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Daily News - Monday, 20 February 2012

PLD and PRSC announce alliance
The PRSC has signed an agreement to support the ruling PLD presidential candidate Danilo Medina in the forthcoming election. The two parties reached the agreement at a meeting chaired by President Leonel Fernandez on Saturday February 18. The formal announcement was made on Sunday, February 19 at 10am at Santo Domingo's Palacio de los Deportes, at an event attended by senior PRSC members and supporters.

PRSC president Carlos Morales Troncoso, who is also the Foreign Relations Minister, declared that the PRSC would be a key and decisive force in the election of the next President of the Republic, and said that he would work towards a high voter turnout throughout the country.

New posts for PRSC members
El Caribe reports that the government has appointed Mario Fernandez Savinon as president of the Dominican Hydroelectricity Generation Business Advisory Board, (EGEHID). Fernandez Savinon will be replacing Johnny Jones, who was recently elected for the post of General Secretary of the Dominican Municipal League.

Carlos Octavio Troche was appointed as general director of the Puerto Plata Aqueducts and Sewers Corporation, (CORAAPLATA), taking over from Omalis Tavarez. Both Fernandez and Troche are members of the PRSC.

JCE president warns about dirty campaign
The president of the Central Electoral Board (JCE), Roberto Rosario, has called on the political parties to focus on the positive and avoid dirty campaigning, which he said violated the fundamental rights of citizens and the electoral law 275-97.

Rosario issued this warning during a speech on Friday February 17 in New York City while swearing in members of the coordinating electoral offices overseas representing Washington, Miami, Orlando, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Boston and New York. His comments coincide with the allegations being leveled against the First Lady, Margarita Cedeno, who is also the Vice Presidential candidate.

Listin Diario reports that he told the party delegates at the event and aspiring overseas deputies that the good name, the reputation and the honor of the candidates and the parties they represented, as well as those who were up for election at presidential and vice presidential level should be respected according to the Constitution and its laws.

Article 94 of the electoral law states that: "During the electoral period, no group or political party can use phrases, nor make inferences in whatever media against the decency, the decorum, or the dignity of the opposing political party or its candidates."

Rosario warned that the JCE could impose warnings on the parties and their leaders who broke this law and that they would investigate and uncover whoever was behind the publication of anything besmirching the integrity of those candidates up for election.

Too many deputy ministers
According to El Caribe, the number of deputy ministers is unprecedented in the history of the country, or the rest of the world. The Dominican government has 334 deputy ministers, distributed between different ministries: Agriculture 37, Public Health 33, Education 29, Sport 28, Employment 25, Environment 21, Industry and Commerce 20, Youth 19, Interior and Police 19, Public Works 18, Tourism 18, Higher Education, Science and Technology 13, Women 12, Foreign Relations 9, Culture 8, Housing 8, Public Administration 5, Administration 5, Economy 4, and Armed Forces 3.

Even much larger countries do not have such an army of deputy ministers. Canada for example with a geographical area 206 times larger and a population 3.5 times larger, has only 25 deputy ministers in its government.

Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State for the United States has one deputy minister for all of her work. Yet the Dominican Republic, which has only 3% the population of the US, needs nine Deputy Ministers for the same department.

The number of deputy ministers is actually laid down by Law. There should be three for Agriculture instead of 37, five for Public Health and there are 33. The same is the case for the other ministries and in total the law states there should be 59 Deputy Ministers and in fact there are 334. El Caribe asks whether the President has forgotten his promise made in 2004 to comply with the law that regulates these posts.

This excess of deputy ministers costs the country RD$715 million a year, taking into account the salaries, credit cards, cars, gasoline, insurance, secretaries, chauffeurs, security guards, cell phones, travel allowances and other indirect costs associated with the position.

El Caribe goes on to say that had President Fernandez complied with his promise, over the last seven years the country would have saved RD$5,000 million which could have be used to increase spending on education or the Solidarity card.

US naval base in Saona?
On Saturday February 18, a representative from the Dominican left said that the United States was proposing to construct a military base on Saona Island. The official announcement is that it is a naval station, which the US is paying for.

Ivan Rodriguez, the General Secretary of the Revolutionary Alternative is quoted as saying in Hoy newspaper that groups from the left are planning to protest against the installation of the military base with other campaigning organizations.

He stated that the decision was ominous and unacceptable, saying that it was a plan for intervention and military control by the US.

