First Lady visits Pope Francisco
Osmar Benítez highlights his plans for Ministry of Agriculture
The little known new minister of Public Health and the challenges ahead
Financial groups control health providers, says Dr. Wilson Roa
Technological institutes to meet in Punta Cana
Dominican ombudswoman is calling for local authorities to give priority to
Ivan Gatón on perspectives for Dominican relations with China
Chinese in DR celebrate new relations at Chinatown event
20-year old Jairon Ortiz has invited a remotely controlled backhoe
Venezuelan activist arrested in Dajabon with five Venezuelans that sought to legalize their status
Santiago business owner kidnapped; US$5 million ransom sought
Carla Massiel murder case read to start
Air Cocaine’s Christophe Naudin freed on conditional release
Shakira includes Punta Cana in her 2018 world tour

First Lady visits Pope Francisco
First Lady Candida Montilla had represented President Danilo Medina at the inauguration of Pope Francisco on 19 March 2013. This past week she was back at the Vatican City to meet with Pope Francisco and for the second time extend to him an invitation to visit the Dominican Republic. She met with the Pope on Saturday, 12 May 2018. This 2018, her meeting with the Pope was a time to discuss educational programs to benefit young people.

As reported, she spoke with the Pope for 20 minutes at the Palazzo San Callisto in the Vatican City on occasion of her participation in a Scholas Ocurrentes activity. The First Lady traveled to Italy after accepting an invitation from Pope Francisco to participate in the Scholas event that gathered around 100 youths from different countries.

During the activity at the Palazzo San Callisto, the Pope met a new group of trainers and students who are participating in a new project, concluded a 5-day Scholas Occurrentes meeting of school children from 10 countries and inaugurated three new centers of the foundation in Argentina, Mozambique and Colombia through video links.

The Scholas Occurrentes, the Latin for “schools that meet “, is an educational project launched by Pope Francis in Argentina 2001, when he was Archbishop of Buenos Jorge Mario Bergoglio, to encourage social integration ‎and the culture of encounter through sports, arts and technology. As Pope, he made it into a foundation in 2013. Today it is present in 190 countries.

Pope Francisco personally gifted the First Lady with a replica of the artistic mosaic by Albano Poli with the image of the Virgen de la Altagracia, protector of the Dominican people, that is located in the gardens of the Vatican two years since.

The First Lady expressed her wish that the Dominican Republic may also host the Scholas Ocurrentes program as a contribution to making young people better citizens. She also shared with Pope Francisco initiatives of the First lady Office for children, women, senior adults, as well as to present teenage pregnancy, autism, Down syndrome and cerebral paralysis.

Osmar Benítez highlights his plans for Ministry of Agriculture
Probably one of the most knowledgeable persons on agriculture in the Dominican Republic, newly-appointed Agriculture Minister Osmar Benítez says that the main challenge for the farming sector is to increase market share for Dominican produce abroad. At his swearing in ceremony, he said he will concentrate on increasing exports.

He told the press that he would work on public farm policies to increase supply of popular food products, such as rice, milk, beans, chicken, eggs, plantains, cassava. He said he favors providing these sectors with incentives to increase productivity and profitability. He said he also favors working on developing a strategy focused on promoting exports of goods where the Dominican Republic has competitive and comparative advantages.

He said he would continue programs begun by his predecessor and would contribute new ideas. "I want farming to be a profitable activity," said the new minister upon being sworn in at the Presidential Palace.

Benitez is a graduate in food engineering from the PUCMM in Santiago with undergraduate studies at the Instituto Superior de Agricultura (ISA) in Santiago. He has been a farmer, plantain contractor for Frito Lay, and founder of the Dominican Agribusiness Board (JAD) in 1984. At the time of his appointment, he was executive president of the JAD. On several occasions he has been farming advisor to the President of the Republic.

The little known new minister of Public Health and the challenges ahead
Gradually, details are appearing in the media on who exactly is Dr. Rafael Sánchez Cardenas, the newly appointed Minister of Public Health. Even the president of the Dominican Medical Guild says he was not familiar with him.

