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Daily News - Thursday, 16 April 2009

Details of Hillary's visit
President Leonel Fernandez will host a state dinner tonight to welcome United States Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to the Dominican Republic. The agenda, according to El Caribe, says that Fernandez will host Clinton for talks at the Presidential Palace at 9:30 Friday morning. After the meeting the two will hold a press conference for local and international reporters in the Ambassador's Room of the Presidential Palace. Hillary's stay in the Dominican Republic, which is preceded by a visit to the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince, takes place on the eve of the V Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, which will be attended by President Fernandez and US President Barack Obama. According to news agency reports, in Haiti Clinton will meet with President Rene Preval to discuss "issues of common interest, such as stability, security and assistance," while in the Dominican Republic her talks with Fernandez will focus on "bilateral cooperation for development and efforts to combat drug trafficking." In Trinidad and Tobago, Clinton will accompany President Obama at the summit and will present the issue of "assuring the future of our citizens by means of promoting human prosperity, energy security and environmental sustainability."

Haiti and DR to spend US$662m
Over the next five years the Dominican Republic and Haiti will implement a bi-national program with an approximate budget of EUR501 million or US$662 million funded by the European Union, according to the Dominican Foreign Ministry. The plan includes economic, social, infrastructure, educational and cultural components, according to a source that reported on the meeting of the Dominican authorities in the Mixed Bilateral Commission. The meeting was chaired by Dominican Foreign Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso who analyzed the progress of several projects that the Dominican Republic is developing with Haiti in the areas of education, health, environment, agriculture, development cooperation, immigration and security. The commission members also discussed the volume of aid that the DR gives the neighboring nation, which in health services alone totaled more than US$14 million last year. Morales Troncoso said he was confident that cooperation between the two countries would increase as soon as the first meeting of the Mixed Council takes place. Morales said that the Dominican and Haitian presidents would be getting together at the V Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago on Friday.

Reform work goes slow
The Revisory Assembly delegates' desire to participate, sometimes with little to say, prolonged the discussions during the second day of the assembly where only 6 of more than 60 agenda items were heard. Also allowing for the passage of the first six articles of the Constitution was the meeting that took place between President Fernandez and the leading members of the Social Christian Reformist Party (PRSC). The PRSC supported four of the official proposals based on an agreement that was reached during this meeting. The assembly members left things as they were in the current Constitution where Article 1 that deals with the Nation, its sovereignty and its government, and they rejected a proposal from the Executive that said "Of the Nation, Of the State and of its Fundamental Principles." They also rejected the Executive's proposal for Article 1 of the constitutional modification and reaffirmed the current version that says "The Dominican people constitute a nation organized in a Free and Independent State, with the name of the Dominican Republic." A new Article 2 was approved after one reading of the government's proposal, and will now read, "Sovereignty resides exclusively in the people, from whom come all the state powers. The people exercise sovereignty by means of their representatives or in a direct manner, in the terms established in this Constitution and the laws". Also approved was "The Constitution is founded on the unbreakable union of the Dominican Nation, common homeland of all Dominicans," which is now Article 5. Moreover, that "All the bodies that carry out public responsibilities are subject to the Constitution, the supreme and fundamental norm of public order. All the people. All laws, decrees, resolutions, regulations or acts that are contrary to the Constitution are null and void." Both proposals from the Executive Branch were presented by assembly vice president Julio Cesar Valentin. Everything was going well until the second chapter, "On the Social and Democratic State of Law" when four PLD members voted against the proposal, which led to the rejection of the motion, and two of them alleged that the control used to vote had fallen down. This set off a big argument between PRD and PLD members, who asked for a recount. The resulting upheaval included insults and one PRD assembly member, Manuel Sanchez, even threw down his microphone in protest. But calm was later restored, with the excuses and explanations as usual. The issue remained on the table and will be heard again in this afternoon's session. Another disagreeable note that bothered the PRD delegation was one that was set forth by veteran legislator Luis Jose Gonzalez Sanchez when he recommended the PRD delegates to "mind their (Bingo) cards", a reference to a 1994 incident in which the PRD delegates walked out of the constitutional reform discussions, and the 50% plus one requirement to win the presidential elections was passed, which prevented Jose Francisco Pena Gomez from winning the election that year.

JCE discusses 2010 elections
In the midst of debates on whether or not to include the preferential vote in the 2010 elections, the election of the municipal districts and the concerns over the "increase in the electoral load", the Central Electoral Board (JCE) discussed all the details of the upcoming elections with the representatives of all the election boards in the country. In yesterday's session, the JCE Administrative Chamber released the calendar for the countdown to the election for the Congress and municipal posts. They also began the selection process for the members of all the voting places and how they will be made up. According to Diario Libre, Administrative Chamber head Roberto Rosario reminded everyone that the JCE is pressed for time to prepare the elections. He pointed out that this was one of the main factors that affected the last mid-term elections. The countdown to the elections began last January. Yesterday's session, originally scheduled for March, was the first meeting between the JCE and the local Election Boards. For this month the acquisition of information is scheduled as well as the evaluation of the physical condition of each local Election Board. Likewise, they have to inform the secretaries of local boards of the deadline for changing a municipal district to a municipality. Likewise, the agenda indicates that local board offices need to be prepared for the logistics of an election and evaluate the materials to be needed in the next elections.

