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Daily News - Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Education program launched
President Leonel Fernandez launched the Strategic Science and Technology Innovation Plan 2008-2018 (PECyT+I) during a special panel discussion held at the Global Democracy and Development Foundation (FunGlode)yesterday. The RD$50 billion program will be managed by the Higher Education Ministry (SEECYT). Fernandez said that the initiative represents true innovation for the country and that development cannot be possible without paying attention to education, science and technology. Fernandez assured that universities could improve training for students through the program, therefore increasing their productivity. The 10-year program, which begins in 2009, will represent 0.25% of the GDP, or US$1.450 billion. Higher Education Minister Ligia Amada Melo said that the Plan's goals were to: strengthen the nation's science, technology and innovation funding and institutional framework, develop research, development of innovative initiatives that can improve quality of life, products and the Dominican economy and train better students. National Business Council (CONEP) president Lisandro Macarulla said that the Plan should be used as a national model, and that CONEP was willing to work to help it become a reality.

UN reform warning
Dr. Cristobal Rodriguez, a constitutional specialist with the United Nations Development Fund (UNDP), says the proposed constitutional reform would give the Dominican President "unlimited power" adding that the personal management of the state's resources by the President, as stipulated by the reform, could create a bureaucracy and a culture of potent clientilism. Rodriguez said that the nation's budget should, more or less, be a result of compromises between the executive and legislative branches. Rodriguez said the nation should make the most of the reform to grant Congress a larger role within the political framework and reduce the President's power. According to Rodriguez, this new constitution would give the President the power to authorize spending and transfer of funds through decrees when Congress is not in session. Rodriguez made his comments during a meeting with congressional representatives and constitutional experts. Senate president Reinaldo Pared Perez said that he welcomed the technical assistance provided by UNDP, while UNDP representative Mauricio Ramirez Villegas said that the UN does not want to interfere with the reform because it deals with the nation's sovereignty.

Government's decision 'illegal'
Listin Diario reports that the government's decision not to lower gasoline prices is illegal and violates Hydro-Carbides Law 112-00. The assertion comes after Economy, Planning and Development Minister Temistocles Montas announced that although international fuel prices are dropping, the government wouldn't follow suit. Montas stated that the government would not lower prices because it had to recoup revenue losses that were absorbed by the government when the price for a barrel of petroleum was US$150. Montas explained that during those months the government chose not to pass the cost of fuel on to the consumer. Economists Fernando Alvarez Bogaert and Leopoldo Espaillat Nanita criticized the minister's arguments. Both say that failing to reduce fuel prices could have negative effects on competitiveness and could continue to affect the construction and commercial sector. Espaillat says he doesn't understand how the government could violate the law, and urged it to be transparent and apply the law. He was also critical of the Superintendent of Energy's statement that the law is followed only when possible.

Fernandez will negotiate
Environment Minister Jamie David Fernandez said that he would meet with the sand and gravel extraction companies next week in order to propose a deal aimed at regulating their operations. This is a much softer stance compared to the Minister's recent uncompromising statements on the issue of sand and gravel extraction from riverbeds. Fernandez didn't give any details of the proposal, and stressed that the businesses that were shut down on Monday would remain closed as they had been given a year to regulate their procedures.
In related news, Builders' Association (ACOPROVI) president Jaime Gonzalez said the closure of the extraction companies would cause construction materials derived from sand and gravel to increase in price by up to 12%. Gonzalez says he supported the measure, but added that the extraction companies could do their jobs in an organized fashion.

Metro for Christmas
Transport Reorganization Office (OPRET) director Diandino Pena has announced that the Santo Domingo Metro will finally open to the public on 15 December 2008. Fares will be between RD$20 and RD$25. Pena says the system is in its final stages of preparation, noting that it is difficult to get all 19 trains moving together, arriving at the stations all at the same time. Pena says that Metro employees have now been trained, and that training that would take two years in other countries was completed in less than six months. According to Hoy, the government will have to subsidize the cost of the fares. Pena says that users would be able to save at least 30% per month by using the Metro. However, the route that will be served by the Metro, Villa Mella-Feria, can currently be traveled using public buses (guaguas) for the same RD$25 cost. Construction on the controversial Metro project began in 2005. On 27 February 2008 President Leonel Fernandez traveled on the metro for the first time, prompting many to say that the project was a tool to help Fernandez get re-elected in 2008. Officials responded by saying the project was meant to help curb the chaos of the current public transport system. Although this line of the Metro isn't complete, officials are planning a second one, from Los Alcarrizos to San Luis.
Meanwhile, the Fenatrano bus union plans to march to the OPRET offices urging the government office in charge of the Metro to improve the distribution of bus routes that will feed the Metro project. Fenatrano president Juan Hubieres says that the Metro will displace 20,000 drivers who work on the current metro route. According to Hubieres the move will directly affect 5,000 drivers and indirectly affect 5,000 drivers. The transport union leader also mentioned the possibility of a national work stoppage that could take place next week.

