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Daily News - Friday, 04 December 2009

Fernandez at UNESCO
President Leonel Fernandez has met with Irina Bokova, the director-general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris. He called for an increase in UNESCO support for Latin American countries to promote their culture using new technologies and to reduce the widening digital gap.
President Leonel Fernandez also presented the Dominican government's university-level education strategy for the next 10 years, the Presidency reported.
On the final stretch of his trip to Europe that began 29 November, President Fernandez was then scheduled for visits to academic institutions, the press and lunch meetings with intellectuals and the inaugurating of the Juan Bosch School at the Academie de Creteil. He would also meet with the Dominican community.
He is scheduled to depart France on Saturday 5, with a stopover in New York. He would be back in the DR on Monday, 7 December in the afternoon.

DR joins OECD Development Center
The Dominican Republic has formally joined the Development Center, a group within the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). President Leonel Fernandez signed the membership agreement during his official visit to France. The DR is now the 7th regional member of the Center, which has a total of 39 members from the OECD nations.
The Development Center provides a setting where governments compare policy experiences, seek answers to common problems, identify good practice and coordinate domestic and international policies.
The basic objective of the Development Center is to serve as a link between the world's most developed countries and countries with emerging economies. The process of becoming a member of the OECD Development Center began in 2004. It included an overhaul of the DR's planning and administrative financing system.
Fernandez expects the DR will have lots to gain. Upon signing, he said: "This membership is of great value to us because the organization has experts, and lawyers who identify the best practices, building indicators and variables that can serve as comparison for us to better define the road to follow when drafting public policies."
See: www.oecd.org

IDB, IMF & WB to the rescue
If the government hadn't signed a last-minute Stand-by Arrangement with the International Monetary Fund, it would have been very hard pressed to pay its employees in November, in December and the Christmas salary, according to Hacienda Minister Vicente Bengoa. "The government's situation was going to be extremely precarious," as reported by El Caribe.
The government received a US$295 million disbursement from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) yesterday and US$300 million are expected from the World Bank today. Just a few weeks ago the IMF injected US$315 million to help finance the government's deficit.
This year's fiscal deficit will be RD$103 billion, or RD$26 billion more than the RD$77 billion estimated in the 2009 Budget. This difference of approximately 25% is due to the decline in revenues as the international financial crisis brought constraints to local taxable consumption.
Financing of this and next year's budgets will reach RD$218 billion, but since the government plans to pay RD$64 billion next year, the remainder is RD$154 billion.
Meanwhile, for 2010 the financing will be for RD$115 billion, but the government will pay down debts for around RD$64 billion, leaving the debt at around RD$51 billion.

Funds to pay for electricity
After several blackouts during the press conference called to announce the recent international funding injections to rescue the government, Hacienda Minister Vicente Bengoa announced that before President Fernandez left the country on his visit to Europe, a meeting was held with the executive vice-president of the State-owned Electricity Companies (CDEEE), Celso Marranzini, and it was agreed that payments for power generation would reach more than US$230 million in the 2010 budget, plus all appropriations.
Bengoa says that this year, more than US$500 million has been given to the CDEEE. He said that this should eliminate the financial reasons for blackouts.

Health advances in southern hospitals
The Ministry of Public Health (SESPAS) promises that RD$300 million will be spent over the next 90 days on renovating and re-equipping the Juan Pablo Pina Hospital in San Cristobal and Nuestra Senora de Regla Hospital in Bani, the two largest public hospitals in the southwestern region.
Minister Bautista Rojas Gomez told reporters that both major centers would be completely refurbished and re-equipped over the next four months. He also said that 130 primary care facilities and 10 other municipal hospitals would be included in the plan to provide better health care in the southern region of the country. According to Rojas Gomez, the government has spent more than one billion pesos on improving the physical infrastructure of the nation's health system.