What is most apparent is that Dr. Sánchez Cardenas is a technocrat. The 62-year old medical doctor since 1 September 2012 had served as deputy minister of international relations at the Ministry of Superior Education (MESCyT) where he was primarily responsible for the international scholarships program.

In his wealth statement to the Chamber of Deputies, he appears with a wealth of RD$1.7 million and at the Ministry of Superior Education he received monthly wages of around RD$240,000.

Sánchez Cardenas has gone on record openly backing President Danilo Medina’s position for incorporating the possibility of legal abortions in the cases of rape, incest and when the mother’s life is at risk.

He takes over from resigning Public Health Minister Altagracia Guzmán Marcelino. Sánchez Cardenas takes on the Ministry at a time when medical services at the public hospitals continue to be affected by a widespread program to remodel more than 50 hospitals at the same time undertaken early on by the Medina administration. There is an increase in the number of newborn deaths, attributed to the chaos caused by the construction at the hospitals, the rising number of immigrants that seek the services, violations of medical protocols, among other reasons. Discussions are underway for a new 10-Year Health Plan (Plandes 2018-2028).

“We take on this position with humbleness, but with the firm commitment to contribute to improve the health of the population. It is a challenge we take on that obliges us to give our best to satisfy the expectations in the health sector, especially in the most priority issues,” said Dr. Sánchez Cardenas upon taking office.

His predecessor, Dra. Altagracia Guzmán Marcelino, resigned in February 2018, and was awaiting the appointment of her replacement. As reported, the replacement of the director of the National Health Service (SNS) Nelson Rodríguez Monegro, delayed her replacement. Rodríguez had resigned and was replaced by Chanel Rosa Mateo, said to be a man of the confidence of Guzmán Marcelino.

Rodríguez justified her resignation saying that she wanted to have time to be a grandmother, after 50 years in public service.

Financial groups control health providers, says Dr. Wilson Roa
The president of the Dominican Medical Guild (CMD) Dr. Wilson Roa denounced the public hospitals being inaugurated by the Medina administration are lacking in equipment, staff and basic working supplies. He said that in the country the medical health provider companies are not providers of medical services. Instead he said they are financial risk administrators.

Dr. Wilson Roa Familia went so far as to say that in the Dominican Republic there is no real patient-focused health network, but rather the health sector is controlled by financial groups.

Moreso, Roa said that when doctors do not comply with their schedules it is due to a lack of efficient management at the center where the anomaly occurs.

He criticized that the government is overseeing the simultaneous renovations at 57 public hospitals, without any kind of central planning. “This chaotic administrative oversight has caused great damage to the health sector,” he said. He said even the government admitted the heavy workload in improving infrastructure was a big mistake that has had profound effects on the health of the population.

Dr. Roa made the statements when interviewed by Héctor Herrera Cabral for the D'Agenda program, on Channel 11.

"The investment that is made in the rehabilitation of a hospital is only measurable, if accompanied by planning, which there was not; installing of equipment, and these have not been equipped, and qualified personnel to give a good service", explained the president of the professional association.
He criticized the government has pensioned off around 1,756 doctors and not named their replacements.

Roa added that the health providers (ARS) even dared to publish their profits that at the end of the year amount, that added up to hundreds of millions of pesos. Meanwhile, he said patients who are financing the service, and the doctors, who are also financing the system, are suffering from an inefficient and inequitable health care system. He said the financial companies control the Social Security Council where the policies of the sector are decided because these have veto power.

Technological institutes to meet in Punta Cana
The Las Americas Institute of Technology (ITLA) is coordinating the first Inter American Superior Education Technical and Technological Space (EIESTEC) program sponsored by the regional Iberoamerican University Organization (OUI). A first of the activities is scheduled for 15-16 November 2018 and will take place in Punta Cana.

The program seeks to bring together the technical and technological institutes in the Americas, such as ITLA, that offer short careers. The platform allows for sharing experiences for the strengthening of training programs, research and innovation in short careers for the technical and technological institutes in the Americas. EIESTEC was founded in 2014.

ITLA rector, José Armando Tavarez, says the ITLA will use the opportunity to position the ITLA and the Dominican Republic abroad as an example for the Americas and the world.

The new program will increase the offering of short courses, micro workshops, annual encounters and applied research projects focusing on improving the quality of technical and technological learning at the university level.

