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Daily News - Wednesday, 08 October 2008

First year of Family Health Plan
President Leonel Fernandez met with social security system stakeholders at the Presidential Palace yesterday. During the meeting he had praise for the first year of implementation of the National Family Health Plan. As reported in Hoy, he observed that there had been significant advances in coverage, 87% service satisfaction and financial sustainability of the system. He announced that the plan has a surplus of RD$3 billion and receives RD$14 billion a month in contributions from paying affiliates. Affiliates received RD$8 billion in benefits in the first year and the number of affiliates is up 30%. By law, companies are obliged to affiliate their full-time employees. President Fernandez admitted some weaknesses that included overcharging for some services, lack of information and levying of charges that are not legally justifiable. Representing the government at the meeting were Vice President Rafael Alburquerque, Health Minister Bautista Rojas Gomez, Essential Drugs Program (Promese) director Elena Fernadez, the director of the Health Sector Reform Commission Humberto Salazar, among others.

Politicians to Chamber of Accounts
Yesterday the Senate selected nine judges for the Chamber of Accounts, the body entrusted with auditing government spending. Most of the new appointees are well known for their political activism, as well as for their support for President Leonel Fernandez's reelection aspirations. The new members, chosen from a selection of candidates proposed by President Fernandez himself, are Licelotte Marte, Pablo del Rosario, Ivan Rondon, Jose Heredia, Nicolas Almanzar, Jorge Suncar Morales, Pedro Antonio Ortiz Hernandez, Jose Attias Juan and Juan Luis Seliman. The posts come with some of the highest wages in government and numerous perks.
Commenting on the selection, journalist Huchi Lora questioned their future efficiency at checking corruption and excessive government spending. He observed that politicians are experts at negotiating. The previous board of nine judges was removed from their posts on 4 July 2008, almost three years prior to completing their term, for mismanagement and superfluous spending in office, together with low productivity. The president of the Senate Reynaldo Pared Perez said the group would be sworn in on Thursday, 9 October.
The new president of the Chamber of Accounts, lawyer Licelotte Marte de Barrios is a former Minister of Foreign Relations, Congressional deputy and member of the PRSC political commission.
The newly appointed judges will complete the previous board's remaining two years and eight-month term.
El Caribe reports that Pablo del Rosario is a Central Bank employee, Ivan Rondon Sanchez, an accountant by training, is a former PRD Senator for Hato Mayor, and was president of the National District Central Electoral Board. Jorge Suncar is a lawyer and journalist, Almanzar, is the rector of the Universidad de la Tercera Edad, Heredia is an accountant, and Seliman has worked in management and finance.

Deputy Minister against highway
Deputy Environment Minister Eleuterio Martinez is not joining those who are actively pushing for the start of the construction of a new south-north roadway connection, the so-called Cibao-Sur highway. In a column published in today's Hoy, Martinez writes that there are no guarantees that the proposed tunnels would not affect the Central Cordillera water sources that sustain life in the DR and Haiti. He said that the proposed 50% tunnels - 50% highway seems like a compromise aimed at addressing environmental concerns, but he says there are reasons to believe this would be not end up benefiting Dominicans.
He said the environmental movement in the DR was born when a US company came up with the idea of fertilizing the Oviedo plains in the southwest with sanitary sludge imported from Atlanta, and the proposal for a Cibao-Sur Highway that was proposed by then President Antonio Guzman. "Then and now there is not even the minimum guarantee that a highway that crosses the very heart of the Cordillera Central will not cause irreparable environmental impact on the national rivers system and above all to the biodiversity of the island," he writes. The proposed highway would cross over the Yaque del Norte and Yaque del Sur river basins, and the Armando Bermudez, Nalga de Maco and Jose del Carmen Ramirez national parks protected areas.

Hotel construction for Las Terrenas
Tourism Minister Francisco Javier Garcia has announced that he would revoke the ban on construction of new tourism and residential developments in Las Terrenas, Samana this month. The ban was issued by his predecessor, Felix Jimenez in July.
Garcia said the government would carry out major infrastructure works in Samana to ensure its full tourism potential. He announced that roads would be repaired, gullies improved, and a signage plan would be implemented that would gradually be extended to other areas in the country. "The idea is that visitors arriving in Samana will feel they have arrived in a recreation area," he pointed out.

DR very vulnerable
The Secretary General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), Supachai Panitchpakdi and Heiner Flassbeck, director of the Division on Globalization and Development Strategies of the UNCTAD said yesterday in Santo Domingo that the DR will feel the brunt of the international financial crisis more acutely than other countries because of its strong dependence on the United States. As reported in Hoy, he was responding to questions from Dominican journalists who participated in a videoconference from Geneva together with Dominican government officials headed by Economy, Planning and Development Minister Temistocles Montas. He presented the UNCTAD trade and development report for 2008. Panitchpakdi said there is no doubt the DR will suffer the consequences of the crisis. He said that restrictions on credit and economic slowdown are already sending negative international signals. He said the DR is a small country with an open economy that will receive a beating. Flassbeck predicted that the tough times will last about a year, and everyone in the world should prepare for the difficult times ahead.
He said that in order to confront the situation the country would need to rely on domestic demand as he forecast that there will be drops in demand for local goods and services from abroad. Panitchpakdi said that he favored advances in the Doha Round negotiations. In addition to journalists, also present at the event were the director of the Center for Exports and Investments (CEI-RD) Eddy Martinez and Luisa Fernandez, executive director of the National Council of Free Zones.

Constitution talks
Under the leadership of Monsignor Agripino Nunez Collado, the PUCMM has launched the public forums for discussing the changes to the Constitution submitted to Congress by President Leonel Fernandez. Three forums have been scheduled. These discussions are in parallel to the work of the Senate that is responsible for modifications to the Constitution.