Gun search continues
More details about the Paya drug massacre have surfaced as officials continue searching for the gun that was used during the killings. Hoy reports that a 9mm Taurus pistol belonging to former Navy Lieutenant Jorge Luis Chalas, which has since been recovered, was used during the murders orchestrated by Edward Mayobanex Rodriguez. Search teams have been combing of the shores near Avenida Espana, in Santo Domingo East for a larger gun, believed to have been smuggled into the country for the purpose of the murders. Ballistics and forensic tests have confirmed the gun was used in the massacre. Navy officials also indicate that the man responsible for providing officials with all the information is under heavy protection in an undisclosed location, and can only receive visits from his mother. His name and rank have not been revealed.

SCJ rules on Concordat
The Supreme Court has ruled that a 1954 agreement between the Vatican and the Dominican State, known as the Concordat, doesn't violate the freedom to practice religion. Judges argued that the agreement doesn't curtail the freedom of practice of religion, yet doesn't hold another religion to privileged status. The judges agreed that all religions have the freedom to practice how they please, despite Catholicism being the predominant religion in the DR. Judges also rejected the idea that the Catholic Church is a privileged institution in the DR. Evangelical Pastor Domingo Paulino says that he expected this from the SCJ and that minority religions received no legal support in the DR. The SCJ is denying this, saying that all groups receive legal support.

Blackouts are back
Extended blackouts are once again being reported throughout the country. Though the reasons aren't clear, a lack of fuel, the government's inability to pay debts and technical difficulties are being blamed for the blackouts. However, Hoy reports these are just stock phrases wheeled out in order to appease frustrated citizens. The energy deficit totaled 1,000 MW while the national energy demand is 1,900 MW. Hoy also reports that eight major energy generators were out of service yesterday including AES Andres, Compania Electrica de Puerto Plata, San Felipe, Metaldom, Sultana del Este, EGE-Haina, Palamara- La Vega, Monte Rio and Laesa- Pimentel. Listin Diario reports that part of the problem is that the government has yet to pay the US$100 million it promised the energy generators. The government owes US$360 million. AES Andres alone is owed US$151 million. Listin is also reporting that AES Andres, which provides 20%, or 300 MW of the national demand, is out of operation for maintenance work.

Auto sales take dip
Car sales have fallen for a sixth straight month, forcing vehicle importers and dealers association ACOFAVE to ask banks to lower interest rates in order to stimulate sales. Acofave director Enrique Fernandez says interest rates have doubled since May 2008, registering about 30% per year. Fernandez says that car sales will total about 22,180 by the end of the year, well below the 30,636 registered in 2007.

Protests in the Cibao
Protests are becoming routine in several towns and cities in the Cibao region. Two people including a police officer were injured during street protests. Diario Libre reports that 16 people have been detained and that police officers shot 17-year old Israel Polanco Santos while he was playing basketball during the protests in San Francisco de Macoris. Police are denying this, saying that unknown people shot him. Citizens are asking the authorities to fix roads, lower food prices and provide basic services. Listin Diario reports that 90% of the protests have been in San Francisco de Macoris and were only partially successful in Santiago. Diario Libre reports that 15 people were injured in Santiago, while 20 were arrested. Schools, transport and commerce all came to a halt in San Francisco. Concerns over the strikes led to the cancellation of the Gigantes/Aguilas baseball game on Monday as well as the Toros/Gigantes game. In Salcedo, demonstrators burned tires and threw objects into the streets. The Alternative Social Forum is partly responsible for the protests and says the public was making a stand, asking the authorities to fix roads, provide drinking water, reduce blackouts, lower gasoline prices and lower food prices.

No to home remedies
Ophthalmologist Juan Francisco Batlle is advising the public not to resort to home remedies if they are infected with conjunctivitis (a.k.a. "pink eye"). Batlle says that these remedies are useless and could be dangerous, increasing the spread of other eye ailments. Some of the most common home remedies include applying honey, berry juice, and soaping with "jabon de cuaba". Batlle says that these remedies contain other forms of bacteria that could affect the eyes. Batlle is also advising members of the public to refrain from contact with infected people, be aware of hygiene and wash hands frequently. The DR has recently seen an increase in cases of pink eye, with 45,000 cases being reported this year.

Dominican faces death penalty in US
Supporters of Humberto Pepin Taveras are asking President Leonel Fernandez to help them in their campaign to prevent Pepin being put to death in the US after he was found guilty of two murders in 1992. After the murders Pepin dismembered the two men, an associate and a rival, saying he used his professional skills as a butcher in the DR to do it properly. Reports indicate that Pepin preferred to go to trial than admit guilt, arguing that the murders were in self-defense. Diario Libre reports that Pepin was deported in 1989 after serving nine months in jail on a domestic abuse charge. He re-entered the US illegally, and subsequently committed the murders. Deliberations on whether or not to sentence him to death could take only a week, beginning on 29 October.

Baseball updates
Critics have voiced concerns about the quiet nature of the Tigres del Licey in the early part of this baseball season, but Licey took care of that quickly last night. The Tigres thumped their rivals, Aguilas Cibaenas, in an embarrassing fashion, 21-6. Listin Diario is already calling this a historic game, "the 21 October Massacre." The 27-run total is their highest since 7 November 1957 when the Escogido beat the Aguilas 24-4. Losing pitcher Adam Miller gave up 6 runs in 1.5 innings of work.
In other baseball news, the Estrellas Orientales beat up on the Leones del Escogido, 5-2. Finally, the game between the Gigantes and Toros was canceled due to protests in San Francisco de Macoris. This is the second game to be cancelled due to protests
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