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Daily News - Monday, 27 October 2008

Congress to accept Supreme Court proposals
The proposal to reform the Constitution sent to Congress by President Leonel Fernandez will be modified to include recommendations from the Supreme Court and civil society. Chamber of Deputies president Julio Cesar Valentin, who is also vice-president of the special joint commission studying the President's proposals, made this announcement. He also said that some other changes would be made to correct errors in form and style. Valentin did not say whether the new Constitution would be ready by 2009. During the meeting between the full court and the joint commission last week, the court warned that if the proposal is approved in its present state, it would create chaos within the judicial system. The magistrates rejected the creation of a Chamber of Constitutional Guarantees, and a court that would look at contentious matters relating to administration and taxes that are independent of the Supreme Court. Although Valentin was cautious enough to say that his opinion was not the opinion of the joint commission, he did say that the commission would also be correcting some mistakes in style and statements.

Senate approves agreement with Europe
During an extraordinary session the Senate approved the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between the Cariforum states and the European Union that will permit the Dominican Republic to freely export farm products and professional and artistic services to the European market. The document was freed of any bureaucracy and approved during the special session because it has to be signed by 31 October, so the Chamber of Deputies had to give its approval before that date. The Trade Agreement was approved after Foreign Relations commission chairman Prim Pujols gave the full Senate the commission's favorable opinion. The agreement, which has been welcomed by the DR private sector, will allow bananas, tobacco, cacao and rum to be exported to Europe, as well as providing opportunities for products such as sugar, coffee, clothes and other free zone products.

Environment dismantles gravel plant
The Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (Semarena), together with the National Environmental Protection Service (Senpa), has dismantled the processing equipment for sand and gravel extraction in the Nizao River belonging to the Monbraca Company. According to a ministry press release, the business had been notified that it had to stop working the material taken from the river, and advised of the time limit for the complete removal of all equipment. The note says, "Because the notification was not heeded, the Ministry was forced to remove the equipment in order to proceed with remedial work, which requires a lot of effort since the company never fulfilled the requirements of the plan for environmental handling of the extraction process as required." The ministry reported that equipment would be dismantled over the next few days on these lands and those of other sand and gravel companies, and reforestation work would begin as part of the Quisqueya Verde Plan. Monbraca president Juan Ramon Brea denied the ministry's version, and assured reporters that he never received any notification from Senpa agents that their personnel would go and dismantle the gravel company's equipment. Brea said that Monbraca ceased operations eleven months ago and that it came to an agreement with Semarena early last July, allowing the removal of 55,000 cubic meters of materiel already processed and stored on the grounds. He explained that the contract ended on 14 August 2008, and he asked for extensions twice in order to remove the sand and gravel, but, according to Brea, the requests were never answered. Brea claimed that Senpa agents had arrived yesterday at noon without any prosecutor and destroyed three electric plants and machinery, for which he is considering suing the ministry for damages. He said he felt like "a guinea pig" in relation to the gravel companies located near the Nizao, since, he said, he was the only one affected.

First Tech Fair-TECDO 2008-is over
TECDO 2008, which came to a close on Sunday evening, brought together representatives from several countries and 145 national companies in the telecommunications, technology sales and technological solutions fields. Although yesterday at noon the organizers had not finished tallying the number of people who attended, they are sure that thousands had visited the fair, held on site of the old Remos restaurant on Espana Avenue, in Sans Souci, since last Thursday. The event was organized by the Santo Domingo Cybernetic Park as a way of showing businesspeople, both national and international, as well as the general public, opportunities for selling their technological creations. With this event, the country's telecommunications companies, producers of software, networks and even agricultural chemicals and machinery could exhibit their wares in order to facilitate investments and guarantee higher profits and economic savings to buyers. Among the technological advances on exhibit was the Ministry of Agriculture's Greenhouse Promotion Program that featured a computerized crop fertilization and protection system. This technology is applied to crops in greenhouses and features the ability to apply fertilizers in exact doses from a remote location. Another technological advance promoted at the fair came from a Spanish company that has developed software that enables hospitals to create digital pictures of x-rays. One of the most interesting new items presented at the fair was exhibited at the Ministry of Higher Scientific and Technological Education's stand. Edwin Martec has created a system of remote electricity disconnection and remote reconnection, which earned him first place in the second national science and technology contest.

