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Daily News - Monday, 20 April 2009

Positive reviews on Summit
President Leonel Fernandez has described this weekend's Summit of the Americas as a positive encounter between regional leaders. The Summit, which took place in Trinidad and Tobago, was a long awaited event. Fernandez said that US President Barack Obama was highly receptive to the issues facing the region. Fernandez joined President Obama during a separate meeting with leaders from Central America and Panama. Fernandez, who departed for the meeting on Friday, returned to the DR on Sunday, arriving at the San Isidro airbase. According to Fernandez, the US has agreed to increase funding in the areas of immigration, drugs, prosperity and security.
According to Listin Diario, Fernandez has accomplished his goals for the Summit. Fernandez met the new US President for the first time and had a brief chat with him a few moments before the summit's official photo was taken. Fernandez also made an appeal for continued support for neighboring nation Haiti by putting a moratorium on loans or restructuring the payment of interest rates on those loans.
The President also lobbied the US for more funds to fight drug trafficking in the DR, saying that US$2.5 million as part of the Merida Initiative was simply not enough. Fernandez argues that the region's drug problem is also a concern for national safety in the US and that a failed state in the DR could prove a real threat to US security. Fernandez also told a Dominican journalist covering the conference that regional leaders have discussed the possibility of holding a meeting to tackle the drug issue in greater depth. Details on that proposed meeting were not given. Fernandez says he made informal contacts with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, Daniel Ortega from Nicaragua, Alvaro Uribe from Colombia and Ecuador's Rafael Correa and said the Summit was one more step towards easing regional tensions.

Secretary Clinton visits Hispaniola
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the island of Hispaniola on Thursday and Friday last week, making several announcements in support of education, sustainable agriculture and the fight against drug trafficking.
For Haiti, Secretary of State Clinton announced US$287 million in aid for 2009, primarily for road building projects. She also announced "a significant contribution towards the retirement of Haiti's debt to free up money the government can use on pressing needs, as well as helping the Haitian police to fight drug traffickers. "We wish to support food security and sustainable agriculture. We know Haiti used to be self-sufficient in agriculture, and we want to help Haiti achieve that status again," she said, speaking during her visit to Haiti.
"What we must do is to build up the means of sustainable production and distribution. For this, we must harness the power of agriculture to reduce hunger and drive economic growth. I can give you two examples. In the 1980s, as recently as then, Haiti was self-sufficient for food. It even exported. Today, it imports food. And anyone who has, as I have, flown across this great island going from Haiti to the Dominican Republic, you see starkly, the erosion, the lack of trees, the lack of cultivatable land. And then you cross the border and you see green."
Clinton said: "We want to work on sustainable agriculture. This is an area where the United States and the Dominican Republic will work very closely together. The Bilateral Commission will begin working on the issues. The United States stands ready to assist Haiti and to work with the Dominican Republic to provide a greater opportunity for the people of Haiti. This is a complex challenge, but we are very committed to working together and we think we can make a difference."
During her visit to Santo Domingo, she announced that the United States would add $12.5 million for the extension of the Center for Excellence for Teacher Training Program (CETT) to enhance teacher training, to work on school curricula and supplies, in mathematics, and in language instruction, to help with school governance. "This program is proving to be, in partnership with the Ministry of Education here, such a success that we're not only expanding it to 450 schools in the Dominican Republic, but we want the Dominican Republic to serve as the model for the expansion of this program throughout the region," she said. USAID, the DR Ministry of Higher Education and the PUCMM University are partners in this program.
She also addressed the issue of drug trafficking: "The third area is perhaps the most fundamental of all. It is hard for people to escape poverty or fulfill their potential when they're not physically safe in their homes and neighborhoods, their schools, their workplaces, or on the roads traveling for commerce or pleasure. So none of the advances that we make can be achieved without improvements in public safety and efforts to stem all forms of violence, including violence in the home. We all think about the violence that the drug traffickers bring with them, and this must be our highest priority. The United States must work to reduce demand for drugs and stem the flow of guns and drug profits traveling from our country for use in the drug trade.
"There are many aspects of fighting the drug gangs and the narco-traffickers that we have to address. On the supply side, we have to do a better job in the United States. But countries like the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and others, you must get on top of this supply issue very soon. Because what drug traffickers will do is try to get people in your country addicted to drugs, so that if times are tough or they want to make extra money, they don't just have to think about the American - the United States market. They can think about the market nearer to home, safer. So there must be a public outcry against the drug traffickers trying to addict young people in all of the countries of the region."
She also made the points: "Well, I have been very candid in saying that the United States shares responsibility for the upsurge in drug trafficking and related lawlessness and violence because of the big demands within the United States. And that is why we want to work closely together with the Government of the Dominican Republic to come up with a plan that will work. There will be an important meeting in - next month in the region to discuss how we can better coordinate our efforts, what the United States can contribute in the forms of assistance, training, equipping, logistics in respect to preventing the continuing efforts of the drug traffickers not only to peddle their drugs, but to corrupt officials, intimidate people, take over areas within countries if they are able to do so."
During her visit, she asked President Fernandez for increased cooperation with regional partners. "The United States is and will be investing millions of dollars in improved law enforcement, improved information gathering and sharing, improved judicial systems and public institutions throughout our hemisphere. The Dominican Republic is doing its part. President Fernandez is showing leadership. He will be hosting a public security meeting later this year so countries in our hemisphere can discuss together how we will fight the drug-fueled crime and lawlessness we face.
And I did ask President Fernandez to work with us and assume an even greater leadership position in the region to work with the Central American and Caribbean countries on all of these challenges and opportunities".
During her visit, Secretary Clinton spoke of her personal emotional ties to the island of Hispaniola. As a newlywed, she visited Haiti, and the DR was the setting for the first vacation the presidential couple took at the end of the Clinton administration.

