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Daily News - Tuesday, 11 November 2008

President returns
President Leonel Fernandez returns home today after a 14-day trip to El Salvador, France, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States.
During his speech at the XVIII Ibero-American Heads Of State Conference held in El Salvador, President Leonel Fernandez said that the biggest challenge for young people in Central America was education. Fernandez said that in the Latin American context education is only referenced as a percentage of national GDP and nothing else. According to Fernandez, spending on education below 4% of the GDP is insufficient and there is no future with that model. Nonetheless, the DR currently allocates just 2.3% of its GDP towards education.
During his trip to France, Fernandez spoke at the first session of the Biarritz Forum (3-4 November). During his speech Fernandez called on all countries, not just the Group of 20, to take part in reforming the international financial system, which must be "fairer and more equal" and to fight against speculators. He stressed that the new international financial system should include all countries, in a criticism of the composition of the Washington Summit set for 15 November, which will gather the G20, the seven richest countries in the world and some of the larger emerging economies.
During his trip to the Gulf, Fernandez and the official delegation pushed for future Middle Eastern investment in the DR in the areas of energy, tourism and the possibility of building a petroleum refinery in the DR.
In the UK, Fernandez met with representatives from Warwick University where an educational cooperation plan for 2009 was agreed. The plan will include an exchange scholarship program for Dominicans to study in England. Initially, the program will be directed at students of law, governance, international relations, science, agriculture and political science.
Fernandez is expected to land at San Isidro Air Force Base at 10pm, on a private flight from New York.

Morales in Egypt
Foreign Relations Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso has signed a cooperation agreement with Egypt. The agreement was signed by Morales and Egyptian Foreign Relations Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit. The agreement will formalize a bilateral agenda for the next five years and will help both nations strengthen friendly relations. The DR and Egypt first established relations during the first Fernandez administration, in 1999. However this is the first formal agreement signed. Morales Troncoso and Gheit have agreed to visit each other's countries in the future as part of continuing efforts to strengthen ties.

Inflation back to single digits
The Central Bank reports that the consumer price index variation in October was 1.05% less than in September. According to the Central Bank, accumulated inflation so far this year (January-October) is 9.6%. The CPI is reflecting the decline in the price of fuel on the local market.

Country in crisis
While President Leonel Fernandez has been traveling the world in pursuit of foreign investments, he has been silent on the issues back home. Rolling blackouts have been punishing the public during the last month and have even provoked riots and protests in some parts of the DR. Three deaths were reported in the Cibao region in protests against the blackouts.
There has also been increasing tension in Congress about the approval of a loan to purchase eight Super Tucano jets from Brazil. The purchase has been controversial from the onset, with opponents saying they are not the best option for the fight against drugs. Last week the PLD political committee told its congressional members to vote in favor of the bill. News reports focused on the "grease" going around to encourage the deputies to pass the loan.

CDEEE will pay up
The State-run Electricity Companies (CDEEE) says that it would pay the energy generators US$54 million by the end of this week, in three installments: US$6 million today, US$20 million on Wednesday and US$28 million on Thursday. This is the third time in less than a month that the CDEEE promised to pay the generators part of the government's outstanding debts. Segura assured the public that by paying the RD$54 million, the entrance of two energy generators into the grid and the arrival of fuel tankers, the blackouts would diminish. Segura says the energy deficit has been reduced by 585MW in the last few days. The generators recently confirmed they had been turning off generators because the government was in arrears. On 13 October the CDEEE first announced they would pay the generators US$46 million. No payment was ever made and the blackouts ensued. In the midst of blackouts that have lasted as long as 24 hours in some sectors, the National Business Council (CONEP) proposed a plan to regulate the energy sector.

Segura criticizes plan
CDEEE vice president Radhames Segura has criticized the plan submitted by the National Business Countil (CONEP) aimed at regulating the energy sector and making it more efficient. CONEP announced its original plan last week. As part of the plan, the current US$1.3 billion deficit with the energy sector could be turned into an US$90 million surplus in four years providing there is: 1) a reduction of technical and non-technical losses, 2) a reduction of purchase price of fuel, 3) privatization by 50% of EdeNorte and EdeSur and 4) an energy sector watchdog. CONEP is also proposing a partly government funded fiduciary fund (of which the government would pay 50%) which would be used to improve the distribution networks and stop energy theft, which is rife in the DR. CONEP is also proposing investment in the system, which CDEEE vice president Radhames Segura has criticized the private sector for failing to do.
The plan also calls for the reduction in the cost of "storage" by 15% as well as a reduction, from 20% to 2% in the cost of energy not delivered.
Instead of commenting on details of the plan, Segura focused on the figures presented in CONEP's 5 November report, saying they were incorrect. Segura explained that the cost of paying the energy generators will be lower once a coal-fired plant is built, but gave no details on this plan.
The CDEEE vice president urged the private sector to sign an agreement as soon as possible that would facilitate the construction of the coal-fired plant, but failed to elaborate on any substantial plan to strengthen the sector in the future. Segura pointed out that the report was incomplete because it did not include EdeEste that has had the largest increases of losses since 2005, going from 49.35% to 34.42% in October 2008. Segura also passed the buck onto the Madrid Accords, which he says, limit the government from purchasing energy at competitive prices.

