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Daily News - Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Fernandez on his Spanish trip
President Leonel Fernandez has told reporters that his recent nine-day trip to Spain has extended Spanish cooperation and increased investment prospects. Fernandez arrived on a commercial flight from Spain yesterday.
As reported in El Nuevo Diario, the President spoke of the renewed contacts with Spanish universities and the signing of agreements and conventions to improve qualifications for Dominican students and professionals. Fernandez also spoke about hi-tech, the state-owned television station, and the impact of the thousands of students currently studying overseas, with 500 in Spain.
The President said that his stay in Spain was of particular significance at this time of crisis because new credit opportunities have opened for areas like housing construction, potable water, sanitation, rural road repairs and farming sector support.
He said that he and his team were able to obtain access to EUR250 million for several projects in cooperation with the Spanish government, including Merca Santo Domingo, a huge series of farm production focus points located just outside the city and which includes cold storage units to preserve the foods.
Fernandez also said that social programs would receive a boost from Spanish funding. For example, he said that with aid from financial institutions in Spain, the President said he hoped to finish the Ciudad de la Salud health complex in eastern Santo Domingo.
Even the penitentiary system would receive help with an offer to build six new prisons around the country.
The President gave the example of an offer to produce 500 megawatts of renewable energy, requiring only a reduction of interest rates to make it viable.
Finally, the President told reporters that he had received offers from Spanish businesses interested in financing two new Metro lines and the Haina-Santiago freight and passenger line.

Capital for house construction
The Monetary Board has authorized a reduction in the legal reserve applied to financial intermediaries that will increase the resources available for housing and small businesses by some RD$9.1 billion, according to Central Bank governor Hector Valdez Albizu. Diario Libre reports that Valdez Albizu said that the disposition, which comes into force today, reduces the legal reserve in the commercial multi-banks from 20% to 17%, equal to RD$7.67 billion.
With the freeing up of RD$10.5 billion in February, of which RD$5.0 has been disbursed, the Monetary Board will have freed up resources exceeding RD$19.6 billion to be channeled to the small and medium businesses, farming, construction, local manufacturing and for government bond issues.
Of the RD$7.67 billion, RD$6.13 billion of these funds will be targeted at new home mortgage loans for housing worth less than RD$6 million, with an interest rate of between 9% and 14% for the first three years of the loan, beginning with an interest rate of less than 12%. Valdez Albizu said that the remaining RD$1.53 billion should be channeled to micro-, medium- and small-scale businesses through a process coordinated with the government through Promipyme.
The Monetary Board also ordered a reduction in the legal reserve for Savings and Loan Associations, credit and savings banks and the credit corporations from 15% to 13%, which equals the RD$1.53 billion. Of that amount, RD$1.255 billion comes from the S&Ls and RD$233 million comes from the savings and credit banks and RD$45 million from the credit corporations, steps with which the Monetary Board is trying to push the financing of economic and middle class housing and reduce volatility of interest rates. For constructors and housing promoters, the announcement made by the Central Bank governor is a very important and historical measure that they expect will help many Dominicans acquire their own homes. Jose Rodriguez Caceres, the founder of the entity, says that this measure will create a "before" and an "after" and that builders and promoters congratulate the government's will to facilitate housing operations, which will revitalize the construction industry.

Salcedo claims Isabel Villas course
The Santo Domingo municipality has announced the signing of an agreement handing over the administration of 32,624 meters of recovered green area to the Isabel Villas neighborhood association in Arroyo Hondo. The Isabel Villas golf course operated on land that should have been used for recreational areas, as reported in Listin Diario.
The agreement establishes that people who live in the area should have free access to the green area, which was not the case when it was private. They are also responsible for keeping it clean and orderly and for preventing it from being privatized again.
The agreement was signed by Santo Domingo Mayor Roberto Salcedo (ADN) and neighborhood association president Jaime de la Rosa.
Mayor Salcedo said that the city government based the recovery of the land on Resolution 180-95 that establishes that all residential developments within the National District require that its developers donate 8% of all the residential area for green areas.

