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Daily News - Friday, 17 April 2009

Fernandez leaves today
President Leonel Fernandez is scheduled to leave for Trinidad and Tobago today, arriving on the Caribbean island at 4pm. Fernandez will be attending the Fifth Summit of the Americas, during which 34 heads of state and presidents from the Americas will meet to discuss regional policy. Fernandez will depart for the San Isdiro Air Base moments after he finishes his meetings with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Fernandez will stay in Trinidad and Tobago until Sunday. US President Barack Obama will also be attending the Summit, but he is not scheduled to meet with Fernandez in an official capacity.

Clinton arrives
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived at Las Americas International Airport at 6:35pm yesterday. This is Clinton's first visit to the DR in her official capacity as Secretary of State. Clinton then made her way to the Presidential Palace with strict security measures in place and attended a dinner hosted by President Leonel Fernandez and his wife Margarita Cedeno, in the company of 17 other invitees. Presidency Minister Cesar Pina Toribio, Foreign Relations Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso and other members of Fernandez's cabinet were at the dinner. International celebrities like former Major League ball player Sammy Sosa, Spanish singer Julio Iglesias and Dominican fashion designer Oscar de la Renta were also present. Clinton, who arrived in the DR following on from a visit to Haiti, called for the US and the DR to invest jointly in Haiti and said that the US was interested in installing twin factories working in coordination with each other on both sides of the DR - Haiti border in order to create jobs in both countries. Clinton also encouraged Dominican tourism investors to build hotels in Haiti. Clinton said, "We are good friends and allies of this country and it is a great honor to be here on an official visit, this time as a representative of the US government".

PLD divided on abortion
There appears to be a rift within the PLD ranks when it comes to the sensitive issue of abortion. During constitutional reform discussions yesterday, 22 PLD legislators led by Victor Terrero defended the right to "therapeutic" abortion, defined as permissible in exceptional cases like a pregnancy resulting from rape, incest, a non-viable fetus or when the mother's life is at serious risk. This development was met with shock and opposition with many members of the Revisory Assembly. Also, surprising was the announcement by PRD representative Jorge Frias who, after announcing his adherence to Catholicism, argued for a secular government, limiting the role of the clergy to "saving souls." Frias, taking direct shots at Cardinal Nicolas de Jesus Lopez Rodriguez added that the Cardinal should not call legislators "butchers" just because they have a particular stance on abortion. Frias went on to say that state funds used to fund the building churches should be used to help the poor, adding "I am a social democrat, thinking like Mao Tse Tung." Listin Diario reports that a commission from the Catholic Church was not allowed to observe the proceedings because it was not accredited. Abortion, always a hot-button issue, has led to long discussions during the Revisory Assembly meetings, and after a marathon session yesterday lasting till 12:20am, Assembly president Reinaldo Pared Perez adjourned debates on the topic until 21 April at 3pm. According to Article 8 of the Revisory Assembly rules, after eight hours of work all debates must be suspended and reconvened on a later date.

Reducing the church's role
The latest round of discussions on constitutional reform has allowed for many opinions to be expressed about the role of the Catholic Church's role in Dominican life. Though wielding large power and influence on public and social policy, legislators have conceded that if politicians are willing to limit the role of the Catholic Church in government, they should start by governing more effectively. Assembly member Pelegrin Castillo, quoted in Hoy, said that for religious groups to have a reduced influence in Dominican politics, politicians needed to do a better job. He added that churches, and the Catholic Church in particular, have a real and palpable role in Dominican politics, as does private business, but added that if "we want these institutions to have less influence, we have to do a better job legislating." Comments by the Catholic Church in recent weeks, especially on the abortion issue, have demonstrated the continued influence of the Church in forming policy.

Limiting the role of women
During yesterday's Revisory Assembly meetings, Assembly members rejected several motions on the issue of sex discrimination and the protection of women's rights. PRSC legislator Agnes Berenice Contreras has warned that with this vote "men are trying to cut down the women's proposals." She added that women are discriminated against both economically and politically, even though they make up 52% of the population. PLD member Yudelka de la Rosa's proposal to modify Article 29 of the Constitution on equal treatment, was denied. De la Rosa proposed that the phrase "balanced participation" be changed to "equitable participation". In the same article a motion to guarantee equal pay for men and women was also rejected.

Williams meets with commission
Embattled Senator (PLD, San Pedro de Macoris) Alejandro Williams finally met with the Senate Ethics Committee yesterday, and said he was willing to apologize to the three journalists who were harassed by a private investigator he hired. Williams said that the investigators, who had posed as members of the US FBI, had been hired on the suggestion of his US lawyer. Williams denied rumors that the Committee was going to call for his resignation. Though Williams has continued his work as a New York dentist as if nothing were amiss, he left the Ethics Committee meeting with a much more subdued demeanor. Williams will now await the Commission's recommendations and said he abide by them.