According to Rear Admiral Nicolas Cabrera Arias, head of the navy, they are building a naval station and a jetty at a cost of US$1.5 million in order to look for drug traffickers, illegal journeys to Puerto Rico and to provide more security for tourists in the area.

Expert views on the Dominican economy
Strong exports helped the Dominican Republic's economy to grow by 4.5% last year and the country's exports rose 29%, while imports increased 13.6%. Latin Business Chronicle asked several experts for their opinions on how this has happened and which sectors of the economy are especially ripe for growth.

According to Bernardo Vega, president of the Dominican Cultural Foundation and former ambassador to the United States, the outlook for the Dominican economy is positive, despite the recent decision of the government not to continue with the IMF agreement until after the May presidential elections. However, the two major political candidates have committed themselves publicly to an IMF agreement after the elections. Exports increased in 2011 and the Barrick Gold mine will start exporting at the end of this year, although the taxes that it will pay will be low until investors recover their investment, which will take three or four years. The ferronickel plant, which was closed, is back in operation and should reach capacity this year. Despite the international situation, the government has maintained macroeconomic stability with a devaluation of only 3% to 4% and inflation at less than 8%. However income distribution keeps worsening and drug-related violence keeps increasing. Flows from tourism, assembly plants and remittances have increased, despite the external limitations.

Mary Fernandez Rodriguez, founding partner at Headrick Rizik Alvarez & Fernandez in Santo Domingo states that there has been a significant increase in the export of processed agricultural products such as beer, rum, tobacco, cocoa and coffee. As the Dominican Republic seeks to move up the value chain, success stories such as these should continue to be the focus of government policies as well as focusing on streamlining the processes to start new companies (although it is important to recognize that a new business organizations law has represented a significant advance in this respect).

Christopher Mitchell, professor emeritus of politics at New York University believes that high commodity prices help explain revived mining for ferronickel and gold; sugar, coffee and cacao also attract limited new investment. A relaxed exchange-rate policy probably assisted 2011's 5% growth in tourism; hoteliers had complained for years of an overvalued peso. Tourism and other services, plus mining, seem the segments most likely to grow strongly in the next few years. However the nation needs to remedy its persistent electric-power shortage; both influential businesses and some urban neighborhoods are 'free riders' on the electricity grid, and yearly electricity subsidies cost the state approximately US$1 billion. Greater commitment to ecological protection is urgently needed, for example, to address the inherited (and potential future) pollution from gold refining, and to safeguard Dominican mountains, beaches and national parks for the nation's future-including well-planned eco-tourism development. Most importantly, major new support is required to educate Dominican workers and professionals.

Olga Kalinina, sovereign ratings director at Standard & Poor's, states that relatively high growth trend reflects the country's resilient economy, its diversified export base, robust domestic demand and the expectation of relatively stable macroeconomic fundamentals. Although the government's withdrawal of its countercyclical fiscal and monetary stimulus curbed consumption and investment in 2011, exports performed well. This was because ferronickel exports resumed following the reopening of the Falconbridge mine. In addition, nontraditional exports benefited from weaker competition from Asia and stronger US demand. Increasing diversification by both market (exports to Central America expanded significantly) and subsector (exports of footwear, textiles, jewelry and medical products have increased) has made the export sector more resilient. The tourism sector has also benefited from diversification. Non-resident foreign arrivals grew more than five % last year, reflecting gains from South America. Unfavorable perceptions of corruption (a low 129th among 183 countries in corruption perception index) and poor global competitiveness index (110th out of 142 nations) reflect major qualitative weaknesses that we believe the Dominican Republic needs to address to ensure sustainable investment and growth.


Only 16 pardons
On Saturday February 18 the Pardon Commission announced that it would only be recommending 16 pardons out of over 600 submitted, based on advice from the relevant authorities including the Dominican Medical Association (CMD), families of the victims and private citizens who expressed their opinions via the commission's or the Attorney General's web page.

Father Aristides Jimenez, the spokesman for the commission, said that they would only be recommending offenders with chronic and terminal illnesses, inmates who had completed all of their sentences, or those who had completed more than half of them, and could not pay compensation.

They would not grant pardons to drug traffickers or those who did not warrant them, said Jimenez, as reported in Hoy.

