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Daily News - Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Fernandez confirms attendance at summit
President Leonel Fernandez has confirmed his attendance at the V Summit of the Americas that will bring together 34 heads of state and of governments from the Western Hemisphere. The meeting will take place in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago this Friday, and is scheduled to serve as a discussion of an agenda that will deal with human prosperity, energy security and environmental sustainability, issues that will be included in the final declaration from the meeting, according to the summit's webpage. Recently, the Dominican media has been reporting that United States President Barack Obama has mentioned the possibility of holding private talks with his Dominican counterpart during the summit sessions. Dominican Foreign Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso has also alluded to this possibility over the past few days, but nothing has been confirmed so far. According to other sources, the White House has not looked askance at Fernandez's recent visit to Cuba, where he met with Fidel Castro.

Hillary arrives on Thursday
United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be visiting the Dominican Republic on Thursday afternoon for talks with Leonel Fernandez. She will be coming from Haiti where she is meeting with Haitian President Rene Preval. According to Hoy newspaper, this is the former First Lady's first working visit, since she and her husband Bill Clinton are frequent visitors to the country in a private capacity. Although the agenda for her discussions with President Fernandez was not given to the press, it is believed that the issue of relations with Haiti and the agenda of the Americas Summit will certainly be touched upon. US President Barack Obama will be attending the summit. Yesterday, officials from the US embassy in Santo Domingo and security personnel were seen visiting the Presidential Palace. The Presidential Press Office did not release any additional information on the visit, beyond mentioning issues such as political stability and the fight against drug trafficking. The press office did say that the President would be hosting a state dinner for Mrs. Clinton. On Friday morning the Secretary of State will fly to Trinidad and Tobago for the V Summit of the Americas. This visit comes on the heels of the international story that reported US Vice President Joe Biden meeting with all the Central American presidents in San Jose, Costa Rica, but President Fernandez was not invited despite the Dominican Republic's membership of the CAFTA free trade agreement.

Executive submits six loans for $285.6 million
President Leonel Fernandez has sent six loan contracts to the Senate for approval. The contracts total US$285.6 million, which combined with another credit for US$300 million negotiated with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) which was sent to the Congress last week, add up to US$585.6 million. According to Diario Libre, two of the loans, for a total of US$75 million, were signed with Deutsche Bank and Sociedad Anonima Espanola, and will be used in the first stage of the construction of the Higuey-Bavaro aqueduct in the province of La Altagracia, a project that will be implemented by the National Water and Sewers Institute (INAPA). Two other contracts, one negotiated with Brazil's National Economic Development Bank (BNDES) for US$50.6 million and another with the Central American Economic Integration Bank for US$50 million, will be used to partially finance the Palomino hydroelectric project that is being implemented by the Dominican Corporation of State-owned Electricity Enterprises (CDEEE). Another loan underwritten by the IDB for US$60 million will be used in the Program of Support Policies to promote Production and Competitiveness under the aegis of the Ministry of Hacienda. The sixth loan is for US$40 million negotiated by the Dominican state also with the IDB for the project to revamp the CDEEE's electricity distribution network. The Executive Branch also submitted an agreement with Taiwan on volunteers from the Taiwanese International Development and Cooperation Fund.

Revisory Assembly meets today
After yesterday's approval of the new electronic system that will be used during the process of constitutional reform, the president of the National Assembly, Reinaldo Pared Perez, assured reporters that everything was ready for the start-up of the process. The session is set for 3pm. Pared Perez and Assembly vice president Julio Cesar Valentin agreed that the most controversial points of the reform process, which will generate the most heated debates and on which there is no consensus among the political parties or the other power sectors, should be delayed. These issues are presidential re-election, the reform of the judicial power, nationality, and Article 30 that refers to the conception of life, an issue that has produced a face-off between churches and one sector of the Congress. However, the PRSC is not in agreement with this position and party spokesperson Ramon Rogelio Genao thinks that none of the points on the agenda should be postponed or pushed to the later sessions of the Assembly, without debates that lead to their approval or rejection, and this position will be submitted to the Assembly. On the issue of abortion, Pared Perez affirmed that that it is not a topic for constitutional reform, but for the Penal Code, whose discussion is in the hands of a special commission of deputies headed by Jose Ricardo Taveras from the National Progressive Force. Nevertheless, he is in favor of the article remaining just as sent by the Executive Branch. On the question of the time estimated to complete the constitutional reform, Valentin said that no time limit has been set, but they will work tirelessly to give the country a new Constitution. The Assembly members will begin the session this afternoon, once again going over some aspects of the regulations that will govern the debates, beyond those introduced by the Senate. They will also take on the discussion of the preamble, the introduction submitted by the President.

