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Daily News - Monday, 20 October 2008

Over 2000 have not declared assets
Close to 2,500 government officials who took up their posts on 16 August have still not filed their declarations of personal wealth as required by Law 82-79. Meanwhile, Diario Libre reports that others have declared large fortunes in real estate, buildings, businesses, bank accounts and luxury cars. All government officials who began, ended or were confirmed in their posts are obliged to file asset declarations 30 days from the time they take possession or end their jobs. Nevertheless, barely 227 public officials have complied with the law, beginning with the President, Leonel Fernandez and the Vice President, Rafael Alburquerque.
Of the members of the cabinet, only the ministers of the Presidency, Cesar Pina Toribio, Foreign Relations, Carlos Morales Troncoso, Armed Forces, Pedro Rafael Pena Antonio, Hacienda, Vicente Bengoa, Sports, Felipe Payano, Public Health, Bautista Rojas Gomez, Education, Melanio Paredes, Agriculture, Salvador Jimenez, Public Works, Victor Diaz Rua and Women, Alejandrina German have filed their declarations. In a review of the officials who have submitted their declarations, prepared by the National Department for Persecution of Administrative Corruption (DPCA), most of the 227 sworn statements are from sub-ministers, prosecutors, investigators and sub-directors general. With the exception of a little less than twenty former officials, including former District Attorney of the National District Jose Hernandez Peguero, the remainder has yet to file their statements. Some 300 public servants who work for the Executive Branch have yet to file their statements.
A detailed inventory of public officials' personal and family assets should be deposited in the National Treasury that forwards the reports to the DPCA. Among the more prominent figures who have filed their declarations are the President, who earns a salary of RD$100,000 and declared assets of RD$18 million. Victor Diaz Rua is the minister with the largest fortune, declared as RD$540 million. The fortune is made up of real estate, stocks, CDs and luxury vehicles. Foreign Relations Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso filed his declaration for more than RD$60 million and Minister of Hacienda Vicente Bengoa listed slightly more than RD$31 million in assets. Minister of Public Health Dr. Bautista Rojas Gomez reported assets worth RD$32 million.

Naval officer directed Paya Massacre
The National Police have announced that Frigate Captain (Lieutenant Colonel) Ricardo Rafael Guzman Perez was the operational chief behind the killing of seven Colombians in Paya, Bani, on 4 August. Guzman Perez, who was recently captured by the police when he came to the assistance of his wife when she was found to be carrying eight kilos of cocaine in her car during a deal near the V Centennial Race Track in Santo Domingo East, is said to have planned the killing of the Colombians because they had stolen some drugs from him. According to investigations by the police and the Justice Department, Miguel Pena Figuereo, also a Frigate Captain, and lieutenants Rodriguez Montero and Chalas Jorge acted together with Guzman Perez. Also involved were Luis Lara (El Churro), Jose Luis Montas (owner of El Duro Motors) and Dennys Rodriguez Perez. According to statements from an un-named Navy officer who made a deal with the authorities, the men accused of the killings met at Jose Luis Montas' car dealership to discuss their plan. These meetings led to discussions between Jose Luis Montas, who wanted to eliminate all the Colombians, and Navy captain Guzman Perez, who objected. They finally came to an agreement and the killers left for Luis Lara's house after 9 o'clock at night to carry out their plan. They traveled in a Toyota Prado, two Mitsubishi Monteros, a Chevrolet Suburban and a red Nissan pickup truck. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Jesus Sanchez Pina, after being picked up on a judicial warrant, told investigators that the gang had hired him to watch a stretch of the highway between Bani and Azua and report any suspicious movement while the others carried out the killings. Sanchez Pina said he was at his post for two hours before word came to get out. The Police are looking for former Lieutenant Rodriguez Montero for his possible ties to the operation, and the commission continues its search for the drugs and money said to be involved in the massacre.

Paya massacre reveals mafia in Navy
The massacre that took place on 4 August in Paya, Bani, where seven Colombians were murdered, has uncovered an organized gang of drug traffickers led by high-ranking naval officers, operating at the very heart of the institution. It also emerged that this 'mafia' controlled illegal boat trips to Puerto Rico. Yesterday, according to Diario Libre, Navy chief of staff Vice-Admiral Cesar Ventura Bayonet named Lieutenant Colonel Ricardo Guzman Perez as the principal leader of what he said was "a gang of drug traffickers and murderers" that was dismantled by the Navy. The military chief also announced the arrest of the First Lieutenant who took a direct part in the murder of the seven Colombians in Paya. The intelligence branch of the Navy, M-2, had been following the activities of Guzman Perez and others for three years since receiving information that they had been "bought" by drug traffickers. Investigations revealed that the group was also involved in the organization of illegal boat trips to Puerto Rico. In a statement to Diario Libre, Ventura Bayonet said: "Another officer is in the process of being arrested, but we cannot get ahead of ourselves because it could harm the operation. Until he is detained we cannot give out names. There is also a former sergeant that we are in the process of arresting."