No power, no clue
Businessman Celso Marranzini is criticizing decisions made by the State-run Electricity Companies (CDEEE) in response to the wave of recent blackouts, saying the CDEEE is clueless about the issues plaguing the energy sector. Marranzini, a former president of the National Business Council (CONEP) claims that CDEEE vice president Radhames Segura's response to a proposal made last week by CONEP is inadequate because instead of focusing on the solutions presented by CONEP Segura picked on the figures in the proposal. In its reports CONEP claims the energy generators' deficit will amount to US$1.3 billion with 50% in total losses, while Segura maintains that the deficit will only be US$1.066 billion, US$234 million less, and only registering 42.19% in losses. "Now I am really concerned, because I see the CDEEE doesn't understand the problem. To argue about figures in a country that has 12-hour blackouts and has paid more than US$4 billion in subsidies in the last four years, and where the most expensive energy in the region is charged confirms what we've said, that there is no clarity, no will to resolve the energy problem." Marranzini said the proposal to build a coal-fired plant that generates 1,200MW of energy is an interesting proposal, but it doesn't get to the root of the problem and only takes the discussion on a tangent.

Coal plants problematic
A study by a research student at the UNPHU University has revealed that 68% of residents in Los Bajos de Haina, near the Itabo coal-fired generators suffer from respiratory and skin problems due to the coal particles emitted by the generators. The study also revealed that 56% of residents have suffered some sort of respiratory ailment and that 40% are at risk of acquiring these problems. Those interviewed, according to Hoy, say they have never been treated or told how to deal with these problems. The research students cited a 2005 study by the Academy of Science which estimated that 93% of sickness in that areas was due to respiratory problems. They also cited a 2007 study that revealed that more than 35,000 cases of lung diseases in children under the age of 14. Haina is known as one of the ten most polluted places on the planet, and the Blacksmith Institute has nicknamed it the "Dominican Chernobyl." Bajos de Haina is home to 110 manufacturing, chemical, metal and pharmaceuticals companies, as well as an energy generator.

RD$800 million for canastas
The government will spend an estimated RD$800 million on the holiday season gift baskets, given to poor families at the end of each year. The Christmas baskets, which are handed out to an estimated one million families, will include rice, beans, pasta, chicken, sardines, sugar, powdered milk, wine and apples.

Biometric ID cards for foreigners
Interior and Police Minister Franklyn Almeyda has told Listin Diario that a nationwide foreigner registration program would be implemented starting in the first quarter of next year. Foreigners will be issued biometric identity documents. He said the registration program could take a year. He said the plan also involves carrying out a census to determine the number of foreigners living in the DR. This would run parallel to the implementation of biometric ID cards for Dominicans. He said this plan would define who is legally in transit, who is here illegally, and who is a permanent resident. He said his department contracted Gallup to poll Dominicans on the issue of regularizing the status of foreigners in the DR. The foreigners will receive an ID card as foreigners.
Almeyda also told Listin Diario that the Ministry of Interior & Police is responsible for migration issues, and that the Department of Migration and the Police fall under his ministry.
The Central Electoral Board (JCE) is the institution responsible for issuing the cards after a person's legal status has been determined by the Department of Migration.

Haiti rejects aid from DR
Haiti has turned down official humanitarian aid offered by the DR, according to Hoy, although no reason was given for this rejection. The Dominican government had offered medical assistance as well as medical equipment, including two ambulances. The humanitarian aid was offered after a three-story school in Petionville on the outskirts of Port au Prince collapsed, killing 90 and injuring an estimated 150 people. No survivors have been found in the ruins of the College La Promesse Evangelique since Saturday. Rescue efforts are continuing with authorities believing there could be more dead bodies in the rubble.

