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Daily News - Tuesday, 23 September 2008

DR1 breaks for Mercedes Day
Tomorrow, Wednesday 24 September is a holiday in the Dominican Republic. It commemorates The Day of our Lady of Mercedes, the patron of the Dominican Republic. The Virgin is honored for her role in protecting Spanish soldiers in a battle against Indians in La Vega.

Metro II in 2009
While the White House has asked the US Congress for US$700 billion to ride out the present financial crisis, described as the biggest bailout package since the Great Depression, President Leonel Fernandez took advantage of his visit to New York to speak at the UN General Assembly to announce plans were advanced for the contracting of the second line of the Santo Domingo Metro in 2009. The first line is expected to enter into operation latter this year or in early 2009. The President also announced the construction of a freight train between Santiago and Haina. Fernandez made his comments during a meeting with six economists at the Manhattan offices of The Economist. Fernandez discussed specifics of the DR economy and the panel discussed the potential trickle down effect of the US financial crisis on the DR. Fernandez explains the Metro construction will be part of a US$3 billion public-private alliance that will fund the construction of roads, bridges and hydroelectric projects. Confidently, Fernandez explained he doubts an international crisis will negatively affect the DR's ability to get the financing needed to build these projects.

US crisis trickles down
Central Bank Governor Hector Valdez Albizu said yesterday when interviewed on Channel 11's Telematutino that Dominican expatriates and Dominicans with deposits in US banks have begun to transfer their money to Dominican banks. Years back, Dominicans had transferred their savings to the US banks, not trusting the local financial market. But now the reverse is happening. Commercial banks in the DR are benefiting from capitals that are fleeing uncertainty in the US. Valdez Albizu said there has also been an increase in the sale of Central Bank bonds. He said the Central Bank has taken advantage of the situation to strengthen its reserves. He commented the influx in US dollars would force a marked appreciation of the Dominican peso.
Central Bank Governor Hector Valdez Albizu says that the Dominican Republic will not sign a new agreement with the International Monetary Fund, as reported in El Caribe. Valdez said the government is aware it needs to control its spending, nevertheless. He also said that the present social subsidies are not sustainable. He attributed the present current account deficit to the increase in the fuel bill, electricity subsidy, and increased cost of imported foods. He said that the electricity subsidy alone will cost the government US$1 billion this year, up from a budgeted US$650 million.
In recent days some of US's major investment banks have been on the verge of collapse as a result of financial problems and a mortgage crisis that began more than a year ago. The White House is asking Congress to allow the government to takeover US$700 billion in bad debts. The bailout plan, if approved by Congress, would give Washington broad power to buy bad mortgages of any American financial institution in the next two years.
In related news, Lisandro Macarrulla, president of the National Business Council voiced his concern on the US crisis. Macarrulla believes the tight squeeze in the US could affect the DR, as it is the country's most important trading and financial partner, and because of the high volume of remittances that come from Dominicans in the US. Macarrulla called for preventive domestic measures. He forecast that a continued US crisis could mean a loss of jobs for the DR. He said apparel export manufacturing companies are feeling the pinch already.

Dominican remittances
The Dominican community abroad sent back an estimated RD$59.7 billion to the DR during the first half of 2008, or 8% of the nation's GDP. US$1.56 billion came as direct remittances and RD$1.76 billion in tourism expenditures. They report remittances were up US$81.9 million compared to 2007. These figures are according to economists Frank Valenzuela and Hector Frias of the Quisqueya Foundation. According to Diario Libre, the global number doesn't include money spent on telephone calls, visiting costs and gifts.

Turtle report lacking
The CAFTA-DR Secretariat for Environmental Matters (SEM) is channeling a request from the Humane Society International of the United States whereby the Dominican Republic government has failed to effectively enforce domestic laws intended to protect endangered sea turtles. The Society criticizes lack of fulfillment of Environment Law 64-00) and Decree 752-01 relative to the protection of endangered sea turtles. The Humane Society criticizes that ornamental products made from endangered sea turtles continue to be sold openly in street stalls, souvenir and jewelry shops frequented by tourists throughout the DR in violation with Law 64-00. The DR is the first CAFTA country accused of violating DR-CAFTA environmental laws. Hoy newspaper explains that Ministry of Environment officials say they have taken actions to abide by the legislation to protect the turtles.

Presidential appointments
President Leonel Fernandez has named 170 new people to public office. Decree 601-08 creates the National Council for the Climate Change and Mechanism for Clean Development, under former Environment Minister Omar Ramriez. Meanwhile Cesar Dargam has been named director of Foreign Trade and Trade Agreement Administration (DICOEX) at the Ministry of Industry and Commerce. Fernandez named Juan Demostenes Cotes Morales as Minister without portfolio. Fernandez confirmed Andres Vanderhorst Alvarez as the executive director of the National Competitiveness Council, now with rank as government minister.

Judicial deficit
Supreme Court president Jorge Subero Isa announced he has had to implement a series of reforms and wage reductions given the RD$40 million monthly deficit of the Judicial Branch. Subero says the pensions of 241 former employees had to be readjusted to deal with the crisis. Subero explained the measures would take effect on 1 October.

Above the law
An interesting comment in today's Diario Libre points out how easily a law loses its authority when those charged with upholding it don't uphold the law. With the commentary there is the picture of a small motorbike with three passengers on board, none wearing helmets, about to drive through a tunnel, all of which is illegal. In the picture there is an AMET transit cop who does nothing to stop the motorbike driver, or passengers, and with the simple gesture of apathy reinforces the lack of authority endemic in many of the government offices in the DR. The article continues to point out that once the law is not applied, it then stops being a law.

