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Daily News - Monday, 16 February 2009

Samana road's makeover
The Ministry of Tourism has ordered the re-paving of 19 kms from Cruce de Molenillo to Las Terrenas in Samana, as reported in the Listin Diario. The Minister said that all the roads from Sanchez to Las Terrenas would be asphalted. Tourism Minister Francisco Javier Garcia told the Listin Diario that the repaving is part of a program to improve all roads leading to the country's tourist destinations. Garcia said that sidewalks, drainage, signage and parking areas would also be improved as part of the program.

January inflation down
Inflation for January 2009, as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI) registered at 0.28% for the month of January, which is a slight decrease from December and January 2008. The Central Bank (CB) attributes the drop to a decrease in the value of fuel purchases. The CB says that January's CPI is based on the increase in prices of chicken (2.16%), rice (2.21%), milk (6.81%), eggs (3.86%), pork meat (4.05%) and alcohol and tobacco (7.04%), amongst other goods. Annualized inflation is at 3.68%, much lower than that at January 2008, when it was 9.05%.

CB optimistic
The Central Bank (CB) is optimistic the flow of investment will continue into the DR. CB Governor Hector Valdez Albizu says the DR's credit "spread" dropped more than 700 points and explained that a majority of new investments to the country would be in the area of tourist real estate. Valdez says the drop in "spread" will make the DR an even more attractive investment option. Officials are expecting foreign direct investment to the tune of US$2.33 billion in 2009. Valdez also mentioned the recent visit by the general director of the IMF Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the publication of a letter of intent for a post Stand-by Agreement to monitor economic performance.

Evacuations continue
Evacuations continue in the communities of Carlos Diaz and Juan Veras with mudslides threatening the safety of residents in this vulnerable area. The mudslides are a result of the heavy rains in the Cibao region last week. Six persons died and countless others have sought shelter in refugee centers. Regional Civil Defense director Francisco Arias explained that a church, a school and homes were all affected by the mudslides. Officials have also begun preemptive evacuations, fearing more mudslides. Officials have also closed the road in La Cumbre that connects Santiago with Puerto Plata.

Andrew Cahn in Santo Domingo
Sir Andrew Cahn, the chief executive of the United Kingdom Trade & Investment (UKTI) was in Santo Domingo for a day of meetings on Monday, 16 February with government and private sector to strengthen ties between the UK and the DR. "The role of UKTI is to help bring companies together," said Cahn. He pressed the point: "I see recovery from the present crisis will be export and investment-led." Cahn was the keynote speaker during the breakfast organized by the British Chamber of Commerce in Santo Domingo to mark the start of their activities for the year.
Cahn stressed there is an urgent "need for governments to avoid that the present financial, banking and soon fiscal crisis lead to a political crisis."
He urged the world "to get back to self-confident trading."
A strong supporter of globalization and liberalization, he stressed that the marketplace is changing and is more transparent and demanding, especially due to the prevalence of the Internet today. "Competition is everywhere." He says there is new emphasis on quality, price competition and people are seeking environmentally-friendly products and services. This means improving the quality of education and skills of workers needs to be every nation's priority. "Nothing is more important than education and training throughout a lifetime," he said.
He has a clear idea of the role of government. "The role of government is to set the right conditions for the business sector. That it be easy to hire and fire people, that it cut time and red tape to set up a company, that it facilitate the marketplace," he told his audience of business people. He says to achieve this for the UK, at UKTI, since 2006 he has incorporated leading businessmen into the UKTI, so these may bring dynamism, organizational skills and knowledge to the effort.
"My profound conviction is that business is key. No government, servant, minister adds a penny of wealth to a country. Wealth is created by business. All parks, roads, hospitals and prosperity of a country are paid by the wealth created by business," he said.
His words of advice: "Need to keep up the nerve. Look at the long-term. We can live through the downturn by keeping on investing."

