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Daily News - Monday, 06 April 2009

Preparing for Holy Week
The Ministry of Tourism has organized a Holy Week initiative focused on keeping some of the nation's most frequented vacation spots clean. The initiative, which involves at least 500 volunteers, will be focused on Las Terrenas, Juan Dolio, Guayacanes, Boca Chica and Andres. The program will extend to other vacation spots throughout the country during the Holy Week holidays. Holy Week is the time of year when most Dominicans visit vacation spots nationwide.

Pope against corruption in DR
Upon receiving the credentials of new DR ambassador to the Vatican Victor Manuel Grimaldi Cespedes, Pope Benedict XVI appealed to Dominicans to remember their Catholic roots and reject the controversial issues of abortion and homosexual marriage, but his encouragement for greater efforts in the struggle against institutional corruption is what garnered front-page coverage and editorials in the local press.
The Holy Father stressed "the partnership that exists between local Catholic bodies and State entities in the development of programs which, while always seeking the common good of society, favor those most in need and encourage genuine moral and spiritual values".
He also highlighted how, "in the significant political and social changes that the Dominican Republic has been going through in recent times", it is important to "implant and prolong the noble principles that distinguish the rich history of the country since its foundation. I am referring primarily to the defense and dissemination of such basic human values as the recognition and protection of human dignity, respect for human life from the moment of conception until natural death, and the safeguarding of the institution of the family based on marriage between a man and a woman, because these elements are indispensable to the social fabric".
The head of the Roman Catholic Church went on to stress that, despite recent achievements "in social and economic plans, which open hopes for a brighter and more peaceful future... there is still a long way to go to ensure Dominicans enjoy a dignified life and to eradicate the blights of poverty, drug trafficking, marginalization, and violence".
"Everything that contributes towards strengthening the institutions is fundamental to the wellbeing of society, a wellbeing which rests upon such pillars as cultivating honesty and transparency, juridical independence, care and respect for the environment and the reinforcement of social services, healthcare and education for the entire population. These steps must be accompanied by a strong determination to definitively eradicate corruption, which brings such suffering especially for the poorest and most defenseless members of society".
The Pontiff affirmed the country's "profound Catholic roots", which "already evokes in its very name adherence to the Christian message by most of its people, alluding to Saint Dominic Guzman, illustrious preacher of the Word of God."
He noted that the country is currently experiencing "a renewed missionary and evangelizing dynamism," fostered by the forthcoming commemoration of the fifth centenary of the creation of the archdiocese of Santo Domingo (erected on August 8, 1511). Benedict XVI could travel to Santo Domingo for the event, during which the Museum of the Cathedral, with the treasures of devotees to the Catholic Church in the DR will be exhibited.
The Holy Father called the evangelization of the Dominican Republic the "first seed" of the Church in Latin America. He declared, "The Holy Mass was celebrated there for the first time on the American continent, now more than five centuries ago, and from the Island of Hispaniola missionaries left charged with proclaiming the Good News of salvation in the continent".
Hoy newspaper's Saturday editorial commented on the Pope's statement that the worst part of corruption in our country is not its existence as such, but the obvious lack of will to combat and prevent it, and the excess of tolerance to the violations.
Today's Diario Libre editorial comment points out that if the government decided to eradicate corruption, all the money needed to carry out the public works requested by the public would be available. "That is the money that is invested in luxury vacation homes, apartments for mistresses and padded accounts in foreign banks," writes the newspaper. "One only has to analyze the money that is lost in surplus payrolls, padded contracts and wasteful spending to conclude that a good part of the budget is going to the hands of relatives and frontmen."
Speaking yesterday, Cardinal Nicolas de Jesus Lopez Rodriguez called on the authorities to put favoritism and softness aside when reviewing corruption cases. He said that fulfilling the law comes with their position. "For me it is simply a matter of awareness. It is not that politicians are exempt from fulfilling the law. No, no, no. He who is in power is obliged to fulfill the law," he said, as headlined in today's Diario Libre.

