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Daily News - Thursday, 16 October 2008

EPA signed
The DR and 12 other Caribbean island states signed the European Partnership Agreement with the European Union in Bridgetown, Barbados yesterday. Foreign Relations Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso and Industry & Commerce Minister Jose Ramon Fadul had traveled to Barbados for the signing.
Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery (CRNM) Director General Henry Gill, who handled the trade agreement negotiations on behalf of the Caribbean, said the signing marks economic maturity in the Caribbean, as reported in Listin Diario. Host Barbados, together with Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, St. Lucia, St. Kitts, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and the Dominican Republic signed. Only Haiti and Guyana, the other two members of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) did not sign.
The EPA will allow Caribbean goods to enter the European Union duty-free and quota-free come 1 January 2008, while there is a phased period between three to 25 years for European goods to enter CARIFORUM markets duty-free as well as an important number of exclusions for sensitive products.
Development co-operation will be an integral part of the EPA to ensure that the Caribbean states are able to adjust to the new challenges and to maximize the benefits from the opportunities offered by this agreement. The European Union Aid for Trade strategy and co- operation under the Cotonou Agreement offer many opportunities to develop programs in support of the implementation of this agreement. Special programs have also been put in place for sugar, bananas, rice and rum with a view to help Caribbean states become more competitive and diversify their economies.
It was the first time that Caribbean countries, including the Dominican Republic, negotiated as single group a forward-looking free trade area with a large group of developed countries. In addition to setting new rules for trade with Europe, the agreement opens doors for increased inter-Caribbean trade.

Government shells out cash
Hacienda Minster Vicente Bengoa says the government will disburse RD$300 million to the Ministry of Agriculture this month so that farmers can pay their debts. Bengoa said that RD$120 million would be paid to dairy producers, RD$100 million to onion farmers and RD$80 million to bean farmers. The Minister also announced that the government is allocating a further RD$350 million to be distributed by the Ministry of Agriculture to farmers for planting. Another RD$150 million will be spent on helping farmer's markets. Bengoa said the money couldn't be paid in September because there had been an increase in government spending in other areas and because of a 9.8% reduction in government revenue.
Bengoa attributed the drop in revenues in part loss of tax revenue after Falconbridge Dominicana, the largest mining company in the country, suspended operations in August for four months due to high oil costs and a drop in nickel prices. The company is switching from oil to coal at the time and carrying out maintenance.
Bengoa says it is the first time revenues have not met Tax Department (DGII) estimates. According to the Minister, restrictive measures by government, such as reducing public spending, are some of the ways in which revenues have been affected. The measures have had led to an increase in interest rates, fewer imports and affected tax collections by Customs (DGA) and have halted the economy. While Bengoa refused to admit that the international financial crisis has affected the DR, he said that September has been the worst month so far this year as well as the worst in recent years. Bengoa also informed that US$70 million were paid in debts on sovereign bonds, US$75 million were paid to the energy sector, while US$131 million were paid on the foreign debt and US$5 million on the national debt.

Muling Sang Ben to Education
Education Minister Melanio Paredes has appointed educator Muling Sang Ben to head the Department of Student Welfare. Sang Ben, a psychologist, is a prominent academic who had worked with Paredes as deputy director at the National Institute of Vocational Training (Infotep). The department is responsible for the school breakfast program, among others. Paredes said the decision was made in the interest of optimizing the Ministry's resources. Journalist claims that the Ministry was sourcing
"We are reordering all the work of the School Welfare Department to provide assistance to students with dental, hearing, vision or learning problems," said Paredes.

Pension plan fund: RD$62 billion
Kirsis Jaquez, president of the Dominican Association of Pension Plan Companies (ADAFP) said that as of 30 September the Dominican pension plan fund totaled RD$62.3 billion. As reported by Jaquez, more than 1.7 million people are affiliated to the plan, of whom 81% are over 45 and 19% are under 45.

