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Daily News - Monday, 16 March 2009

Morales for progress on EPA
Foreign Relations Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso is calling on Caribbean Community (Caricom) heads of state and government to implement the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union. Morales Troncoso called for regional coordination to ensure the flow of aid resources, to facilitate the legal and institutional changes that need to be implemented, and to make effective the technical assistance to the countries that require this to fulfill what has been agreed on.
Morales made his comments on occasion of attending the Caricom Heads of Government meet in Belize from 12-13 March. Caribbean leaders met to discuss the effects of the current global economic and financial crisis on the region and possible mitigating actions. This in addition to the implementation of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) signed with the European Union (EU).
Morales said that the member states should reach all decisions by consensus, in line with international treaties.
He favored opening a Cariforum general secretariat office, a space where the DR already engages with Caricom nations.
Morales said that during the transition towards setting up this office, the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery should serve as regional coordinator. "We have the greatest interest in ensuring that the entire region will benefit from the new European cooperation. We believe that our position is constructive, we only seek to ensure that all make the most of this cooperation, and that we can overcome the inefficiencies that have been observed in the past," he said, as reported in Hoy. The newspaper writes that a regional coordinator was not appointed during the Belize meeting.
Morales traveled to Belize accompanied by deputy foreign minister Jose Manuel Trullols, ambassador to the European Union and recently appointed Dominican ambassador to the United Nations in New York Federico Cuello, Dominican ambassador to El Salvador Roberto Victoria, secretary of trade negotiations at the Ministry of Foreign Relations Cesar Dargam, and economist Roberto Despradel.

New projects for protected areas
Environment Minister Jaime David Fernandez Mirabal has announced several innovative projects for implementation in protected areas around the country.
For the east, he said that small docks are being built in La Caleta (near Las Americas International Airport and Boca Chica) and Catalina Island (in La Romana province) to help people board small boats to visit these areas. He said a trail would be built in Catalina Island so that visitors to the island can tour it by bicycle. Also in the east, he said that work is under way on Saona to improve the wooden houses on the island, preserving their traditional Caribbean charm. He said that two trails would be built on Saona: one 11km route between Cabo Catano and the town of Mano Juan and a bicycle trail circling the island and its beaches. He said that they were also making the most of the large number of donkeys that have been bred in Saona for visitors to tour the island on burro.
For Samana, in the northeast, he said they plan to set up a whale observation post so that tourists do not have to take a boat to see the whales.
In Sierra de Bahoruco in the southwest, the Ministry is building a trail that follows the path of Enriquillo, the first Indian to rebel against the Spanish conquistadors.
He said restoration works were planned at La Isabela Vieja and that work to restore the underwater parks of La Caleta and Monte Cristi would also be tackled, as reported in Hoy.

SP continues closings
Over the weekend the Ministry of Public Health continued its latest operation by closing down four more pharmacies that were distributing illegal pharmaceuticals. The owners of the Oge, Ima, Miguelito and Odesa pharmacies were charged with selling fake medications. This is part of an ongoing initiative by the Ministry to close businesses that are selling illegal medications. The push by the Ministry comes weeks after two people died after receiving fake tetanus shots.

Doctors strike again
Public sector doctors have announced another work stoppage, this time lasting 48 hours. The announcement was made by Dominican Medical Association (CMD) president Waldo Ariel Suero who said that the strike would start at 6am on Wednesday. Suero declared that only emergency patients would be treated. This is the latest strike in the CMD's campaign for a wage raise for its members, but the strikes have had little success. While Congress has discussed a potential pay increase, legislators have balked at increasing taxes.

Time to reform the Labor Code
Writing in El Caribe, business leader Celso Marranzini argues that the Dominican Labor Code needs to be changed if jobs are to be saved and new jobs created at the required pace. He point out that the existing Labor Code dates back to 1992, when the Dominican economy was practically closed to imports. Today the signing of free trade agreements obliges Dominican businesses to be competitive, and this emphasizes that business conditions must be similar to those in competitor countries. He mentions that many companies have closed over the years, with the loss of thousands of jobs. "The time has come to tackle the problems that are behind the job losses, before this becomes a true social crisis," he writes. He says this is a task for government, business and labor representatives. "According to the current code, the social benefits are equivalent to around 62% of the wage paid, while in Central America this burden does not even approach 30%," he writes. He mentions that severance payments force companies to make reserves on their financial statements that affects their banking credit. He says the present Labor Code does not offer flexible working schemes, and obliges companies to place a bond in order to conduct a labor dispute. He says that the time has come to find solutions that will bring the labor code up to date.