Jaime David gets tough on Los Haitises
Minister of the Environment Jaime David Fernandez has announced that the small cultivated plots known as "conucos" in Los Haitises National Park will be plowed over, and as of tomorrow all sand and gravel extraction companies will have to get out of the riverbeds where they are currently operating. Fernandez has warned the sand and gravel extraction companies that he would enforce the law, and that anything found within 150 meters of a river will be seized. The minister said that the law is inflexible and that in the country where a lot of people know their rights, few know their duties. He reminded people that he plans to be in office for eight years, and told reporters that the resolution that orders the gravel companies out of the rivers is now over a year old, and last August a final grace period was permitted, which will not be extended. The minister said that he had heard that most of the sand and gravel companies had begun to withdraw their equipment.

Promises, promises
Radhames Segura, the executive vice-president of the Dominican Corporation of State-owned Electricity Enterprises, better known as CDEEE, is reassuring the country that there will be fewer blackouts later this month. He said that this would be due to lower temperatures, increased hydroelectric generation and greater use of the low-consumption light bulbs. Segura said that lower petroleum prices would have a favorable impact on electricity bills in November, December, January and February. He added that the recent rains have filled the reservoirs, allowing for more power from the hydro-generators, which also leads to fuel savings. Segura said that another element that helps is that the second phase of the program to place low consumption light bulbs in as many houses as possible will produce less demand and lower consumption. He said that they have already changed three million light bulbs and this month another five million will arrive. Asked about the CDEEE's debt with the generators, he said that the US$364 million debt is mostly due to the increase in fuel prices. He said that as of next month fuel bills will go down, but he did not say by how much. Segura compared the bills from the generators for the first nine months of this year to last year, and pointed out the difference of more than US$380 million. Segura added that problems with payments are exclusively due to higher fuel prices.

Recession in USA will affect free zones
The executive vice-president of the Dominican Association of Free Zones, Jose Manuel Torres, says that the textile factories, or most of them, are working normally. But Hoy newspaper reporter Aleida Plasencia reports that the free zones are almost entirely dependent on production orders that come from the United States. Because of this, if things are not going well there, in terms of demand and consumption, the factories feel the effects almost immediately. Right now, for example, some of these businesses, those that make ceramic floor tiles, have seen their orders reduced. If the recession gets worse, this will be reflected in more reductions of this type. Over the last few weeks some of the country's free zones began to feel the impact of the deepening economic crisis in the US through a reduced number of production orders from their American clients, as reported by the executive vice-president of the Dominican Association of Free Zones.
In exclusive statements to Hoy, Torres said that the reduction has not yet affected the textile sector. Specifically, he said that he has information that several companies in the DR's free zones have been notified by their clients that reduced orders will be forthcoming. He cited the case of the ceramics companies that have been significantly reduced. Torres did not mention names of companies, or provide more details.

Good news for car owners
The price of gasoline has seen a double-digit decline for the second week in a row. Diesel fuel also went down considerably. Over the last two weeks premium gasoline has gone down RD$22.60, regular by RD$22.30 and diesel by RD$15.20, much to the relief of consumers. However, compared to 2007 prices, when West Texas Intermediate was also quoted at US$69.85 a barrel, today's prices are still RD$18.50 higher for regular and RD$19.70 higher for premium gasoline and RD$30.10 higher for normal diesel fuel. Kerosene also is down a little over ten pesos per gallon, and housewives are happy to hear the propane gas is down RD$5.30 per gallon.
Petroleum prices are up by 52% since 11 July, and according to Diario Libre, some analysts are predicting that oil will fall below the US$50 level. Demand for gasoline was up 5.2% for the month ending 10 October in comparison to a year ago. The United States Department of Energy said that inventories increased by5.6 million barrels last week, way above the 3.1 million that was predicted by the experts.

