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Daily News - Friday, 03 April 2009

President inaugurates houses
Yesterday, President Leonel Fernandez inaugurated the INVI-Villa Progreso Mao housing facility that will provide homes for 80 families. The housing facility was built with a RD$96 million budget. Hoy reports that the project will benefit local professionals and middle class families in Valverde province. While in the north west, Fernandez also took part in the inauguration of the Ridge Partners Dominicana North renewable energy project in Copey, Monte Cristi.

US$27.5 Million for POP
The World Bank announced the approval of a US$27.5 million loan yesterday to improve the drinking water supply and sanitation facilities in the tourist area of Puerto Plata. The Water and Sanitation in Tourist Areas Project will benefit 128,000 Dominicans in poor parts of the region. In addition, it will provide an extra boost to the Dominican government by creating a policy framework and a national strategy for the water sector. A Ministry of Economy, Planning and Development (SEEPYD) coordination unit and the Puerto Plata Aqueducts and Sewerage Corporation (CORAAPLATA) will be responsible for the project's implementation.
"This project will allow more poor families in these tourist areas to have access to quality potable water, while the wastewater treatment and disposal services will be carried out in an environmentally adequate manner, preventing water pollution," said Roby Senderowitsch, World Bank Country Manager for the Dominican Republic.
The project consists of a technical assistance component for the sector at national level, another one to rehabilitate and expand sanitation services in Playa Dorada, Sosua, Montellano, Cabarete, La Union and La Bombita, and a third component for the administrative management of the project.
Besides this new loan, in 2006 the World Bank completed a US$5 million Project for Wastewater Disposal in Tourism Centers, installing small-diameter submarine outfalls and a series of low-cost wastewater disposal technologies in Puerto Plata.
The World Bank fixed-margin loan for US$27.5 million is based on a LIBOR rate and has a 30-year repayment period with a five-year grace period.

Details of new ballpark
Murmurings have been consistent since the President's 27 February address to the nation, but finally some concrete information has been announced about plans to build a new baseball complex in the DR. The Juan Marichal Sports and Cultural Center will cost more than US$100 million with private funding from the Caixa Geral (Portugal) Bank, Eximbank (US) and an unnamed Canadian bank. The Dominican state will contribute the land for the stadium in the La Fe area on the current site of the Quisqueya Ball Park and Teo Cruz Boxing Stadium, says Joaquin Jeronimo, general manager of the National Housing Bank (BNV), as quoted in Hoy. Geronimo said the project includes a 200-room hotel, a commercial plaza, an office building, a parking tower, baseball museum and a remodeled Quisqueya Park. The press release stated that work would start in February 2009, right after the end of the 2009 winter league tournament. Though privately funded, the museum and the renovated Quisqueya park would still be owned by the state, he says.

Defillo urges ARS to compete
Dr. Bernardo Defillo, former Superintendent of Health and Labor Risks (SISALRIL) says that private health providers (ARS) can offer the same benefits the government health provider SENASA recently launched. Senasa is now covering high-cost illnesses up to RD$1 million and has added hundreds of new pharmaceuticals to its service, as well as covering the total cost of medical tests, among other benefits. Private ARS accuse SENASA of unfair competition. But Defillo feels the companies could follow suit and still be very profitable. He said that the Senasa is meeting to discuss the original plan set for the health providers. As reported in Hoy, SISALRIL has backed the opposition of the private ARS to the new coverage. While SENASA was created for government employees, any private employee can request affiliation to the plan.