The ITLA is a government owned university.

Ombudswoman advocates for beds for Dominican women
Dominican ombudswoman is calling for local authorities to give priority to Dominican women seeking maternity services. Zoila Martinez complained Dominican women are being displaced by the large numbers of undocumented Haitians at public health facilities. She said the available budget is not enough to serve all the needy Haitians that are coming to take advantage of free medical services at Dominican public hospitals.

She called for international cooperation to build facilities in Haiti to serve Haitian patients. She has petitioned for assistance from the Organization of American States, the European Union, France, and Canada so that Haiti can have the hospitals it needs.

Martinez said the issue is not discrimination, but rather the intent of the initiative is to improve health care services in Haiti as a way to reduce pressure on public hospitals in the Dominican Republic. She pointed out that the Dominican public hospitals cannot meet the demand of the locals, and much less of foreigners. She said that many diseases are spreading because of the high number of patients and a lack of facilities, equipment and staff. In April 2018, Martinez had proposed that the government build three maternity hospitals in Haiti to serve patients in Haiti who are crossing the border to give birth in the Dominican Republic.

Ivan Gatón on perspectives for Dominican relations with China
The general public is invited to attend the conference on Dominican relations with the People’s Republic of China to be given by geopolitics and international relations expert, Iván Gatón. The talk, “Origin, Evolution and Perspectives for Dominican-Chinese Relations” will be presented on 15 May 2018. The conference is sponsored by the Secretaria de Formación Política of the ruling PLD party. The talk will take place at the Salón Bienvenido Sandoval of the Casa Nacional del PLD as of 6pm.

Dominican Republic announced signing of diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China after more than 75 years of relations with Taiwan.

Gatón has a Master’s degree in diplomatic studies, has Doctorate in international law and political sciences and has conducted several studies focused on the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China (Taiwan).

Chinese in DR celebrate new relations at Chinatown event
The representative of the Chinese Commercial Office in Santo Domingo, Fu Xinrong, was at Chinatown in Santo Domingo to celebrate with local residents the signing of diplomatic relations.

In a speech in Chinatown, she highlighted how the signing opens up a new world of opportunities in tourism, commerce, investment, infrastructure, manufacturing, high tech, education, among others.

Speaking for the Chinese community, Su Kin Fung, president of the Center for the Chinese Colony, said that now the Dominican Republic will be named a travel destination open to Chinese tourists. He highlighted some 130 million tourists traveled last year.

The Center for the Chinese Colony is an umbrella organization for entities working for increased relations with China. These include: Unión Empresarial Domínico Chino, Asociación de la Familia CHITACK (NG); Asociación de las Familias Joa, Lai and Kong; Chi Kuntong Dominicana (Chinese Masons);
Asociación Juventud China; Fundación Flor para Todos, Fundación Nuestra Familia, Asociación de Comerciantes y Profesionales del Barrio Chino de Santo Domingo and Tai Kua Lo. Also the Chinese Chamber of Commerce in the Dominican Republic.

Chinatown is flying the Dominican and People’s Republic of China flags after the announcement of the new diplomatic relations on 30 April 2018.

20-year old Jairon Ortiz has invented a remotely-controlled backhoe
Self-taught Jairon Ortiz put his self-acquired knowledge together and built an excavator that can be remotely operated. Ortiz graduated from the Liceo Ramon Marte Pichardo public high school in El Río, Tireo in Constanza, La Vega province.

He seeks to win a scholarship to study mechatronics engineering but his family cannot afford to send him to school. He said he would like to study to be able to carry out important projects.

Ortiz described his backhoe as a hybrid between electronics and mechanical operation, with the use of a hydraulic system, batteries and electric motors. He said one of the advantages to his project is that it can be operated in difficult areas without putting at risk a human being because of its wireless operation.

Venezuelan activist arrested in Dajabón with five Venezuelans that sought to legalize their status
Venezuelan social activist, Ana María Rodríguez, was detained for several hours on Saturday, 12 May 2018, by Migration Agency officers after accompanying five Venezuelans to pay fines in Dajabón in order to legally extend her stay for three more months in the country.

