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Daily News - Thursday, 12 February 2009

New runway for Las Americas
The Las Americas International Airport (AILA) inaugurated a new runway yesterday, one able to handle the new Airbus 380, the world's largest passenger plane. According to Aerodom, the concessionaire of the airport, the new runway cost US$19 million and is one of the few that can receive the giant aircraft. President Leonel Fernandez was there to cut the inaugural ribbon. The additional landing strip will facilitate more arrivals and departures out of Santo Domingo's main port of entry.
The new runway is 3,354 meters long (close to 11,000 feet) and 75 meters wide. The construction of the runway and taxiway was done with assistance from the Federal Aviation Authority of the United States.
At the event, Juan Carlos Torres, president of Aerodom announced the expansion of the terminal at the Gregorio Luperon International Airport in Puerto Plata and the re-modeling of the South Satellite at AILA. Still another investment will be the construction of a modern freight terminal to service exports.

Rainieri to Los Haitises National Park
Frank Rainieri, president of the Punta Cana Group, has been recruited to oversee the Los Haitises National Park, located north of the Punta Cana area. Environment Minister Jaime David Fernandez Mirabal swore him in yesterday. Fernandez has been recruiting high profile Dominican businessmen and involving them in taking an active role in safeguarding the protected areas.

Rains bring havoc to Cibao
President Fernandez will fly to the central Cibao area today to inspect the damage caused by nine days of heavy rains. Yesterday the bad weather kept his aircraft grounded. He is expected to land in Tamboril and then visit other affected areas in the Lower Yuna River Basin. The authorities from the Ministry of Public Health initiated a preventive vaccination campaign among the evacuated persons in the Calientisimo section of Tamboril where there are 530 persons that on Tuesday morning lost their homes to landslides in the Carlos Diaz section of the municipality. Dr. Ramon Martinez, the provincial health director, said that attending doctors in several medical specialties were also sent to the area.
Meanwhile the Presidential Social Plan is providing food rations to the displaced persons.
For his part, the regional director of education, Clement de la Cruz, said that the nearly 200 students of the high school that was buried in the landslide would be relocated to different schools in Canca la Piedra and other neighboring communities. At the same time, police authorities reported that several persons were arrested when caught stealing from the homes of the disaster victims.
Thousands of acres of farms producing tomatoes, rice, bananas, plantains, and other staples located in Castanuelas, Palo Verde and Monte Cristi were affected by the floodwaters, and many are still under water yesterday as a result of the floods from the Yaque River.
Regarding the infrastructure of the road system, the Vice-Minister of Public Works for the North Region, Porfirio Brito, said that the most affected section were the road from Navarrete to Puerto Plata, the Touristic Highway from Puerto Plata to Santiago and the rural roads in Santiago, Moca and La Vega.
The National Emergency Center (COE) reported yesterday afternoon that more than 15,055 persons had been evacuated and most of these were in homes of family members. 3,011 houses were affected and 64 communities isolated by floodwaters or damaged roads or bridges.
Faced with the possibility of more rains in the Cibao Valley area, the red alert is still in place for Monte Cristi, Valverde, Santiago, Duarte, Sanchez Ramirez, Samana, Maria Trinidad Sanchez, Puerto Plata, Monsignor Nouel, Espaillat and San Pedro de Macoris. There is a yellow alert in place for Hermanas Mirabala, La Altagracia, El Seibo, La Vega, Hato Mayor, and Santiago Rodriguez. The COE also reported that it ordered the release of water from the Valdesia Dam due to the rains in the High Watershed of the Nizao River.

Agriculture takes a blow
Some 200,000 'tareas', the equivalent of about 12,600 hectares of different crops were affected by the floods resulting from 9 days of rain in the Cibao Valley and north of the country, according to reports from the Ministry of Agriculture. Salvador, "Chio" Jimenez said that there was also severe infrastructure damage and nearly 3,000 homes under water. Of these, according to the report in Hoy, 72 were totally destroyed. Also, two rural clinics collapsed and several communities are still isolated by floodwaters, broken bridges or damaged roadways. In Tamboril, the landslides continue in the community of Carlos Diaz, and the Army has declared the area a danger zone and prohibited access even to the press. The chief of the Second Brigade, headquartered in Santiago, General Amilcar Fernandez Tejada said there is a real danger that landslides could continue. But the municipalities and communities hope that the worst has past. Maria Rosario told reporters, "Losing that community (Carlos Diaz) is like losing a family member, because I grew up there and started my family there. I never thought that it was going to suffer anything like this. I give thanks to God that nobody lost a loved one." Alexandra Llanos and Jose Rodriguez joined together to call on the President to ensure that the more than 700 children in the community will not loose their school year. Rodriguez told reporters that he was in the fourth year of high school and he had high hopes to be able to go on to university and get work.

