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Daily News - Thursday, 25 September 2008

Fernandez at the UN
In an address to the United Nations 63rd General Assembly, President Leonel Fernandez rallied for the world's richest countries to provide the same emergency funding to achieve the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) aimed at slashing global poverty, hunger and other social ills as they have provided for bailing out failed financial institutions.
"What is certain is that at this moment, in order to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, we need from the international community a financial rescue plan, a kind of 'bailout,' as they say these days," he said, citing World Bank figures that $50 billion is needed annually to reach the MDGs by their target date of 2015.
Referring to the "stupefying" rise in the price of oil, he said that the extra $5 billion that the Dominican Republic has had to pay since 2004 could fund all public investments needed to achieve the MDGs by 2015. Fernandez assailed unregulated speculation in selling and buying futures contracts in oil and foodstuff, which "through excessive speculation, fraud and manipulation" lead to the distortion of economic fundamentals.
"It is incomprehensible that someone sells what he does not have and somebody else buys something that he does not want to have," he said. "Yet that is what has been happening these days in the clearest demonstration of what is being called 'casino capitalism'."
President Leonel Fernandez also called for greater cooperation from the United States in training, in sharing of confidential information, logistics and technology to confront the growing problem of drug trafficking during a press conference at the UN. He added that the US has to reduce its domestic consumption and demand for drugs. He said that in the measure that there is real and effective collaboration to avoid that the present problem does not escalate into a domestic security problem for the United States. He highlighted that drug trafficking corrodes and weakens institutions and the countries of the region could become failed states. "Where there is a failed state terrorist groups can easily install their operations, and this could become a security threat for the United States, he said.
While in New York, Fernandez asked US President George Bush to help the DR fight drug trafficking. In his meeting with US President George Bush, Fernandez highlighted the need for increased cooperation in the area of drugs and also pledged the DR's participation in the newly created "Prosperity Initiative for the Americas." El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Mexico, Peru, the US and Canada have all agreed to take part.
Fernandez and representatives of the 15 Caricom countries would meet today with Condoleezza Rice to continue to talk about security in the region and the threat of narcotics trafficking.
For the speech, see http://www.presidencia.gov.do

Fernandez to Middle East
President Leonel Fernandez will travel to Qatar and probably to Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates in November, according to a report in Listin Diario. Foreign Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso highlighted the importance that the DR is placing on diplomatic relations, exchanges and cooperation agreements with the Rio Group and the Council of Gulf States, when meeting with representatives of those countries on the occasion of the President's participation in the United Nations General Assembly.

Don't leave me to fight alone!
Senator Wilton Guerrero has appealed to the nation not to be left alone to fight against drug trafficking in the country. Speaking on Tuesday, he called for the support of honest citizens, political parties, the church, community organizations and civil society and said he has not found the authorities receptive to the fight against crime. He told Listin Diario that the members of the two commissions appointed to investigate the massacre of seven men in Paya, Bani had "crowed like a rooster, but laid eggs like hens." Following the massacre, the senator accused the provincial governor, the police commander and the district prosecutor of complicity with the drug dealers. The police commander and the district prosecutor have been transferred to other posts. Guerrero criticized the commissions' handling of the investigations and failure to identify who was truly responsible for the killings. He demanded that the commissions carry out more in depth investigations and name the masterminds behind the killings. "We need the support of the civic organizations of the Dominican people, we are immersed in a battle that we know goes beyond our capacity," said the senator in a press conference he called at his office at the Senate. He said, "Only with the massive support of popular organizations, of civic organizations and of honest and responsible citizens will we be able to fight this battle, that is more complicated by the heads who cover up for the criminals behind the scenes," he said, adding that the cover-up is apparent in the negligence of the authorities.
On the occasion of Mercedes Day, Catholic Church leaders called for divine intervention as the nation confronts drug trafficking, violence, political patronage, lack of morality and poverty. Cardinal Nicolas de Jesus Lopez Rodriguez was celebrating mass in La Vega.

