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Daily News - Wednesday, 07 January 2009

Back to school
Some schools opened today, but most of the country's 2.5 million schoolchildren will return to classes tomorrow. Education Minister Melanio Paredes announced the return to classes, but attendance is expected to be low because of the mid-week reopening.

Government on electricity sector
Government electricity officials say that the sector's subsidy will total US$600 million less in 2009 than in 2008. The subsidy will decrease from US$1.63 billion in 2008 to US$452 million in 2009, according to Radhames Segura, spokesman for the State-run Electricity Companies (CDEEE). The reduction is due to the decline in fuel prices. Segura also mentioned the construction of the Pinalito (50MW), Palomino (80MW) and Las Placetas (87MW) hydroelectric plants that will considerably improve energy production. Segura went on to speak of efforts to replace 13 million light bulbs, which could save the energy sector 170MW of power per month. Finally, Segura explained that the subsidies for the Blackout Reduction Program (PRA) would be passed on to Solidaridad welfare cardholders. In 2008 the government spent US$160 million monthly to implement the PRA in 150 neighborhoods.

A new government summit
The government is organizing a new national summit to discuss domestic problems. Economy, Planning and Development Minister Juan Temistocles Montas said that the government would provide more details of the summit that will bring together politicians, businesspeople and society representatives to discuss the global financial crisis, crime and electricity among other priority issues. He said there would be a press conference on Thursday to make the announcements. President Fernandez said on 9 December that he would convene a summit in January.
Political analyst Rosario Espinal called the summit a smokescreen to divert public attention from the Sun Land-Supreme Court decision, Lubrano-Renove pardons, corruption at the Chamber of Accounts scandals at the year's end that have affected the Fernandez administration ratings. Furthermore, Espinal, in an op-ed page in Hoy today, described the December decisions as "revolting."

Chinatown debate rages
Retailers in Chinatown will once again have something to argue about in 2009 as the parking restrictions implemented by the Santo Domingo City Hall go back into effect this week. The SD municipality had allowed parking within Chinatown over the holidays, giving in to demands from business owners' representatives to help increase sales during the holiday season. Storeowners in the area argue that a ban on parking within Chinatown has severely hurt business and they are campaigning for the City Hall to reverse its decision. However, it is unlikely that the city government will do so. Rosa Ng, president of the Chinatown "Flor Para Todos" organization said that sales were up by 95% during the holiday season.

Who let missing pilot fly?
Speaking on his CDN radio talk show yesterday, journalist Huchi Lora concluded that, "drug trafficking wears a Dominican military uniform". He made the statement while examining allegations of links between missing pilot Adriano Jimenez and the murder of former Dominican Civil Aviation Institute aero-navigability director, Angel Christopher. Yesterday, Christopher's son Eric was interviewed on the talk show and revealed that a file involving Jimenez was found among the papers in his father's briefcase. His father had cancelled the IDAC license for a plane operated by Jimenez, after it was proved that the pilot had forged the plane's flight inspection record. Shortly after, he reported that Jimenez showed up at the IDAC with two Air Force colonels to pressurize Christopher to reinstate the license. Later, one of the colonels was given an office at the IDAC, which he used until recently, he said. Three weeks after the colonels' visit, his father was murdered. Details of the visit, nevertheless, did not surface until now, as links emerge between Jimenez, the Christopher murder, and Quirino Paulino Castillo drug trafficking case.
Eric Christopher said that despite publicly denouncing the colonels, there has been no official investigation into the leads provided.
Christopher said that Ivan Vasquez, in charge of regulations and aircraft at the IDAC had the information on Adriano Jimenez after his father submitted a report on the pilot in 2006. The news commentators questioned how Jimenez could have continued his flight operations without any opposition from the authorities. Records show that despite the cancellation of his Dominican flying license, the authorities looked the other way and he was able to make 64 flights before being reported missing.
Christopher said that Jimenez was apparently a figure in a mafia-type structure that according to him permeates Dominican aviation. "With Jimenez missing, they will find another pilot," he observed.
The last contact with Jimenez was when he reported problems with his plane off the Turks & Caicos Islands in December. He had filed upon leaving Santiago that he was en route to the Bahamas. On board were 11 Dominicans, thought to be illegal immigrants en route to the US.
Eric Christopher said on the program that Jimenez may still be alive because he had been warned that he was about to be investigated for Christopher's death and so could have chosen to disappear.
Pedro Dominguez, president of the Dominican Pilots Association also questioned the inefficiency of the Dominican aviation authorities in adhering to flight regulations. "How could a pilot with that background be allowed to fly?" he said on the talk show, adding that it was obvious that Jimenez was being protected by the authorities.
As reported in Diario Libre, Dominguez also said that Civil Aviation Board members and IDAC advisors are owners of private planes that make irregular commercial flights. He stressed that "a mafia structure operates in Dominican aviation with the authorities looking the other way".
Christopher said he has reports that the US Federal Aviation Agency has sent inspectors to the country in connection with the Jimenez case. Jimenez was flying a US-registered plane using a US student license, but nevertheless Christopher warned that the situation could result in the revocation of authorization for Dominican planes to fly to the US, that affected local aviation for 14 years.

