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Daily News - Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Leonel winds up Israeli visit
With pledges to assist the Israeli-Palestinian peace process if the Dominican Republic obtains a seat on the UN Security Council, President Leonel Fernandez brought the official part of his trip to Israel to a close. Fernandez made these comments during a meeting with speaker of the Knesset Reuven Rivlin.
Fernandez suggested that Israel should step up its efforts to establish closer relations with Latin America so the region may be more aware of the realities of the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
During their meeting, President Shimon Peres showed President Fernandez electric cars manufactured in Israel. Peres said that he believed they could be a way of reducing the DR's dependency on oil imports. Peres pointed out that Israel is a leading innovator in this technology and that they were willing to share this with the Dominican Republic.
The Jerusalem Post reported that President Shimon Peres and President Leonel Fernandez had reached an agreement for in-depth bilateral cooperation on solar energy, technology, agriculture and water conservation.
During his working visit to Israel part of a 10-day visit to the Middle East, Fernandez was given an official reception by Peres on Monday. The Jerusalem Post made the point that Fernandez was accompanied by a large delegation that included the ministers for export and investment, national infrastructure and the office of the presidency as well as leading business figures in the fields of energy, industry, real estate and tourism.
Today the President travels to Hadera to look at a coal-fired electricity complex and meet with sector representatives. Then he will visit a kibbutz in order to understand the Israeli farming experience. In the afternoon, he will meet with businesspeople to discuss opportunities and advantages of doing business in the Dominican Republic.

Fernandez meets UNESCO director
Making a first stopover in Paris on his way to Israel for his 10-day Middle East tour, President Leonel Fernandez met with the director general of UNESCO, Koichiro Matsuura, as reported in Diario Libre. Fernandez is reported to have discussed cooperation for university education in the DR. During his visit, President Leonel Fernandez also signed a letter of intent for a future joint initiative between UNESCO and the Dominican Global Foundation for Democracy and Development, also in the area of higher education.

Billion-dollar bond issue
The Senate has received a legislative proposal aimed at authorizing the Executive Branch to launch a US$1 billion bond issue that would be placed on the international capital markets. The government wants to use the money now that tax revenues are down, to eliminate debt items and supply the gap in financing coming from PetroCaribe, now that oil prices are down.
In an explanatory letter, President Fernandez argues that the country is affected by the international financial crisis. The President says that disbursements for budget support that come from multilateral financial entities will not reach the level scheduled in the budget for this year and PetroCaribe financing for oil imports is also down.

Oil imports plummet
Oil imports fell by 1.5 million barrels in the first quarter of 2009, going from 3.5 million barrels to 2.0 million barrels. The average price of oil last year for the first quarter was US$93.30 a barrel and this year the average price for the first quarter was US$46.01 a barrel. In each of the first three months, less oil was imported than in the same months last year.
One of the most striking features of this information is that the cost of last year's first quarter oil imports was US$234 million and this year the cost was "just" US$93 million, give or take a few hundred thousand.
The first quarter statistics reveal that LPG was the main fuel used in the Dominican Republic with the equivalent of 2.3 million barrels being purchased in the first quarter, as opposed to 1.4 million barrels of gasoline and 1.8 million barrels of diesel. In one area, gasoline, more was imported during the first quarter of 2009 than in the first quarter of 2008, due mostly to the major price difference.

Loan for Duarte Corridor
The Executive Branch is requesting Congressional approval of a loan contract for US$48,843,918.40 that was negotiated with the National Bank of Economic and Social Development (BNDES), the Brazilian export financing agency, for the construction of the Duarte Corridor. The funds would finance 100% of the materials, equipment and services required.
The contract for the design and construction of the Duarte Corridor was signed by the Norberto Odebrecht Construction Co. The Estrella Group would be the local counterpart.
The design calls for overpasses over the Monumental Avenue, the Manoguayabo highway, the Nunez de Caceres intersection with John F. Kennedy, Dr. Defillo with John F. Kennedy, as well as overpasses and a tunnel that involve Ortega y Gasset and 27 de Febrero and the San Isidro Highway and Charles De Gaulle Avenue.
The Ministry of Public Works would be responsible for the project that will ease north-south traffic flow in the National District (Santo Domingo).
In the loan contract, a 21-month time limit for the use of the funds is set, beginning with the date the contract with BNDES is approved. The interest rate and will be applied to the credit is rate applied in London for loans or inter-bank financing (Libor) for 60 months, according to the letter.

