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Daily News - Wednesday, 02 December 2009

Fernandez in France
After attending the XIX Summit of Ibero-American Heads of State and Government in Portugal, President Leonel Fernandez traveled to France yesterday. At the summit, the President's focus was on drug trafficking and the perils it represents for the DR.
While still in Portugal, Fernandez was interviewed by French newspaper Le Figaro. He spoke of the French investments in the DR, including Orange Telecom, Carrefour, Club Med and Accord, several of which were made following his previous visit in 1998. Fernandez said that the purpose of this week's visit to Paris is to strengthen links with French companies and persuade them to invest in projects in the DR such as the second line of the Santo Domingo Metro and the proposed Santo Domingo to Santiago rail link.
In the interview he appealed to France, Canada and the US to give Haiti increased priority, saying that neither Haiti nor the DR could cope on their own. Fernandez said that Haiti's problems affected the DR on several fronts, including migration, border security, drug trafficking, environmental and deforestation issues. "The international community needs to be more active in investing and developing infrastructure in order to pull Haiti out of extreme poverty", he is quoted as saying.
Fernandez told Le Figaro that his plan was to strengthen prevention and persecution of drug trafficking, and mentioned the purchase of Brazilian airplanes to control the DR's airspace. The President said that on an international level, the DR cooperates with Colombia, Venezuela, Haiti and the US in the fight against drug trafficking, adding that the DR wishes to cooperate with Europe too. He said France could help by providing equipment to reinforce prevention.
Fernandez said the DR has suffered because of its strategic geographical position, which has made it a major shipping point for drugs produced in the south to reach the north. Furthermore, he said that this created an internal market, with all the criminal activity that this entails.
As for the two French nationals held in a Dominican jail on drug charges, Fernandez said that the Dominican authorities had given their political consent for them to be repatriated, and that the legal process was currently under way.
Read the article (in French) at: www.lefigaro.fr

Juan Marichal Sports Complex
President Leonel Fernandez has signed a commercial loan with Portuguese bank Caixa Geral de Deposito for US$80 million for the construction of the Juan Marichal Sports Complex in Santo Domingo, as reported in El Caribe. Earlier it had been reported the loan would be for US$75 million. The complex is estimated to cost US$150 million. It involves the remodeling of the Quisqueya ballpark, the construction of a 175-room 4-star hotel, 280 apartments in six 14-19-floor residential high-rises and a baseball museum. The contractors selected by the government, Edivisa, S.A. and Visacasa, S.A. Engineers and Architects Rodriguez Sandoval & Associates will be responsible for the construction, working with a Portuguese partner, Visabeira.
Company chief executive, engineer Rodriguez Sandoval is also known for his work at the Malecon Center high-rise hotel and residential complex in Santo Domingo. The baseball complex contract, deemed very controversial, has already been approved by Congress, according to a report in El Caribe. Questions have been raised about whether the development is a priority, and the fact that government guarantees and resources are being invested in this predominantly private project.
The project has also been criticized for lack of transparency and on the grounds that the government's real estate contribution is being undervalued, tenders have not been held, and there are doubts about the viability of a hotel in the area. The priority of government investment in what is primarily a real estate project is also being questioned.
The plan is to complete the remodeling of the stadium, at a cost of US$20 million in time for the 2012 deadline for being considered for the World Baseball Championship program.
During the signing in Portugal, architect Joaquin Geronimo of the DR National Housing Bank (BNV) said the signing of the agreement strengthened business links between Portugal and the DR.

Trade to Europe up
According to Foreign Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso, by the end of the year the DR will have exported US$900 million worth of goods to Europe. He described this as an unprecedented accomplishment that was reached with the help of the Economic Partnership Agreement. He added that despite the current financial problems, the economy and world trade decreases, the EPA has been a saving grace for the DR. Sugar, banana, cigars, apparel and rum exports to Europe grew at a higher pace in 2009, and this is expected to continue to increase. Morales Troncoso was speaking in Germany, where he was attending a conference at the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce.

15,000 for holiday season
The National Police says 15,000 officers will be patrolling the streets of the DR during the holiday season. This is a peak time for shopping as people get paid their Christmas bonuses resulting in lots of extra cash in circulation.
Yesterday, National Police Chief Rafael Guillermo Guzman Fermin launched the General Prevention Plan 2009-2010 during a ceremony at the National Police Headquarters. The Prevention Plan involves members of the Police, AMET, the Scientific Police, School Police and special police.
The plan will be in effect until 10 January 2010. Guzman said that 13,000 other police agents who work for various state entities would also lend a hand during the holiday season.

Taxes stop expansion
The high taxes levied by city councils in the DR's rural communities are proving to be the latest hurdle for the expansion of broadband Internet services in these communities. Broadband Internet project consultant for Indotel Edwin San Roman says that many telecommunications companies don't want to install services in rural communities because of the "exorbitant" taxes charged by the local councils. This announcement comes just days after President Leonel Fernandez asked regional and European nations to recognize the importance of the Internet and singled out the digital divide as the new challenge in bridging social gaps.

