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Daily News - Tuesday, 03 March 2009

First Lady on people smuggling
First Lady Margarita Cedeno de Fernandez gave the first presentation at the Human Trafficking at the Crossroads Conference: Private-Public Partnership to Fight Human Trafficking that took place in Manama, Bahrain 1-3 March. The First Lady presented her office's program to install community information and communication technology educational centers nationwide as part of a strategy to discourage women from falling prey to human trafficking.
In addition to the educational opportunities, radio stations that operate from the technology centers broadcast warnings to listeners about the risks of traveling abroad. Mrs. Fernandez attended the conference on the invitation of Her Majesty Shaikha Sabeeka Bint Ibrahim Al-Khalifa, wife of the King of Bahrain and president of the Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UNGIFT).
First Lady Cedeno stressed the importance of designing and revising public policies as a way of finding innovative and efficient ways of reducing people's vulnerability to exploitation, with an emphasis on preventive education and awareness programs.

Tax break for farmers
The Director General of the Department of Taxes (DGII) has announced that tax relief measures adopted barely a year ago to help the farm sector after the devastation caused by tropical storms Noel and Olga would be continued throughout 2009. General Regulation 02-09 on Taxes allows the farm sector to be exempt from payment of the anticipated Income Tax (ISR), the tax on assets and the deduction of tax on income from the payments made by the state until the end of fiscal 2009. Regulation 1-2008, dated 28 January 2008, established the exemptions that gave the farm sector some breathing space after being so hard hit by the storms. The relief seeks to improve farm conditions and allow for the sustainability of the country's food supply. The Tax Code allows the DGII to award exemptions on certain taxes such as the advances on the payment of income taxes.

Aqueduct for Santo Domingo East
The Santo Domingo East aqueduct, a project that has experienced fits and starts and stumbles for ten years, is closing in on the start of operations, and is processing water at 75% of capacity, according to the Aqueduct and Sewer Corporation of Santo Domingo (CAASD).
Conceived to treat four cubic meters a second, some 90 million gallons a day, the infrastructure is pumping three cubic meters, because it started up the second of two modules at the water treatment plant. "Thanks to the trial phase of the second module, there has been a significant improvement," CAASD sub-director of operations Luis Salcedo told Diario Libre.
"We hope that by the time the project is finished the water deficit will be diminished by 90%, because there will always be work going on and things to do, the population growth has been highly accelerated and there are sectors where that aren't even any pipes." Nevertheless, the macro-system or joining of pipes, will still take "some months" before it get to barrios that are under study and supply more than a million inhabitants, explained Salcedo.
Construction began in 1999 and the 2002 census revealed that 1.8 million people lived in the province of Santo Domingo, including 878,000 in Santo Domingo East. The start up of this new infrastructure will take pressure off of the Valdesia-Santo Domingo Aqueduct that transfers water to Santo Domingo East on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
This project has spanned three Fernandez administrations and one of Hipolito Mejia. Conceived in 1971 and designed in 1995, the Santo Domingo East Aqueduct was assigned to the Dominico-Italian Consortium Impregilo-Civilcad in 1999 at a cost of RD$1,618 billion. In 2003, the job was quoted at RD$2.03 billion, without the distribution network that was quoted at RD$467 million. The Communications Department at CAASD said that now the price tag will be close to RD$5 billion of which RD$4.844 have been spent.

