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Daily News - Thursday, 26 March 2009

Time to change health system
Public Health Minister Bautista Rojas Gomez is maintaining his stance against giving in to Dominican Medical Association (CMD) demands for an across-the-board wage increase for public hospital doctors. The minister called on the doctors to sit down to talks geared towards "a transformation of the public health system."
He said that the Ministry could not sustain the present system where doctors get paid without putting in the hours. He mentioned the specific case of Santo Domingo's Padre Billini Hospital that has 218 doctors on its staff, of whom only 25-30 see patients at the hospital on a regular basis, and 20-30 others who see patients one or two days a week. He said the Ministry of Public Health had recently dismissed physicians working in San Pedro de Macoris for being on the payroll but not going to work. He insists this is a normal situation at public hospitals nationwide. Attending physicians are paid around RD$24,000 a month, regardless of the number of patients they see. Others, that work at Social Security clinics, make up to RD$70,000 a month.
As reported in El Caribe, CMD president Dr. Waldo Ariel Suero says that Dr. Rojas Gomez's statements "do not intimidate doctors."

Plan to attract Dominican capital abroad
The Minister of Hacienda and the director general of the Department of Taxes (DGII) announced yesterday that they are proposing that the Presidency authorize a 24% reduction in taxes on deposits repatriated from bank accounts overseas. The deposits would only be taxed at 1% on earnings of deposits from funds that are brought back to the country.
Bengoa said that the suggestion about returning overseas money has been motivated by the fact that many people have approached the ministry and the DGII to ask about conditions for repatriating money deposited overseas. These people were motivated, in turn, by the uncertainty surrounding the economic climate of the international financial institutions. He indicated that after the 2003 banking crisis, caused by the failure of several banks, and the resulting IMF intervention, local banks underwent a process of strengthening, resulting in an index of solvency of 14%, while the index required by the Basel Accords is just 8%, and the level demanded by Dominican standards is 10%. Moreover, Bengoa said that only 10% of the Dominican financial system's assets are in the hands of foreign banks, so that from his point of view there is no risk of direct contamination by the world crisis.
Hacienda Minister Vicente Bengoa and DGII director Juan Hernandez said that they are also asking for a deduction for tax purposes on expenses related to health issues of Dominican families. They said that they would include these measures as part of a bill being introduced into Congress that calls for permitting deductions for the cost of children's education that are not working. Bengoa added that the ability to deduct health expenses from income tax would benefit the middle class.
Senate president Reinaldo Pared Perez said the Senate would convene on Tuesday to study the bills.

Haydee Rainieri: Lots of work ahead
The president of the National Hotels and Restaurants Association (Asonahores), Haydee Kuret de Rainieri, has challenged the country to work towards improving the quality and competitiveness of the Dominican tourism product. She said there is a need to improve on the 15% repeat visitor figure, adding that more investment is needed in areas where hotels are located and where tourists circulate.
In a speech to the American Chamber of Commerce monthly luncheon audience, she also highlighted that industry competitiveness was hurting. She was critical of the fact that according to the World Economic Forum 2009 report, the country declined to position 67 of 133 countries in tourism competitiveness, compared to ranking 63 in 2008.
The Asonahores president spoke of need for improvement in infrastructure, the hotels themselves, quantity and quality of destination and country promotion, staff training, development of more complementary attractions, and increased safety in tourism destinations.
She called for changes in the tax code to treat tourism services as exports, which would mean a reduction in the value-added ITBIS tax on the industry inputs.
Citing the World Travel and Tourism Council, she says it is expected that as of 2011, the sector will recover the pace of growth now affected by the financial crisis. She forecast that by 2019, tourism would represent US$8 billion in revenue for the country, doubling the present figure of US$4 billion. In 2008, the DR received 3.4 million tourists and the sector represented 14% of the GDP, 20% of investments, 13% of jobs and 18% of exports. She said there are 66,000 hotel rooms in the DR, 15,000 more than the total in 2000, for a 37.5% increase. She pointed out that this number does not include accommodations at the thousands of villas and apartments in tourist destinations.
Kuret de Rainieri said that the development of the nation's tourism potential over the next ten years is an opportunity to create a market in which demand is doubled for agricultural, farm and industrial products, creating 100,000 jobs and incorporating unproductive areas into the nation's development.
See complete speech at http://amcham.org.do/anm/templates/discursos2.asp?...