US$300 million for Solidarity
The Inter-American Development Bank has made available US$300 million for the government's Solidarity conditional cash transfer program for the poor. The funds are part of a US$500 million IDB loan, which matures in 5 years and will be disbursed in 18 months. The loan has a grace period of 3 years and its interest rate is based on Libor.
IDB representative in the Dominican Republic Manuel Labrado said yesterday that these resources would be disbursed in 3 yearly payments, aimed at improving the education, health and nutrition plans overseen by Vice President Rafael Alburquerque, who is in charge of the government's social programs.
Labrado spoke highly of the implementation of the Bonoluz (for electricity) and Bonogas (for cooking gas) programs during a workshop held in Santo Domingo where those attending could compare experiences of welfare programs in Mexico, Colombia, Nicaragua and the DR. Labrado described the program as an example for the Latin American region. He did not specify the amount of the first disbursement or the date it would be made.
It is estimated that more than 800,000 families will benefit from the Solidarity program which includes the different components: "Food comes first", Bonogas, Incentives for school attendance (ILAE) and Bonoluz.
Alburquerque stressed that upon taking on the card, beneficiaries were responsible for meeting their commitments. He said that the Solidarity incentive for parents of school-age children has contributed to a reduction in school desertion rates. He also mentioned that workshops and guidance provided by the Ministry of Public Health have led to a reduction in unwanted pregnancies.

Santo Domingo-Santiago train
Numbers being crunched by supporters of a cargo and passenger train linking San Cristobal to Santiago via Santo Domingo say that the train will have capacity to transport the same passenger and cargo volumes currently handled by buses and trucks.
Transport specialist Mario Berges says the intangible benefit will be putting an end to the "the monopoly and the mafia" the government has allowed the transport unions. "The train will lower the costs, because it is more efficient, faster and these groups will have to adapt, because if they are allowed to boycott the train we will be in the same situation and there will be no progress", stated Berges.
The Transport Reorganization Office (Opret) is behind the initiative. OPRET is responsible for the Santo Domingo Metro and also has begun construction of the system's second line.
The Santiago train would have capacity to transport 143,000 tons of cargo and 46,000 passengers each day, numbers that are quite close to the flows that are now moved by the transport groups working in the Cibao region.
According to OPRET, the combined system of passengers and freight will cover 126 kilometers from Santo Domingo to Santiago de los Caballeros. It will travel at 220kph with a maximum speed of 250kph. The route will link the two major cities, providing services to Moca, Constanza, San Francisco de Macoris, Villa Altagracia and San Cristobal. Although the bidding process has not been completed, recent announcements by the President about possible investors in the project bring its realization all the closer to fulfillment.
Bus Owners Unit president Freddy Mendez said that his group's 19 members, including Caribe Tours, Grupo Metro, Transporte Espinal and Transporte del Cibao, move 70,000 passengers a day in the Cibao region, plus the cargo service. The so-called "flying mini-buses" haul a significant number of passengers who have to be added to this total.
Meanwhile, Rafael (Blas) Peralta, the head of the National Federation of Dominican Transport (Fenatrado) told reporters that his group moves more than 500 trucks to and from the Cibao on a daily basis. These vehicles move around 200 containers of merchandise that go in and out of the ports of Haina and Caucedo.
Well aware that the train, which passengers are likely to prefer, will affect them, Mendez pressed for a meeting with the government to ensure they are given a role in the train project. He said that just the private passenger service companies have fleets of around 200 buses valued at between RD$8 million to RD$10 million each. "They will claim that this is development and that the country will benefit, but the investments that we have will be heavily affected and I believe that this merits a conversation with a sector that has billions invested in the business of moving people," says Mendez.
Blas Peralta is more radical, warning that there will be chaos if the government doesn't talk to them and inform them about their role in the project.

Almeyda rejects "Execution" report
Last week, the Prosecutor General issued a report that stated that the two alleged kidnappers of Eduardo Baldera Gomez had been "executed" by members of the National Police after they had received custody of the two men. Hoy newspaper (and others) now report that Interior and Police Minister Franklin Almeyda Rancier has rejected the report and questioned the evidence of an execution. Almeyda said that on the contrary, there is a lot of evidence that they died in an exchange of gunfire with the Police.
The Minister said he believed that that whoever wrote up the investigation went overboard in weighing the evidence. "If it was a legal action by the Police or if it was an execution, is a decision for the courts, it can't be taken outside the courts", he said. He said that the 5 police officers sent to court because of the report would receive legal assistance from the ministry.
On Saturday 10 October, kidnap victim Eduardo Baldera Gomez re-appeared and Police Chief Major General Rafael Guillermo Guzman Fermin told reporters that "a firefight with the kidnappers is going on right now and we are on our way". He said that one policeman had been wounded. This agent was later promoted.