Libraries in old buses
Take all the derelict buses discarded by the government's OMSA bus company, refit them and turn them into libraries. The Aulas Bibliotecas (Classroom Libraries) are now being sent to small towns nationwide and are known as "teaching buses." The program was developed by Teresa Peralta Checo and Ana Valdes Sanchez from the First Lady's Office. First Lady herself, Margarita Cedeno, came up with the idea after listening to OMSA director Ignacio Ditren announce that he would take buses out of circulation. In the discarded buses, she saw classrooms, Teresa Peralta and Ana Valdes said in an interview with Listin Diario. "We went to see those buses and we saw how the junk could become multi-faceted equipment. With a bit of creativity we turned useless things into something really functional," she explained. The buses were then recycled and equipped with chairs, blackboards and books, converting them into true classrooms, libraries and meeting rooms.

US crisis may trickle down
Government officials have recently been trying to allay fears that the Dominican economy is not well prepared to handle any trickle-down effect from the financial crisis affecting the US economy. Nonetheless, economists Arturo Martinez Moya and Guillermo Caram don't agree with the assurances provided by government officials. Both economists are urging the government to take preventive measures and reduce public spending as a way of preparing for any possible fallout. Economist Isidoro Santana explains that the crisis has yet to affect developing nations, but says it is difficult to ever determine how that crisis could affect the DR. Martinez Moya criticized President Leonel Fernandez's optimism at the UN General Assembly, and said that Fernandez's statements demonstrate a lack of understanding of financial issues. According to Martinez Moya, quoted in Hoy, the crisis is already being felt in the DR as some Dominican banks have already received notices from US banks to pay off certain percentages of their outstanding loans. As the US crisis deepens, their ability to get loans will be reduced and the need to pay loans will become a priority for US banks. According to Caram, the recent Central Bank report on the Dominican economy proves the instability the nation is facing. Caram says that during the first part of the year the DR had a fiscal surplus, but a recent Central Bank report reveals that the country is facing a deficit three times greater than the previous surplus. Caram says the crisis could affect two key pillars of the Dominican economy: remittances and tourism.
On the other hand, there has been a marked influx of US dollars into Dominican banks for deposits in dollars, or exchange into pesos.

Remittance values decline
While the frequency of remittances is stable, the amounts being sent back home by Dominicans living abroad is declining, says Freddy Ortiz, president of the Dominican Association of Remittance Companies. He said that unemployment is up 7% in the US and this is having an impact on Dominicans. He estimated that about 1,050,000 Dominicans live in the US, and of these 50,000 have lost their jobs in the past month. He said that many Dominicans in Spain have also lost their jobs. Ortiz explained that 82% of the remittances that enter the DR come from the US and the rest mostly comes from Europe. He said that remittances traditionally increase by 8-10% every year, but he expects that there will be no growth this year, and that a decline in remittance totals was possible. He said that last year, Central Bank statistics indicated that Dominicans sent back home US$3.03 billion. In the first half of the year, remittances were up 6.6%, but that if US$3 billion in remittances are sent back, it would be "an achievement," as reported in Listin Diario.

DR slips in corruption ranking
The Dominican Republic remains below the Latin American average and its citizens continue to perceive widespread corruption in government. Transparency International's 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) launched on 23 September highlights the fatal link between poverty, failed institutions and graft in 180 countries. The DR declined from 99th place to 102nd place. In the region, only Haiti (177), Venezuela (158), Ecuador (151), Paraguay (138), Nicaragua (134), Guyana (126), Honduras (126), Belize (109) were ranked worse than the DR. Others in the region ranked in the survey are Bolivia (102), Guatemala (96), Jamaica (96), Panama (85), Trinidad (72), Suriname (72), Mexico (72), Peru (72), Colombia (70), El Salvador (67), Cuba (65), Costa Rica (47), Puerto Rico (36), Dominica (33), St. Vincent (28), Chile (23), Barbados (22) and St. Lucia (21).
News commentator Huchi Lora commented that the high perception of corruption in government among Dominicans contrasts with the millions the government spends on propaganda to improve citizens' perception of government.

