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Daily News - Friday, 08 August 2008

Felucho Jimenez wants to move on
Tourism Minister Felix (Felucho) Jimenez says that effective 15 August he will submit his resignation from the post. Jimenez has served as Minister of Tourism in Fernandez's first and second administration. He is a strong supporter of the proposed Tourism Development Institute (INDETUR), an autonomous government body that met with controversy when several other government departments objected to the idea that the INDETUR would take over their areas of responsibility. Recent news reports indicate that differences between government officers have been sorted out, and the new institute's formation could be approved in the next legislature that opens on 16 August.
Privately, Jimenez is a leading real estate developer. INDETUR supports securing financing to build new highways to open development in the Luperon and Miches areas.
He made the announcement yesterday on the Telesistema, Chanel 11 morning show Telematutino 11.
During his 2004-2008 term, Jimenez has overseen the diversifying of tourism product in the DR with a trend favoring luxury golf and residential vacation properties over the packaged-tourism low cost all-inclusive hotels of early years. Even when several Caribbean neighboring nations have experienced declines in travel, tourism in the DR has continued to grow. But Jimenez himself says that harder times could be coming. "Let us not kid ourselves. We do not believe the bonanza will continue and we will be immune from the crisis," he recently told an audience at the German Embassy on occasion of the announcement of the construction of a major convention center for Santo Domingo.

Jimenez ignores the East
Recently, sectors in the eastern region have criticized Tourism Minister Felix Jimenez for ignoring maintenance and infrastructure urgently needed on the east coast.
East coast tourism spokespersons criticize the fact that most of the money the Ministry's CEIZTUR fund is using comes from arrivals through the Punta Cana airport, but very little is invested in the area. Writing in today's El Caribe, Manuel Quiterio Cedeno states that from 2004 to June 2008, the CEIZTUR handled RD$2.88 billion in 64 projects in tourism destinations, of which the east only received RD$174.2 million for the repaving of the Cruz del Isleno-Macao road, where development is only now starting. Cedeno points out that the east is home to 31,500 of the country's 63,000 hotel rooms in its Uvero Alto, Arena Gorda, El Cortecito, Cabeza de Toro, Punta Cana and Cap Cana areas.
Punta Cana International Airport is the DR's leading airport for international arrivals.
Cedeno writes that the tourism authorities have said that from 2008-2012 RD$8 billion will be invested in infrastructure, but only a side road from Higuey-Otra Banda and the reconstruction of the Otra Banda-Veron alternative road have been planned. Last week, the community of Higuey and several ground transporters held a six-hour strike to protest against the unfair distribution of infrastructure funds.

Military escort Caribe Tours bus
A helicopter, Army, Border Security Forces (CESFRONT) and SWAT team members from the Police are escorting the Caribe Tours bus on its daily Santo Domingo-Cap-Haitien route. The route was approved by the OTTT transport authority, but is strongly opposed by Dajabon mini-bus operators that do not want competition.
It is unusual for the government to escort a transport bus, and also for it to defy regional transport unions that have been able to maintain monopolies of their routes over the years through bullying tactics. Listin Diario explains why the government is backing the private bus company this time around. The newspaper's sources say that the authorities are concerned about the increase in undocumented or illegal Haitians traveling on mini-buses that cover the Dajabon-Santiago route, and feel that the express service offered by Caribe Tours (Santo Domingo-Santiago-Cap-Haitien) will allow them to have more control. A military source told Listin that Haitians whose documents are in order would now increasingly travel on Caribe Tours. Those traveling on other units to Santiago will be subject to the inconvenience of agents requesting they show their legal papers. The documentation of Haitians taking Caribe Tours will be checked prior to boarding.
The Caribe Tours bus makes a stopover in Santiago to take on passengers, and then another at the Dajabon border crossing before continuing on to Cap-Haitien. The 6-7 hour trip costs US$40 one-way and US$75 RT (RD$1300/RD$2400). The buses leave at 9am from Cap-Haitien and Santo Domingo, arriving at approximately 4-5pm. Reservation 24 hours in advance is required.

