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    Default DR1 Daily News - Monday, 17 February 2020

    Dominicans in shock, municipal elections called off
    Adriano Espaillat is concerned what will happen with the expat vote
    Court of Appeals appoints new judge in Marino Zapete defamation case
    Edesur wants to borrow US$155 million
    Bayahibe Leaf resort hearing postponed for 20 February
    Just how prepared are we for a pandemic?
    US government officers says visas would be revoked for corrupt government officials
    Better freight container surveillance and passage of the Extinction of Ownership Bill needed to strengthen fight against drug trafficking
    Tony "Cabeza" Fernández passes away at 57
    Carnival in Santo Domingo's shopping malls

    Dominicans in shock, municipal elections called off
    Nobody would have imagined the outcome. 7.4 million voters were eligible to vote for 3,849 positions in 158 municipalities nationwide on Sunday, 16 February 2020. At 11:11 am on that day instead, the president of the Central Electoral Board (JCE), Julio Cesar Castaños Espaillat, suspended the municipal elections in the Dominican Republic. This is the first time a nationwide vote is suspended. News reports say about 30% had voted by the time of the suspension, with major inconveniences in the 18 municipalities with automated voting, and few in the 140 manual voting municipalities.

    It is now known that since early in the evening of 15 February, the JCE was aware of failures in around 50% of the automated voting machines. The digital ballots for opposition parties were not loading completely. Delegates in those voting stations did not authorize the start of the vote. The errors in the system affected 18 municipalities that concentrated 62% of the municipal votes in the country.

    After a meeting with the delegates of the participating political parties, Castaños Guzmán ordered the total suspension of the vote in all the municipalities, even though the decision did not have the unanimous vote of the political party delegates.

    In making the announcement, the JCE president, a strong advocate of the implementation of electronic voting in the country, said the decision was taken in the morning after JCE technicians did not resolve the technical problems.

    "We are going to initiate a thorough investigation of what happened and why those ballots did not load correctly," Castaños Guzmán said in the press conference announcing the suspension. He said a new election would be "opportunely" called. In a video of the morning meeting with political delegates, Castaños Guzmán speaks out in favor of continuing with the manual vote and scheduling a new election with the corrected automated voting machines for 1 March 2020. The consensus of the political party delegates was that this decision should be reached during a new meeting of the representatives to decide the date and the modality for the election.

    Orlando Jorge Mera, delegate of the Modern Revolutionary Party (PRM), called for the investigation and for "consequences" to the electronic glitch of the system.

    Likewise, Sonia Diaz, general coordinator for the Participacion Ciudadana civic watchdog group, said that an investigation into what happened should be carried out and the investigation made with the participation of international and national observers, with consequences to those that are found to be responsible.

    In a press conference called after the ruling Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) political committee meeting, acting PLD president Temístocles Montas said the election had been "sabotaged." He blamed the opposition and sectors inside the JCE for the hacking of the system. During the PLD press conference, Montas noted that the Electoral Regime Law 15-19 establishes that a new election should be called within 30 days in case of electoral suspension.

    He said that the PLD did not favor the suspension, and that the manual ballots should have been counted. Montas claimed the PLD was clearly winning the manual vote. He blamed Modern Revolutionary Party (PRM) presidential candidate Luis Abinader for not allowing the vote to be counted for the 140 polling places where manual voting was being carried out. Journalist Altagracia Salazar in her Monday, 17 February talk show Sin Maquillaje says the PLD was losing big at the start of the vote.

    Abinader said the party had officially been informed on voting day at 7:40am that the automated voting system "had collapsed." He said at the time the party did not accept the offer to only suspend the vote for electronic polling places. He said it would have been discriminatory to only count the vote of the minority. "The authorities have brought upon us a grave institutional crisis," he stated.

    "It is outrageous and unjustified for democracy that such a high proportion of the electronic equipment has failed, after the JCE carried out countless tests on it, giving guarantees of its good functioning. The Central Election Board has failed," said Abinader in a statement to the nation. Polls indicate Abinader is the man to beat in the presidential election scheduled for 17 May 2020.

    Former President Leonel Fernández had the satisfaction to say "I told you so." After the 6 October primary, he had lashed out against the electronic voting system for electronic fraud. In an address to the nation at 10pm, Fernández called for an independent audit to the voting devices to determine what had happened. He criticized the equipment had been transferred back to the JCE without the correct protocols.