Business says we're losing out
Speaking at a recent luncheon meeting of the Corripio Communications Group, Dominican Industrial Association (AIRD) president Manuel Diez did not mince his words. He said that the country is losing any competitive edge it had. He immediately followed up on this by saying that the country has to take some bold steps in order to revive its exports. Diez complained that nothing has been done over the last few months with the exception of relaxing some regulations. Five business groups were represented at the luncheon, and they set out a national agenda to promote exports and recoup the losses of the last few years. The main points on their agenda are very plain to see: An efficient electricity supply, fiscal equality on a par with the other DR-CAFTA countries, modification of the labor laws, access to competitive financing and interest rates, freedom in choosing freight and passenger transportation, promotion of Dominican export products and training for local human resources. The proposal was backed by the AIRD, the Agro-Industrial Board (JAD), the Dominican Exporters Association (Adoexpo), the Dominican Free Zones Association (Adozona) and the National Hotels and Restaurants Association (Asonahores). On the basic points, the business groups say that they need to have reliable electricity and the ability to contract for their energy straight from the generators as non-regulated consumers under the provisions of the General Law on Electricity. On the question of financing, the sector is demanding the elimination of export taxes on assets and income earned on exports. They also want the legal framework of the free zones to be modified so that it fits in with DR-CAFTA requirements, and they want tourism to be treated as an export and be subject to taxes on the same level as in competing nations in the region. In the area of transportation, the business community is demanding the end of the unions' monopolistic practices.

Encouraging words from Insulza
In the midst of the great fears of crisis, threats and financial storms, the secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS), Jose Miguel Insulza told Listin Diario that prospects for the Dominican Republic are not negative. With Latin American governments and business communities worried about these major issues, this came as good news. He said, "I think that the Dominican Republic is one of the countries that is prepared, that has undergone good development over the last few years." For Insulza, the challenge comes from the tourism and remittance sectors, both fundamental to the Dominican economy. "These are sectors that are hard hit by the crisis. All economies are interdependent, but I think that with an effort and getting through some tough moments surely they (the DR) will come out ahead." Just minutes before, during the inauguration of the Second Hemispheric Forum of the Private Sector, the secretary general of the OAS had been more drastic: "We cannot continue saying that our economies are well prepared for the crisis." Financing for the poorest and most vulnerable countries will be one of the issues that, outside of the agenda of the final resolution, could be pushed from the V Summit of the Americas. The agenda for this meeting, which was set out long before the current world financial crisis, focuses on citizen security, environmental protection and the future of energy.

Two Canadians arrested in Cabarete
The District Attorney of the National District described the arrests as "a strong blow to international crime". El Caribe reported that the two, Marc Readman and Steve Rainville, were members of a motorbike gang known as Hell's Angels that is accused of being involved in international crime, and they were arrested on international warrants issued by the Puerto Plata and Santo Domingo District Attorneys. El Nuevo Diario says that both men are accused of as many as 22 murders and drug trafficking. The head of the National Drug Control Department (DNCD), Major General Gilberto Delgado Vasquez told the reporters that Rainville and Readman were arrested during simultaneous searches in tourist residences in Cabarete. They will be sent to Canada within the next few hours. The general said that the two men face charges of conspiracy to commit murder on 22 counts, and on drug trafficking, especially cocaine and heroin. Readman and Rainville were in possession of two 9 mm pistols and two 12 ga. shotguns. The searches, authorized by the competent authorities were carried out "in relation with a request of international cooperation made by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police," channeled through the Attorney General's office. The case has generated international media coverage.

