Metro's Christmas run|
For the third time, and this time with about 30 cars in service, the Santo Domingo Metro will be transporting passengers free of charge from 9am until 7pm beginning today.
Ten trains will travel between the 16 stations during this period.
The route will include all 16 stations of the first line that runs from Villa Mella to La Feria, according to the Transport Reorganization Office (OPRET) communications director Leonel Carrasco: "Everything is ready, we have the certifications that the international supervisors have given us and we have carried out all the trials, including an accident scenario simulation."
In order to use the Metro, passengers have to obtain a ticket at the ticket counters in each station, for free, Carrasco explained: "At the end of each run, passengers have to get out and go outside, and if they wish to return to their point of origin, they have to go through the same procedure and obtain another ticket."
Opret told Diario Libre that it will put 10 trains into service, and will hold four others in reserve in case they are needed. Waiting time between trains will be five to seven minutes, possibly more if the required number of passengers is not obtained, according to Carrasco. The Metro runs will go on every day beginning at 9 o'clock in the morning and run until 7 o'clock in the evenings, and service will continue until 6 January. These rides are part of the pre-commercial trials that are aimed at educating passengers on how to use the new system. On 24 and 31 December the runs will go on until 4 o'clock in the afternoon.
Yesterday trains were seen moving all along the route and the stations remained closed, with just the normal security personnel. Carrasco told reporters, "The idea is for people use it in an orderly manner and we are prepared for any eventuality, and we are asking the public to behave the same way they did during the Book Fair, and understand that these machines are public property and should be looked after."
The construction of the Santo Domingo metro first line began in 2005 with a US$735 million investment and has an extension of 14.2 kms, according to OPRET. A specialized security corps (Cesmet) is in charge of security at the 16 stations, with 454 agents to assist travelers. OPRET says that the metro fares will be RD$20-RD$25 after the holidays.
Quisqueya Verde Plan back|
During a visit to Elias Pina province on Saturday, President Leonel Fernandez said that the government would be re-launching the Quisqueya Verde Plan along the border with Haiti, and described the deforestation in the area as "dramatic". The Chief Executive referred to this situation as he started off the Presidential Social Plan's Christmas food parcels distribution.
Fernandez said that he would instruct Environment Minister Jaime David Fernandez Mirabal to begin a reinforcement program of the Quisqueya Verde Plan all along the frontier.
He observed, "You can see the degradation in terms of forest cover between the Haitian side and the Dominican side", while speaking to reporters covering the trip.
He added that dramatic though the difference between the Haitian and Dominican sides of the frontier may be, there is a need to preserve Dominican reforestation efforts.
President Fernandez said that this tour along the frontier, as well as the forestry situation, allowed him to see details of the day-to-day lives of local residents who are often out of sight. He stressed the need to support farm production, to fix roads, bridges and supply pumps for irrigation.
He said that these small details were the communities' concerns, and this allows him to give instructions to the officials to get things right.
Government wages early|
As of this Monday, 22 December, public servants will begin to collect their monthly paychecks, at a cost to the government of RD$6 billion.
A similar sum of money was disbursed by the government as the 13th salary (Christmas bonus), which has helped reactivate the economy during this special time of the year.
El Nuevo Diario says that since last Friday, 19 December, some of the state decentralized institutions had begun paying the December salary checks, but the central organizations will start today.
During the weekend, commercial establishments along the major streets and avenues of Santo Domingo were full of people buying household items and all they need for the holidays.
Beginning today Banco de Reservas branches and ATMs will be crowded with people withdrawing their money in order to purchase the traditional Christmas Eve supplies.
Retailers contacted by the newspaper pointed out that for the last few days, sales have increased because of the Christmas bonus money, which between government and private sectors totaled about RD$15 billion.
With the money that the government will pay this week, the money paid out in the first 22 days of December will reach RD$21 billion.
850 aid posts for holidays|
The Civil Defense organization will set up between 840 and 850 aid stations all over the country during the Christmas holiday, including mobile hospitals, flagmen and the presence of volunteers.
The director of the Civil Defense, General Luis Antonio Luna Paulino, explained that the locations of the stations have already been selected, concentrating efforts in areas where statistics indicate the greatest danger of traffic accidents.
The general said that the operation would include units from the Armed Forces, the National Police, the Red Cross, the Ministry of Public Works, Fire Departments and AMET.
He added that patrols have been reinforced, "not only for maintaining public order and fighting crime, but also to help people."
Luna Paulino said that this is an operation to protect people during the busy Christmas season, and he called on the public to prevent accidents and excesses, since Christmas will pass and only sorrow will remain.
