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Daily News - Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Documentary on pirate ship
This evening the National Geographic Channel is airing a documentary on the discovery and study of the Cara Merchant pirate ship, which has been found off Catalina Island in the eastern Dominican Republic. This is the ship that Captain William Kidd commandeered and then abandoned in 1699 as he raced to New York in an ill-fated attempt to clear his name of piracy charges. The site will be turned into a Living Museum and will be accessible to the general public by December 2009.
"Shipwreck! Captain Kidd" premieres Tuesday, 18 November at 9pm EST as part of its "Expedition Week" programming.
The documentary tells how researchers confirmed that the shipwreck was the Cara Merchant after discovering teak wood after chiseling under the cannon that will be raised for the purpose of future identification. Samples sent to two laboratories for analysis in September identified the wood as teak. Teak was used by shipbuilders in western India, where the Cara Merchant was built. Beeker said the wood analysis confirmed that the ship is Captain Kidd's Cara Merchant.
The ship, according to archival records, was built in Surat, western India. The trade networks had not expanded to be completely global, but the Spanish traded in the Caribbean.
"Indian Merchants were trading with England, but they were not in the Western Hemisphere," Hanselmann said. "So it's a rare instance in the historical record of a ship built in India having been in the Caribbean. If you couple the historical record with the archaeological record and the results of the wood analysis being teak, that allows us to fill in more pieces of the puzzle as to what this ship is and where it came from."
Archival research identified the correct name of the ship, the Armenian-owned Cara Merchant. Several variations of this name had also been used.
IU researchers have met with tourism industry officials, business owners and several research-oriented non-governmental organizations to discuss the use and protection of the sites. Support from local dive shops and hotels is critical to monitoring and protecting the preserves.
Archaeologists from Indiana University have worked closely with the DR's National Office of Underwater Cultural Heritage (ONPCS).
Indiana University has been entrusted with the research. Charles Beeker, director of the Office of Underwater Science in IU Bloomington's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation says he knows of no other discoveries of 17th century ships of this kind, adding to the historical significance of the find. Beeker can be reached at [email protected]
To learn more about the Underwater Science program, visit www.indiana.edu/~scuba

Education spending wisely?
As part of an agreement with Wind Telecom, the Ministry of Education will place 5,000 plasma televisions in 1,066 schools around the country beginning in January. Wind Telecom will facilitate the transmission of educational channels including Discovery Channel, Discovery Science, Discovery Civilization, Discovery Turbo, Animal Planet, Biography and The History Channel. The first stage of the program will include 500 centers in Santo Domingo, the National District, Santiago, Bonao and La Vega. Education Minister Melanio Paredes said that the Ministry currently has some of the funds for the program but hopes that the business sector and other agencies will help develop the initiative. Paredes added that the television programs would be incorporated into educational curriculums.
While many feel the initiative could help bridge the digital gap and compensate for teacher deficiencies, critics wonder whether plasma televisions are the best investment when the educational system is reeling from other problems including over-crowding, lack of a constant power supply and running water, and a shortage of classrooms.
Meanwhile, the Dominican Teachers Association (ADP) that groups public school teachers says that it has collected 535,000 signatures from citizens who support an initiative aimed at increasing government funding to education to 4% of the GDP. The Minister of Education says he will be happy if his budget is raised to 2.5% of the GDP.