National debt reaches US$9 billion plus
Over the last three and a half years, the national debt has grown by 23.75%, going from US$7.377 billion in 2004 to US$9.129 billion in June 2008, an increase of US$1.752 billion. According to data obtained by El Caribe from the Ministry of Hacienda website, the total amount of US$9.129 billion is divided between external debt (US$7.929 billion) and internal debt (US$1.200 billion). During the period covered by the analysis, the Dominican Republic's external (foreign) debt has gone up from US$6.379 billion to US$7.929 billion, a 24% increase. The internal public debt has gone from US$998 million to US$1.2 billion, a 20% increase. According to the data from the Ministry of Hacienda, bilateral debts have gone from US$2.132 billion to US$3.360 billion, a 57% jump. The total multilateral debt has increased by 24% and private debts have risen just 8%. Among the multilateral lenders is the Inter-American Development Bank which has poured the largest amount of money into the DR, but which showed a slight reduction (US$1.343 vs. US$1.342 billion). On the other hand, the debt with the World Bank has gone from US$380 million to US$462 million, a 21% increase, and the credits with the International Monetary Fund have gone from US$203 million to US$622 million, a 326% increase.

Government will run Metro
The government will operate the Santo Domingo Metro, excluding the possibility of any concessions being signed with the private sector for the time being. The news was revealed to Hoy newspaper by the sub-director of the Transport Reorganization Office (OPRET), Leonel Carrasco. The official said that the idea of the private sector running the Metro had been considered, but never under any type of concession. Last week Carrasco said that the private sector running the Metro would relieve the government of some of the expenses, and, even though he said that fares would be between RD$20 and RD$25 pesos, he refused to say how much the government would be subsidizing each fare. As of yesterday, 36 of the 56 cars had arrived and another 18 are expected to arrive over the next few days. Carrasco said that the Metro would be put to the test at the beginning of November, running empty, putting several trains into operation at the same time. The officials also said that OPRET was tidying up the system and making "small repairs" here and there, in order for it to begin operations in December. Among the details being worked on are sidewalks and elevators and the trials on connections and sub-systems of the electro-mechanical sections. Hoy newspaper says that the whole system will be tested throughout November. The Metro system will employ a total of 1600 people.

Cardinal blasts betting parlors
The leader of the Catholic Church in the Dominican Republic, Cardinal Nicolas de Jesus Lopez Rodriguez, has spoken out strongly against the fact that there are six betting parlors for every school in the country. He said that it was unfair and perverse that such a situation should exist, when thousands of children do not have access to school. He said it was "unjustifiable" that the country should not be capable of providing the children with an elementary education. The Cardinal was referring to a report in Listin Diario last week, revealing that there were six times as many betting establishments as there are schools in the Dominican Republic. The administrator of the National Lottery, Jose Francisco Pena Guaba, told reporters that Dominicans place around RD$100 million in bets every day. The prelate said that the authorities should revise their policies for approving new betting establishments. He said that the country should not be encouraging something that contributes to the degradation of the people.

Ventura Bayonet: They took millions to kill
The chief of staff of the Dominican Navy, Vice-Admiral Julio Cesar Ventura Bayonet, warned that if the armed forces do not fulfill their duty, the country could become chaotic. He pointed out that all over the world drug traffickers are trying to get inside the armed forces, business associations, clubs and religious organizations. He said that "this is the way that drug mafias work all around the world, and we (the DR) are not exempt from it." According to the front page of Listin Diario, the admiral said that testimony from the officers arrested in connection with the massacre at Paya in Bani showed that the officers took payments of RD$2 or RD$3 million to carry out the killings. Ventura Bayonet said, "These officers lost their way, and they thought that this was a way of obtaining riches that many of their superiors do not have. They let themselves be tempted by easy money, and look where it got them."