Academy of Science against Cibao-Sur Highway
The Dominican Academy of Science has announced its opposition to the construction of a highway linking the Cibao Valley with the south west of the country. The Academy said that the highway that would cross the Central Mountains would affect the Jose del Carmen Ramirez and Armando Bermudez National Parks, an area known as the "Mother of Waters" because so many rivers have sources in the region. The Academy says that it is incomprehensible that an area so vital to water production should be threatened, since such a project would affect the area's hydrological balance. In a press release, the Academy says, "The construction of this highway would affect a very vital resource needed for agriculture, tourism, industry and other productive sectors." The scientific community emphasized the fact that the Central Mountains are a basic natural enclave, which if not protected, could affect life on the island. The statement says that the highway would degrade the existing forests that protect the watersheds of the biggest rivers, and this degradation would provoke more runoff, increased flooding and thus affect the population living downstream. The risks for forest fires would also increase due to increased traffic in the area, where a single cigarette butt could cause havoc. The Academy also expressed concern about new human settlement in the area, which also threatens the watersheds. The scientists also note that no major crops require such a construction for such limited commercial use. Finally, the academics and scientists make it known that there are already four highways connecting the two areas, none of which are in good condition, so all that is needed is to rebuild one or all of them, which would not cost as much as building a new road. They called for a rejection of the proposal.

Operators say tourists are slowing
International economic problems are threatening world tourism and local tourism activities. Tour operators, according to Listin Diario, estimate that fewer tourists are arriving from Europe and the United States, the principal tourist suppliers to the Dominican Republic. Nevertheless, they indicate that up until now, there have been no massive cancellations of high season reservations. Elizabeth Tovar, director of the Association of Tourist Receiving Operators (Opetur), indicated that the recorded downturn has come from European tourism and in the case of the United States, the situation has been aggravated by a reduction in the number of flights from the US to the DR, especially by airlines like Delta and American. While she did not give specific figures, she did say that the situation seems to be a 5%-6% drop. Another executive, Linette Arbaje, the president of the Dominican Association of Tour Operators (Adotur), said that so far there have been no massive cancellations of reservations for the winter (high) season. She explained that tour packages are sold and prepaid a year in advance, and advised a "wait and see" approach for the coming season. Just last week, the World Tourism Organization executive board announced the creation of a "Committee to reactivate tourism" to support its members with solid economic analysis and strategies for dealing with the problems. An interesting comment by Tovar was that places like the Cayman Islands and Jamaica had national airlines and in the case of Jamaica, the government is subsidizing American Airlines so that it doesn't cut the number of flights going there. The Opetur executive said that the reduction in the number of flights takes the DR out of the marketplace. Arbaje said that in order to counteract the effects of the crisis, there was a need to prepare more attractive packages and develop markets that are out of the mainstream.

Some fish!
Two Dominicans were stopped for a traffic violation in Puerto Rico and traffic cops found about US$700,000 packed in duffle bags on the back seat. The Hidalgo brothers, who have rap sheets for drugs and money laundering, according to the police in Puerto Rico, were stopped for a traffic violation, and when Miguel and Eric Hidalgo were asked where they got that much money, they said that they found it fishing. The Associated Press reports that the Dominican were carrying the money in several canvas sports bags. The bags got the attention of the police when they were stopped for a traffic violation. Now they are under investigation by the Immigration Service and Customs (ICE). According to an ICE spokesperson, the two brothers said that they found the money fishing in a river. Miguel Hidalgo has a record for drug possession and his brother had been arrested for money laundering, but was not convicted, and was subsequently released. The case will now be investigated to see whether it is a case of money laundering or drug-related.

Police arrest gang that killed five
The gang that holed up in a house in the Tres Ojos section of Santo Domingo East had killed five people, including businessman Julio Polanco, on the night of 23 August on Padre Castellanos Avenue. Polanco was robbed of RD$25,000 and US$300 in cash. Three of the gang members are registered in police files with a long list of crimes including assault, robbery and attacks on several traders, including the Las Mercedes Money Exchange in Villa Consuelo and an Isla gasoline station in Arroyo Hondo. Those arrested were named as Teopraxides Antonio Garcia Rodriguez, 25, Junior Uribe Pena, 25, Michael Eusebio Valerio, 28, Stalin Suarez Valerio, 19, and cousins Yoami Diaz and Juddy Josefina Diaz Almanzar. The gang surrendered to Perfecto Acosta, the prosecutor for Santo Domingo Province, General Hector Garcia Cuevas and Father Osvaldo Sanchez, a parish priest from Capotillo. The gang also surrendered a hand grenade, three pistols, three cellphones, a bag full of drugs, four caps with the National Drug Prevention Department (DNCD) logo and four bulletproof vests. The police also seized a Honda Accord used by the gang. According to Diario Libre, the gang had committed a robbery and the police mounted an operation that followed the vehicle until it was parked on 26th Street in Los Tres Ojos. When the gang discovered that it was surrounded they threatened to detonate the grenade, and one of the group called a friend called "Juan Bosch" who arrived and pleaded with them to surrender without a firefight.

