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Daily News - Monday, 23 February 2009

Businesswoman to Valle Nuevo Park
The Ministry of Environment has appointed propane gas businesswoman Rosa Margarita Bonetti de Santana of Propagas as the new director general of the 914km2 mountain area Juan Bautista Perez Rancier National Park. The park is best known as the site of Valle Nuevo, a paradisiacal mountain area popular with campers. The Ministry of Environment now under Minister Jaime David Fernandez has been appointing high-profile businesspeople to monitor and oversee the welfare of key national resources.
Bonetti's appointment follows those of:
Manuel Estrella of Acero Estrella to the Jose de Jesus Jimenez Almonte National Monument (Pico Diego de Ocampo)
Jose Miguel Gonzalez Cuadra of Centro Cuesta Nacional to the Cabo Cabron National Park (Samana)
Ivelisse Garcia of Viveros Plantas Tropicales, as deputy director of the National Botanical Garden
Frank Rainieri of the Grupo Punta Cana to Los Haitises National Park.

Water still a concern
Hector Rodriguez Pimentel, director of the National Hydraulic Resources Institute (INDHRI), says that the DR only stores 17% of the 11 billion cubic meters of water it consumes in one year. This is 13% below international standards. He said that in order to tackle the issue of water storage, his department, which oversees reservoirs in the DR will launch a ten-year plan with a US$2.3 billion budget, of which US$1.94 billion will go towards building the new dams and US$300 million towards irrigation systems. He told Hoy newspaper that the DR has 25 billion cubic meters of water at its disposal.

Taxes could stall TC
Increasingly high taxes could stall the development of the Dominican telecommunications (TC) sector, according to Oscar Pena, president of Claro and Codetel. According to Pena, telecommunications companies in the DR have to pay three separate taxes: 1) the 16% ITBIS tax, 2) a 10% Selective Consumption Tax (ISC) and 3) a 2% Contribution to the Development of the Telecommunications Sector tax (CDT). Pena said that in most countries the TC sector doesn't have to pay an ISC because communications are seen as a primary necessity. However, Pena recognizes the Dominican Telecommunications Institute's (INDOTEL) efforts to gradually reduce the ISC. Of greater concern to Pena is the potential application of a 3% tax on TC, which will be used to fund municipal authorities throughout the DR.

Housing market dives
The DR's housing market and the complementary construction sector took steep dives last year as a result of a decrease in housing demand. Hoy, quoting statistics from construction sector representative Ramon Elias Hidalgo of Constructora Cohisa, reports that house sales in 2008 dropped by 50% compared to 2007. Hidalgo, quoted in Hoy, believes that the outlook for 2009 is worrisome. He said that despite the decrease in interest rates there is still reticence in the market. He added that buyers are concerned about taking on debt due to the increased risk of unemployment and falling sales in general.

Two much debt, too soon
The president of the National Business Council (Conep) has expressed his concern about the DR government's rapid rate of indebtedness. Lisandro Macarrulla says that the government handling of the electricity sector is one of the reasons for taking on more debt. He mentioned the subsidy of more than US$1 billion, which in great measure was financed by taking on more debt through the PetroCaribe agreement with Venezuela. "Then we believe that is an irresponsible way of dealing with the electricity deficit," he said during an interview on Channel 9's Lideres program. Macarrulla also said that the escalation of the price of fuel to almost US$200 a barrel also explains the increase in indebtedness.
Macarrulla said that the authorities are giving contradictory signs when it comes to public spending. On the one hand they have an austerity policy, but on the other there is lots of wasteful spending. "Recently we have seen how the government has increased its contingent in missions abroad, and the number of deputy ministers. When we have to recognize that when it comes to propane gas subsidies, and those handled by the government Social Cabinet, there have been advances," he said. He said the business community would like to see the government take on an austerity plan given the present economic difficulties, because this is a time for "everyone to make sacrifices", he told El Caribe.