A(H1N1) flu but still no cases
The Minister of Public health admitted yesterday that the virus that causes the A(H1N1) influenza is present in the country, but they have still not been able to confirm the first case of the illness. "The fact that these people have been here (Peruvians, Chileans and one Russian diagnosed with the flu upon return from visiting the DR) clearly indicates that the virus is going around, regardless of the fact that no one has been sick here in the country," said Bautista Rojas Gomez. In response, the minister did not dismiss the possibility that cases would be reported in the country within the next few days, and ordered increased epidemiological alertness, especially in the east of the country where the tourists who were diagnosed with the influenza had stayed. Rojas Gomez said it would not be surprising if the flu were present. The DR is a popular tourist destination with over four million annual visitors, many of whom come from the US, one of the countries worst affected by the virus.
The DR does not have a lab able to test for A(H1N1) and the samples that test positive for influenza at the Center of Dominican-Japanese Friendship (Cemadoja) then have to be sent to the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia for testing for A(H1N1).
Rojas Gomez announced that the tests would soon be carried out in the DR and said that Public Health personnel would be receiving training from CDC delegates in conducting examinations with the PCR method using equipment that was donated by the world reference laboratory with the backing of the World Health Organization (WHO). Meanwhile, the principal of the Carol Morgan School in Santo Domingo told Diario Libre reporters that two students had tested positive for the Type A flu, but it is not known if it is the H1N1 strain. The samples were sent to the United States for additional tests, and the results will be known in three days. Classes at Carol Morgan have not been suspended.
Meanwhile, Governor Luis Fortuno of Puerto Rico has confirmed the first case of the virus. The infected person reportedly returned from a cruise on Sunday. The name of the cruise ship was not revealed.

H1N1 kills less than dengue
According to epidemiologist Miguel Urena, the panic generated by the new type of virus is not justified, since this flu shows the same characteristics as any other influenza. He explained that the relevance of the H1N1 virus is the fact that it corresponds to a mutation of the type A influenza, a relevant issue in the scientific world. He assured reporters that the mortality rate registered for this type of flu has not gone beyond 0.5% of the cases worldwide, and this is lower than the death rate for dengue fever. He attributed the global panic to poor information management. "What they wanted to point out is the conformation of a new genotype, and this put the world scientific community on alert," he said.

Highway to Constanza opens today
The Ministry of Public Works and the Norberto Odebrecht Construction Company of Brazil will have the highway to Constanza ready for opening by today, Tuesday. This will allow traffic flow to resume between the Duarte Highway and Constanza. The highway was blocked by a major landslide between Casabito and Constanza, when 200 meters of the highway were buried by dirt and rocks at the Kilometer 5 sign.
Public Works Minister Victor Diaz Rua told Listin Diario that the team was working hard to have the roadway open in the early hours of this morning. He added that they had removed 30,000 cubic meters of debris that came down the mountain as a result of the heavy rains of the last few weeks. According to statements from engineers and technicians who are familiar with the highway, there has not been a landslide of this scale in over 60 years.
The minister also said that reconstruction work on the highway between Casabito and Constanza was about 50% finished, but that landslides were impeding progress and setting back the completion date.
The initial budget for the improved road was US$60 million but the landslides have upped the final cost. More than a dozen spots along the 51km stretch of road were previously considered to be highly dangerous.