Military reshuffling and corruption
In his 27 February state of the nation address on Friday, President Leonel Fernandez told his audience: "Listen well - we will not allow drug trafficking in the Dominican Republic." He accepted there was widespread public concern about military and police involvement in drug trafficking and crime, including the participation of Navy officers in the murder of seven suspected drug traffickers in Paya last August, the alleged involvement of more than 20 members of the Police in a drug trafficking ring in Puerto Plata, and the raid on the Parmalat milk company installations apparently led by an Air Force officer. He said these recent events mean there has to be a permanent purge of the armed forces and the police.
Shortly afterwards, several changes in the army were announced. The President retired 31 generals, although granting them the full benefits accorded to their rank. Standing out on the list of retired generals is Hilario de la Cruz Gonzalez Gonzalez, who was the Police commander in Bani when the killings of the seven suspected drug traffickers took place in Paya, unleashing investigations that revealed complicity with officers in the Navy. At the time, Peravia Senator Wilton Guerrero openly accused General Gonzalez of protecting drug traffickers in the area.
Commenting on the list of retired generals on his popular CDN afternoon talk show, journalist Huchi Lora shrugged off government nominations as a reshuffling within the Armed Forces, as many officers were changed to new posts. As part of the reshuffling, President Fernandez appointed Vice Admiral Luis Homero Lajara Sola chief of the Navy, replacing Vice Admiral Julio Cesar Ventura Bayonet. Ventura Bayonet was promoted to Deputy Minister of the Armed Forces.
Huchi Lora also expressed concern about the ease with which criminal events are erased from Air Force officers' career records. He questioned how events that linked him to drug consumption, car theft, assault and scams could have been erased from Major Jorge Luis Vargas Cuello's record. Air Force chief Major General Carlos Altuna Tezanos had said earlier on the same radio show that Vargas Cuello only had faults for tardiness on his record. Lora urged the Air Force chief to investigate how several recommendations for his removal from the Force had been erased. He said the multiple criminal incidents that Vargas Cuello was accused of in his 18 years in the Air Force left a paper trail in the legal offices of the Police, Air Force and Armed Forces Ministry.
In his state of the nation address, Fernandez expressed his government's commitment to fighting corruption. Describing corruption as "universal," Fernandez stressed that the DR has "the adequate legal base to confront corruption from four directions: prevention, detection, persecution and eradication." He said this consisted of the National Ethics and Fight against Corruption Commission, and the National Department for the Persecution of Administrative Corruption (DNCPA).

More changes to the military
President Leonel Fernandez made even more changes to the Dominican Air Force and the Army after warning in his speech to Congress that he would not hesitate to clean up the "social disgraces" from the Armed Forces and the National Police. The President made 13 new designations in the Air Force and the Army and one in the National Police. In Decree 165-09, the President removed the Assistant Chief of the Air Force, Jesus A. Diaz Ramirez, and replaced him with Brigadier General Israel A. Diaz Pena. Decree 166-09 designates Brigadier General Ruben D. Paulino Sem as the commander of the Second Brigade of the Army, in substitution of General Justo Fernandez Tejeda, who was assigned to the command of the Combat Support Brigade. Fernandez Tejeda replaces Cirilo R. Escarraman Minaya who was not given a new role. Likewise, General Felipe A. Henriquez Molina was designated commander of the Fourth Infantry Brigade to replace Paulino Sem. General Manuel Antonio Perozo Castillo was named commander of the Fifth Infantry Brigade in substitution of Brigadier Paulino Medina Gratereaux, who was appointed as director general of Military Training for the Army, replacing General Henriquez Molina. Decree 167-09, signed by President Fernandez, removes retired major General Jose Noble Espejo as chief of the Election Police and in his place named Army General Jose Lopez Peralta. Meanwhile, General Jose Taveras Arias was named commander of the Support and Service Brigade to replace Leonardo E. Sabater Nunez. The Chief Executive also appointed General Abraham E. Luna Rodriguez as director of the Armed Forces Social Security Institute (ISSFFAA) in substitution of Lopez Peralta. Decree 170-09 designated police Colonel Francisco Romero Lopez as director of security of the School Police in substitution of General Juan T. Taveras Rodriguez. Although many have linked the changes in the Armed Forces and the National Police to the measures announced by the President as part of a "clean-up" of the forces whose members are tied to drug trafficking and organized crime, Presidency Minister Cesar Pina Toribio told reporters that "many of the retirements" were routine and had nothing to do with serious faults on their service records.
General Luis de Jesus Pena Jimenez was appointed Air Force intelligence director (A-2) replacing General Ulises Cedano Santana, the officer who moved Major Jorge Luis Vargas Cuello from the Dario Contreras Hospital to the military hospital on the San Isidro Air Base after the raid on the Parmalat facility. According to Santo Domingo province prosecutor Perfecto Acosta, if the investigations find that there are ties between the officer and the perpetrators of the raid, he will be arrested and taken to court, but as of now, nothing has been reported about any investigation concerning this officer. In the same decree, General Cedano Santana was named commander of the San Isidro Air Base.

