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Daily News - Friday, 28 August 2009

Fernandez off to Libya
President Leonel Fernandez leaves today for Tripoli, Libya. He is scheduled to leave on a private jet from the San Isidro Air Base at 11am. He will make a stopover in New York and then Paris. He is traveling to participate in the African Union of Chiefs of State and Heads of Government Summit that will be held 30 and 31 August. Foreign Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso, press secretary Rafael Nunez and the director of the Center for Exports and Investments (CEI-RD), Eddy Martinez are traveling with the President.
The President will fly to New York's JFK International and then on to Paris and Tripoli. He will return via Madrid on Wednesday.
Fernandez will speak at a special session covering conflicts and crisis resolution in Africa. He will participate in the summit representing Latin America and the Caribbean and will hold meetings with African leaders.
Fernandez was invited to this summit by Muammar Gadafi during the Non-Aligned Summit that took place in July in Egypt.

Fernandez: democracy not business
President Leonel Fernandez says he is defending democracy in Latin America, not Dominican business interests in his stand on the Honduras political crisis. He rejected last night the statements from representatives of the business sector in Honduras that called his proposal to exclude Honduras from the Free Trade Agreement as "dirty and opportunistic".
Fernandez spoke in favor of the US stepping up the pressure and imposing trade sanctions on the Honduras coup regime during a meeting of the Central American Parliament group (Parlacen) in Santo Domingo. He proposed Honduras be suspended from the DR-CAFTA free trade agreement to pressure for the reinstatement of the government of Manuel Zelaya.
President Leonel Fernandez insisted that, on the contrary, the Honduran Council of Business (COHEP) should condemn the coup d'etat against Zelaya and support democracy, so that investments in manufacturing zones and other areas increase with the prevailing of political stability and social peace.
"Our interest is democracy, the reestablishment of democracy and not to do business," President Fernandez made clear through a statement issued by his press office. Fernandez said the DR would not accept any investment diverted here from Honduras.
He commented that what is at stake is the stability of democracy as a political system for all of Latin America. "This is because, due to the Honduran example, any political conflict or discrepancy can only be solved with a coup d'etat."
He argued that a collapse of the democratic system would provoke a stampede of foreign investments to the region and in consequence a return to increasing unemployment, poverty, social chaos and political violence.
Fernandez's statement for the suspension of DR-CAFTA trade privileges for Honduras came after the de facto government of Honduras rejected the mediation of the commission of foreign ministers promoted by the OAS as a way to follow the San Jose Pact. The commission would have been headed by Nobel Prize winner, President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica.

Parlacen costs DR RD$65 million
Dominican participation in the Central American Parliament costs taxpayers RD$65 million a year, as reported in El Dia. The US$1.8 million a year the DR pays to be an observer in the Parlacen is questioned. Resolutions of the symbolic parliament are not enforceable. Each of the 22 members the DR appoints to the Parlacen receives US$4,200 monthly (US$2,800 in expenses and US$1,200 in wages). The members have only to travel to Guatemala the last week of every month to participate in the "important" monthly meeting.
El Dia reports that the conclusions of the meeting are rarely communicated, and much less enforced.
Panama announced it would abandon the organization. New Panama President Ricardo Martinelli says the organization is "inoperant. "
El Dia reports that in the case of the DR, the leading opposition party PRD is at ends with the government pushing for a greater number of Dominican representations among its members in the Dominican delegation. President Fernandez had appointed three PRD members to the organization.
Parlacen, established in 1991, is a body composed of 20 deputies from each member state, former presidents and former vice presidents of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama, and 22 Mps appointed by the Dominican Republic. Other countries sending observers are Mexico, Puerto Rico, Argentina and Taiwan. Costa Rica is the only Central American country that has not integrated into the regional forum. The Costa Rican government considers it unworkable and expensive, as reported in El Dia.
The newspaper points out that former presidents Arnoldo Aleman (Nicaragua) and Alfonso Portillo (Guatemala) have used the parliamentary immunity granted by the organization to evade being tried for corruption in their respective countries.