Informal jobs up, formal jobs down
The president of the Dominican Business Owners Confederation, Marisol Vicens is stressing the need to adapt the Dominican Labor Code to new times. She says it dates back to 1992. She says that today's DR is different, it has open markets, and there is a Dominican Social Security system in place now. She says the open market means the DR has to compete internationally. In an interview with El Caribe, Vicens said that jobs in formal business are declining, while informal jobs are on the rise. She says that this has happened because of the high labor cost of formal employment. She says the DR has the highest complementary labor costs in the region, with 65% of wage costs. This means for every RD$100 in wages paid by a company, it has to put aside RD$65 in additional benefits. These include social security, health plan, pension plan, labor risk insurance, contribution to technical training at Infotep, vacation and paid absence of leave days, Christmas bonus and annual bonus on profits. She says these labor costs are just 30% in other countries in the region.
She said the country needed to start identifying government policies that can contribute to reduce unemployment, estimated by the International Monetary Fund to be at 18.5% this year. Vicens says that what is most worrisome is that despite the declining job statistics, and the increase in informal jobs, there does not seem to be any widespread national alarm, or a commitment by the authorities on the question of "what are we going to do to reactivate jobs."

Falconbridge & Barrick
News commentator Jose Israel Cuello draws parallels between the Falconbridge and Barrick Gold mining contracts. Writing in Hoy, he comments that the initial contract signed with Falconbridge soon proved to be non-functional, with the company producing just to keep up with its operations, earn a profit, and no profits for the state.
Changes in government did not produce a renegotiation of the contract. When finally, someone took note that if there were no profits for the government or the company, as it alleged, then it would be best to close it down. As a result a new contract was negotiated, there were new prices, new markets, new costs and the exploitations resumed. Meanwhile, the company lived off selling energy to the CDE.
Cuello asks the question: what was the difference between the new and the old. He makes the point that in the second contract, a royalty was established according to volume of material exploited. He says that in the case of Barrick Gold the opposite has been the case. In the first contract the government signed with Placer Dome, there was a provision that Placer Dome would pay the government for exploited material. This clause was removed from the second contract that was negotiated after gold prices went up.
The second contract, renegotiated with Barrick after this, purchased the right to the Placer Dome concession, does not establish limits to how much borrowing Barrick can take on, nor revenues are set in regards to the price of the minerals extracted at their time of sale. Cuello says that with the current interest rates and the proven mineral reserves in Pueblo Viejo, the company will easily get all the necessary financing, and the yield will be high enough to recover the investment within five years. He says that that is where the accountants and their depreciations, operational costs and maintenance come in to play.

Margarita leads in the PLD
First Lady Margarita Cedeno received 28% of public preference for running on the PLD ticket in the Gallup-Hoy poll. The poll was conducted between 16 November and Sunday 22 November, and 1,200 people of voting age resident in 31 provinces and the National District were surveyed.
Other options for presidential candidate for the ruling PLD party were former Minister of the Presidency Danilo Medina, who has practically disappeared from the political scene after not supporting Fernandez's bid for re-election in 2008. Former Vice President Jaime David Fernandez received only 6.1% of the vote. His image has been tarnished by his support for the construction of a cement plant on the perimeter of Los Haitises National Park. Vice President Rafael Alburquerque received a 2.6% preference and Interior & Police Minister Franklin Almeyda Rancier 1.2%. According to the Constitution, President Fernandez cannot run for re-election in 2012.
For the PRD, 62.1% say that party president and candidate, former minister of public works Miguel Vargas should run on the PRD ticket. Miguel Vargas was the runner-up candidate in the 2008 presidential election, losing to Fernandez.
Former district prosecutor Guillermo Moreno received 16.7% of the vote, while Eduardo Estrella, former candidate for the PRSC, received 11.4%.

Contest to choose the most corrupt?
Will discussions of corruption and drug trafficking just become an argument about who was more corrupt and supportive of drug trafficking - the Mejia or Fernandez administration?
"Don't make me laugh," were the exact words quoted by journalist Adalberto de la Rosa, when he questioned Presidential drug advisor Vincho Castillo about the Gallup-Hoy poll on perceived corruption in the Leonel Fernandez administration and the Hipolito Mejia administration.
The Gallup poll revealed that more than half the population believes that corruption in government is on the rise, and that there is more corruption in this administration than there was during the Hipolito Mejia administration and impunity is commonplace. According to the poll, 64.4% think there is more corruption now compared to the previous administration. Interestingly enough, just four months ago this figure stood at just 47.6%.
Castillo was emphatic in saying that Mejia's administration had been the most corrupt in the DR's history and that leads into connections with drugs are still being investigated. Castillo pointed to the 2008 presidential elections, when Fernandez was elected for his second consecutive term, as the best poll out there. DR Prosecutor General, Radhames Jimenez Pena says the poll only represents public perception.

