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Daily News - Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Article 30 passed
Article 30, a controversial piece of legislation that establishes the right to life "from conception until natural death" was passed by the Constitutional Reform Revisory Assembly yesterday, with a vote of 167 in favor to 32 against. The article has drawn staunch criticism from doctors, social groups and women's organizations, which argued it excluded exceptions to the total ban on abortions that had been allowed in the case of pregnancies resulting from rape and incest and when the mother's life was at risk. The approved wording had the strong support of the Catholic Church. Listin Diario says the DR is now the first country to have the issue of abortion mentioned in its Constitution and this could mean that the issue could be blocked from going to Congress or the Penal Code to be overturned. The PRSC and PRD voting blocks backed the proposal while the PLD's voting block was divided on the issue. Listin Diario writes that 32 members of the PLD have voiced their support for abortion in exceptional circumstances, and some legislators believed the issue should be addressed in the Penal Code.
Former Vice President Milagros Ortiz Bosch said the congressional approval of Art. 30 as proposed by President Leonel Fernandez is a setback for the country. She said politics prevailed in the congressional vote. "The parties think they will gain votes where they have never gotten them. It is representing the people how power should be exercised," she said. She says that a more modern wording should have been drafted in tune with the present times.

Start sex ed earlier
The National Children and Youth Council (CONANI) is calling for the authorities to provide sex education at an earlier age, as a way of counteracting the increased levels of sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancies among teenagers. Conani's health coordinator Josefina Luna says that many Dominican children have had their first sexual experience by the age of 13 and that this is a cause for concern. Luna believes that educating children on the subject will help teenagers adopt a more responsible attitude towards sex.

Customs offers bakery
The Department of Customs (DGA) is offering Dajabon businessmen involved in the used clothing trade to install a multi-million peso modern bakery, so these can find a new way to make a living. The Department of Customs has given traders in used clothing a year to get out of the business. Miguel Cocco, director of DGA, says that commitments signed in the DR-CAFTA impede the government from continuing to not fulfill the Dominican law that outlaws importing used clothing. Cocco says that there are more jobs lost by seamstresses and tailors with the importing of the clothing, than those that are created for merchants.

France offers loan
The Ministry of Hacienda has announced that the French government is offering the DR a US$100 million loan to be invested in the areas of the environment and water. Minister of Hacienda Vicente Bengoa said the loan would have a 30-year financing with a 0.75% LIBOR rate. Bengoa pointed out that it was an extremely soft loan, which is very hard to come by, even among multilateral financing institutions. French Ambassador to the DR Roland Dubertrand said that France is continuing to offer support and cooperation to the DR through the French Development Agency (FDA).

DR ranks high in Eco list
The DR ranked 33rd on the 2008 Environmental Performance Index (EPI), which "centers on two broad environmental protection objectives: reducing environmental stresses on human health, and promoting ecosystem vitality and sound natural resource management." Data was collected for 149 countries, with Switzerland making it to the top of the list as the cleanest country in the world. Neighboring country Haiti is ranked in 119th place. The list is compiled on the basis of 25 environmental indicators, including environmental health, ecosystem vitality, biodiversity, climate change and natural resources.

Mexican investment grows
Mexican investment in the DR represented 39% of all investment in the country between 2000 and 2008, reaching a total value of US$4.5 billion. Center for Exports and Investment (CEI-RD) director Eddy Martinez says that total Mexican investment in the DR was worth US$11.5 billion. According to Martinez, Mexican businesses in the DR have created 23,000 jobs in diverse sectors such as free trade zones, food production, services and tourism. Martinez also said that Dominican exports to Mexico totaled US$137.3 million. The larger Mexican investments are the cement factory Cemex, Yoplait-Sigma factory, Telmex-America Movil investment in Claro Codetel, Moon Palace Resort in the Punta Cana area, among others.

