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Daily News - Thursday, 04 September 2008

Weather watch
The Center for Emergency Operations (COE) has lifted the Tropical Storm watch for the DR, explaining that tropical storm Hanna is no longer a threat. According to COE director Colonel Juan Manuel Mendez Garcia, Hanna isolated 51 communities, caused the evacuation of 10,745, damaged 2,149 homes and destroyed 4 bridges and damaged two main roads. The government has set aside RD$300 million to assist victims of Hanna. The Presidency's Social Plan will also distribute 884,000 pounds of food throughout the country. Hanna caused the most damage in Monte Cristi, Dajabon, Azua, San Pedro and San Jose de Ocoa.
COE officials have also called for the mandatory evacuation of families located near the Sabaneta Dam in San Juan de la Maguana. Monte Cristi Civil Defense regional director Maximo Ventura explained that 1,1090 families in that region have been evacuated.

Awaiting Ike
Authorities are now monitoring Hurricane Ike that is expected to bring rains. National Meteorological Office director Gloria Ceballos explained that by Saturday Ike is expected to be near the DR's north coast, but sufficiently north to not cause major damage. However, close monitoring of the storm is cautioned. Officials are also keeping their eye on Tropical Storm Josephine, which has formed off the coast of Africa and is headed towards the Caribbean. It is too early to tell the path that Josephine will take.
To follow seasonal storms, see http://www.dr1.com/forums/weather-beyond/...

School still closed
The Ministry of Education suspended classes at all schools, including the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo (UASD). Education Minister Melanio Paredes nevertheless said that private schools were allowed to resume classes at their discretion. The UASD University has also canceled classes and administrative activities, until further notice.

Jaime David accepts Environment
President Leonel Fernandez swore in former Vice President Jaime David Fernandez Mirabal as the country's minister of environment. Fernandez Mirabal has behind him the Plan Quisqueya Verde, which is regarded as one of the most successful reforestation projects ever implemented in the Caribbean and Central America. Upon swearing in to the controversial and difficult post, Fernandez Mirabal said that he did not do so before because of "a lack of communication." He explained the President did not consult him prior to making the appointment.

Financial free zones a plus
Senator Amilcar Romero said that the Financial Free Zone Bill just passed in Congress and pending enactment by President Fernandez will attract investments for US$650 million, and create 26,000 jobs from now until 2011. The bill paves the way for new investments in financial and banking activities and services, insurance and re-insurance, financial markets and supporting activities that would be carried out in the Financial Free Zones. It also opens up doors to an increase in financial and cash brokerage services and financial consulting services.

Blackouts reported
Up to 18-hour blackouts are being reported throughout the DR. This time the blackouts are attributed to the passing of Tropical Storm Hanna. Strong winds knocked down power lines, interrupting service. Energy distributor EDE Este announced that 70 circuits were not working as of yesterday, which translated into 138,000 users without power. EDE Este officials say because of weather conditions it will be difficult to fix any issues in the power grid, leaving many citizens to wonder when power will return. EDE Sur reported they had restored 87 of their circuits while 23 of their circuits were still offline.

The wrong solutions
Manuel Diez Cabral, president of the Association of Industries of the Dominican Republic, said that the agreement for US$460 million in financing by the government to the power distribution companies is just a way of prolonging the critical situation, not resolving it. "Not only does it increase the foreign debt, but it uses treasury funds that should be allocated to other priorities, and it leaves out consumers who will have to continue paying for an expensive and unreliable service," he said. He added that the worst of all is that the government intends to grant conditions similar to the Madrid Accord where the contracts could last 20 years. The government agreed to fund power distributors with US$460 million through the next four years and purchase electricity barges to assuage the deficit in power generation.
Ernesto Vilalta, electricity coordinator for the Association of Herrera, summed up the frustration of manufacturers: "The electricity problem was going to be resolved in 1996, later in 2000, then in 2004 and now in 2012, but these continue to just be announcements," he said. He said the problem is that politics calls the shots in the electricity sector.
Politics has lead to hidden profits in the contracts, as well as the sector being used as a job agency for persons with influence in the government, and with those who pay electricity bills paying for these extra costs. Fausto Rosario of Clave newspaper says that back in 1996 when the sector would be privatized the CDE had 6,000 employees. Today, the institutions that replaced it have 8,096 employees, not including those of EdeEste, the large power distributor that covers the southeastern and eastern third of the country.

