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Daily News - Friday, 26 September 2008

Fernandez at Fordham
According to President Leonel Fernandez, the recent financial crisis in the US has yet to negatively affect remittances to the DR. Fernandez says that in fact, remittances have increased. On average, 10% of the DR's GDP is comprised of remittances. Speaking at a press conference at New York City's Fordham University, Fernandez expressed the wish that the US crisis would be transient. Fernandez says the government has implemented measures that would curtail any possible effects. He called on the US to support the fight against illicit drug trafficking. "The DR is asking for increased cooperation from the US with training, information sharing, logistics and technology in order to fight drug trafficking more effectively."
Speaking to a standing-room-only crowd, Fernandez said that he wanted Dominicans living abroad to feel connected to the DR's future. "We don't look at you as Dominicans living abroad. This is a fence of trans-nationalism. Geography doesn't play the same role as before. If you happen to live in a barrio in New York called Washington Heights, it's still Dominican. You [still] play an important role in the future of the Dominican Republic." Fernandez's trip to Fordham coincided with the launch of Ronald Schneider's biography of the Dominican President, "Caribbean Crusader: Leonel Fernandez and the Transformation of the Dominican Republic."
Fernandez responded to questions on his government's priorities. Fernandez's government recently completed the construction of the first subway line in the capital, Santo Domingo, a US$700 million project that drew criticism from advocates for health and education programs. "Why did we focus on building a subway? I think we must become less dependent on fossil fuels," said Fernandez. "Oil will peak in terms of its production, and the price will only increase. We need a system that is less dependent on the private vehicle." Students from Fordham's graduate program in International Political Economy and Development (IPED) questioned Fernandez on his plans for improving social programs now that the DR has become the largest economy in the Central American and Caribbean region. See

New diplomatic relations
Foreign Relations Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso made the most of his trip to attend the United Nation's 63rd General Assembly to formalize diplomatic relations with Jordan, the Seychelles and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Enriquillo del Rosario of the DR's UN delegation represented the country at the official ceremonies to recognize the newly established ties.

Ministry of Education at work
The Ministry of Education has announced a major drive to improve 342 public schools and 3,289 classrooms that do not meet minimum standards for the 2008-2009 school year, as reported in Hoy. Education Minister Melanio Paredes said RD$731 million would be spent, including RD$382 million on repairs that are due to be completed no later than December. He said an inventory carried out at the start of his term revealed that 60 public schools were in critical condition, and another 175 public schools are described as being in "a deplorable state". Paredes said the repairs are a top priority for his first 100 days in the post, adding that he would also be implementing projects to optimize institutional management, teaching and resources.
The new education minister said he would meet with Hacienda and Economy ministers in October to secure a larger budget for 2009.
In response to international studies that have shown poor academic performance by Dominican students, he announced that the ministry would be focusing efforts on improving the quality of early education through 4th grade. He said that remedial measures would be applied to students in 5th to 8th grades.
Paredes was appointed on 16 August 2008, replacing Alejandrina German who was involved in scandals about the quality of public school breakfasts and the cost of her Jarabacoa vacation home.

DR protects workers
Carlos Romero from the US Department of Labor says the DR is among the nations in the region with the best workers' rights protection record. Romero made his comments during a two-day conference on workers' rights held at the Hotel Santo Domingo. The conference informed workers about their rights and educated Ministry of Labor inspectors on how to identify rights violations in the workplace. Romero explained that since the entrance of the DR-CAFTA agreement politicians and union leaders in the US have shown an increased interest in guaranteeing equal competition in terms of labor.

School canceled in the east
Classes have been cancelled at public schools in the provinces of La Romana, El Seibo, La Altagracia and San Pedro de Macoris due to precarious weather conditions and flooding. According to the Emergency Operations Center (COE), the new highway that connects Santo Domingo to Samana is flooded, limiting transit. Meteorologists say that although weather conditions have improved, and the warning levels have been lowered for most provinces, the eastern part of the island could still experience light rains today. Inquiries should be made into the current state of these highways before travel.

