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Daily News - Thursday, 23 October 2008

Leonel opens tech fair
President Leonel Fernandez says that the country has definitely started on the road to modernization and that it is currently entering the transition phase towards a model of knowledge based on science, technology and the efforts of a new productive system. The President led last night's inauguration of the Dominican Technology Fair "TECDO 2008" which brings together 150 local and foreign technological manufacturers and service providers, offering a wide range of products and services. Fernandez told reporters from Listin Diario that ten years ago, during his first term, the first step was taken towards modernization when the Santo Domingo Cybernetic Park was built, and today it is a center for scientific and technological development in the country. Fernandez said, "There was a lot of skepticism about the construction of the cyber-park, and we were told that instead of spending resources on a technology park, we should concentrate on reducing poverty". He added that the way to eliminate poverty and push the country towards development is precisely with technology parks of this type. The President cut the ceremonial tape with a laser beam before touring the 5,900-square meter exhibition area in the Sans Souci wharf.

Congress and doctors reach agreement
After many months of strife and an extended impasse with the Executive Branch and the Ministry of Public Health, the Dominican Medical Association (CMD) was able to work out an agreement with the Congress leadership yesterday. The agreement includes an increase in doctors' salaries over the next two years. The agreement announced by the Congress leadership and the CMD president is still subject to approval by President Leonel Fernandez. The legislative commission that took part in the discussions will report directly to the President. Congress and the CMD reached a preliminary agreement that addresses the demand for a salary increase in a two-stage process: the first will be included in the 2009 budget and the second in the 2010 budget. According to Hoy newspaper, the agreement was confirmed by CMD president Waldo Ariel Suero, and Senate and Chamber of Deputies leaders Reinaldo Pared Perez and Julio Cesar Valentin. Pared Perez told reporters that the commission would meet with the President tomorrow to discuss the preliminary agreement and would report back to the CMD at a meeting next Wednesday.

More promises
The vice-president of the Dominican Corporation of State-owned Electricity Enterprises (CDEEE), Radhames Segura, said yesterday that he expects that the energy crisis affecting the country to be solved with the possible entry of AES-Andres into service next week. The AES-Andres plant has been off-line for "technical problems". The official told reporters from Diario Libre that there have been a lot of blackouts over the last few days due to many generators being out of service, not for lack of payment, but for technical problems in the units operated by the private sector. Segura reported that yesterday afternoon service was improved with the entry of the San Felipe generators (formerly Smith-Enron) with 175 megawatts and Haina IV with 60 megawatts. The CDEEE is trying to get the Mitsubishi unit with its 30 megawatts on-line. Segura also reported that the generators received US$20 million from the Ministry of Hacienda, and this month they will receive US$64 million from Hacienda as scheduled. Hacienda Minister Vicente Bengoa reported yesterday that he had complied with the payment for the electric sector according to plan. He mentioned that payments for US$76.3 million were made to the CDEEE in August, in September they paid US$75.6 million and his ministry has programmed payments for US$225 million for the electric sector for the last three months of the year. Segura pointed out that the outstanding debt with the generators is US$336 million, not counting the payments that the electricity distributors make with their own resources. He went on to explain that projected electricity invoices for October, November and December will be lower than invoices for August and September due to the changes in oil prices over the past two months, and this will be an opportunity to make payments on the debt that built up over these two months. At four in the afternoon yesterday the overall deficit in the electric system was 811 megawatts, with a demand for 2,034 megawatts and a supply of 1,205 megawatts.

Chamber of Accounts publishes salaries
The new members of the Chamber of Accounts (CC), the government accounting office, have published the amounts of their salaries. In a certified letter sent to El Caribe, CC financial director Ana Maria Rivas Duran points out that because of the austerity directives issued by the President, members' salaries will be RD$281,973.60 per month. To this sum is added a RD$20,000 expense account and RD$28,125 for gasoline. Fees and taxes will take RD$57,595.27 in income tax, RD$16,948.42 in retirement payments and RD$25.00 for the National Housing Institute (INAVI). After these deductions, the magistrates will receive a check for RD$255,529.91 each month. The current CC's predecessors increased their salaries from RD$261,000 to RD$449,000 in January 2007, a move that scandalized the entire country. Public pressure led to the former CC judges, who had been on the job for less than six months, being forced to revoke the salary increases and eventually led to their dismissal.

Paredes outraged by betting parlors
The Minister of Education, Melanio Paredes, called the fact that there are so many betting parlors that promote gambling, "an outrage". The minister, who is currently in Brussels, Belgium, was commenting on a report in Listin Diario that said that there were nearly six times the number of betting parlors as schools in the country, and he said that he valued the publication as a call to the national conscience to encourage us "to think about the need to support Dominican education all the more." For the minister, the reality is also "an outrage" in that the country becomes known as a promoter of vices instead of a nation that promotes education and training for its children. According to the administrator of the National Lottery, Jose Francisco Pena Guaba, over RD$100 million worth of bets is placed on lotteries and games each day. Paredes insisted that all sectors should support Dominican education.