Trade deficit with Brazil
The Dominican Republic's trade deficit with Brazil totaled US$316 million in 2008, according to the president of the Dominican-Brazilian Chamber of Commerce, Domingo Santana, as reported in El Caribe. He said that exports to Brazil are only US$6 million, while DR imports reached US$322 million in 2008. Santana explained the DR is primarily importing food, ceramics, minerals and pharmaceuticals. The DR is exporting medical equipment and cigars. "Brazil has much more to sell us," he said. Santana urged the government to look into the situation and to implement measures aimed at stimulating Dominican exporters. He said the Chamber is working on an innovative financing mechanism to stimulate new Dominican exports through the Superintendence of Values.

Free glaucoma tests
Twenty-two public health facilities are to provide free tests for glaucoma, the second major cause of blindness in the country after cataracts, the leading cause of irreversible blindness. This Saturday, starting at 8am until noon, testing will be carried out by members of the Dominican Ophthalmology Society and the Northern Ophthalmology Group. The hope is that these tests will help slow down the growth of the disease in the country. The initiative is part of Glaucoma Month, and glaucoma affects as much as 2% of the Dominican population. Doctor Margarita Arbaje Khoury, a member of the organizing committee for the 2009 National Glaucoma Detection Campaign, said that the goal is to detect glaucoma cases that have not be diagnosed in time, and, although it is an incurable disease, it can be controlled and total blindness can be avoided if it is detected early enough. The hospitals that will be doing the testing include the Elias Santana in Los Alcarrizos, Luis Eduardo Aybar, National Diabetes Hospital, Salvador B. Gautier, Instituto Contra la Ceguera por Glaucoma, General de la Policia Nacional, Patronato Nacional de Ciegos, and the Asociacion Hora de Dios in the capital. In the provinces, hospitals including the Jose Maria Cabral y Baez, Infantil Arturo Grullon, Patronato de Ciegos de Santiago, Hospital Ojos, Monumento Viviente, Toribio Bencosme (Salcedo), Traumatologia Juan Bosch, Ricardo Limardo (Puerto Plata), San Vicente de Paul and Jaime Mota.

Haitians make up 24% of patients
The director of the Nuestra Senora de la Altagracia Maternity Hospital, Dr. Juan Cid Troncoso said yesterday that of every 100 patients they see, 24 are Haitians. Of 80 births that take place on average every day at the country's largest public maternity hospital, 20 are to Haitian mothers. He explained that treating Haitian nationals costs the hospital RD$300,000 per month of the RD$4,800,000 it receives from the government.
He said the costs of caring for the Haitians are greater because they are more likely to come in with complications from diabetes, hypertension or severe anemia and remain at the hospital for up to 40 days. "Normally, five or six women arrive at the same time with an advanced delivery. They bring them on a bus and leave them without a single relative to support them. Many arrive bleeding and we have to find blood for them," said Dr. Cid Troncoso.
The doctor pointed out that in the Maternity Hospital people are treated without any discrimination between locals or foreigners, but the critical conditions in which several foreign patients arrive tend to distort the Dominican Republic's health statistics.
"Here no one is stopped at the entrance, nor is anyone refused treatment, for one simple reason: Humanity." This is why the hospital has decided to separate statistics for foreign and Dominican patients. Cid Troncoso told reporters from El Caribe that, "Dominican public health statistics are tarnished by patients coming from Haiti." After Haitians, the hospital receives a large number of Colombians, and sometimes also foreign patients from countries such as Italy, Cuba and Venezuela.

