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Daily News - Monday, 18 August 2008

Shuffling the cabinet
With the exception of former Vice President Jaime David Fernandez who was appointed Minister of Environment, there are few new faces in the Fernandez cabinet for the 2008-2012 administration.
Air Force chief Pedro Pena Antonio was promoted to minister of the Armed Forces, Industry & Commerce Minister Melanio Paredes was sent to Education, former Education Minister Alejandrina German is now in charge of the Ministry of Women, and former Fernandez campaign manager Francisco Javier Garcia is the new Minister of Tourism.
For a list of cabinet members, see http://dr1.com/business/government/cabinet.shtml

Fernandez announces ambitious plans
In his third inaugural address (see http://dr1.com/news/2008/081808_Fernandez16August2008.html) , President Leonel Fernandez set forth a long list of ambitious projects for his administration. Among these projects are a second north-south Metro line for Santo Domingo, and a train from Haina in the south to northcentral Santiago. He called for an alliance between the public and private sectors in order to construct the infrastructure needed that "will guarantee the transformation of the society." He also talked about a long list of elevated highways, tunnels and roadways in the National District. And he promised more projects for the UASD state university. He also said his government would give priority to the remodeling of the Juan Pablo Duarte Olympic Center and the Plaza de la Cultura in Santo Domingo.
On the list of priority works mentioned by the President in his speech are:

Completion of East Coast Tourism Boulevard.
National Asphalt Paving Plan.
Bridge over Rio Soco.
Sabana de la Mar-Miches Highway.
Bayaguana-El Puerto-Hato Mayor Highway
Malecon in San Pedro de Macoris
Rehabilitation of the port of San Pedro de Macoris
Completion of the Autovia del Este
Coral Highway from La Romana to Bavaro

Constanza-Duarte-Casabito Highway
Jarabacoa-El Rio-Constanza Highway
Improvement of north-south traffic bottleneck with the extension of Calle Sabana Larga to former Cibao Airport, bridge over Calle Hatuey and Calle Enriquillo, and underpasses at Circunvalacion Sur.
Sideroad in Cabarete, Puerto Plata
Malecon in Nagua
Rehabilitation of the Port of Manzanillo
Completion of the Circunvalacion Norte de Santiago.
Expansion to four lanes from Navarette to Puerto Plata
Expansion to four lanes from Controba to San Francisco de Macoris.

Completion of the San Cristobal-Bani highway.
Construction of the Circunvalacion de Bani, Azua and San Juan de la Maguana
Comletion of the San Juan-Batey II-Barahona highway

Santo Domingo:
Crossover at Av. Luperon
Tunnel at 27 de Febrero between Caonabo and 6 Noviembre Highway
Overpass, tunnel and rotonda at Av. 27 de Febrero and Nunez de Caceres, 27 de Febrero with Dr. Defillo and 27 de Febrero with Ortega y Gasset
Completion of the extension of Av. Del Puerto to Puente Presidente Peynado.
Construction of the Duarte Corridor (construction overpass at Av. Monumental, overpass of Manoguayabo, overpass at Nunez de Caceres-TeleAntillas, overpass at Padre Castellanos (formerly 17), construction of two bridges parallel to the Puente de la 17 and the overpass of Av. San Vicente de Paul to Las Americas.
Tunnels connecting Sans Souci and its Av. Espana with the Malecon, underneath Ozama River.

Santiago wants equal treatment
The president of the Industrial Association of the North (AIREN), Lina Garcia, gave her support to the proposals made by President Fernandez in his 16 August inaugural speech, but called for more resources for Santiago. The business leader said that both the city of Santiago and the province need greater state investments, "because they provide 14% of the nation's GDP through the industrial and commercial activity of the province, supposedly a figure of more than RD$100 billion, while the government investment in the province is hardly RD$3 or RD$4 billion, an unbalance that needs to be attended to with equality."
Garcia said that Santiago needs "more resources for health and education, more resources for citizen and industrial protection and security, and finally, resources to finish infrastructure projects that were begun and now lay abandoned."
Garcia also criticized the polarization of investments in Santo Domingo and in the east, something that in her judgment is not in accordance with a policy of equal distribution according to the amount of real wealth generated by each area.
As a warning, Garcia pointed out that abandoning a policy of equal distribution of funds is one of the justifications that some regions in Europe are presenting to justify more freedom to self-manage and self-govern themselves. Upon feeling that they are victims of unequal state funding, these regions seek legitimate responses that gather strength in those regions that lack infrastructure and resources. As an example, Ms. Garcia said that in Santiago a highway ends in the middle of the city because the North and South Beltways have not been finished, allowing heavy commercial vehicles to circulate in the heart of the city. This is just one vital project that needs to be finished.

School year starts today
The school year officially starts today as 2.7 million children return to the classrooms around the country. The official ceremony will be held at the new Francisco del Rosario Sanchez School in La Caleta, Boca Chica. It is expected that President Fernandez and new Minister of Education Melanio Paredes will attend the ceremony. The Listin Diario reports that the Dominican Teachers Association is reporting that while school should start according to the calendar, there is still a shortage of classrooms, utensils and desks in many of the schools, and they urge the government to solve these issues as soon as possible. The official calendar indicates that primary, secondary and normal schools should begin to work today, the first day of the 2008-2009 school year. According to the program, the school year will end on 3 July 2009.