She was later released on Saturday evening together with the five Venezuelans that were placed in the care of Father Mario Serrano of the Centro Montalvo. Afterwards, reports are that the Venezuelans were taken to the Centro de Detención de Haiti in San Cristóbal from where they would be deported.

On Friday, 11 May 2018, Rodríguez had participated in a hearing by the InterAmerican Commission of Human Rights (CIDH) on the situation of Venezuelan immigrants in the Dominican Republic.

Rodríguez was arrested along with Jesús Manuel Osorio Márquez, Elvis Enrique Rincón Zicardi, Yuli Rincón Piñate, Francisbel del Valle Macías and Alcides Osorio Márquez. According to Serrano, Rodríguez has legal status in the country and has for the past year been accompanying fellow Venezuelans to pay the fees to extend their stay in the country. He said the Migration agents in Dajabón “know” her.

Venezuelans can travel to the Dominican Republic without a visa and, generally, they are granted a permit to stay of up to two months in the country. However, when this period is due to expire, the Venezuelans travel to Haiti through Dajabón and return to Dominican territory to start their permitted stay period again.

Members of the Venezuelan diaspora in the Dominican Republic have been asking the Dominican government to grant them a special immigration status, such as granted to Haitians.

Santiago business owner kidnapped; US$5 million ransom sought
It has been reported that Epifanio Arias (Fernando), described as owner of a shopping center, Plaza Moli, at Av. Circunvalación Sur at the entrance to Cienfuegos in Santiago de los Caballeros, was kidnapped last week. A ransom of US$5 million pesos is sought.

On Thursday, 10 May 2018, his wife, Yaneyva María Marcelino Álvarez, presented a claim at the Police in Santiago. She said that her husband was last known to have gone out with a Colombian associate identified as Luis Eduardo Méndez (El Paisa), to visit a common friend. She has not heard from him since.

Supposedly, Arias had telephoned a friend saying he was kidnapped and US$5 million needed to be paid for his freedom.

Arias lived for several years in the United States where he reportedly owned a car wash. Arias resides in Gurabo.

Carla Massiel murder case read to start
The Third Court of Instruction of the Province of Santo Domingo ordered the start of the hearing against Darwin José Trinidad and Juan Cabral Martínez accused of the death of 6-year old Carla Massiel, who went missing on 25 June 2015.

Judge Hilda Sánchez excluded for lack of evidence, Liliana Santana, who relatives of the victim had accused of being involved in the murder of the child. Santana is daughter of late physician Hipólito Santana, owner of the Clínica Integral, who was mentioned in the investigations by Trinidad. Trinidad says his participation was just to dispose of the corpse after organs were extracted by Liliana Santana for her father.

The body was the child was found on 16 August 2016 after the child had been missing for over a year.

The accused are in pretrial custody at La Victoria and San Pedro de Macoris jails.

Air Cocaine’s Christophe Naudin freed on conditional release
Frenchman Christophe Naudin was freed from prison in France on conditional release on grounds of poor health. The aviation expert had been instrumental in helping two French pilots sentenced to 20 years in Dominican jail for their participation in cocaine smuggling from the Dominican Republic to France.

55-year old Naudi was released on Saturday, 12 May 2018. His lawyer, Stephen Monod, had said that Naudin was eligible for release for good behavior. Naudin had been sentenced to five years in prison in Najayo Men’s Jail for helping the pilots Bruno Odos and Pascal Fauret in the Air Cocaine case. The pilots claimed they were not aware of the 680 kilos of cocaine in 26 suitcases they transported on a private plane from Punta Cana to Saint Tropez.

Naudin was serving a prison sentence in Higuey prior to an agreement that was reached with the Dominican judiciary that allowed him to serve out his sentence in France at the Villepinte jail in Seine-Saint Denis.

Shakira includes Punta Cana in her 2018 world tour
Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana has booked Shakira’s “El Dorado” world tour for Thursday, 18 October 2018. She will be performing several of the great hits of her most recent album “El Dorado.” The tour begins on 11 October in Mexico City and ends on 3 November in Bogotá. She will be also performing in Miami, Los Angeles, New York, Dallas and Las Vegas. Locally, her show is a production by Producciones George Nader and Conciertos Saymon Díaz.
Listen to her music.