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Daily News - Thursday, 11 September 2008

Bengoa explains deficit
Hacienda Minister Vicente Bengoa says that the DR's fiscal deficit totals RD$13 billion, while denying government overspending. Bengoa said officials were actually expecting the deficit to be close to the RD$30 billion approved in the supplementary budget. The minister has also denied that the deficit is directly linked with the increase in public payroll, arguing that there have only been payroll increases in Education, Public Health and the National Police. He added that the payroll only makes up 17% of the government's total spending. Bengoa attributed the deficit to an increase in food and fuel prices. He explained that government has approved RD$37.9 billion in subsidies, of which RD$28.6 billion goes to the electricity sector.

Cement price goes down
Industry and Commerce Minister Jose Ramon Fadul says the price of a bag of cement has dropped RD$10 and RD$15. Fadul says the nation's major cement producers had agreed on the price reduction. This decrease, nevertheless, is minimal compared to the steep climb in prices recorded in recent months. In August alone the price per bag of cement rose by RD$45 and peaked at RD$275. Cement producers attributed the increase in the price of cement to rising fuel prices. The decline in fuel prices, however, has not been reflected in the price of cement.

Petrol transporters declare war again
The petrol tanker drivers union (SCTPA) announced yesterday that they are ready for a 24-hour strike on 25 September to demand that the government break the impasse with Texaco-Chevron. SCTPA president Clemente Morillo said they would only transport fuel to hospitals, propane gas, water, electricity companies and pharmacies. They are protesting against Texaco-Chevron's decision to choose its own fleet and drivers. The courts have ruled in favor of Texaco-Chevron, but President would intervene seeking to conciliate interests of both parties.

School inefficiencies
During 2007, public school students lost at least an hour of class time. Class time was lost to teachers arriving late, teachers changing classrooms, time for singing the National Anthem, recess and school breakfast. The morning shift received 2:59 minutes on average, while evening shift students received 2:20 minutes of instruction time. The findings are reported in a recent Gallup poll sponsored by Action for Education (Educa). The study also reveals that little has changed since 2005 when a study showed that below-average teaching methods prevailed in Dominican schools. A total of 1,217 teachers, 794 students and 320 principals were polled.

Miami Dade signs agreement
Thirty outstanding Dominican students will receive scholarships to study at the Miami Dade College in Florida, according to Youth Minister Franklin Rodriguez, who said that more students could benefit in the future. Miami Dade dean Jose A. Vicente congratulated the government for their effort.

This is war
Presidential drug trafficking advisor Marino Vinicio (Vincho) Castillo has issued a challenge to drug traffickers, saying that if they want a war they can have it wherever they want. Castillo made this statement after meeting with high-ranking military officials at the Ministry of Armed Forces yesterday, adding that the DR is preparing a new strategic plan to fight organized crime. Castillo added that the authorities would not give an inch in the fight against drugs, and that recent crimes, including the case of the dead man found in an SUV, are clear signs that drug traffickers have declared war on the DR. The authorities are under renewed pressure after Peravia Senator Wilton Guerrero embarked on his crusade against alleged complicity between government officials and drug traffickers.
Present at the meeting were Armed Forces Minister Lieutenant General Pedro Rafael Pena Antonio, Police Chief Major General Rafael Guillermo Fermin, president of the Drug Control Department (DNCD) Major General Gilberto Delgado Valdez, director of the National Investigations Department (DNI) Major General Ramon Aquino Garcia, and chiefs of the J2-A2 and M2 military investigation departments.
In related news, the National Police says that 25 to 30 people are under investigation in connection with the 4 August murder of seven people in Bani in a drug-related case.