Money from garbage
It's Monday. From 8am on, dozens of wheelbarrows loaded with solid waste are pushed through the tight alleyways of up to 500 meters in length, in the slums of the National District (Santo Domingo), as reported in Diario Libre. Hurriedly, the collectors load their cargoes in small trucks. Hundreds of men do the work that is difficult for the garbage trucks of the municipal government of the National District (ADN) due to the narrow streets in barrios like La Zurza, Guachupita, Capotillo, Los Guandules, Simon Bolivar and La Cienega. These men belong to five foundations, more like micro-businesses, since they are paid US$20 for each ton of garbage that they sell to the ADN, although they feel that it should be more.
The refuse is taken to the Municipal Transfer Station in Villas Agricolas. The groups, which were set up by the Marginal Barrios Sanitation Project (Sabamar), make three trips a day, each collecting between 30 and 120 tons, and earning between RD$14,400 and RD$57,000 per month.
With the refuse that they sell, they have managed to build up a payroll where each person gets RD$5,000 a month.
Thanks to the money collected, the foundations also tackle community problems like building bridges, footpaths, or channeling rain run-off, among other needs. An estimated one million people live in the National District, 220,000 in these barrios alone. It is from their garbage that others reap benefits.
The project's environmental coordinator Jovanny Guzman says that illnesses in the area have been reduced by as much as 80%. Residents have now become protective of the cleanliness: One woman, Dona Aida de la Cruz reported that someone had thrown refuse in her backyard, meaning the Ozama River. Looking at the poor neighborhoods along the river, the contrast with the garbage that lines the other bank (in Santo Domingo East) is noticeable. This is because each sanitation entity works with an integrated group of between 10 and 20 men to clean up the riverbanks. Each week they take out tons of refuse that the wheelbarrow brigades haul away. In just two years they have removed 3,506 tons of garbage.

Truckers reach provisional accord
Vice President Rafael Alburquerque reported last night that following a meeting at the Haitian border town of Malpasse, freight transport leaders from Haiti and the Dominican Republic have reached a provisional agreement that the Ministry of Foreign Relations and the Ministry of Industry and Commerce will review today. Dominican Ambassador in Haiti Ruben Silie served as mediator between the Dominican and Haitian truckers.
In Dajabon where some 30 trucks are still stuck, the bi-national market went on without any major problems and eight trucks and pickups, including a container loaded with food supplies, appliances and other merchandise crossed the frontier without any problems.
Although the Fenatrado members in the area did not resist, they criticized the Customs authorities in Dajabon for allowing the Haitian vehicles to cross the border outside of the hours established for market days. The Bishop of the Mao-Montecristi diocese, Diomedes Espinal and the Haitian consul in Dajabon, Jean Baptiste Biexi-Aime, both called on the parties to engage in constructive dialogue in order to settle their differences.
Haitian truckers have been using violence to discourage Fenatrado union truckers from carrying cargo to Haiti. They demand 50% of the cargo or a RD$4,000 penalty to allow Dominican truckers the right to travel within Haiti. Fenatrado truckers have a virtual monopoly on trucking in the DR, also using violent methods to discourage companies from transporting their own cargo.

Diplomat appointment revoked
In President Leonel Fernandez's absence, Vice President Rafael Alburquerque has revoked the decree appointing Antonio Ramirez Medina to the post of minister counselor at the Dominican Embassy in South Africa. He issued Decree 404-09 on 20 May, which nevertheless does not specify the reasons for the cancellation. Ramirez is the former regional director of the Ministry of Agriculture in San Juan de la Maguana. The decree was issued 10 days after the Department of Administrative Corruption (DPCA) submitted the former employee to justice for his role in a fraudulent purchase of 75,000 quintals of onions for RD$80 million from farmers in Vallejuelo. The San Juan prosecutors had not begun proceedings, as they were unsure about his diplomatic status. If he had kept his diplomatic status, the case would have had to be heard exclusively by the Supreme Court of Justice.

Houses crumble in San Cristobal
In situations reminiscent of events in Tamboril and the Cumbre of Juan Veras earlier this year, some houses in San Cristobal are being swallowed up by the earth. Despite the lighter rains, landslides and collapses in the area have continued. One two-story house that went over a cliff overlooking the River Nigua belonged to Porfirio Cuello, who lost the fruits of 20 years' labor in the United States in an instant. Cuello said his house was worth RD$2 million, and that he and his wife are now being sheltered at a neighbor's house. They left their house two weeks ago after noticing that cracks in the walls were getting bigger. A two-story house belonging to Eulalia de los Santos is also on the verge of collapse, and so she has sought shelter at a neighbor's house while waiting for 40 years of hard work to disintegrate. She said that the landslides had begun during the last Joaquin Balaguer government (1996), caused by a creek that had been covered by the Trujillo government in 1940, and whose drainage system had begun to deteriorate over the years. She said that the first part of the culverts collapsed in 1996, but now the collapses have reached Luis Alberti Street and Alleyway #2, where 50 houses are in danger.