USA: US$30 million to fight drugs
Secretary of the Presidency Cesar Pina Toribio announced yesterday at the end of a meeting of the National Council on Democratic Security, chaired by President Leonel Fernandez, that the United States is donating US$30 million to fight drug trafficking. A public bidding will be held on 27 September for new radars to track illegal flights into Dominican air space. Present were Armed Forces Minister, Major General Pedro Rafael Pena Antonio, who was entrusted with presenting a plan for the modernization of border controls the next time they meet. Pina also said the first Super Tucanos, the Brazilian speed jets purchased by the government to fight drug trafficking, would arrive in November. Also attending the meeting was chief of Police Major General Rafael Guillermo Guzman Fermin, president of the National Drug Council Mabel Feliz Baez, and presidential advisor on narcotics, Marino (Vincho) Vinicio Castillo.

Business: spend on infrastructure
The business sector favors the government stepping up spending, but not on current expenditures. The International Monetary Fund has advised the government to stimulate the economy. But the business sector warns the government against taking loans that will not help development or create new jobs to maintain its present current spending levels.
As reported in Diario Libre, in the first half of the year Dominican government capital investments were sacrificed. They accounted for RD$13.9 billion, or only 10% of what had been planned. Meanwhile, government current spending was RD$95.58 billion, or 70% of what had been planned. The government barely invested RD$9.1 billion in infrastructure projects, which was not even 50% of what was invested in the same period last year. A decline in availability of foreign loans has reduced government capital investments.
The investment of the government in construction declined 65.8%, compared to a growth of 64% for the same period in 2008.
The Association of Industries (AIRD) agrees with Economy Minister Temistocles Montas that it is necessary to take measures to stimulate the economy. But it stresses it is counterproductive and even dangerous in the medium term to take on new loans for current spending. Manuel Diaz Cabral, president of the AIRD, says the business sector has favored the government resorting to seeking financial assistance from the IMF.

Exports fall 16% in first half
The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) reported that for the first half of the year, Dominican exports fell 16% compared to 2008. Last year, according to the ECLAC website, the decline in DR exports was just 3% for the first half, at the start of the present financial crisis.
Regarding imports, the indications are that in the first semester of 2009, there has been a 43.4% overall decrease. Imports declined from a 18.4% increase for the period in 2008, to a 25% decrease for the same period.
ECLAC reported that intra-regional exports also declined. They pegged this decrease at 33%.
The ECLAC says there is financing available for exports throughout the region, and tariff reductions are in effect. The report also indicates that the financial crisis has affected developed nations more than countries in Central America and the Caribbean.

Constitutional Court gets second look
The National Constitutional Assembly will reconsider the idea of a Constitutional Chamber during the second reading of the new Constitution bill. The proposal has strong opposition of the chief justice of the Supreme Court (SCJ), Jorge Subero Isa.
Yesterday, the president of the Assembly, Reinaldo Pared Perez told Diario Libre that "apparently this is the feeling of the majority of the members of the Verification and Auditing Commission."
"We understand that they are going to authorize the reconsideration of the proposal for a Constitutional Chamber in a second reading," said Pared Perez.
According to the Diario Libre, Article 65 of the regulations that control the Assembly explain that when an article is rejected in the first reading, it can only be reintroduced by means of a favorable report from the Verification and Auditing Commission.
Influential jurists such as Eduardo Jorge Prats and Cristobal Rodriguez are backing the constitutional court that would be independent of the SCJ. They say this court should hear the direct actions of unconstitutionality initiated by any person, either physical or moral, the appeals against the decisions handed down by judges regarding appeals or habeas corpus, the preventive controls on international treaties before their ratification by the Congress, regarding legislative proposals requested by the President or the presidents of either of the two chambers of the Congress.
Plus, the court would hear consultations regarding constitutionality made by judges in the cases they have, the control of the cases of exception and the other cases that the law will assign. Rodriguez said he felt that it was healthy for the Assembly to retake the issue. He cited the idea that the social and democratic rule of law, and dignity as a basis of the Constitution and the State. "They are a set of dispositions that are only guaranteed by the existence of a specialized Constitutional court", he said.