Funding for agriculture
The US and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) have announced US$1.1 million in funding to improve agricultural training, marketing and planning more profitable crops along the Haiti-DR border. The initiative is being implemented by the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF). "This project will improve the lives of thousands of small-plot and subsistence farmers," says John Sanbrailo, Executive Director of PADF. "This new funding builds on PADF's successful record of being a catalyst for sustainable economic development along the border."
With funding from the US Mission to the Organization of American States (OAS) and the IDB, the PADF will teach farmers how to manage and sell more profitable crops, create business plans, to apply for government loans and credits and reach more consumers.
The one-year initiative allows PADF to work with 30 producer groups in seven communities on both sides of the border. In the Dominican Republic, PADF will work in Pedernales, Comendador and Dajabon. In the Haiti, PADF will focus on Anse-a-Pitre, Fonds Verrettes, Belladere and Ouanaminthe. Assistant Secretary General of the OAS and chair of the Haiti Support Group, Ambassador Albert Ramdin, called on other countries to allocate more resources to this border region.

OTTT director fired
The Fernandez administration has dismissed the director of the Ground Transport Office (OTTT), Franklin Beltre Cabral. An investigative report by TV journalist Nuria Piera broadcast in February presented proof of widespread corruption in his management of the OTTT. The Executive Branch announced that he would be replaced by engineer Angel Maria Segura, former director of transport at the Santo Domingo municipality. During the TV report, Piera confronted Beltre with evidence that his payroll included several members of his family, as well as friends. Beltre candidly confirmed these accusations. The journalist also questioned the source of funding of a US$60,000 vehicle, when his salary was RD$70,000.
During the interview he admitted that when he took office 433 people were on the payroll, while now there are more than 2,000.