Drug murder case to commission
President Leonel Fernandez has ordered the creation of a new commission that will investigate claims made by Peravia Senator Wilton Guerrero that drug and law enforcement officials in the southwestern province of Peravia (Bani) are involved in protecting the trafficking of illegal drugs. The commission studying the claims will include the Minister of the Armed Forces, the Chief of Police and the Attorney General. Guerrero made his comments in response to the apparently drug-related murder of seven men in Bani earlier this week. The Senator said that 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 state prosecutor (Public Ministry) has become little more than a drug, crime and prostitution support entity. The provincial state prosecutor resigned after the killings and has been replaced.
In response to the senator's commentary, the National Drug Control Department (DNCD) released a statement saying that Guerrero's comments were irresponsible. But the Senator hasn't backed down. Quoted in Listin Diario, Guerrero challenged the DNCD to release the name of at least one officer in Peravia who has worked with honesty and responsibility. He added that the only man to ever work honestly in Peravia was Major Tejada, who was eventually removed. But according to Guerrero no one else has worked with integrity, claiming that drug officials just get into line and collect their fees from drug traffickers.
Upon making his initial claims, Senator Guerrero did request more support to strengthen the DNCD.

Murder investigation continues
Officials are continuing their investigation into the murder of seven men in Bani earlier this week. So far police have identified Colombians Jesus David del Rio Hans, Eduardo de Leon and Antonio Zuluagas as well as Venezuelan Dario Jose Atencio Vargas as victims of the murders. Police have also taken Atencio Vargas' wife and Venezuelan national Yeisi Perozo Luke into custody, together with Dominican Augusto Alberto Daneris Andujar, who is suspected of being a front man for the group. The resulting media attention has caused a stir among Peravia residents and Hoy reports that all police officials in the Paya Police Department have been replaced.
El Caribe reports that investigators now know that four of the victims had been arrested in early June after participating in a kidnapping. Charges were pressed, but the men were able to work their way around the law and were released. The newspaper makes the point: "It is cases such as these that back the Police's claim that they do their work, and it is the judiciary that lets the criminals out even when there are clear indications of criminal involvement."

Drug flights increase
Dominican Air Force Major General Pedro Rafael Pena Antonio has told Senate members that drug flights have increased by 38% in recent months. During the meeting at the Senate, drug czar Marino Vinicio Castillo asked the US government for increased cooperation with the Dominican authorities in the fight against drugs. Castillo criticized the fact that the US had removed a radar unit that used to operate in Bani. According to Senate president Reinaldo Pared Perez, the assassination of seven men involved in the drug trade is more reason for the US government to increase its cooperation with Dominican officials. While acknowledging the alarming nature of the incident, Pared said that the DR continues to be a safe tourist destination.
President Leonel Fernandez was recently in Colombia to attend an anti-drug summit, where regional heads of state urged the US to take more responsibility for the problems that US drug consumers are creating in Latin America and the Caribbean. See the Declaration of Cartagena.

Spanish VP speaks
Spanish Vice President Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega encourages the DR to take advantage of its natural resources and become the breadbasket of the Caribbean. "The Dominican Republic is a country of abundance, abundance of natural resources, abundance of good weather, and of its people's human quality. It has major farming potential, and is able to supply not only its own population, but to export," she pointed out.
She said that women should become more active in the agricultural sector, due to the fact that unemployment rates among women are double those for men. She also called for more action by women for women. She wants to see more on women's rights covered on the international agenda and more programs and policies to favor the development of women by government and civil society institutions. The VP made her comments during a speech at United Nations International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (Instraw) conference in Santo Domingo with the participation of 30 civil society organizations. Fernandez says that the world food crisis puts more pressure on women because it is women who provide fundamental support to the family structure. According to the Vice President, women head 32% of Dominican households, and of these half live in poverty. Fernandez mentioned that 70% of the world's poor are women and that in the DR 45% of women live in the countryside. She deplored the fact that even though women produce more than 50% of foods they only own 2% of the land they produce on.
Fernandez commented that Spain would make an additional EUR5 million available for micro-credit loans for women's developmental programs run through the Spanish Agency for International Development (AECID). The AECID has a line of credit for EUR20 million of which 60% has benefited women through various business programs. According to Fernandez, "Through credits of about EUR800, 15,000 Dominican women have been able to buy seeds and transport their agricultural products for sale."
She also stated that Spain would not be changing its migration policies, regardless of the new European migration directive that provides for funding for the return of migrants.
During her visit, she also announced AECID would continue its support the Santo Domingo Municipality's (ADN) efforts to improve the Colonial City.

PC on school breakfast program
The citizen activism group Participacion Ciudadana has submitted a series of documents to the Department for the Prevention of Administrative Corruption so they can study claims of nutritional deficiencies in the school breakfast program. Participacion Ciudadana wants answers to the investigation by journalists Nuria Piera and Huchi Lora, who showed that milk produced by Ladom did not meet the minimum standard of 3.3% protein on TV shows dated 31 May, 7 June and 14 June 2008. The program costs RD$18 million a month and reaches 1.6 million public school children.