People can change their HMOs
Starting today, those enrolled in the Family Health Insurance program (SFS) that is deducted from payrolls, have the option to begin the process of switching health insurance providers (ARS in the Dominican Republic, or HMOs in United States parlance). This option is part of the Social Security Law that allows for free choice of ARS. In addition, this freedom of choice will intensify the fight between the health insurance providers to maintain their portfolios of clients to whom they will have to provide better service.
Nevertheless, the biggest fight will be with the National Health Insurance (Senasa) program that now has its doors open to receive around 300,000 persons on the public payrolls or on the payrolls of autonomous government institutions or decentralized entities, which by law they are supposed to register beginning 1 September.
According to the Diario Libre, three health insurers have gone ahead and filed appeals against the state-owned ARS, and worker's syndicates, such as that at the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo (UASD), have requested that the superintendent of Health and Labor Risks (Sisalril), Fernando Caamano, ask Congress to modify Article 31 of Law 87-01 on Social Security in order to remove the clause that establishes the obligatory move to Senasa. The three ARS that filed the appeal are the ARS Humano, La Colonial and La Monumental.

Bani prosecutors suspended
Attorney General Radhames Jimenez ordered the suspension of two assistant district attorneys so that they can face a disciplinary hearing after the commission investigated the events that occurred in Bani before and after the 5 August massacre. The commission turned up evidence against the two assistant district attorneys. At the same time the AG reported that they are going to place former district attorney Victor Cordero before the courts on penal charges. Jimenez Pena told Diario Libre reporter Federico Mendez that the assistant district attorney Maspero Atuey Santana and the investigator Ester Gonzalez would be brought up on disciplinary charges. The commission investigating the activities of Cordero also recommended his suspension. The commission said that Cordero and his staff "were seriously compromised" in relation to drug activities in the area.
Meanwhile, Peravia senator Wilton Guerrero, who had denounced complicity of police and prosecutor authorities of the province with drug trafficking, said he was saddened and embarrassed by the results of the commission that investigated the murder of six in the province. The report established that community members cleared General Hilario Gonzalez y Gonzalez, who Guerrero had accused of complicity with the drug dealers in the region. Guerrero said he would present new evidence against the General.

Tragic Higuey accident
As many as 22 persons were reported to have perished in the worst traffic accident in Dominican history last Friday. Two buses and a pickup truck were involved. Four Italian tourists were listed among the dead. According to the Diario Libre there were 26 persons injured in the crash near the Batey Benedicto on the road between La Romana and Higuey. Witnesses at the scene said that the buses were going in opposite directions when one of the buses attempted to pass a pickup truck that was stopped at the side of the road. Injured were taken to hospitals in the area and Air Force helicopters took some to Santo Domingo.

Long blackouts still hurting
Long blackouts are still punishing many sectors of Santo Domingo and the rest of the country. The Electricity Distributor for the East (EDE-Este) reported that it had re-established service to 92% of the circuits that were affected by the passing of Tropical Storm Fay. Only six circuits were still in need of repairs according to the report in the Listin Diario. According to EdeEste, the interruptions of service were due to the damage caused by the storm. Yesterday, in Santiago, there were many sectors of the city that were without lights for long hours. Some persons reported 18-hour blackouts. That increased crime in the areas affected. Residents of Villa Gonzalez gathered in the local park and threatened massive protests against the 18-hour cuts in service. According to Andres Ramos, the president of the Federation of Neighborhood Associations, the cuts in electricity service are reaching alarming levels.

Diaz claims at least bronze
Light welterweight Feliz Diaz won his match (11-6) against the Iranian Morteza Sepahvandi in the quarterfinals of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games and could win the DR's first medal in the Games, at least a bronze. This would be only the third in DR sports history and the second in boxing.
Diaz had almost made bronze in the Athens Olympics. This time around, although Diaz started off behind in the points, little by little he came back, tiring out his opponent and scoring points. Cuban trainer Pedro Luis Diaz's strategy paid off. After two rounds Diaz had turned around the score, and in the third and fourth rounds he dominated the fight. From then on his rival was left behind and his corner yelled at him to fight smart and maintain his advantage. Diaz, according to some reports, will earn RD$3.5 million and a new car for his medal efforts. If he were to win his next fight against Frenchman Alexis Vastine, the ante will be raised to RD$5 million. Meanwhile, his family is cleaning out mud and rubbish from their shack next to the Ozama River after the flooding caused by Tropical Storm Fay.
The semifinal fight is scheduled for Friday, 22 August.

Tropical Storm Fay: four dead
The Center for Emergency Operations (COE) reported the death of four persons and the displacement of more than 11,000 people as Tropical Storm Fay passed south. For most of the weekend, Red Alerts were posted for the majority of southern provinces, with special interest in the areas of Azua and Pedernales and eastern provinces. According to the Hoy newspaper, Colonel Juan Manuel Mendez, the COE commander, said that 1,023 persons were refuged in government shelters and over 10,000 moved to spend the storm with family and friends. The colonel also reported over 2,300 homes affected by floodwaters, five bridges out and several highways seriously damaged nationwide.
Flooding was reported to have affected traffic on the brand new Samana highway, a US$150 million investment. The highway was opened to traffic in February 2008.
The president of the National Emergency Commission (CNE), General Luis Luna Paulino, announced that the CNE would accuse the driver of the pickup truck that carried three persons to their deaths. Luna Paulino told reporters from the Nuevo Diario that the driver ignored warnings not to attempt to cross the Chauchau River near Higuey. Two minors and a 34-year old woman were swept away and drowned. Other newspapers are reporting that the driver was the father of the two children. General Luna Paulino told reporters that Azua was the most affected province, according to the reports he was receiving.
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