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Daily News - Tuesday, 15 December 2009

A heroine's welcome
Young singer Martha Heredia was met with a heroine's welcome on her return to the DR yesterday. Last week Martha was crowned this season's Latin American Idol contest winner. Heredia was greeted by an enthusiastic crowed at the Las Americas International Airport, and then made her way to the Presidential Palace in Santo Domingo where she met President Fernandez and First Lady Margarita Cedeno. Commenting on Heredia's excitement, the President said that the Ambassador's Hall at the Presidential Palace had seen celebrities, sports stars and been the scene of many great events, but never had it been filled with so much energy, until last night. Heredia, who was joined by her parents, gave a positive message to youth, saying that they need to follow their dreams because it's never too late. Speaking on her record, Heredia says she can't give out too many details, but that her first CD will be out soon and will include songs in different genres.

Tunnel on 27 closed
The tunnel on 27 de Febrero, between Lincoln and Churchill Avenues, will be closed for repairs every day between 10pm until 6am. Workers from the Ministry of Public Works will be laying a new surface of asphalt on the road. The air extractor fans in the tunnel will also be fixed.

Port impasse continues
Although media outlets had reported that the impasse over a debt payment between the Dominican Port Authority and the energy generators had been resolved, Diario Libre is now reporting that the impasse continues, with scant possibility of dialogue between both sides.
The dispute broke out when the Port Authority called for payment of its debt and closed all Dominicans ports as a measure to force payment.
The energy generators agreed to pay what they owed, but it seems as if that wasn't enough. The generators say they will not make any more payments, but APORDOM spokesperson Alicia Custal says that she hopes both sides can come to an agreement.

Holiday blackouts
The government has promised the nation 95% energy generation during the holiday season. Nonetheless, continual blackouts are adding to the frustration of many Dominicans. Diario Libre reports that yesterday half the country was blacked out after AES Andres and San Felipe went offline, as well as other smaller plants. Officials have kept singing the same tune, saying the plants went offline for regular maintenance. There was a 28% energy deficit early on Monday morning and the energy sector only fulfilled 72% of the demand. Residents of some National District neighborhoods are complaining of blackouts for as long as 10 to 12 hours.

DR at Copenhagen
The DR's Ministry of Environment will present its Biological Corridor Project at this year's United Nations Climate Change Conference, being held in Copenhagen between 7 and 18 December. The Corridor project is a joint initiative with Cuba and Haiti. It is aimed at increasing awareness of environmental issues in all three countries through shared cultural and educational projects, and has allowed 61 different special areas to come under government protection. This particular project has the support of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). Minister of Environment Jaime David Fernandez will be in the Danish capital to make his presentation, alongside vice president Rafael Alburquerque.

Get your cedulas
Dominican officials are urging Dominicans who are living abroad to register and get their cedula situations cleared up before Wednesday, if they intend to vote during the March 2010 Congressional elections. The Office for Expatriate Voters (OPREE) says their offices will be open until midnight Wednesday so that as many Dominicans abroad as possible can get their cedulas registered. The cost of the cedula is US$25 (US$15 for the cedula and US$10 for the birth certificate).

Caricom - a win-win agreement
Trade to the Caribbean is on a steady rise. Economist Roberto Despradel recalls that the country's first free trade agreement, signed with the Caribbean Common Market (Caricom) went into effect in 2001. This brought together 12 mostly island-states like Jamaica and Trinidad, and countries in continental South America such as Suriname and Guyana, as well as Belize in Central America. He said that in 2005 we exported US$35 million to Caricom countries. By 2008 that figure had increased to US$135 million. While we imported US$250 million in 2005, that figure exceeded US$600 million by 2008. "Even if this agreement is not in vogue compared to others signed by the country, its results have been win-win," says Despradel.
He says that while it is true we have a US$1.2 billion trade deficit with Caricom, 83% of this is because of hydrocarbon imports. When removing those, we show a trade surplus of US$38 million. He points out that another important aspect of trade with the Caribbean is that the islands complement each other. He makes the point that we import thick wiring from Trinidad for manufacturing mattresses in the DR. The mattresses then are exported to tourism projects in the small islands of the eastern Caribbean. We also export cement and steel rods, windows, sinks and PVC piping to the Caribbean. From the Caribbean we import inputs for fertilizers and export others. We also export cardboard boxes. And there is trade in a wide range of food and industrial products. "This is why we are natural trade partners," concludes Despradel.
In 2008, the DR exported US$137.01 million to the Caribbean and imported US$648.11 million.
During the 4th Meeting of the Trade Forum at the Center for Exports and Investments (CEI-RD) last Friday Jose Manuel Armenteros, co-president of the Caricom-Dominican Republic trade Forum said: "While it is true that more than 85% of imports are for petroleum and by-products, there is a wide margin for new business and new market share in our respective markets." We need to act fast to make the most of this advantage with the European Union before the Central American and Mercosur countries finalize their respective negotiations."
Henri Hebrard, speaking at the workshop, explained that the DR has been able to increase its exports at a rate of 30% a year because of the high purchasing power of Caribbean islanders compared to Central Americans. He sees much potential now with the entry into effect of the European Partnership Agreement. He estimated the economy of the Cariforum region at US$100 billion. He says that inter-regional trade should increase, spurred by integration efforts under the EPA. He said that the European Union is supporting the development of the region working as a block, not isolated countries.