Excuses delay negotiations
Celebration of the recent Dominican Presidential elections is the latest excuse as to why a free trade agreement between Taiwan and the DR hasn't been signed. Taiwanese Vice economic Minister Eric Chiang says that Dominican officials blamed the presidential elections for limiting time for negotiations between both countries. This is not the first time Dominican authorities have failed to continue trade talks, which originally began in 2006. Taiwanese officials say that Dominican officials say they want to prioritize trade talks with Mexico and Canada. Chiang claims that some in the Dominican business sector rejected an agreement with Taiwan because it would affect business. Bilateral trade totaled US$415.19 million last year, with only US$55.7 million Dominican exports to Taiwan. Taiwan argues that it could be the port of entry for Dominican products to Asia, including Continental China. Chiang says Taiwan has already signed FTAs with Panama, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
According to former Taiwanese ambassador in the DR Eduardo Chen, the rejection by the business sector was key in paralyzing the bilateral trade talks. Taiwanese authorities say that recently the parties met with a view to reinitiating the process. Chiang says it is likely that talks will resume after Taiwanese President Ma Ying-Jeou visits the country for President Leonel Fernandez's 16 August inaugural.

High-rise development takes streets
Santo Domingo councilor Andres Martinez has asked the City Hall president Gabriel Castro to revoke Resolution 20-08 that authorized Metropoli to build high-rise towers in Los Cacicazgos neighborhood on 29 February 2008. Martinez now takes the position that Metropoli project promoters distorted the information in their application. In a letter to the city hall president, Martinez says that Metropoli will not go up on one lot, but on three. Irregularly, three roads will need to be closed off to traffic, Cibao Sur, Cibao Este and Cibao Oeste. He presented proof that these streets had been occupied by the owners of the adjacent lots where the construction for the high rise was to take place. One of the towers, Torre de Plata is already several floors high. "As you will understand, honorable president, when the recommendations were issued for the passing of the resolution, we were not aware of this situation that is sufficient reason to revoke the decision to protect the public interest." Los Cacicazgos residents have campaigned against the resolution and the violations of laws by the developers of the high rises. Deputy Minou Tavarez (PLD-Santo Domingo) has also backed their campaign.

Journalist killed in drive-by
Journalist Normando Garcia and a taxi driver were shot and killed last night in Santiago during a drive-by shooting at local car wash. Garcia participated in the Detras de la Noticia news commentary show with journalist Esteban Rosario and produced the program "Pachangas" from 12 midnight to 1am on Teleunion in Santiago.
Reports are still limited but a witness says that Garcia had returned to the car wash in the evening to pick up his vehicle. As he was about to pay, a white Toyota vehicle with tinted windows stopped and began shooting. Garcia's taxi driver, who has yet to be identified, was also killed during the shootings. Hoy reports that Garcia leaves two young children and his wife is pregnant with twins.

Manny "on fire"
The bright lights of the "Left Coast" don't seem to be bothering future Hall of Fame slugger Manny Ramirez. Ramirez has been on a tear lately proving the Dodgers were right to hire him. Ramirez hit another homerun yesterday and batted in another two runs bringing his six game total with the LA Dodgers to four homeruns. Boston is happy also, winning five of their six games since Manny left, to be replaced by Jason Bay, who nevertheless has only batted one homerun.

Get ready for Beijing
Citizens of the world have their eyes on Beijing as the 2008 Olympic Games will be inaugurated today. These Games have come under a heavy cloud of criticism. Health concerns, an earthquake, and political and international scrutiny have overshadowed the news leading up to the actual games. The organizers expect that once the opening ceremony is over, fans will focus on the games themselves. The Beijing National Stadium, where the opening happened, has capacity for 90,000. Ten thousand, five hundred athletes are expected to compete in 302 events in 28 sports. The choice of date was not a coincidence as the number is considered a good luck charm in Chinese culture.
This year the Dominican Republic has sent a delegation of 23 athletes to the Games. The highest hopes for a medal for the DR are on boxer Juan Carlos Payano, table tennis stars Nieves Xue, Jennifer Lian Quian and Luis Lin Jun, hurdler Felix Sanchez and weightlifter Yudelkis Contreras. Others who made the Olympic team are Raul Aguayo in sailing, Maria Garcia, Juan Carlos Jacinto and Teofilo Diek Andon in judo. Johenny Valdez in table tennis, Argenis Nunez, Felix Diaz, Gilbert Castillo, Johnny Montero and Roberto Navarro in boxing. Jacinto Ayala in swimming, Arismendy Peguero, Pedro Mejia, Yoel Tapia, Yoelin Santa and Marielys Sanchez in track & field, Julio Dujarric in skeet. Felix Sanchez will lead the Dominican delegation during the opening ceremonies.
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