JCE says municipal vote test run is successful
JCE says PRD will be No. 3 on the ballot, PRSC No. 4
IFES gets to work
Greater Santo Domingo mayor debates start 27 January
País Possible announces Milton Morrison to run for President
New solar power plant opens in Barahona
Exports up in 2019
Duquesa closure will cost many thousands of "jobs"
Waldys Taveras urges government dispute the Duquesa land title
Ministry of Education sends tomb vandals to psychologist
Government agency says to be aware but not afraid of quakes
Minister Montalvo says progress seen on the cleanup of Ozama and Isabela rivers
Supreme Court of Justice will explain its position on the Odebrecht case
We are a long way from the 10 million tourists but trying
Fences and cameras reduce border incidents
New in people-smuggling, undocumented Haitians hide in poultry load
Learning how to drive at Ciudad Juan Bosch Road Park
Top ranking US government officials are frequent visitors at the Presidential Palace
Ambassador says new US-China deal will bring new opportunities for DR
Oceania Blue Sea Expedition makes a Dominican stopover

JCE says municipal vote test run is successful
Miguel Angel García, information technology (IT) director for the Central Electoral Board (JCE), says that on average citizens will take 45 seconds to vote using the automated system. The duration was determined during the Sunday, 19 January 2020 pilot testing carried out to prepare for the 16 February municipal election.

The system now requires after the vote is closed for a manual vote count of vouchers to be taken to confirm the automated system totals before sending the sums for streaming nationwide.

The mayors elected on 16 February 2020 will be sworn in on 24 April to begin their term.

JCE says PRD will be No. 3 on the ballot, PRSC No. 4
The Central Electoral Board (JCE) says the number of votes obtained at the presidential level is the new criteria for listing political parties on the municipal, presidential and congressional ballots for the 2020 general elections. The JCE had ruled the positions would be distributed based on the total votes (municipal, congressional and presidential levels) obtained by the political parties in the past 2016 general elections.

This was objected at the last minute by the Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD). The party obtained a favorable sentence from the Administrative Superior Court (TSA) that is now being implemented by the JCE.

Around 20 political parties were assigned new placements on the ballot that is being printed for the 16 February municipal election. Nevertheless, the measure primarily affects the Reformist Party (PRSC). The party has said it has invested millions in its campaign urging people to vote for No. 3.

The JCE announced that it would begin printing the ballots on Wednesday, 22 January 2020. The ballots need to be printed and distributed in time for the 16 February 2020 municipal election.

In the 2016 general election, the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) received 2,315,980 votes, for first place. The Modern Revolutionary Party (PRM) received 1,236,771, for second place. The Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD) was third, with 270,450 votes; and the Social Christian Reformist Party (PRSC) was fourth, with 259,396 votes.


IFES gets to work
The director of information technology of the Central Electoral Board (JCE), Miguel Angel Garcia, said that the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) is visiting the Dominican Republic as part of preparations for the 16 February municipal election and 17 May presidential election.

He said they expressed concern about the logistics of transporting voting machines from the warehouse to the polling stations. "They were also informed that the military electoral police guard the transportation," said García.

On the IFES mission are Sophie Lagueny, mission chief; Jason A. Grullón, US Agency for International Development (USAID) Civil Society and Government Project specialist; Michael Walker and Jack Cobb.

Pro V&V, a US company, is conducting the audit of the automated voting system. The focus of the audit is the system's functionality, the capacity of the system for being audited, and the security of the automated voting system. IFES announced it began its evaluation of the electronic voting system this Monday, 20 January 2020. The effort is funded by USAID.

Previously, a mission from the Inter-American Union of Electoral Bodies (Uniore) recommended actions to eliminate voting card purchases, strengthen the training of the staff at the voting stations, and appoint the electoral prosecutors. The appointment of the electoral prosecutors is the responsibility of the Attorney General Office.


Greater Santo Domingo mayor debates start 27 January
Debates among the candidates for mayor for the four municipalities of Greater Santo Domingo begin on 27 January 2020, announced the organizers of the discussions, the Social and Economic Development Council of Santo Domingo (Consejo de Desarrollo Economico y Social de Santo Domingo). The event has the backing of the El Nuevo Diario media group. The entity says they have the backing of the organizers of the municipal election, the Central Electoral Board (JCE) and the Citizen Participation, civic watchdog group.

Codessd says the first to debate are the candidates seeking the mayor position in Santo Domingo North.

