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Daily News - Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Housing for hurricane victims
Yesterday, President Leonel Fernandez inaugurated two housing projects for victims of tropical storms Olga and Noel that affected the DR in late 2007. The housing projects, built for a total of RD$115,008,556 will house 206 families in Bani, near the community of Canafistol. In all, the government says it has given Olga and Noel victims a total of 1,394 houses since the storms hit, with 1,096 more housing units still due to be delivered.

Concerns grow over flu
Deputy Minister for Collective Public Health Dr. Nelson Rodriguez says that a 23-year old Mexican beautician who arrived in the DR on Monday is suspected of having swine flu. Hoy reports that the patient, who is hospitalized at Santo Domingo's Corazones Unidos clinic with flu symptoms, had recently visited Mexico City, where most cases have been reported. The woman, who has not been named, has been tested and her results are being studied at the Dominican-Japanese Medical Center (Cemadoja). If she tests positive for swine flu, the results will then be sent to the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia.
Health officials expect health and safety measures at all airports to control the spread of the disease. Minister of Health Bautista Rojas Gomez announced that Las Americas Airport (AILA) would receive three large thermal cameras to test passengers as they arrive in the country. Punta Cana Airport has announced that it has already installed a thermal camera to test arriving travelers for fever.
The Ministry of Education has asked schools to inform students about the flu. School officials say they are on alert in case there is an outbreak and UASD University officials are also coordinating efforts to monitor the development and spread of the flu with the Ministry of Public Health and the Risks Commission.
The Dominican Teachers Association (ADP) has announced that in the case of an outbreak all schools will be closed to limit the spread of the disease.
Last night President Leonel Fernandez set aside RD$50 million for the purchase of 500,000 anti-viral tablets and surgical masks as preventive measures against the swine flu. Minister Rojas said that the flu vaccines and the masks would be distributed free of charge.
El Caribe reports that swine flu symptoms differ from the common cold in that there is no nose congestion, but there are usually chills, some sneezing, severe headaches and chest pains, plus the characteristic high fever.

PUJ Airport checks for fever
The Punta Cana International Airport, that has the most traffic in the DR, has installed a thermal camera to detect incoming passengers who may be suffering from fever. Anyone found to have a fever will be taken to a special area for further check-ups. The measure was adopted to help prevent the entry of the swine flu infection to the Dominican Republic and mitigate possible contamination.
Nevertheless, Gregory Hard of the World Health Organization says that border controls are not effective and he questioned the value of the fever-detecting machines.
The WHO says that as of 28 April, seven countries had officially reported cases of swine influenza A/H1N1 infection - US: 64 laboratory confirmed human cases, with no deaths; Mexico: 26 confirmed human cases, with seven deaths. Countries with confirmed cases but no deaths are Canada (6), New Zealand (3), the United Kingdom (2), Israel (2) and Spain (2).
WHO advises no restrictions on regular travel or border crossings. It is considered prudent for people who are ill to delay international travel and for people developing symptoms following international travel to seek medical attention, in line with guidance from national authorities.
There is also no risk of infection from this virus from consumption of well-cooked pork and pork products. People are advised to wash hands thoroughly with soap and water on a regular basis and should seek medical attention if they develop any influenza-like symptoms.
See: www.who.int/en

Mexican tourists detoured here
The DR and Cuba have been receiving tourists who have been detoured from Mexico now under a swine flu alert. Companies with hotel and tour operations in Mexico have been re-routing their tourists to alternative destinations. Arturo Villanueva, executive vice president of the National Hotel and Restaurants Association (ASONAHORES), confirmed that groups that would have vacationed in Mexico have been arriving in the DR. He said that some passengers who had booked vacations in Mexico have changed their flights for the DR. Villanueva added that Dominican hotel staff and officials are on the lookout for any possible cases of the flu to deal with them accordingly.