Contradicting records on Parmalat case
The local press has been pointing out the incongruence between statements by Air Force chief Major General Carlos Altuna Tezano about the career record of arrested Air Force Major Jorge Luis Vargas Cuello, and other military and police intelligence records that show that he was allowed to remain in the Air Force despite a series of run-ins with the law. Vargas Cuello was arrested after being tracked down by two policemen after they left the scene of a robbery at the Parmalat milk and juice plant in Villa Faro last week. He is believed to be the ringleader of 11 thieves who according to the Police entered the Parmalat offices in Villa Duarte in four vehicles and a Harley Davidson motorcycle around 9pm on Thursday. To get in, witnesses told the press that Major Jorge Luis Vargas identified himself as a DNCD agent. The thieves reportedly made away with cash after hearing that a police squad had been alerted on the police radio frequency. While early reports mention RD$300,000 - RD$800,000 in loot, a report in Monday's El Caribe says that the assailants could have made off with as much as RD$4 million.
Interviewed by Huchi Lora on CDN Radio on Friday, Altuna Tezanos said that Vargas Cuello was an Air Force academy instructor with 28 years' service who served as co-director of the Air Force cultural radio station. Altuna Tezanos said he only had minor faults on his record, such as arriving late on duty. He commented on several occasions that Vargas's shift in conduct could only be explained by Freud.
However, Listin Diario revealed that other intelligence reports already profile him as a criminal. They have him down as involved in a case of the kidnapping of a couple in 2003 and the murder of two people whose bodies were mutilated and found in a tank full of cement in San Francisco de Macoris.
Saturday's Listin also reported that military intelligence records reveal that Vargas Cuello had tested positive in anti-doping tests when he was a cadet at the Batalla de Las Carreras Military Academy, and later when he made the rank of first lieutenant. Listin Diario says that there are other cases of bad conduct in his record.
Hoy newspaper reports that Jose Vargas Cuello had a vast crime record, "but had certain protection and that was the reason that he remained in the Air Force."
Roberto Lebron, spokesman for the National Drug Control Department, said that Vargas had been expelled from that organization in 1995 "because he did not adapt to following the rules". He said that the officer worked at the DNCD from 12 June to 20 November 1995 and held the rank of a second lieutenant in the Air Force. He said that Vargas was expelled from the anti-narcotics division and sent back to the Air Force.

Parmalat trio declare innocence
On Saturday, Judge Rene del Rosario of the Santo Domingo court ordered a one-year preventive jail term for Air Force Major Jorge Luis Vargas Cuello, Air Force Sergeant Carlos Santana Camacho and civilian Roberto Carlos Concepcion Comas (Marcos Comas), the three men currently accused of the raid on the Parmalat premises last week. The case against them was heard on Saturday afternoon.
Santana Camacho says he only became involved after Vargas Cuello called him and asked him to remove a shotgun and revolver from his house and did so, storing them at the house of police Sergeant Bernarda (Leonarda) Colon, who is not implicated in the case.
Mayor Jorge Luis Vargas Cuello said that he was in the vicinity at the time of the robbery when he received a call from Comas asking him to pick him up in his vehicle because a motorcycle belonging to him that Comas had taken for a test drive with the intention of possibly buying it had broken down. He said that after putting the motorcycle on his pick-up they drove along for a short distance before being intercepted by a Police patrol that shot at their feet and later took them to the Dario Contreras Public Hospital.
A patrol from the Villa Duarte police station detained the pair and recovered three guns, Carandai, Glock and Jericho, 9mm caliber, a Nissan Frontier pick-up truck with official license plate, a Harley Davidson motorcycle and four cellphones, as reported in El Caribe.
The assailants entered the Parmalat premises under the guise of a National Drug Control Department operation, wearing uniforms with the DNCD logo. They were even accompanied by two rottweiler dogs.
The DNCD later said that they do not have rottweilers in their dog force.

Security chief alert
Saturday's El Caribe newspaper carried statements by Miguel Taveras (alias Canon), the chief of security at Parmalat who alerted the police about the raid. Taveras said he has received death threats after he gave details of the incident to the media. Interviewed on the "El Gobierno de la Manana" talk show, Canon criticized the fact that Air Force intelligence chief General Cedano Santana had removed Major Vargas Cuello from the Dario Contreras Public Hospital.
Major Vargas Cuello is suspected to have been the ringleader of the 11 assailants who entered the Parmalat plant pretending to be an armed National Drug Control Department squad. Canon was able to alert the police, which sent Kelvin Mateo Vargas and Wilman Cuevas Cespedes, who were able to detain Vargas Cuello and Marcos Comas. Canon said that the assailants made off with the safe box after they heard that a police contingent had been sent after them over their radio that was tuned to the police radio frequency.