Quirino's wife gets off
It became evident that the plea bargain that former Army Captain Quirino Ernesto Paulino Castillo worked out with the federal authorities in the United States included the dropping of charges against his wife Belkis Eliabeth Ubri in the Dominican courts. Yesterday, the Appeals Court for the National District withdrew all charges of money laundering that were pending against Ubri. While not pronouncing sentence, which was put off until 24 March, magistrate Carmen Alardo, prosecutor for the Appeals Court, did say that the decision was in response to the arrangement between the National District authorities and the Southern District Court of New York. The agreement calls for withdrawal of the money laundering charges. She said that "...as a result, the Justice Department will no longer seek to press charges since there are no longer any charges pending against the accused." The magistrate did ask for a new trial for Pedro Julio Goico (Pepe) and Ernesto Bienvenido Guevara Diaz (Maconi) who had been released by the Third Collegiate Tribunal of the National District. Lawyer Feliz Damian Olivares, Ubri's defense attorney, called the court's decision "very correct, in view of the plea bargain..."

Evidence gathered in Paya case
Prosecutor General Radhames Jimenez Pena says that investigators from the National Police and the prosecutor's office are organizing the evidence in the Paya Massacre case so that it can be presented when the case goes to trial. Fielding questions from reporters from El Caribe with the agility of A-Rod, Jimenez Pena said that "any information that might be released could hamper the investigation or the work being done by the Money and Asset Laundering Commission." The commission coordinator told reporters that they would be meeting next week with specialists from the finance department of the DNCD and the National Police. He added that next week his staff would meet with other investigators to prepare the charges against the accused in the Paya case during the last week of March.

SCJ rejects two extraditions
In a ruling announced yesterday, the Supreme Court (SJC) Penal Chamber rejected a request for extradition to the United States of a person accused of violating the drug laws and attempted conspiracy to murder. Maximo Garcia Montero was favored with the decision after prosecutor failed to prove in the hearing that the case was dealing with the person mentioned in the extradition request, Jose Antonio Villalongo, who was arrested on 20 May 1995 and deported on 31 August 1998. The week before the same court rejected the extradition of cockfighting businessman Winston Riziz Rodriguez who was wanted in Puerto Rico on drug trafficking charges but was released under the excuse that the statute of limitations had run out on the crime mentioned in the indictment. During yesterday's hearing magistrates ordered the immediate release of Garcia Montero providing there are no other charges pending against him. In the extradition request filed by the Attorney General of the Dominican Republic the lawyers presented a report from the National Institute of Forensic Sciences (INACIF) that said that the fingerprints taken from Garcia Montero are the same as those taken from Villalongo. The extradition request from the US Embassy asks for the extradition of Antonio Villalongo and/or Maximo Garcia Montero.

