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Daily News - Thursday, 14 August 2008

Supreme Court in favor of free zones
The Supreme Court of Justice issued an opinion backing the position of free zone companies in a dispute with workers, represented by the Federation of Textile Workers, Cotton Producers and Footwear (Fenatraca). The free zones prior to 2005 had the common practice of every year making severance payments to their employees that were rehired. This practice prevailed until January 2005. But many employees, upon leaving their jobs, found a legal loophole that was obliging employers to make the severance payments all over again. The government had issued Law 187-07 regulating the payments, but Fenatraca disputed the law as violating the Constitution. In the ruling, the SCJ upholds the validity of the law and the agreements reached between employees and employers through January 2005. The SCJ opinion eliminates the possibility of these workers seeking a second severance payment. The decision is only valid for payments made after January 2005.

*GOB growing
The government's *GOB (*462) information line has received 10 million phone calls since its start, according to the OPTIC. The government says it will expand the service to include information on all government departments and city government services. The *GOB program is run by the Presidential Office for Information Technologies and Communication (OPTIC).

Economic secrets
Edwin Ruiz of Clave newspaper writes today about the contradiction between the millions invested in the "electronic government" of President Fernandez and the backlog in publishing economic statistics. He makes the point that the Budget Department (Digepres) has a freedom of information access department but this is not yet operating, four years after this was ordered in Law 2000-04 on Citizens' Right to Freedom of Information. He points out that the government has not published the monthly budget execution reports since February. And the information on government spending is only available up to April 2008, when this information was readily available when the country was under the International Monetary Fund's stand by arrangement. He comments that the muteness of the financial authorities has the country in the dark as to what is the true fiscal deficit for this year. Ruiz establishes that Dominican Law 423-06 (J section) orders the publishing of the information 30 days after the completion of the budget period. Another law that he says has not been fulfilled is Law 5-07 that created the Integrated Financial Administration System (SIEFE) 5-07 that orders the government to make available information on budgetary execution in a clear, uniform and transparent way.
Economist Miguel Ceara-Hatton of the United Nations Human Development Office estimates the deficit of the central government at RD$52.7 billion during 2008, to which the quasi-fiscal deficit (of the Central Bank) would have to be added bringing this to RD$75 billion. Ceara-Hatton recalls that the government on several occasions has said that the public finances are balanced.
Clave newspaper says that the lack of transparency has spread to the Central Bank. As of 12 August, the Central Bank had only published a report for the first quarter of 2008 and the definitive for 2007. The Central Bank website indicates that the updates would be available at most 45 days after the period expired.

CMD calls for another strike
Once again the Dominican Medical Association (CMD) has called for a 24-hour work stoppage at public hospitals to pressure the government to accept their demands. The strike will be held today, and a protest will be held on 16 August, the day President Leonel Fernandez is sworn in for his third term. The CMD has held eight strikes since February, garnering little response from the government. Public Health Minister Bautista Rojas and the CMD under president Waldo Ariel Suero have not been able to agree on the wage issue. Bautista wants to peg physician wages to productivity, and this has met with opposition from Suero who wants to keep the present working conditions that enable physicians to hold more than one job at the same time.

Drug investigation continues
The Presidential committee created to investigate the allegations made by Senator Wilton Guerrero of the authorities complicity in the drug trade interviewed representatives from 20 community organizations in Bani yesterday. The meeting was initially slated for 1pm, but was postponed to 5pm when Police Chief Rafael Guillermo Guzman and Lt. General Ramon Aquino Garcia arrived by helicopter. Attorney General Radhames Jimenez had arrived earlier. Listin Diario reports that citizens were anxious to meet with officials to voice their concerns and provide documentation that backs Senator Guerrero's claims. The meetings were held behind closed doors. The committee was created after 7 men were massacred during a drug-related shooting.

Wife stole car
Diario Libre is reporting that Scarlet Aristy Rojas, wife of Lt. Colonel Ricardo Guzman Perez, who had been stationed by the Navy in Salinas, Peravia province, stole the vehicle she was riding in Tuesday when she was apprehended with 8 kilos of cocaine in the car. Reports say she stole the car form Haitian national Edward Isemond at gunpoint. When she was caught she called her husband. Coincidentally, Isemond was at the police station where she was taken and identified Rojas and her driver as the ones who stole his car. When Rojas' husband arrived, he ordered his subordinates not to open the bag found in the car. Eventually General Jose Polanco of the Regional Police Director and Ramon Rodriguez of the Police Narcotics Unit personally opened the bag and ordered the arrest of Rojas and Guzman.
The chief of the Navy, Vice Admiral Julio Cesar Ventura Bayonet clarified that Guzman Perez was the commander of a dredge that was out of service, and had flexible work hours and did not have to keep a schedule at the Navy Base in Las Calderas or Salinas, Peravia. The Navy's M2 Intelligence Department is investigating the case.