    Fernandez had repeatedly alerted of the vulnerability of the automated voting system. When the electronic system was first tested for the 6 October PLD primary, Fernández was leading the vote until around 4 pm when the vote trend switched to favor President Danilo Medina-backed candidate, Gonzalo Castillo. Fernández argued he had been victim of fraud.

    Speaking on Noticiario SIN on TV, political analyst Rosario Espinal said that the credibility of the JCE has bottomed. She, too, said the JCE has to come up with a thorough investigation that explains what happened and why.

    The electoral process is costing upwards of RD$14 billion to taxpayers. The automated voting equipment alone has cost upwards of RD$2.8 billion. Listín Diario reported that the contract with DigiWorld, S.R.L., the supplier of the 11,000 electronic voting kits, was for RD$1,008,118,650.00. The cost of the audit performed by Alhambra Systems, S.A. to the automated system after irregularities in the 6 October 2019 primaries was US$566,037.73.

    Moreover, the JCE has reported that it has allocated RD$431.7 million for the acquisition of inputs for the assembly of the process, to which must be added RD$11.2 million for the printing of educational materials and RD$5.4 million for the educational and motivational campaign, among other expenses for the assembly of the process. To print the ballots, Editora Corripio was selected to press more than 3.2 million ballots worth RD$14,767,828.92, as reported in Listin Diario.

    Adriano Espaillat is concerned what will happen with the expat vote
    In a press conference, US Representative for New York's 13th congressional district Adriano Espaillat asked for the resignation of the president of the Central Electoral Board (JCE), Julio Castaños Guzmán. He made the request after the suspension of the municipal election following serious computer errors.

    Espaillat also aired an old grievance: that the JCE had denied the right to around half a million expats to vote in the 6 October 2019 primary. He said that was a violation of the rights of Dominicans abroad. He said the new show of incapacity in handling the elections is reason enough to request that the JCE president resign. The election would have decided the next municipal authorities that would be sworn in on 24 April 2020.

    Espaillat said that he had worked to get funding for the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) to monitor the electoral process on 16 February 2020 and will continue to work with them.

    Former Dominican ambassador to the US Bernardo Vega asked if the crisis will discourage expats from voting in the presidential election scheduled for May 2020. Espaillat said the contrary will happen. He said there is lot of enthusiasm among voters in the United States to participate in the election.

    Nevertheless, in the press conference, Vega said the JCE so far been negligent in organizing the vote of Dominicans abroad. He expressed his concern that the half a million voters would be left out of the vote again.

    Journalist Altagracia Salazar shared a tweet reminding Dominicans that the replacement for Julio Castaños Guzmán is Jose Miguel Minier. Minier is the lawyer of Odebrecht commercial representative, Angel Rondón in the US$92 million bribe scandal.

    Court of Appeals appoints new judge in Marino Zapete defamation case
    The Second Criminal Chamber of the Court of Appeal of the National District appointed another judge to hear the defamation proceedings against journalist Marino Zapete. Zapete was sued for defamation by Maybeth Rodríguez Sánchez, sister of Attorney General Jean Alain Rodríguez, after the journalist presented evidence of irregularities in government procurement in documents signed by Maybeth Rodríguez.

    The court, presided over by Ysis Muñiz Almonte, is composed of Pedro Antonio Sánchez Rivera, Omar Jiménez Rosa and Rosalba Garib Holguín. Meeting in the Council Chamber, the court made the decision after accepting a challenge against the judge of the Fourth Criminal Court of the National District, Franny González.

    Zapete's defense, lawyers ElsaTrinidad Gutiérrez Guillén, Carlos Polanco Rodríguez, Laura Yisell Rodríguez and Víctor Rogelio Benavides, had sought Gonzalez's recusal for being partial. The court of appeals voted in favor of Zapete, arguing among other issues that the press should not have been denied access to the hearing. [KR1]

    Edesur wants to borrow US$155 million
    The Executive Branch sent to Congress a loan for US$155 for the government-owned Edesur power distribution company. The loan would be to increase the operational efficiency of Edesur. The contract was signed on 21 October 2019 between the Dominican government and the Interamerican Development Bank. It will fund the first phase of the Master Plan for the Expansion of the Distribution System (PMESD). The loan was submitted to the Senate on 23 January 2020. [KR3]

    Bayahibe Leaf resort hearing postponed for 20 February
    The Superior Administrative Court (TSA) postponed until Thursday, 20 February 2020, the hearing on the request for the suspension of the environmental permit issued by the Ministry of Environment to the Grupo Globalia to build a 96-cabaña luxury resort in the Cotubanamá National Park area.

