President Leonel Fernandez returned from his weeklong visit to the United States yesterday. Fernandez traveled to the US to attend the 63rd United Nations General Assembly and made the most of his trip to hold meetings with several fellow heads of state.
He spent most of his time, however, on meetings with academia, and met with students and professors at New York University, Columbia University, Fordham University, Brown University and Harvard University. He also met with students from Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science and Engineering, for academically talented high school students. At Harvard in Boston he visited Kathleen McCartney, dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, to prepare the way for next week's visit by Dominican Education Minister Melanio Paredes who is due to sign an agreement for training Dominican teachers. In Boston he met with legendary Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz and visited the Schomburg Center for research on Black culture.
Fernandez also visited Rhode Island, where he received an award for leadership at Brown University and delivered a lecture on "The Transformation of the Dominican Republic". He was joined by former Chilean President Ricardo Lagos Escobar, and they jointly analyzed the current US financial crisis and questioned international economic institutions in relation to Latin America.
Jails to become farms|
Prosecutor General Radhames Jimenez has announced an innovative nationwide project aimed at converting jail inmates into farmers or assembly operators. The farms and manufacturing operations project at the jails will be implemented in 36 jails across the country. Jimenez was in Salcedo to visit the pilot project at the Juana Nunez jail. Also present were Interior & Police Minister Franklin Almeyda, National Drugs Council president Mabel Feliz and several provincial governors.
Propane gas subsidy eliminated|
Anyone not benefiting from the Solidaridad welfare card program that was distributed to the poorest families in the DR will now have to pay full price for propane gas, the most commonly used cooking fuel in the DR. With the start of the "Bonogas" program that will grant a RD$228 monthly subsidy on propane purchases, came the removal of the subsidy for all other users. A report in Listin Diario highlights, nevertheless, the slow start to the Bonogas program. A 100lb tank of propane gas now costs RD$1,950, up from RD$1,730 prior to the elimination of the subsidy. The price of propane fluctuates and at present is at RD$77.93 a gallon. The RD$228 subsidy is enough to purchase almost three gallons of propane this week. The government has targeted 800,000 beneficiaries to receive the welfare subsidy.
250 legislators = death of Congress|
Deputy Pelegrin Castillo says that President Leonel Fernandez's proposal to increase the number of deputies to 250 members is tantamount to annulling Congress. He said that the larger the Congress is, the less influence it has. The president of the Chamber of Deputies had proposed reducing the number of legislators to 120 members, down from the present 148. Congress in the DR has one of the highest legislator-to-voter ratios in the world. Castillo said that the proposal to increase the number to 250 did not come from within the Congress or from the work of the national group of advisors that made recommendations.
Castillo defended the role of Congress. He said that in these times of globalization, Congress has a role to play in monitoring government. He said that the commission of experts that drew up the constitutional reform proposal made several recommendations that were not taken into consideration by the President. He said he would try to reintroduce these in the debate. Castillo was interviewed on the El Dia program by Huchi Lora. He said that constitutional reform should focus on establishing the basis for an efficient state that can prepare the DR to confront present and future challenges.
Central Electoral Board (JCE) officials who travel abroad enjoy greater per-diem allowances and spending money than United Nations officials. As reported in Diario Libre, a JCE judge who travels to Puerto Rico, for instance, will receive US$750 -US$800 daily spending money, plus an allocation for "pocket" expenses. This is more than a UN official will get for visiting Dubai or London, trips for which they are assigned US$411 and US$417.
For travel to Washington, D.C. the JCE authorizes US$800, for travel to Boston, US$1,000, in addition to "pocket" money. The UN rates are US$321 and US$304 respectively.
JCE Judge Aura Celeste Fernandez recently requested that a permanent, transparent and fair policy needed to be set for board members' travel expenses. The proposal was submitted a year ago, but discarded, according to a report in Diario Libre.
Leading business organizations have been urging the government to cut its spending, but their pleas have fallen on deaf ears, apart from announcements of austerity measures that have rarely been implemented.
Focus on activating stolen cells|
The director of the Dominican Telecommunications Institute (Indotel) Jose Rafael Vargas says that his department and the Police will take drastic action against any business caught illegally activating stolen cell phones. Vargas said that his department and the Police would shut down these businesses. He said that all their equipment would be confiscated, and that they would be not flexibility in the measure, as reported in El Caribe. The law, nevertheless, only establishes penalties of three months to one year in jail and fines of 3 to 500 times the minimum wage.
Police spokesman Nelson Rosario told El Caribe that he was surprised that the problem still persisted, as denounced by Nilson Pichardo Peralta, president of the Association of Cell Phone Store Owners. Rosario said he thought it was a thing of the past. "That complaint is very important, you will see what will happen now," he told El Caribe.