Drug report not enough
A report discussing the results of investigations into the August 2008 Paya drug massacres, only scratches the surface of the thriller-like drug plot, and according to Senator Wilton Guerrero, it's not good enough. The Senator, who up until recently received continuous media coverage for his outraged reaction to the case, says that the report omitted the most important detail - the identity of the person who planned the killings of seven men and who took the drugs (1,200 kilos of cocaine) and money involved. The report, which was produced by a special investigatory commission, lacks concrete information on the identity of the masterminds behind the gruesome crime, or the alleged high-ranking military, political and private sector involvement. Guerrero added that there is a feeling among the public that the special commission produced the report with the aim of quickly closing the case, without raising dust on the matter. He added that the 14 civilians and 11 military officials named in the report are at the core of the drug massacre. The report says that of the missing 1,200 kilos, accused former Navy Colonel Ricardo Guzman Perez held 600 kilos at his home. The 94-page report, which doesn't reveal any new information, states that the massacre of seven men in Paya came about after one drug dealing gang tried to muscle in on a rival gang's smuggling operation by stealing a drug shipment.

Doctors' strike continues
Attendance at public sector hospitals was minimal yesterday as doctors entered into the last day of their latest three-day strike. Dominican Medical Association (CMD) president Waldo Ariel Suero said that even if the government doesn't have the money to pay for a wage increase the CMD will continue striking until they meet their objectives. Judging by yesterday's comments from Minister of Economy, Planning and Development Temistocles Montas, these strikes may continue for some time. Quoted in Hoy, Montas said there is not even the slightest chance that doctors will get a pay raise. He added that if the doctors didn't receive a pay raise when the 2009 budget was being drawn up it is impossible for them to get the pay raise now, as the government's revenues have dropped significantly. He says the country is going through a crisis that limits the government's ability to pay the doctors higher wages. Hoy reports that the only doctors providing services include those employed by the armed forces, as they are not allowed to go on strike. Some hospitals, including Padre Billini and Luis Aybar, closed their doors to the public.

Travel fraud thwarted
Sixteen Dominicans are in police custody after trying to board a Vision of the Sea cruise ship headed to the Caribbean island of St Maarten. Diario Libre reports that the would-be passengers tried to board to boat with fake passports, passing themselves off as citizens of the island, but their plan was foiled after officials noticed that they were speaking with Dominican accents. The leader of the group was Silveria Fulgencio Lopez, who was paid RD$150,000 by each group member. In turn, Lopez had paid Sans Souci Port employee Marcos Antonio Ogando US$600 to help her get the group onto the ship. Lopez tried to flee with Ogando's help, but was apprehended by police.

Dominican finds mummies
She was looking for the tomb of Cleopatra and luckily stumbled upon 27 other tombs and 10 mummies, two of which were wrapped in gold. The discoveries were made by Dominican archeologist Dr. Kathleen Martinez, who with her findings confirmed a theory she proposed in 2005 about the remains in the Egyptian temples of Taposiris Magna. Martinez, leader of the expedition, says that the tombs contained coins with the faces of Cleopatra and Alexander the Great, beer and wine jars and a funeral mask, among other things. Personal artifacts that were found are believed to date back to between 323 to 30 BCE. Details of the findings were announced by Martinez during a press conference in Egypt, where she works at the Dominican Embassy. According to reports, the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities allowed radar technology to be used in the searches, which made it easier to find the tombs that are 20 meters below ground. Excavations should start within the next few weeks. Cooperation in this joint project between the DR and Egypt began three years ago, directed by Dr. Zahi Hawass, the Minister of the Supreme Council of Antiquities.

Watch your name
The Central Electoral Board (JCE) has passed a resolution prohibiting parents from giving their children odd names. The resolution, seemingly out of place, will prohibit parents from giving their children names that are "extravagant, deceptive, vulgar, foreign or don't allow to clearly determine the child's sex." The measure was passed because of the large number of names in the Civil Registry that make references to the body, clothing lines, commercials, movie characters and vulgar slang terms. Though the Registry is filled with common last names such as Sanchez, Ramirez, Rodriguez and Martinez, Dominicans have become experts on thinking up creative names for their children. Some examples include "Baby Ruth Tejada", "Nat King Cole Martinez Mejia", "Daewoo Garcia", "Mazda Ramirez" and "Herpes Montero."
For a small list of peculiar, but genuine names, click here: www.dr1.com/forums/clown-bin/73832-think-before-you-name-your-children.html

NBA Dominicans shine
Though baseball is still the national sport, Dominicans in the NBA are making their compatriots proud with their continued play and commitment to their communities. Sophomore forward Al Horford avoided the "sophomore slump" this year and continued building on what is expected to be a stellar career. Horford, a native of Puerto Plata, led all Latino players with 95 blocks this year. Horford also pulled down 9.3 rebounds per game, a total of 624 in 67 games. Horford's play was key in taking the Atlanta Hawks to the playoffs for the second season in a row. Charlie Villanueva, born to Dominican parents in NY, averaged 16 points per game this season with 6 rebounds per game and 56 total blocks. Villanueva, who plays for the Milwaukee Bucks, proved he could play in the NBA after a teammate's injury forced him to step up his play. He is among this year's candidates for the most improves players award. Francisco Garcia continued his improvement as a player for the Sacramento Kings, averaging 12 points per game with 4 assists and 3 blocks per games, as well as 1 steal per game.
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