Turkey foreign minister visits to strengthen ties
Tourism Minister García proposes Latin American Schengen-style visa
Santiago is getting its own botanical garden this year
New Columbus Lighthouse director appointed
UASD professors collect their wages, but are on a teacher strike
PRM criticizes choices for Chamber of Accounts
Italian consular services offered at Plaza Merengue
Trump protectionism could force DR to compete for investments
Eric Frederick Trump visits Cap Cana
US$30 million received in Odebrecht bribery deal, confidentiality ensured
Joao Santana sentenced to eight years in Brazil
Sign the Green Book against Impunity
Historic documentaries at the Cinemateca 

Turkey foreign minister visits to strengthen ties
President Danilo Medina met Foreign Minister of Turkey Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu as part of the efforts by Turkey to strengthen relations with the Latin American region. Turkey ambassador in the country Aydın Evirgen and Berkan Pazarcı, in charge of the Latin American and Caribbean Department for the Ministry of Foreign Relations of Turkey, also participated in the meeting.

On behalf of the Dominican government, present were Minister of the Presidency Gustavo Montalvo and Minister of Foreign Relations Miguel Vargas.

Tourism Minister García proposes Latin American Schengen-style visa
Tourism Minister Francisco Javier García, speaking in Madrid, Spain during the 2017 International Tourism Fair (Fitur 2017) called for Latin American countries to agree to a Schengen-style visa in order to stimulate more multi-destination visits in the region and make the region more attractive to international visitors. It would have a significant positive impact on the tourism industry in the region. 

García says he has encouraged the World Tourism Organization to use its leadership to secure free transit throughout the Americas. The program would exclude the United States that has special rules regarding security issues. Garcia said the project has been well received. He called the project the Americas Union for Travel in All of Latin America and the Caribbean. 

Santiago is getting its own botanical garden this year
While a date has not been set, Ricardo García, director of the National Botanical Garden (JBN) located in Santo Domingo, announced Santiago’s botanical gardens would open in the Jacagua municipal district. The city park would be named the Eugenio de Jesús Marcano Botanical Garden, in honor of the leading botanist, entomologist and speleologist.The country’s other large botanical garden outside of Santo Domingo is located on the top of the Isabel de Torres Mountain in Puerto Plata. 

García explained the JBN is providing the technical direction for the soon-to-open botanical garden in Santiago, which is the country’s second largest city and is located in the central region of the country. He says the new botanical garden will be a sanctuary for biodiversity, a space for the conservation of endemic and native flora of the island. 

García said that endemic and native trees and several important species under threat of extinction have already been planted, including guayacan, caracolí, oak, campeche, gpenda, candelón, arraiján, palmas canas, cigua, load water, almácigo, mara, guázara, olive, cabirma and other endangered species. The Ministry of Environment has planted more than 100 rare plants and 7,000 trees of 52 different species in the area of 600,000 square meters. An 80,000 square meter forest reserve with many trees that are believed to be over 100 years old will be part of the Santiago botanical garden.

A decree still needs to be issued announcing the park. Brígido Peguero, in charge of research and taxonomy at the JBN, said that new areas are still being added. He said a bill still needs to be drafted to establish the legal base for the garden. 


New Columbus Lighthouse director appointed
President Danilo Medina appointed Simón Herasme as new governor of the Columbus Lighthouse in eastern Santo Domingo. He replaces Marcelino María López. The appointment was made with Decree 13-17. 

The Columbus Lighthouse monument is built in the form of a gigantic cross and includes a mausoleum where the remains of Christopher Columbus are kept. It is also a museum with exhibits from countries around the world. 


UASD professors collect their wages, but are on strike
Diario Libre reports that in the School of Medicine of the state university, UASD, 80% of the professors have been visiting the school just to sign in, but not to give classes. The signing allows them to collect their wages. 
The professors are on strike demanding wage increases. The UASD professors are by far the best paid with the best pension plans and other perks among Dominican universities. 

The professors have been ordered to sign in but not to teach by the directors of the Federation of Associations of Professors of the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo (Faprouasd). Directors of Faprouasd reportedly are visiting the university to disrupt any classes. 


PRM criticizes choices for Chamber of Accounts
The secretary general of the Modern Revolutionary Party (PRM), Jesús Vásquez accused the Senate of choosing PLD party directors as members of the Chamber of Accounts for the period 2017-2020. He said this means there will not be controls on government spending. 

“What we are seeing is that the Chamber of Accounts is now made up of important PLD people who have been chosen to audit cases involving ruling PLD party government officers,” said Vásquez. 

He said opposition parties and representatives of civil society should have been invited to participate in the selection of the new members of the Chamber of Accounts. The ruling PLD party is majority in the Congress and thus imposed its majority in the choosing of the members of the government auditing entity. 

Likewise, the spokesman for the same opposition party PRM deputies, Alfredo Pacheco confirmed that the five members of the Chamber of Account have strong ties to the government party. “A Chamber of Accounts made up by political party members is an impediment that work will improve,” he said. 