Action against corruption?
Despite all the laws, government anti-corruption offices and all its promises, the government has yet to act against corruption. Indeed, the DR is at its lowest point ever when it comes to controlling corruption, according to the World Bank 2009 World Wide Governance Indicators (WGI), ranking in at a record low of 31.9% compared to Costa Rica's 70% and Chile 85%.
With matters getting out of control, today's Diario Libre newspaper quotes political scientists who urge national support to spur government to do a turn-around in its laissez-faire approach to corruption, arguing that political will has been missing to stop corruption.
"We are in a very critical situation, therefore, society should stand together to challenge corruption because it creates an imbalance between the political parties and is an attempt to damage Dominican democracy," stressed political scientist and lawyer Pedro Catrain. In his judgment, the state has only served as a machine for patronage, and government never bothers to apply consequences to proven corruption.
Catrain told reporters that he believed that the leading PLD and PRD parties have a covert immunity pact that allows either of the two to overlook indiscretions of corruption made by the other while in government. Catrain predicted that the situation could become unmanageable and fall into the hands of drug traffickers, who could enter the parties' political campaigns.
According to sociologist Francisco Cueto, "We have to go beyond words, beyond intentions; we have to take action, since there is a great deal of permissiveness when it comes to the use of state resources."
He specified that despite the corruption cases that have been exposed to the public by the leading investigative journalists, there has been little response from government spheres, which puts a lack of political will into evidence.
"In the Dominican Republic, throughout its history, we have accepted that the state is the domain of whoever is in government, and in this sense government doesn't need to give any answers to the real owner, the true owner, which is the citizenry," he said.
Rector of the UASD state university and noted jurist Garcia Fermin said that corruption is restricting the country's development and progress.
"I think that we have to begin a national moralization campaign because we cannot continue down this road, since it is not possible for people who were poor when becoming government bureaucrats to be converted into great potentates today," he pointed out.
Garcia Fermin believes that the damage done to the public treasury should be pursued, denounced and the guilty sent to court.
He complained of the fact that "It is not possible that there are dozens of case files on corruption and these remain in the drawers of the authorities. This is not possible! This country cannot tolerate a situation like this with so much impunity."
The government has failed to punish those signaled out with ample proof that has been aired to the general public, such as the more recent Bellas Artes construction scandal, the Sun Land contract scandal, the PRA, OTT, CDEEE and INDRHI scandals exposed by investigative journalists Alicia Ortega, Nuria Piera and Huchi Lora.

Difficult crime cases in limbo
Hoy newspaper dedicates an editorial today to the all-too-common practice of difficult crime cases being abandoned by state prosecutors.
It writes that the investigation into the murder of aviation official Angel Christopher Martinez that took place 3 years ago, is to judge by what the authorities say, in a state of limbo very similar to what has happened to other difficult crime cases. There are other alarming cases that advanced to a point, and no further, despite the authorities having promised early on that they would get to the bottom of the case regardless of the consequences.
Hoy's editorial writer recalls the case of the raid on the Vimenca security vehicle, which left several people dead, as another case that was left in limbo, despite the authorities having said "the case is solved."
"A society is shaken when crimes so horrendous as Christopher's murder or the raid, and when investigations into such important cases are in a limbo, then there is a feeling of weakness or lack of definition that gets a hold of society."

Standardized bank checks
The Central Bank reports that as part of the Project for Payment System Reform in the DR (SIPARD) the format for bank checks in the DR is being standardized. The new format is expected to replace all checking within the next 8 months.
The Central Bank says that as of 4 September, it will be obligatory for all checks to be printed exclusively by the companies that comply with the requirements for printing the new formats.
The Central Bank says that checks utilizing the old format can continue to be used but companies are required to use the new format when ordering new checks.
The new format expedites the processing of the checks, as reported in Hoy, and is part of a general reform of the DR's payment and settlement systems to comply with international standards.

Health sends samples to CDC
The Ministry of Public Health has sent 25 more samples from patients diagnosed with the influenza "A" virus for further study to see if they are of the H1N1 strain of the flu.
Nelson Rodriguez, the public official in charge of supervising the DR's response to the new virus, told reporters from El Nuevo Diario that the country is still following the international protocols.
Rodriguez also reported that there has been a decline in the number of people complaining of flu symptoms. According to official figures, 108 cases of the A(H1N1) influenza virus and two deaths have been confirmed. There have been 1,290 suspicious cases and 19 persons hospitalized.
As a result of extra caution exercised by Dominicans in reaction to all the news on the AH1NI virus this year, on the positive side there has been a decline in the amount of people affected by the flu.

