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Daily News - Thursday, 29 January 2009

Metro starts
The Santo Domingo Metro will be inaugurated today with a ceremony at the Centro de los Heroes (La Feria) station at 5pm. President Leonel Fernandez and representatives from supplier companies in Europe and South America will attend, according to a press release from the Transport Reorganization Office (OPRET).
International guests include representatives from metros in European countries and from Colombia, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Brazil and Chile, said OPRET spokesman Leonel Carrasco. The commercial operations will definitely start tomorrow morning and go from 6am until 11pm, and according to the Opret plans, will work without any interruptions.
The service will begin with 19 trains in operation.
To use the Metro, commuters need to purchase a RD$30 card that has to be charged with a minimum of RD$20 pesos per ride and which can be loaded with as much as RD$1000.
According to Carrasco, "thousands and thousands" of these cards have already been sold. He estimates that 170,000 people will use the trains on a daily basis.

New DR tourism campaign
The Dominican government has launched its new tourism promotion campaign: "The Dominican Republic: It Has Everything" at the leading Spanish travel trade fair, Fitur. The campaign aims to make tourists aware that the DR is a complete destination with more than just beaches and sunshine, also offering adventure, ecotourism and culture. The effects of the global financial crisis are being felt at the 29th International Tourism Fair.
News reports indicate that exhibitors have booked 13% less space and there is an 18% drop in participating businesses. Of 13,530 participants last year, there are 2,400 fewer this year.
The DR is taking part with a 250 square meter stand decorated in tropical colors. Tourism Minister Francisco Javier Garcia announced that the "inexhaustible" campaign used over the past four years was "exhausted." He said that the bold new international advertising campaign seeks to let the world know that "the only thing missing from the Dominican Republic is snow."

Government commits to action
The government and hundreds of business, political and social groups opened debates yesterday at the "Summit for National Unity Facing the World Crisis," with renewed hope that agreements would be acted upon. The President led the inauguration of the dialogue whose full sessions should end on 17 February, with some concrete plans of action to solve the most urgent national problems and shield the country from the worst effects of the world financial and economic debacle.
In his keynote speech, President Fernandez joined the other voices that called for the summit to avoid coming up empty as he pointed out "today's act cannot just remain as a symbolic opening ceremony, but rather it should lead to a systematic coordination until the crisis is over." With this in mind, he favored the creation of a public and private alliance to provide continuous coordination and follow up that will allow everyone "to know when we go from one policy to another."
Fernandez made the most of the occasion to make an urgent call to United Nations secretary general Ba Ki Moon to convene the assembly with the aim of dealing with the world economic crisis and to find joint solutions. He reiterated that what has been said on international podiums is a problem of the 192 nations that make up the UN. "It seems that an urgent case like this should push the UN to call in all the members."

Halfway constitutional reform?
President Leonel Fernandez has announced he will compromise with business groups and other sectors that have asked Congress to put the writing of a new Constitution on hold until after the summit debates currently under way. During the opening of the summit at the Santo Domingo Hilton, Fernandez said that the chambers should meet in the Constitutional Review Assembly and give it a start. He said there is still time within the terms established by the Constitution for the approval to happen after the first phase of the talks that end on 21 February. He is adding the eight working days after the passing or veto plus 15 for publishing the bill, as reported in Diario Libre. The Chamber of Deputies has pending to pass a second reading on the bill that would open the floor to the constitutional discussions, since the Senate has already given the talks the green light.

Iglesias identifies challenges
Enrique V. Iglesias, former president of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), said yesterday that one of the greatest challenges facing Latin America at this time is to avoid losing the advances in economic growth achieved over the past 20 years, especially when it comes to stability and social improvements, as reported in Hoy. He also encouraged the government to continue implementing pending reforms and the modernization of the state.
Iglesias was speaking during the opening ceremony of the national summit convened by President Leonel Fernandez.
Iglesias said that until the global financial sector stabilizes, no measure would be effective to resolve the present crisis.
He pointed out that the financial collapse has even brought down risk assessment agencies that used to forecast market failures. He said that the International Monetary Fund and other international organizations should take on credit lines that are more flexible and entail fewer conditions.
Meanwhile, the eminent economist said he thought that the crisis obliges both large and small nations including the Dominican Republic, to draw up short and long-term goals leading to a new financial order.
In Iglesias's opinion, a regulatory system needs to emerge that is "better tuned" to focus and supervise economic resources. He said, nevertheless, that it was important to avoid protectionism and economic nationalism, because according to the former IDB president, these slow down economic recovery.

Mission accomplished
In his commentary in El Caribe today, journalist Miguel Guerrero says that President Fernandez had accomplished his objectives with the summit. He concludes: "There is no more talk about the Sun Land contract, or the Supreme Court of Justice's shameful ruling on the case. The excessively high cost of remodeling the Palace of Bellas Artes is a thing of the past. The President's excessive appointments despite the Austerity Law and the economic crisis have been forgotten. The mishaps of the Chamber of Accounts are no longer important. The electricity crisis does not sell papers. There is only talk of the summit. The President achieved his wish, the control of the media through his enormous and very expensive propaganda system.
For practical purposes, the summit has met its objective. The reform of the Constitution will now give him the opportunity to stay in power after 2012, without many difficulties."

