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Daily News - Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Summit begins
The multi-sector conference convened by President Leonel Fernandez to discuss national issues in the light of the present global economic crisis begins today amidst a range of expectations and frustrations with previous all-talk and no-action events organized by the government. The "Summit for National Unity Facing the World Crisis," also dubbed the "Summit of the Live Forces" will begin at 9am at the Santo Domingo Hilton.
The coordinating committee has announced that the summit would take place in two stages. Seven topics are on the agenda for discussion, including the economy and productivity, social policies and employment, citizen safety, institutional policies, municipal management and the environment, immigration and the border and energy and hydrocarbons. For the formal discussions there are seven designated "work groups" that will include a representative from each sector and a high-ranking government representative in the corresponding field.
The first phase of the summit begins tomorrow with the participants meeting each weekend leading up to 20 February 2009. This will be followed by the announcement of the "2009 Action Plan". President Fernandez will then present the conclusions during his 27 February speech to the National Assembly on the occasion of Independence Day.
The second part of the summit, which will begin at some point in March, will yield medium and long-term results that will be submitted to Congress for approval.
At today's summit opening, Monsignor Agripino Nunez Collado will give the invocation, after which Economy, Planning and Development Minister Temistocles Montas will speak. Montas will be followed by former Inter-American Development Bank president Enrique Iglesias and then by President Leonel Fernandez.

Danilo comments
Former presidential candidate Danilo Medina has expressed confidence that President Leonel Fernandez will be forced to adhere to the results of this summit because a failure to do so would mean that the summit had been held "to waste time." Medina, who has mostly stayed out of the public eye since 2007 when he moved aside after accusing Fernandez of using government money to buy the party's primary, stated that the public has a legitimate right to demand that the government implement the results of the summit. Medina, speaking on the radio show "El Gobierno de la Manana," and quoted in El Caribe, said that this was a great opportunity to reach a consensus on national problems and that we should make the most of it.

Summit vox populi
Although the Summit organized by the President has received a great deal of media attention in recent weeks, it has emerged that many members of the public have limited knowledge of the summit, its intended goals and many of the summit's more important details. El Caribe held an unofficial public survey, questioning students, housewives, taxi drivers and vendors in order to assess basic awareness of the summit. The results were surprising. According to housewife Inocencia Salazar "La Cumbre" (Spanish for summit) is a place between Villa Altagracia and Bonao. Aside from an impromptu geography lesson Salazar said that, "this country is full of problems." Student Juan Reyes described the summit as a "meeting of many presidents," implying that everyone was a "leader" and nothing would get done. El Caribe reports that many of the people interviewed asked the journalists to inform them about the conference. Universidad Dominicana student Altagracia Marte said she knew there was some discord with the PRD, but admitted not knowing exactly what the summit was all about.

The other summit
The Alternative Social Forum (FSA) will hold a parallel summit to the government's with an expected 100 social organizations in attendance. The PRD, which is expected to attend the 'alternative summit," has yet to decide whether it will take part in the government summit and says that it will announce its decision at 4pm. Amparo Chantada, spokesperson for the alternative summit said that nine topics would be discussed, including social investment, the constitutional reform, corruption, crime, energy, impunity, hydrocarbons and natural resources. Chantada also announced that a series of short-term resolutions would be presented on 27 February and that long-term resolutions would be presented on 28 April 2009, in parallel to the governmental summit timetable. Fidel Santana, Foro coordinator, said the separate talks will be held to pressure the government into action.

Reform approved
The Chamber of Deputies has passed, after a first reading, the bill that proposes the launch of discussions on the constitutional reform bill presented by President Leonel Fernandez. Of the 126 Deputies present 97 voted in favor while 22 abstained. The PRD block voted against the bill after the six-hour session. Spokesman for PRD Deputies Rudy Gonzalez asked for the bill to be sent to a special commission, but his request was denied. PRSC spokesman Ramon Rogelio Genao said that PRSC Deputies had been instructed to vote in favor of the bill. A second reading now needs to take place. The Senate gave it the go ahead earlier this month. The PLD holds the majority in the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, and has formed alliances with the PRSC and other minority parties to make up the votes needed to pass the reform.
El Caribe newspaper columnist Miguel Guerrero points out today that 18 leading business organizations, with the notable absence of the National Business Council, have publicly asked the Executive Branch and the National Congress to postpone Congressional discussions about the constitutional reform bill until the country's priorities are defined during the summit.

