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Daily News - Wednesday, 14 October 2009

More protected areas
The Executive Branch has signed the protection of 37 new areas into law, bringing the total of protected areas in the DR to 123. A special ceremony celebrating decree 571-09 will take place on Friday when officials will inaugurate the Aniana Vargas Park in the Hatillo sector of San Cristobal. The new protected areas include the Salcedo Scientific Reserve, the Dicayagua Scientific Reserve, the Loma Charco Azul Biological Reserve, the La Espanola National Park, the Saltos de la Jalda National Park and the El Conde National Park. The decree is intended to guarantee the protection of these areas, as well as allow for government funding for their upkeep and administration.

Vargas looks for resolution
Monday's impasse at the Revisory Assembly was enough to get PRD president Miguel Vargas Maldonado off his horse and into the trenches in a bid to rescue the "pact" he signed with President Leonel Fernandez. During Monday's Assembly session PLD and PRSC members united and voted against the proposal under discussion, which, if passed, would have allowed the opposition PRD majority in Congress to choose the last member of the National Magistrates Council. The PLD vote means that this Constitutional Article remains unchanged. This simple act demonstrated the fragility of the pact signed between the Fernandez and Vargas, which evidently does not guarantee that legislators vote for every stipulation in the act. The pact has also been criticized for including concessions that were not agreed upon by the wider party consensus. Vargas described Monday's events as problematic and said he would meet with PLD legislators today in order to smooth out the differences. "All we ask the PLD is to comply with what was agreed on in the agreement with President Fernandez. Let's wait until tomorrow, to see what the results are."

More loans approved
The gravy train made another stop at Congress yesterday, as legislators approved a series of loans in dollars and euros totaling US$82.3 million. The funds will be used for government and public works projects. One of the loans is worth US$48,743,918, and will be used for the Corredor Duarte highway project being built in Santo Domingo. A further US$20 million will be spent on road repairs. Finally, RD$9.2 million will be used to expand the Plan Sierra reforestation program.

Modifying the budget
The Ministry of Hacienda will submit a bill to Congress for the modification of the 2009 budget, including an extra US$137 million for paying the government's US$566 million debt to the energy generators. Minister of Hacienda Vicente Bengoa said that the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank are in the process of auditing the State-owned Electricity Companies (CDEEE) in order to determine how much they really owe the generators. He added that once the actual debt amount is confirmed the government would figure out how to pay it, once and for all. He also informed that during the current administration US$4 billion has been paid towards the debt, with no results. Bengoa said this was a tragedy.

Pay for beach play?
The Chamber of Deputies is considering a new bill that would oblige foreigners and Dominicans to pay for using the country's public beaches. Foreigners would be charged RD$35 per day and Dominicans RD$17.50 of beach use. The funds would be used to clean up and maintain the nation's beaches. The bill, proposed by PRD deputy Eugenio Cedeno, would also include a ban on bonfires on the beaches, and would limit cooking gear to paved areas near the beach. The bill would also control the types of water sports allowed in beach areas, like buggies and jet skis, and would restrict the items permitted for sale on the beaches, including food, life jackets and chairs. It would also ban all types of publicity on the beach.

Energy rates fixed
Paying customers will be relieved to hear that electricity rates will remain fixed until the end of the year, according to Energy Superintendent Francisco Mendez. Although the price of electricity in the DR is still among the highest in the region and the service is unreliable at best, a freeze in the rates could come as a welcome sign. Rates went up earlier this year, with warnings that another increase was imminent. Officials say that increases were needed to make up for the disparity in payment due to the widespread electricity theft that plagues the sector.

Pay your fines
Drivers who have outstanding traffic fines will be forced to pay up, whether they like it or not. The Metropolitan Transport Authority (AMET) has announced that it will implement a new plan aimed at preventing Dominicans from obtaining any legal document until all their fines are paid. AMET director General Rafael Bencosme Candelier said that AMET was working with the Attorney General's office in order to standardize the system.

Metro's minor mishap
The Santo Domingo Metro had another hiccup last night when a fuse overheated and blew up. The fault brought the system to a halt for about 20 minutes, causing irritation and discomfort among passengers. This is the second time the Metro has stopped running for a short period of time. In September the Metro service was stopped by a national power outage. No one was hurt on either occasion and service was quickly restored.

