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Daily News - Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Fernandez on drug scandal
Issuing his first comments in response to the massacre of seven suspected drug traffickers in Paya, Bani in August, and other cases involving Navy officers and their affiliation to international drug rings, President Leonel Fernandez described the scandal as shameful, as reported in Hoy. Critics had found it odd that the President has failed to issue any public statements about the cases of corruption and drug involvement by top-ranking military officials that threatens the DR's national security and stability. Nonetheless, Fernandez said that he was sure that the Navy was still in a position to redeem its image. Fernandez made his comments during a ceremony celebrating the careers of military officers from different branches of the Armed Forces.

Get your sticker
Drivers only have nine days left to get their "marbete" required for driving a vehicle in the DR. The Department of Taxes (DGII) has made it easy to get the stickers (average time of 5 minutes), with several banks and government offices, and their website offering a fast track service. Those not renewing on time face a RD$500 fine, plus AMET fines for driving without the sticker, and the inconvenience of having to renew the permit at DGII offices only. Tax officials say there won't be any extensions and that to date only 65% of drivers have renewed their Marbete. An estimated 250,000 vehicle owners are leaving the renewal for the last minute.
See www.dgii.gov.do for more information.

Aiding education
The Senate has passed a bill that modifies the Dominican Social Security System so that up to 5% of pension funds can be used in technical and higher education programs. Hoy explains that the bill will stipulate that the National Social Security Council will make sure the Pension Fund Administrators (AFP) place 5% of their reserves in financial institutions. The funds will then be used for students who have A-grade averages in technical studies or at university. All is left now is for President Fernandez to sign it into law.

The 14th salary
Congress has passed the "14th salary" bill, which stipulates that government employees who make up to RD$30,000 per month will be paid an extra paycheck prior to the start of the school year. This payment is intended for the purchase of school supplies for their children. Public employees who only earn a minimum salary will get the complete "14th salary" paycheck while those who make the equivalent of two minimum salaries will get 80% of their salaries as part of the 14th salary. Those who make between four and five minimum salaries will receive 60% of their salaries.

Nurses stand idle
Yesterday saw the start of a 72-hour strike by public hospital UNASED union nurses. The Ministry of Public Health has not commented on the strike. Public Health Minister Bautista Rojas Gomez only said that he would present their request for wage increase to President Leonel Fernandez and Hacienda Minister Vicente Bengoa. He said that there was little he could do but that an increase could be included in the 2009 budget. Nurses are asking for a higher pay wage, pension plan improvements, remodeling of hospitals and the appointment of more than 1,200 nurses at the public hospitals.

DR mission to North Korea
A Dominican government official mission is on a seven-day visit to the People's Democratic Republic of Korea for the first time since diplomatic relations were established in September 2007. The agenda of Special Minister for Asia Miguel Mejia and Dominican ambassador to India, Cambodia and Vietnam Hans Dannenberg Castellanos includes a meeting with the minister of foreign relations. On the agenda are visits to interior towns, historical and cultural centers, and meetings with diplomats and leading figures. The DR representatives seek to present the DR as a geographical center for marketing and trade within the Americas.

Unhappy Dominicans
A study by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) reveals that Dominicans are the least satisfied with their lives compared to other Latin American citizens. Only Haitians as less satisfied, according to analysis carried out for the 2008 Development in the Americas - Beyond Facts: Understanding Quality of Life report. The study revealed that Costa Ricans are the most satisfied with their lives.
The study, released today, reports that people in countries that have experienced fast economic growth in recent years, such as the DR, are less satisfied with their lives than people in nations with slower growth rates.
The study, an unprecedented look into people's perceptions in the region, uses data from the Gallup World Poll and information commissioned by the IDB to complement the survey. Citizens of Latin American and the Caribbean were asked how they perceived key aspects of their lives, including the quality of education, healthcare, housing and employment, providing some surprising and occasionally counter-intuitive responses.
"Governments that focus their policies exclusively on growth are bound to lose support in the long run if they do not respond to the higher expectations that accompany growth in areas ranging from education and health to income distribution," explains Eduardo Lora, the IDB's chief economist and coordinator of the study. "The difficulty lies in responding to these demands without killing growth."
Life satisfaction in Latin America and the Caribbean was calculated using data from the Gallup 2007 World Poll. Participants in the poll were asked to rate their life satisfaction from zero to ten, with zero being the lowest rating possible.
Gallup surveyed more than 40,000 people in 24 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean between November 2005 and December 2007. The margin of error of the poll varies for each country and ranges from 3.1 percent to 5.1 percent.
For fuller details, see: www.iadb.org/NEWS/detail.cfm?id=4859