US tourism to Cuba?
The election of President Elect Barack Obama could mark the start of a new international relations strategy for the United States, with many observers mentioning that the new Commander-in-Chief could return Guantanamo Bay to Cuban authority and lift the US embargo on the Caribbean nation. According to IMF economist Rafael Romeu, this could have seismic repercussions on tourism-based economies in the Caribbean, including the DR. By lifting the embargo, Americans, who make up the largest tourism demographic to the DR, could be tempted to visit a closer and cheaper destination like Cuba. Also, the curiosity factor posed by the isolated nation could attract many potential tourists. Accordingly, the blockade has hurt Cuba, but has benefited neighboring countries as a result. The DR's advantages include its cost-effectiveness and the fact that it is not as vulnerable to hurricanes as Cuba. The DR has always competed successfully with Cuba for the European and Canadian tourist market. In recent years, the DR has begun to cater more to the Russian tourist market, a stronghold for Cuba for many years. The DR has also begun to increasingly diversify its source markets, with a push to encourage more regional travel by increasing flights between the DR and Central and South America.

License to kill?
Jose Tomas Perez, director of the Dominican Civil Aeronautic Institute, says that a proposal to allow the Armed Forces to shoot down unauthorized airplanes or boats found in Dominican airspace and waters would be equivalent of a license to kill. He added it would also violate constitutional law. He added that the bill needed to be modified. Perez commented that what is missing is a radar system for the southwestern coast of the country to enable improved monitoring of suspected smuggling activities.
Deputy Pelegrin Castillo, who has promoted the bill, believes this would have a chilling effect and would deter the flights from entering Dominican airspace.

Penitentiary statistics
There are currently 16,741 prisoners in the Dominican penitentiary system, housed in 37 jails. Hoy writes that of those in prison 30% are there on drug related charges. Only 600 of those jailed are women, accounting for less than 4% of the jail population. Foreigners make up 1,072 of the prison population, mainly for being drug "mules." The government spends RD$90 per day on feeding each prisoner, totaling RD$500 million. The prisons provide medical care for an average of 466 prisoners daily.

Caribair's version
Caribair president Rafael Rosado has distanced his company from any drug trafficking activities. As reported in Listin Diario on Sunday, 9 November, Rosado said that pilot Antonio Maria Melo, who he claimed was a Police lieutenant, is not a fugitive from justice as reported earlier. He said that the pilot had been booked to fly Navy officer Edward Mayobanex Rodriguez Montero to the Turks & Caicos, not the Bahamas as also erroneously reported. Rodriguez Montero is accused of the murder of seven Colombians in a drug-related killing in Paya, Bani last August. Rodriguez was sent to preventive jail for 18 months while the case against him is heard in court.
He said that the pilot did not have information on the passengers' identity. He said that Rodriguez Montero was arrested in the parking lot at Puerto Plata airport and did not get to check in for the flight. Rosado said that as soon as he was notified of the case, he visited the chief of the Police Major General Rafael Guillermo Guzman Fermin and adjunct prosecutors Francisco Polanco and Fabian Melo to offer his cooperation. Rosado said that the flight was contracted at La Isabela Airport (AILI) in Santo Domingo province, headquarters of the airline, by a person named as Santos, who paid for the transportation of three Spanish citizens. He said that the names and identities provided later turned out to be false.

Doctor honored
Dr. Andres Nunez Tejada has been named "Professional of the Year," by the Dominican Professionals Association of Cataluna. Nunez received the award during a ceremony in Barcelona. Listin Diario reports that Nunez, who has worked in Barcelona for over 40 years, received the award with tears in his eyes.

Baseball updates
The Aguilas are closely resembling their old selves after taking another victory last night against the Gigantes, 10-5. It's the eighth game in which they have scored ten or more runs and are finally hitting that early season groove. In last night's other game the Toros easily took care of the Estrellas, with a final score of 10-2. The win put the team back in first place. And in last night's most exciting game Tony Batista hit a grand slam in the ninth to surge the Escogidos past the Tigres 5-4. There is now a four-team tie atop the standings, so stay tuned as things could change quickly.
Team W-L Avg. Games Behind
TOROS 12 - 9 .571 --
AGUILAS 12 - 9 .571 --
GIGANTES 12 - 9 .571 --
LICEY 12 - 9 .571 --
ESCOGIDO 10 - 10 .500 1.5
ESTRELLAS 4 - 16 .200 6.5

Tonight's games
Santo Domingo, Estadio Quisqueya 7:30pm: Toros vs. Escogido
San Pedro de Macoris, Estadio Tetelo Vargas 7:30pm: Aguilas vs. Estrellas
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