Counterfeit printing press discovered
On Sunday February 19 the National Drug Control Agency (DNCD) announced that it had dismantled a counterfeit printing press and confiscated counterfeit dollar bills with a face value of around US$3 million from a house in Mata San Juan near the El Higuero airport in Santo Domingo North.

Two people who were arrested during the raid were taken for questioning by the DNCD. Domestic employee Natividad Gomez and motoconcho driver Luis Morel are believed to have worked for the owners of the printing press until they fled.

DNCD chief Major General Rolando Rosado Mateo said that they had received information that members of a network were using the house to store drugs and that is why they had a search warrant. The search revealed cocaine and heroin as well as the discovery that they were printing large quantities of counterfeit dollars.

The officials in charge of the operation were Colonel Jose Reyes Suarez, Lieutenant Colonel Jose Heredia and Major Victor Mesa, and the Prosecutor was Inedita Ines Perez Fernandez.

The DNCD also announced that it seized 162 packages of cocaine weighing approximately 164 kilos from a boat whose occupants left it abandoned on the beach in Uvero Alto, on the east coast. DNCD spokesman Roberto Lebron said that the confiscation took place as part of a joint operation by the Navy and the US Coastguard.

The occupants, who were heading to Puerto Rico, abandoned the boat together with the drugs when they realized the authorities were on their trail.

More drug raids
The National Drug Control Agency (DNCD) reports the dismantling of a narcotics sales and distribution center in the 24 April area in the capital. In total 105 people were arrested including Jose Nicanor Valdez Lopez, 29, the operator at the center together with people operating drug sales points throughout the country.

Diario Libre reports that Valdez Lopez was found in possession of cocaine, marijuana and crack, together with weighing scales, a motorcycle and several cell phones.

The DNCD Central Division teams also carried out operations and raids on drug sales points throughout the capital, San Cristobal, San Francisco de Macoris, La Caleta, Boca Chica and Las Terrenas.

In total they confiscated 600 portions of cocaine, 432 of marijuana and 183 of crack together with 10 motorcycles and RD$35,674 in cash.

Drugs and stress are ruining the health of young people
According to the former president of the Dominican Cardiology Society (SDC), Jose Reyes Troncoso, the use of illegal drugs like cocaine by young people has a direct effect on the coronary arteries and causes heart problems. He warned that illegal drugs are often responsible for deaths due to heart attacks.

Reyes Troncoso said that the fact that young people today lead a sedentary life with limited physical activity, playing less sport than in the past, is an additional factor.

He is quoted in Hoy newspaper as saying that young people's health is deteriorating due to high consumption of alcohol, sexual stimulants and their chaotic lives.

He said that stress was responsible for a chain of events and he now sees patients aged 30 or 40 with diseases that in the past were reserved for people between the ages of 50 and 60.

Hydroelectric power on the increase
A report in Listin Diario on Saturday February 18 describes how the community of Loma del Rancho has succeeded in generating its own energy using the stream in the hills of Pinar Quemado near Jarabacoa.

The micro hydroelectric system, which has 10 kilowatts of power, was inaugurated last October. It provides 45 families with a permanent electricity supply as well as the school and other community establishments.

Several other settlements are building their own local energy systems.

What these initiatives have in common is that they are not only using water as a source to generate power but that each project has received technical and financial support from the local office of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Small Subsidies Program (PPS), which aims to improve the quality of life of local people as well as protecting the environment.

Michela Izzo of the PPS said that there are currently 16 micro hydroelectric systems in operation, with another 10 under construction or being looked at. The project first started in 1997 in El Limon de San Jose de Ocoa, with a 3.5kw system serving 70 families.

Macao Surf festival this weekend
This coming weekend spectacular east coast surfers' beach Playa Macao is hosting the 2012 Macao Surf Invitational, with competitions for surfers of all ages in both male and female categories. Registration (RD$300) is from 7pm onwards on Friday February 24 at Balicana Restaurant in Los Corales, Bavaro. There will also be live music that evening, with Justin James.

Competitions start at 8:30am on Saturday 25 with the finals and a surfing exhibition on Sunday 26 February, as of 7:30am. There will also be a skateboarding contest at the CoastRiders Skate Park at Plaza San Juan in Bavaro at 6pm on Saturday. Prizes will be awarded on Sunday at 8pm, followed by a beach party at Playa Macao.

For more information see http://ripeard.com/blog


For more on upcoming events, see http://www.dr1.com/calendar

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