Beach access denied to Dominicans
PRD politician and former Samana senator Milton Ray Guevara has denounced the increasingly prevalent illegal practice of denying locals entry to beaches in some of the DR's tourism areas. According to Guevara, tourism companies are restricting access to public areas in Samana on the grounds that they have to guarantee the safety and cleanliness of their beach areas. Guevara argues that no one has the right to deny beach access to Dominicans. Guevara complained that last week he went to Cayo Levantado in Samana and was asked to show his ID before being allowed to enter a beach area. He was told that there was a foreign cruise ship in the area and that tourist safety had to be guaranteed. Guevara has also complained about the quality of roads in Samana, especially the ones leading to Las Terrenas.
The conflict presented by Guevara has been ongoing and companies point to the facr that after the long Easter holidays, for example, beaches are left in a mess with trash and junk left by local beachgoers. Others argue that Blue Flag-certified beaches, nevertheless, that are managed by companies in the area, are pristine and kept openly accessible to the general public.

Energy theft a problem
Losses in revenue due to stolen or non-invoiced energy between January and August totaled RD$12.7 billion (US$371 million), which is three times the government subsidy for the Blackout Reduction Program (PRA). A study by the Ministry of Economy, Planning and Development also revealed that 47 out of every 100 homes do not have an energy meter. The report indicates that 87.3% of the energy produced during this period was distributed to households not part of the PRA program. In the commercial sector only 66.5% of energy was invoiced, the remaining 33.5% was stolen and therefore not invoiced. According to the 2007 ENIGH study, 2.44 million homes were connected to the national energy grid, but only 33.2% (809,600) had energy meters and 1,157,000 had no way of measuring their energy consumption. The government has received numerous offers of pre-paid power programs from abroad that would eradicate the practice, but has preferred to continue with subsidizing the power distributors for the power not invoiced.

Cap Cana hurting
The Cap Cana real estate development is experiencing difficult times. Recently Cap Cana announced they would lay off 1,500 workers and recent news released by the group is more troublesome. Diario Libre is reporting that talks with lenders of a US$100 million bridge loan arranged by Morgan Stanley and the Deutsche Bank have broken down. Negotiations by shareholders to reschedule the loan, which matures on 19 November, were insufficient to satisfy creditors. Reports indicate that shareholders had tried to inject large amounts of capital in order to stave off defaulting on the loan and had tried to offer lenders alternative. None of it was enough. Cap Cana has tried to cut costs by reducing its workforce, outsourcing jobs and ceasing "non-essential" activities, but it hasn't been enough. Though the international financial crisis has definitely had an effect on Cap Cana's fortunes, it is also thought that bad business dealings could be at fault for the recent news. This disclosure comes only weeks after Fitch Ratings downgraded Cap Cana's rating on US$250 million senior acquired notes from 'B' to 'CCC/RR4.' The rating is placed in the Rating Watch Negative. On 31 October Business Wire reported that the inability to access capital markets coupled with a significant decrease in property sales has created a lack of liquidity for the project, which is expected to severely constrain its ability to continue normal operations. A default on the bridge loan facility would trigger a cross default to the $250 million senior secured notes due 2013. Cap Cana is looking for alternative financing, including a bailout by the government, but this option seems unlikely.
See: www.marketwatch.com/news/story/Fitch-Downgrades-250MM-Cap-Cana/... and www.marketwatch.com/news/story/Cap-Cana-Announces-Break-Down/...