Phone numeric portability coming
Spanish company El Corte Ingles has won the tender to implement telephone numeric portability in the DR. This refers to the ability to transfer either an existing fixed-line or mobile telephone number assigned by a local exchange carrier (LEC), and reassign it to another carrier.
In the Dominican Republic, number portability in both mobile and local telephony is planned to start on 30 September 2009. The cost to users for making the transfer would be insignificant, around RD$100.
Jose Rafael Vargas, president of the Dominican Telecommunications Institute (Indotel) that is in charge of the project, said that the DR will be the fourth Latin American country to offer this option to telecom users, after Brazil, Ecuador and Mexico.

Thermal spa in Canoa
President Leonel Fernandez has sent to Congress the requested addendum to the contract for the 99-year lease of land in Barahona province to an Italian company for the construction of a thermal spa in the sulphur water springs in Canoa. The contract with Terme de la Salamanda was signed on 6 August 2007, but legislators requested the inclusion of a construction timeline. The parties agree that the investor needs to submit all paperwork required with the ministries of Tourism, Environment and the municipal government within 12 months. The company commits to construct the wellness project and start operations within 10 years. The company has said it will be investing US$1.5 billion into the project. The project had the strong backing of the Barahona Tourism Cluster.
The bill now needs to be studied by Congress that is about to concentrate on the constitutional reform.

No water for Holy Week
Residents of Santo Domingo are advised that the Santo Domingo Water Corporation will be using the Holy Week vacation period to carry out maintenance works that will affect the city's water service from Wednesday until Saturday. CAASD director Ramon Rivas called on citizens to store water as a precautionary measure. Among the neighborhoods affected will be Paraiso, Naco, Julieta, Piantini, Quisqueya, Serralles, Fernandez, Evaristo Morales. San Geronimo, Mira Flores, Ciudad Nueva, Los Prados, Los Restauradores, San Juan Bosco, Zona Colonial, Los Praditos, Villa Francisca, Arroyo Hondo I, II and III, Colinas de los Rios, Los Angeles, Cristo Rey, Villas Agricolas, 27 de Febrero, Gualey, Guachupita, Simon Bolivar, Villa Consuelo, Los Guandules, La Fe and Capotillo. Residents of San Cristobal, Haina, Madre Vieja, San Rafael, Estefania, Cambelen, Yogo-Yogo, Canastica, Sainagua, Nizao, Najayo, La Ermita, Ingenio Nuevo, La Conga and Dona Ana will also be affected.

Looking for black gold
A 2000-2005 expedition found that there are small oil deposits in the DR, and now a team of Dominican and Spanish investigators is taking the search for oil in the DR a step forward. Yesterday, a crew lead by Andres Carbo began exploring possible underwater points that could contain oil. The crew is traveling on the "Hesperides," owned by the Spanish government. Carbo says that the first series of searches only included small areas, but this latest attempt at discovering oil will include larger areas, including the northern and southern parts of the DR. Carbo says that this search will conclude on 25 April, but the overall project will last two years. According to Carbo the current series of investigations will only produce marine images of specific areas that could contain petroleum for subsequent searches.

Poor neighborhoods discuss progress
The National District's DA's office met with representatives from Villa Juana yesterday, during the first Neighborhood Summit Against Violence. This is the first of a series of summits between the DA's office and civic groups from 72 neighborhoods around the city to discuss the pressing issues affecting poorer neighborhoods. National District DA Alejandro Moscoso said that the summits were aimed at developing strategies to prevent violent behavior in Santo Domingo's neighborhoods. He said that to effectively prevent crime, the community needed to participate in diagnosing the problem and then providing proposals to curb crime. One proposal that was voiced was that everyone selling car replacement parts must have a permit from the government. This could go a long way in the sector of Villa Juana, which is known as the city's spare parts center. Stolen vehicle parts that end up there are often re-sold to unsuspecting consumers. Leaders also proposed closing known drug points and businesses that are known to play loud music during the day and night.

