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Daily News - Friday, 19 December 2008

Metro Monday
Diandino Pena, director of the Transport Reorganization Office (OPRET) has announced that as of Monday, 22 December, rides will be free on the Santo Domingo Metro. The Metro will run from 9am to 7pm and the free rides will end on 6 January. Pena explained that only 10 train cars will be used for this three-week trial run, but that each car can carry an estimated 650 passengers and riders will only have to wait five or six minutes to catch a train. Pena also informed that in its initial stages the government will subsidize the Metro with US$25 million per year. Speaking at a press conference, Pena predicted that the Metro would exceed everyone's expectations.

Supreme Court on Sun Land
In a divided opinion, the Supreme Court of Justice (SCJ) has ruled that the charges of violation of the Constitution placed by the PRD opposition party and the Foro Social Alternativo civic group against the Dominican State for the Sun Land Corporation loan contracts are inadmissible. The Supreme Court accepted that the Executive Branch was under the obligation to send the loan contracts to Congress, but then ruled that only the president of the Senate and the president of the Chamber of Deputies had legal jurisdiction to bring charges against the Executive Branch for violating the procedure in the irregular loan contracting. Judges Ana Rosa Berges, Eglys Margarita Esmurdoc and Julio Anibal Suarez went on record with dissident opinions. They said that every citizen has the right to bring such charges, regardless of position.

Going off on a tangent
The 'Que se Dice' (What's Being Said) column in Hoy points out that one does not have to be a lawyer or an expert in constitutional law to understand that the Supreme Court went off on a tangent when declaring unacceptable the recourses of violation of the Constitution presented by the Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD) and the Foro Social Alternativo against two loan contracts with the Sun Land Corporation. The two accused the government of skipping Congress when taking out the foreign loans. The government subsequently negotiated the loan payments with a private bank, divesting itself of the commitment.
"Was there a need for judges of our highest court to spend a year dodging public opinion, resorting to sophisms and cutting remarks to justify this inexcusable waste of time to finally come up with the ruling that neither the PRD nor the Foro Social Alternativo are legally eligible to present the recourses?" asks writer Claudio Acosta. "How dare they tell the country that the only citizens who are legally eligible are the presidents of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, who are the least entitled to exercise that right because they are simple echoes of the ruling party and the Executive Branch, practically the same thing?" he asks. He concludes that our beleaguered institutionalism, full of all sorts of historical calls and iniquities, has again been shaken by another of those decisions that mark a before and an after, which are called a precedent, but more than anything they make us aware of what many are warning about with justified alarm: that the so-called independence of the branches of government a long time ago, in our democracy, are now but a simple abstraction, simply a nice Constitutional ideal, but nothing else. The reality is that the Executive Branch has subjugated all. Do we need reminding where that road will lead?"

Justice on the curve
In recent months the Supreme Court and minor courts have issued sentences that potentially signaled a change in the once weak legal system. But critics feel that yesterday's ruling on the Sun Land corruption case has revealed that not much has changed in the Dominican judicial system and that the old demons are still plaguing the country's justice system. Representatives from the PRD and the Alternative Social Forum, who initially presented the charges of unconstitutionality, were joined in a chorus of dismay by the Juan Montalvo Center, Participacion Ciudadana (PC) and the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (Flasco), which described the Supreme Court judgment as "regrettable and dangerous". In a written statement PC regrets the precedent set by the Supreme Court since they ruled that only the presidents of the legislative chambers can file charges of unconstitutionality. PC added that this ruling reverses some of the progress made by the Supreme Court through previous high profile rulings. PC is asking the government to reveal all transactions related to the IOUs, who are the creditors, how much is owed, what is the interest on the loan, and if in fact Sun Land gave the government an irrevocable line of credit worth US$41,052,630. According to FLASCO constitutional law specialist Nassef Perdomo the SC's decision limits the citizenry's ability to demand its rights.

SCJ ruling violates HR?
Fidel Santana, leader of the Alternative Social Forum says that he is considering taking the Sun Land case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on the grounds that the Supreme Court of Justice (SCJ) ruling violated his rights as a citizen. Yesterday, the SCJ ruled that charges of unconstitutionality against the Sun Land Corporation and the Dominican State were inadmissible because neither the FSA or the PRD, who also brought charges, had the legal capacity to do so. Three judges, Ana Rosa Berges, Eglys Margarita Esmurdoc and Julio Anibal Suarez disagreed with the ruling, arguing that all citizens have the right to present such charges. Santana says that the SCJ ruling violates the constitution and says the ruling sets a dangerous precedent.