The debates are scheduled for 27 to 30 January and from 3 to 6 February. The dates for the debates for candidates to mayor for Santo Domingo East, Santo Domingo West and the National District are yet to be announced.


País Possible announces Milton Morrison to run for President
The new Partido País Posible (PPP) announced that party founder Milton Morrison will be its presidential candidate. The candidacy and those of congressional candidates will be confirmed during the convention of delegates set for 26 January 2020. As reported in Diario Libre, this puts an end to rumors that National District Mayor David Collado would seek to run for President on that party's ticket.


New solar power plant opens in Barahona
President Danilo Medina inaugurated a 25 megawatt (MW) solar plant, Parque Solar Canoa, in Barahona, in the southwest of the country. The park is located in the Vicente Noble municipality. It will supply power to 30,000 households. The project is an investment of Emerald Star Energy and has a surface of 325,109 square meters. The new park will produce 60 gigawatt hours (GWH) per year. A second phase will be built adjacent to the present location.


Exports up in 2019
Dominican Republic exports in 2019 were US$11.4 billion, a 4.7% increase over exports in 2018 that had reached US$10.9 billion, according to the December Monthly Export Report from the Center for Export and Investment (CEI-RD). The country's main export items were gold, cigars, circuit breakers, medical instruments, jewelry and ferronickel.

Farm exports, at US$2.33 billion, were up 4.9% over last year. Non-farm product exports reached US$7.78 billion.

The main markets for Dominican exports in 2019 were:
United States: US$5.12 billion
Haiti: US$826.6 million
Switzerland: US$784.1 million
Puerto Rico: US$501.3 million
India: US$420.9 million


Duquesa closure will cost many thousands of "jobs"
At the open-air, quasi-landfill/refuse dump called Duquesa thousands of persons who find their daily sustenance there, as strange as that may seem. Duquesa is located in North Santo Domingo and is reached over barely passable roads that are used by garbage trucks of all sizes, in rain or shine, from dawn to early dusk.

According to a feature in Listín Diario, thousands of persons on foot and on motorcycles call Duquesa their place of business. These persons are known in Dominican slang as "buzos" or divers, and their livelihood depends on their ability to dive into the refuse dumped there and find items that have some resale value.

These people are scared because President Danilo Medina signed a decree calling for the "technical closure of Duquesa," the largest dump serving Greater Santo Domingo. The decree is dated 17 January 2020.

The newspaper interviewed several of these divers, a couple of which have been at Duquesa for nearly two decades. "And what is the President going to do with the 5,000 people who work here?" The buzos pick through the millions of items that are delivered each day to the landfill, and remove plastics, metals, wires and glass, all of which can be recycled. Several workers admitted to earning as much as RD$30,000 during a good month and at least some RD$10,000 (equivalent to a minimum wage in the public sector) during lean times.

According to reports, once the landfill is closed, land located adjacent to the dump will be used.


Waldys Taveras urges government dispute the Duquesa land title
Waldys Taveras, a former city councilor for the Modern Revolutionary Party (PRM), said on La Cuestión radio talk show with Diana Lora and Patricia Solano on Monday, 21 January 2020, that the 17 January decree issued by President Danilo Medina to formalize the technical closing of the Duquesa landfill is not good news. It could cost the government losing the suit in a Florida court with the former operator of the dump, the Lajun Corporation.

Taveras says the government has yet to contest the title for Duquesa land held by Lajun, the former operator of the Greater Santo Domingo landfill, despite clear evidence the land sale did not follow regular procedures.

He says this was up to the State Sugar Council (CEA). He said neither the CEA nor the Attorney General have not followed up and disputed the sale of the land to Lajun. Lajun operated the dump until it was taken over by the Ministry of Environment. Evidence has shown there were irregularities in the congressional authorization of the sale of the land of the State Sugar Council to Lajun.

Taveras said until the government claims the land, Lajun can continue to claim that it owns the land. The ownership is the base of a legal case the company has against the Dominican government.

Taveras says the decree benefits those who are suing the state. He said the decree gives those suing a legal document to help them win the suit in a Florida court for compensation for their eviction from their private property. They are demanding US$300 million in benefits for the violation of private property.

A study by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) says the remediation of the landfill will cost more than US$14 million to recover the area, not taking into account the high cost of treating the landfill leachate.