Lack of action in government|
Despite having the experience of two previous government terms, there is the generalized perception that President Leonel Fernandez's administration fails to act when faced with multiple pressing problems. The situation is exacerbated by increased insecurity and growing pessimism, despite the optimistic outlook from the President and his economic team, who maintain that the DR will not be affected by the US financial crisis, as Osvaldo Santana writes in El Caribe.
Santana writes that the lack of action is explained in the recent history of the increase in spending in 2008, of RD$47.48 billion, or 38.5% increase compared to the previous year (January to 15 August). The increase in spending took place in an electoral year, he observes. He also points out that from January to August 15, 2007, the Fernandez administration spent RD$123.43 billion, but for the same period this year it has spent US$170.92 billion, according to the Ministry of Hacienda. The government had to resort to a supplementary budget, and modify the Central Bank capitalization law to postpone payment of resources it would have applied to the quasi-fiscal debt until 2009.
Santana comments that in the first months of the year, together with the rush in government spending, violence and criminality were up. According to the Ministry of Interior and Police, there were 1,400 murders from Jan to July 2007. This year, 1,654 violent deaths had been reported by October, included 271 in clashes between drug gangs.
Santana writes that the recent floods that have affected large areas of the country add to the local pessimism. Several towns are also affected by declining foreign exchange remittances, as family members living in the US and Spain become more cautious with their spending.
Business leaders have criticized the government's failure to cut its spending, and to act to tackle problems such as drug trafficking, the crises in the electricity and agriculture sectors, as well as others affected by inefficiency in government.
Impact of the US financial crisis|
Despite the optimism reflected in recent statements by President Leonel Fernandez during his trip to the US, government figures show that the Dominican economy is already hurting from the impact of the US financial crisis. President Fernandez forecast that the worst of the US crisis was over, and said that remittances were on the rise, not in decline. Furthermore, Fernandez said that on the contrary, the country was benefiting from an unusual flow of US dollars as Dominicans abroad bring their savings back home, fleeing from possible difficulties in US banks.
But the current issue of Clave newspaper says that while there was a 6.58% increase in remittances from January-June 2008, there has since been a pronounced trend towards a decline, according to Freddy Ortiz of the local association of remittance companies.
The report by Edwin Ruiz also focuses on the growing trade deficit between the US and the DR, with the DR importing US$1.59 billion more than it exported from January to July 2008. In August alone, nevertheless, the deficit was US$266 million, the highest so far this year.
He warns that tourism will also suffer. As of July 2008, travel was up 5.21%, but this is below usual growth rates for the year. Ruiz points out that the crisis will have an impact on remittances, industrial free zone manufacturing contracts and tourism receipts.
He reports that during the first half of 2008, the balance of payments showed a negative balance of US$409 million. "If the US were to fall into recession, as analysts expect, then the Dominican balance of payments will deteriorate further," says the article. Business sectors are urging the government to reign in its spending.
Hipolito, candidate in 2012?|
Former Agriculture Minister in the 2000-2004 PRD administration Eligio Jaquez predicts that former President Hipolito Mejia will be the party's presidential candidate in 2012. He expresses his optimism that the constitutional reform proposal submitted by President Leonel Fernandez to Congress will make this possible. The Fernandez proposal allows for a President to run again for office after two consecutive terms by leaving a four-year stretch between seeking a new term.
Innovating amidst poverty|
The story of Jean Carlos de Leon, who lives in the rural town of La Yautia in the province of Monte Plata, shows again that where there is a will, there is a way, as reported in Listin Diario. Who would believe that there could be a Wi-Fi Internet connection in that remote farming region? Jean Carlos de Leon is a second semester industrial engineering student at the UASD state university. Piecing together discarded parts, he was able to put together a computer using an old 2000 IBM at the house where he lives with his 80-year old grandmother, Dona Aurelia. When there is electricity, he can connect to the Internet free of charge thanks to his home-made connection consisting of an old aluminum pot, a cable and a piece of copper. The antenna is on top of a 40-meter tall coconut palm, and receives the Dominican Telecommunications Institute's Broad Band Rural Connectivity Project's signal from Los Botados, several kilometers away. To set up his connection, de Leon first asked the person in charge of the rural program how the signals were received.
Jean Carlos was used to repairing any old electronic or electrical equipment he could get his hands on, so he decided to rig up an antenna and did so in just one day. He explains that the pot works as a mirror and prevents the signal from going in just one direction.
His friend Wilfrido de Paula, also from La Yautia, made a slightly different antenna. His device is also located in his back yard and uses a similar aluminum pot, held up by a long stick of sugar cane.