Evangelicals respond
Members of the country's Evangelical churches have responded to criticisms from Catholic bishops who oppose the General Religious Association Bill that seeks to extend them the same privileges that the government grants the Catholic Church. The Supreme Court of Justice has already ruled that the Concordat agreement, the basis for many of the privileges, between the Vatican and the Dominican government is one between states and does not violate the Constitution. But Evangelical leader Domingo Paulino Moya, president of the Jesus es Sanidad y Vida Eterna Ministry wants the DR to follow in the footsteps of Costa Rica, where equality of conditions and rights was achieved for Evangelical churches.

Ambassador under a cloud
El Dia newspaper reports that an honorary ambassador to the Dominican government, Manuel Mario Perez Rivera, is likely to be removed from his post after accusations of fraud. The newspaper says that he was suspended last week and could be dismissed from the post this week pending a decision by President Leonel Fernandez himself. Perez Rivera, who is a Spanish national, was appointed honorary ambassador to the Dominican government on 19 August 2004, at the start of President Fernandez's 2004-2008 term of office. He was being considered for the post during the second term.
El Dia has been following through with an investigation into a series of fraud complaints about the diplomat and his son Mario Perez Garcia.
This is the same person who back in 2001 was questioned by El Caribe newspaper for his dealings with the Mejia administration. Regardless of the past controversies, the Fernandez administration appointed Mario Perez Rivera as ambassador.

Lost at sea
The Navy has extended search and rescue efforts for a boat that has disappeared in the Mona Passage. The boat was carrying more than 90 Dominicans who were trying to cross to Puerto Rico illegally. US Coast Guards have also helped with rescue efforts, but no clues as to what happened to the boat are known. The authorities now fear the worst. Although illegal trips to Puerto Rico are common, this one has generated particular interest because of the large number of travelers on board the vessel and the fact that two weeks ago survivors of a similar journey were found near the Turks and Caicos, saying they had to eat fellow passengers to stay alive.

Businessman freed
Businessman Luis Lantigua Seladillas has been freed after being held captive for two weeks. Versions as to how and why Lantigua was freed differ, but Hoy reports that Lantigua's family paid a ransom of RD$3 million. Lantigua, who was being held in San Francisco de Macoris, was then dropped off at Piedra Blanca in Bonao province, where he called family members. Hoy reports that armed men stormed into his house two weeks ago. Officials have kept the investigation into the kidnapping open. Few leads are available, but police are looking for Jose Encarnacion Mateo and Ramon Antonio German. Lantigua's case is just of several high-profile kidnapping cases. Diario Libre is reporting that kidnapping has now become a lucrative business in the DR. Today the government reported the release unharmed of 13-year old Johanna Aracena, another kidnap victim, who was released without the payment of ransom in a rescue operation by the Police in which one of the suspected kidnappers was killed. There are also reports of a third person being kidnapped in San Jose de Ocoa. In 2008 there have been five reports of kidnappings of foreigners and businesspeople, including that of Yubelkis Benitez, whose case led to investigations into a US$100 million Medicare fraud case in the US.

Another arrest in AMET murder
Manuel Mendez has been arrested in relation to the murder of Police Major Paula Mercedes. Mercedes, who was assigned to the AMET division, was shot prior to entering her home last week. Making himself the victim in the case, Mendez said that a police "hit squad" was after him in order to kill him and have the case closed. Prosecutors have guaranteed his safety. According to the Police, Mendez has been investigated for possible involvement in the BHD bank robbery, the murders of Aviation official Angel Christopher Martinez and the attempted murder of journalist Eury Cabral.

Baseball update
The Tigres are on a roll after a 7-2 victory against the Estrellas. And with continued play like this we could see them back for a championship battle this post-season. Though last night's game was against the perennial cellar-dwellers Estrellas, it was Licey's third win in a row. In last night's other game the Gigantes punched out the Escogido 8-5 and took sole possession of first place in the Dominican Winter League. Barring a collapse like last year's we could be watching this year's league champions.
In related news, Escogido manager Bienvenido Figueroa has resigned as coach. Escogido is having a dismal year, placing second to last in the standings. No reason why he decided to quit mid-season.
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