Pared rejects labor proposal
Senate President Reinaldo Pared Perez is firm in his stance that changes to the Labor Code would be untimely. Business associations are proposing changes, mainly in the area of accumulated severance payments that they say could cost the country thousands of jobs as companies take their business to the DR's competitors in Central America. The proposal, which was backed by the National Business Council, the DR Industries Association (AIRD), the Free Zones Association (Adozona), the Exporters Association (Adoexpo), the National Hotel & Restaurant Association (Asonahores), the Business Confederation (Copardom), National Association of Young Entrepreneurs (ANJE), and the Agribusiness Board (JAD) was presented on Wednesday. The business sector says that provisions in the Labor Code that date back to 1992 are an obstacle to competitiveness when it comes to doing business in the DR, especially now that the country is one of the most open economies in the Americas. Pared responded by saying that there was no way a bill aimed at changing workers rights and benefits could pass through Congress. Vice President Rafael Alburquerque told Hoy that the proposal must be reviewed carefully, especially in the context of the current world financial crisis. Labor Minister Max Puig told El Caribe that the reduction would not be prudent. He said the remedy to the competitiveness problems proposed by the business groups could be worse than the sickness given the global economic crisis. But he said he was open to study the proposal.
Businessman Jose Luis Corripio says that one solution could be to legislate for a conditioned rule where new employees would fall under a different regime, in order to encourage new hiring. This would be for temporary employees. After a fixed period, employers could decide whether to hire the employees permanently with full rights under the present law.

UIS Taiwan on software piracy
Taiwanese company UIS Taiwan says it is not responsible for the sale of stolen equipment and pirated computer software to El Salvador. The equipment and software that was designed by the JCE and used in the 2008 Presidential election in the DR, were reportedly stolen by a former Central Electoral Board (JCE) employee and used during the recent presidential elections in El Salvador. According to JCE Administrative Chamber president Roberto Rosario, the former employee is a relative of an unnamed JCE member who holds a high-ranking position. Diario Libre reports that Rene Torres, head of computer services for El Salvador's Supreme Electoral Court says that a company named UIS sold them the programs that were used for their March 2009 elections at the beginning of the year. The original programs and equipment, 800 scanners, were sold by UIS Dominicana, a subsidiary of UIS Taiwan, for RD$59 million.

Ambassador in Ecuador leaves
The Foreign Relations Ministry has announced that Nestor Ceron Suero is no longer the Dominican Ambassador in Ecuador. Foreign Relations Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso made the announcement and explained that the decision was made in the wake of complaints from the Ecuadorian Foreign Relations Ministry Protocol Department. Although the Ministry did not provide specific details through its Press Secretary Kleiner Lopez, Hoy reports that Ceron was dismissed due to a case of physical violence. The newspaper claims that Ecuadorian feminists groups lobbied to get rid of Ceron after he hit a young female police officer with his vehicle and claimed she had no right to stop him because he was an ambassador. Soon after, President Leonel Fernandez personally called Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa to apologize, and also sent a letter of apology.

US drug imports foster violence
US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas A. Shannon says that the rise of violence in the DR is directly related to the increase in drug-related activities in the country. According to Listin Diario, Shannon described the situation here as similar to that in Mexico and Venezuela. He added that in the past, Mexican cartels only focused on shipping to the US, but now they are focused on selling in Mexico as well, and says the same trend is being observed in the DR. Listin Diario writes that the US Congress could approve an aid package totaling US$165 million, but only US$5 million would be directed towards the DR. Shannon is quoted as saying, "we know this isn't much, but it's better than nothing."

Wildcat strikes to continue
Transport union leader Juan Hubieres (FENATRANO) says that unannounced strikes will continue until the government is ready to talk and the Metropolitan Transport Office (AMET) stops its practicing of stopping FENATRANO buses and harassing their drivers. Asked if there were plans for strikes during the next few days he said it would all depend on the government's position, and on Transport Reorganization Office (OPRET) director Diandino Pena and the AMET. The latest series of strikes is a continuation of a long-standing practice by the bus unions as a way of pressuring government to protect their own interests.

Marzouka to be extradited to US
Dominican fugitive from justice Frederic Salers Marzouka could be extradited from Brazil to the US, where he is sought for drug trafficking and money laundering charges. He was accused of a National Lottery fraud for RD$90 million when he rigged the winning numbers, as reported in Listin Diario. He fled to Haiti and apparently traveled on to Brazil. He was arrested on 17 February 2006 in an Interpol operation in Rio de Janeiro. A Brazilian court has ruled that the maximum penalty he can receive in the US is 30 years in jail, which is the maximum penalty in Brazil.