The new Chamber of Account members were chosen in an extraordinary session of the senators with the vote of 26 of 29 senators present. The PLD has majorities in both the Senate and Chamber of Deputies. 

On Friday, 27 January 2017, the Senate chose Hugo Francisco Álvarez to preside the Chamber of Accounts. He replaces Licelot Marte de Barrios, known for her political ties with the PRSC, a former strong political ally of the PLD.
Other members are vice president Pedro Antonio Ortiz, Carlos Noé Tejada Díaz, secretary, and Pablo Domingo del Rosario and Félix Álvarez Rivera. 

The backgrounds of the officers are as follows:
Hugo Francisco Álvarez. The 64-year old new president of the Chamber of Accounts is a native of La Vega. He is the son of a former justice of the Supreme Court of Justice, Hugo Alvarez Valencia. He graduated with a degree in law from the Catholic University Madre y Maestra (today PUCMM) in 1977. Álvarez has served as a state prosecutor for the judicial district of La Vega as well as in diplomatic positions at the Dominican Embassy in Bonn, Germany. Judge Alvarez Pérez was also the head of the legal department of the Superintendence of Banks for the north region. The judge has also been a professor at the Catholic Technological University of the Cibao in La Vega as well as at the Fernando Arturo de Meriño Agroforestry University (Uafam) in Jarabacoa. He is brother-in-law of PRSC high director Leonardo Matos Berrido, and the opposition says he has very close ties with the ruling PLD party. 

Pedro Antonio Ortiz Hernández. He continues for the Chamber of Account. He was legal advisor at the Dirección General de Precios in 1998 and adjunct prosecutor of the Court of Appeals of Santo Domingo in 1998, during the first government of former President Leonel Fernández. From 2005-2008, during the second government of former President Leonel Fernández, he was appointed executive director of the governmental Council for the Coordination of the Special Zone for Border Development. 

Carlos Noé Tejada Díaz. He continues at the Chamber of Accounts. He is an accountant and had served as administrative director of the Chamber of Accounts.

Pablo del Rosario. He continues as a member of the Chamber of Accounts.
He served as deputy technical secretary of the Presidency during the first presidency of Leonel Fernández (from 1998 to 2000), and as deputy technical secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture. He also served from 2004-2008 as finance and administration vice president for BanReservas insurance department.  

Félix Álvarez Rivera. He served as prosecutor at the Court of Appeals in Puerto Plata. He is president of a political committee of the ruling PLD in Puerto Plata.


Italian consular services offered at Plaza Merengue
Livio Spadavecchia is the new officer in charge of the re-opened Italian diplomatic mission in the Dominican Republic. The Italian government had shut down the Embassy and consulate two years ago. 

Spadavecchia, who is the commercial attaché , said his current appointment as head of the Italian mission is temporary. An ambassador will be appointed in the coming months, he announced.  

Spadavecchia says that the mission serves around 10,000 Italians that live in the country and a large number of Italian business and investments. 

Dominican ambassador in Italy Peggy Cabral traveled to Santo Domingo to participate in the opening ceremony of the mission. “It was a need to have the embassy open to better serve Italy’s commerce and tourism interests in the Dominican Republic,” she said. 

Also participating in the raising of the Italian flag, which featured a piano and violin rendition of the Italian national anthem, were businessmen, investors, Dominican-Italians and tourists. 

Spadavecchia explained that while the embassy is being organized, consular services will be offered at a location opened at the Plaza Merengue on 27 de Febrero Avenue with Tiradentes Avenue.


Trump protectionism could force DR to compete for investments
Speaking during a conference entitled, “Perspectives of the Dominican Economy in the Context of New Global Challenges”, sponsored by the governmental BanReservas, economist Raúl Féliz said on Wednesday, 1 February 2017, that the Dominican government may need to revise its tax incentives to compete with the United States. Féliz says the DR would have to offer a sufficiently attractive fiscal regime to keep existing businesses and attract new investments.  

Féliz warned that US President Donald Trump has announced plans to reduce corporate taxes from 35% to 15%, a reduction in capital repatriation to 10%, and even plans to eliminate taxes for companies investing in fixed assets in the United States.

“Curiously, the United States is going to compete with the Dominican Republic for attracting investments,” he alerted. He said the government may need to revise its own tax structure in order to stay attractive to investors. 

Féliz said that in the medium term the expansion in public spending promised by the new US President could spur inflation. To avoid this potential spike in inflation, the Federal Reserve could increase interest rates in 2018, which would increase the cost of private and public borrowing.  

Féliz said that all this will be happening at a time when the Dominican economic growth is expected to slow down after three years of rapid growth. “The Dominican economy is slightly overheated,” he said. He expected the stabilization will cause the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to grow at around 4.6%. 


Eric Frederick Trump visits Cap Cana
The second son of President Donald Trump, Eric Frederick Trump, reportedly visited Punta Cana yesterday, Thursday, 2 February 2017. El Caribe reported he was in Cap Cana. Diario Libre reported his visit was short. He had arrived around noon and left that same afternoon.

