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Daily News - Monday, 12 October 2009

Nagua kidnap victim escapes
The news trickled into all the newspaper offices over the weekend. Kidnap victim Eduardo Baldera Gomez escaped from his captors in the area of Buen Hombre, Villa Vasquez, and walked for a good distance, finding refuge with two farmers who were milking cows. They fed him breakfast and helped him get to El Copey police station. His uncle, Virgilio Baldera was the first to see him and said that he was in good health, according to Hoy newspaper. The police also announced the arrest of Carlos Marte Maria and Willian de Jesus Batista on kidnapping charges.
As more details emerged, the National Police reported the deaths of two men allegedly involved in the kidnapping at the hands of police agents sent to arrest them. The two have yet to be named, but Baldera Gomez was said to have identified the men as his keepers on the beach. He said that he could identify their pants and their scuffed boots, according to reports in El Caribe and El Nuevo Diario. Sergeant Catalino Jesus Perez, one of the three men sent to bring in Eduardo Baldera was wounded during the shootout. Police Chief Rafael Guillermo Guzman Fermin called on the other men involved in the kidnapping to turn themselves in and avoid further bloodshed. They are Ramon Polanco, Acadio Mercadio, Juan Almonte, Rafael Leonardo Hernandez, Ruben Dario Silvestre and Cecilio Diaz, better known as "Manuel". The police chief told reporters from El Caribe that they had identified "Manuel" as the head of the kidnapping gang and that Marte Maria had been the last person to call the family with the ransom demand.

Assembly to repeat tainted votes
The National Revisory Assembly for the Constitution will annul the articles approved in last Thursday's session during which several assembly members voted on behalf of absent members, creating a false vote. Assembly president Reinaldo Pared Perez said that the votes should be annulled due to what he called the "poor conduct" of some colleagues, and he announced that he would present a proposal in today's session to go over what had been approved, in order to give it more legitimacy. "The last part of the issue of the Executive Power and what covered the Judicial Power should be heard once again, and be voted on again, but for this to happen, the Assembly will have to approve it", he said.
The Constitutional reform is being criticized from a range of social sectors on the grounds that it threatens civil rights, and was defended by President Leonel Fernandez and the PRD president Miguel Vargas Maldonado this weekend. Fernandez said that only "a minority of citizens" is opposed to the Assembly's decisions, adding that the beaches were still in the public domain, without affecting private property. Vargas Maldonado agreed with the President and defended the pact signed with the PLD to facilitate the approval of the reform. He said that there has been "disinformation" about several aspects of the constitutional reform such as the issue of public access to beaches and private property.
Pared Perez claimed that criticism of the constitutional reform is "orchestrated by sectors without any representation or legitimacy in Dominican society" saying they were "verging on the perverse, disgraceful and manipulative." He said that they were basing their arguments on lies, and defended what has been approved up until now, including the article relating to the beaches. He announced that the 10 articles that were approved last Thursday when the assembly members were caught on television voting on behalf of others would be debated again in today's session.

Judges fear Constitution with errors
Two Supreme Court judges have delivered a report to the president of the tribunal, Jorge Subero Isa, on the behavior of constitutional tribunals in Latin America, which in their opinion constitute a super power. "We fear that in this country many constitutional modifications will be produced because of this defect that the country's constitution will have when it is approved", judges Edgar Hernandez Mejia and Julio Anibal Suarez say in the letter. The judges provided their conclusions after attending the XVI Meeting of Presidents and Magistrates of Constitutional Tribunals and Constitutional Courts of Latin America, held in the Colombian city of Cartagena last month. They said that in Mexico they have made 400 to 600 changes to their Constitution, which is extremely detailed. In Colombia they have approved 28 constitutional reforms and have presented 800 requests for reforms in 18 years.
The report states that the Colombian Constitutional Court constitutes a great superpower, with faculty to revoke decisions of the Supreme Court of Justice, which has led to confrontations between the two courts, when the latter does not obey the judicial criteria that sustain the decisions of the first. For example, there are cases of unconstitutionality with bullfighting and cockfights and public access to beaches, which have been accepted, even though they are dealing with companies that have tourist concessions.
In Peru, the Court ordered the rehiring of workers who had been fired arbitrarily, despite the fact that the legislation does not authorize this action, based on the interpretation of Article 27 of the Constitution that says that, "the law protects the worker against arbitrary firings". In Venezuela, the Court declared that a sentence by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights was not applicable and that this was criticized on the grounds that "once that the States give jurisdiction to an International Court to interpret rights, they cannot interpret them to the contrary."