Cleaning up the streets
Greater Santo Domingo is not the same. The city is suffering from an accelerated visual contamination that has forced the authorities to redesign their policy of municipal clean up. Diario Libre reports how informal merchants of clothes, food, fruits and other stuff, as well as scraped vehicles frequently takeover sidewalks, streets and avenues of the National District and the municipalities of Santo Domingo. Streets such as San Vicente de Paul, Duarte, Mella, and barrios like Villa Consuelo, Villa Juana, Ozama, Los Mina and others have been practically invaded by informal and ambulatory merchants, including stores and markets that offer their products on the sidewalks, blocking pedestrian traffic.
Recently, the Metropolitan Transit Authority (AMET) has taken 255 junk vehicles off of the streets. The operation will be increased over the next few days, together with the municipalities and the Justice Department, to get the useless vehicles off of the streets and sidewalks. The scraped vehicles that are removed are taken to the Duquesa sanitary landfill.
The traffic and transit regulating authority has also opened a hotline (809 686 6520) for persons to lodge complaints regarding occupied public spaces.
The AMET is prohibiting the parking of cars and placement of vendors on congested Charles Sumner Avenue, between Winston Churchill and the Los Prados neighborhood. This measure will be applied to other congested streets in the capital over the coming days.
The Municipal government of the National District (ADN) has reached an agreement with car dealers to remove the sale of vehicles on sidewalks as part of a campaign to enforce cleaning up the National District. The ADN announced it would be identifying authorized mobile vendors in order to regulate their situation.
The mayor of North Santo Domingo, Jesus Feliz called the program a major challenge due to the burgeoning informal commercial activity on the streets. He said his people are carrying out a census of the non-regulated merchants in Villa Mella. He pointed out that the municipality has to get the mechanics that work on the sidewalks off the streets. A similar dilemma faces the municipalities of West and East Santo Domingo, both of which are working on plans to cope with the situation that has now gotten out of hand.

Law on parties causes rift
Not only the project to reform the Constitution but also the pact signed between Miguel Vargas Maldonado and President Leonel Fernandez are at stake because of the lack of approval for the Law on Political Parties and Groups. The situation has reached such a point that the PRD members have warned, in public, that they will go before all of the different instances and utilize all of the methods that they feel necessary to get the approval of this legislative proposal. Nevertheless, the president of the Senate and the secretary general of the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) made it clear to the spokesperson of the PRD deputies that the approval of the Law on Political Parties and Groups is not part of the pact between Vargas Maldonado and President Fernandez.
"I must remind him (Neney Cabrera) and the PRD members that this law is not part of the agreement signed by the President of the Republic and the president of the PRD. He knows this very well because he was a part of the commission that outlined the issues of the agreement, and the law on parties was not part of it," said Reinaldo Pared Perez of the PLD, and president of the Senate.
The legislator revealed that the political committee of the PLD agreed in their last meeting, because it was "reasonable and logical", that the law on political parties would be heard after the new Constitution is passed.
"Because it so happens that there are a series of dispositions in the Law on Parties that should comply with the new text of the Constitution.
The first reading of the Constitution bill was completed last week, with the second reading scheduled to begin on Wednesday, 26 August. This was suspended due to a lack of quorum caused by the absence of the ruling PLD deputies.
Because of this, the PRD spokesperson in the lower house complained that there was a boycott by the PLD legislators against the legislative proposal and threatened to withdraw their support from the constitutional reform.
Yesterday the interim president of the PRD, Andres Bautista, warned that this party would use all the actions necessary for the approval of the proposed law. At this time we are calling for the approval of the Law on Political Parties, with the commitment that has been made by all of the Dominican political forces, said Bautista. He acknowledged that the passing of the Law on Parties was not part of the pact President Leonel Fernandez signed with PRD's Miguel Vargas Maldonado. But, that nevertheless, there had been a commitment by the PLD and the government to push forward the legislation.
Mario Torres, the interim secretary general, criticized the ruling party for using their majority in both hosues of the Congress to hold the bill because it establishes controls regarding the improper use of public funds in an election.
The bill is rejected by the president of the Central Electoral Board on grounds that it requires the state to fund the primaries of the political parties, an estimated RD$1 billion cost.