Navy man turns down big bribe
New Navy chief Vice Admiral Homero Lajara Sola has announced the arrest of a suspected smuggling ring in the eastern province of La Altagracia. The group was arrested after trying to bribe a member of the navy with RD$300,000 and a 2009 Mitsubishi Montero in return for being able to continue with their operations. Lajara Sola says that the individuals arrested for the aborted boat trip are Cuban Raynaldo Vasquez Padron and Dominicans Augusto Montero Montero and Esteban Perez. Eight would-be passengers were arrested for trying to set out on a illegal boat trip to Puerto Rico via Cabo Engano, in the eastern province of La Altagracia.
In a presentation to the press, the Navy displayed the Mitsubishi Montero 2009 SUV, a rifle, cash in dollars and pesos, a laptop, radios for ring member communications, cell phones and a scale for weighing drugs, as reported in Listin Diario. Lajara Sola said that the navy member who did not accept the bribe would be promoted, but that he would not be named to avoid any possible repercussions.
He said that the organizers of the illegal trip advanced RD$20,000 to the navy member, who accepted this as proof of the bribe. Lajara Sola said that only two men are posted at Cabo Engano and if one had accepted the bribe, it would have opened the way for the boat trip organizers.
Lajara Sola suspects the trip could have been more about drug smuggling than people smuggling. "Look, when you hear that a corporal was offered RD$300,000, I do not think that a boat trip yields that much to offer 300,000 pesos. It is a personal opinion, not the result of intelligence, but logic tells us that we are not talking about a boat trip here," he said, as quoted in Listin Diario.

Too many lawyers
The career of choice for most Dominican students is still law, and Listin Diario reports that the Supreme Court of Justice (SPJ) has admitted 22,033 new lawyers since 1997. Around 20,000 students are currently studying law and 35,920 lawyers are registered with the Dominican Lawyers Association. The newspaper adds that since January 2008, 2,404 new lawyers were sworn in by the SCJ. SCJ president Jorge Subero Isa is recommending that legal academic programs should be revised and updated because the National Judicial School can't make up for the deficiencies displayed by many of these new lawyers. National District DA Alejandro Moscoso says there is a bill in Congress that seeks to require all lawyers to do an eight-month internship as part of their studies. Of all universities the UASD has the most students studying law with 11,320.

Promoting animal welfare
According to Marcos Polanco, director of the Dominican Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SODOPRECA) there are 250 street horses in Santo Domingo alone and over 300,000 stray dogs nationally, 60,000 of which are located in the capital. Polanco said that many street horses are forced to carry heavy loads and not given water or food. According to Polanco, the animals that receive the worst treatment in the DR are intensively farmed chickens. As part of an awareness raising initiative, SODOPRECA and other animal welfare organizations including PADELA and Olimpia Milan held an animal welfare drive at Santo Domingo's Parque Mirador Sur, where hundreds of stray dogs were given vaccinations and veterinary care. Many pet owners also took part in the event and received tips on providing better care for their pets.

Drinking lots of beer
Despite global concerns about a looming financial crisis, unemployment and other day-to-day worries, Dominicans are still drinking lots of beer. Listin Diario reports that beer sales grew 14% in February, citing statistics from the Tax Department (DGII). The DGII says that revenues produced by the selective tax on consumption (ISC) grew by 14.3%. The DGII says that it collected RD$522.8 million on beer sales, which is RD$89 million more than in February 2008, for a 20.5% increase. The ISC on beer totaled RD$124.5 million in February. The Dominican National Brewery was the only brewer whose ISC increased, totaling 18%, while Ambev's fell by 16%, as did La Vegana Brewery, -7.8%.