Arsonists arrested
The National Environment Protection Service, a dependency of the Ministry of Environment, has arrested 15 people accused of setting fire to more than 6,227 tareas of forest in the DR. Senpa director Colonel Francisco Santos Tolentino said the arsonists were caught in the act while officials were investigating in the area. Santos said that there were 38 reported forest fires in Santo Domingo during the first two months of the year. The accused could face up to 10 years in jail.

Three masked shooters arrested
The Police have presented three men who are accused of being the three masked individuals who were photographed firing at the National Police during an otherwise peaceful protest in Salcedo in late March. The Police presented the clothing and weapons that they were wearing as proof of the accusation. A Listin Diario photographer caught the three men on film firing at the Police. They were named as Ramon Thomas Ramirez Hernandez, 25, Nelson Nunez Caba Polanco, 20, and Juan Alberto Morillo, 23. They were sent to preventive jail at Salcedo while their case is heard.

Bird-lover activities
The Society of Ornithology Hispaniola is inviting this Saturday, 4 April to a visit of the Pomier Caves with leading ecotourism guide and cave expert Domingo Abreu. The meeting place is the Museum of Natural History at 8am. On Sunday, 26 April, there will be a talk on Tainos and Birds by Dr. Lynne Guitar at 4pm at the Museo Mundo de Ambar. On Sunday, 10 May, a visit to the National Park Wetlands of Ozama River is organized with guide Bolivar Cabrera of the Ministry of Environment. The meeting place is the parking lot of the Botanical Gardens at 6:30am. And the first Sunday of every month, there is a bird walk in the Botanical Gardens, open to the public at no charge.
For more information on ornithology activities in the DR, write to Kate Wallace at [email protected]

Bolero in the Caribbean
The Third Music, Identity and Culture in the Caribbean Conference (MIC III) will take place 17-19 April 2009 at the Centro Eduardo Leon Jimenes in Santiago. The event is sponsored by the Ministry of Culture, the Centro Leon and the Institute of Caribbean Studies (INEC). This year the conference will focus on "Bolero in the Caribbean Culture and its University Projection."
Cuban bolero singers Olga Guillot and Omara Portuondo, legends of Latin American music, are coming for the conference. Also confirmed as attending are Cheo Feliciano, and Danny Rivera from Puerto Rico. Papa Molina, Rhina Ramirez, Francis Santana, Rafael Solano, Nini Caffaro, Luis Kalaff, Lope Balaguer, Camboy Estevez and Fernando Casado from the Dominican Republic will also be taking part.
Experts who will be contributing to the talks include Jose Loyola Fernandez who has written several books on the topic and is president of the International Gold Boleros Festival, held every year in the Cuban capital Havana. Also coming is music expert Maria Teresa Linares.
See http://www.centroleon.org.do/

Seafood & Fish Festival at Cane
Cane Restaurant and Bar on Abraham Lincoln Avenue is promoting new seafood and fish dishes throughout April on the occasion of Easter. The Dominican Republic observes the traditional practice of not eating meat on the Fridays leading up to Lent. Dishes on the menu include Tempura shrimp fried with a macadamia crust, Baked sea bass with shrimps and red pepper coulis, Salmon in chinola sauce with ripe plantains and leek cracklings, Sanchez shrimps in cream sauce with bacon and green peas. Cane Restaurant is located on Av. Abraham Lincoln no. 1059, Tel: 809 368-2200.

Dance Gala
The National Classic Ballet presents the ballet "Elements" on 3, 4 5 April at the Palace of Fine Arts (Palacio de Bellas Artes). This is a Guillermo Cordero production, with choreography by Carlos Veitia. Tickets are RD$1,000 and RD$800 for 8:30pm performances. On Sunday, 5, at 6:30pm, tickets are RD$300.
The production is part of the Month of Dance sponsored by the Ministry of Culture. Performances by the National Classic Ballet, National Folklore Ballet, and the best of young talent at several venues are taking place throughout April in Santo Domingo. For more information, call 809 689-6192.
For more information on events, see www.dr1.com/calendar
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