Esteban Rosario book tells all
The mayor of Santiago, Jose Enrique Sued allegedly distributed contracts for RD$26 million among his brothers, cousins, nephews, and husbands of relatives and other favorites. The revelations are part of a book by journalist Esteban Rosario called "Corruption in the Municipal Government of Santiago: An executive summary". The contracts were for infrastructure and services.
When consulted by Hoy newspaper, Sued said that certainly, he had several relatives working in the municipal government, but he insisted that they really worked and that the jobs were not "window dressing". Nevertheless he refused to refer to the accusations regarding the large contracts for projects and services, and he invited reporter Jose Alfredo Espinal to use the Law of Public Access to Information in order to get the information he was seeking.
According to the yet-to-be-published book, the mayor's sister, Benny Sued, is the director of the Department of Plazas and Parks, and his nephew, former senator Victor Garcia Sued is the administrator of the municipality. Sued admitted that this was correct to the Hoy reporters. According to the reports the mayor's sister is also the owner of Benny's Fiestas and Decorations, S.A., together with her daughter, Sarah. It was said that the business had received fees for more than RD$2 million in 37 different contracts for organizing dinners, meetings and luncheons for foreign and national dignitaries. However, a source informed Hoy that the real figure was closer to RD$7 million from 2007 to date.
Among other interesting details, the book reveals the ties between cousins that supply paving blocks for the remodeling of the parks and nieces who are on the payroll as head of the Department of Protocol.
Some of the relatives are no longer on the payrolls, but interesting facts reveal that another cousin, Dalia Sued was granted the contract to build the Santiago Trolley, and still a further cousin owns the mechanic's shop where the municipality repairs its vehicles.
The head of the mayor's security detail, Ambiorix Jimenez, receives a salary of RD$15,870, minus a RD$4,000 deduction. In spite of this he purchased a 2002 BMW and a 2005 BMW, and he also acquired an apartment in the Jardin Real in Villa Olga where he lives with his family. He also has two sons working in the city government.

Weather conditions back to normal
The Center of Emergency Operations (COE) revoked the Green Alert for small craft along the Atlantic Coast due to possible high seas caused by the passing of a tropical wave. The COE says weather reports are that maritime conditions are back to normal.
The Weather Department (Onamet) is monitoring a tropical wave that should being short duration rains to the DR today. The office reported that an area of rains and electrical storms is located 850 kilometers to the southwest of the Cape Verde Islands. At the present time this system is getting better organized and could develop into a tropical cyclone.
To follow weather conditions in the area, see http://www.dr1.com/weather/hurricanes.shtml

DR in the FIBA Americas Cup
The Dominican Republic men's basketball team defeated Panama in their game 2 of the 2009 FIBA Americas Championship taking place in Puerto Rico. The game ended 100-87 in favor of the Dominicans.
The DR had lost game 1 to Brazil, 68-86. The DR squad has yet to play Venezuela and Argentina to move on to round two against the winner of Group A. Group A contenders are Virgin Islands, Uruguay, Mexico and Puerto Rico.
The DR matches Venezuela at 6:30pm on Saturday, 29 August, and then Argentina at 6:30pm on Sunday, 30 August.
The four best teams qualify for the FIBA World Championship to take place in Turkey in 2010.

Clayderman and Di Blasio
The National Theater presents a memorable piano concert with Richard Clayderman and Raul Di Blasio. This Friday, 28 August and Saturday 29 August. A Cesar Suarez production. Tickets: RD$3,000, RD$2,500, RD$1,800 and RD$1,500 at the theater box office.
For more on upcoming events, see http://www.dr1.com/calendar
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