Payroll balloons with blackouts
Blackouts have declined this week as the government begins to pay up on arrears with distributors, but Listin Diario highlights that excessive employment is partly responsible for the financial difficulties that have resulted in long hours of blackouts. While blackouts have increased in recent years, the government has looked the other way as the payroll of the State Run Electric Companies (CDEEE) and the state-run power distributors have ballooned.
Listin Diario goes on to write that these increases in payroll occurred despite the fact that the power distribution companies subcontract most of their services to private companies.
A report by the CDEEE indicates the monthly payroll for the fully government-owned power distributors EdeNorte and EdeSur in August 2004 was of 3,228 but by September 2008 this had increased to 4,214 of which 2,274 jobs are at EdeNorte and 1,920 are at EdeSur. Over the four year period, 896 new jobs ( 27.7% more) were created, despite there not being an increase in generation. This meant RD$92.27 million a month more in wages, bringing the two distributors' total payroll to RD$137.56 million in September 2008, up from RD$45.3 million a month four years ago. EdeEste's September 2008 payroll was 1,286 employees, or RD$38.27 million. EdeEste has about a third of the billing. The government owns 50% of EdeEste.
While tropical storms in recent years damaged power generators at hydroelectric plants that are under the CDEEE holding, the increases in payroll spending have not been curtailed at these. The Listin Diario makes the point that the hydroelectric power generators that are out of service (about 100 MW) mean US$40 million less in power receipts for the government. The Listin reports that the hydroelectric generators are unlikely to be repaired because the government has requested permission from the World Bank, which was lending the resources, to use the funds to pay arrears to power distributors for electricity receipts.
Meanwhile, the CDEEE holding reported an increase to RD$230.15 million monthly payroll by September 2008, up from RD$39.25 million a month in 2004. Four years ago, 2,574 were employed in the CDEEE holding, but by September 2008, 3,928 persons were on payroll, or up 1,354 persons, equal to 52.6%, despite the decline in generation operations.
The newspaper reports on the high-end wages paid to CDEEE and transmission and hydroelectric companies board members, which total RD$300,000 a month plus representation expenses. The CDEEE and the transmission and hydroelectric companies have seven-member boards with executives who reap monthly wages of RD$150,000 to RD$200,000 plus a company vehicle.

El Salvador votes for JCE
The Electoral Board of El Salvador is asking the Dominican Central Electoral Board (JCE) to help organize their election. Walter Araujo, president of the Salvadoran Board acknowledged that the Dominican electoral process was efficient, coherent, quick and transparent as reported by observers from El Salvador who monitored the 16 May presidential election in the DR. The El Salvador Presidential election is set for January 2009. Araujo complimented the Dominican electoral system and said that the Dominican experience has left an indelible mark on the rest of Latin America.

Separate, but not equal
During the Dominican Bishops Conference, Catholic bishops expressed their opposition to the General Religious Association bill that would offer similar privileges to those enjoyed by Catholics to other religious organizations. The bishops argue the bill would allow for unlicensed or ill-prepared preachers to celebrate marriages in the DR. In a letter presented during the conference, the bishops came out against the government granting equality to all churches or religious sects in the country. Deputy Eugenio Cedeno Areche drafted the bill that proposed granting non-Catholic religious entities the same legal rights to perform marriages for Dominicans and foreigners alike in the DR. At present, only marriages in Catholic churches are legally valid. Other religious marriages have to go through a civil service as well.

Inequality still a reality
For all the talk of progress and development, the DR is still leading the region when it comes to its inability to reduce levels of social inequality. The Latinobarometro 2008 supports this perception, awarding the DR 64 out of a possible 70 points. The report also identifies the perception that the DR government only works for the nation's rich, not its poor. According to the study, 89% believe the government governs on behalf of a few powerful entities. This is the highest percentage in the region. Though the numbers are disappointing, Latin America as a region has done little to reverse this trend with only 21% of countries succeeding in reducing inequality.
See http://www.latinobarometro.org/

Nurses strike
Nurses from the UNASED union have announced they will hold a 72-hour strike beginning today. The public hospital nurses are asking for a wage increase and other concessions. Last week, nurses also held a two-day strike, but there was little media attention or support for their action. Contrary to the public hospital doctors that are allowed flexibility in keeping working hours, nurses are tied to a fixed schedule.