Government was Clinton donor?
As part of a deal to secure his wife's chances to be appointed US Secretary of State, former President Bill Clinton agreed to release the highly secretive list of entities that donated generous amounts of money to his Bill Clinton Foundation. Among the controversial names are Middle Eastern, Saudi Arabian and Indian donors, as well as donations from the highly controversial Blackwater Training Center. Though only two donors gave more than US$25 million, the Dominican Republic's Presidential Council on AIDS (COPRESIDA) is said to have contributed between US$10 million and US$25 million, making it one the Foundation's top donors. Though the Clinton Foundation has been known to do charitable work around the world, including in the Dominican Republic, there has been no explanation why the government organization would give such a large amount of money. But in an interesting twist Diario Libre is reporting that former COPRESIDA director Humberto Salazar has denied that COPRESIDA ever gave Clinton's foundation any money, attributing it all to a possible confusion. He added that "it is impossible that the DR would donate a single dollar to any international foundation, no matter the name, because in fact our country is recipient of donations."

Can of worms, part II
An Institute of Civil Aviation (IDAC) investigating commission on the disappearance of a private plane that filed a flight plan to Bahamas has recommended the suspension of Dionisio Parra, inspector for aero-navigability, Ramona Fidelina Santos, collections clerk and Virgilio Cordero Mateo, airport safety officer at the Cibao International Airport in Santiago. The commission also ordered a legal investigation of pilots Julio Romero and Pascual Reynoso, who flew the plane in from Puerto Rico, for their ties to the disappearance of a flight with 12 people on board. The pilot filed a flight plan to the Bahamas, but it was reported that it made a stop in the Turks & Caicos, took off again and the last that was heard was a distress call made when it flew over the West Caicos.
IDAC director Jose Tomas Perez reiterated his determination that he would not permit corruption to tarnish IDAC's image as long as he was heading the institution.
Missing pilot Adrian Jimenez is now suspect of people smuggling.
An editorial on page 6 of El Caribe newspaper lamented the fact that as in the case of the Paya drug-related murder that opened a can of worms of corruption among navy officers, a tragedy had to occur in order to disclose the suspected practice of using private planes for people smuggling. Now it is in the open that pilot Adriano Jose B Jimenez Henriquez had a tarnished track record, but questions are now being asked about how was he still authorized to fly.
In today's Listin, Cesar Medina points out that Jimenez was expelled for fraud from the Academia Batalla de las Carreras on 30 April 1985, but nevertheless had a career of 23 years in the Army, Navy, Aviation and even a stint working for the National Investigations Department, the local FBI stationed in Barahona.
Now Dominican consul in the Bahamas Hernando Perez Montas says that private flights to the Bahamas and Turks & Caicos with undocumented travelers have been a frequent occurrence. The Bahamas is now revealed to be a stopping point for flights to the US. As reported in Diario Libre, Perez Montas said that a month ago Customs and Migration officers detained several people from the Bahamas and seized an airplane that had arrived in the country illegally to pick up travelers for suspected smuggling to the islands. The passengers all had forged visas or none at all.

Jimenez and the Christopher murder
Missing pilot Adrian Jimenez is also said to have been under investigation in the case of the murder of former chief of aero-navigability at the IDAC, Angel Christopher Martinez. Christopher's murder has been linked to a report that he was about to make public on 10 airlines that were operating on the fringes of the law, with the recommendation that they comply with the law. He was murdered shortly after revealing that he would release the report. His relatives have accused the authorities of obstructing investigations into the crime. Christopher had publicly denounced the lack of supervision, the practice of allowing non-authorized pilots to make flights, and flights taking off without pre- established flight plans. He was silenced on 12 July 2006. Pedro Dominguez, president of the Dominican Pilots Association, said that at the time of his murder, Christopher was doing a good job as head of the department of aero-navigability, trying to ensure that the rules were followed. He had recommended that airplanes that were not fit to fly should be not allowed to operate.