Martha Heredia makes it to final
Young singing sensations, Dominican Martha Heredia and Costa Rican Eduardo Aguirre have made it to the final of the popular Latin American Idol, the Sony Entertainment reality TV talent show to choose the best young singer in Latin America. Martha reached the final round after singing her version of "Lagrimas Negras" (Black Tears) by Cuban Miguel Matamoros and "Y volvere" (I will return) a popular song by 1970s group Angeles Negros.
To judge by the messages posted on the website from followers of the musical contest and the jury's praise for the two young artists, a very tight battle is predicted for the final round that will take place next Thursday, 10 December. Eighteen-year old Heredia was the youngest of the last 3 competitors, including Ruben Alvarez of Chile.
After her performance yesterday, the judges, Cuban-American Jon Secada, Mimi (Irma Angelica Hernandez Ochoa) from Mexico and Oscar Mediavilla concurred: "You are incredible".
But she faces tough competition from 19-year old Aguirre, who impressed the judges with his voice, performing "No tengo dinero" (I don't have money) by the Mexican Juan Gabriel, and "Yo soy aquel" (I am the one) by Spanish singer Raphael.
In addition to the opinion and vote of the judges, the two finalists of Latin American Idol depend on the votes of viewers from all over the continent and in the competitors' homelands.
The show can be seen in the DR on cable TV and on Channel 11, Telesistema on Milagros German's "Chevere Nights" show at 10pm.
Martha fans in the DR are revving up support for next week. Viewers can vote using their cell phones sending a text message with Martha 43657 for a RD$20 charge.

Julia Alvarez at Centro Leon
Don't miss the presentation of famous author Julia Alvarez's latest book on Sunday, 6 December, "El mejor regalo del mundo: La Leyenda De La Vieja Belen / The Best Gift of All: The Legend of La Vieja Belen". This book, which is in both Spanish and English, is about the Dominican tradition of an old lady who on 9 January comes to bring gifts to children who were not visited by Santa Claus (25 December) or the Three Kings (6 January). The book presentation will take place on Sunday, 6 December at 10:30am in the patio of the Centro Leon. Av. 27 de Febrero 146, Villa Progreso, Santiago.
See: www.centroleon.org.do and http://the-best-gift-of-all.juliaalvarez.com

Christmas events this weekend
The Carol Morgan School band will be playing Christmas music at the Jumbo Luperon food court on Saturday, 5 December as of 5:30pm.
Arts & Crafts for buying unique gifts at Casas Reales Friday, 4 December to 9pm and Saturday to 5pm.
Diplomatic Ladies Bazaar at Casa de Espana this Saturday, 5 December from 10 am to 5pm.
Santo Domingo Festival 2009 for dancing to Latin music on the Malecon.
St Nicholas children's party at the Dominican-German Center on Sunday, 6 December.
Sunday, 6 December performance of The Christmas Story at the Banco Popular headquarters.
For details, see www.dr1.com/calendar

Victor Estrella makes ITF Circuit finals
Leading Dominican tennis player Victor Estrella has won the FI Futures tournament and moved on to the semi-final round of the Dominican Republic F2 Futures tournament, the world-class tennis tournament at the Parque del Este courts. Estrella is ranked 286th in the world by the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP). F2 Futures 2009 awards US$10,000 in prize money.
Named the Los Tres Ojos-RD 2009 tournament, the event is part of the International Tennis Federation Men's Circuit. Players from 33 nations in Europe, Africa and the Americas are competing for cash prizes.

Toros beat the Aguilas
The Aguilas, under new-old manager Tony Pena had won two games in a row and had a 4-run lead into the sixth inning last night. Things were looking up for the former champions, but then the roof fell in and an outfielder dropped an easy fly and the shortstop let a ball go under his glove. Before you could say "Toros del Este" the game was tied going into the ninth inning. Unfortunately the relief pitching of the Aguilas needs to be strengthened and the Toros beat up on Santiago Ramirez, scoring 3 earned runs, winning the game 7-4.
Team W-L Avg. Diff.
LICEY 22 - 15 .595 0.0
ESCOGIDO 22 - 15 .595 --
AZUCAREROS 21 - 17 .552 1.5
GIGANTES 18 - 19 .586 4.0
AGUILAS 18 - 20 .474 4.5
ESTRELLAS 12 - 25 .324 10.0
Tonight's games:
* Santo Domingo, Estadio Quisqueya at 7:30pm.
Gigantes (L. Shoda) vs. Escogido (H Phillips)
* San Pedro de Macoris, Estadio Tetelo Vargas at 7:30pm.
Licey (R. Ortiz) vs. Estrellas Orientales (R. Liz)
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