Telecoms reject tax
In a joint statement, Claro Codetel, Viva, Tricom and Orange have all rejected a proposed 3% additional tax on their earnings. The taxes were to be implemented by the municipal authorities. The telecommunications companies say that municipalities don't have the authority to levy taxes on corporations. During a meeting at the Hoy offices, legal representatives for the telecommunications sector stated that the tax initiative has no legal bearing, citing that under Dominican telecommunications law all taxes to the telecommunications sector can only be applied on a national level. Taxes on telecommunications in the DR are among the highest in the region. DR consumers already pay 28% tax on all telecom services.

Food still expensive
In recent weeks gas prices have dropped significantly, to the delight of vehicle owners, but food prices have remained almost the same. During the summer months, producers blamed high gas prices for the rise in food and other prices, but now that fuel prices have gone down, these same producers haven't passed on the savings to consumers. Public transport prices have also stayed very much the same, with drivers saying that while fuel prices have gone down, replacement parts and oil derivatives are still expensive, forcing them to keep prices at the same level.
There seems to be no respite for the public. What's even worse for some is that staple foods like rice should only be sold at RD$21 per pound, as set by the Consumer Protection Institute (PROCONSUMIDOR), but many supermarkets and stores sell the pound for RD$24 or more. The Agriculture Ministry says that in the last two months prices of more than 30 products have decreased, but according to Listin Diario, the basic staples have failed to show decreases.

Drivers frustrated
While gas prices have fallen sharply, drivers have a new set of concerns as they take to the roads. Traffic fines have increased and an AMET cop's willingness to give out a fine has gone up with it. Now a ticket could cost you RD$1,000, up from RD$530. This is the minimum driving fine. Drivers could also be hit with an RD$1,667 fine, up from RD$884 for running a red light, talking on a cell phone or not wearing a seat belt. Frustration has ensued, but El Caribe points out that driver violations have not dropped significantly. Some drivers insist that the increase in the volume of fines and their prices is just another way for the government to increase its tax collections.

Pros and cons of interception bill
Deputy Vinicio Castillo Seman, who has submitted a bill aimed at enabling the Dominican authorities to intercept unauthorized planes suspected of carrying drugs, is highlighting the contradiction between the support the US government gave to a similar bill in Colombia and its rejection of the Dominican bill. The bill seeks to interrupt the air bridge between suppliers in Colombia and Venezuela and the target markets in the US and Europe. Castillo believes that the strongest argument in favor of the bill is the deterrent effect of the potential interdiction on drug trafficking operations by air.
Castillo comments that if the real reason behind their opposition to the Bill for Air and Maritime Interception of drug planes is to prevent interception errors, the logical thing would be that the US, as the final destination for most of the drugs that are dropped over Dominican territory, and the world's strongest military power, should take on the task of preventing planes from the South American cartels from penetrating DR territory, as they do with Puerto Rico.
"If the US's concern is that our military is not trained to their security standards, then they should sign a cooperation agreement for interception training, linked with radars that would be coordinated with the US military. The multinational nature of drug trafficking justifies an equally multinational combat force made up of the states in the area and much more justified efforts of the state to where most of the drugs are targeted at," he writes in an op-ed piece in Listin Diario on 17 November.
On the other hand, Senator Wilton Guerrero of Peravia opposes the passing of the interception bill. "I am completely against that bill because there are no guarantees on who will decide who will be shot down. I do not know if it will be officers like the officers who are involved in the Paya case," he told Listin Diario. The Paya case consists of a dozen Navy officers suspected of involvement in a major drug dealing case. Senator Wilton Guerrero, who has openly accused high-ranking government officials of complicity with the drug traffickers, also opposes the purchase of the Brazilian Super Tucano planes. "The Super Tucano may serve to combat drugs, but they could also serve to transport more drugs to the DR," he said. He commented that this has occurred with Navy ships, which have been used to transport drugs to the DR.
The senator reiterated his belief that local civil and military government officials who are responsible for combating drugs have been negligent in their roles.