20.5% victims of crime in Santiago
After becoming a victim of robbers who broke into his own home in Santiago, Governor Jose Izquierdo commissioned a poll to determine how prevalent crime is in Santiago. The results indicate that 20.5% of Santiago residents have been victims of some kind of crime during the past year.
The Centro Economico del Cibao carried out the survey. It revealed that 98.3% is in favor of increased surveillance by crime-fighting authorities, and 95.6% feel there should be more controls when hiring police. A total of 83.3% favor the implementation of life-long jail sentences, and 52.6% favor the death penalty. In response to the survey, 58.5% feel that everyone should get weapons for self-defense, while 36.6% believe that residents should take justice in their own hands. Santiago residents attribute the increase in violent crimes to the lack of jobs and the economic crisis.
To fight crime, the Governor announced that his office and those of the provincial prosecutor, the Police and Drug Control departments would implement a new plan.
The release of the poll results coincides with the news that the Gurabo high school in Santiago was vandalized, with thousands of books charred in a blaze and equipment destroyed.

Santi Clo is coming
The first Dominican Christmas movie will be premiering in Santo Domingo movie houses as of 13 November, in time for the Christmas season. This time, Santa will not come from the North Pole nor will he be white-haired with blue eyes. Movie director Jose Enrique Pintor of Sanky-Panky fame has created a Dominicanized version of a Christmas film. "This is a film with a Dominican slant to it, that reflects what Dominican Christmas is all about, the movie, the good times," he told El Caribe. The movie was filmed mostly in Los Platanitos, a poor slum. Popular comedians Aquiles Correa and Manolo Ozuna are in the main roles. Others with starring roles are Jane Santos and Maria Jose Pintor. Enrique Pintor says that the film is for all audiences.
"Santi Clo" is the story of Nicolas, a young man from the barrio of Los Platanitos who loses his job shortly before Christmas, making times difficult for his family. His wife leaves the home, taking their little girl Emely with her. All looks bleak for Nicolas until his lifelong friend Antonio helps him get a job as Santa Claus, beginning an adventure that will change his life.

Strong Taino genetic heritage
Results of a recent study carried out by researchers at the Universidad Central del Este (San Pedro de Macoris) working closely with the University of Puerto Rico (Mayaguez) reveal that 15-18% of Dominicans living in the eastern part of the country have indigenous genetic makeup. The researchers plan to test 1,200 people and 538 DNA tests have already been taken since the study began in 2006. The study is a follow-up to an earlier study carried out by Dr. Juan Martinez Cruzado, a geneticist from the University of Puerto Rico in Mayaguez whose Puerto Rican island-wide DNA survey seems to indicate that indigenous heritage among Puerto Ricans is stronger than that previously acknowledged. History records that Spanish conquistadors in the 1600s wiped out the indigenous population, but it was always accepted that because the Spaniards came without their wives they married or took indigenous concubines. The eastern third of the country was the last large enclave of indigenous people on the island.
Parallel to the University of Puerto Rico study, the Museum of Dominican Man and the Institute of Biotechnology and Industry (IIBI) have begun a study to determine the genetic structure of pre-Columbian populations in the DR and their incidence in the population today.

Haitians in Villa Altagracia
El Dia newspaper is denouncing reports that Haitian immigrants living in Hormigo, Villa Altagracia are toppling trees for making charcoal for cooking, a practice that is common in Haiti and has led to almost total deforestation there. The newspaper says that the practice is increasing amidst the silence and complicity of the authorities. The report says that the Haitians have an enormous oven from where they produce about 10 bags of charcoal a day for sale and for personal consumption. Jaronu Vicent told El Dia that that is how they make a living. El Dia points out that in the last 10 years, 10% of rivers and streams have dried out as a consequence of deforestation practices, causing major impact on the environment and the public water supply.

Explaining about the Interpol chief
Chief of Police Rafael Guzman Fermin explained the reasons for the suspension of the director of the International Police division in the DR, Colonel Frener Bello Arias. Yesterday, two foreigners - Massimo Dalla Mora and Lidija Rizvanovic - gave an interview to yesterday's Hoy newspaper, claiming they had been the victims of an extortion attempt by an officer who demanded US$30,000 so they would not be deported to their country of origin. The couple complained that Colonel Bello Arias, after arresting them for a "traffic problem" demanded the money for their release.
A police source said that Bello Arias had been set up by state prosecutors and the Police in an attempt to catch him in the act, but this was not possible, as reported in Diario Libre, because when they arrived at the Police headquarters Massimo Dalla Mora was alone.
Regardless, yesterday Huchi Lora's talk show revealed that the "traffic problem" denounced by the foreign couple was actually the Police that had visited the couple's home to arrest them because they are sought in extradition by the Italian government. They are accused of several crimes in Italy, including robbery and drug dealing.

Removed for ties to drug dealers
A pilot who "occasionally" piloted the Presidential helicopter has been dismissed, according to reports from the Presidency. Major General Joaquin Perez Feliz of the Air Force said that Lieutenant Colonel Harold Manzano Garcia was dismissed for "serious proven faults." As reported in the El Castrense website, Manzano Garcia was dismissed for his alleged "ties" to drug dealers. Presidency press director Rafael Nunez confirmed the dismissal. He said that Manzano was not the President's pilot, and only occasionally flew the presidential helicopter. He said that Manzano Garcia had been admitted to the Air Force in the rank of lieutenant colonel. According to the website, the Army took the decision after a memorandum was circulated prohibiting Armed Forces officers from maintaining ties with people linked to the drug trade. Furthermore, the Army says that Manzano traveled frequently abroad without reporting to his superiors.
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