Grimaldi to the Vatican
Journalist Victor Grimaldi has been appointed as Dominican Ambassador to the Holy See through decree 44-09. Grimaldi was a close aide of the founder of the ruling PLD, Juan Bosch for many years. Grimaldi was appointed Comptroller General during the last Joaquin Balaguer administration in 1996. He went on to serve as the DR's representative at the Organization of American States during the first Fernandez administration. He has published several books on historical topics, is a frequent contributor to Listin Diario, and was producing a TV program at the time of his appointment. He began his journalistic career writing for El Nacional de Ahora in 1969, coincidentally covering the activities of the Catholic Church in the DR.

Regularizing migrants' status
Regional Migration deputy director Juan Isidro Perez says that the government is only issuing identification cards to Haitian farm workers. Perez denied reports that the Migration Department is also giving out work permit cards to construction workers. Perez said the permits are valid for six months and are being issued as a way of determining the number of foreigners working in the DR. Perez says that the Migration department is issuing the permits because the owners of the large farms have been made responsible for their workers.
Hoy reports that the idea of documenting Haitian farm workers came after an incident earlier this month when 800 Haitians, mainly laborers, locked themselves in a church for 24 hours because they were not being allowed to get back to their jobs and would be deported back to Haitian. Local parish priest Father Regino Martinez claimed the Haitians were victims of a trafficking scheme for undocumented workers. Indeed, Father Martinez later reported that the workers had left for Haiti, as agreed, to resolve the church conflict, and later return using existing people smuggling networks.

Haitises farmers get till March
The Ministry of Environment is allowing farmers with small farms in Los Haitises National Park to stay until March before leaving and taking their harvests with them. Minister Jaime David Fernandez Mirabal said that recent operations in the park revealed more than 150 small farms within its limits, but because of interventions by the Catholic Church on behalf of the peasants, the timeframe for evicting them has been extended. Fernandez declared that anyone entering the park to farm after the March deadline would be jailed. Fernandez said that peasants should get ready to harvest their crops, and that others needed to be aware they will not be allowed to farm the land in the Park. Fernandez added that the Church would not be able to intervene a second time around.

IDAC, Caribair & USOAP
Dominican Civil Aviation Institute (IDAC) director Jose Tomas Perez said the decision to ground Caribair for at least nine months was based on the outcome of an investigation into the airline after one of its planes made an emergency landing in North Carolina on 3 January 2009 due to lack of fuel. Perez says that the US Federal Aviation Administration had launched an investigation into the flight and the findings, as well as information on previous breaches, led to IDAC's decision to ground Caribair.
Listin Diario quotes Perez as saying that the airline went on record for making private flights that should have been registered as commercial. Perez said that if the airline wishes to fly again it must put its house in order. Listin Diario writes that Caribair has been involved in five accidents over the last seven years. Perez called Caribair's record "unsustainable" and "sad" and said that IDAC's responsibility was to protect passengers. IDAC also reports having passed the International Civil Aviation Organization audit, within the framework of the Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme (USOAP).

Spanish Dominicans
According to Manuel Hernandez Ruigomez, Spanish consul general in the DR, an estimated 130,000 Dominicans live in Spain, mostly in the cities of Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Seville. According to Ruigomez, while 30,000 already have Spanish citizenship, a further 30,000 are there illegally. The remaining 70,000 are living in Spain with legal residency papers. The consul commented that the number of visas issued by the Spanish government had decreased by 11% in 2008 and he added this trend was likely to continue in 2009.