New ambassadors
The Senate approved the presidential appointments of Octavio Lister to Guatemala, Fernando Perez Memen to Mexico, Victor Grimaldi to the Holy See and Hector Dionisio Perez to Brazil. It was also announced that Roberto Saladin would be again be appointed ambassador to the United States, Cesar Medina would be the new ambassador in Spain and Guillermo Pina Contreras is appointed in Argentina, as reported in El Dia.
Anibal de Castro was confirmed as ambassador to the United Kingdom, Adonaida Medina in Costa Rica, Pedro Blandino in Nicaragua and Jaime Duran in Venezuela. Other appointments are Ruben Silie in Haiti, Jose Serulle in Trinidad & Tobago, Alejandro Gonalez Pons in Brussels, Rodolfo Rincon Martinez in Uruguay and Daniel Guerrero in Paraguay.

Business asks for measures
Five institutions that bring together industry, tourism, farm production, free zones and exporters set before the government the need to adopt measures that promote stability and development in the country. In a communique sent to the media, the Association of Industries of the Dominican Republic, National Association of Hotels and Restaurants, Dominican Association of Free Zones, Dominican Association of Exporters and Agribusiness Board said that they are hopeful that the Unity Summit convened by President Fernandez would produce measures to strengthen the local industry, promote the export of goods and services, create new jobs and bring in new investments. Among these measures that deserve to be undertaken quickly by the government, the business groups point to an efficient electricity system, recommending that the government "work out an integrated plan based on the proposal of the National Council of Business (CONEP) that calls for a change in the vision for handling the sector and the fulfillment of the General Electricity Law." The associations also call for access to competitive financing as well as for a reform in the banking prudential norms and an accelerating of the process for the granting of clear title to property that may guarantee easy access to financing; the creating of the Export Bank an export insurance; equality with competing countries and adaptation to the DR-CAFTA. Regarding the adaptation for DR-CAFTA, the groups point out that this implies the elimination of the income tax on the share of earnings generated by exports of goods and services as well as the tax on assets and all the taxes, tariffs and charges on exports. They also call for changes in the legal framework of the free zones to fulfill the requirements of DR-CAFTA and the new international production schemes. Included in their seven point request is that duties levied on the tourism sector be the same as those of other regional competitors. Also, that the labor legislation be brought up to date so it may serve to preserve and create jobs. On the macroeconomic front, they propose interest rates and exchange rates that are competitive. They also are urging that businesses be free to contract the transporters of cargo and passengers. And they recommend that the governmental foreign trade structure be reorganized and consolidated, with the unifying of the international promotion strategies and adequate budgets to support the export sector.

CAASD announces cutbacks on water
The director general of the Santo Domingo Water and Sewage Corporation (CAASD), Ramon Rivas announced that due to the heavy rains and floods over the past nine days, the Duey and Isa-Mana rivers aqueducts are out of service. This will cause water shortages in many sectors in Santo Domingo. In a press release from the CAASD, the official explained that the intense rains brought landslides and rubble. Among the sectors most affected are Los Alcarrizos, Pantoja, Villa Maria, Villa Morada, Girasoles, 24 de Abril, El INVI, Los Libertadores, Paraiso, Las Mercedes, Los Peralejos, Altos de Arroyo Hondo III, Villa Claudia in Arroyo Hondo, El Chucho, Savica, La Pina, Juana Saltitopa and Pedro Brand. The CAASD is monitoring the situation and its directors say that as soon as the rains stop the aqueducts will go back into operation. Rivas asked for patience in the barrios that are affected by the scarcity of water and reiterated that the closure of the two systems is due solely to the murkiness of the waters from the Haina River. Rivas also said that the Community Affairs Department of the CAASD says water tanks have been sent to affected areas to supply residents.

Fortified foods are on the way
The Soy Research Program of the University of Illinois will be working with the Price Stabilization Institute (INESPRE) to provide the technical know-how to create new food combinations that include fortified vegetable proteins of common foods used in the general population. Based on experiences in other nations regarding the change in the eating habits of people and the content of the food in the basic family food basket, the director of Inespre, Ricardo Jacobo and Illinois professor Karl Weingartner said that they were sure that the program would work in the Dominican Republic. The agreement was signed during a ceremony at the Ministry of Foreign Relations. Jacobo said foods would be fortified with vitamins B1, B3 and proteins.