Judiciary reform warning
Writing in today's El Caribe, lawyer Leila Mejia comments that the government's constitutional reform proposal for the judiciary will worsen the present situation of judicial inefficiency. She says the 1994 constitutional reform made the mistake of granting the Supreme Court of Justice, more power than it has in any other country in the world, aside from the vertical structure where no one dares contradict the wishes of the Supreme Court judges. Politicians had the most say in the choice of the judges.
She criticizes the fact that the constitutional reform proposal made by President Leonel Fernandez would make 7 of 11 members of the board that would take decisions by majority directly or indirectly or subordinates to the Supreme Court of Justice and its head.
She comments that hefty investments in public relations have not quelled the generalized feeling that rejects the present judicial system for being expensive and increasingly inefficient.

Chamber of Accounts fiasco
Lawyer Marisol Vicens Bello writes today that the selection of new judges for the Chamber of Accounts, the body in charge of auditing the government, is evidence of the lack of political will to integrate a body that would truly hold the government accountable. Vicens says that the selection of members for the chamber sent to the Senate makes it clear that the government is interested in a custom-tailored suit. She recalls that despite the failure of the previous board, which ended in the resignation of all but one of its members in the wake of a series of scandals, the expectation was that the government would take special care with the new selection of members. She writes that after reviewing the President's choices, with few exceptions she is aware that the list includes people who do not have the required moral authority or credibility. "It would appear that the only motive for choosing them was to please political allies by placing them in well-paid positions." Most of the recommended judges are from the PRSC party that allied with the PLD into the 2008 presidential election.
She also criticizes the fact that despite the Constitution indicating that there should only be five judges, President Leonel Fernandez again sent choices for the appointment of nine. A Presidential commission appointed to study the Constitution had recommended returning to the original five members.
"In the light of all these events, we can only conclude that there is no intention of strengthening it so that it can become a true controller of the public accounts and each President will continue to appoint friends and allies to the posts at their convenience," she writes. She advised the Senate not to commit the same mistake of appointing a Chamber of Accounts custom-tailored by the Executive Branch.

Pregnancy and education
According to a study, "Parenthood in Adolescents", 11.8% of young girls who leave school do so because they've become pregnant. The study was conducted with the support of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the National Population and Family Council. The report found that poorer mothers who are transferred to night classes find it difficult to continue their schooling, while mothers from middle class families are allowed to be "free" students, meaning they are allowed to show up and only take the exams, enabling them to complete their education. The report says that other children's parents often pressurize schools to expel pregnant students, citing a potential bad influence. Many parents also believe that providing day care centers at the schools only encourages other students to engage in sexual activity at an early age. The study also revealed that 35.2% of all students have been left behind and aren't in their correct age grade. This percentage is twice as high, 67.1%, among adolescent mothers.

Today in history
On this day in 1963, Professor Juan Bosch was ousted from government in a coup d'etat that exiled the DR's first freely elected leader since the death of dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo. Bosch vehemently opposed the Trujillo regime, and had been exiled for 20 years in Cuba, where he founded the PRD. Bosch was elected with a 59% majority out of the 1,054,944 Dominicans who voted.

Heavy rainfall drenches the east
The tropical wave that affected the DR earlier this week caused major flooding in La Romana, San Pedro de Macoris and La Altagracia provinces. Several residential areas were flooded. Excursions for tourists staying in the Punta Cana area were suspended due to the intense rains on Tuesday and Wednesday. Flooding affected traffic along the La Romana-Higuey and San Pedro de Macoris-La Romana highways. Guests staying at hotels in the northern Uvero Alto part of Punta Cana had to wait out the storm.
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