DR growth still up
The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), through their Preliminary overview of the economies of Latin America and the Caribbean 2008, projects that the DR will end 2008 with a 4.5% growth rate, and though this is the lowest economic growth in the last four years it will still rank higher than growth rates of some nations in the region. The country's GDP per inhabitant will also register a 3% growth rate, according to ECLAC. The organization says that the year will end with a 7% inflation rate and the non-financial deficits in the public sector and deficits of the current accounts will register 3.2% and 12.6% of the GDP. The report indicates that foreign direct investment reached US$2.353 billion in September, which is 133% more than in 2007. The report also indicates that export-related services represent just under 10% of the GDP. The report indicates that during 2008 inbound tourism consumption as a percentage of GDP totaled 9.8% while inbound tourism consumption as a percentage of export of goods and services totaled 33.7%. According to the report, "The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) projects that world tourism will expand by between 0% and 2% in 2009. The recession in the developed economies, which are home to approximately 75% of all tourists traveling to the English-speaking Caribbean and over 40% of those traveling to Central America (for Cuba and the Dominican Republic, the percentage is 75%) will have an impact on per capita disposable income and hence on tourism spending. Business travel may be particularly hard hit. Nevertheless, an easing of inflationary pressures and currency depreciation in several countries in the region could compensate in part for these effects and tourist destinations closest to the place of residence could benefit. Price competitiveness and the exchange-rate situation between all the tourist destinations will prove to be much more important for sustaining this activity. Lastly, several countries where significant investments have taken place in recent years will be better placed to compete for the declining demand that seems to be in the offing." The consumer price index (CPI) for the lowest income levels systematically rose more than for the highest level and in the Dominican Republic the corresponding figures were 18% CPi for the highest income levels and 10.5% for the lowest income levels. ECLAC also warns of a dependency on remittances, which make up 10% of the nation's GDP.

Medical first
The Plaza de la Salud Hospital has completed three simultaneous organ transplants from one single cadaver, a first for the DR. The operations took place on 4 December, but the patients, ages 44, 52 and 44, were all released from the hospital yesterday. A total of twenty doctors took part in the surgery which was led by Chief of Transplant Jiomar Figueroa. Julio Amado Castanos Guzman, head of the hospital's board of trustees, said there needs to be more coordination between hospitals because organs that could be used in transplants are lost every day. Figueroa thanked the organ donor's family, saying that they had been very receptive to the idea of donating the organs.

Joan is ready
Boxer Joan Guzman says he is ready for his Saturday night fight against challenger Ameth Diaz and says he has trained well enough so he has no excuses if he fails. Guzman says he is ready to fight Diaz and is looking not only for a victory, but for a knockout. This will be the second time Guzman fights in the DR and this fight will be most important for Guzman. Though he was rated as number one contender in a fight against Nate Campbell, Guzman pulled out of the fight, leaving Guzman to fight his way to the top of the contenders list. Therefore the winner of this upcoming fight will have the chance to face Campbell. However, Diaz is no slouch. He is currently ranked third in the WBO rankings and if he loses will lose his Fedelatin crown.

Dominican breakout
This year has been a breakout year for Dominicans in the NBA. After years of a minimal presence in the best basketball league in the world, Dominican players Al Horford, Charlie Villanueva and Francisco Garcia are putting up solid numbers for their respective teams. Currently, Villanueva is second in the league in scoring among six men averaging 15.7 points per game as well as attacking the boards with 6.9 rebounds per game. Villanueva is joined by Garcia who is again having solid season averaging 12.1 points per game with three boards, two assists and one block. Garcia is also shooting 43% from the field. Finally, Al Horford could be putting together an All-star quality season. The second year center from Florida is 11 points per game, 8.5 rebounds, three assists and two blocks, while shooting 52% from the field. Adding to Horford's accolades is his number 12 ranking on Jezebel Magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People in Atlanta" list.

Baseball drama unfolds
The Gigantes have continued their winning ways, even though they had already classified for the post-season. Meanwhile, Listin Diario reports that the Toros will also classify for the tournament. In what could turn out to be an unlikely year for the LIDOM's post-season the possibility exists that either the Aguilas or Licey are out of the post-season round robin tournament, meaning that this weekends baseball action will have fans on the edge of their seats. In the last week, Escogido, after being four games behind Licey and Aguilas, seemed to be out of the playoff picture, but the slow collapse of the two LIDOM titans and consistent play by the Leones has put them in a position to determine their playoff destiny.
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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