Ministry of Education sends tomb vandals to psychologist
The Minister of Education has sent the case of young vandals who desecrated a tomb in a public cemetery and posted video of themselves playing with a skull to the attention of the director of Student Guidance and Psychology at the Ministry of Education. The Minister was also said to be in contact with the school where the students are enrolled. At the same time, the authorities are also pursuing the criminal aspects of vandalism through the Boys, Girls and Adolescence Jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education.

The top educational authorities also stress that the principal guidance for these persons should be from their parents, and that "without the integration of the family to the educational process, the desired results will not be forthcoming."


Government agency says to be wary but not afraid of quakes
The Office of Vulnerability and Seismology regarding Public and Private Infrastructure (ONESVIE) has asked the public to be alert and aware of possible seismological movements (tremors or earthquakes) and to follow the recommendations of the corresponding agencies and scientists in the area.

Hispaniola and Puerto Rico are situated on the Caribbean Tectonic Plate that borders the North American Plate. This regularly moves 2 cm per year, according to Omar Guevara, the ONESVIE director. The director was referring to the 6.4 quake on the Richter scale that hit the south of Puerto Rico over the Three Kings holiday and the more than 200 aftershocks of 3.0 and above that have followed.

As noted geologist Osiris de Leon has said on numerous occasions, here in the Dominican Republic, constructions built on soft earth rather than rock will experience much greater damage during an earthquake. According to Guevara, the events of Puerto Rico have awakened the awareness of Dominicans and pushed knowledge of these events to the forefront. Awareness and preparation are the key elements, says Guevara.


Minister Montalvo says progress seen on cleanup of Ozama and Isabela rivers
Presidential Minister Gustavo Montalvo, who recently headed a meeting of the Presidential Commission on the Cleanup and Sustainable Use of the Ozama and Isabela Watersheds, reported that there have been important advances in the recovery of these two rivers. He noted that they have received new proposals to insure the healthy recovery of the watersheds.

Montalvo announced that the Interceptor 004, a boat donated by the NGO "Ocean Cleanup" headquartered in the United Kingdom, will be arriving shortly. He said that this is one of four ships in the world fitted with the latest technology for cleaning up plastics in rivers. The ship will be located in the Ozama to ensure plastics do not enter the Caribbean Sea. The Dominican Navy is overseeing the operation.

At the same time, there are on-going efforts to ease the flow of water along the river course with the removal of the water lilies that clog the stream. Minister Montalvo said backhoes, front loaders and trucks will be initially used to clean up the riverbanks. In the coming months the government will be acquiring a new dredge along with special equipment to eliminate the aquatic vegetation from the river.

Montalvo also spoke about the reforestation activities taking place in the upper reaches of the watershed, with nearly 3,000,000 trees of different varieties planted over the past four years.

Another step forward will be the operation of the La Zurza water treatment facility set to go into operation during the first quarter of this year. In areas adjacent to the main streams, the Minister said that nearly 7% of the creeks and streams that feed the two rivers have been cleaned up. According to the Ministry of the Environment, about half of the companies that are located along the riverbanks are already installing water treatment plants to further reduce contamination.


Supreme Court of Justice will explain its position on the Odebrecht case
Many people have wondered why the Supreme Court of Justice (SCJ) has not finished with the corruption case of the Odebrecht Construction Company in the Dominican Republic. There are persons in prison, reputations smeared and public questioning of every branch of government. The US$92 million involved in the case has been called "just the tip of the iceberg" by some civic entities. On 17 December 2019, the court announced that on Tuesday, 28 January 2020, it would read the decision on the case. In a rare show of dissention, five judges noted their disagreement with the decision and announced that they would express the reasons for their dissent.

What happened back in December was that the full SCJ announced that they were withdrawing from the case and sending the files to two different areas for trial. One part will deal with the case of Senator Tommy Galan Grullon, and this will be dealt with in the Penal Chamber of the SJC. A Collegiate Tribunal of the National District will deal with the case against Angel Rondón, Víctor Díaz Rua, Andres Bautista, Juan Rovert Rodríguez and Conrado Pittaluga. The court's decision was apparently based on the different ranks of the accused, with Galan Grullón being a senator and the others being government bureaucrats.


We are a long way from the 10 million tourists, but trying
In the campaign leading up to the 2012 elections, candidate Danilo Medina promised that he would activate the tourism sector and attract 10 million tourists a year by 2022. The goal is still far from being realized and projections are that it will take at least another decade to achieve. The average increase in tourists over the past eight years has been 5.2%, according to the Central Bank. In average numbers, between 2012 and 2019, the country was visited each year by 267,000 new tourists.