Study says crime is down
The DR is among seven countries in the Americas that are reporting fewer crime victims each year. This places the country ahead of Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Brazil, Nicaragua, Paraguay, the United States, Guatemala, Bolivia, El Salvador, Venezuela, Uruguay, Chile, Ecuador, Peru and Argentina.
This rather surprising information is contained in the report "Political Culture of Democracy in the Dominican Republic, 2008: the Impact of Governance". This survey was carried out in March 2008 as part of the LAPOP Americas Barometer 2008 series of surveys. It follows up national surveys conducted in 2004 and 2006 by the Latin America Public Opinion Project (LAPOP). The 2008 survey was conducted by Vanderbilt University with fieldwork by Gallup Dominican Republic. Funding came from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
The complete report and the questionnaire can be found at Political Culture of Democracy in Dominican Republic, 2008: the Impact of Governance, written Jana Morgan Kelly and Rosario Espinal.
The study found that between 2004 and 2006 the number of Dominicans who reported being crime victims increased from 6.8% to 16.2%, but declined to 14.8% in 2008. The number indicates that instead of increasing, the crime rate dropped by 1.4%.
The investigation noted that, "the groups that reported the greatest number of crimes were men, young people, inhabitants of major cities and people with a higher level of education." The lowest percentages of crime victims were reported in Jamaica (8.3%), Panama (8.4%) and Belize (10.8%). Honduras, Canada and Haiti were the next countries in order. Regarding their perception of security, the study found that the Dominicans have a relatively moderate perception. Of the 23 nations included in the study, 14 have levels of insecurity perceived to be higher than this country, where 39.5% of those interviewed said that they felt insecure, versus 54.5% who said that they felt "very secure." Only 42 % of interviewees said that they felt that the police protected them, but this figure is an improvement over the 2006 figure, which was just 30%. In its conclusions, the report said that 48% of people interviewed in 2008 said that they felt that the police would capture the criminal. This level of perception is the highest of the 17 Latin American countries in the study.

Colombian pilot in custody
A judge in Higuey has sent Colombian Carlos Arturo Gaviria to three months preventive custody for bringing 170 kilos of cocaine into the country. Gaviria is said to be the pilot who landed a small plane in the cane fields near Batey Baigua in La Altagracia province. "I am totally innocent," Gaviria told El Caribe reporters as he left the courtroom where he heard the sentence from Judge Jose Ramon Perez Bonilla. Gaviria was arrested last Saturday by an army sergeant and two members of the J-2, Army Intelligence, since there is a small army detachment at the Batey Baigua. Defense lawyer Jaime Santana said that nothing incriminating had been found on the Colombian and that he had fled to the Dominican Republic in the aircraft because he was afraid of being kidnapped. He did not explain why his client had chosen to land on a cane field instead of at the nearby La Romana or Punta Cana international airports.

Alert levels fall
The bad news is that the rains will continue, but the good news is there will be less. Many of more than 4,000 people who were displaced by the heavy rains and floods over the last two weeks are starting to return to their homes. The weather continues to be unstable due to the effects of a low-pressure area and rains are expected in the northwest, northeast, southeast, the central mountains and along the border with Haiti. The recent rains have been blamed for at least three deaths and two people have been reported missing.
The alert levels have gone down from red to yellow for San Cristobal, Bahoruco, Elias Pina, Dajabon, Montecristi, La Vega, Monsignor Nouel (Bonao), Sanchez Ramirez (Cotui), Maria Trinidad Sanchez (Nagua), Monte Plata, San Jose de Ocoa, San Pedro de Macoris, La Altagracia (Higuey), La Romana, El Seibo, Hermanas Mirabal (Salcedo) and Duarte (San Francisco de Macoris).
The alert level for Samana, Santo Domingo, the National District and Santiago was lowered from yellow to green. The latest report from the Emergency Operations Center (COE) indicated that 723 houses have been damaged by floods or landslides, while eleven communities were still cut off by overflowing creeks and rivers.
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