Cibao protests to continue
The 48-hour protest that began on Tuesday in San Francisco de Macoris in demand for several public works projects was extended for a further 24 hours by a group of organizations belonging to the Alternative Social Forum (FSA). Two people were killed during the first two days of the protest. They were identified as the athlete and member of local Civil Defense teams, Israel Polanco Santos, 17, who was killed while playing basketball on a court in San Martin barrio, and Luis Gomez Nunez, 14, who was shot while riding his bicycle along Nino Risek Street in San Francisco de Macoris. Diario Libre also reported that at least 20 people have been injured by buckshot and rocks during the clashes between protesters and police, and another 20 have been arrested. The FSA spokesperson in Duarte Province, Eddy Munoz, said that a police patrol was responsible for the death of Polanco Santos. According to the commander of the Police for the northeast, Brigadier General Ciriaco Nunez, the police did not shoot at the young man, and he said that the shooter is still unidentified. The unrest has affected educational, productive and commercial activities, as was demonstrated during a tour of the city by DL reporters. The Forum is calling for the construction of a water treatment plant, changes in the Hydro-carbon Law, the freeing of 10 farm workers jailed a couple of weeks ago and the construction of a bridge over the River Jaya. The municipality of Navarrete was also hit by protests in several barrios and in the downtown area, affecting traffic along the Joaquin Balaguer Highway. During the disturbances, some unknown elements went around on a motorcycle and threw a homemade bomb at the CDEEE sub-station, causing some minor damage. In Hermanas Mirabal province, the protests also affected economic and educational activities, and three people were detained by the police.

Paya 'money-snatcher' identified
The authorities have revealed the identity of the person who allegedly took the bag containing RD$15 million from the residence of the Colombians who were killed by a gang headed by Navy officers and some civilians, most of whom have been captured and put on trial. During the questioning carried out in hearings that led to preventive custody sentences for three more Navy officers, the name of Navy Sergeant Antonio Manuel Roche Pineda emerged as the person thought to have snatched the money taken from the house of Dario Jose Atencio Vargas (the Don), on the night of 4 August when the seven Colombians were killed in a gangland-style execution in the community of Ojo de Agua, Paya, Bani. According to El Nuevo Diario, a sense of panic descended on the courtroom when Antonio Manuel Roche's name was mentioned and even the judge looked around uneasily and the members of the security staff were nervous because they thought that the accused might react violently. The sum of RD$15 million was to be used to purchase the 1,200 kilograms of cocaine brought into the country by the seven drug traffickers. The magistrate sentenced the three, Andres Tapia, Antonio Manuel Roche Pineda and Jorge Luis Chalas to 18 months preventive custody.

Police find another rifle used at Paya
The National Police have announced that at midnight on Tuesday they found one of the assault rifles used in the massacre at Paya, Bani last 4 August. The police reported that the weapon, which was found in the possession of an unnamed person, would be used in evidence against those accused of the crime. Even though the source did not mention where the rifle was found, it emerged, according to Hoy, that it was discovered in San Pedro de Macoris. The rifle found by the police matches, together with a pistol, the shell casings found at the crime site. Meanwhile, the search for the rifle barrel, said to have been thrown into the ocean near the National Aquarium, goes on. The authorities are also looking for evidence near the V Centennial Race Track. Navy chief of staff Vice Admiral Julio Cesar Ventura Bayonet told reporters that 12 high-ranking Navy officers have been discharged, and he announced that new measures have been put in place to stop international drug rings infiltrating the Navy.

Pelegrin reveals US opposes shooting planes
National Progressive Force (FNP) deputy Pelegrin Castillo has told reporters that the United States government notified the Dominican government that it opposes the legislative proposal aimed at establishing air and sea interdiction of suspected drug smugglers. The legislation is currently in Congress as part of the mechanisms that will be implemented to fight drug trafficking in the area, and to prevent ships loaded with drugs from reaching Dominican shores. The communication from the US authorities was sent to the Dominican Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Castillo revealed the contents of the note during hearings on the bill in the Chamber of Deputies, which was left on the table. During a recent visit, US anti-drug chief John P. Walters said that although the decision to shoot down a plane would have to be made by the Dominican government, his recommendation was that force should not be used. The US official said that his government was not in agreement on the shooting down of aircraft. This possibility is one of several tools that are being suggested as ways of ending the use of Dominican airspace and seas for drug trafficking.

