LF calls for unity|
Leonel Fernandez led Duarte Day celebrations in San Francisco de Macoris amidst parades, cannon salvos and speeches. The President said that never has the Dominican Republic needed to be unified more than now, when it has to face challenges from a chaotic world.
Speaking at the celebrations of the 196th anniversary of Founding Father Juan Pablo Duarte's birthday, he declared, "Today we have an encounter with our own roots. To speak of the Fatherland is to speak of our fathers, our friends and ourselves." He said that we would not exist as a nation today if it were not for the titanic work of Duarte and the members of the Sociedad La Trinitaria.
"One has to imagine what it must have been like to struggle against the power of the invader, the risks taken at that time by each person," stressed the President.
In Santo Domingo, Vice President Rafael Alburquerque headed the ceremonies where hundreds people waving flags and singing the National Anthem celebrated Duarte Day with military honors, Masses, floral offerings and the obligatory parades.
The festivities began with a Mass at Santa Barbara church, attended by the Vice President and celebrated by Father Juan Pedro Araujo who called for national unity and adherence to the ideals of Duarte, "a man who made no distinction between rich and poor."
Once the religious ceremony was over, a parade began along Arzobispo Merino and El Conde streets, arriving at the Altar of the Fatherland. Students, military personnel and members of the Duarte Institute led the parade.
At the Altar of the Fatherland, dozens of floral wreaths were placed and the Vice President used the occasion to honor the Dominican Republic's founding father by calling for unity of purpose.
He said, "As we once again commemorate the birthday of the Father of the Nation who joins Dominican men and women, we know that the world economic crisis affects us today, and therefore it is time to join forces to successfully face these great challenges."
Later on the group moved to Duarte Park where the president of the Duarte Institute, Jose Joaquin Perez Savinon, called on young people, who represent the future of the nation, to reject drugs.
Perez Savinon said, "Duarte fulfilled his duty, and now it is your turn."
During the ceremony there were four salutes and an 18-gun salvo as well as the singing of the national anthem.
With the chant "long live the Dominican Republic, long live!" the ceremony came to a close with hundreds of people in attendance.
Summit to last till 21 February|
The multi-sector summit convened by President Leonel Fernandez will start tomorrow with seven basic themes and without the government giving any signs that they will honor what is agreed upon in the talks.
As reported in most of today's newspapers, and by Diario Libre in particular, Minister of Economy, Planning and Development Temistocles Montas described the call to a dialogue as a sign of the government's willingness to take on the agreements as obligations. "This is the first sign that there is a will on the part of the government to fulfill the agreements reached by society as a whole," said Montas. The official outlined the agenda of the dialogue in a press conference together with the rest of the summit organizing committee: Monsignor Agripino Nunez Collado, Antonio Isa Conde and Jose del Castillo.
On the issue of the conditions imposed by some participants, Montas said that the postponement of the constitutional reform is in the hands of Congress, which has the power to make that decision.
Several leading business organizations have asked the government to postpone acting on its proposal for an expanded Constitution at least until after the summit.
The summit organizing committee confirmed that the summit would start tomorrow at the Hilton Hotel and announced that about 100 organizations would be taking part.
The entities will be divided into work groups according to the seven themes. The list begins with "economy and competitiveness", and is followed by "citizen security" and "social policy". These are followed by "institutional consolidation," "electricity and hydro-carbons", "territorial development, municipal management and the environment" and the seventh point is "migration and the frontier."
On Wednesday the 28th, at 9 o'clock in the morning, the participants will set up the work groups and the ministers responsible for each particular area will represent the government in each group.
From the 30th January until 9th February, meetings between the sectors at each of the work groups will take place; from the 10th of February until the 15th, working sessions will take place between the teams and representatives of the government and foreign witnesses, and from the 16th until the 20th of February, the working documents will be drawn up for presentation at a general assembly on 21 February.
On 27th February, the day when the President is due to present his report on 2008 to Congress, he will announce the plan of actions that should be carried out this year.
Former Inter-American Development Bank president Enrique Iglesias and Latin American Economic Commission (ECLAC) executive secretary Alicia Barcenas will attend as witnesses.
After the 27th February, and until the middle of May, the industrial, commercial and banking sectors will meet to discuss the national development strategy.
On the eve of the opening debates, the Citizens' Forum, that includes 14 organizations, continues to express doubts that anything will come of the talks. "What we are saying is that the lack of confidence is quite widespread," said the secretary general, Magino Corporan. The 1J4 Socialist Party criticized the fact that some sectors did not submit really important issues for discussion.