Doctors proceed with strike
The Dominican Medical Association (CMD) concluded the first day of its four-day strike yesterday and doctors have vowed to continue their push for higher wages. However, their decision to continue with strikes has provoked severe criticism from the Ministry of Public Health. Commenting on the international concerns about swine flu, Minister Bautista Rojas Gomez described the decision as irresponsible. But doctors said that in the case of an outbreak of swine flu, they would call off their strike and help treat patients.

Return to Trujillo era?
The legislators who are creating a new Constitution for the Dominican Republic have passed a first reading on a bill that would enable a court ruling to confiscate goods for political reasons. New Article 23 reads: "There will not be confiscation of goods of physical persons, companies, national or foreign, except if this is determined by a competent authority, in virtue of the law." Deputy Pelegrin Castillo says this opens the possibility for property and goods being confiscated for political reasons. Castillo said this is reminiscent of the days of former dictator Trujillo, when his desire for anyone else's property would be backed by a court ruling.
See www.7dias.com.do/app/article.aspx?id=50106

Eliminating freedom of speech?
The Constitutional Revisory Assembly has voted to pass Numeral V, Article 40 that states: "All forms of propaganda and reporting of information that appears to provoke disobedience of laws, cause disorder or serve as an apology or incite hate, xenophobia, terrorism, child pornography, discrimination, causes religious intolerance, are prohibited." Trajano Vidal Potentini, president of the Justice and Transparency Foundation says this addition to the Constitution is ambiguous and violates a range of international agreements signed by the DR, including the UN Convention on Corruption that guarantees the public's right of access to information. Vidal says that the proposed legislation also violates the International Civil and Political Rights Pacts and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, among others. Vidal has sent a letter to the Senate and Chamber of Deputies presidents, Reinaldo Pared Perez and Julio Cesar Valentin, asking for the numeral to be removed from the new constitution.

Developing customer service
A revision to Article 43 passed by the Constitutional Revisory Assembly, will give consumers the right to sue if they are injured as a result of sub-standard goods and services, marking a new chapter in the development of customer service in the DR. The bill, which was submitted by legislator Frank Martinez, also states that the government can be held responsible for lack of quality in water or energy services, for example.

Women's groups protest Art. 30
Thirty-five women's organizations have joined forces to campaign against the decision by legislators to outlaw abortion under all circumstances in the new Constitution being worked up in Congress. The "Movement to Reject Article 30" says they will lobby to get women to vote against the legislators who voted if this is passed in a final second reading. "If we have legislators who do not respond to our interests, expectations and rights, then we can't vote for those candidates," said Josefina Arvelo, a member of the new movement. They also rejected Article 35 that considers that only marriage validates a family. The congressional and municipal election is set for 16 May 2010.

More Bani drugs
Once again the southwestern province of Bani is at the center of a large drug-related bust, confirming suspicions that it is becoming a haven for drug traffickers. Just as recently as March, Jose Martin de la Cruz Perez was charged in connection with a 257-kilo drug shipment. Last weekend officials led a raid that uncovered a yacht, a vehicle and 12 gasoline tanks at Uvero beach, but no drugs were found. Hoy reports that there is a chance that the drugs are in Santiago, but no other leads have been announced. Officials estimate the drug shipment totaled over 1,000 kilos and say that a Hummer, which was rented from a dealership in Santiago and is believed to have carried the drugs once in the DR, has been confiscated. It was found at a car wash being washed in order to erase any evidence.
Two Venezuelans and a Colombian who were in the DR for only three days before being apprehended are among those under suspicion. Officials announced the arrest of Luis Milton Vergara, Rafael Antonio Vargas, Pedro Estilito Arcalla Gomez, Deivi Rafael Gomez Cruz and brothers Pedro Antonio and Bienvenido Guzman Rosario. The six alleged drug traffickers will be sent to jail for a minimum of three months preventive custody. Listin Diario is also reporting the arrest of a further four people, bringing the total to 10 men accused of involvement in the drug trafficking case. Drug Control Department president Major General Gilberto Delgado Valdez said that an investigation is under way.