Puerto Plata suspect cops freed
31 Puerto Plata cops who are being prosecuted for suspected ties with drug traffickers in the area were freed over the weekend by order of Penal Court judge Rosa Francia Liriano, who stated that state prosecutors had failed to comply fully with procedure laws. The commissions investigating the corruption scandals in Puerto Plata and Bonao had recommended the firing of the agents, including high-ranking officers. They were accused of associating with criminals, homicide and drug-related activities and of collecting tolls from drug traffickers in the area. The commission is made up of Police generals Manuel Castro, Ramon Rodriguez and assistant prosecutor Ramon Madera.
The 31 are: former colonel Frank Felix Almonte Castillo, former major Freddy Guillen Castillo, former lieutenants Pedro Pablo Toribio Alvaerz and Jose Daniel Cepeda Rubio, former sergeant major Rafael Lora Rosario, Joaquin Rosario Roque, Jeremias Morales Lahoz, Addrier Miguel Mustafa, Wellington Almonte Mateo, David Manuel Ortiz and Radhames del Rosario Quinones. Also former lieutenant Jose Manuel Tobar Polanco, Apolinar Antigua Cleto, former lieutenant Ramon Antonio Vasquez, first lieutenants Julio Cabrera Piantini, Jose Contreras Sanchez, Rafael Antonio Garcia, former Navy sergeant Luciano Valdez Diaz, former corporal Danny Domingue, former sergeant Jose Vargas Pena, Carlos Tobar Subervi, Silvio Bencosme Tejada, Diogenes de la Cruz Solano, Cristian Ferrer Hernandez, captain Melvin Velasquez Then, lieutenant Leonardo Gomez Cuevas and sergeant major Victor Manuel Matos Acosta, as reported in Listin Diario.

Baseball watch
It's the never-ending story with slugger Manny Ramirez who is now reportedly recovering from a sore left hamstring. Ramirez says he originally aggravated the hammy while playing in his first game in left field for the Los Angeles Dodgers. The 36-old Ramirez joked that he might be getting old saying, "Maybe age is catching up with me."
In other baseball news, reports out of LA indicate that talks have taken place between Pedro Martinez and the Dodgers. Ironically, Martinez started his career with the Dodgers in 1992 and would be reunited with his old Boston pal Manny Ramirez. However, there is a snag. Martinez wants a basic salary of US$5 million with plenty of incentives, while the Dodgers are supposedly offering a "pay for pitch" contract, which means that Martinez would have a low basic salary with many incentives. Word around the league is that Martinez's best years are already behind him and that all his past injuries could come back to haunt him.

Sosa leads the Madness
Dominican-American basketball player Edgar Sosa is leading the heavily favored Louisville Cardinals into this year's NCAA Tournament, also known as March Madness. The Cardinals are the tournament's number one overall seeded team and are heavy favorites to take this year's championship trophy. Led by Sosa, the Cardinals posted a 28-5 record and won this year's Big East Tournament.
In other basketball news, Milwaukee Bucks forward Charlie Villanueva continued his year as a starter scoring 19 points in an 86-77 win over the quickly falling Boston Celtics. Villanueva has risen to the challenge after being inserted into the starting lineup and has proven to be an NBA type talent. Fellow NBAer Al Horford has continued his solid second campaign for the Atlanta Hawks. Horford scored 13 points and had 2 assists and 5 rebounds in an 18-point win against the Portland Trailblazers. And Francisco Garcia, who has struggled as of late in Sacramento added 11 points 4 boards, 4 assists 2 blocks and a steal in 29 minutes of play, in a loss against the Washington Wizards.

National Drama Festival
The National Drama Festival opens today with performances at the Sala Ravelo at the National Theater, the Teatro Monina Sola at the Centro Cultural Narciso Gonzalez, Teatro Guloya, Teatro Luna and Palace of the Arts (Bellas Artes). Several leading drama groups, including Teatro Rodante Dominicano (Carlota Carretero), Teatro La Veladora (Radhames Polanco), Teatro Guloya, Giovanny Cruz, Franklin Dominguez, Teatro La Cuarta (Julissa Rivera) will be performing. The festival starts on 16 March and continues through 31 March.
For more details about the performances, see www.dr1.com/calendar
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