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Daily News - Thursday, 18 December 2008

Earthquake shakes DR
A earthquake registering 5.1 on the Richter scale was felt in the DR at around 1:13pm on Thursday. The United States Geological Survey website reported that its epicenter was off the eastern coast of the country. It was located 26 km (16 miles) NNW (343 degrees) from San Pedro de Macoris, 41.8 kms to the north-northeast of La Romana, 43.6 kms to the south of Samana, and 63 kms (39 miles) ENE (71 degrees) from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
See www.dr1.com/forums/weather-beyond/... for updates and reports on damage, if any.

PetroCaribe not in jeopardy
President Leonel Fernandez says that the steep drop in international fuel prices will not affect the PetroCaribe agreement with Venezuela. On Friday, the price of Venezuelan oil had dropped to US$31/barrel.
Fernandez said that although Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez had expressed concern over the fall in fuel prices, there was never a point at which the agreement was in jeopardy. Fernandez added that PetroCaribe stipulates different programs of cooperation depending on the price of fuel.
Fernandez said that because of the current cost of fuel the DR must pay 70% of the petroleum bill and defer payment on the remaining 30%.
He added that if the prices jumped to US$60 the DR would have to pay 60% of the bill and defer payment on the remaining 40%, and if the barrel jumps back up to US$100 the DR would pay only 30% of the bill and defer on the remaining 70%. During his visit to Brazil, Fernandez also met with host President Luiz Lula da Silva to discuss loans the government is taking with the Banco Nacional de Desarrollo Economico y Social de Brasil and met with Chilean representatives to discuss possible loans from Chile.
On the question of regional integration, Fernandez commented that Latin America and Caribbean nations needed to develop a common agenda that protects the environment and defines shared actions for infrastructural development as well as the development of a regional political dialogue. Fernandez added that the region needs to reach a common position on energy and that the conditions are in place to develop a shared agenda.
President Fernandez was speaking during his visit to Brazil to attend the Rio Group and Latin American and Caribbean Conference on Integration and Development.

Tourism will be OK
Tourism Minister Francisco Javier Garcia believes that tourism in the DR will emerge unscathed from the looming international financial crisis, as reported in Hoy. Garcia's optimism is based on a 2.10% growth in tourism from January to November. Garcia added that tourism in the DR has already survived five crises, including the US real estate problems, the increase in fuel prices during the summer, the global food shortage and the instability in the international financial markets. Making his case, Garcia said that travel from the US was up 1.61%. When Canada is included, travel from North America was up 4.52%. European travel dropped 2% during the same period. Garcia adds that holiday travel has begun with more arrivals than expected.

No money for school salary
Hacienda Minister Vicente Bengoa says there is not enough money in the budget to pay out the "14th" wage that Congress passed in November. The extra salary is intended to help government employees to equip their children for the new school year. Bengoa says the 14th wage should be postponed till 2010. Bengoa said the 14th wage equals an extra RD$3.5 billion. The 2009 budget is already showing a deficit.
The bill stipulates that government employees who make up to RD$30,000 per month will be paid an extra paycheck before the start of the school year. The bill was due to take effect on 29 July 2009. 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. Employees who make between four and five minimum salaries will receive 60% of their salaries.

Constanza farmers blame Chio
Farmers in Constanza are publicly blaming Agriculture Minister Salvador Jimenez (Chio), saying he is responsible for their multi-million-peso losses. "The lack of planning that has prevailed in your administration has caused enormous and irreparable damage to the economy of the Valley of Constanza and the country," they state in a paid advertisement in Listin Diario. They state: "Remember that after the Noel and Olga storms at the end of 2007, in one of your rare visits to this hard-working valley, you encouraged us to plant garlic, potatoes and onions on the grounds that the crops had suffered major damage nationwide and there would be shortages. This was not true. The Ministry of Agriculture distributed seeds for the planting of onions all around the country and we the farmers planted the crops, they explained.
To the dismay of 3,000 producers in the valley, all they have now is a multi-million-peso debt with the Ministry of Agriculture for RD$54 million, while their onion crop was left to spoil in government warehouses.
They complained that since four days before the 2008 presidential election (12 May) they have not seen the minister in Constanza, the country's main farming area, where more than 80% of the vegetables and legumes are produced. They said there was also a garlic surplus. They also deny the contents of a Ministry press release on 11 November 2008, claiming that the department was paying RD$220 million to farmers in Constanza. The farmers say that they have only received half that amount.