Vincho says dam overvalued
Lawyer Marino Vinicio "Vincho" Castillo, who heads the National Ethics Commission, complained yesterday that Brazilian firm Andrade Gutierrez, the company building the dam at Monte Grande, has overvalued its costs by as much as 800%. According to Castillo, when the National Institute of Hydraulic Resources (INDRHI) considered handing out the contract without bidding, the costs that were presented for the designs of the hydroelectric works and auxiliary constructions was US$32 million, while the estimate from other experts put the figure at just US$3.5 million.
According to the lawyer, Andrade Gutierrez overvalued the costs, even in comparison with the budget presented to the INDRHI when the latter was considering letting the contract without bids. Among other items, Castillo said that the phase of geotechnical studies was budgeted at US$34.2 million, but in the no-bid offer the price was just US$7.4 million, a 362% difference according to Hoy newspaper. The head of the Ethics Commission added that an unnamed engineer refused to sign the invoices because she said it was "a farce". Castillo added that there was a line item for US$30 million for the purchase of materials outside the budget.
According to Castillo, the information on these irregularities has been in his hands since last year, when he met with former INDRHI director Hector Pimentel, the Minister of Hacienda and Presidential legal advisor Abel Rodriguez del Orbe. Pimentel wanted the project to be handed out without public bidding because of the dangers of flooding from the Sabana Yegua dam. This proposal was rejected when, in a later meeting between the President and the company executives, they were told that a project of this size (more than US$200 million) could not be granted without public bids. The company accepted this but asked to be reimbursed RD$15 million it had invested in the construction camps and the access road. However, when the accounts were revised, the company accepted RD$7 million, which Castillo said, "means that the amount was probably closer to RD$5 million".

Clear rules needed on migration
PRD leader Miguel Vargas Maldonado is calling for a national strategy to be drawn up, with the aim of finding a bilateral solution to the Haitian immigration issue. Vargas says that the first thing that should be done is to create jobs in the frontier regions. Both governments also need to develop the plan and create regulations in the Law of Migration that would allow a joint solution involving the international community. He said he thought that it was fundamental to go forward and strengthen controls on the frontier, with the idea of ending the political and military complicity that damages relations on the island.
PLD secretary general Reinaldo Pared Perez, agreed with former United States President Jimmy Carter, saying that it was difficult to control migration on the island. He blamed the governments, saying that they have not handled the problem correctly and do not have a consistent policy on the frontier or on migration.
He said that there is an imposing need, as a result of the increased immigration and drug trafficking, for real steps to be taken to tackle the problems. He said that once the Constitutional Reform is completed, work could start on the regulations that will permit the application of the migration law. Pared Perez pointed out that the United States, France and Canada should fulfill their commitments and go in aid of Haiti, because the Dominican Republic has enough on its plate.
Meanwhile, according to Onofre Rojas from the Alliance for Democracy (APD), Foreign Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso acted "foolishly and thoughtlessly" when he described Jimmy Carter's comments on Dominican-Haitian issues as "interference in the DR's internal affairs". "He never spoke of this at any point and he has clarified that it was about combating tropical diseases such as malaria and filariasis, which must be tackled jointly", said Rojas. He said that Morales Troncoso's statement could have negative consequences, as the Foreign Ministry is responsible for bringing together the Mixed Bilateral Commission, whose task is to develop the relationship between the DR and Haiti.
The director of the Commission for Health Sector Reform (CERSS), Humberto Salazar, assured reporters that the United States, France and Canada are the principal culprits in Haiti's dire predicament, and that therefore these powerful nations should be the ones seeking solutions. He said that there was a sense of urgency in the country for the definition of a migration polity and control of Haitian immigrants.

COPPPAL begins sessions
The XXVIII Plenary Meeting of the Permanent Conference of Latin American and Caribbean Political Parties (COPPPAL) got under way this weekend. High-level leaders of the PLD and the PRD are taking part. In the opening ceremony, PRD president Miguel Vargas Maldonado reiterated the belief that the best way to reform the Constitution is through a Constitutional Assembly. He said that he signed an agreement with President Leonel Fernandez because it was worse to be cut off than to participate in a real reform. Vargas Maldonado mentioned the elimination of consecutive re-election as a positive result of the pact.
Meanwhile, the secretary general of the PLD, Reinaldo Pared Perez, stressed the role played by COPPPAL in overseeing democracy in Latin America and highlighted the agreements reached between his organization and the PRD that have sponsored the reform of the Constitution within a context of total and complete democracy. He also highlighted the fact that the parties that make up COPPPAL should adopt a firm and determined commitment to reach a greater economic, social and territorial cohesion that contributes to improving regional development indicators.
COPPPAL president, Antonio Cafiero from Argentina, stressed that politics is the "most noble" profession and is not motivated by any personal or group interest, but rather because "they have love" and they love great causes. Much to the enjoyment of his audience, according to many newspaper accounts, he said that politicians belong to a "different breed".