The PRD Political Commission will meet today to decide whether or not to take part in the summit. Party president Ramon Alburquerque listed four conditions that the party wants in order to participate: That the government should accept the constitutional reform via a constituent assembly; that it should accept that it violated the Constitution with the Sun Land loan; that it should obey the sectorial legislation and comply with the Austerity Law. Former PRD presidential candidate Miguel Vargas insisted that the government has to gain public confidence by postponing the constitutional reform process and by making several budget adjustments this year. Montas said "We will be sorry if the PRD does not attend the summit, but the summit will go on nevertheless, because it represents the main sectors of the country." Agripino Nunez Collado reminded PRD sympathizers about the participation by late party leader Jose Francisco Pena Gomez when the parties negotiated an agreement after the 1994 election crisis.
Metro rules released|
Rules for riding the Metro have been drawn up, with services starting on Friday, 30th January. Large packages will not be allowed on the metro, and neither will smoking, eating or drinking, according to a briefing to El Caribe reporters by Leonel Carrasco, sub-director of the Transport Reorganization Office (OPRET).
Firearms are banned, and dogs, cats or other animals will not be allowed on the trains. Children under 12 years of age will not be allowed to travel unless accompanied by an adult.
Another rule for the use of the Metro is that nobody can cross the yellow line before the train stops and the doors open.
Carrasco asks riders to be aware that they must have their tickets in their hands when they board, that they need to move to the right, listen out for the sound of the closing doors and hold children by the hand as they get on and off the trains.
Carrasco said that the Metro would begin operating on the morning of 30th January with 19 trains and 39 cars, but that only 15 or 16 will be operating in both directions. The other units will be ready to enter service if one of those operating should have some sort of breakdown, according to the Opret operations plan.
He said that the trains would travel the 14.2 kilometers from the Centro de los Heroes (La Feria) to the last station, Mama Tingo in Villa Mella.
Metro Security director General Daniel Martinez Lorenzo said that his group has a force of 700 men trained to act in emergency situations, "including disasters."
No more potassium bromate in breads|
On Saturday, 31 January, the ban on using potassium bromate in bread making enters into effect. The National Environmental Health Department at the Ministry of Health is warning owners and administrators of businesses, flourmills and bakeries to stop using ingredients containing the product after this date.
According to Diario Libre, the authorities warn that once the cutoff date has passed, all types of flour that are produced in the country will be monitored. Those that still contain any level of potassium bromate will be seized and destroyed.
The measure is based on the fact that the potentially carcinogenic additive is not destroyed during the baking process.
SUVs rule vehicle sales|
Sales of all-terrain vehicles or new SUVs continue to lead the local market, followed by vehicles dating from 2002 and later, according to the Association of Vehicle Concessionaires and Manufacturers (Acofave).
Diario Libre reports, however, that as a result of the present global economic crisis and increases in bank lending rates, in 2008 3,008 fewer vehicles were sold than in 2007, with sales falling from 11,240 to 8,233 units.
In total 21,887 units were sold, some 8,749 less than the year before.
The decrease in new car sales last year was less than in 2003 when 12,941 units were sold and in 2004 when total sales were 11,905.
Following SUVs, cars were in second place and since 2002, 38,802 have been sold, followed by pick-ups at 31,311 and small trucks at 24,231 units. Only 394 buses were sold, together with 1,572 mini-buses and 3,783 microbuses (vans).
In total, since 2002, concessionaires have sold 159,153 units, with 2007 being the high water mark with 39,636 units sold.
In 2008, the falloff in sales was 29% compared to 2007 and this year the concessionaires are predicting sales of 12,000 units.
Betting preferred over LPG tax|
Legislators continue to debate the source of funds for an across-the- board wage increase for health personnel. Public hospital doctors campaigned belligerently for their raise, and the government has delegated the task of finding the money to the legislators. An increase in taxes on propane or betting parlors is one option that is being debated in order to fund the increase. However, the proposal for a RD$3 tax on propane gas has met with strong opposition, according to a report in Hoy. Sources close to the discussions told Hoy reporter Loyda Pena that the original proposal involved an increase of one peso per gallon of LPG, but specialists from the Ministry of Economy, Planning and Development recommended that the increase should be three pesos. Those in favor of the tax say it would not affect poorer citizens who already receive propane gas subsidies through their Solidarity welfare cards issued by the government.
Another source being considered is an increase in the 15% fixed tax on betting, according to Listin Diario. Jairon Severino reports that, "everything is pointing to gambling as the provider of the money needed to increase salaries in the health sector."