Reforming the reform?
Chamber of Deputies president Julio Cesar Valentin says that he is in favor of revising or modifying some of the articles contained in the proposal for constitutional reform in the legislation submitted to Congress by President Fernandez. Interviewed on Huchi Lora's CDN Radio show, Valentin said, "There are well advanced talks going on that we have to revise some aspects so that it is clear that none of the powers of state can have more power than is reasonable." Among these aspects he mentioned Article 80 that addresses the President's ability to send troops overseas, a decision that, according to Valentin, should not reasonably be left in the hands of one individual. Likewise, he said that he believes that the constitutional provision that allows the President to choose the Chamber of Accounts magistrates should be given to the Chamber of Deputies or to the Council of Magistrates. On the issue of pardons for prisoners, Valentin said that it is not reasonable that this should be removed from the head of state's powers, but that some limitations should be applied such as in cases involving drug trafficking, corruption and sexual crimes. Valentin said, "Democracy is like that, the exercise of public powers, but with limitations." Valentin also objected to the number of 200 deputies contained in the proposal sent by President Fernandez, and he recommended that the number be set at 150. On the question of Article 102, according to which the President of the Republic is the symbol of national unity and the permanence of the State, Valentin said that this should be dropped. He also said that the issue of presidential re-election would be passed in the constitutional reform.

Pre-inspections boost agro exports
Minister of Agriculture Salvador (Chio) Jimenez has emphasized the importance of the pre-inspection program in substantially improving the export of fresh fruits and vegetables to the United States market. Jimenez told Hoy reporters that of the 1,696 containers that were sent to the US in the first quarter of 2009, only nine were detained for further inspection by the US authorities. He indicated that of these nine containers, six were later released after laboratory tests showed that they did not contain any pesticide residues, adding that the other three are awaiting lab test results. Jimenez reassured reporters that the controls established in the country as part of the pre-inspection program have yielded excellent results. For example, from the 469 containers that were detained in 2007, the number was reduced to 50 in 2008 and in the first quarter of 2009 just 9 containers have been detained for further inspections. The minister said that this shows the strength of the sanitary inspection system that was put into place by the government in order to create greater guarantees for Dominican exporters.

Doctors and nurses on three-day strike
Doctors, nurses and the Coordinator of the Health Sector Unions will bring health services in the nation's public hospitals, as well as those of the Dominican Social Security Institute, to a halt beginning tomorrow morning as they go out on another 72-hour strike. The decision was announced by Dominican Medical Association (CMD) president Waldo Ariel Suero, and Minerva Magdalena and Rafaela Figueroa representing the other unions. Right off, Public Health Minister Dr. Bautista Rojas Gomez described the health workers' decision as "irrational" and "lacking intelligence". The minister met with regional health directors to sketch out a strategy for the three-day strike. The strike will begin at 6:00 on Wednesday morning and will last until the same time on Saturday. The aim of the strike is to press the government to grant a major salary increase. Tomorrow's strike is the third this year and the 16th or 17th over the past year and a half in the health professionals' campaign. The country's 156 public hospitals and Public Health Ministry clinics, and 23 Social Security Institute (IDSS) hospitals will be affected by the strike. The authorities maintain that there is no money for the pay increase that the doctors, nurses, laboratory technicians, dentists and administrative employees of the IDSS are demanding. Only emergency cases and seriously ill patients will be treated during the strike.