Legislators fight over RD$50,000
It seems that the Congress doesn't get over one scandal before it enters another, and now the issue is the salary paid to the "honorable" legislators that is facing off senators and deputies for the difference of RD$50,000.
Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) legislator Euclides Sanchez is questioning the fact that deputies earn a higher salary than the senators. He ignored the "social fund" also known as the "little barrel" that these legislators handle and that reaches between RD$10 and RD$18 million a year for each senator.
Because of the difference in wage with the deputies, Sanchez urged Senate president Reinaldo Pared Perez to increase the salaries of the 32 senators with funds from the senate budget in order to bring the two salaries into line or for the Chamber of Deputies to reduce the salaries of its members.
Sanchez said, "This creates a problem, because we pay the same taxes and the pension of a deputy is higher than that of a senator. Or they reduce the salaries of the deputies or they increase those of the senators."
Meanwhile, spokesperson for the PLD deputies, Domingo Paez said that the legislators are grossly "overpaid", and because of this the discussion would be nonsense. "My personal position is that we should earn less. I believe that a legislator in the Dominican Republic is an ultra-privileged man. We are grossly privileged and in consequence it is not fit for us to be stuck in a public debate that argues if one earns more or one earns less," stated Paez. Actually, a senator earns a basic salary of RD$125,000 a month and a deputy close to RD$200,000 per month, plus multiple benefits that more than double their wages.
But both the senator and the deputy pay in 6% of their salaries to the pension fund. The complaint from Sanchez is that upon retirement a deputy will receive a more generous pension than a senator. Since last March deputies have enjoyed a RD$58,491 pay increase. Now they each earn a basic salary of RD$175,000 per month. With "incentives" each deputy receives RD$342,568 monthly. Senators are paid a salary of RD$125,000 per month, plus "incentives", and they handle the money from the "little barrel" at their own discretion.

Interview with new Haiti PM
Haiti's new Prime Minister Michele Duvivier Pierre-Louis has told Listin Diario that one of the major concerns of her term will be the civil registry of Haitian citizens. She stressed that this is not only those living in the DR, but Haitians in general. A priority for her government will be to "consolidate the identification of Haitian citizens."
On the question of migration, Pierre-Louis stresses that these are times "to acknowledge the past, but look to the future." She said that it is fortunate for both Haiti and the DR that the two countries' Presidents, Fernandez and Preval are "friends, committed democrats and with the leadership to set these two nations on the right road."
She said that with the re-launching of the Bilateral Commission institutions will be strengthened and this will provide a space for talking about the affairs that concern the two peoples. "As president of the Commission I would like both sides to meet soon to prepare an agenda and objectives for the next two years," she said.
She added that her government is working to ensure transparency and fight corruption, to prove to donor nations that it is working for the welfare of the Haitian people.
Pierre-Louis said that drug trafficking is the most serious destabilizing factor affecting the country. She said it is a regional problem that needs to be treated as such. "When I say regional, it is because I am including the US because most of the drugs that pass through Haiti are for transshipment to that country." She stresses that despite recent successes in Haiti in the fight against drug trafficking, "we cannot go alone in the fight against narcotic trafficking."
Prior to her appointment as Prime Minister in June 2008, Pierre-Louis served as the executive director of the Knowledge and Freedom Foundation (Fokal), a non-governmental organization financed by George Soros since 1995.

Haydee Rainieri: quality tourism
The president of the National Association of Hotels and Restaurants (Asonahores), Haydee Kuret de Rainieri, has called for an initiative to place emphasis on the development of a high quality Dominican tourism product as a way of maximizing the great opportunities that the tourism sector has in the country and across the Caribbean region. The Punta Cana hotel executive represented the tourism sector at the "Second Grand Business Forum: World Crisis Challenges and Opportunities" that was held from 26 to 28 February in Casa de Campo, La Romana as part of the "Grand Andalusian Fair in the Caribbean". Mrs Rainieri said that with the impetus of a quality Dominican tourism there is also an obligation to diversify the offers, overcome the problems of infrastructure, increase promotion, care for the image of the destination on the international scene and strengthen the "Caribbean" brand name. The Asonahores executive presented the wonders of the island to business representatives and authorities from the Spanish province of Andalucia, Puerto Rico and the United States. She pointed out that of the 23 islands registered in the World Tourism Organization (WTO) just five of them garner 67% of all tourism in the region. The Dominican Republic has the largest share (20%) followed by Puerto Rico, Cuba, Jamaica and the Bahamas. None of the remaining islands receive more than 500,000 visitors a year. Mrs. Rainieri closed her presentation by saying that the battle for tourism in the region "is based on the quality of service", and currently the requirement is even greater for the Dominican Republic to maintain the position it has earned in the principal markets whose economies are being affected by the economic crisis.