Two honest cops
Kelvin Mateo Vargas and Wilman Cuevas Cespedes, two low-ranking cops making RD$4,000 and RD$5,000 a month, risked their lives to go in pursuit of suspected robbers of the Parmalat milk and juice plant on Thursday evening. They tracked down and arrested Air Force Mayor Jorge Luis Vargas and civilian Roberto Carlos Concepcion Comas (Marcos Comas) in Los Tres Ojos, after the men had apparently just left the scene of the robbery.
President Leonel Fernandez has ordered their promotion to the ranks of sergeant and corporal for their bravery and call to duty.
Their boss, first lieutenant Angel Ventura, commander of the Villa Duarte station, described both men as excellent cops who are very dedicated to their work. They were promoted for their bravery on Friday and given the weekend off.
An editorial column in today's El Caribe states that the two cops should be granted protection because they had "prevented, through their brave and responsible performance, this rare event from going unpunished."
El Caribe speculates: "If as suspected, this raid has allowed not only the tip of the iceberg of a dangerous gang of criminals to emerge with an extensive crime record, these deserving policemen could become the victims of revenge by those who are still on the run from the law or one of their accomplices."

Looking for Parmalat thieves
Police are still hunting for members of a gang that held up the Parmalat factory last week. Police spokesman Colonel Nelson Rosario says that not all the men responsible have been identified. Rosario said that up to 10 or 12 people could have been directly involved in the crime. Rosario refused to comment on rumors that there is a gang within the Armed Forces that routinely uses its influence to commit crimes. Diario Libre reports that a fourth man was arrested on San Isidro Avenue in Santo Domingo North, and two SUVs, two guns, a rifle, boots and bulletproof vests were seized. The arrested man was Felix Ortega who was originally wanted on murder charges. The house in the Prado Oriental sector has been deemed the crime "headquarters". Diario Libre reports that during the heist Vargas identified himself as a high-ranking military official and one of the accomplices said he was with the Attorney General's office. One of the victims Adolfo Arturo Adames Cuevas recalls that the door was then forced open and he was thrown to the ground.

Police clean up in Puerto Plata
The Police have ordered the arrest of a police captain who was the chief of the National Drug Control Department (DNCD) in Sosua, Puerto Plata, as well as a first lieutenant, a corporal and a private. The arrested are captain Melvin Velazquez Then, first lieutenant Juan Jean Perez, who worked in criminal investigations, corporal Juan Martinez Sanchez and private Francisco Javier Cruz Pena. The SWAT team in Puerto Plata was also dismantled, in a scandal allegedly involving complicity with drug trafficking and other irregular activities. First lieutenant Rafael Garcia was transferred to Santo Domingo police headquarters for investigation. SWAT chief Garcia was arrested by the new commander of the Police in Puerto Plata, General Eduardo Alberto Then. The arrested will be investigated for corruption cases in Puerto Plata, as reported in Listin Diario. They were investigated for allegedly protecting drug traffickers and drug dealers. Police said it is on the trail of fugitive sergeant Jeremias Morales Lahoz, who served as driver for Colonel Frank Felix Almonte, who was dismissed and sent to Santo Domingo under arrest for his supposed ties to drug dealers. On Saturday, family members turned in sergeant major Jeremias Morales Lahoz to the police in Santo Domingo. He asked to be sent to the Internal Affairs department in Santo Domingo.
The officers were under the command of the Police Internal Affairs Department, under General Manuel Castro Castillo, who is investigating several inmates at the San Felipe Jail in Puerto Plata. Under investigation are members of the gang known as Las 40 that operates in the Sosua area. They also want to establish the ties between the drug dealers and police agents.
Recently, the police ordered the removal of 22 police officers in Puerto Plata for irregularities and complicity with drug operations.