Dominican malnutrition
UN country representative of the Food and Agricultural Program (FAO) Hector Mata says that a recent FAO report indicates that 29% of Dominicans are undernourished. He added that paradoxically, the DR produces 80% of the foods it consumes. Mata said that increasing food prices have placed many foods out of the reach of the poor. He added that because of this, most households spend 50% of their income on food.

Crime increases
Between January and July 2008 34.51% of the DR's 1,440 registered deaths were the result of violent incidents. According to statistics released by Interior and Police Minister Franklin Almeyda, of all violent deaths 66% were victims of gun wounds. Last year 38% of deaths were attributed to criminal activity, compared to 65.5% this year. According to the statistics, 58.4% of all victims were between the ages of 18 and 34, while 62.5% of all crimes happened between 6pm and 6am. Moreover, 55.2% of crimes happened between Monday and Thursday while 92.6% of victims were men.
Almeyda is quoted as saying, "our young men are being affected by this violence and we must find a solution to that." Almeyda says that despite the fact that the crime rate was pegged at 18% at the beginning of the year and there was a 20% increase in crime after the May 16 presidential elections, the DR continues to be a safe place to live. According to statistics, the nation's most violent cities included Santo Domingo with a 42.25% crime rate, Hato Mayor 41.08%, the National District 40.72%, La Vega 40.51%, Samana 39.18%, San Jose de Ocoa 38.48%, San Cristobal 31.58% and Pedernales 56.59%.

Jimenez Pena speaks out
Prosecutor General Radhames Jimenez Pena has challenged Peravia Senator Wilton Guerrero, who criticized him for negligence in his position in the case of drug dealing operations in Bani. Jimenez Pena said that he didn't act regarding the Bani prosecutor when receiving claims of wrongdoings from Guerrero at the start of Fernandez's first term because that was just one of many similar claims brought by all senators and deputies from all around the country asking for replacements of prosecutors.
Jimenez Pena said Victor Cordero, accused by Guerrero of complicity with traffickers, was to be removed when he resigned, shortly before the Bani massacre that brought about Guerrero's accusations against Jimenez. Jimenez Pena admitted: "Prosecutor Cordero's actions were not holy, he committed many acts violating ethical-moral canons". No sanctions were levied against Cordero.
Now Jimenez Pena has lashed back at Senator Guerrero. Quoted in Hoy, Jimenez Pena said, "He doesn't have the moral ground to point the finger at me. Neither he nor his family is more honest than me. I challenge him to an exercise in transparency, which has been a constant in my life." He told El Caribe that the commission that investigated the Bani massacre did not find evidence to incriminate the governor of Bani or the former Police chief. Senator Guerrero accused the pair, together with the former prosecutor, of complicity with drug traffickers in the province. Senator Guerrero has said the commission, of which Jimenez Pena was part, interviewed pre-selected persons and did not carry out an in-depth inquiry.
Jimenez has said the senator needs to reveal the origins of his fortune and mentioned a son of the senator who had problems with US justice.
In related news, supporters accompanied Senator Guerrero during a march in the El Llano community. Marchers held up signs and chanted in support of the Senator who has been pressuring government for increased investigations into the DR's drug operations.

Generals bought the land
A group of active generals are among the beneficiaries of the distribution of state property on the outskirts of Santiago. Local environmentalists are challenging the use of the property for constructing a residential development. Recently, Environment Minister Jaime David Fernandez withdrew authorization to use park property for residential developments, despite the fact that the director of the State Property (Bienes Nacionales) Department, Elias Wessin Chavez had given the go-ahead. The list of generals includes current Air Force chief General Carlos Rafael Altuna Tezano and the head of the Specialized Border Forces (Cesfront), Santo Domingo Guerrero Clase. The property was distributed shortly before the 16 May presidential election.
For the list of beneficiaries, see http://www3.diariolibre.com/noticias_det.php?id=170865