In 2019, the country was visited by 6,446,000 tourists, slightly down from 2018 (6,569,000). A large part of this decrease has been attributed to the deaths of some tourists in hotels in the East that produced a well-coordinated negative media blitz. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) would issue a toxicology report that concluded the tourists had died for natural causes, as determined by the forensic autopsies in the Dominican Republic.

Starting in 2020, the country will need in excess of three million new visitors over two years to reach the ten million tourist goal by 2022. In Madrid, Spain, the Dominican Republic is participating in the huge International Tourism Fair (FITUR) in a major effort to position itself as the leading Caribbean tourism destination.


Fences and cameras reduce border incidents
The border with Haiti between Elías Piña and Dajabón is no longer "no man's land" as the process of reinforcing the military security by means of closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras and fencing along the border advances. Rustling of cattle, deforestation, human trafficking, drug trafficking and contraband have all been stymied by the new emphasis on protecting the border. Luis Vicioso, an Army colonel with the Intelligence Division, told reporters from El Nacional newspaper that the case of El Carrizal, in Elias Piña is an example of this stepping up of border control.

Under the control of the Armed Forces, commerce continues, but in an orderly and legal fashion. He says contraband is significantly down. This tiny place in the municipality of Pedro Santana is divided by a narrow street from Cachiman, a town in Haiti. Here, the authorities have established an Inter-Agency Office with CCTV cameras along the border out to five kilometers, supported by drones. The National Police, the DNCD, Migration, Customs and other segments of the armed forces all come together with the Army patrols in places like El Pinson, Margarita, Guaroa, Guayabal and Banica.

As reported, crime is now down in the area. Small farmers are again able to raise their livestock in relative safety, right on the border. Commerce is controlled by the Specialized Corps of Frontier Security (CESFRONT), and on normal days some 50 to 70 trucks cross the border and open markets are held on Mondays and Fridays. Cement, eggs, flour are just some of the items that are taken into Haiti. Some of the military offices attribute the reduction in the illegal border crossings to the eight-kilometer fence that was put up by the Dominican government.


New in people-smuggling, undocumented Haitians hide in poultry load
The Ministry of Defense reported on Tuesday, 21 January 2020, that undocumented Haitians were apprehended when found traveling hidden by chicken boxes in a truck. The truck had unloaded its cargo of chickens at a farm near the Dajabón border market.

"More than 20 undocumented immigrants, the driver and the truck were taken to the Beller fortress in Dajabón and later sent to justice," the institution posted on Twitter.


Learning how to drive at Ciudad Juan Bosch Road Park
The Ciudad Juan Bosch Road Safety Education Park has received over 2,400 visits in its first three months. Schools are sending their students to pick up safe driving skills. The National Institute of Traffic and Land Transport (Intrant) operates the driver's education park in an area of almost 9,000 square meters in the government housing development.

The space was designed to raise awareness among children and teenagers on responsible driving. On average 700 to 800 young people visit the Road Park every month. Minister of the Presidency Gustavo Montalvo says that the Road Park is a key tool to educate children about traffic and road safety.

"With this effort we are creating a new generation of citizens who are aware of the responsibility involved in driving a motor vehicle, and who are knowledgeable and respectful of traffic laws," said the Minister.

The park visitation activity takes about three hours and starts with children watching an audiovisual presentation. There is the opportunity for virtual and augmented reality driving, using simulator lenses and digital tablets. Afterwards, the visitors get to put into practice the theory they learned. A circuit is designed to help the students learn the basics of road safety and traffic regulations.

The young people drive go-karts and bicycles, according to their age, along a track that has traffic lights, horizontal and vertical traffic signs, guided by Intrant facilitators.

The Institute invites public and private educational centers to participate in the theoretical and practical classes offered in the road park. School children, aged 6 to 18, can attend from Monday to Sunday from 9 am to 5 pm.

For more information, call 809-368-0033 from the Intrant Citizen Center.


Top-ranking US government officials are frequent visitors to the Presidential Palace
El Caribe newspaper observes that from 29 October 2019 to 18 January 2020, in less than three months time, three senior US government officials have visited President Danilo Medina. The visits have been made public and have been to discuss security issues, drug trafficking, corruption and the upcoming elections.