CAF approves loan
The Andean Promotion Corporation (CAF) has approved a US$75 million line of credit that will be used for the improvement of roads in the DR. The loan will be managed by the National Plan for the Investment in the Dominican Republic Transport Sector and will be executed by the Ministry of Hacienda. The CAF is a multilateral finance organization that helps fund sustainable development and regional integration. Participating members in CAF include Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Spain, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay and Venezuela, as well as 15 banks located within the Andean Community.

Colmados get a break
The Ministry of Interior and Police gave in to the owners of colmadones, the open-air corner bars in the DR. The grocery stores-turned bars now can sell alcoholic beverages after midnight beginning on 22 December until 1 January 2009. As part of an ordinance passed by the Ministry, colmados must adhere to certain security measures as well as controlling noise levels and not obstructing traffic around their establishments. Up till now, only indoor discotheques and bars have been authorized to stay open after midnight.

Cocco's defense
Customs (DGA) director Miguel Cocco is denying that tariffs on imported powdered milk have been raised. Cocco explained that at one stage a ton of powdered milk, which costs RD$5,500, was subject to a 20% tariff, which was then administratively reduced to 8% when dairy costs skyrocketed on the international market. But now the DGA has decided to restore the 20% tariff established by the law. Cocco says that when milk prices went up, the tariff went down, and now that milk prices have gone down, the full tariff has been reinstated. Cocco defended the DGA's actions by saying that the government lost out on millions when the tariff was reduced so Dominicans would not have to pay for much more expensive milk, because national milk production only meets 30% to 35% of the national demand.
Yesterday it was reported that powdered milk prices could go up in January and that beginning on 1 January 2009, the 12% deduction that the Customs Department has allowed for powdered milk importers will be rescinded.

A can of worms?
The disappearance of a private plane with 11 passengers on board has opened a can of worms about the lack of controls on private flights at Dominican airports. Jose Tomas Perez, director of the Dominican Civil Aviation Institute (IDAC) said a commission would be studying the disappearance of a plane that took off from Santiago's Cibao International Airport on Monday. The pilot, Adrian Jimenez, reported an emergency near West Caicos but the US Coast Guard has not been able to find any trace of the flight and is searching for the black box.
Migration director Jose Anibal Sanz Jiminian explained that upon review all the passengers on board had valid visas to fly to the Turks and Caicos and if their final destination was the US the Dominican authorities has no jurisdiction over that.
Perez says the commission would investigate whether the airport in Santiago has any responsibility in the case of the missing plane.
Perez confirmed that the pilot had a license issued by the Federal Aviation Administration in the US, and that since he was on a private and not commercial flight, different safety check requirements applied. There are contradicting reports on his license, though. The local press has reported that Jimenez only had a student license that would not have allowed him to transport passengers.
Yesterday, Major General Carlos Altuna Tezanos said that one of the reasons pilot Adrian Jimenez had his Dominican license cancelled in 2002 was for people smuggling activities. At a press conference yesterday, the administrator of the Cibao airport said that pilot Adrian Jimenez had been using the terminal to fly to different destinations for the last four months. According to Diario Libre sources, it was determined that in the last five years Jimenez has smuggled some 400 people to different destinations.
Lieutenant General Pedro Rafael Pena Antonio says there should be a penalty for those who allowed Jimenez to take off with passengers while flying on a student license, as reported in Hoy.
Diario Libre reports that pilot Jimenez is a former second lieutenant of the Army, former Navy pilot and former Air Force cadet. He was supervisor for the southwest in Barahona, under the National Department of Investigations. He is also being investigated for the murder of IDAC official Angel Christopher Martinez.
A BBC news report lists all the inconsistencies in the flight:
"A flight plan indicated it was to land in the Bahamas, said Santiago Rosa, aerial navigation director for the Dominican Civil Aviation Institute.
But the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said the plane disappeared shortly after taking off from Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos Islands, south-east of the Bahamas.
A Turks and Caicos police spokesman said airport authorities had no record of the plane landing in Providenciales.
US Coast Guard Petty Officer Barry Bena said that relatives of those on board had said the passengers' final destination was New York.
FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said: "There are still a lot of unanswered questions here."
As reported in Hoy, two days ago Jimenez was piloting another airplane that suffered problems that interfered with a JetBlue flight at the Santiago International Airport. Hoy reported that Jimenez was piloting a private plane belonging to PLD deputy Juan de Leon.