AmCham differences regarding reform
The debate regarding the constitutional reforms spilled over into the monthly luncheon of the American Chamber of Commerce. Dominican ambassador in Washington, Flavio Dario Espinal, a constitutional expert, was there to give his opinions on many of the proposed controversial modifications.
Espinal was a member of the commission of jurists convened by President Leonel Fernandez to draft a technical proposal for constitutional reform. He said the three most controversial points are: the discussion as to whether it is a good time to modify the constitution, the mechanism with which to do the modification, and issues regarding the popular consultations that were held before the project was submitted to Congress. Espinal said that "nobody can argue that this process has been hurried or a surprise. It must be recognized then that President Fernandez has been cautious and prudent in the conducting of the process, which is shown in the time it has taken and the different steps that have been fulfilled before the legislation reached the legislative chambers." He called the Revisory Assembly a "perfectly valid" mechanism for constitutional reform. Regarding the issue of whether or not President Fernandez did not respect the popular consultations, he said that "it is impossible to achieve a constitutional text that reproduces a carbon copy of all the proposals approved during the hearings." He said that the President has the right "to introduce his own emphasis and focus on the project that he sent to the Congress." He reminded the audience and the legislators that only the quality of the process "will give the historical legitimacy of this great task that (the Congress) has before it."
Senator Francisco Dominguez Brito (PLD-Santiago) and president of the Senate Justice Commission, also spoke, but was very critical of the project. He said that he was not in agreement with proposals for the Judicial Branch and disputed the proposal for a Constitutional Chamber independent of the Supreme Court of Justice. He said that the more he analyzes what is contemplated with the creations of a court of constitutional guarantees, "the more I am convinced that we should keep the current system: that it be the full Court that keeps control of constitutional issues in the Dominican Republic."
The next speaker was Servio Tulio Castanos, the president of the Foundation for Institutionalism and Justice. He said that his group considers the creation of a Constitutional Court independent of the Judicial Branch to be the formula that can best satisfy the demands for improving the constitutional jurisdiction in the country.
The president of the American Chamber of Commerce, Christopher Paniagua, said that if it is true that the reform defended by President Fernandez has considerable merits, "it is no less certain that the counterbalance that the administration of justice should represent is at risk when it separates from the Judicial Branch a function so essential to administrate justice."

Court rules against JCE in SOMO case
A court of arbitration appointed by the Council of Conciliation and Arbitration of the Santo Domingo Chamber of Commerce and Production ruled against the Central Electoral Board and awarded US$9.04 million to Consorcio Soluciones Modernas (SOMO). The court ordered the continuation of the contract for the automating of the civil and electoral registries. The decision decreed last Monday, 9 February, was notified to the electoral organization. The JCE has 30 days to make the payment or face a judicial sanction for non-compliance of the sentence that will add US$20,000 per day of non-payment. The president of the JCE, Julio Cesar Castanos Guzman reacted immediately, calling an emergency meeting of the other members of the board for next Wednesday to find a way out of the situation. "In the meeting of the full board we can figure out the measures to take, although the impression is that this can't happen," emphasized the JCE president at the same time assuring reporters that "this is a situation that we will have to face."
The SOMO consortium filed the compulsory demand for payment in the arbitration court after the JCE suspended the payments stipulated in the contract for bringing the civil registry offices up to date.
In their decision, the arbitrators stated that the electoral board "did not present, in their written defense, any allegation in their favor, or develop their defense strategy, refuting or contradicting what was alleged or develop a counter-demand. "If the accused in the complaint was not satisfied with the execution of the contract or with the time frame of its execution, they should have notified this in writing, requiring the appropriate corrections," states the arbitration court opinion. It further indicates that the JCE should have used the mechanisms for solving conflicts that were established in the contract and not unilaterally suspend payment. The JCE interrupted payments to carry out an expert review to determine the quality of the work that was being done by SOMO.

Constitutional reform moves
The Chamber of Deputies approved the second reading of the legislative proposal that calls for the convening of a National Revisory Assembly to reform the Constitution. The legislation was passed with the support of the ruling PLD party and all but three of the PRSC party. The PRD announced that they would participate in the debates of the National Assembly. The final vote was 102 yes and 32 abstentions. The bill will now be reviewed and corrected and, according to Article 109 of the Chamber of Deputies, this chamber will have 15 days to send the approved bill to the President for his signature and passing.
Nevertheless, while the President has eight days to sign after receiving it, and then a 15-day to publish it. The National Assembly (Senate & Chamber of Deputies) then has an additional 15 days to actually meet to review the proposed changes to the Constitution.
The spokesperson for the PRD deputies, Ruddy Gonzalez, announced that his party's deputies will participate in the debates to defend the interests of the Dominican people. Gonzalez said, "We are going to sit at the negotiation table, not for our own affairs, but to force the approval of only what favors the people, with the warning that any legislator that asks for something personal to support the reform will be expelled from the party."
PLD spokesperson, Domingo Paez said that they would take the PRD at its word and accept the challenge to negotiate, discuss and reach a consensus for the country that everyone wants to build, not something based on private interests. Meanwhile, Ramon Rogelio Genao the PRSC spokesperson, reaffirmed that party's support of the project. He proposed that the project be sent to the President after the 17th of February and that the work of the National Revisory Assembly begin on 12 March.
The National Progressive Force (FNP), representative Jose Ricardo Taveras urged the opportunity be one to think of the future generations, and not wasted by backroom deals.