CMD agreement forthcoming?
The heads of the Senate and Chamber of Deputies and Dominican Medical Association (CMD) representatives have formed a commission to discuss possible solutions to end the dispute between the CMD and the government. The commission will discuss a pay raise for doctors as well as an increase of RD$30,000 to their pension plan and an elimination of the recovery quota. Listin Diario reports that the commission will meet at 9am tomorrow morning and once again next Wednesday. CMD president Waldo Ariel Suero said that doctors would not strike while the process is moving forward.

'Pink eye' warning
Nelson Rodriguez Moreno, sub-director of Collective Health at the Ministry of Public Health, says that 45,000 cases of conjunctivitis were registered in the DR this year, most appearing during the last two months. Rodriguez described this as a national epidemic and said that patients often choose to self-medicate instead of going to see a doctor. Rodriguez warns that the types of conjunctivitis found here are both viral and bacterial. The sub director is asking the public to be cautious and aware of the dangers of conjunctivitis and pay attention to hygiene. Conjunctivitis is highly contagious and can be spread through physical contact. Symptoms include eye swelling, irritation and redness.

Christopher case unshelved?
General Prosecutor Radhames Jimenez Pena has ordered that progress should be made towards reaching a conclusion of the case of the murder of the late Angel Christopher Martinez, who at the time of his death was a highly respected official at the Institute of Civil Aviation. In a meeting held with Eric Christopher, son of the deceased, Pena delegated the completion of the preparation of the case to Santo Domingo prosecutor Perfecto Acosta, Bolivar Sanchez and Colonel Alejandro Dipre. At the time of his death on 12 July 2006 in Alma Rosa, Angel Christopher was in charge of aero-navigability at the Institute of Civil Aviation. Christopher's family has criticized the delays by the General Prosecutors in moving ahead the case. Eric Christopher said that he had sent more than 20 letters to Jimenez Pena and had not received a response.

How is it possible?
Hoy newspaper focuses on General Prosecutor Radhames Jimenez Pena today. The El Personaje column points out that it is understandable that President Leonel Fernandez wants to help the general prosecutor, his personal friend, his former work colleague at his law firm, and his loyal collaborator. The efforts to mediate with those who oppose him are understandable, reads the page-5 commentary. It goes on to point out, however, that Jimenez's friends should remind him of the scope of his position in government and his role. "Because it is not possible that a senator of the Republic can visit him and deliver serious documentation, and he does not pay attention. And it is not possible that a family affected by the murder of their father, who was also a government official, may write more than 10 times to the General Prosecutor, and he doesn't even respond." The commentary refers to the Senator Wilton Guerrero and the Paya massacre of 7 in a drug-related case, and that of the murder of Angel Christopher, former aero-navigability at the Institute of Civil Aviation.

Vincho calls for extended probe
Presidential drug advisor, lawyer Marino Vinicio Castillo says that the investigation into the drug-related massacre of seven men in Paya, Peravia needs to continue to the end. He said that despite government efforts to reconcile the differences between Senator Wilton Guerrero (PLD Peravia) and other government officials in the province, the case should not be politicized. Castillo warned the DR has gone from being a stopover point for drugs to being heavily affected by them. He says that there is a local drug epidemic, and the damage to children is "terrifying", as reported in Hoy. "This is not a matter for political gossip; it is a very sensitive matter," said Castillo at the end of a meeting with the Peravia delegation at the Presidential Palace. Castillo reiterated the need to further purge the Armed Forces and the Police. He estimated that around 200-300 of 60,000 or more members of the Armed Forces and Police, or half a percent, are involved in trafficking.
The Dominican Army should consider the example of the Haitian army that was wiped after large number of officers was found to be associated with drug trafficking.
Speaking on Senator Wilton Guerrero's current crusade, Castillo says that his only problem with Guerrero is that he brings more attention to the politicians than to the drug traffickers. "To a certain degree drug traffickers benefit when politicians are arguing instead of concentrating."