Eric Trump and his brother have been entrusted with running the Trump Organization during their father’s presidency.

News archives reveal that in the Dominican Republic, the Trump Organization had promoted the Farrallones de Cap Cana real estate development in the Punta Cana area. In 2007 a new sales record in Caribbean real estate was announced when reportedly US$350 million gross was sold and 95% of inventory in the first four hours of the Trump Farallon Estates at Cap Cana. 

Trump Farallon Estates consisted of 68 lots of land, ranging in size from 1.6 to 12 acres, and priced from US$3 million to US$12 million. 

The project would go sour, nevertheless, as it coincided with the US financial meltdown in 2008. Trump Organization would later file a lawsuit against Cap Cana in a New York Court in 2012. The company claimed resort executives did not report that they owed US$15 million in licensing fees for use of the real estate mogul's name and then failed to fully pay up when the discrepancy was discovered. 


US$30 million received in Odebrecht bribery deal, confidentiality ensured
Attorney General Jean-Alain Rodríguez says that the country has received US$30 million part of the deal signed with the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht that has admitted to making US$92 million in bribes to obtain contract work in the Dominican Republic. He also announced that as part of the deal, his office would receive details of the names of those involved in the Dominican bribes. However, this information is confidential as established by the Dominican Penal Procedures Code. 

Rodríguez said that the payment is an advance of a commitment by Odebrecht to pay the country US$184 million, an amount double of the admitted bribe, in compliance with Dominican Law 448-06 on Bribes in Commerce and Investment. 

Rodríguez said the remainder would be paid over an eight-year period, ending in 2025. He said the first payment was received with the signing of the agreement on Wednesday, 1 February 2017. The agreement says that the Dominican Republic will have preference over payment of other agreements reached with other countries, with the exception of those signed with the United States, Brazil and Switzerland. The other terms of the agreement have not been made public. 

Rodríguez said the eight-year term is a much better deal than the 20 year payments of penalties that have been negotiated with Brazil, Colombia, Panama and Peru. 

He said the payment does not stop investigations into the case being carried out by the Attorney General Office. Rodríguez said the agreement includes a cooperation clause for the local investigations. He said this includes the lists where persons, works and financial structures used for the mobilization of the bribes is identified.

Rodríguez said the information would be supplied once it is released from a confidentiality agreement signed by Odebrecht with the Brazilian authorities with the approval of US authorities. Nevertheless, Rodríguez said the content of the agreement is protected by a confidentiality clause established in Art. 290 of the Dominican Penal Procedures Code. 

Local press has criticized that the Dominican Republic is the only Latin American country to not yet announce the names of local persons involved in the bribery scandal, nor have officials sought the involvement of independent investigators, such as the United Nations to look into the scandal. 


Joao Santana sentenced to eight years in Brazil
Brazil president Rousseff's and Dominican President Danilo Medina’s campaign chief advisor, Joao Santana, was sentenced this week to eight years in prison for his ties to the corruption network operating at the Petrobras company in Brazil. Santana was also known as “the maker of presidents.” His wife Monica Moura also received a jail sentence for being part of the corruption network.

In Brazil, Santana was the lead advisor of the 2006 re-election campaign of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and those that lead Dilma Rousseff to victories in 2010 and 2014.

At the time of the start of the case for corruption, Santana was working in the Dominican Republic. He was a key advisor in the 2011-12 election campaign of Medina. He quit his post in the re-election campaign of President Danilo Medina to travel to Brazil to defend himself from what he said were “baseless accusations”.


Sign the Green Book against Impunity
The organizers of the successful Sunday, 22 January 2017, March Against Impunity are now calling citizens to sign the Green Book Against Impunity to continue the protest against lenience in Dominican courts for administrative corruption. The organizers say the signatures will support demands that the government name a commission of independent prosecutors with the cooperation of the United Nations to investigate the Odebrecht bribery scandal. 

The organizers say that political delinquency has hijacked the country's institutions, and that the current attorney general Jean Alain Rodríguez only responds to the interests of the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) and President Medina. 

The group demands that the Independent Prosecutors Commission collaborate with UN specialists within the framework of the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) to investigate the scandal.  The UNCAC, which was ratified by the Dominican state on 26 October 2006, has a strong institutional basis to assist in the investigation.  

The signing of the Green Book for the End of Impunity petition will take take place on Sunday, 5 February 2017 from 9am to 6pm at the Independence Park. The signing will later be taken to strategic points nationwide. 


Historic documentaries at the Cinemateca 
Cinemateca Dominicana is inviting the public to view Dominican Republic historic films as part of the celebration of February being Dominican Independence month. The movie, “Ciclo de Cine La Patria”, will be shown free of charge at the Cinemateca in Plaza de la Cultura from 2 to 15 February. Many other documentaries and historic films are also being shown. 

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