Prices are always a surprise
The ups and downs of pricing in the country is always a surprise for consumers who pay one price today and another price the following day for the same item, all without any normal justification. At the end of Easter Week, many products went up in price, especially potatoes, yucca (cassava) and eggs. Some shops were selling eggs for RD$7 each, and they could be found for as little as RD$4.40 in other places. A 30-egg tray was being sold at prices ranging from 130 pesos to as much as 190 pesos in some places. In Santo Domingo's Feria Ganadera, the Herrera Farmers' Market and other points around the city, a pound of potatoes was selling for between 12 and 13 pesos, when five days previously they were just 10 pesos. Industry and Commerce Minister Jose Ramon Fadul reported that everything was ready for the modification of the Consumer Protection Law that would be sent to Congress once President Fernandez decides. Fadul has constantly complained that the government does not have any way to force prices to go lower, and he told reporters from El Caribe that the project that will modify the law includes several drastic measures against speculators.

Criticism for judge who discharged drug case
National District DA Alejandro Moscoso Segarra has criticized the judge who discharged a man who had been deported from the United States after serving time for drug trafficking charges, and who had allegedly become a repeat offender for the same crime in this country. The official told Diario Libre reporters that this magistrate ordered the release on bail for three others who were implicated in drug trafficking, one of whom has charges pending in connection with the discovery of 35 kilograms of cocaine in the province of Santo Domingo. Moscoso Segarra said he was worried by the decision of the judge of the Fourth Court of Instruction, Delio German. The person favored by the case dismissal was Miguel Angel Valdez Vega. Meanwhile, bail was set at RD$2 million for Christian Andres Garcia Astacio, who also has a case pending regarding 33 kilos of cocaine in the province of Santo Domingo, and Manuel Emilio Santana Sanchez, who was deported from the US after serving five years for drug trafficking. The fourth person is Eric Santana. Moscoso Segarra told reporters that on 15 October 2008, the group was caught with six packages of cocaine that weighed 2.06 kilograms in the back seat of an SUV they were driving. The DA lamented the fact that the magistrate changed the request for a remand to custody to bail for people who are repeat drug trafficking offenders. He said, "I think that this sends the wrong message about the fight against organized crime."

Easter deaths up 45%
The Emergency Operations Center's Holy Week operation, which began at noon last Thursday and ended at 8 o'clock on Easter Sunday evening brought about a reduction in the total number of traffic accidents, but a higher number of people drowned, going from 7 in 2008 to 20 dead this year. Officials highlighted the role played by the Metropolitan Transport Authority (AMET) during the operation as they detained 164 automobiles, 2,059 motorcycles for a total of 2,223. Motorcyclists had their motorcycles seized by the authorities for not wearing their helmets or not have the proper documents or for drinking alcoholic beverages while driving. In comparison with 2008, the number of deaths registered in this operation increased by 45%, "but in spite of this we managed to reduce the number of accidents by 27%; the total number of people injured by 26% and there was a reduction of 9% in the total number of cases," said the COE director. At the same time, Mendez Garcia said that the organizations that provided support under the COE umbrella "will not cease their work until they get the public to accept and obey the preventive measures and listen to and accept the education campaigns that are launched during Easter Week and over New Year."

Triumph over long odds
The New York Times recently announced the recipients of the newspaper's prestigious Scholar awards for this year, and the winners included Angel Contrera, a young man whose mother immigrated to New York from the Dominican Republic. The New York Times, like many newspapers, is struggling in these difficult economic times, and the paper had to reduce the number of scholarships from 20 to just 12 this year, making the selection all the more difficult as a total of 1,400 students applied. The scholarships are funded by the New York Times Company foundation, an endowment created primarily by the Starr Foundation and reader donations. Chosen by a panel of editors, reporters and educational consultants, this year's scholars reflect the varied demographic landscape of New York City. Six of the twelve are immigrants from Russia, Ghana, Nigeria, Vietnam, China and Guyana. Three are children of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Israel. Dominican Angel Contrera said that he was inspired by his mother, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic who never finished middle school. She has two jobs, as a cleaner at Yankee Stadium during the baseball season, and at a health club all year round. One of his older brothers is in jail, but young Contrera, who has been accepted to the University of Pennsylvania, is ranked first in a class of 209 students at the Frederick Douglass Academy in Manhattan.
The full story can be seen at www.nytimes.com/2009/04/08/nyregion/08scholars.html?th&emc=th
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