NY Times on migration
The New York Times is reporting on the findings of a new profile of the US's foreign-born residents, both legal and illegal, released this week by the Census Bureau. In a report by Sam Roberts on 20 February, the paper says that Latin Americans and Africans now account for a greater share of the US immigrant population than they did five years ago. The NY Times says that in 2007, the Census Bureau found that 54 percent of the nation's 38.1 million foreign-born came from Latin America, 27 percent from Asia, 13 percent from Europe and 4 percent from Africa.
Dominican immigrants accounted for 2 percent of the foreign-born - the same as the share of Canadians and the same percentage as Germans as recently as 2000. Indians made up 4 percent of the foreign-born.
According to the NY Times, the profile found that immigrants are about as likely to have graduated from college as native-born Americans, 27 percent compared to 28 percent. (Seventy-four percent of Indian immigrants have a bachelor's degree.)
Those from India, Australia, South Africa and the Philippines had the highest median household incomes, with the figure for Indians at $91,195.
Nevertheless, those from Somalia and the Dominican Republic had among the lowest, according to the report. The median for the foreign born was $46,881 compared with $51,249 among the native born.
A full 97 percent of immigrants from Mexico and the Dominican Republic do not speak English at home, says the news article. About 52 percent of foreign-born residents say they speak English less than very well.

The WBC roster is in
Dominican baseball has had a rough off-season, but much of the attention will turn away from scandal and back on to the field as the World Baseball Classic 2009 is right around the corner. There has been much hype and controversy with the selection of the 2009 Dominican team with many notable stars originally promising to play, but then reneging during the last few weeks. Still, the DR has one of the strongest teams in the 16-team tournament. Superstars David Ortiz, Alex Rodriguez and Miguel Tejada have all been inked to play while Albert Pujols, the anchor and staunch supporter of the Classic, has been left off the preliminary roster. Pujols and other players could be added in the coming days. Catchers: Miguel Olivo and Wilkin Castillo. Infielders: Adrian Beltre, Robinson Cano, Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez, Miguel Tejada, Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz. Outfielders: Nelson Cruz, Jose Bautista, Jose Guillen, Emilio Bonifacio and Willy Taveras. Pitchers: Daniel Cabrera, Edinson Volquez, Johnny Cueto, Pedro Martinez, Ubaldo Jimenez, Odalis Perez, Carlos Marmol, Edward Ramirez, Damaso Marte, Ramon Ramirez, Tony Pena, Juan Carlos Cruz, Jose Arredondo and Rafael Perez. Baseball great Felipe Alou will manage the team.

Rijo is on the defense
Former ballplayer and current Washington Nationals executive Jose Rijo has come out to defend his reputation in connection with the "Smiley Gonzalez" scandal. Rijo is credited with spotting the talented Gonzalez, but in recent days it was revealed that Gonzalez was actually Carlos David Alvarez Lugo and that the player was 23 years old and not 19. "I am a victim of this fraud that they are trying to tie me to, but it won't be hard for me to prove the truth. I didn't want to comment publicly on this because I didn't want to trouble the investigation, but I decided I had a commitment to maintain the name I have gained throughout my career." Rijo has taken a leave of absence from his position with the Nationals. No word if Smiley will be sanctioned for his fraud.

Carnival a hit
Yesterday's carnival was in full swing with communities in the National District, Santo Domingo North and Santiago enjoying the colors and traditions of carnival season. During the National District's carnival children took center stage as more than 100 carnival troupes paraded down Mexico Avenue singing and dancing with the joy and energy that has come to define the annual celebration. Vila Mella's residents also enjoyed the carnival experience, which has been held since 2005. Carnival's most notable characters were present including the "diablos cojuelos," "roba la gallina", "Ali Baba" and "los indios." But carnival season is not yet over. Part of the fun was a competition held to decide the best groups and outfits. The top three winners from yesterday's contest will receive RD$570,000 from the Ministry of Culture and will take part in the national carnival parade to be held on Sunday 1 March on Santo Domingo's Malecon, bringing together all the winning carnival groups from across the country.
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