Spanish case reveals leaks
Hoy is reporting that Dominican authorities at the Money Laundering section of the Prosecutor General's Office were on the tail of Spanish fugitive Ricardo Diez Conde at least two months ago, and were on the verge of arresting him, but he was tipped off and managed to escape. According to Judge German Miranda Villalona, the authorities were ready to move in on Diez, with a warrant for the arrest in Miranda's hands. Miranda said that Diez flew to Mexico on a Venezuelan passport, before continuin on to two other countries in Latin America. Miranda says Diez's case is now out of the hands of the Dominican authorities since there is an international arrest warrant out for his capture.

Death toll high
A total of 1,800 people were killed in violent incidents in the DR in 2009. Of these, 287 deaths were attributed to trigger-happy cops who have come under scrutiny for their "shoot first, don't ask questions later" approach to fighting crime. However, although deaths are high, the Prosecutor General's Office says that violent deaths are down 19% compared to 2008. The year ended with 11 deaths while 2009 began with 19 deaths in its first eight days. Observers, commenting on the increase of deaths at the hands of police, say that police aggression towards suspected criminals has now become a de-facto police policy. One trend that has seen a decline is domestic violence towards women. Although rates had been increasing steadily during the last 5 years, these cases dropped by 32% in 2009, compared to 2008. This year 70 women have died at the hands of their partners, 32 less than in 2009.

62 "keys" at Punta Cana
Drug enforcement officials are announcing the seizure of 62 kilos of cocaine at the Punta Cana International Airport. The drugs were separated into 52 different packets, and have been initially traced to Venezuela. The drugs came in on a private flight to Punta Cana, which was piloted by two Venezuelans and had three passengers on board who disembarked and left the airport.

Pelaez's daughter investigated
The daughter of murdered TV personality and comedian Milton Pelaez, Mary Pelaez Frappier, is being investigated by Dominican narcotics officials for alleged links with fugitive Puerto Rican drug trafficker Jose Figueroa. Officials are accusing Pelaez of being the front woman for Figueroa and seized an apartment in Cabarete allegedly owned by Figueroa, but registered in Pelaez's name. Pelaez says the property has nothing to do with Figueroa and that it belongs to her family, registered in the name of all her siblings. Officials are working on the assumption that Pelaez served as a front woman for Figueroa and that she also bought an apartment for Sobeida Felix's ex-husband, Eddy Brito.

Dominican poet wins
Fausto Antonio Leonardo Henriquez's poem "Gemidos del Ciervo Herido" has been awarded the XXIX Fernando Rieloc Mystical Poetry World Prize. Leonardo's poem was one of 12 finalists from 6 countries, selected from among 207 works submitted from 20 countries. The awards ceremony took place at the Spanish Embassy to the Holy See in Rome, with the presence of Ambassador Francisco Vazquez.

Saldana praised for Avatar
Two 31-year old Dominicans, Zoe Saldana in the lead female role (Neytiri) and Michelle Rodriguez star in the new epic action adventure fantasy "Avatar," directed by James Cameron, of Titanic fame. The film tells the story of a reluctant hero who embarks on a journey of redemption, discovery and unexpected love. The film, which premiered last week, is one of Hollywood's most talked about movies of the moment. Saldana is receiving critical acclaim for the facial expressions of her Avatar character.
The film is expected to open soon in Dominican theaters.
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