Medical residents get RD$5,000 bonus
The government has decreed that the 2,356 medical residents who work throughout the country will receive, as of Tuesday, a bonus of RD$5,000 as an incentive for continuing to improve their education. According to Health Minister Bautista Rojas Gomez, these resources will also enable medical residents to obtain books or other tools that will contribute to improving their knowledge in their areas of specialization.
The bonuses will be given out twice this year and then they will be included next year's Health Ministry budget, with a view to handing them out every month. Dr. Enriquillo Matos, a former president and currently a candidate for the presidency of the Dominican Medical Association (CMD), who had suggested the idea in the first place, said that the fact that the ministry was going to make it a reality was a great step forward for the sector.

CONEP: IMF accord will boost economy
The National Business Council (CONEP) says it will support the forthcoming IMF Stand-by Arrangement with the government on the grounds that the agreement would stabilize macro-economic elements by reactivating the economy. According to El Caribe, the main group representing the business sector in the Dominican Republic warns against further increases in the foreign debt or any new taxes, saying that current tax levels are sufficient to affect investments. CONEP sees the IMF agreement as a positive step in the face of the global economic crisis, whose main effects have been "the decrease in hard currency income at the same time as a decrease in the price of oil".
The document emphasizes the need for measures to provide more jobs and pour more resources into investment projects while preserving the DR's productive infrastructure. They said that "while the monetary authorities have been adopting measures to loosen the instruments of monetary policy, with the signing of the agreement with the IMF, greater resources will move quickly towards the productive sectors and in this way it is expected that there will be much greater economic activity." They reiterated their position that the investments should be in the framework of a program that prioritizes social spending, while taking into account the considerable levels of foreign debt and the effects on the nation's GDP.

CDEEE promises power if they pay
The executive vice-president of the State-owned Electricity Companies (CDEEE), Celso Marranzini, told reporters from El Nuevo Diario that there was a basic thing that Dominican consumers needed to realize: That all Dominicans could enjoy electricity service 24 hours a day if they paid for it. Marranzini said, "I think this is the basic argument that the Dominican population needs to hear". He pointed out that the electricity sector has an installed capacity of 3,394 megawatts and a demand for 2,109 megawatts, which means that 1,300 megawatts are not delivered to the people because they do not pay for them.
The CDEEE executive, barely into his second month on the job, was quite emphatic when he told the reporters that for every 100 pesos of electricity that is delivered, the distributors only collect 48 pesos. He said the opportunity to save the electricity sector is in everybody's hands. He said, "It is not in the hands of the government; it is not in the hands of the administration (of the CDEEE)... it is in the hands of each and every one of the clients of the distributors". He added that anyone who does not pay contributes to perpetuating a situation that has been going on for about 40 years. He said that nobody, rich or poor, is exonerated from paying for electricity, and he compared the use of cell phones with pre-paid cards as an example of paying for a service. He did reveal that there was a minority of very large customers that uses a lot of energy, such as industrialists and businesses in general, which have the largest amount of debts. Marranzini, a former president of CONEP, said he was not afraid to collect the debts since as a businessman he has to collect from his clients.

Fuel prices go up this week
The fuel-price roller coaster is on the way up once again as the Ministry of Industry and Commerce announced price increases of as much as RD$4.40 per gallon. Premium gasoline goes up RD$4.00 to RD$149.90, regular goes to RD$139.90, a RD$4.40 increase. Diesel fuel went up to RD$119.40 for regular and RD$124.40 for premium, RD$2.70 increases for each. Even LPG was increased by RD$0.43 a gallon, now selling for RD$67.29.
According to the ministry, international prices experienced significant increases over the last week, pushed by better than expected economic news and a weaker dollar. Lower than expected unemployment numbers in the United States, an increase in raw material costs and Alcoa's return to positive earnings all helped to push shares and the prices of oil and derivatives. Alcoa reported surprising earnings on Wednesday and retailers reported sales increases for September, giving rise to improved expectations for recovery.

Fugitive caught at Las Americas
Members of the National Police detained a man said to be a fugitive from charges of murder, robbery and kidnapping as he tried to evade capture in the hallways of Las Americas International Airport (AILA). He was named as Henry Alberto Volquez Ozuna, who lived in Barrio Nuevo, Villa Duarte in Santo Domingo. He was trying to leave the country using forged documents.
At the time of his arrest, Volquez Ozuna was carrying RD$21,738 as well as dollars and currency from Colombia, Syria, India and some European countries. The chief of police had alerted his agents that the fugitive was suspected of trying to leave the country. Although Volquez Ozuna was being sought in connection with a long list of crimes, the names of his alleged victims were not released.

More rain today
The National Meteorological Office (Onamet) is forecasting that a low-pressure area over the Windward Passage would cause some showers over several parts of the country today.
They added that a tropical wave continues to move over the waters of the Caribbean with its axis over Jamaica.
The low-pressure system located over the Windward Passage, together with the effects of the predominant east-northeast breezes will pull the clouds towards the country, and because of this, showers are expected, mostly in the northeast, southeast, the frontier region, and in the Cibao Valley. Small craft are being advised to keep near the coast and not venture out into the ocean because of unusually strong waves caused by the tropical wave and the low-pressure area.
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