The general said that the operation is being coordinated by the Emergency Operations Center (COE) with headquarters at the National Emergency Commission (CNE).
Senate awaits budget addendum|
In an extra session this afternoon the Senate is preparing to receive the legislative proposal that authorizes the 2009 budget set at RD$328.99 billion.
The session is due to start at 4pm, and it is expected that during the morning the Executive Branch and Congress will reach an agreement on the approval of the initiative submitted by the Executive on 28 November.
Nonetheless, as of midday on Sunday, Diario Libre reported that the addendum that the legislative body had requested from the President had yet to arrive in the Senate. The addendum would eliminate US$1.9 billion in financing of projects over four years, and not just during 2009.
The senators are not willing to vote on the legislation if this financial maneuver is not eliminated and the president of the Senate, Reinaldo Pared Perez warned that the legislation, as it stands, is unconstitutional and in violation of the laws that govern the budget process, public credit and investment planning.
This idea has been described as "confusion" by Hacienda Minister Vicente Bengoa, who said that the US$1.9 billion for infrastructure investment that appears in the budget is really the global amount of a series of projects that will be carried out over the next four years.
The senators are also waiting to see if the budget will assign a minimum of RD$100 million for infrastructure projects in each of the provinces.
Some senators, including Dionis Sanchez (PLD-Pedernales) feel that the projects in the provinces are as high a priority as health and education, and this will move them to insist on this money being assigned to their provinces.
Reprogram the US$1.9 billion|
PLD deputy Alejandro Montas said yesterday that the budget proposal for 2009 should be rescheduled as recommended by Senate president Reinaldo Pared Perez, so that for 2009 just 25% of the US$1.9 billion the government is planning on spending in four years would be assigned to next year's budget.
Montas said that just as suggested by Pared Perez, it would be unconstitutional to approve the entire sum, and he asked Finance Minister Vicente Bengoa to follow the procedures set out by the Constitution and the Budget Law in this case.
Nevertheless, the deputy denied that differences of opinion between Pared Perez and Bengoa had led to an internal government power struggle.
He said that the US$1.9 billion that the government plans to spend on projects over the next four years means that US$373 million are assigned to 2009 in next year's budget.
The deputy indicated that among the projects that will be financed with these resources are the Coral Highway and aqueducts in Bani, Higuey and Samana as well as the hydro-electric dams at La Placeta and Pinalito.
Montas said that the US$1.9 billion represented the total schedule for the financing costs of this administration that ends in 2012.
"The Budget Law says that only the amount of resources that are to be spent in the fiscal year can be assigned in the budget. You can't project the other three years something that does not exist for the year, in this case, 2009," said the deputy.
He added, "Then Reinaldo Pared Perez is right, because Congress cannot approve what is projected for the future, beyond the fiscal year that is covered by the Law of Public Spending."
Montas said that the Minister of Hacienda should detail the programming of the money under consideration, in order to assign, by means of an addendum, the money that belongs to 2009.
No shortage of dollars in 2009|
The Central Bank is denying claims that the exchange rate is reflecting decreased textile exports and problems in the tourism sector.
The Central Bank gave assurances yesterday that the nation would have sufficient hard currency income next year. This income will come, according to estimates by Central Bank analysts, from tourism, remittances and free zones. A statement published in the national newspapers also mentions disbursements from multilateral organizations and the flow of direct foreign investment.
This income, according to the note, will guarantee relative stability in the exchange rate.
Revolution in Chinatown|
Traders in Santo Domingo's Barrio Chino (Chinatown), the stretch of Duarte Avenue between Mexico Ave. and Mella Street, staged a confrontation with municipal authorities yesterday morning in protest against the parking prohibition that affects two key streets in the area.
The resistance began at 11 in the morning with a peaceful protest against Mayor Roberto Salcedo's parking prohibition until 7 January.
In response to the disturbance, a Municipal Police contingent headed by Colonel Dival Peguero arrived at 2pm to restore order and remove the vehicles. This resulted in verbal and physical confrontation between the traders and police.
The president of the Chinatown Traders Association, Juan Paniagua, was beaten without provocation, according to his associates, by Dival Peguero. He was hit in the left eye with handcuffs used as a club by the colonel and was taken to the Abreu Clinic. According to reports, Paniagua received 15 stitches and might need an operation.
The traders said that Dival Peguero provoked the incident, and trader Teofilo Antonio Diek, 86, was harrassed by Peguero.