PRD summit participation in limbo
The PRD's participation in the "Summit for National Unity" convened by President Leonel Fernandez and inaugurated yesterday, remains in limbo after the second postponement of the meeting where the party's political commission was scheduled to discuss the issue. Reporters from Diario Libre said that the reasons for the suspension swing between "heaven", trying to gain a consensus that defines the party's position on the summit, according to party president, and "hell" with accusations of political irresponsibility from the group led by former presidential candidate Miguel Vargas Maldonado.
Ramon Alburquerque reassured reporters that the cancellation of the meeting came about due to a lack of "a consensus and harmony." In a radio interview he said, "We party leaders have the obligation to hold constructive meetings, when we see that there is no consensus on a sensitive issue, we postpone it as many times as necessary."
Listin Diario reports that Ivelisse Prats de Perez, representing the PRD, attended the alternative summit organized parallel to the government event.

Government replies to Ede-Este
The two top executives of the government electricity sector have dismissed the idea that the government is planning to "take control" of the Ede-Este company that distributes electricity in the eastern part of the country. Blair Thomas, CEO of EDE-Este, publicly complained about this in the press yesterday. However, the superintendent of electricity, Francisco Mendez, and the executive vice-president of the Dominican Corporation of State-owned Electricity Enterprises (CDEEE) Radhames Segura, said that they were surprised by the comments made by Blair Thomas.
In a paid advertisement published in national newspapers yesterday and addressed to President Fernandez, Ede-Este president Blair Thomas said that during an arbitration hearing initiated by Ede-Este at the International Chamber of Commerce, the lead lawyer for the Dominican government announced that the state intended to unilaterally "take control of Ede-Este."
Mendez asked Blair Thomas yesterday not to judge President Fernandez's administration by words, but rather by actions and concrete measures taken in favor of the three electricity distribution businesses, without favoritism. Mendez emphasized that he was confused by this position, because the Dominican government has given unconditional support to the distributors in the form of subsidies for their operating deficits. He stated that "there is no hostility from the superintendent's office towards any of the three distributors; we apply the law with the same yardstick, for the distributors as well as for the customers."
He announced that the government would shortly be enforcing Law 186-07 that criminalizes stealing electricity. " I don't understand where the Ede-Este executives get this attitude, just based on the opinion of one lawyer in court." For his part, Segura dismissed the idea that the interests of the employees of Ede-Este are at some sort of risk or danger due to the situation between the distributor and the Dominican government.
He said that Blair Thomas is a "hostile partner that has been suing the government, his own partner, in the international markets or in the international courts for US$680 million, instead of coming here to invest together with the state to help the distribution company recover."

Private savings to government
Financial analyst Alejandro Fernandez Whipple makes an important point in a contribution to today's Diario Libre on how pension plan savings by Dominicans have been invested in government securities.
"Money belonging to Dominican workers is being invested to sustain government deficits, contributing very little to the creation of value in the Dominican economy," he points out. He said that the government instead needs to reduce its spending.
According to Fernandez, of the RD$44 billion in the accounts administered by the pension plan companies (AFPs), as of September 2008 more than half (47%) or RD$20 billion is invested in financial instruments issued by the Central Bank, the governmental Banco de Reservas and the Banco Nacional de la Vivienda. Other complementary funds add on another RD$8 billion, for RD$28 billion in the hands of government entities. He expects the figure to have increased 30% by now. "In the last three months of 2008 alone, pension funds invested an additional RD$5 billion in the Central Bank bringing the total to RD$25.3 billion," he writes.
He says this leap in volume in Central Bank instruments happened when the government authorized up to 40% of the funds to be invested in Central Bank instruments. As a result, the government now holds 47% of the funds, up from 22% in December 2006.
Fernandez writes that the explanation for the Central Bank having aggressively increased its pension fund portfolio is due to a decision by the central government to "postpone" the capitalization to which it is obligated by law.
He also makes the point: "If the Banco de Reservas is one of the leading recipients of pension funds, it is not only because it reached RD$150 billion in assets, but because during 2008 it increased its lending to the government itself by almost RD$20 billion, which easily represents the total of its lending growth in that year."

Missing plane back at STI?
Diario Libre online carries the intriguing news that the plane that disappeared with pilot Adriano Jimenez and 11 passengers on board in December is back at Santiago's Cibao International Airport. "What is curious about the case is that the airplane returned to the Cibao International Airport and there is no news on the passengers or the pilot," says the news story. It makes the point that Santiago prosecution officer Yenny Berenice Reynoso, who is in charge of investigations into the flight that disappeared last 15 December said she could not speak to the press about the case, since it is a "very complicated investigation". Pilot Adriano Jimenez Henriquez had filed a plan to fly to Mayaguana in the Bahamas but after landing in the Turks & Caicos he reported an emergency, and was not heard of again. Diario Libre reports that despite rumors that the owner of the plane was a legislator, there was no more talk about the subject. The government appointed a commission with representatives from the army, National Investigations Department, Migration and Civil Aviation and the prosecutors' office, to clarify the case.

