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Daily News - Thursday, 09 October 2008

Congress at Presidential Palace
President Leonel Fernandez met briefly yesterday with Senator Wilton Guerrero of Peravia who has denounced alleged complicity between high-ranking officials and drug traffickers. The meeting nevertheless took place in the presence of most of the PLD senators and allied parties. Issues such as constitutional reform and budget allotments for the provinces were the main focus of the four hour long session at the Presidential Palace. President Fernandez was to meet with the deputies at the Presidential Palace today.

Constituent body and circus
The state university UASD and private universities Universidad Nacional Pedro Henriquez Urena (UNPHU), Universidad Catolica de Santo Domingo (UCSD), Instituto Tecnologico de Santo Domingo (INTEC) and Universidad Interamericana have joined a movement that is calling for the rewriting of the Dominican Constitution to be left up to the "constituent body" of elected specialists. By law, Constitutional reform is up to Congress. But now, constitutional expert and leading PRD member Emmanuel Esquea Guerrero says that as President Leonel Fernandez has not submitted a project for modification, but for the complete rewriting of the Constitution, what would result could be annulled by the Supreme Court of Justice. According to Esquea, the task should only be carried out by the Constituent body. President Fernandez has proposed increasing the Constitution from 120 to 254 articles. President Leonel Fernandez backed the Constituent option when he was in the opposition, but once in power and with his party holding the congressional majority he prefers to delegate the task to his fellow party members.
Esquea said that with the presentation of the project what President Leonel Fernandez really has in mind is to distract the public "so that people forget about the Paya scandal, drug trafficking, and the fact that the government is immersed in this action or omission in drug trafficking business in the DR."
News commentators have observed that the government is supporting the organization of forums that will keep constitutional reform discussions in the forefront of the news despite other issues such as the electricity crisis, global financial crisis, overspending by government, and denounced complicity of authorities with drug dealing, all of which are considered more important.

Traffic detour on Duarte Highway
Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 10-12 October, stretches of the Duarte Highway will be closed off to traffic to allow for the installation of a pedestrian overpass. Drivers should avoid the highway on Friday, from 10pm through 6am on Saturday. The Ministry of Public Works will be habilitating one side of the highway for double-sided traffic.
On Saturday, traffic will be closed off on the opposite side of the road from 10pm to noon on Sunday.

DR lags in competitiveness
The DR is ranked 98th among 137 countries evaluated for their competitiveness, as part of the World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Index. The country more or less maintains its position from last year, as while it dropped two points in its ranking, this year three more countries were added. Only Ecuador, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia fared worse than the DR in Latin America. The DR is ranked 47th among 134 nations assessed for the time it takes to open a new business, after procedures were simplified last year. In 2007, the DR was ranked 109th in that category.
Listin Diario reports that in comparison to its fellow DR-CAFTA signatory countries, the DR only ranked as more competitive than Nicaragua.

Supreme Court orders investigation
Supreme Court president Jorge Subero Isa has ordered an investigation into claims of strong ties between state prosecutors, judges and drug traffickers in La Vega province put forward by La Vega Senator Euclides Sanchez. Sanchez agrees with Peravia senator Wilton Guerrero's claim of government complicity with drug dealers. Senator Sanchez complained that drug dealers were treated leniently by the judiciary and presented various cases to prove his point. He said that drug dealers who are arrested with several kilos of cocaine, for instance, only need to pay a fine or post bail for their release, as reported in Hoy.

No pay; no power
In an attempt to motivate citizens to pay their electricity bills, the State-run Electric Companies (CDEEE) admits that energy distributors are resorting to turning off entire power circuits. The CDEEE denies that outages are due to problems in the system. CDEEE vice president Radhames Segura says that only 22 of the country's 530 circuits were out of operation yesterday and that service has improved substantially. He said that coverage was 85%, with a 1,605-megawatt demand, and supply of 1,443 megawatts of 86.93%.

14,000 more hotel rooms
Tourism Minister Francisco Javier Garcia announced that last week the Council for the Promotion of Tourism Investments (Confotur) approved 24 new hotel and residential tourism developments nationwide. He said this was a RD$3.4 billion investment to build capacity for 14,000 new hotel rooms. He said there has been an injection of fresh funds that were previously invested in the US financial system and are now coming here to purchase properties in real estate developments. He is in favor of the government investing in major infrastructure works in the tourism development areas. "We cannot allow there to be a single hole in any road or highway used by tourists," he said, as reported in Hoy.

Border highway vs. Cibao highway
The president of the National Border Council Radhames Batista has spoken out against the construction of the Cibao-Sur highway that would cut through the Central Cordillera. He said this would affect three protected national parks and 15 river sources. He said that it would have a catastrophic effect on the environment. Radhames Batista says that instead of building the Cibao-Sur, the Monte Cristi-Pedernales highway was needed to benefit the large impoverished population that lives along the border.

US crisis smaller than DR crisis
Economist Hector Salcedo has told Hoy that the US financial crisis is smaller in proportion than the crisis that affected the Dominican banking sector in 2003. He said that the salvage operation for fraud at Mercantil, Bancredito and Baninter banks represented 18% of the country's Gross Domestic Product. He said that in the US, the financial bale-out only represents 5% of the GDP. Furthermore, he said the US has more mechanisms for tackling the crisis.

Lockward sentenced for defamation
Newly appointed ambassador to Colombia Angel Lockward has been ordered to pay a RD$500 fine and RD$2 million in compensation for defamation against Judge Alejandro Vargas. Lockward is an erstwhile PRSC political activist who has also held numerous jobs in the governments of former Presidents Joaquin Balaguer, Hipolito Mejia and now, Leonel Fernandez. During former President Hipolito Mejia's government he was accused of a corruption scam while at the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, but under the Fernandez government the state prosecution withdrew the charges and the case was dropped.

Burgos gets three months
New York Mets pitcher Ambioris Burgos has been sentenced to three months preventive custody for his alleged role in a hit and run accident in which two women were killed. Burgos's cousin had originally taken the blame for the accident, saying that Burgos was an accomplice. Burgos then fled and was nowhere to be found in the days following the accident. The preventive custody sentence is only in reference to transit Law 241. Judges have yet to hear the homicide charges against Burgos.

Italian deported
The General Prosecutor's office has handed over Italian Massimo Dalla Mora to Interpol for deportation to Italy, as reported on the Huchi Lora CDN afternoon radio talk show. The Italian authorities had requested his extradition since he has more than 10 arrest orders and three sentences pending for fulfillment in Italy. After his arrest he complained to the press that a Dominican Interpol colonel had asked him for US$30,000 in return for not deporting him. Colonel Bello Arias has since been suspended from the force. When making his claim to the press, Dalla Mora had said he had been taken to the Police station following a simple traffic incident.

House arrest still undecided
Judge Francisco Mejia Angomas has delayed the announcement of his decision on the house arrest petition by convicted former Baninter vice president Vivian Lubrano until 22 October. Lubrano is claiming health problems. The state prosecutor favors the option of house arrest. Lubrano's doctors say she has serious gastric, cardiac and psychiatric problems. She was sentenced to five years in Najayo jail for her role in the Baninter bank fraud, but has not spent a single day in jail and was instead allowed to be hospitalized at the Abel Gonzalez Advanced Medical Center after suffering a panic attack on the day she was due to start her jail term. News reports suggest that her house arrest would take place at her Casa de Campo villa in La Romana. The judge's decision is likely to be controversial, as many would say that Lubrano was being granted a privilege that is not extended to those with fewer resources.
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