ANADIVE says no
The National Association of Vehicle Distributors (ANADIVE) has voiced its opposition to a bill aimed at increasing taxes on vehicles as one option being considered for paying for the proposed wage increase for public sector doctors. According to ANADIVE, car sales have already dropped 50% since 2007, mainly due to the increase in interest rates. According to ANADIVE director Luis Taveras, 60% of a car's price consists of taxes, while vehicles also pay 20% customs tax, a 16% ITBIS (VAT) tax and a 2% transfer tax. He went on to say that during the last fiscal reform of 2006 the cost of a vehicle's initial registration was upped to 17%. Taveras said the sector could not sustain any more taxes.

EdeEste accuses
Blair Thomas, president of EdeEste power distribution company says the DR government's lawyer in an arbitration case being heard by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), Jack Kerr, is determined to "take control of EdeEste." Thomas is also a representative of DR Energy Holdings, Ltd, which has a 50% stake in EdeEste. In a letter to President Leonel Fernandez, also sent to the French and US embassies in the DR, Thomas asks for the threats being made by Kerr to be "repudiated publicly." Listin Diario reports that Thomas tried to engage in dialogue with President Fernandez on two occasions with letters sent on 24 May 2006 and 10 December 2007, but never received a response.
The comments were published in a paid advertisement in the local press.

30,000 blind people
A recent national survey of blind people has found that 30,000 blind people live in the DR, of whom 47.5% lost their sight due to cataracts. Doctor Juan Batlle and Cristina Nogueira of the National Commission for the Prevention of Blindness and the Pan American Health Organization, respectively, emphasized that this type of blindness is preventable. They announced a national campaign to make people aware of steps that can be taken to prevent cataracts. Of that 47.5%, all are over 51 years of age. The PHO says the DR should be performing at least 3,000 cataract operations a year, and not the present 900. She says the DR has the capacity to address this issue. The main causes of blindness are cataracts, refractory errors, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy.

Prosecutors get Quirino assets
General Prosecutor Radhames Jimenez Pena said that 21 assets confiscated from former army colonel Quirino Ernesto Paulino Castillo and transferred to the Dominican government after deals between the DR and the US judiciary will be assigned to initiatives aimed at improving judicial prosecution. General Prosecution Office Resolution 01 says the resources generated by the assets would also be used to develop the new jail model currently being implemented by state prosecutors. Jimenez made the announcement to clarify who would be getting the assets.
In an interview with Huchi Lora for his afternoon CDN talk show, Mabel Feliz Baez of the National Drugs Council said that this is the first time that assets have been confiscated from a known drug dealer. She said that the confiscations coincide with the fact that this case was heard in New York and not by a Dominican court. In other cases, while drug dealers have been sent to jail, their assets have had to be returned when in all but one known case they have secured favorable sentences from the Dominican judiciary. She confirmed that even notorious convicted drug dealer Florian Feliz has not had his assets confiscated.

Chief cans Bonao cops
Chief of Police Rafael Guillermo Guzman Fermin has ordered the removal of the police unit of Monsignor Nouel province (Bonao). Diario Libre reports that in a recent raid of drug points in the province a list was found which included the names and nicknames of 20 police officers on the take by local drug traffickers. The named officers were receiving bribes in return for allowing traffickers to operate with impunity. The Police Chief also ordered the arrest of these officers as well as an investigation into their activities. Commander Colonel Cepeda Urena has been replaced by Colonel Abreu Suriel.

A sea of blue
A sea of blue blanketed the city of Santo Domingo yesterday as the Tigres del Licey victory parade made its way through the city. The parade started at the Estadio Quisqueya, turned on to Ave. JF Kennedy and proceeded to the other side of the river, ending at Ave. Venezuela. Fans of the team, which won its 20th Winter League Championship on Sunday, flooded the streets to join their team and fellow fans in celebration. The chant of the day was "Licey Campeon! Licey Campeon! Licey now prepares to match the champions of Venezuela, Puerto Rico and Mexico during the Caribbean Series that will take place 2-7 February in Mexicali, Mexico. Licey, which won the regional tournament last year, is aiming for a repeat performance in 2009.
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