It's not enough
According to anthropologist and social investigator Tahira Vargas present efforts to enhance security have not been efficient and don't attack delinquency at its root. Vargas says efforts have not resolved the issue of complicity between police officials, criminals and the National Drug Control Department (DNCD). Vargas made her comments with regards to the disputed police sponsored executions of known criminal youths in the DR. Vargas says that killing youths is not the solution.
As reported in Clave newspaer, "Barrio Seguro was a beautiful plan for community participation that sought to improve the education, services, infrastructure and spaces for the community, but none of that was done. Instead the government bought SUVs, large Harley motos and sent policemen to raid the barrios and kill lots of people," she complains. "How can you work on security when the authorities are involved and you give them power to repress and more weapons? We don't have security organizations, we have insecurity organizations," she complained.
She argues that increasing coverage of the basic educational system and attacking the complicity between authorities and criminals is the key. She is also urging that the police and judiciary systems become more credible.

Marranzini on dollarization
Celso Marranzini, former president of the National Business Council (CONEP) backs the dollarization of the Dominican economy. California-based Dominican economist Victor Canto is a strong advocate of dollarization. Marranzini says dollarization would limit the Monetary Board's discretional control. "We would save a lot on the enormous salaries of the Monetary Board," said Marranzini. Marranzini also argued that the country's inflation and interest rates would be that of the US, and there would no longer be fears of devaluation. He also argued that Dominicans are already familiar with the dollar as a currency. Not all have jumped on the dollarization bandwagon, though. Porfirio Garcia Fernandez, former UASD Dean, has rejected saying the country is not ready for dollarization because the country does not have sufficient international reserves.

Community in Spain gets larger
There are 130,000 Dominicans living in Spain, of which 80,000 are there legally, 30,000 are naturalized and only 20,000 are of illegal status, according to Dr. Bernarda Jimenez and Pedro Alvarez, directors at the Spanish Volunteer Mothers Group (VOMADE), as reported in Hoy. This year, Bernarda Jimenez recently was elected the first emigrant to become a member of the ruling PSOE political party's board. Jimenez visited to accompany Vice President Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega.
According to the directors, women make up 66% of the Dominican immigrant population in Spain, while 34% are men. Alvarez explained that many years ago, Dominican migrant population was 90% women, and most worked as household help. Alvarez, who is projects coordinator, says Dominicans have taken new jobs, even though a majority of them still work as domestic workers. He added that the initial wave of Dominican immigrants had a great influence on musical tastes, dress, and the food preferences of many Spaniards.
Accordingly, only 22% of Dominicans in Spain have degrees, specifically in dentistry. Jimenez says that only 6% of Dominican women in Spain are prostitutes and explains that it is denigrating to Dominican women to be considered as such. She explained that many Dominican women have lost their jobs as maids because their husbands would ignore the time difference and call the home of their employers at 2 or 5am to check on their wives.
But Alvarez notes that when waves of Dominican men began to arrive, the Spanish perception towards Dominicans changed. Unfortunately many were involved in crime. He adds that drug mules are increasing at an alarming rate, which has forced authorities to increase surveillance on Dominican travelers. Because of this VOMADE has announced a new ad campaign to warn people of the dangers of working as drug mules. Jimenez says that despite the crime issues, overall Dominican migration has been positive.
Jimenez adds that Dominicans don't lose their ties to the country and would prefer to live in the DR. Nevertheless, she complained that Dominicans in Spain seem to be only valued for the remittances they send back home, despite the heroism of their traveling abroad to help their family get out of poverty.

Deficit on the rise
The trade deficit between the US and the DR in the first semester of the year grew by 81.84% in comparison to the same period in 2007. According to Hoy the trade deficit went from US$726 million to US$1.32 billion due to an increase in imports, and the relatively-strong Dominican peso. Imports were up from US$2.8 billion to US$3.3 billion. At the same time, exports were down 4.6%, going from US$2.1 billion to US$1.97 billion. The trade deficit is a recent phenomenon considering that in 2004 the DR had a trade surplus with the US of US$14 million. Compare this to the June 2008 alone monthly deficit of US$220 million. Since the implementation of DR-CAFTA Free Trade Agreement, the trade deficit has reached US$2.87 billion, according to Department of Commerce statistics.

Fire in Puerto Plata
A fire in the Playa Dorada section of Puerto Plata burned down 58 small arts and crafts vendor shops causing an estimated RD$100 million in damages. An electric short circuit is being blamed for the fire, according to Hoy. The goods nor the stores were insured. Manuel Sanchez, president of the Playa Dorada Vendors Association says that many of the vendors had recently invested in improvements in the stores. Sanchez says that 105 families directly benefited from the businesses and are now left with nothing.

Pay cash for JetBlue tickets
JetBlue Airways wants to attract more Dominican customers with a new cash payment plan with Western Union. Now passengers can book their JetBlue flights by phone or online and then walk to the nearest Western Union counter to pay for it, securing the online ticket price. Western Union is a popular remittance company used by Dominicans in New York City. The way the plan works, travelers have until midnight on the following day to pay the booked ticket. The plan comes on the heels of an announced JetBlue expansion to the DR. JetBlue seeks to fill in for several of the flights that American Airlines is discontinuing due to its higher operation costs. The plan is to serve customers who may have the cash, but have credit card limits or lack credit or debit cards.