Pilot and plane owner arrested
According to a report in today's Listin Diario, the Dominican Civil Aviation Institute (IDAC) has announced the arrest of a pilot and the owner of a plane for supposedly carrying out an illegal flight. The pilot is suspected of having commanded what started out as a domestic flight and then became an international flight without the people on board passing through Dominican Migration. Diario Libre says that the arrested men are pilot Roberto Henriquez Pougeois and aircraft owner William Penalo Garcia, both Puerto Rican, who were handed over to the Migration Department's investigative unit. According to IDAC director Jose Tomas Perez, the pilot took off from Portillo in a blue and white Cessna 172, registration N6028YM, after filing for a flight to Punta Cana International Airport. When the flight did not arrive within the normal flight time, Dominican authorities contacted the authorities in Puerto Rico and learned that the aircraft had landed at Isla Grande Airport. IDAC says that hours after landing in Puerto Rico, the pilot returned to the Dominican Republic, this time piloting a Moony M20E, tail number N3377X, that landed at the El Catey International Airport in Samana. The IDAC seized the Moony aircraft while the Cessna is detained in Puerto Rico.

22 cops from Bonao on drug list
Twenty-two police officers listed in a notebook taken from an accused drug dealer in Bonao were arrested by Chief of Police Rafael Guillermo Guzman Fermin and transferred to the north-central Regional Command in Santiago de los Caballeros yesterday. The notebook was found by National Drug Control Department (DNCD) agents.
General Eduardo Then, commander of the north-central Regional Command headquarters in Santiago came to Bonao to transfer the 22 to Santiago for investigations.
Major General Guzman Fermin arrived early yesterday morning by helicopter to swear in Colonel Miguel Abreu Suriel to replace Colonel Antonio Cepeda Urena as commander of the city of Bonao.
The police chief reassured the citizens of Bonao that if there were any indications of guilt among the 22 police officers whose names were on the list, they would be discharged from service and prosecuted as civilians.
When drug dealer Nelson Sanchez was arrested the agents found a list with 22 names of policemen who were supposedly paid "tolls" to "look the other way" during drug deals. Guzman Fermin said that agents received from RD$13,000 to RD$15,000 a month, as reported in El Caribe. Meanwhile, Listin Diario reports that despite Nelson Sanchez's arrest, drug sales continue at his spot.

Supreme Court fires justices
The full panel of the Supreme Court has fired a Justice of the Peace and suspended two judges for 30 days without pay for serious errors in office. They are Ennio Nicolas Diaz Lopez, the Justice of the Peace in Villa Vasquez and Miguel de Jesus Arache Urena, judge of the Third Court of Instruction of the Judicial District of Santiago.
The judgment does not specify the errors.

His worst day
An alleged criminal is close to death after suffering burns, bullet wounds, knife wounds, blunt force trauma and stoning by a furious mob in the Las Coqueras section of San Cristobal. Local residents say that the victim was caught after entering a house and taking appliances worth thousands of pesos. The man, who is thought to be about 24 years old, has still not been identified according to reports. He is said to have shot at residents of the Canastica sector on Kilometer 2 of the Sanchez Highway and when his bullets ran out the mob tied him up with a rope, shot him, threw concrete blocks and hit him with sticks and clubs. Before he was rescued by a police patrol, the man endured the attack for three hours. His assailants even pushed his limp body around in a wheelbarrow for several blocks, prior to his being taken to the Juan Pablo Pina Public Hospital in San Cristobal.

Man accused of 17 murders
National District judge Jose Alejandro Vargas has issued a sentence to remand Samuel Aguero Brito a.k.a. Freddy Aguero Brito (El Sapo - "the Toad") in preventive custody for one year. Aguero Brito, 22 is thought to have committed 17 murders, among them the killing of a police private and a trader. The prisoner has been sent to La Victoria Prison.
The Toad, who gave himself up to the National Police last Monday, and who, according to complaints, was the person who kept the sector of La Puya of Arroyo Hondo in a state of terror.
The complaint says, according to El Nuevo Diario, that on 8 December, Aguero Brito, armed with a gun, appeared at the house of a Haitian called Yin Yan together with Amauris Antonio Rosa Romero (Pilon) and one other man known only as "Taito" and "La Roca", in the La Puya de Arroyo Hondo section of the National District, demanding money, and when they were refused they shot the man in the right leg and ran away.
Moreover, on 24 December they are said to have gone to the Pena Market, in the same area, attacking Fernando Acevedo Estevez (Locon or Pipe), and without saying a word, shooting him several times, causing his death.
The accused is also mentioned as having wounded Alvaro Luis D'Oleo Carmona in the same area.
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