Tourist visas will now cost US$70
The Ministry of Foreign Relations has announced a US$30 dollar increase in the cost of a tourist visa for those who require them. The announcement was sent to all Dominican consulates worldwide. The new measure does not affect people with United States, Canadian or European Union passports, where the standard US$10 fee will continue to be applied.
Sources consulted by reporters from Listin Diario said that the new rate has been in effect since the beginning of the month. It now costs US$207 to visit the Dominican Republic, and this is before buying an airplane ticket or paying for a hotel. Travelers may need to pay US$70 for a tourist visa, US$85 for airport duties and US$62 for government travel taxes. The new income will go into the general funds of the Ministry of Foreign Relations as required by Resolution 01-09, and this has been notified to all consulates.
According to the Ministry of Tourism, the final figures for 2008 showed a 4.5% increase for the year, and a total of 2.5 million visitors. Visitors from Russia increased by 83%, Poland 92%, Peru, 38%, Brazil 32%, Ecuador 38% and Mexico 15%. Even the more traditional tourist markets increased their traffic to the Dominican Republic, with Canada leading the way with an increase of nearly 12%, France with 4% and the United States with nearly 3% increases over 2007.
Over half of all tourists arrived at just one airport, Punta Cana (55%). Santo Domingo and Puerto Plata received 35% of the visitors. Tourism is the largest source of hard currency for the DR, followed by remittances and free zone exports.
It is important to note that if you are a citizen of a country whose citizens need visas to travel to the Dominican Republic, but you are a legal resident of the United States, Holland, Italy, Canada, Germany, Venezuela, Spain, Portugal, Great Britain, France, Greece, Ireland or Denmark, with some exceptions, you can visit the DR with just your passport, residence card and the US$10 tourist card.
See http://dr1.com/travel/prepare/documentation.shtml

World Bank: Remittances fall 7%
The DR has received 7% less in remittances during the first half of the year, the World Bank announced yesterday in Washington, DC. The report indicates that for Latin America overall the fall off in remittances will be 6.9% for the year.
Dominican Central Bank figures for the first half of 2008 had placed remittance from overseas atUS$1.56 billion, so a 7% decrease would put this year's estimated remittances at US$1.46 billion for the first six months. This is a drop of more than US$100 million.
If the estimates prove to be true, this would mean that the 2009 remittances had fallen below the 2007 level of US$1.46 billion. In such a case, the yearly remittance level would fall to just US$2.91 billion from the US$3.11 billion level of 2008, and considerable less than the US$3.05 level of 2007.
The World Bank has forecast double-digit remittance declines for most of Central America, too. The World Bank adjusted its estimates upwards from the 5% decrease predicted earlier in the year.

Ede-Este distributes blackouts
Electricity Distributor Ede-Este reports that for the past 72 hours its ability to supply electricity to its customers has been seriously hampered by a major deficit in electricity supply from the generators. Ede-Este said that as a result it was forced to increase the hours of blackouts.
The electricity distributor said that the deficit was due to several generators shutting down operations.
Although Monday was not as bad as the weekend, the company said that they still had a 149-megawatt deficit and that they could only meet 69% of demand.
The generators that have shut down or are producing less than their best output include: Haina I (50mw), Haina Gas (100 mw), Monte Rio (72 mw), Macorix II (100 mw), Los Mina V and VI (210 mw), and the Sultana del Este which is rated at 152 megawatts but is only producing 87 megawatts.
The blackouts coincide with a major power rate increase levied onto paying consumers.

San Pedro says goodbye to Linda
The city of San Pedro de Macoris, Macoris by the Sea, said goodbye to one of its most colorful figures yesterday as the city buried Daniel Henderson (Linda), the leader of the Guloyas cultural dance group. Thousands of people walked the streets in the funeral procession, and local and national figures were among the crowds that bid farewell to a direct descendant of the original English-speaking residents of the town, called "cocolos", and who was buried in the cemetery of San Pedro at the Santa Fe Sugar Mill.
The funeral procession wound through the streets in a demonstration of public appreciation seldom seen before.
The Guloyas were named a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2005.
As part of the procession, the mourners were accompanied by several folkloric dance groups, including guloyas, gagas and traditional Dominican groups.
Starting at the house of Theophilus Chiverston, one of the first heads of the guloyas, the procession made its way to Henderson's house, where the Cocolo Dance Theater is located.
Then the funeral procession went to the municipal offices where Mayor Tony Echevarria made a eulogy.
From there, the procession continued along Independencia and Mauricio Baez Avenues and, finally, well into the night and in the middle of an interminable blackout, Henderson was laid to rest in the San Pedro cemetery.
President Leonel Fernandez sent his condolences through the provincial governor, Alcibiades Tavarez; poet Mateo Morrison was there, as were folklorist Dagoberto Tejeda, writer Avelino Stanley and provincial cultural director Luisa Garcia.
The procession accompanying Henderson to his last resting place included the Ministry of Tourism's Folkloric Dance Group, carnival groups from Santo Domingo and the Salve group from Villa Mella. The National Anthem was played by a band from Cristo Rey in Santo Domingo. Henderson, who died at 78, had been suffering from cancer and chronic hepatitis.

DR to Davis Cup Group II finals
The DR has reached the finals of the Americas Group II of the Davis Cup with wins last Saturday, 11 July. Victor Estrella (ATP-ranked 227th) turned in the best performance for the DR. The DR is ranked 52nd in the world of 131 countries ranked in the Davis Cup Nations Ranking.
Players from the DR bested competitors from Bahamas, Guatemala, Jamaica, Mexico, Netherlands Antilles and Paraguay.
The DR team will now match Venezuela for the right to compete in Group I for the first time. The match will take place in Santo Domingo, from 18-20 September. This will be the DR's fourth appearance in the Group II final.
Group I players are from Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Uruguay.
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