Another corruption scandal
Nuria Piera's Saturday show featured another case of blatant corruption in government. This time, she focused on the director of the Blackout Reduction Program (PRA) Marcos Lara Lorenzo, who has been in the post for six months. The PRA is a government program aimed at reducing consumer electricity fraud. Diario Libre gives front page coverage to the investigative report, revealing that the PRA payroll includes several of Lara's relatives, that funds were used for religious and political projects, and the existence of a RD$45,000 monthly paycheck to the director's ex-wife. Piera revealed that he has appointed more than 30 members of the church he founded at the end of 2007. The PRA is a dependency of the CDEEE. Lara argues that he made the appointments so that he would have people he trusted at his side.

Computer consultant denies JCE charge
Luis Rafael Sanchez Compres denies that he stole software used in the Dominican Republic 2008 presidential election for application in this year's elections in El Salvador. He said that Universal Identification Solutions contracted him as a consultant, and that this company had created the El Salvador package from zero, according to the stipulations of the El Salvador electoral authorities. He said that once the El Salvador elections were over, the UIS requested his services, and that was why he resigned from the JCE on 18 March. He said it was "impossible and illogical" to have stolen the program and applied it in another country, as Roberto Rosario, administrative judge of the JCE has accused him of doing, as reported in Diario Libre.

Abortion figures tell the real story
While abortion is debated in Congress, the statistics are startling. Hoy, quoting unofficial sources, writes that between 100,000 and 150,000 abortions are performed in the DR each year, close to 80% in teenagers. According to directors at Maternidad La Altagracia, the largest Maternity Hospital in the DR, there were 6,300 abortions at that hospital alone, with many girls and women arriving at the hospital suffering from botched procedures. Many women use a product labeled as Misoprostol, which induces bleeding, in their homes and then go to local hospitals so that doctors can finish the procedure and clean them up.
The San Lorenzo Maternity ward at the Los Minas Hospital reported 5,000 abortions in 2007, and figures are about the same for 2008. Officials say there has been a growth in the need for the procedures with many hospitals around the country opening new sections for abortions. Doctors interviewed by Hoy, who remained anonymous, say that if the Constitution is reformed and article 30, which recognizes the right to life from the moment of conception, is ratified, doctors would have to allow bleeding mothers to die, as they would be arrested for aiding in an abortion.
The Catholic Church is pressuring the government to maintain a total ban on abortion.

Blackouts could return
Though there has been relative stability in the DR's energy sector of late, Listin Diario is reporting that this summer could see the return of rolling blackouts and limited energy production. According to the newspaper, the energy boat that was supposed to arrive in the DR at the end of this month has yet to leave the Philippines and the commission set up to study the details of the arrival of the Philippine ship has reported nothing on the boat's status. The barges were expected to add 242 MW of energy to the DR's power grid. Admitting that the barges have yet to leave for the DR, officials are looking for new alternatives for solving the problem. Listin Diario reports that the East Asian Power Resource Corporation has the barges in operation, but financial and legal issues are making it difficult to allow the barges to head towards the DR. Representatives for the State-run Electric Companies (CDEEE) have told CDEEE vice president Radhames Segura to forget about the barges. Other issues facing the energy sector include the AES's recent announcement that its power plant will be out of service for its yearly maintenance.

Fighting rabies
Minister of Public Health Bautista Rojas Gomez has said that increased measures to fight the spread of rabies in animals will be taken and that vaccinations of street dogs and cats will be stepped up over the next few weeks. He added that Ministry of Public Health vets vaccinated 10,000 dogs and cats during the weekend and that the project will be extended nationwide. Media coverage on rabies increased as last week a child and a woman were hospitalized with the disease, raising concerns about a possible outbreak. Kerlin David Flores and Martha Laura de Jesus remain in critical condition after being bitten by a dog and a cat.

