios, a Ford F-150 truck, a Hyundai Veracruz and a Toyota Fortuner at the traffickers' residence.
The house used to belong to Italian national Jorge Maniguetti, who is married to a former Drug Control Department (DNCD) president's daughter. Diario Libre reports that Maniguetti purchased the house from an ex-general and then sold it to Colombian Jesus David del Rio Hans. Diario Libre added that Maniguetti, who has other business holdings in Bani, had entered into business deals with the victims, totaling over US$300,000.
DNCD president Rafael Ramirez says the killings are typical drug-related murders and could be the result of not paying a debt or settling of accounts between drug dealers.

Massacre survivor recovers
The surviving 30-year old victim of the Bani drug-related massacre is now in stable condition and is currently at the Armed Forces Hospital under police protection. Horin Gomez Haifari, from Nicaragua, saved his own life by playing dead. His seven partners weren't as lucky. Dr. Alberto Lafontaine says that Gomez needed surgery for abdominal wounds, but was never sent to the intensive care unit.

Books more expensive
Prices of schoolbooks are up 15% to 20% compared to last year's prices. Bookstore owners say that sales have yet to peak, but could eventually go up as the first day of school nears. Bookstore owner Luisa de Povedano says this is normal and that each year prices increase by 15% to 20%. School starts on 18 August and retailers believe that sales will increase three to four days prior to school opening. Also, parents must buy new books this year as the validity of the books, which is four years, has expired.

No meeting with Quirino
National District DA Jose Manuel Hernandez Peguero denies traveling to New York City to meet former military captain and accused drug trafficker Quirino Paulino. Media outlets reported that Hernandez traveled to New York with Paulino's lawyer Felix Damian in order to negotiate a deal for Quirino's family members who have been charged with laundering RD$400 million in drug money. Hernandez said he flew to the US to meet with US officials to discuss strengthening ties between both countries and what to do with confiscated goods from criminals.

Caribe Tours protests continue
Ten people were arrested after violent confrontations with SWAT police who were escorting a Caribe Tours bus on the new Santo Domingo-Cap-Haitien route. The confrontation took place in Navarrete when transport cartel members from Santiago, Navarrete, Mao, Montecristi and other cities blocked the streets to protest against the Santo Domingo-based carrier serving the route. Police intervened when protestors flung debris at the bus. Listin Diario reports that the bus windows were shattered in the incident. El Caribe reports that the confrontation caused a 10-kilometer traffic jam and five people were wounded. The bus eventually reached its destination with the help of the police escort. The Specialized Border Security Corps (CESFRONT) also served as escort, along with a helicopter. Union leaders threaten to make future protests if Caribe Tours doesn't drop the route. The government transport office, OTTT has authorized Caribe Tours to travel the route, but the unions do not want competition, according to spokesmen Bienvenido Rodriguez of Expreso Liniero and Marcos Medrano of Bloque de Organizaciones del Transporte.

Protesting Falconbridge smoke
Community activist Father Rogelio Cruz has now taken on the cause of Bonao province residents who are protesting against mining company Falconbridge's failure to install adequate filters. The Catholic priest and other citizens from Bonao, under the Pre-Committee for the Defense of the Environment, expressed their concern about the fact that the Falconbridge chimneys are constantly polluting the air. "Falcondo is constantly spewing smoke and they tell us that it is not contaminating nor damaging to the environment. The extraction of nickel by Falcondo is a stab in the heart of La Vega and the Cibao, " said Father Rogelio. The priest said that Falconbridge, instead of the small donations and small projects that do not solve anything in comparison to the damages the mining company is causing, should present a development plan made with the participation of the communities. "Falconbridge cannot be above the law, but needs to adhere to it, said the priest, as reported in Hoy.

Dominicans put on a show
Dominicans Manny Ramirez and Albert Pujols put on a show for fans last night. Pujols, who is having somewhat of a resurgence after an injury-riddled 2007 campaign, hit a grand slam in the fourth inning to push his Cardinals past the Los Angeles Dodgers. Not to be outdone, Los Angeles' new acquisition, Ramirez, hit his 23rd dinger of the season and the 513th of his career. Ramirez, who has been extremely productive in his week in Hollywood, passed Ernie Banks and Eddie Mathews on the All-time homerun list. He is currently 19th on the list and is expected to become part of the 600th homerun club within the next two seasons.

Horford on Telemundo
NBA star Al Horford has been tapped by Telemundo to be a color commentator for this year's basketball tournament at the Beijing Olympics. Horford will provide his commentary in Spanish. The young Horford, whose mother Arelis Reynoso was a journalist in the DR, is no stranger to journalism. Horford also studied the subject at the University of Florida. Horford, who arrives in the DR today, says he is excited about the opportunity. Horford will be in the DR to practice with the Dominican national team in preparation for the Centro Basket 2008 Tournament.

Telemicro to transmit NYC parade
Telemicro will transmit the annual Dominican Day Parade, live from New York City, on Sunday 10 August 2008. Telecast begins at noon. In the DR you can watch the parade on Canal 5, Telemicro or Digital 15. In the US, Warner 810 and Cable Vision 234 will carry the festivities.

Thursday Sales
La Cadena has sales in its meat and seafood department, with fresh pork chops going for RD$64.95, "carite" for RD$99.95lb, goat meat for stewing for RD$79.95lb, pork ground meat for RD$89.95lb, and short ribs for RD$53.95lb.
SuperPola has sales in its meat department, with frozen chicken for RD$22.95lb, frozen chicken fillet for RD$79.95lb, chicken drumsticks for RD$29.95, smoked pork chops for RD$74.95, and smoked spareribs for RD$74.95lb.
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