Details on Bani accident
According to Hoy, a crash on the San Cristobal-Bani highway that resulted in the deaths of 12 people and injured a further 11 earlier this week happened when a minibus crashed into a container truck that had been parked on the side of the road after being involved in a separate accident. There are several versions of events, but what is known is that the proper emergency signals were not in place to help drivers identify a crash scene. The accident happened between 5am and 6am on Monday morning near the Lucas Diaz Bridge, which had been turned into a one-way lane due to construction works. The driver of the passenger bus died shortly after the crash. The truck driver, Yoel Santos Peguero, has been detained while the crash is being investigated.

CA lifts visa restrictions
Four Central American countries have removed visa travel restrictions on Dominicans in order to bolster commerce and tourism activity between the nations, says the Ministry of Foreign Relations. El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua made their decisions during discussions between diplomats at the Central American Visa Creation Agreement meeting. The initiative is also part of continuing integrations by the CA-4 nations. The Dominican government has agreed to reciprocate the offer and will remove visa restrictions on the CA-4 nations. The DR has a free trade agreement with Central America, and is also a co-signatory of the DR-CAFTA free trade agreement with the US.

Jail population up
The Dominican jail population is on the rise. According to the Prisons Department, the jail population has grown by 1.5% in April in relation to March 2009, which is equivalent to about 300 inmates per month. The PD says that a total of 17,870 new prisoners have entered the system at a cost of RD$169 million. Higuey (43.7%) has had the largest percentage increase in its prisoner population, while Santiago Rodriguez (10.2%) and CCR-Dajabon (7.9%) have also shown sizable increases. The jail at San Pedro has shown a decrease in its prison population, together with 11 other penitentiaries around the country. The PD reports that in April, 1,226 new inmates and 965 inmates were released from jail. La Victoria has had the largest number of new inmates: La Victoria (262), Higuey (163), Najayo men's prison (125), La Vega (60), San Felipe de Puerto Plata (45), Moca (45), El Seibo (43), Bani (43), Cotui (38), Monte Plata (37), La Romana (36) and Vista al Valle (34).

Welcome to "Mannywood!"
Dodgers fans' fascination with Manny Ramirez is far from over, in fact the creation of "Mannywood," at Chavez Revine stadium in Los Angeles is proof that Manny-mania has only just begun. The LA Dodgers have announced that a section of Dodgers Stadium will now be labeled Mannywood and will be located near the left field line, sections 51 and 53, close to Ramirez's on-field position. The seats in the section will be sold in pairs, with a complimentary "99" Ramirez jersey, for US$99, Ramirez's jersey number. Fans who purchase a seat on 5 May (Cinco de Mayo) will receive a shirt that says, "Yo estuve en Mannywood," (I was in Mannywood).

Bocelli at Chavon
Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli is expected to perform to a sell-out crowd this Thursday, 30 April at the 5,000-seat Altos de Chavon amphitheater in La Romana. Bocelli has a huge following in the DR. Tickets are selling for a record RD$6,000 general admission, to US$12,000 for VIP front-row seats. Diario Libre says its sources indicate Bocelli was contracted for US$750,000.
Dominican Amaury Sanchez was commissioned by US director Eugene Konh to prepare the 60-piece orchestra that will accompany Bocelli. Diario Libre reports that Sanchez's credentials include working with the Santo Domingo Music Festival orchestra and the orchestra that played with Placido Domingo when he performed in the DR.
After his performance at Altos de Chavon, Bocelli takes his Incanto tour to the HP Pavilion, San Jose, CA on 6 June, American Airlines Center, Dallas, TX on 13 June, and Madison Square Garden, New York, NY on 18 June.
Tickets for the concert may still be available at MovieMax (Calle Victor Garrido Puello off Abraham Lincoln, south of La Cadena Supermarket, Tel 809 549-5556 and Casa de Campo. Cash only.
For information on other upcoming events, see http://www.dr1.com/calendar
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