16 years of Dominican Week
Dominican Week, the annual encounter between things Dominican and American organized by the Russin, Vecchi, Heredia Bonetti law firm and the Foundation Dominican American Assistance Fund (DAAF) is set for Monday 22 September through Friday, 26 September. Again, there will be academic, artistic, cultural and business communities organized in Washington, D.C. (22, 23, 24 September) and New York City (25, 26 September).
Dominican Week is in its 16th year. It was born when lawyer Luis Heredia Bonetti, of RVHB law firm, and a group of men and women became concerned because headlines in US newspapers focused on negative aspects of the more than a million Dominicans living in the US. The events are meant to promote business, economic, historical and cultural awareness of Dominican society. Well-known speakers and distinguished panels consisting of Dominicans and Americans explore the topics of doing business in the DR, economic integration and free trade.
RVHB has available the memoirs commemorating 15 years of Dominican Week. The publication captures year-by-year memorable happenings during Dominican Week since it started in 1992.
For more information, write to [email protected]

NY State honors Dominican
New York Governor David Paterson has ordered all flags raised half-mast in honor of Jose Ulloa, a Dominican soldier killed in Iraq last week. Ulloa was part of Company 515, based in Manheim, Germany. Gov. Paterson offered condolences to the Ulloa family telling the family that the sacrifice he made for the country would never be forgotten. The 23-year old Ulloa was killed when a roadside bomb exploded near the Sadr City Market, in Baghdad. Ulloa was born in Jima Arriba, La Vega. He migrated to New York when he was two. His sister Marisol recalls that her brother was a happy person who made people laugh. Ulloa's remains will be flown to the Dominican Republic for burial. The Iraq conflict has particular meaning for Dominicans in the US and at home, now that seven Dominicans are among the thousands of casualties. Harold Puello Coronado, of Dominican descent, was the first Dominican soldier to die in Iraq. Then came Riayan Tejada's death in 2003. Tejada was awarded posthumous US citizenship upon his death. Army Cpl. Sergio Antonio Mercedes Saez, 23, was manning the gun atop a Humvee on patrol south of Baghdad in 2006 when the vehicle overturned and he was killed. Army Cpl. Junior Cedeno Sanchez was killed in Iraq in 2007 followed by Army Sergeant Joan Duran, who had been on his second tour of duty in Iraq. Soldier Alex Jimenez had been the most recent tragedy. Iraqi insurgents caught Jimenez's convoy. His body was recently recovered after one year missing.

US Embassy peeved
The US Embassy in Santo Domingo said that allegations by Dominican officials that the US government is not sincere in its fight against the illegal drug trade are "worrisome and offensive," as reported in Diario Libre. In recent days Dominican officials, including Luis Manuel Bonetti, have criticized US officials for a "lack" of help in fighting drugs. An unnamed source at the Embassy told the newspaper that surveillance boats and planes that cost US$4,000 per hour, a US$1.5 million investment in x-ray equipment to detect drugs in large shipments as well as the donation of four boats worth US$7.5 million as proof of the US commitment. The US Embassy has also provided US$11.7 million in funds to help strengthen the DR's judiciary system. Last week Bonetti said that the US government was more concerned with stopping illegal entries into the US, than helping fight the drug trade. Bonetti made his comments after the bodies of seven men were discovered in Bani a drug-related incident. In a statement to Diario Libre the Embassy explains those allegations ignore the large investment the US makes in logistical and operational programs to fight drugs. The Embassy says the comments also disregard the numerous lives that have been saved while trying to get from the DR to Puerto Rico on illegal trips.
The president of the National Drug Control Department (DNCD), General Rafael Ramirez Ferreira is in favor of a Caribbean Plan, similar to the well known Plan Colombia or Merida Initiative that bring US resources to aid Colombia and Mexican authorities fight against the country's powerful drug cartels and organized crime networks.

Olympics update
Featherweight Dominican boxer Winston Montero provided fans with a tremendous performance and is now one of the DR's best hopes for a medal in the Beijing Olympics. Montero beat his Kenyan opponent Suleiman Bilali 9-3 in his opening round match. After the match Montero said that he is confident he can medal. "I want the world to know I am not scared of anyone."
Felix Manuel Diaz (64 kilos) beat Irishman Johnny Joyce. Diaz had been down on scorecards all fight long and with 12 seconds to go in the match completed a flurry of punches that made him the clear winner. Diaz has yet to fight his best fight and Diaz admits that he was fighting with his heart, intensity and will to win. Iranian Morteza Sepahvandi is next on Diaz's list and stands between the Dominican fighter and a bronze medal in these Olympic Games.
In table tennis, the DR's female squad lost its first match against Australia 3-0. Favorites Nieves Xue and Jennifer Qian Lian both lost their first-round matches.
Hurdler Felix Sanchez did some light training yesterday and reports indicate that he is feeling very well. Sanchez said he did not experience pain, which was more than had been expected. According to Dominican Track and Field Federation president Jose Rubio, Sanchez ran a 200-meter sprint with no complications. This is great news for the Dominican delegation as Sanchez is another hope for an Olympic medal.
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