Concordat appeal rejected by court
With two dissenting votes, the Supreme Court decreed that the legislation by which the National Congress approved the Concordat with the Vatican in 1954 was within Constitutional grounds. With this decision, the SJC rejected the petition for a decree of unconstitutionality brought by an Evangelical group, the Healthy and Eternal Life Ministry of Jesus on 11 July 2006. The decision says that while it is true that the state is obliged to provide lessons in Religion and Catholic Morals in its primary and secondary schools, it in no way prohibits teaching other religions in the schools, nor has evidence been shown that this has been blocked by agreements in the Concordat itself. The SCJ held the criteria that while the petitioning congregations do not have the experience in bookkeeping and registration of marriages and other sacraments that has been shown by the Catholic Church, and for which it is held in greater confidence and security by society; and while pastors, officials and deacons of other religious communities may celebrate marriages with binding civil effects, there is no prohibition in the Constitution or in the Concordat that would allow the law to extend the faculty to perform civil marriages.
Regarding the question of whether there is a privilege with the exemption of any fees or taxes on the immigration of Catholic clergy entering the Dominican Republic, which is not done with other congregations, the court says that the exemption that benefit the individuals mentioned is only extended to those who are invited to the country by ecclesiastic authorities. Likewise, the court found that besides justifying this exemption as an elemental courtesy, the mission of those invited is not related to any other activity that is not tied to the religious life of the Dominican people. The dissenting votes were from justices Rafael Luciano Pichardo and Jose Hernandez Machado who said that they thought that the SCJ should declare itself incompetent to hear the case because the Concordat is an international treaty.

JCE issues new regulations for employees
The Administrative Chamber of the Central Electoral Board (JCE) issued a new set of regulations and dress codes for its employees yesterday, including a ban on the use of blue jeans, polo shirts, Capri pants, Bermuda shorts, sport shoes and tennis shoes.
The administrative Chamber, according to Hoy, has also banned the use of music equipment such as iPods, MP3s and similar devices inside the institution. The new rule is aimed at bringing all the employees into a dress code appropriate to the solemnity of the institution. At the same time, the directive warned that "drastic" measures would be taken for violators of the dress code that was transmitted through a memorandum from the Human Resources office by Ruth Lizardo. Most JCE employees wear blue and gray uniforms that are provided by the institution at a cost of RD$7,000 each.

Business leader wants to save the forests
Business leader Julio Virgilio Brache says that business people need to join forces in order to save the Dominican forest cover. He said that forests have been deteriorating and the efforts will prevent the country's water supply from drying up altogether. Brache, the president of the National Network of Business Support for the Protection of the Environment (Renaepa), reminded reporters from Hoy that trees covered 88% of the country 100 years ago, but today trees only cover 30% of the area. During his interview, Brache said that, "the country is running the risk of desertification, as has practically happened in Haiti and that we would have to depend exclusively on imports for food, if the deforestation continues". Brache said that one of Renaepa's goals is to restore 50% forest cover. He talked about the effect that climate change is having all over the world, and stated that the country has seen rains that "nobody knows where they come from and that cause major flooding and overflows from dams." He pointed out that it is raining where it never rained before and hurricanes are getting more frequent.

Women lead development in Jarabacoa
Esperanza Marte Victoriano is an everyday heroine. With her hands, her ideas and her sweat, she has fought the worst type of tyrrany: Poverty. Together with other women from Los Calabazos in Jarabacoa, she planted the seeds of a project, and little by little, built an eco-tourism venture, a hydroelectric plant and an aqueduct that benefits the whole community. "Opening the road" is how the rural folk say it, as green-eyed Esperanza shows the way to Canadian, German, US and other foreign tourists. Community leaders told Listin Diario reporters that, "in the month of August, we did not have a single hour with an empty room. The little cabins were full with groups from England". In a community where the people pay just 100 pesos a month for 24- hour electricity, the 365 inhabitants of Los Calabazos do not have to endure blackouts or pay fines from the very high rates charged by EdeNorte, EdeSur or EdeEste. The people of Jarabacoa are celebrating the town's 150th anniversary. There, in the distance, you can see the red tile roofing of the homes of the wealthy, the famous and the politically powerful. Far from these worries lives Esperanza, the lady who while leading the New Hope Mothers Club founded, together with other women, the "The Sound of the Yaque" Ecotourism Complex. The place is a path lined with wooden cabins and comfortable beds, close to the river that "babbles" just a few meters away. While the sun dries her hair up in rollers, Mari Claire de la Cruz, a lady of the future in the rural areas, tells how her house has a refrigerator, a blender and a water heater. The Mothers Club, with its original 18 members, is now 23-strong. "It took us four years to convince the men," she admits, "they did not trust the project, but we held firm." Very happy because the hydroelectric project founded in 2001 now lights 25 houses in Los Calabazos and the tourist project cabins, Esperanza Marte Victoriano is not afraid of standing up to the politicians who arrive every four years: "What have you done for us?" is her hello and goodbye.
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