Farmers throw beans
Angered at the slump in sales resulting from competition with cheaper imported products, some 1,200 farmers from the south western province of San Juan de la Maguana protested outside the Congress building in Santo Domingo yesterday, peppering it with 150 quintals (1qq = 100lbs) of beans and onions. Farmers say that the increase in imports has led to a loss of 400,000 quintals of beans and onions and they claim that the government owes them RD$1.15 billion. Hoy reports that bean and onion farmers from the province have as many as 250,000 quintals in storage, which may not be sold because the market has been flooded with imported products. Osmar Benitez, vice president of the Dominican Agro-business Council (JAD) is calling on the government to intervene by storing some of the beans and onions to prevent them from spoiling while they wait to be sold. Benitez, speaking on behalf of the farmers, said that too many beans and onions have been imported.

Another official fired
Vice President of the State-run Electricity Companies Radhames Segura has announced the dismissal of Marcos Lara and his team, including all high-ranking employees of the government institution. Lara served as director of the Blackout Reduction Program (PRA) until he came under fire for alleged corruption. Lara's dismissal followed an investigative TV report by Nuria Peria, revealing irregularities in his administration of the PRA. Segura announced that Lara would receive no pay after his dismissal and that a temporary commission would be appointed to run the PRA. Speaking at a press conference, Segura said that an audit of the PRA had begun on 10 March and the results would be handed over to the Department for the Persecution of Administrative Corruption, the Chamber of Accounts and the Comptroller's Department. "If the audit finds that Lara or any of his colleagues should be tried for their actions then they should pay the consequences without full support". Segura said that rumors about Lara's corruption had been circulating for several weeks and that Lara had been using public money to build a church. It was also rumored that he was in the habit of asking employees for donations to his church. There have also been allegations of nepotism during Lara's administration.

Paya case starts in May
Judge Michael Castillo has set 14 May as the date for the preliminary hearings into the Paya massacre. The report on the case, which was released last week, accuses 25 men of complicity in the drug-related massacre that left 7 men dead in Bani, Peravia province. However, the report has been strongly criticized for not identifying any of the high-ranking officials who were originally named as responsible for running the drug smuggling operation.
Peravia senator Wilton Guerrero claims that the investigators have not yet gotten to the top of the operation, nor have they revealed the whereabouts of the money and the 1,500 kilos of cocaine that motivated the assault. "We have said that some things that appear to be finished are lacking; one says, well, this is almost perfecto, but they have not plucked the tail. In this case we say that what is missing is not to pluck the tail, rather they still need to present the head," he said as reported in El Caribe.

Customs seizes truck, money
The Customs Department (DGA) has announced the seizure of US$345,856 in cash found hidden inside a 1984 Ford truck. The truck arrived in the DR from Puerto Rico on the Ferries del Caribe Caribbean Express line. The truck had arrived at the San Souci Port, but after noticing the owner's strange behavior, officials decided to take the truck to the Multimodal Caucedo Port for X ray scanning. The money was then found in three packets wrapped in black plastic bags.

Dotel gets a Presidential hug
White Sox pitcher Octavio Dotel has had some memorable moments as a Major League pitcher, but his meeting with President Barack Obama is one he will surely remember. During a brief meeting at the White House, Obama shook hands with players and managers from the Chicago team, when he reached Dotel the Dominican-born pitcher asked for a hug and the President responded, "Of course." President Obama has been described as the White Sox's No. 1 Fan and Dotel later commented, "I saw the opportunity to ask for a hug. That was really nice of him. He knows a lot about us. He noticed that we've been playing well lately. He's a big fan." He continued by saying, "It was like I won the World Series," Dotel said. "I was nervous and sweating. But it was a great moment, I'm telling you."

Pedro rumors resurface
Rumors about Pedro Martinez's future are once again swirling. Martinez has yet to sign with a MLB team and was previously linked to the LA Dodgers and LA Angels. Both teams denied the rumors, but the LA Times is reporting that the Angels have indeed contacted Martinez. Nothing has been confirmed, but the next time we see the future Hall of Famer, he could be wearing an Angels uniform.
In other baseball news the Tampa Bay Devil Rays have inaugurated their new DR baseball training facility in Guerra, to the east of Santo Domingo. The complex cost RD$3 million to build and has capacity for 80 players and 20 instructors. It also includes a study area, weight room, office space, clinic, kitchen and dining area. With this investment the Rays have committed to the continued development of Dominican prospects in the DR.
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