Tragic bus crash
Normally, news of this type seems to come from Bolivia or some other mountainous area, but today it comes from Puerto Plata, where a bus loaded with families out for a Sunday swim went off a bridge, killing two and injuring almost 60. The accident occurred in the community of La China on the highway between Puerto Plata and Navarrete. The two victims, so far, are a five-month old baby and a man of 46. Thirty others are reported to be in very serious condition in hospitals in Santiago. The accident happened at 6:10 in the afternoon when the bus and an SUV collided and the bus fell 60 feet to the La China Vieja River. According to information gathered by El Caribe, most passengers on the bus were members of one family. Richard Guzman, who helped to move some of the victims, said that it was a miracle that more people were not killed in the accident. The latest reports in Hoy newspaper say that another person has died from injuries suffered in the crash.

Motorcycles kill and maim too many
Of the traffic accidents that are registered in the country, motorcycles account for 80% of the total number of the patients at the Trauma Hospital in La Vega, and 63% of the patients at the Dario Contreras Hospital in Santo Domingo. Doctors Hector Quezada and Felix Hernandez called the situation very worrisome. Quezada said that an average of 4,000 people die in traffic accidents each year, and that at the hospital where he works (Dario Contreras) they deal with 8,000 major surgeries and 60,000 emergencies every year, most cases involving motorcyclists. These are the cases that lead to deaths and incapacities. He dubbed the lack of helmet use, combined with alcohol and a lack of compliance with traffic laws the "Trilogy of Death". The 'explosive' growth of the number of vehicles in the Dominican Republic has provoked a demand beyond the Dario Contreras hospital's capacity to handle. According to Listin Diario, there are more than 4,000 traffic deaths per year, and 63% of them result from motorcycle accidents. The government spends more than one billion pesos on treatment and rehabilitation of accident victims each year.

Food gets dearer
The extremely popular "dish of the day" served in cafeterias and roadside food stalls known as "fondas," all over Santo Domingo are getting more expensive due to increases in the price of their ingredients. Most of these little businesses selling food, in some cases with home delivery, say that they have been obliged to increase the price of a meal that used to cost RD$70 pesos just a few days ago to RD$90 and RD$100. Frank Pena, the administrator of the Comedor Tipico located on Isabela Aguiar Street in Herrera, said that what used to cost RD$70 now has to be sold at RD$90 in order to make any money. Belkis Arias, who runs an executive cafeteria - "Clari"- on Guarocuya Street in Herrera explained that the increase of her "plato del dia" from RD$70 to RD$80 is due to the increased cost of rice, tomato paste, seasonings, vegetables, plantains and other ingredients. She said that a week ago she could buy a sack of rice (125 pounds) for RD$ 2,200, and now it costs RD$2,350. She also complained of the increased cost of poultry. She added that she had not increased her prices more because "for ten pesos less you lose your clients, they go someplace else."

Tampa Bay reaches World Series
The Tampa Bay Rays, with a homerun by Dominican Willy Aybar and seven dominating innings of pitching by starter Matt Garza beat the Boston Red Sox 3-1 in the seventh and deciding game of the American League Championship Playoffs and win their tickets to the "Fall Classic." This time there was no collapse by the Rays' bullpen, and they won the series 4-3 and eliminated the current World Series champs. Now the Rays will play in the first World Series in their 13-year history against the Philadelphia Phillies, the champions of the Championship Series of the National League when they defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers 4-1. The first game of the World Series will be next Wednesday at Tropicana Field, the Rays' home field. Together with Garza (2-0) and the grand pitching hero of the Rays, was the rookie lefthander, David Price who struck out right fielder J.D. Drew with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning. The Red Sox were the first to score with a long homerun by Dustin Pedroia in the first inning. Boston's starting pitcher, Jon Lester, kept Tampa Bay without any hits until the bottom of the fourth inning when they tied the game when Iwamura got the first hit, B.J. Upton struck out, Carlos Pena hit into a fielder's choice, forcing Iwamura at second and Evan Longoria hit a double to right field. The Tampa Bay team was born in 1998, coming in in last place with a record of 63-99 and 51 games out of first place occupied by the New York Yankees with 114-48. The Rays reached their first championship final when they eliminated the Chicago White Sox in the fourth game of a five-game series, 6-2. During eight seasons the Rays had come in last in their division, seven of them with losing records of less than .500. A total of four managers had paraded through Tampa Bay: Larry Rothschild, Hal McRae, Lou Pinella and Joe Madden, who took over the team in 2006, his first season as a manager. Before this he was the bench coach for the California Angels for nearly 10 seasons, six of them under manager Mike Scioscia. His experience includes three post-season appearances and one World Series. Tampa has a flock of young players with lots of energy and enthusiasm. It is a building project that is giving fruit at the proper time. The Rays, that have never managed to win more than 70 games in a season, suffered 96 defeats last year, while they finished the regular season this year with 97 wins, ahead of Boston and New York.
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