Senator's son charged
Martin Sterling, the 34-year old son of Senator Noe Sterling Vasquez (Barahona-PRSC) will be charged by state prosecutors for coercion and his alleged involvement in the 4 August murder of seven men in a drug-related incident. As reported in El Caribe, the district prosecutor asked for a year and a half preventive custody for Martin Sterling who is currently being investigated at the Bani Police Department.
Sterling Vasquez, interviewed on the morning radio talk show, "El Gobierno de la Manana," said he was not aware of reports that the speedboat used by the Colombians who were murdered in the 4 August massacre had been found in a property belonging to his family in Barahona. He did acknowledge that he was aware that three men, one of whom had identified himself as a Navy officer, visited his home and requested that his son Martin rent them a boat to scuba dive, but his son denied them the use of the boat. But, according to a report in El Caribe, the group later told him they needed the boat to rescue some friends. He said his son again denied the use of the boat. He said that his son, a former Air Force lieutenant, has never been investigated by justice. He said that after serving in the Air Force, his son worked at the Ministry of the Armed Forces, and then resigned at the end of President Balaguer's government. Afterwards, he said his son has been in business, having owned a company that sold potable water, and later worked at the family's propane gas company.

Damage from hurricanes
Storms Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike have caused an estimated RD$1.1 billion in damage this year. The government has pledged RD$300 million for recovery efforts. Reports indicate that Ike and Hanna damaged 36 highways, 12 local roadways, 12 bridges and 2 water systems. Also, three communities remain isolated, while 125 homes were destroyed. Presidential Palace Press director Rafael Nunez said that more than RD$200 million in damage was caused to agriculture, while 200,000 tareas of rice, plantains, banana, yuca, avocado, sweet potato and other vegetables have been affected.

Most wanted caught
US marshals have captured fugitive German Reyes in Santo Domingo. Reyes was listed on the Justice Department's 10 Most Wanted List for rape, sodomy, incest and other crimes, as reported in Diario Libre. An initial report indicates that Reyes was set to go to trial for crimes committed in Massachusetts when he fled. He eventually ended up in the DR where US Marshall officials were able to track him down in an operation codenamed 'Falcon'.

Soldier buried
Dominican-American soldier Luis Felix Nieves, who was killed in Iraq on 28 August, will be buried at the Cristo Redentor Cemetery in Santo Domingo today. Nieves's body arrived at the San Isidro Air Force Base and was handed over to his family. His mother Lorenza Retman commented that her son was only 27 years of age. Military officials said that he had been killed in a traffic accident.

Going blind
More than 4% of Dominicans suffer from glaucoma and according to Dr. Tomas Vargas, president of the Institute Against Blindness, 50% of those who have the disease are unaware they are affected. Vargas encouraged citizens, especially adults over 40, to get regular checkups. Listin Diario reports that a study carried out between 2003 and 2008 showed that of 62,099 participants 532 (4.08%) tested positive for glaucoma.

Rains still coming
The Weather Department predicts that rains will continue over the DR on Thursday and Friday. The Emergency Operations Center (COE) has maintained a red alert for 15 provinces due to the risk of rains and mudslides. COE director Juan Manuel Mendez says that the rains over the last few days resulted in 17,140 people evacuated, 3,370 homes affected, 58 destroyed and 6,877 people still in government shelters.

COD not filing grievance
The Dominican Olympic Committee (COD) will not file an official grievance on behalf of taekwondo fighter Gabriel Mercedes, who won a silver medal at the Beijing Olympics. Nevertheless, the Dominican Taekwondo Federation said it would file a grievance with the international taekwondo ruling body. The decision was made despite reports in Mexican newspapers that Mexican Olympic officials did their best to "be in the good graces" of Olympic referees. The newspaper claims that officials were trying to gain an advantage in case their fighter Guillermo Perez reached medal contention at the Olympics. Hoy reports that Mexican Taekwondo Federation President Roberto Beltran Ramonetti himself originally claimed that Perez might have benefited from the "work" of efforts by Mexican taekwondo officials.
Speaking out for the first time since the story broke, Mercedes told the public that he wants his gold medal. Mercedes says that he has seen the video from Beijing and counted a higher number of attacks in comparison to opponent Guillermo Perez.
Perez meanwhile has denied the accusations by media outlets and Beltran Ramonetti, adding that he knows how much hard work he put in and the effort it took.
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