The computer system that connects all betting parlors provides a means of supervising all the money that enters the system.
The president of the CNTU transport union, Ramon Perez Figuereo, called on legislators to reduce their own salaries in order to find the money for paying the doctors. Quoted in El Nuevo Diario, Perez Figuereo says that propane already went up six pesos with no explanation. He added that, "people cannot cope with any more taxes."
He said that the government should review the Hydrocarbon Law in order to stabilize prices at RD$30 for LPG, RD$70/gallon for premium gasoline, RD$50 for regular gasoline and diesel at RD$50, especially in view of the fact that oil prices have gone down considerably.
Breakdowns at refinery stall dispatch|
Dozens of tank trucks are sitting in the yard at the Dominican National Refinery because of an apparent breakdown in the system used to fill the trucks. According to El Caribe, these tank trucks have been stalled since Sunday night in the hopes of getting loaded and distributing the fuel to the rest of the country. According to reports, the breakdown is in the system that sends fuel to the trucks and ensures that the appropriate amount is dispatched. Truck drivers told reporters that refinery personnel are working on correcting the breakdown, but other sources said that there was no staff available to deal with the problem during the long holiday weekend.
Caribair to appeal suspension|
Caribair airline operations have been suspended for at least nine months by the Dominican Civil Aviation Institute (IDAC), as reported in El Caribe. The decision is based on revelations that the airline committed "operational irregularities." IDAC also reports that the company violated Civil Aviation Law 496-06 and aviation rulings. IDAC communicated the news of the suspension to company president Rafael Rosado on 20 January. As reported, IDAC inspectors found that the airline had carried out "multiple commercial operations disguised as private operations in unauthorized aircraft." IDAC ordered that the company should suspend its operations as of 23rd January until it completes a re-certification process, not until nine months after the suspension. Caribair president Rosado says the company will appeal the suspension.
Dismissed STI inspector gives his side|
Tomas Dionisio Parra Segura, aero-navigability inspector at the Cibao International Airport (STI), who was fired following a Dominican Civil Aviation Institute (IDAC) probe into how a pilot with a cancelled license and a criminal background was allowed to take off from the airport with 11 passengers on board, says he has been made the scapegoat in the case. He visited Diario Libre to tell his story and said that he has not been able to meet with IDAC director Jose Tomas Perez to give his side of the story. He said that the investigation was directed by a Police Colonel called Cotes, instead of by an aviation expert.
He spoke of the former case of a previously-reported accident in another plane piloted by Adriano Jose Jimenez Henriquez, the missing pilot from STI who was last heard of after taking off from Turks & Caicos airport. He mentioned that when that happened he was in La Vega, and when he reported back to the airport, the person in charge of air accident investigations, Air Force officer Enmanuel Souffront was already on the scene. He said it was known at the time that Jimenez Henriquez had only a US student license. He said that Souffront should have disqualified him from making further flights, but this did not happen. He said that his responsibility was merely to report on the damage suffered by the aircraft. He told Diario Libre that the issue of the pilot's license was Souffront's responsibility. He also said that the authorizations to fly come from the air controller. He said that at that time of the 6 December accident involving Jimenez, there was no impediment placed on Adriano Jimenez, while he was ordered to stop the airplane from leaving the airport. "Never did the person in charge of the department of inspections, Christian Gomez tell me on behalf of the assistant of the director of Flight Regulations to stop the pilot," he said.
ONAMET forecasts more rains|
The Met Office (Onamet) forecasts that light rains will continue in the north, northeast and east of the country, as well as over the central mountain range because of the wind flow coming in from the east. Onamet reported that the storm front that caused flooding in several areas during the long weekend and left two people dead in Puerto Plata and Espaillat provinces and led to 4,565 people being evacuated in the northern region is now located over eastern Cuba. Considering ground saturation levels, Onamet is recommending that precautions be taken against flash flooding in the provinces of Montecristi, Puerto Plata, Dajabon, Santiago Rodriguez, Valverde, Maria Trinidad Sanchez, Espaillat and Duarte, especially the Lower Yuna Basin.
Maritime conditions continue to be abnormal, and Onamet is maintaining its small craft warning for the Atlantic, Samana Bay and the Caribbean.
According to the weather forecast, scattered showers are expected for Puerto Plata, Espaillat, Salcedo, Maria Trinidad Sanchez, Samana, Duarte and Sanchez Ramirez. Light, occasional rains are expected in Santo Domingo.
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