PLD lifts suspension on Williams
The Political Committee of the PLD lifted the suspension of Senator Alejandro Williams as a member of the Provincial Committee of the PLD in San Pedro de Macoris, alleging that the senator's arguments were satisfactory.
The secretary general of the PLD, Reinaldo Pared Perez, revealed that the legislator guaranteed that neither he, nor any of his medical offices are the subject of an investigation by United States authorities. Williams was questioned for nearly an hour by the Political Committee of the PLD, headed by President Leonel Fernandez. As he left the meeting he said that within one month he would reveal the names of the persons that are trying to damage his reputation with rumors. "Show me the proof of fraud, there is no proof. Remember the wounds are still bleeding but in one month I am going to give the names of those that are trying to hurt me," he said. Williams, who practices dentistry in the Bronx, New York, was criticized for his frequent absences from his responsibility as senator to San Pedro de Macoris.

PRSC deputy booed for suggestion
Because he defended the institutionalism and rejected the intention of many of his colleagues to extend the legislative period of the current members of Congress by two years within the framework of the Constitutional Reform, the Reformist deputy Frank Martinez was roundly booed in the middle of the session that approved constitutional reform. The greatest boos came from the PLD deputies. And this is because there is a document going around Congress that has been signed by more than 90 deputies, the majority of them from the government's PLD party. They favor extending the current congressional period by two years, until 1212. This would unify presidential and congressional elections. During his intervention, Martinez warned that he would fight against the extension of the period, because this would mean a subversion of the institutional order. The booing came spontaneously, which provoked the PLD deputy Isabel Bonilla to take a turn to clear up the situation. She affirmed that the official position of the PLD was against the intention, if it were to exist, of prolonging for two more years the current legislative period of the senators and deputies, and she insisted in clarifying the situation because, according to what she said, the PLD does not have the need to appeal to this mechanism that would go against the democratic process.

New Fashion Week
Come June, the Port of Sans Souci will host the Fashion Week, an event that seeks to raise national and international awareness of local design talent. Set for 3-6 June at the eastside terminal of Santo Domingo, the event is organized by Tita Hasbun, Jorge Diep and Alex Macia. During a presentation yesterday, the organizers say they want to highlight that Santo Domingo is an attractive setting for global fashion firms. For three days, there will be fashion shows and a fashion mall open to brands and international franchises selling clothes at discounted prices. Top models Teresa Wajdowics, Jeimy Hernandez, Yilda Santana, Rosa Gouch and Omahira Mota are booked to participate. The DR Fashion Week will also honor top model Arlenis Sosa. Hoy newspaper highlights how fashion week events have caught on in the DR. The first was Pasarela Rosa in 2004, followed by Dominicana Moda in 2006 and that continues with this year's scheduled for October 19-24. The Fashion Week will be televised on Time TV, Cosmopolita, TV, Televisa's Infashion magazine, Vanidades, Fashion TV in Santo Domingo and other media coverage.

Miguel Tejada pleads guilty
A tearful Miguel Tejada apologized yesterday afternoon (Wednesday) for lying to the US Congress. Tejada, the star shortstop of the Houston Astros, did not take any questions during the brief press conference at Minute Maid Park in Houston. "Simply put, I want to apologize," said Tejada, interrupted several times as he wiped away tears. "I committed a mistake and now I know how serious a mistake it was. I accept the responsibility and I am very sorry for what has happened." Early yesterday, Tejada pleaded guilty of a minor offense for having lied in congressional statements. Tejada's lawyer, Mark Touchey, said that the guilty plea by the player "brought this issue to a conclusion. The sentence will be administered by a judge on 26 March. This date was chosen to give time so that Tejada could participate in spring training and the World Baseball Classic. The Astros do not have a game scheduled that day.
The conditions of the deal were revealed in a letter dated 5 February and sent to Tejada's lawyers. The player had until 23 February to answer. The letter points out that "His declaration of guilt in this case can submit him to detention (jail), deportation or other penalties of the Department of Migration and Customs." Touchey said that "there are no allegations as to the use performance increasing substances by Mr. Tejada." Dressed in a gray suit, white shirt and tie, Tejada told the magistrate Alan Kay in the federal court in Washington that he lied in the statement he made during an interview translated with prosecutors in 2005 regarding the use of banned substances in the Big Leagues. He said, "I did not want to be in this situation. I want to apologize with all the United States because this country gave me the opportunity to be what I am. I am sorry for my family, for the Houston Astros and all the fans of baseball."
 
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