Where were the consumers?
Lawyer Marisol Vicens writes today in El Caribe that missing from the electricity negotiations, where the government is deciding on its next steps for dealing with blackouts and high electricity costs, were the consumers. Neither industrial nor residential consumers were present, only the government and generation and distribution companies.
She criticizes the lack of transparency for new contracting of generation for which the government undertakes financial commitments, despite the high cost to taxpayers in the future, and expresses concern that these contracts will be more of the same nightmarish contracts signed by this and past governments. She also criticizes the fact that the agreement shows a lack of political will to deal with theft of electricity, estimated at 50%. "Definitely politics has no room in the equation that will solve the electricity problem, and while politics prevails, consumers will continue to be excluded from the discussions, and at the mercy of the authorities and electrical companies, that outside of public controversies have always had a good understanding among themselves," she concludes.

Tejada Holguin quits Ethics Committee
Sociologist Ramon Tejada Holguin resigned from the National Ethics Committee. He cites the lack of political will to fight corruption in government, and the lack of coordination of civil society organizations represented in the commission.

Canada negotiations resume
On 29 September the DR and Canada will resume negotiations for a free trade agreement. Talks have been on the table for some time and many thought once the DR finished the European Partnership Agreement with the European Union, the Canadian talks would run smoothly. For reasons unknown, after the first round of talks were completed in February, negotiations were put on hold.
Speaking at an ADOEXPO event, Canadian Ambassador to the DR Patricia Fortier explained that each year more than 600,000 Canadians visit the DR, but only 2% of the DR's exports are sent to Canada. Fortier added that with the signing of an agreement and the negotiations of a open airspace, "blue skies," there can be an increased trade balance. According to Eduardo Dominguez, president of the Dominican Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the DR only exports US$25 million worth in goods and services to Canada, compared to US$600 million with the US, or 27% of total exports.

Canadian company gets approval
Canadian mining company Diagnos has received permission from the Dominican government to explore the 253 square km Maple property located at 15 kms of La Vega in the central part of the DR. The property is regarded as having high potential for gold and other precious and base metals. The exploration project will be completed as a joint venture with the Canadian firm MaxTech.

Bodyguards for senator Guerrero
The Armed Forces assigned a special security force to protect Peravia Senator Wilton Guerrero who gained national attention for denouncing that government, police and judicial officials in the DR are accomplices in drugs trafficking. Guerrero had previously made limited accusations and provided limited proof, but earlier this week the Senator accused the governor of Peravia, Bienvenido Montero of being the godfather of crime in the province and of protecting former police commander in Bani, General Hilario Gonzalez, former prosecutor Victor Cordero and the chief of the Drug Enforcement Department (DNCD) in the province. Guerrero said that after speaking with Senate President Reinaldo Pared Perez he was assigned a "real" bodyguard. Guerrero said he previously was protected by "toy security, with fake guns." Guerrero says with the new security he feels much safer.
In related news, Montero has denied the accusations made by Guerrero and said he will visit the Senate today to answer to Guerrero's claims.
Guerrero spoke up after seven people were massacred in Bani in August, and focused national attention on the high level of drug dealing.
At the start of his second consecutive term, President Leonel Fernandez appointed a new Minister of the Armed Forces, General Pedro Pena Antonio, a new director of the National Drug Control Department, General Gilberto Delgado Valdez, confirmed Navy chief Ventura Bayonet and chief of the Police Guillermo Fermin. A new chief of the DNCD in Bani and new police commander for the province were also appointed.
Bani deputy, Liselot Arias (PLD-Peravia) yesterday urged that President Fernandez order an in-depth probe into the claims made by her colleague, senator Wilton Guerrero. As reported in Hoy, she said the commission appointed by the President should establish new responsibilities.

Sports update
Yankees star Alex Rodriguez has reached a milestone in his career moving ahead of Mike Schmidt with 549 career homeruns. Rodriguez is now 12th on the all-time sluggers list. Rodriguez also passed Bill Dickey for most homeruns in a Yankee uniform, 206. Rodriguez's career highlight homerun was also special for another reason. His swat was originally ruled foul by officials. After looking at the replay, which had never been done before, the call was overturned and Rodriguez became the first MLB player to have a call overturned by use of the instant replay.
In other baseball news, Manny Ramirez was named Player of the Month for August. Ramirez had a career month hitting .415, 9 homeruns, 25 RBI, 21 runs scored and 7 doubles. Ramirez has had a career boost after being traded from the Boston Red Sox to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Olympic Gold Medalist Felix Diaz has announced that he will not turn pro, as had been heavily expected. The boxer says that he is looking forward to fighting at the 2012 London Olympics. Diaz explained that after the 2004 Athens Olympics he found himself in a very tough economic spot. But the situation is different now. Diaz received RD$7.6 million in prize money from the government and Tricom, two apartments, a new SUV and a host of other endorsement offers.
Boxer Nate Campbell has some harsh words for Dominican boxer Joan Guzman. Campbell said he is going to give Guzman a beating and is looking to take the fighter's IBF and WBO boxing titles. The fight is scheduled for 13 September.
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