Cigar tax kills Dominican factories
More than 2,000 workers cold lose their jobs due to factory closures and staff reductions at eight cigar factories in Tamboril and other cigar-producing towns in the Cibao region. According to El Caribe, this is the result of a tax increase in the United States that elevates the tax on a cigar from a penny to 52 cents of a dollar. Considering that cigar making is the main source of income for the residents of Tamboril, generating, according to factory owners, RD$4 million in salaries each week, this is a terrible blow. The new tax has led to a decrease in orders and this is the last week to send product under the old rules. The new tax goes into effect as of 17 April. According to the article, such well-known houses as El Artista, Tabantillas, Tabacalera Palma, La Caya and Abeja Cigar will be affected by the downturn in orders. These factories are located in Tamboril, Gurabo and Villa Gonzalez. Tamboril is famous for its cigar makers, where techniques have been passed down from generation to generation, and cigar makers from the town serve as the basis for production in factories in Santiago and other cities, as far away as La Romana. Many "maestros" travel overseas as representatives of the Dominican cigar industry.

Groups call off Cibao protests
The protests that were called on Monday for Hermanas Mirabal (Salcedo) and Monsignor Nouel (Bonao) provinces in demand for public works were lifted by the organizers after governmental and municipal authorities promised to tackle the demands. The 72-hour strike that had been called by popular organizations and traders in Salcedo was lifted after a meeting at the provincial governor's office in which government officials promised to start work today on the highway to Monte Llano-El Saman-El Jobo that links the mountain area with the city. Deputy Minister of Public Works Sergio Hernandez, who took part in the meeting, said that the project involved a budget of more than RD$200 million and would be ready within 12 months. Provincial governor Vinicio Gonzalez, trader Eddy Vasquez, Mayor Roquelin Jerez and the spokesman for the Council of Popular Struggle (Colpo), Dario Camilo took part in the meeting that lasted for more than five hours.
The governor announced that several social projects would be implemented in the Rabo Duro sector and in the community of El Clavijo, where creeks will be lined with wire-mesh, rock filled barriers (gabions) and other projects would be installed. In Bonao most businesses opened their doors in the early hours yesterday, schools re-opened, and transportation services and other productive activities were reactivated.
A spokesman for the Bonao Popular Organizations Coordinating Committee, Juan Liranzo, said that they decided to give a 30-day grace period for the government to respond to their demands, which include an immediate reduction in the cost of basic foods, the completion of Curce-UASD, a concrete solution to the problem of water shortages and an end to power outages.
In San Jose de las Matas, the Mountain Struggle Council staged a 12-hour general strike yesterday as part of their fight for the repair of highways in the area. More than 30 communities from the municipality joined in the protest to demand the construction of a highway connecting Santiago with San Jose, El Rubio and Moncion. The Mountain Struggle Council said that the strike was aimed at bringing the authorities' attention to the problems affecting the area, so that they solve them as soon as possible.

Quirino's family to leave for US
National District prosecutor Alejandro Moscoso Segarra confirmed yesterday that an agreement with the New York prosecutor is still in effect and as part of it, relatives of former captain Quirino Ernesto Paulino Castillo who is on trial in the US for drug trafficking will be leaving the country within a few hours. Although he seemed to be in disagreement with the arguments of the National District Appeals Court Second Penal Chamber judges who described the plea-bargain as "apocryphal", Moscoso Segarra pointed out that "the agreement exists, it was made and it will continue... It will be carried out just as we agreed with the authorities of the Southern District of New York prosecutor's office".
The prosecutor said that in the case of Quirino's wife, Belkis Elizabeth Ubri de Paulino, the best thing for the Justice Department would be to withdraw the charges in order to comply with the agreement. He told Diario Libre reporters that after the Court of Appeals annulled the process, "the case starts from zero, and they put the ball in our court and we are going to decide how we hit it."
Moscoso Segarra confirmed that there had been a misinterpretation on the part of the second grade Tribunal since the agreement had been between prosecutor and prosecutor. "We informed the court of the importance of the agreement but it wasn't as if they were going to appreciate that, and I invite them to read Article 7 of the Vienna Convention," he said. Nevertheless, he pointed out that Quirino's relatives would be leaving the country in the next few hours, and the extraditions will continue to be issued as needed.
The authorities are in the process of lifting travel impediments, obtaining tickets and other formalities prior to the trip. At the same time, he said that if the negotiations are not completed, future judicial cooperation between the Dominican Republic and the United States could be prejudiced. On the question of the extradition request for Ernesto Bienvenido Guevara, he said that this was the responsibility of the Attorney General of the Republic, Radhames Jimenez Pena.
Relatives who are due to leave inlcude Belkis Elizabeth Ubri Medrano, Quirilio Paulino Castillo, Zaira Castillo Ramirez, Luis Marmolejos, Felicita Medrano, Elba Feliz Matos, Ricardo Encarnacion Castillo, Anderson Paulino and Diomaris Marmolejos.