Sabotage on transmission tower
The Dominican Electricity Transmission Company (ETED) said that unknown parties have dismantled the lower part of transmission tower #80, located between the towns of Yamasa and Monte Plata. The removal of the lower part of the structure caused the tower to fall and put the country's electricity transmission system in danger of collapse. The company warned that the vandalism represented an attack on the system's security and called on the National Police and the National Investigation Department (DNI) to investigate and identify the vandals and put them on trial. According to the General Electricity Law this type of activity is punishable by prison terms of up to ten years. The law also punishes anyone who takes part in such actions, either directly or indirectly, or purchases or sells the items taken during an attack on the security of the national electric system with prison sentences of between five and ten years.

More good news for drivers
Local fuel prices have followed the path of international petroleum prices. Yesterday the Ministry of Industry and Commerce ordered a substantial reduction in the price of gasoline and diesel. A gallon of premium gasoline will now cost ten pesos less, at RD$168.40, and regular gasoline will cost RD$143.70, a RD$12.00 decrease. Regular diesel will now be sold at RD$135.90. Even cooking gas, propane, will go lower at RD$64.34. Since July, prices for premium gasoline have fallen by RD$52 pesos. Last July a gallon of premium gasoline cost RD$207 and a gallon of regular was RD$197. The Ministry of Industry and Commerce sets the price of fuel every week. The prices follow the exchange rate and the price of oil on the international commodity exchanges.

Drivers apply fare cuts today
A significant reduction in shared taxi and bus fares will be applied starting today, according to the CNTU, Conatra and Mochotran transport unions. Meanwhile, Fenatrano president Juan Hubieres reported that between today and tomorrow his drivers would reduce fares from between RD$2 and RD$5 on city routes and from between RD$10 and RD20 on inter-city routes. The inter-city routes would be reduced from between RD$10 and RD$15 pesos according to the three transport unions that announced fare reductions starting today. CNTU president Ramon Perez Figuereo reported that his union would apply the fare reductions starting this morning, but he did not say how much. Meanwhile, drivers from Conatra will apply fare cuts of between RD$10 and RD$15 pesos on their inter-city routes, but not on city routes, according to union vice-president Manolo Ramirez, who said that they needed to meet with the Fenatrano drivers as well as those belonging to CNTU, Mochotran and other unions in order to lower the 'publico' fares.

Blackouts cause closures
The spate of extended blackouts affecting the capital has brought about the closure of beauty salons, cafeterias and some small food stores have seen their sales fall by as much as 35% because they can't sell refrigerated products. Some areas have had to endure power cuts lasting up to 20 hours, making life hard for mechanics, washing machine rentals, laundry businesses and beer joints. As of 4pm on Friday, the Interconnected System (SENI) showed some improvement, despite six generators being off-line: Haina I and II, Haina Gas, Sultana del Este, Cogentrix and AES Andres. This produced an 851-megawatt deficit in the system, where the demand was 2,021 megawatts and the supply was just 1,170 megawatts. Several business sector representatives are speaking out about the situation. The Dominican Republic Industrial Association (AIRD) said it was essential to go ahead with plans for the electricity sector with the support of all the sectors involved. No promises, no breaking laws, or maintaining subsidies that do not go to the root of the problems. AIRD president Manuel Diez Cabral told El Caribe reporter Desiree Martinez that a nation cannot develop without electricity. On the other hand, Fermin Santana, who owns a mini-market called "Detenganlo" in the Villa Consuelo area, no longer sells salami or other processed meats, fresh meat, or other refrigerated products because his store only gets electricity for two hours in the morning. Beauty salon owner Karina Rosario has had to close her business because "she never has power". The hair stylist usually charges RD$180 for washing and drying hair and when she uses her generator she tries to charge an extra RD$50, but her clients refuse to pay.