The municipal policemen were accused of arriving with an aggressive and provocative attitude, armed with shotguns and wielding pistols.
Leading trader and Chinatown leader Rosa Ng called Peguero's behavior "brutal and unjustifiable," according to El Caribe.
Municipal sources said that Peguero hit Paniagua after he hit one of the policemen.
Chamber of Accounts scandal|
The new Chamber of Accounts members made headlines over the weekend for what some news commentators have called their first scandal. The nine new members of the Chamber have been on the job for 72 days. Reportedly, three months (90 days) is necessary for a government employee to have earned the right to the Christmas bonus. But, as reported in the press, they met and decided to pay themselves the full Christmas salary of RD$560,000 each. They justified that they are a collegiate organization and what they decide in-group is valid based on their by-laws and internal ruling. In an editorial on Monday, Listin Diario calls for them to explain the reasons for making what is seen as an exception to the rule.
Hoy newspaper comments on how their predecessors were dismissed for similar reasons of excessive personal benefits, in addition to low performance on the job, after a series of scandals.
Elderly out of Social Security|
More that half a million elderly people are excluded from the Social Security System because the government did not prioritize the funds needed for them to get out of poverty during their lives.
According to Hoy newspaper, social security expert Fulgencio Severino proposed that part of the monetary surplus that the Social Security Treasury receives from its contributors should be used to provide services for this group of people.
Some 875,000 elderly people live in the DR and of these 129,000 receive pensions, 65,000 still work and are registered as formal assets, according to Severino.
Of this population, 60% suffer from high blood pressure and 80% of people over the age of 70 are hypertensive. Many others have diabetes, cancer and other high-cost illnesses.
All these problems make things difficult, given the government's limited investment in health, says Severino. According to his data, 220,000 elderly people work in the informal sector, but none of them have made provisions for their retirement or their health issues.
They are excluded from the Social Security Program because they do not have any resources assigned to them by the government.
"We are talking about 620,000 people over 60 who are not working, are not pensioned and who have to be assured some level of social services," he added.
Solving the problem would have an impressive impact on poverty statistics, reducing poverty levels by 50%, according to the expert, who insisted on the use of the matching funds contributed by affiliates to the program.
If the assisted pensions for people living in vulnerable conditions were to be implemented, perhaps RD$12 billion would be invested and a significant reduction in poverty and extreme poverty would take place.
Two million people should be affiliated to the SENASA program and this would include the elderly.
For each 100 homes, the country has 70 elderly people and older citizens depend on family members or private health insurance for the elderly.
The Electricity Distributor of the North (Ede-Norte) will suspend service to clients in the circuits denominated "B", "C", and "D" all during this week, including the 24th and 25th, in order to repair transmission lines.
The press release, according to El Nuevo Diario, says that service will be suspended Wednesday from 4 to 7pm and on Thursday from 2 to 5pm in the La Paloma, La Chiva, Pontezuela, Hospedaje Yaque, Don Pedro, Hoya Del Caimito and Dorado in Santiago.
They added that in Espaillat province the same schedule would be followed for Guauci, Juan Lopez, Villa Trina and the Moca-Salcedo highway.
In Puerto Plata province the same schedule will apply on Wednesday and Thursday for the residents of Altos de Cofresi, Don Gregorio, San Marcos Abajo, Pico Isabel de Torres, Maimon, Los Canos, Los Tejada, Las Avispas, Los Cacaos, Cuesta Amarilla, San Marcos, Los Rieles, El Javillar and La Colora.
In Maria Trinidad Sanchez, blackouts will apply for the sections of La Garza, Rincon Adentro, the Las Quineintas residences, Rincon de Molenillo, Ls Cacaitos, la Gorda, Boaba, El Dragon, Rio jaguar, El Guayabo and seven other sections.
In Duarte province (San Francisco de Macoris), Pueblo Nuevo, Los Grullones, Villa Duarte, Los Jibaritos, El Hormiguero, San Pedro, Hermanas Mirabal, residential areas Estancia Las Colinas, Abreu and Jennifer, the barrios Madrigal, San Martin and Duarte as well as the barrios of Ventura Grullon I and II.
Ede-Norte said that the province of Valverde will be affected inthe sectors of Villa Olimpica, San Antonio residences, Play de Pericles, Maria Auxiliadora, Carlos Daniel and Pueblo Nuevo.
In Montecristi, service will be suspended, on the same schedule, in Villa Vasquez, Las Matas de Santa Cruz, Castanuelas, Carnero, Jobo Corcovado, Bohio Viejo, Barrio los Parceleros, Bajo Yaque and Loma de Castanuelas.