Push for green students
Basic Energy, the leading local power corporation, is behind the first private initiative for eco-schools in the DR. With the collaboration of the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE), Basic Energy seeks to support green education with integral programs that involve teachers, students, directors, management, services staff and parents at public schools nationwide. The project also reaches out to city and town governments so that the ideas incubated inside the schools can be implemented outside, facilitating citizen participation in sustainable municipal development.
In the effort, Basic Energy is working closely with the Dominican Republic Institute of Environmental Law (IDARD).
The program is starting at the Escuela Maria Montez (Barahona), Escuela Hogar Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos y Escuela Punta Pescadora (San Pedro de Macoris), and Escuela Sagrado Corazon de Jesus (Bayahibe).
Students take on an active role and discover ways to improve their environment - focusing on water and energy use, and solid waste disposal.
The program also encourages the new generations to become active citizens, participating in the decision-making process, while it promotes the importance of the environment in day-to-day living.
For more information on this project, contact Marta Fernandez, Corporate Communications Director at [email protected]

New agreement with Shell?
The Dominican government is looking to sign an agreement with the Shell Company, in which the company would handle the distribution of fuel and lubricants as well as reestablish aerial distribution. Recently Shell and the DR government announced a deal in which the government purchased Shell's 50% stake in the Dominican Petroleum Refinery (REFIDOMSA). The deal, if agreed on, would enable Shell to import and distribute fuels and other fuel derivatives, into the country.

Troubles at Bahia
Ecologist Roberto Sanchez is warning about a potential ruling by the Supreme Court of Justice (SCJ) that would, according to the ecologist, give an area of Bahia de las Aguilas at the Jaragua National Park to an unidentified group, as reported in Hoy newspaper. Aside from being illegal and potentially detrimental to the protection of Bahia de las Aguilas, Sanchez said that it would set a precedent by where the SCJ would be recognizing fraudulent land titles. Sanchez said the attempt to appropriate the protected lands is being done by a group of foreign investors, with the support of the Ministry of Tourism, and that these foreigners have already begun business transactions with the current "owners" of the lands. Sanchez detailed that with a potential ruling by the SCJ, the tarea of protected lands, located within the park, would be purchased for US$16 per meter squared with the supposed owners receiving US$4, with millions of tareas of protected park land released for purchase. The middlemen behind the transaction would receive US$12 per square meter, Sanchez told an audience attending a MIUCA political party conference on governmental environmental policies.

Travel agents angered
The New York City Dominican American Travel Agents Association (DATA) is rejecting a US$15 charge imposed by President Leonel Fernandez, through decree 655-08, on persons who enter or exit the DR. DATA president Placido Rodriguez called the measure by Fernandez abusive and untimely. The DR, currently, has the highest travel taxes of any nation in the Caribbean. Rodriguez explains that this is not a new issue. He said that for some time now passengers have complained about the cost of flights originating in the DR due to the exorbitant charges levied above the fare. Rodriguez added that airfares have declined recently due to fuel savings, but government taxes still make flying in and out of the DR too expensive. Rodriguez used the example that a flight to the DR could cost US$379, but Dominican government taxes balloon the price to more than US$500. Rodriguez, quoted in Hoy, fears that the high prices, could eventually lead to a reduction in visitors to the DR.

DR not afraid to deport
In the last year Dominican officials have deported 72 foreigners for various crimes, of which 32 have been Italian nationals. According to the Police, Boca Chica, Sosua, Samana and Nagua are preferred hideout towns for criminals looking to evade the law. The most recent arrests have been of Italian mobster Ciro Mazzarella, accused of murdering 90 people in Naples, Italy and of German national Ralf Erwin Waldermaier who is accused of a EU5 million fraud. Colombian Mauricio Torrenegra Silva, Austrian Christoph Nicoladoni, Puerto Rican Rafael Antonio Ruiz Ortega are others on the long list of criminals sent back to their countries of origin after detailed work and cooperation by Dominican police. Police Chief Rafael Guillermo Guzman Fermin promised to continue working to collaborate with international police to locate criminals that may try to evade the law here.