Savona helps Saona
The town of Savona, Italy and the DR have signed a cooperation agreement for sustainable development on Isla Saona, part of the National Park of the East. Luis Simo, Deputy Minister for International Affairs at the Ministry of Tourism and Savona mayor Federico Berruti signed. Also, Italian Ambassador Enrico Guiciardi announced the donation of a wind generator on behalf of the Italian government. The cooperation agreement will fund the construction of Plaza Savona, an art school and the archeological museum at the Parque del Este. The infrastructural developments will be built in the towns of Mano Juan and Catuano and should conclude by September 2009 with a cost of EU80,000 per structure. Simo explains that technical committees will be created to help supervise the projects. Savona and Saona have historical ties since it was Michele de Cuveo, who came with Columbus on his second trip, who named the island in honor of his hometown.

Ladom speaks up
Ladom, the public school breakfast drink supplier, held a press conference yesterday to press their point for demanding through a court order the presentation of the full video taken at their factory when TV journalist Nuria Piera was investigating whether their product met Ministry of Education quality standards. Ladom lawyer Jorge Luis Polanco Rodriguez says the journalist did not present all the truth and that during the interview at the company they presented evidence that whey was not used in the school breakfast drinks. Lawyer Jorge Luis Polanco Rodriguez argued that the court order did not order the confiscation, search or the public force to be exercised. The court order has been protested as coercion against investigative journalists' work. The court order literally authorized those preparing the Ladom suit to visit the offices of Lora and Piera "to obtain" the evidence they would need.
Lora and Piera argue that the report was about how a company that had 40% of school breakfast supplies was dispatching the lowest quality product of all, with approximately 30% of the Ministry of Education minimum required protein level. Ladom lawyer Polanco says the company does not dispute the veracity of the lab tests carried out by Piera that proved the company had served below standard supplies.
As a result of the reports, public school children this year have received school breakfast drinks with at least the minimum required level from all suppliers, as the first monitored random tests show. The tests were ordered by the Ministry of Education, now under a new minister.

Protest for journalism
The Dominican College of Journalists led a protest march at Calle El Conde, from Columbus Park to Independence Park today. Mercedes Castillo, president of the college, expressed concerned that there have been 20 cases of legal suits or aggressions against journalists in the past three months, and 35 so far this year nationwide. "We are protesting so they let us do our work, that they respect our role in society that is to report the facts," she said. She said that investigative journalists play an important role in society all around the world. She stressed this is not a protest against the government, as the aggressions are from all sectors.
The most notorious case is that of Huchi Lora and Nuria Piera that were under fire from government sector for having investigated the quality of school milk served in public school, that of Manuel Guillermo Mejia who denounced in Bani that money was missing from a drug case in his town. This eventually led to the replacement of Bani prosecutor Victor Cordero who was subsequently accused by Bani Senator Wilton Guerrero of complicity with drug dealers in the province. The case of journalist Manuel Antonio Vega in Hato Mayor, that of Vianco Martinez, by bodyguards of an artist, and that of TV journalist Alicia Ortega for airing of a program that revealed a company would have committed fraud against its customers.
Speaking at the event, Alicia Ortega said that journalists are the eyes of society and they would not be shut down. "We will continue to be the eyes of society," she claimed.

Drug plane details
Only one of the four men who died in a plane crash over the weekend can be identified. The other three men were burned beyond recognition, according to authorities. Details regarding the Saturday crash of a plane carrying drugs packages are few, but Listin Diario reports the plane was carrying upwards of 90 packets of drugs, including cocaine and heroin. The bodies of the four men have been taken to the Dominican Forensic Pathology Institute. Residents in areas surrounding to the crash site (Pica Cafe, Jaisa) report an increase in plane activity.

Barrio Seguro for all
Interior and Police Minister Franklin Almeyda Rancier announced the Barrio Segura security program will be implemented in 154 municipalities nation wide. No word on how the expansion of the program would be handled or when the expansion would begin. On Thursday provincial governors will meet to discuss details of the program.

I'm not a thief
A former public employee has gone on a hunger strike until his firing for alleged acts of corruption are investigated. Juan Medina was fired from his position at the Institute of Potable Water & Sewage (INAPA) and the San Cristobal City Hall. On Monday he began his hunger strike in front of the General Prosecutor's Office in Santo Domingo, holding a large sign that read, "My General Prosecutor, I am not a thief, I want justice." He is urging Prosecutor General Radhames Jimenez Pena to investigate his case. Medina is also asking Economy, Planning and Development Minister Temistocles Montas to investigate on his behalf. Medina says all he has is his honor. He was shocked when his nine-year old daughter said she was told at school that her father was a thief. Medina says he is a honest man with nothing to hide and says he will continue his hunger strike until an investigation is completed.

Weather watch
The rains have been falling heavily in the East, and are expected to gradually move to other parts of the country. Officials are warning of heavy rains and thunderstorms as a tropical wave moves from Puerto Rico through the DR. The storm is moving slowly, north northeast, with a slight chance of developing into a tropical storm. The Center for Emergency Operations (COE) has raised warning levels to red for the provinces of La Altagracia, La Romana, San Pedro de Macoris, El Seibo, Hato Mayor, Monte Plata, Santo Domingo and the National District.
Samana, Maria Trinidad Sanchez, Duarte, Puerto Plata, Sanchez Ramirez, Espaillat, Barahona and San Juan de la Maguana continue to be on yellow alert. The rest of the country is on green alert. Citizens are being warned to stay away from rivers, streams and gullies after the death of five people, including a baby, have been reported. Today it was reported that traffic from Higuey to La Romana was interrupted because of flooding.
To follow the storm, see http://www.dr1.com/forums/weather-beyond/79822-tropical-wave.html
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