Money warning in Santiago
Business owners in the Cibao region are warning of an increase in the circulation of fake dollars and pesos and are asking citizens to thoroughly check RD$200 and RD$2,000 bills. Listin Diario reports that the situation has got to the point where some businesses are no longer accepting RD$2,000 bills and when presented with those bills they tell clients they do not have change.

Dominicans slow to come
The strain on the US economy is rearing its head as Dominicans return to the DR for the holiday season. Hoy reports that although Dominicans are returning for the holidays, arrivals are down compared to previous years. Las Americas International Airport (AILA), which is usually bursting at the seams with passengers being greeted by hordes of family members, is having an easy holiday season. Taxi drivers have expressed their concern about the reduced number of travelers.

DR1 investigates
In recent weeks the Central Electoral Board (JCE) has increased its promotion of the new biometric cedula identity card and has set up a website with information on the new registration process. But there was an interesting coincidence to their campaign. The JCE's website promoting the new cedula curiously included the signature of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe in its home page design. Questions arose as to why the JCE would use the notorious African leader's signature to promote the JCE, especially as the JCE has modeled itself as a champion of transparency and anti-corruption. Was it a clever joke, a simple coincidence, or something else? As part of its investigation DR1 contacted Daniel Joseph who is in charge of the JCE's website. According to Joseph, that particular signature was used because "it was the only signature that could be used without infringing copyright rules." Joseph added that "no research into Mugabe's identity was carried out" and that the JCE wanted a "nice" signature to be used on the flyer. He admitted that using the signature of a well-known Dominican figure or a "made up name" were other options at their disposal, but they chose to use a signature they found on Wikipedia. After continued questioning Joseph admitted to not knowing who Mugabe was, and didn't understand how the use of Mugabe's signature could reflect poorly on the JCE's campaign. In the end Joseph agreed to remove the signature.
For a picture of the original JCE flyer click here: http://dr1.com/news/2008/jce_mugabe.jpg

Eye of the Gigantes
Although the Gigantes have qualified for this year's Round Robin post-season tournament, they haven't turned off their engines just yet. In fact, the Gigantes are looking to play spoiler to anyone's post-season hopes and last night the Tigres were in their sights. The Tigres are two games back in the playoff race and sorely needed a win to stay in the race. But the Gigantes had something to say about that and took the game with a 4-2 victory. The Gigantes are 17-2 this season when they score first and have the league's most explosive offense. And while the Tigres seem to be in a tight spot, the Aguilas are doing little to help their post-season dreams. Last night they narrowly lost to the Estrellas 6-5 with the help of Pablo Ozuna and Tony Blanco. The Estrellas, eliminated from post-season competition are showing great resolve by their continued effort and could play the most important role in deciding who plays in the post-season. In last night's final game the Leones, who have a glimmer of a chance for extended play, tried to control their destiny with a victory against the Toros.
Team W-L Avg. Games Behind
GIGANTES** 28 - 19 .596 --
TOROS 26 - 21 .553 2.0
LICEY 25 - 22 .532 3.0
AGUILAS 24 - 23 .511 4.0
ESCOGIDO 23 - 24 .489 5.0
ESTRELLAS++ 16 - 31 .340 12.0
(** Qualified for Round Robin)
(++ Knocked out of Round Robin)
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