Cibao protesters get what they wanted
An official commission agreed to the Alternative Social Forum's demands on Friday and pledged to begin work on the projects that they are calling for this Monday as well as to investigate the deaths of the two young men that took place during last week's protests in the Cibao region. Nonetheless, the agreement is subject to the signing of a document that obliges the parties to work on the principal demands within the agreed timeframe. The leaders of the Forum set 5 November as the date for the commission, headed by Public Works Minister Victor Diaz Rua and National Police Chief Rafael Guillermo Guzman Fermin, to begin its work. Otherwise the protests will start again. During the meeting held at the Governor's Office, Diaz Rua and Guzman Fermin were accompanied by the director of the National Institute of Potable Water and Sewers (INAPA), Mariano German, the former director of the Dominican Agrarian Institute, Frank Rodriguez, the governor of the province, Luz Selene Plata and the mayor, Felix Rodriguez. Hundreds of people waited in the park outside the governor's office for the results of the meeting to be announced. The area was cordoned off by SWAT teams and sharpshooters were posted on nearby rooftops. The demands made by the four spokespersons changed course, somewhat, as each one agreed to ask for journalist Cesar Medina and his team to be declared "persona non grata" in San Francisco de Macoris, and demanded that the municipal council issue a municipal resolution condemning the alleged slurs made against the people of the city. They also wanted local cable companies to take the "Hoy Mismo" program, presented by Cesar Medina, off the air. Forum spokesperson Eddy Munoz demanded that damages should be paid to the families of the two deceased young men, and called for the release of those detained. However, the police chief had already ordered the release of some 20 of the protestors.

No poisonous snakes in DR
The Minister of Environment and Natural Resources (Semarena), Jaime David Fernandez Mirabal, denies the existence of any venomous snakes in the Dominican Republic, specifically in Villa Gonzalez, west of Santiago de los Caballeros, adding that there were no snakes that are harmful to humans in any part of the DR. As he headed up the second tree-planting campaign in Santiago's Central Park, the former Vice-President said that the Boa Hispaniola is endemic to the island and its presence is beneficial, as it does not harm anyone (except for rats and unwary chickens). He said that in organic cacao plantations and in a more general sense, in agriculture, the Boa Hispaniola or green snake acts as a natural insecticide because it eats rats and woodpeckers. He called upon the population to protect its existence. The question came up after a press release from the Spanish news agency EFE that said there was a possibility that poisonous snakes existed in the country.

Baseball roundup
On Sunday the Aguilas defeated the Leones 15-6 in the Parque Quisqueya, breaking the home field unbeaten streak of the Leones and ending their own two-game skid. Massive hitting, mixed with adequate pitching did the job for the Aguilas, still bottom feeding in the standings. Over in La Romana the Tigres took a rare game from the mighty Toros, winning 11-3. Erick Aybar got three hits as the Tigres got their first win over the Toros. In San Francisco de Macoris the surprising Gigantes picked on the lowly Estrellas Orientales 7-3, keeping their second place position and assuring that the San Pedro team stays in the cellar.
Team W-L Avg. Games Behind
TOROS 7 - 2 .778 --
GIGANTES 6 - 2 .750 0.5
ESCOGIDO 6 - 4 .600 1.5
LICEY 4 - 6 .400 3.5
AGUILAS 3 - 6 .333 4.0
ESTRELLAS 2 - 8 .200 5.5

Tonight's game
Julian Javier Stadium
San Francisco deMacoris
Aguilas (Jose Lima, 0-0, 5.73) vs. Gigantes (F. Nunez, 1-0, .000)

Albert Pujols wins Clemente Award
While it is possible, some say even probable, that within a month Albert Pujols will win his second Most Valuable Player Award, he received what is perhaps a more important award on Saturday: The Roberto Clemente Award for Outstanding Public Service. Because of Roberto Clemente's significance for all Latin baseball players, and because the prize is awarded by baseball commissioner Bud Selig and Clemente's widow Vera Clemente, this is one of the most authentic prizes awarded to these professional athletes. For those who don't remember Roberto Clemente, he was Puerto Rican born baseball superstar who played with the Pittsburgh Pirates and died in a plane crash off the Puerto Rican coast as he was taking humanitarian aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua in 1972. Pujols has been instrumental in helping people with Downs Syndrome. The Clemente Award draws on both on-the-field efforts as well as community service as the two criteria for making the award.
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