Paya's odd triangle
The news was big then and months after the Paya massacres the investigation into the murders related to the notorious killing spree of seven drug dealers is still ongoing. For those reading the newspaper blurbs, the stories seem something out of a Hollywood blockbuster. Diario Libre is reporting that 5 men, who had, on various occasions, visited men involved in the Paya massacre, at the Najayo prison, have themselves been murdered. This has added a new twist in the case, making many suspect a cover-up on the case. The most recent victim was Mario Antonio Rodriguez who was gunned down in Los Minas. Alfredo Estanislao Abreu, Fausto Ramirez, Vicente Feliz and Francisco Contreras have also been victims. Meanwhile the authorities have released no leads regarding the suspect murders. The Paya massacres occurred in August 2008 with seven men were found shot and left for dead, and cash and drugs that would have been the motive of the killing, have gone missing. The first investigations revealed strong connections between military and police officials and international drug networks.

Soldier gets remembered
The New York City Council is renaming 185th and 186th Street, between Wadsworth Venues, Juan Alcantara Mariel Disla, in honor of the young Dominican American soldier killed in Iraq. Beginning today the avenue will be named Corporal Juan M. Alcantara with ceremonies beginning today at 11am. For many the young man's death stirred much controversy considering that he was redeployed to Iraq with only months before he would be discharged. His mother, angered at the politics behind her son's death, refused the military honors that accompanied the death of a soldier and refused the posthumous citizenship he was granted. This is the second time the New York City Council named the street after a Dominican soldier. The first was named after soldier Ryan Tejada, at the intersection of 180th Street and Juan Pablo Duarte Boulevard. Tejada was the first Dominican American killed in Afghanistan.

Embassy helps child
The Embassy of Spain in the DR has given the daughter of slain woman Monica Fernandez Garcia to her grandmother. Fernandez was murdered last week by her former partner Freddy Valdez de los Santos. Diario Libre explains that the grandmother arrived in the DR yesterday in the company of her brother. The child, who was Fernandez's daughter from a previous relationship, had been taken into custody by CONANI, but family members petitioned that she be taken into custody by the Spanish embassy until her grandmother arrived. Details of Fernandez's death are emerging with reports indicating that in a jealous rage De los Santos shot her, at her place of employment, shot and killed Gustavo Diaz, manager of the store and then turned the gun on himself.

Puerto Plata clean out
The National Police has removed Colonel Frank Feliz Almonte Castillo from his post as director of the North Region's Department for Criminal Investigations. The National Police has also called for the arrest of 27 of its agents in Puerto Plata after an internal investigation found string links between police officials and drugs. Colonel Manuel Santamaria Fondeur will now hold the post. Listin Diario reports that the Criminal Investigative Unit has all but been completely dismantled and investigations into the drug ties are continuing. According to initial reports police officials charged local drug traffickers a "toll" in exchange for the ability to negotiate with impunity. Police Chief Rafael Guillermo Guzman Fermin said he would be in Puerto Plata today to swear in the new regional police commander.

Carnival in full swing
Carnival season is in full swing with residents in Santiago and Santo Domingo enjoying the sights and sounds of the traditional February and March festivals. Yesterday, thousands of residents packed Las Carreras Avenue in Santiago to enjoy the festivities and enjoy the sometimes scary carnival costumes. The same energy was there at the Zona Oriental in Santo Domingo where costumes and colors dotted the streets of East Santo Domingo's Avenida Espana that was filled with onlookers, young and old, walking as much as two kms to join the party. Residents of Los Mina, Villa Faro, Villa Duarte, Maquiteria, and Ensanche Ozama, amongst others, joined in the fun.

World traveler stuck in DR
After having traveled across South America for two weeks, young traveler Graham Hughes has now found himself stuck in the DR, looking for a way to continue his Carmen San Diego-ike adventure. Hughes, from Liverpool, England, embarked on his journey from Colonia, Uruguay with the goal of stepping foot on every UN-recognized nation in the world in one year's time. He began his journey on 1 January 2009. Hughes got himself to the DR and is now looking for a way to get to either Jamaica or Cuba. There is a catch to his travels: Hughes can't fly, drive or use private transport on public roads. Though he says he has enjoyed his time in the DR and the hospitality of Dominicans, he is looking to hitch his next ride to continue.
For more information on Hughes's travels please click here: http://www.theodysseyexpedition.com/
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