Easy money is bad role model
Cultural anthropologist Tahira Vargas says that easy money has grown to become a social model in the country, as reported in Hoy. She said that the values of hard work and sacrifice to achieve life's goals have been lost. She also criticized the permissiveness of Dominican society and said these new generalized attitudes have been fed by the impunity of government institutions and have spurred crime. "Increasingly there are those who get rich quick, whether by corruption, drug trafficking or politics, and who have become a social model," said Vargas, speaking to an audience of young people during a talk on "Drug Trafficking and Youth" at the Plaza Bolivar, as part of an event organized by the Instituto Dominicano de Apoyo a la Juventud, a youth support group.

Senator Williams speaks
Senator Alejandro Williams has admitted that he did in fact hire private investigators to find out who started the rumors that he was being investigated for Medicaid fraud in the US. Journalist Alicia Ortega traveled to New York to interview the senator for San Pedro de Macoris who had not been reachable by telephone and has not been available in the DR to respond to claims that he has been harassing local journalists.
Williams revealed that one of the investigators he hired was Marcos Martinez who showed up at the houses of journalists Margarita Cordero of 7dias.com.do, Maria Soldevila of Listin Diario and Norma Shepard of Radio Mil, looking for answers.
Williams says the company he hired is based in the US and that Martinez is the company's lead investigator. "I have the same right to hire an investigation company to find out where the rumor came from," Williams told Ortega.
Williams said that a man previously identified as his bodyguard was in fact his cousin, Jesus Gonzalez, who was in charge of showing the investigators around. In response to allegations that Martinez used intimidation tactics, Williams commented, "Who confirmed they used this method? Have you spoken to Marcos Martinez?"
As for his absence from the DR to work in his dental clinic in the US, Williams said that he visits San Pedro de Macoris every week. He is quoted in Listin Diario as saying that he spends four days a week in the US and three days per week living at the Metro Country Club in Juan Dolio, a golf and residential development about 20 minutes from San Pedro.
Because of the allegations that Williams is being investigated in the US and that he rarely attends Senate sessions, the Senate has opened an investigation into the case, but has yet to share any of its findings with the press. Ortega's interview with Williams will be aired at 9pm tonight on the show "El Informe," on Antena Latina, Channel 7.

Controversial baseball project
Hoy newspaper's 'Que se Dice' column written by journalist Claudio Acosta questions the value of the 118,089.91-square meter Quisqueya ballpark. A private group has secured government backing for the construction of a shopping center, 200 apartments and a 200-room hotel in the area, in addition to remodeling the Quisqueya ballpark so that the stadium complies with Major League Baseball games requirements. The journalist asks: "Why was the existence of a government decree transferring the land from Bienes Nacionales (National Assets) to the Banco Nacional de la Vivienda (National Housing Bank) kept secret? And why did the government not wait for Congress to approve the transfer as required by the Constitution? Or was it that the approval had already been negotiated and the legislators have that surprise in store for us?" he asks. He said that before the project promoters can call out "play ball" they need to answer these questions and many more in order to convince the country they are not making the deal of their lives at the expense of the impoverished state."
In another column in Hoy, journalist Franklin Mirabal comments that US$18-20 million would be enough to bring the old stadium up to par to host MLB games. "What they are talking about is using baseball as the excuse for a greater investment, and that is unheard of and unnecessary," He urged President Fernandez to drop his support for the project, which is promoted by private developer engineer Jesus Rodriguez Sandoval. The president of the Senate Sports Commission, Charlie Mariotti said that the donation of the land needs approval from both the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies. The development would be known as Centro Deportivo y Cultural Juan Marichal and would have a budget of US$100 million, as reported in Listin Diario.

Wildcat strikes take a break
Fenatrano transport union leader Juan Hubieres has announced that the recent spate of "surprise" bus strikes that has affected millions of commuters over the last few weeks, would stop until after the Holy Week holidays. Hubieres declared that regardless of differences the union wanted to help maintain peace during this period, seeing as most Dominicans are Catholic and will be celebrating this week.