Guerrero: no reconciliation
Senator Wilton Guerrero said that he would not reconcile with former Peravia police commander General Hilario Gonzalez nor with former Bani prosecutor Victor Cordero following statements he had made accusing the two of complicity with drug dealers in his province, in the aftermath of the seven-person massacre in Paya, Bani. "Moral principles cannot be compromised," he told the press, after attending the hearing at the Supreme Court of Justice. The defamation suit with General Hilario Gonzalez was set for 19 November, and that with former prosecutor Victor Cordero for 3 December. Commenting on the case, journalist Rafael Molino Morillo praised the senator for sticking up for his constituency. "Senator Guerrero is setting the precedent for what a senator should be for his constituents. He is the only senator who has stood against impunity and for decency and has mentioned names of people he holds responsible for the increase of crime in his province," said Molina Morillo.
Lawyer Vinicio Marino Castillo welcomed the news that the case would be heard at the Supreme Court. He said the hearing could bring "explosive revelations."

Where'd Sun Land go?
The Alternative Social Forum (FSA) is asking what has happened with the court proceedings for the controversial Sun Land corruption case. Hoy reports that yesterday the FSA held a vigil outside the Supreme Court commemorating the one-year anniversary since charges of violation of the Constitution in the case were filed. FSA spokesman Fidel Santana said, "Institutionalism is dead and we have come here to celebrate the first anniversary of its death in the DR." He added that FSA would continue pressing for the case to move forward, although he said that the judicial branch has shown it is not independent from the executive branch. The Sun Land case dates back to 2006 when US$130 million in loans were to taken to finish 10 public works projects that were never completed. No one knows where the Sun Land money went and opponents have argued that President Leonel Fernandez went against protocol, illegally authorizing the loans without going through Congress. Fernandez has claimed the loan was private and therefore not subject to Congressional approval. Formal complaints had been filed against the director of the Office of Supervising Engineers for State Public Works, Felix Bautista. The complaint presented to the District Attorney of the National District, accused Bautista of abuse of confidence and violation of the Constitution and Law 6-06 on Public Credit. Luis Arthur wrote in El Caribe, in January 2008, that the Supreme Court has not responded because the PLD threatened to use their majority in Congress to make a move that could send several of the elderly Supreme Court judges into retirement.
Supreme Court of Justice president Jorge Subero Isa has said the case would be heard as established by the law and when its turn comes up on the agenda of the Supreme Court.

Abortion is a health issue
Dr. Monica Roa and Dr. Lilliam Fondeur are continuing to push for the legalization of abortion in cases of rape or if the health of the mother is in danger and are arguing that it is a health issue, not a moral issue. According the doctors, who spoke at a press conference, the debate should focus on the health issues that the poorest women who don't have access to proper medical care suffer. The DR is one of five countries in the region where abortion is illegal even in cases of rape and when the mother's life is in danger.

Vela receives BMW scholarship
Young Dominican driver Daniel Vela is one of three young drivers accepted into the BMW Junior Pilot Program for 2009. The news was announced by BMW Series Manager Randy Briggs. The program is partly responsible for the successes of drivers Sebastian Vettel, Robert Kubica, Robert Wickens and Esteban Gutierrez. Vela says he was unsure if he would be accepted into the program because of pains in his right hand, but he followed his father's advice and did the best he could. Hoy reports that Vela has been the best driver in his category in the Americas, including divers from Canada, the US and Brazil. Vela is quoted as saying, "We Dominicans can do it. Domini...Can!"

MLB baseball update
Manny's bat went cold when the Dodgers needed him most and with that the Los Angeles Dodgers fell to the red hot Philadelphia Phillies. The Dodgers couldn't get any momentum in the series, having only won one game. The Phillies will now have a few days to rest as they wait for the winner of Boston/Tampa Bay series. But some believe that series has already been deciding. After taking a 1-0 series lead, the Sox have fallen flat and have lost three in a row. The Rays now lead the series 3-1 and could deal Boston the final blow tonight.

Winter League updates
Baseball season is here in the DR and the Tigres del Licey are starting the season off right. Last night the Tigres defeated perennial cellar dwellers Leones del Escogido 2-1 on a hit by Anderson Hernandez. In last night's other game the Azucareros pounced on the Estrellas 5-2.
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