Hispaniolan insects inventoried|
Dominican biologist Daniel Perez-Gelabert of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. has compiled "Zootax, Arthropods of Hispaniola, a checklist and bibliography", the first comprehensive listing of insects of the DR and Haiti. The inventory is published as a monograph in an international science journal and covers all known terrestrial and aquatic species of crustaceans, arachnids, myriapods and insects from the island through the end of 2007. The list includes 8,237 valid species of arthropods (6,833 living and 1,404 fossils), the number of living species being over 12 times that of the vertebrates.
Of this grand total most are insects (5,676 extant species (83%) and 1,404 fossil species). A total of 2,521 species (36.9% of the total living) are considered unique or endemic to Hispaniola. Despite the important advances, this fauna is still not well known, actually being the least studied in the Greater Antilles. The Hispaniolan arthropods are estimated to be around 15,000 species, thus many species still remain to be recorded and classified.
In the list, all species are listed within their taxonomic classification by classes, orders, families and genera.
The extensive bibliography complementing the taxonomic information includes over 4,500 titles. Having this list will help the international scientific community to make faster and more efficient advances in the further inventory, study and conservation of this neglected fauna. It should also help in the teaching and research of entomology locally and even in efforts to control agricultural pests.
To receive a free electronic copy (7MB) of this monograph, write to [email protected]
Police chief defends investigations|
Police Chief Major General Rafael Guillermo Guzman Fermin has rejected claims that the report submitted by the Armed Forces, Police, and General Prosecutor's Office commission on the killing of seven suspected drug dealers in Bani is incomplete. Senator Wilton Guerrero and Presidential Drug Advisor Marino Vinicio Castillo said the report fails to name the masterminds behind the killing. Cardinal Nicolas de Jesus Lopez Rodriguez has also described the report as incomplete and called on the Police to name the brains behind the operation.
Guzman said that the commission was made up of three very capable and honest officers, and General Prosecutor Radhames Jimenez Pena. Police spokesman Colonel Nelson Rosario said that they could not put the blame on anyone without proof, as reported in Listin Diario.
Nevertheless, Guzman said that the Police are continuing to search for the masterminds behind the crime and encouraged anyone who might have information to come forward.
Colombians died in drug plane crash|
The General Prosecutors Office has identified the bodies of the four men who died on board a small plane that crashed in southwestern Pedernales on 21 September, as reported in Diario Libre. Three of the bodies were severely burned. These are Colombians Rodolfo Sanchez Quintero, 52 years old, who was piloting the nine-passenger capacity Cessna Caravan, Hector Ivan Osorio Valek, 21, co-pilot Jairo Yasin Shaikh, 21, and mechanic Ricardo Lozano Tangarife, 47. Lawyer Fernando Cardoso Gomez from the Colombian capital Bogota came with a power of attorney from the men's families to claim the bodies. The lawyer provided dental X-rays, birth certificates and photos that helped the National Institute of Forensic Studies and the National Institute of Forensic Pathology to identify the bodies. The authorities estimate that the plane had the capacity to transport 1,000 kilos of cocaine. The Cessna has a market value of US$2 million.
As reported in Diario Libre, the Pedernales prosecutor's office reported to the General Prosecutor's Office that they found it strange that the 91 kilos of drugs that were found were located three kilometers from the crash site. When the Pedernales prosecutors arrived at the crash site, which is only accessible by helicopter and mule, the drugs were no longer in the plane. The bodies were recovered two days later.
The investigators established that the plane was transporting extra fuel on board and had an in-flight refueling system. Diario Libre reports that investigators learned that the pilot had traveled to the DR on several occasions, supposedly to transport drugs. They say the plane was modified to transport large amounts of drugs.
Senator on his fortune & son|
Speaking at a press conference, Senator Wilton Guerrero said that General Prosecutor Radhames Jimenez Pena was welcome to investigate the origins of his wealth. He said that Jimenez should ask his subordinates at the Department for the Prevention of Corruption (Depreco) to investigate his assets, saying that he has nothing to hide. Jimenez had questioned Guerrero's record while serving as head of the Dominican Agrarian Institute (IAD). Guerrero recommended that Jimenez request documentation on his actions from the General Controller of the Republic office or the Chamber of Accounts. "If the investigation finds that I did anything illegal, I am willing to put aside my privileges as Senator and stand for trial in ordinary courts", he said. Earlier last week, Jimenez asked Guerrero to account for the origin of his fortune and to reveal his son's legal status in the United States. Guerrero said that 16 years ago, his son was arrested after a car accident in a vehicle driven by a friend of his, and fined US$50. He showed the court report, and added that some months ago his son became a US citizen for his good conduct in the US. Guerrero has accused Jimenez of negligence in his role as general prosecutor that has favored drug-dealing operations. He also disputed the findings of the commission that included Jimenez Pena, which investigated the murder of seven suspected drug dealers in Bani.
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