More flooding in SW?
The government has this month and part of the next to find a solution to the problem of rising waters of Lake Enriquillo that is forcing families out of their houses and off their farms. The rainy season will begin in about six weeks followed by the hurricane season in June, and most of this activity affects the south and southwest. Weather Department director Gloria Ceballos expressed her concern at the plight of the people living in the provinces of Independencia and Bahoruco due to the rising waters of the Enriquillo and Saumatre lakes on both sides of the border, because it starts raining in the region around mid-April and early May. Currently, the lakes are spreading, reclaiming much of their former size after years of shrinking. In a report in Listin Diario, Ceballos says that in years when the La Nina phenomenon is present, cyclonic activity is greater than usual. As evidence she pointed to the rains in February, generally considered to be a "dry" month.
In another report, hydraulic engineer Gilberto Reynoso commented on the raising waters of Enriquillo Lake as part of the normal process of subterranean waters moving to lower levels. He said that most of the water is coming from the subsoil levels of the Neiba Valley that naturally accumulates in the Enriquillo Basin which is about 40 meters below sea level. He said that the water would continue to flow as long as the Neiba Valley has water in the substrata. He argued for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the riverbed of the South Yaque River as one way to decrease the flow of water into the Neiba Valley. He said that this would not affect the construction of the dam at Monte Grande and would reduce flooding in the area. He also recommended making repairs to the floodgates of the Trujillo Canal that were damaged over a year ago by the tropical storms Noel and Olga and were only temporarily repaired. He pointed out that below the intake of the Trujillo Canal the river has lost 70% of its capacity to carry water due to sedimentation and needs to be rehabilitated.

COE issues alert for 9 provinces
The governmental Emergency Operations Center (COE) has extended to nine from seven the number of provinces under green alert due to recent heavy rainstorms. The COE issued an alert for La Vega and Monsignor Nouel last Friday, but today they decided to extend the warning to Montecristi, Dajabon, Santiago Rodriguez and Valverde, all in the northwest, and in the north to Puerto Plata, Santiago and Espaillat. According to the weather office (ONAMET), the rains are the result of a prefrontal system over Haiti and a frontal system that has been located over eastern Cuba. Both systems will affect northern, northeastern and northwestern areas as well as the Central Mountains, according to the COE. Residents in the provinces under green alert should take precautions against flooding and landslides. The COE also issued small craft warnings for the Atlantic coast of the Dominican Republic.

Landslides affect road to Constanza
The recent rains that have fallen in the Central Mountains have caused new landslides along the highway between Casabito and Constanza, affecting traffic in the area. The most critical point is located at Kilometer 11 of the road where yesterday morning a landslide forced drivers to detour along the old highway to Jarabacoa in order to reach Santo Domingo and other points. Several brigades of workers and heavy equipment from Brazilian company Odebrecht, the company that is rebuilding the highway, are trying to reopen the roadway. These landslides are mostly affecting the region's farmers, especially those from the Tireo Valley and Constanza who are having a lot of trouble getting their vegetables, staples and other crops to market. Some vehicles have managed to get through a tiny opening created by the Brazilian company, but with great difficulty. All along the Casabito-Constanza Highway there are more than a dozen critical points, one of the most dangerous being the one in the El Cafetal area where a six-meter widening of the highway is planned, along with the construction of retaining walls, as part of the protection of the highway.

Airports back to normal
The snowstorm that affected the Eastern Seaboard of the United States caused the cancellation of an American Airlines flight from JFK New York and another from Continental in Newark, yesterday, according to Aerodom spokesperson Yolanda Manan. She said that two JetBlue flights suffered delayed. But at Las Americas International Airport, passengers were accommodated and none were stranded. At the Puerto Plata International Airport, Continental suffered a delay, but there were no cancellations. Flights were proceeding normally today, according to the airport report.
 
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