90+ feared shipwrecked
Officials are reporting that over ninety people who secretly left for Puerto Rico last week and haven't been heard from since. Their families raised the alarm when they did not arrive as expected. Jose Reyes, who had planned to make the voyage, says that he changed his mind and disembarked about 500 meters from the beach. He claims that more than 100 people were on the boat. Reyes said that he warned travelers not to go through with the trip, warning of the dangers. He said that some passengers were even standing up as the boat departed. Only five others heeded his warning. Hoy reports that each passenger had paid over RD$50,000 for the trip. The boat departed from Miches, on the east coast of the country, and most of the travelers were from the northeastern provinces.
Navy officials are denying reports that the boat was found early this morning and say that the search is continuing.
Two weeks ago survivors of another illegal trip were found near the Turks and Caicos. The ship had sailed from the DR with 30 passengers and only four survived. According to reports, survivors threw their dead fellow passengers overboard and ate each other to survive.

'Shampoo smuggler' caught
The authorities have arrested Alejandro Almanzar in connection with a drug trafficking case where liquid cocaine hidden in shampoo bottles was to be transported to the US. Details of where and who else was involved in the case have not been released. Officials say Almanzar was the owner of Optimum and Compania Inmobiliaria located on Roberto Pastoriza Avenue in Santo Domingo. Yesterday, it was reported that the National Drug Control Department (DNCD) had confirmed that 108 boxes labeled "shampoo" actually contained liquid cocaine. The shipment was seized at the docks at Haina Oriental, before it could be shipped to the United States.

Domestic violence complaints
Women's State Prosecutor Roxanna Reyes says that verbal and psychological abuse now makes up 65% of the more than 20,000 reports of domestic abuse in the DR, exceeding physical abuse. Reyes considers this a small victory. Reyes mentioned a case in Bani last month, when a man was charged and ordered to pay an RD$1 million fine and spend two years in jail for psychological abuse. This has set a precedent in the Dominican judicial system. Reyes said that psychological violence is common, but hard to prove. Reyes also spoke about the grim fact that 102 women have been murdered by their partners so far this year, meaning that on the whole, domestic violence has increased.

Alberto Pujols wins MVP
Albert Pujols has been awarded his second National League Most Valuable Player. The slugger continues to rack up the post-season hardware and add more adjectives to his certain Hall of Fame career. Pujols's achievement is amazing in itself, but even more amazing considering that his career had been in jeopardy before this season. Pujols has been suffering from elbow pain. Fox Sports explains that Pujols had surgery for nerve irritation in his right elbow, an ailment that caused numbness, tingling in his ring finger and pinkie, a weak grip and pain inside his forearm. Pujols however expects to eventually have Tommy Johns reconstructive surgery. Regardless, Pujols numbers were unreal. He hit .357 with 37 homeruns and 116 RBIs. Pujols got 18 of the 32 first-place votes in balloting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America and had 369 points. The All-Star first baseman became the 25th multiple MVP winner in either league. Pujols has been consistent. He is the only big leaguer to hit at least 30 homeruns in his first eight seasons in the majors, and has finished in the top 10 of the NL MVP voting each year. He also led the league in slugging percentage and intentional walks. He had 104 and a .462 on base percentage, second in the NL.

Baseball updates
The Gigantes came to play last night, though it took them a few innings to get warmed up. After falling behind, the Escogido looked to have the game wrapped, but the fat lady wasn't singing and if she was the Gigantes weren't listening. Came the crucial ninth inning and the Gigantes engineered a five-run rally in the ninth inning to take the game 5-4. This is the type of play that championship teams are made of. In last night's other game Licey easily took care of the perennial cellar-dwellers Estrellas 11-5, and with this victory they positioned themselves only one game out of first place in the standings.
Standings
Team W-L Avg. Games Behind
GIGANTES 17 - 10 .629 --
TOROS 15 - 11 .576 --
AGUILAS 15 - 11 .576 --
LICEY 14 - 11 .560 1.0
ESCOGIDO 11 - 13 .458 3.5
ESTRELLAS 6 - 19 .240 8.5

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