Smuggling charge for Paya survivor|
The sole survivor of the Paya massacre, Orin Clinton Gomez, has been sentenced to a year in preventive custody on charges of suspected people smuggling. Judge Mariano Abreu rejected charges of his complicity in drug trafficking on the grounds there was not sufficient evidence to incriminate him on those charges. According to news reports, Gomez had told the authorities he brought three of the seven Colombians who were murdered in Paya by boat to Bani and later took back the cash for the smuggled drugs. The murder took place in a farm in Bani on 4 August. Gomez survived because he was able to play dead. Seven people have been arrested, 13 of them Navy officers, according to El Caribe. Police say the murders, which are still under investigation were due to a dispute over the reported 1,200 kilos of cocaine drug shipment. Orin Gomez stood for trial after five and a half months in the hospital recovering from bullet wounds received.
Tragic weekend on the highways|
Eight people were killed in road accidents over the weekend. One accident caused five deaths and another three. The first accident occurred on the Sanchez highway between Azua and Bani, and the other one at Km 12 of the Las Americas Expressway.
The first was a three-vehicle crash at Km 2 of the highway between Azua and Bani, involving a truck from the President's Social Plan that was carrying Christmas boxes.
The victims were Manuel Ramon Cruz Brito, 41, Ramon Ivan Perez, 53, Reimaire Diaz, 44, a US citizen, her daughter Alisa Cristina Diaz, 8 and her sister Miguelina Diaz, 32.
Dominican-Cuban Manuel Orachea and Dominican Hector Soto, 42 were injured in the crash and treated in Bani.
A police report indicates that the accident happened at 6:30 yesterday morning between the truck belonging to the Presidential Social Plan and a SUV that was driven by Orchea and a blue pick up with Cruz Brito as a passenger.
The second accident involved a car carrying three passengers that crashed into an auto parts store called Danny Motors. According to El Caribe, the car hit a concrete column and was totally destroyed.
The dead were identified as Euri Morillo, a lieutenant in the National Police who was driving, Rudy Francisco Sanchez and Eduardo Benzan.
According to witness statements at the scene, the accident occurred at 8:30 at night when a motorcyclist crossed the vehicle's path and Morillo, trying to avoid hitting it, turned hard and hit the store. Besides the occupants of the vehicle, there were no other injuries.
These latest victims bring the death toll to 16 people killed in traffic accidents in one week.
Cool weather for a while|
The National Meteorological Office (Onamet) is forecasting good, cool weather for a while. They say that the flow of winds from the east/northeast will continue to affect the weather over the whole country, keeping temperatures down to pleasant levels everywhere.
Onamet said that the winds will also bring some light rains in the northeast, north, northwest and the Cibao Valley and the coastal plain of Miches and Sabana de la Mar.
The maritime conditions along the Atlantic Coast, the eastern part of Samana Bay and the Mona Passage will continue with winds and waves slightly above normal, which will gradually diminish.
On Friday night the big news was that the Aguilas Cibaenas had guaranteed at least a tie for the last play-off spot by beating Escogido 9-3 in Santo Domingo.
In La Romana, the Tigres del Licey lost but still guaranteed at least a tie for the last play-off spot. The Toros beat them 2-1 in a real tight game.
In San Francisco de Macoris, the Gigantes defeated the Estrellas Orientales 10-7 to up their record to 29 victories.
In Saturday's action, Licey defeated the Toros in Santo Domingo's Estadio Quisqueya 7-2, and earned their place in the final four.
In Santiago, the Leones del Escogido kept their hopes alive with a dramatic hit in the top of the thirteenth inning to defeat the Aguilas Cibaenas 6-5.
In San Pedro de Macoris, the Gigantes del Cibao once again defeated the Estrellas Orientales 4-3, and sealed their victory in the first part of the tournament.
On Sunday, the Aguilas finally got their slot in the semi-finals by defeating the Gigantes 9-5, coming back from a 0-4 deficit behind the fantastic pitching of now-reliever Jose Lima who pitched 6 2/3 innings of one run baseball.
In Santo Domingo, Escogido tried hard and defeated their eternal rivals the Tigres del Licey 13 -4 but they were eliminated from the semi-final with the Aguilas victory. This was the third victory in a row for the Leones, but all was in vain.
In San Pedro de Macoris, the Toros from La Roman crushed their south coast rivals the Estrellas Orientales 21-3, in a game that saw 15 pitchers take the mound.
Final Standing Part I
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