Paya case opens with 25 accused
Eleven military personnel and fourteen civilians were accused yesterday of the crimes of drug trafficking and multiple murders, as a result of the murder of seven Colombians in an area known as Ojo de Agua, in the town of Paya in Peravia (Bani) province, in a case that the Justice Department says is linked to the to the theft of 1,300 kilograms of cocaine. The Judge of Instruction appointed to study the case files is Bartolo Castillo. Diario Libre reports that the prosecutors representing the state are Francisco Polanco, Bienvenido Fabian Melo and Dulce Maria Luciano from the National District, Peravia province prosecutor Roberto Lugo and his assistants Francis Valdez and Constantino Beltre, all of whom accepted a series of proofs and ordered the opening of the trial against the accused. They warned that there is sufficient proof, documents, materials and forensic evidence against the group. "With all certainty, we are going to prove that a quantity of drugs was introduced into the country on the night of 4 August 2008, and this was the essential cause of the murders." Polanco seemed to be sure that the Justice Department would prove its case. "We are absolutely convinced that the department will prove the facts at the opportune moment, when we reach trial." Leading the list of accused in the case files are Jose Luis Montas Vargas (El Duro Motors) and Luis Lara Martinez (El Churro), former Navy colonels Ricardo Guzman Perez and Miguel Pena Figuereo, former sergeant Antonio Manuel Roche Pineda (Quico), former captains Edward Mayobanex Rodriguez Montero (El Comando) and Jorge Luis Chalas, former major Jesus Sanchez Pina and former lieutenant Andres Tapia Balbuena.
Lara Martinez, Manuel Calvo and Jairo Rodriguez are said to be the people who coordinated the drug shipment on the ground. Others accused are the Nicaraguan survivor of the massacre, Orin Clinton Gomez Harfold, Colombian Rene Rueda Martinez or Andres Berroa Mercedes, alias "Frank el Capi or Venezuela", Freddy Manuel Encarnacion Quezada (Yeri), Victor Montas Perez, brother of "El Duro Motors", Tirson Antonio Gonzalez (Toro Bravo), Lara Martinez's driver Janeurys Manuel Calvo Tejada, Denisario Rodriguez Perez, Pedro Gonzalez Estevez (Chicho), Domingo Onesimo Marmolejos (El Ingeniero), Quilvio Santana Feliz (El Chivo), Joaquin Feliz Perez (Colorao), Noe Martin Sterling Villalon, the son of Barahona Senator Noe Sterling Vasquez, Alexander Restrepo Carmona, Augusto Alberto Deneris Andujar, Felix Mora Terrero and lawyer Jose Sime Cisneros
Former National Police major Frederick Guillermo Medina Abud, who is in jail in connection with the case, was left off this list by the prosecutors "because in reference to this accused, the investigation carried out objectively and carefully by the justice department did not find sufficient elements of proof that tie him with the events of Paya." They said that in the case of the former police officer, an illegal weapon was found during a search, and that is why he is awaiting trial.

Barrio Summits continue
National District DA Alejandro Moscoso Segarra and National Police chief Rafael Guillermo Guzman Fermin have promised to listen to complaints and opinions of the residents of the capital's most populous poor neighborhoods, and to provide concrete solutions for combating crime and violence in all their shapes and forms. According to Listin Diario, these pledges were made during yesterday's Second Barrio Summit held in Gualey. Community leaders, residents, and generally people interested in improving their communities also attended the summit. Moscoso Segarra said, "We have the duty to fight criminals and crime, and we are going to do it with all the resources at our disposal". The men and women of the community then got together in discussion groups to draw up their proposals in writing. The greatest social concerns expressed by the inhabitants of the barrios in northern Santo Domingo include small-scale drug trafficking, murders and crime in general, which apparently comes and goes in cycles. In the face of this situation, the crime fighting organizations have worked hard to take "well structured scientific programming" to these areas and in a few months and weeks this should show positive results, according to Moscoso Segarra. The District Attorney and the Chief of Police listened to the community leaders and shared their experiences during the meeting, which was held at a community center in Gualey, for several hours yesterday afternoon. Moscoso Segarra told reporters that he would not only listen to the needs of the barrios but would do all he could to solve them.

Doctors' march ends in violence
Without even trying, doctors and other health sector workers engaged in the fight for higher wages managed to grab public attention when a group of policemen commanded by Colonel Hilario Ventura abruptly interrupted a peaceful march by the health professionals yesterday. It all happened when doctors, members of the Health Sector Unions coordinating committee, medical students and Falpo members (the Broad Front of Popular Organizations) were marching along Las Americas Avenue, and upon reaching the intersection with Venezuela Avenue, the police, with batons in hand and wielding assault rifles, tried to stop the doctors from advancing. There, according to Diario Libre reporters, both parties started pushing, shoving and throwing punches, and the police even threw tear gas canisters, on the grounds that the doctors did not have permission to march. "They cannot block traffic, that is what we demand, and we are going to stop this any way we can," said Colonel Ventura, before proceeding to throw a tear gas canister into the group of marchers, causing commotion. The march started from the Dario Contreras Hospital and as well as the incident with the police, it did block traffic for a few moments.

Blackouts increase
Power cuts will continue over the next few days because most of the Ege-Haina generators are out of service, and now it has been announced that the AES Andres generating facility will go off-line from 20 April to 18 May for its yearly maintenance work. According to Diario Libre, this generator produces 300 megawatts. Nonetheless AES will continue to supply some 400 megawatts with the Itabo I and 2 and Los Mina 5 and 6. The routine maintenance of the generating station is included in the Programmed Maintenance 2009 of the National Interconnected Electric System (SENI) that takes place between the months of September and November each year.
 
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