Vigilantes wanted justice
Listin Diario reports that a mob of almost 700 people gathered in front of the Villa Liberacion police station in Santo Domingo East for eight hours, waiting to get their hands on three young men accused of killing military sergeant Duarte Mateo Encarnacion. The mob gathered at 6am and dispersed at around 3pm. One of the suspects was identified as 20-year old Michel Solis Montero. According to initial reports, the three men stole a small motorbike and other belongings from the sergeant only meters from the police station. Listin Diario writes that while the crowd remained outside clamoring for justice, the three youths inside were crying, fearing they would be murdered. One of the men in the crowd, Alfredo Perez, said that Encarnacion was a good man who had gained the respect of the community, fueling the crowd's anger. The crowd chanted "rats" referring to the youths, as they waited to get their hands on them. Police eventually managed to get the three young men out of the small police station, and took them to an undisclosed location.

Protests affect tourism
Arturo Villanueva, vice president of the National Hotel and Restaurants Association (ASONAHORES), says that the recent wave of protests that have hit the DR will directly affect the nation's image and will have a negative effect on the tourism sector. Villanueva says that a good tourism sector needs peace and tranquility in order to develop, adding that these protests could also affect domestic tourism. He accepted that it was human nature to protest, but warned that it becomes a problem when protests turn violent. Villanueva's concerns are heightened by a report by the World Economic Forum that placed the DR's tourism competitiveness at 67 out of 133 countries, four notches below its 2008 ranking. Other issues of concern for the tourism sector, according to ASONAHORES president Haydee Kuret de Rainieri, are deficiencies in tourism infrastructure.

Hard times hit immigrants
Spanish Ambassador to the DR, Diego Bermejo, has revealed that 1,500 to 2,000 Dominicans out of the 125,000 who reside in Spain legally have lost their jobs due to the world financial crisis. He added that despite this, only 10 Dominicans have taken up the Spanish government's unemployment offer to return to the DR for a three-year period. Returning Dominicans would get 60% of their unemployment benefits when they left the country and 40% as soon as they arrived in the DR. Bermejo did not quantify the unemployment benefit per individual but said the payments could be enough for a Dominican to start a small business in the DR.

US Consular services in Bavaro
The American Citizen Services unit of the US Embassy is inviting US citizens to make the most of the official visit of consular staff to Bavaro on Tuesday, May 5. The staff will be at Amstar on km2 of the Carretera Veron-Bavaro from 12:30 to 3:30pm. US citizens are encouraged to make appointments for passport renewals, notarials and other consular services that are normally only available in Santo Domingo. An official will also be there to answer questions about Social Security and other US federal benefits. First-time passport applications and applications for Consular Reports of Birth Abroad (CRBAs) will not be processed during this visit. These must be applied for in Santo Domingo.
For passport renewals or to complete a notarial, appointments must be scheduled in advance by calling (809) 731-4468 from 1pm to 3:30pm, Monday-Thursday. For Federal Benefits appointments, call (809) 731-4371 between 1:30pm to 4pm Monday-Thursday. Early scheduling is encouraged to ensure appointments.
The American Citizen Services unit says it is expanding its outreach program to include all corners of the Dominican Republic. They have regularly held events in Santiago for several years, and the Bavaro event is the first of several planned trips to other areas. They are currently planning a visit to Jarabacoa - and will announce the exact date shortly. The embassy is asking US citizens resident in the DR who think their area of the country would benefit from an outreach visit to please email their suggestion to [email protected]
To obtain complete information about the passport application process, please visit the embassy's passports page: http://santodomingo.usembassy.gov/passports_dr-e.html

Sugar, the other story of baseball
The story of the dozens of Dominican baseball players who do not make it to the Major Leagues is being told in a movie called "Sugar", which has opened to upbeat reviews in major cities in the US. The film portrays the experiences of the young players trying to reach the big show, reports Major League Baseball. It gives insights into the baseball industry and its ramifications in the DR.
"This industry is so huge down there, and I thought if I, as a fan, didn't know, then I thought other fans didn't know either, and not just baseball fans, but people interested in a very unique immigrant experience," Ryan Fleck, the film's co-director told MLB. And I thought this would be a pretty exciting story to tell."
In the Dominican Republic, where baseball has been popular for more than a century, the sport is often seen as the quickest way for a man to lift himself and his family out of poverty. Slightly more than 10 percent of big leaguers are from the Dominican Republic, with an even greater proportion of Minor Leaguers originally hailing from the island.
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