New twist in Benitez case
The son of Jose Benitez, Elvis, was taken into custody after arriving at Las Americas International Airport (AILA) in Santo Domingo. The Benitez brothers are accused of defrauding the US government of over US$100 million in a Medicare scam and laundering the money in the DR. They spent millions on buying Dominican properties, with the local authorities apparently looking the other way until a kidnapping incident involving family members uncovered possible ties to the scam.
After being stopped, Elvis Benitez admitted he was Benitez senior's son. FBI case investigator Colonel Alejandro Dipre released the information, saying that Benitez was questioned for a few hours. Security forces at the airport acted on National Police and Prosecutor General's orders to stop anyone associated with the Benitez family. According to the Cuban authorities, the brothers, Carlos and Jose, are in jail in Cuba.

BHD gets robbed
Police are reporting that thieves broke into the BHD bank in the Quisqueya sector of Santo Domingo and made away with RD$3.5 million. The thieves are thought to have broken into to the bank at 10pm, tying up security guard Manolo Quevedo Montero and leaving at 4am. According to initial reports, the thieves disabled the electricity, alarm and camera systems. They broke through the bank's doors and about an hour later the police arrived to begin their investigation. Police have taken Quevedo in for questioning, but Listin Diario reports that a mysterious woman had "distracted" Quevedo, and supposedly drugged him and tied him up.

Time for Bolero
The Centro Cultural Leon in Santiago announces it will host workshops on bolero, a leading Latin American musical genre. For the III International Congress on Music, Identity and Culture in the Caribbean (MICIII), experts will focus on bolero and its cultural implications. The event has the support of the Institute for Caribbean Studies (INEC). Experts from Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Panama, Colombia, Peru, Argentina, Chile and Europe are expected to take part. The event is scheduled for 17-19 April at the Centro Cultural Leon facilities in Santiago.

Horford gets recognition
Having only played one year in the NBA Atlanta Hawks, center Al Horford was surprised and honored at being named as one of the top 20 centers in the NBA. The 6'10 Horford is playing in a new position, as he was used to playing power forward while in college, yet demonstrated great skill and potential during a tremendous rookie season. According to Tim Povtak, who compiled the list, Horford plays, "a little out of position, but he handles it well, using his youth and athleticism to provide what the Hawks need at this spot. Had a good rookie season, which gave a young team hope for the future. He is a smart player with a good work ethic, and he should improve considerably this season."
See www.sportsline.com/nba/story/10977659

Garcia stays
NBA basketball star Francisco Garcia is staying in Sacramento for another five years and will be a rich man when it's all said and done. The Dominican-born player has signed a five-year, US$29.8 million extension with the Sacramento Kings. The contract guarantees four years, with a fifth year team option, that looks to be partially guaranteed. Garcia is entering his fourth year in the league, after being a first round pick out of Louisville. Visibly excited, Garcia told the Sacramento Bee, "I'm happy because I love the city, I love the organization, I love the style we play, I love my teammates."
See www.sacbee.com/100/story/1267550.html

Manny and merengue did it!
It was all celebration in the Dodgers clubhouse as the reality sunk in. The Dodgers is heading to the postseason by eliminating The Arizona Diamondbacks. "We ought to save a little," said one player. "There's a few more rounds to go," said Dominican Manny Ramirez, the man who made the difference since he was recruited from the Boston Red Sox at seeing his classmates bathe in champagne.
MLB writer Ken Gumick points out that all the joviality was a far cry from before Manny days, when the expensive signings of Andruw Jones and Hiroki Kuroda didn't work out. He writes: "At the end of the regular season, general manager Ned Colletti, with all indications that his job was on the line, first closed the black hole at third base by acquiring Casey Blake, then trumped every trade the Dodgers have ever made by landing Ramirez. Instantly, a stumbling offense became a consistent run machine and a dour clubhouse was transformed into Manny's Disco, with Ramirez and his merengue tunes bouncing off the walls and energizing even those teammates who hated the music".
See http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20080925...
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