Conflict brewing
Dominicans in Costa Rica and in the DR have taken offense at comments in the Costa Rican newspaper Diario Extra where journalist Mario Ugalde writes negatively about Dominicans living in the country. Ugalde comments specifically about a sector of the city of the capital San Jose known as "Tierra Dominicana," where there is a large Dominican emigre community. According to Listin Diario, Ugalde described the Dominicans who live there as "lazy" and "shameless." According to Ugalde, they sell drugs like cocaine out of ice cream shops and prostitute children out of a hair salon. Ugalde even called for Costa Rica to expel all Dominicans. "People can no longer take their kids to the parks because weed smokers are there, we can't go out at night because they will rob us, we can't buy a nice cell phone because they will stab us for it, Costa Rica is ours, lets get rid of this mafia."

Details on the Dona
She disappeared 10,950 days ago and today Dona Beatriz Batista has become a minor celebrity in Montellano, Puerto Plata. The elderly woman, who disappeared from her home thirty years ago has been visited by hundreds of locals, looking to piece together a bit more about her past. Details of her disappearance and her life are limited, and we may never know exactly what happened to her or why she went missing. Listin Diario reports that Dona Beatriz was orphaned at a young age, never married, never had children and had few relatives. The person who picked her up at the hospital, Francisco Batista, said he was a nephew, said she had never been rich and that her family had always worked for what they had. According to Batista, his aunt rarely speaks in coherent sentences and needs constant care.

Boy drowns off Malecon
All he wanted was a swim, but tragically 11-year old Gregory Castillo's spirit of adventure cost him his life. Yesterday on his way back from school the young boy decided to take a dip in the sea, off the 10th kilometer of the Malecon. At about 2pm, Castillo began to drown and his younger sister tried to rescue him. We she couldn't she ran home and called her parents, but by the time they reached the beach it was too late to save their son. Listin Diario reports that the boy's body remained on the scene until 7pm that night, waiting for an ambulance to take to him away.

Bachata at the White House
Who could have ever imagined a musical genre associated with brothels and bordellos, and labeled "musica de guardia" (soldiers' music) or "musica baja" (lowlife music) playing at the White House? Well, this was the case last night, when Dominican bachata group Aventura took bachata where no other music group thought it would ever go. Last night Aventura was one of the musical guests as the White House celebrated 'Fiesta Latina' for Hispanic Musical Heritage, as part of Hispanic Heritage Month. The concert included performances by acts such as Tito El Bambino, Jose Feliciano, Gloria Estefan and other prominent Latin music stars. President Barack Obama said of Latin music, "It moves us, and it tends to make us move a little bit ourselves." Speaking about the opportunity, the group said, "it's definitely a great honor for us and a pleasure to perform at this event and to be one of the only groups representing the Dominican Republic".

Freak accident sidelines Garcia
Sacramento Kings owner Joe Maloof issued a serious warning after NBA basketball star forward Francisco Garcia was injured during a workout with an exercise ball. The ball blew up in a freak accident and he broke his wrist. He will require surgery and is expected to be out 4 months. The balls have been banned at the Sacramento Kings' workout facilities and weight rooms. Maloof also sent an email to the 29 teams in the NBA warning of the dangers of the ball. Maloof was extremely disappointed. In comments to the Sacramento Bee he said, "You wouldn't expect it in a million years. Everybody uses these balls. Every spa in the world, you always see these balls. I think this is a wake-up call. 'Cisco was our starting forward, he has a huge contract." Maloof is considering legal action, but no one is more distraught than Garcia who was entering the first year of a five-year extension worth US$29.6 million. Garcia is in his 5th season in the NBA and was finally consolidating his reputation as a star in the ranks of the NBA. He was expected to make a solid contribution to the team and was the Kings' starting forward. Last season he averaged 12.7 points per game, with 1 block, 1 steal, 2.3 three assists while shooting 44% from the field.

Diaz does it again
A symbol of national pride, Marco Diaz has once again put the name of the Dominican Republic in the headlines and on the map. Diaz swam the Clean Half Marathon in Hong Kong and established a new record for the race, completing the course in 3 hours, 21 minutes and 44 seconds. "I am very happy. To come in first place in our last international competition is like a dream." The previous fastest mark was 3 hours and 24 minutes. Event organizer Doug Woodring said that Diaz was a great swimmer. This was Diaz's last race of 2009 and will determine his schedule for 2010.
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