Who's on the Quirino list?
Politicians could be off the hook in the Quirino Ernesto Paulino Castillo (Quirino) case, currently being heard in a New York Court. Those who have been speculating that current and former Dominican government officials might be involved could be disappointed. Lawyer Carlos Balcacer told Diario Libre that the 37 people Quirino could link to the Colombia-Dominican Republic drug network that he used to belong to included police and high-ranking military personnel and businesspeople. "But there are no politicians involved. It looks like he took care on that count," said Balcacer. As part of the negotiations made with Quirino, the Dominican state prosecutors have returned RD$40 million to his relatives. The case against them was dropped following negotiations. The Dominican government has kept US$14.5 million worth of the assets seized from Quirino and his relatives.
Listin Diario reports that Quirino did reveal to the US prosecutors his ties with politicians. But the newspaper explains that for the eventual accusations to move, "political will" of the government will be necessary. President Leonel Fernandez had said in a presidential speech in December that to fight drug trafficking there would be no "sacred cows." The newspaper sources say Quirino admitted making contributions to political campaigns. The Listin reports on documents that incriminate high-ranking military, and successful politicians, but points out the present judicial authorities would need to prepare the cases against these individuals.
As part of the negotiations, RD$40 million in cash, or 1% of total sales of rice from the Comendador rice factory located in Elias Pina will be returned to the family. State prosecutor Alejandro Moscoso Segarra, who is handling the case for the Dominican government, said that they agreed that property belonging to the family prior to 1996 would be returned.
Listin Diario is reporting that the US authorities are preparing to ask for the extradition of as many as 12 Dominicans suspected of being involved in Quirino's drug trafficking ring. These extraditions could be announced in February. As part of the negotiations, 18 of Quirino's relatives will be protected under the Federal Witness Protection Program and will be allowed to travel to the United States.

Strikes and controversy
The hunger strike by Constitutionalist soldiers who are campaigning for military pensions is now entering its 13th day, but new allegations question the validity of the protestors' identities. According to Moises Ramirez del Villar, president of the Foundation of Former Constitutionalist Soldiers, he doesn't know the men who are on strike, only one lady, "La China", who he met in 1965. Other Constitutionalist soldiers Manuel Ramon Montes and Evelio Hernandez are labeling the protest as opportunistic and quipped that the man who is leading the protest, "Bigote," wasn't old enough to have a beard at that time.

Haitians leave Dajabon church
After a 24-hour occupation of a Dajabon church in protest against not being allowed their pre-arranged transport, Dominican military personnel repatriated an estimated 500 Haitian nationals. Priest Regino Martinez had opened the doors of his church to the Haitians who despite not having any legal documentation were asking to be allowed back into the DR to resume their work activities. They had traveled to Haiti for the holidays. Martinez is critical of border control inspectors who he says allow entry to anyone who pays people smugglers RD$2,500 in return for being allowed through. There are an estimated 13 military checkpoints on the routes used by the Haitians to get to their places of work. Martinez criticized the selective application of migration law and said that anyone willing to pay people smugglers gets to their jobs. He defended the people he was assisting, who had refused to pay the bribes. Several buses had been contracted to transport the Haitians. Border security corps CESFRONT and Martinez agreed that people without work IDs would return to Haiti to receive the IDs.
Former Dominican ambassador in Washington Rafael Molina Morillo commented on his morning radio talk show that neither Martinez nor Cesfront had the legal authority to reach this agreement. He said the incident just demonstrated the authorities' lack of interest in coming up with real solutions to the Haitian migration issue. Hoy newspaper reports that as a result of the incident some 800 were sent back to Haiti and another 150 with work permits were allowed to go back to their jobs.
In related news, the president of the Central Electoral Board (JCE), Julio Cesar Castanos Guzman said that the JCE is not in the business of certifying anyone's immigration status, and only issues cedulas (Dominican ID and voting cards) to people who meet the pre-established criteria.
Father Reginaldo Martinez told the Miguel Guerrero and Alicia Guerrero talk show that the border controls are corrupt. He called for the law to be applied uniformly nationwide and advocated transparent controls, and more resources for applying the law.
Migration Department director Jose Anibal Sanz Jiminian said that the 500 that occupied the church with the help of Father Regino Martinez, and another 100 that were already on buses, were part of a pre-arranged plan to distribute the workers in farms, and construction works nationwide. He said that the 500 had arrived gradually until occupying the church. He said Congress needs to pass the ruling for the better application of Migration Law passed in 2004 that would legalize the regularizing of the status of the workers.

Homicides up
The number of gun-related homicides went up 12.95% in 2008, according to statistics from the Forensic Pathology Institute. In 2008 a total of 959 homicides were reported, 110 more than in 2007. Of these murders 792 involved firearms. In December alone 153 autopsies were performed.

Dominican in US politics
Dominican immigrant Elsa Mantilla will be sworn in as deputy-mayor of Paterson, New Jersey on Friday. She is a clothes boutique owner and will be the first Dominican ever to hold that post. Mantilla says she will use her roots to strengthen the links between the city office and the local Latino community. She is also said to have received the vote of the Afro-American community. Mantilla is known as a community activist in Paterson and was the founder of the Dominican Day Festival and Parade.

Five Dominicans in Top 25
Five Dominicans are listed in USA Today's Sports Weekly 2008 25-man roster. The yearly list features some of the best talent in baseball, and includes perennial Dominican All-stars Albert Pujols and Manny Ramirez as well as young stars Hanley Ramirez, Ervin Santana and Carlos Marmol. According to USA Today, "this is not an all-star team but rather a selection by editors and reporters of a realistic roster."
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