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) is funding the participation of technicians from the Electoral Systems Foundation (IFES) who will be in the country assisting in the preparation of the February municipal election and the May presidential and congressional elections.

Regarding the elections, the US Embassy has insisted that the United States is happy to collaborate with the Dominican Republic to hold free, fair and transparent elections. IFES has indicated that its efforts are to assist the Central Electoral Board (JCE) to improve the transparency, credibility and confidence in the 2020 elections.

El Caribe analyzes possible reasons for the constant visits. It mentions the political crisis in Latin American countries, including Haiti, Chile, Venezuela, Bolivia, Peru and Nicaragua could be one of the motivations for the special interest in the country. Another is the establishment of diplomatic relations with China in 2018 and the influence that the Asian country is developing in Latin America. The Dominican Republic has a privileged geographical position in the region and is a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council.

Recently the Chinese ambassador in the country, Zhang Run, urged the country to call for the construction of the Port of Manzanillo and said that for his country "that is a little port" because it has built seven of the ten largest ports in the world.

A case that was aired in public opinion was the publication of Florida Senator Marco Rubio who stated that security cameras of facial recognition were being installed in the country with the support of the Chinese government, which was denied by Run.

Last Friday, the 18th of this month, the Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing US Department of the Treasury paid a visit to President Medina in the company of US Ambassador Robin Bernstein. According to what was expressed, the interest would be in the case of Cesar Emilio Peralta (El Abusador). In August 2019, the US Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) named Peralta and eight other Dominicans as a major foreign narcotics trafficker under the Foreign Narcotics Trafficking Designation Act (Kingpin Act).

On 11 November 2019 and last Friday, 17 January 2020, the head of the Southern Command, Craig Faller, was at the Presidential Palace and discussed issues such as regional security and the border situation due to the conflict in Haiti. Later, the Nuevo Herald of Miami affirmed that the official came to the country to deal with the subject related to the cameras that the government of China would be installing.

Previously, on October 29, 2019, President Medina received a visit from Cindy Kierscht, the Assistant Secretary of State for Canada, Haiti and the Caribbean in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, to discuss the supervision of the elections, according to Ambassador Robin Bernstein.

In the current political-electoral process of the country, the United States has had an unusual participation. Last year, US Secretary of State Michael (Mike) Pompeo called President Danilo Medina to ask him to respect the Constitution. The 2015 Constitution impedes Medina to run for office for a third term.


Ambassador says new US-China deal will bring new opportunities for DR
China ambassador Zhang Run says the signing of a first phase of the trade deal between China and the United States will benefit the Dominican Republic. In an op-ed contribution in Diario Libre, the Chinese ambassador highlights that both China and the United States are important DR trading partners.

The ambassador asserts the trade agreement will bring new opportunities for the Dominican Republic. "We must continue to focus on the key bilateral agenda, fully exploit the complementary potential, continue to implement the principle of mutual benefit and win-win, and comply with laws and market rules. We must attach importance to protecting the business environment, preventing politicization or geo-politicization of economic and trade issues," he writes.

"Only if the world is right, China and the Dominican Republic will be better off. Both sides must strengthen coordination, work with countries around the world, support multilateralism and promote the development of the global economic order in a more just and reasonable direction," he explains in his focus on the new US-China agreement.


Oceania Blue Sea Expedition makes a Dominican stopover
La Romana was the port of call for the stop by the "Aquarela", the adventure ship that is taking 1,800 young scientists from 40 countries on a worldwide trip to raise awareness and seek concrete solutions to 21st century challenges to sustainable development.

The CEO of Oceania Blue Sea Expedition, Juan Carlos Rodriguez, explained that a documentary series called "Oceania 2020" will share the highlights of the trip. Oceania has the support of the Spanish government.

The expedition members (Odsiders) are university students between 20 and 30 years old. Their task is to create alliances between entrepreneurs, socio-cultural leaders, scientists and companies during their travels to 40 countries over two years on board the "Aquarela". They will also disseminate the work of local projects and entities in the countries they visit that are working on the sustainable development goals of the United Nations.

The ship docked at La Romana Port on 16 January and stayed until Sunday, 19 January. During the stay, the expeditionaries visited the industrial zone of Haina, specifically the Barrio Paraiso de Dios to learn more about the effects of lead. They also visited the Depuradora Mirador Norte sewage treatment plant and studied the case of the Duquesa waste dump.