Agro-alimentaria bears fruit
The Center for Exports & Investments (CEI-RD) has issued a report with the results of Agroalimentaria 2009, the DR's leading farm production export fair held on 4-7 March. CEI-RD says that participants received orders for US$230 million during the event, and another US$312 million worth is being negotiated. CEI-RD says that the numbers prove that the event is a vehicle for establishing trade relations that in the short and medium term could produce US$542 million in sales, as reported in Listin Diario. During the fair, 650 rounds of pre-arranged talks were held. An estimated 10,000 members of the general public also attended the event held at the Dominican Fiesta conference hall. The event was organized by the Dominican Agribusiness Board (JAD) with the support of the CEI-RD.

Son of deputy shot
On Saturday Wellington Molina, son of Deputy Rafael Molina, was seriously injured during an attempted robbery. Molina, 35, was shot in the leg, in the forearm and in the face, losing his left eye. His vehicle was rammed from behind, and he was attacked by the occupants of the other car after getting out of his to check the damage. He is still in serious condition. The incident occurred on Privada Avenue on the corner of Camila Henriquez Street. Molina's father asked President Leonel Fernandez to open an investigation into the incident. He also commented that democracy is affected when the citizenry cannot trust security agencies.

Wessin y Wessin dies
Military Elias Wessin y Wessin passed away over the weekend and was buried at the Puerta del Cielo cemetery with full military honors. Wessin continues to be a controversial figure in Dominican history with some calling him a patriot of the nation while others label him a traitor. Wessin was the leader of the 1963 coup d'etat that pushed democratically elected president Juan Bosch out of power only seven months after he was elected.

Cleopatra's lawyer
The archeological find by Dominican Kathleen Martinez is sending ripples through history circles around the world, as her discovery could have a major impact on the way that history views Cleopatra and Marc Anthony. In an interview with CNN correspondent Ben Wedeman, Martinez spoke of her fascination with the Egyptian queen, saying that as a child she had heard scholarly discussions about Cleopatra. "They were speaking very badly about her and about her image," she recalled. "I got very upset. I said I didn't believe what they are saying, that I needed to study more about her." Martinez added that because of the negative publicity Cleopatra has received over the centuries she wants to be "Cleopatra's lawyer."

Book Fair opens today
The 2009 Santo Domingo Book Fair, which opens today, is dedicated to Dominican writer and politician Juan Bosch and features Brazil as the special guest nation. The Fair will continue until 3 May. A special display celebrating 35 years of the Bahia carnival will include costumes from all the samba schools, produced by Brazilian artist Alberto Pitta. The celebration of Brazil as special guest nation comes at a time when DR-Brazilian relations have increased during Leonel Fernandez's tenure as president of the DR and is marked by the recent opening of the Brazilian cultural center, at Calle Hermanos Deligne 52 in Santo Domingo's Gazcue sector. The fair, now in its 12th year, includes 2,300 planned activities with 152 lectures, 175 workshops, 41 debates, 89 readings and 7 panel discussions. There are also expected to be 650 exhibitions and 1,125 artistic performances.

New history book in the works
The Dominican Academy of History has embarked on a three-year project to publish a six-book series on the "General History of the Dominican People". The government is providing RD$15 million to fund the project that involves 72 writers, most from the Dominican Republic. The general coordinator is Roberto Cassa, who also serves as director of the National General Archives.

Sports roundup
In only his second year in the league, Al Horford has become a force in the NBA and could be a key piece in pulling off a first-round drubbing in this year's 2009 playoffs. The Hawks however are not a sleeper team this year, as they were last year, posting a 47-win season, their first wining campaign since 1999. During this weekend's game against the Miami Heat, Horford scored 14 points, grabbed 9 rebounds and played stellar defense as the Hawks pounded the Heat 90 - 64. The next game is in Atlanta on Wednesday.
In his first major competitive match since the Beijing Olympics, taekwondo champion Gabriel Mercedes beat Croatian Teakwood athlete Philip Grgic, 705. Mercedes's fight was the last event of the II American Teakwood Tour, and was held at the Juan Pablo Duarte Olympic Stadium's Volleyball Center.
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