Losing the war against drugs
Former governor of the Central Bank and Dominican ambassador to the US, Bernardo Vega says Dominicans are losing the battle against drugs. In an opinion piece in Hoy, he makes the point that it becomes more evident every day that members of the Armed Forces and the National Police are collaborating with drug traffickers. "And if that is so, there is no way to resolve, or even reduce, the problem," he concludes.
He says that the costly Tucano airplanes and the radars will not solve the problem if the people operating this equipment collaborate with the drug traffickers. He mentioned that the criminals that are caught, as in the notorious Sobeida case, are then allowed to walk free thanks to the complicity of certain authorities.
Given this situation, thinking aloud he recommends a change in strategy.
"There are two alternatives or new policies. One is to do as other countries have done and legalize the trade in certain types of drugs to reduce the price and reduce the profitability, as occurred in 1933 when the US ended its prohibition on alcoholic beverages. In the DR, however, 83% of the population is opposed to legalization, so to achieve this change would be an uphill struggle.
The other choice, he says, is to do what El Salvador has done. Allow its territory to be used by US airplanes to fight drug trafficking with El Salvadoran or US crews. Vega says this has resulted in a considerable decline in drug shipments, and is a much cheaper alternative and more efficient than the purchase of the Tucanos.
Vega says that in 1995 the DR signed an agreement that enables a Dominican navy officer to be on board the US coast guard vessels that patrol our coasts. Vega suggests it is just a matter of extending this agreement to the patrolling of the skies. "If there are American bases in a place as near as Puerto Rico, their cost should not be high, providing the Americans have the will to help us with this. We need to ask Ambassador Yzaguirre when he arrives."
See: www.hoy.com.do

The yam + cocaine shipment
The National Drug Control Department (DNCD) is investigating shipments of more than 2,000 kilos of cocaine from the DR to neighboring Puerto Rico hidden amongst yams and manioc (yautia) over the last year. The DNCD investigation appears to have taken on greater significance since it was linked to fugitive Puerto Rican drug capo Jose A. Figueroa. Two thousand kilos of cocaine were allegedly shipped in 22 containers by the "Grupo de Tireo" crime group. Brothers Ivan and Euclides Suazo Rivas from Tireo in Constanza province are said to lead the so-called group. Last Saturday DNCD officials intercepted a shipment of drugs hidden in sweet potatoes and yautia at the Autopista Duarte toll area. The truck was carrying 130 kilos of cocaine concealed underneath the produce. The brothers are linked to Puerto Rico because one of them lives in Mayaguez where the family ran a shipping company as a front for their operations. The United States DEA is also involved in the investigation.

Important arrest in Paya case
Authorities at Najayo jail have arrested a woman who was about to visit former Navy officer Edward Mayobanex Rodriguez Montero, who is in custody in connection with the Paya massacre, in which seven suspected drug traffickers were killed. As reported in Hoy, the woman, Sussi de la Rosa Castillo, had hidden 4 tubes of hair dye and 5 files extracted from a credit reporting bureau, on four of the witnesses for the prosecution in the Paya case who are due to testify against former lieutenant Rodriguez Montero.
Director of Prisons, Major General Manuel de Jesus Perez Sanchez said the woman was being questioned by the Police. The files contained information on members of the Navy Edwin Dominici, Kelvin Dominici and Pastor Mejia Cedano, and Colonel Adolfo Sanchez Perez of the National Police, and Gregorio Vilorio Perez. All with the exception of Edwin Dominici are listed as witnesses who are due to testify against Rodriguez Montero.
De la Rosa was arrested before being allowed in to visit Rodriguez at the San Cristobal jail.

Martha Heredia in Latin Idol
The Dominican representative at the Latin American Idol reality TV talent show, Martha Heredia, goes up against Ruben Alvarez (Chile) and Eduardo Aguirre (Costa Rica), in the semi-final round this evening. The judges have narrowed the competitors down to three. Modeled on the American Idol show, Latin American Idol is a reality TV series broadcast by Sony Entertainment Television. It can be seen in the DR on cable TV and on Channel 11, Telesistema's Milagros German "Chevere Nights" show at 10pm. Eighteen-year old Martha Heredia from Santiago is a previously unknown singer in the DR.
Viewers can also vote for her using their cell phones sending a text message with Martha 43657 for a RD$20 charge. The season finale is scheduled for 10 December.

The baseball scores
Tony Pena might be exactly what the Aguilas were looking for. In their first game with their new manager, the Aguilas looked like their old selves as clawed over the Estrellas Orientales, 4-3. Escogido continued their winning ways as they eked out a win over the Toros del Este, 5-3 and the Gigantes got into the action as they pounced on the Tigres 0-9.
Team W-L Avg. Diff.
ESCOGIDO 22 - 14 .611 --
LICEY 21 - 15 .583 1.0
AZUCAREROS 19 - 17 .528 3.0
GIGANTES 18 - 18 .500 4.0
AGUILAS 17 - 19 .472 5.0
ESTRELLAS 12 - 24 .333 10.0
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