Hubieres: Government wants to nix Fenatrano
Juan Hubieres, leader of the New Option National Transportation Federation (Fenatrano), has accused the government of trying to do away with the transport union. He said that the government is importing 100 buses at a cost of US$75,000 each, plus US$20,000 for maintenance, as feeders for the Santo Domingo Metro.
Hubieres said that as part of these alleged government plans to force the union's disappearance, yesterday the National Police protected people who attacked dozens of union members in Yaguate in an incident that resulted in one man, Fernando Heredia, being injured.
He also complained that as part of the campaign to harass Fenatrano, in Santo Domingo East and around the area covered by the Metro, police and Amet agents are constantly stopping the union's vehicles. He said that in areas such as El Tamarindo, San Luis, Invivienda, El Almirante, Villa Liberacion, Los Tres Brazos, buses and mini-buses belonging to Fenatrano are being stopped for questioning, forcing passengers to pay for two trips when they cannot continue on the Fenatrano bus.

US deports 128 ex-convicts
A total of 128 Dominicans who have finished serving their sentences in United States jails, 90% of whom are connected to drug or homicide charges returned to the DR on a chartered flight yesterday. This year 523 people who served their terms in federal prisons have been deported from the US to the DR. The returnees were escorted by four FBI agents, and were immediately handed over to the DR immigration authorities at the airport. From the terminal, they were taken to the National Police Headquarters and then on to the Migration Department, before finally being taken to the National Drug Control Department (DNCD) where they were freed and reunited with their families - providing there were no charges pending against them in the Dominican courts. According to the former inmates' files, as well as drugs and homicides, the list included counterfeiters, assailants and sex offenders. This group came from jails and prisons in New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Antonio, New Jersey and other places. Over 4,000 Dominicans are currently serving time in US prisons.

Police report fewer murders
National Police Chief Major General Rafael Guillermo Guzman Fermin has told Listin Diario that homicides were down in the first quarter of the year. From January to March 2009 there were 472 murders, compared to 587 for the same period in 2008, for a 20% decline. He says PN statistics indicate that most of the deaths occurred due to fights (117 in 2009, 152 in 2008), legal actions taken by the Police (82 in 2009, 113 in 2008), robberies and assaults (88 in 2009, 95 in 2008), crimes of passion (17 in 2009 and 29 in 2008), and drug-related deaths (8 in 2009, 12 in 2008).

Olympians to compete here
Competitors in the Athens and Sydney Olympics will be in the DR from 17-19 April for the Monte Plata 2009 International Sports Festival. Athletes are coming from Mexico, Jamaica, and possibly from Argentina's Rio Plata team. A baseball team from Cuba could also be attending, says spokesman Charlie Mariotti, as reported in Listin Diario. Sports venues built for a previous National Games will be used for the competitions. There will be competitions in baseball, soccer, cycling, basketball, boxing, and track and field. Monte Plata can be easily reached from Santo Domingo by taking the new Samana toll road. See the DR1 Calendar of Events at http://www.dr1.com/calendar
 
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