    The Ministry of Environment had authorized the construction on lot 24A. Environmental groups and a former minister of Environment have openly stated the construction in that area is banned by law. The Medina Administration created a commission made up by the Environment Minister Angel Estevez, Legal Advisor to the President Flavio Darío Espinal, and Presidency Minister Gustavo[KR4] Montalvo to ascertain the legality of the permission to build.

    On several previous occasions, Globalia had attempted to obtain the environmental permit and had failed until Environment Minister Angel Estevez gave his authorization. Environmentalists say this was irregularly issued. Both Omar Ramirez Tejada, former director of National Parks, and Estevez predecessor, former Environment Minister Francisco Domínguez Brito, say the permission should be revoked.

    Just how prepared are we for a pandemic?
    The Dominican Republic is ranked 13th of 33 countries in the Latin America and the Caribbean region covered by the 2019 Global Health Security Index. The GHS Index reviews health security capabilities in 195 countries. The index lists the countries best prepared for an epidemic or pandemic.

    The Dominican Republic is ranked 24th of 60 countries with a population of 10 to 50 million, and 24th of 56 countries classified as upper middle income. The overall rank for the Dominican Republic is 91 of 195 countries. The country risk is 73.

    The index was prepared in response to an observation made two years ago by the director general of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, at the World Government Summit. During the event, he silenced the audience when he observed that a devastating epidemic could start in any country at any time and that the world would not be prepared.

    US government officers says visas would be revoked for corrupt government officials
    Patrick Ventrell, the director of the Office for Western Hemisphere Programs, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, US Department of State, visited the Dominican Republic last week.

    In an interview with El Dia published on Friday, 14 February 2020, two days before the municipal election, Ventrell said that corruption is the US government's main concern regarding the Dominican Republic. He said the US would continue to cooperate to strengthen local capacities to fight drug trafficking and strengthen institutions. He warned the US government would continue to revoke visas to corrupt officials and their relatives.

    "We don't want the bad players to think they can operate with impunity and that their families will continue to shop in Miami, or that their children will study in the United States: That's not going to happen anymore," he stressed. He said it is not an easy task because of the great economic resources the drug traffickers handle.

    Ventrell, who spent three days in the Dominican Republic, is responsible for the State Department's anti-drug policies for the Americas. He indicated that the State Department will continue to provide assistance in major drug trafficking cases, as it is important for both countries to know the links that drug lords have with politicians and senior military officers.

    "We're looking at the flows and who they're going to. We are prepared to take appropriate sanctions. Sometimes justice is delayed, but we have a lot of information and we will use it," he said.

    He added that one of the things that has worked well in recent years is joint police training between Colombia and the Dominican Republic, so that the fight against drug trafficking is more effective and each country has the necessary resources.

    Ventrell said that the United States is interested that on Sunday free and open elections be held.

    Better freight container surveillance and passage of the Extinction of Ownership Bill needed to strengthen fight against drug trafficking
    The geographical location of the Dominican Republic in the center of the Americas works against the country when it comes to the scourge of drug trafficking, observed Patrick Ventrell. Ventrell is the director of the Office for Western Hemisphere Programs of the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, US Department of State. He made the remark in an interview with El Día during a three-day official visit to the Dominican Republic last week.

    In the interview with El Dia, Ventrell addressed the country's vulnerability by sea and the increasing use of freight containers to ship drugs to the DR for later transshipment. He said improved maritime security is needed and more rigorous inspection of the containers arriving from abroad. He urged the Dominican Congress to pass the Extinction of Ownership Bill to divest the drug traffickers of wealth accumulated in the country.

    "We are trying to work with the authorities and the companies that operate here to intensify the inspection of the containers, where the threat of drug trafficking continues to grow," Ventrell said.

    He stressed the importance of Congress passing the Extinction of Ownership Bill that is awaiting action in the Senate. "It is important to have a domain extinction capacity that works between both countries." He said the US does not want drug traffickers "to think that they can go back to living comfortably after being convicted. We must take away their resources and invest them in the state."

    The US official said that in addition to drug trafficking, another concern for the White House is money laundering because the money flows in the region are significant.

    Ventrell reiterated that because of the economic power of drug traffickers, combating this scourge requires more effort and cooperation between financial intelligence units, prosecutors and police. "Criminals are using new methods every day, both in the distribution and in the movement of illicit money. Our challenge as a government is to try to be more agile and innovative than they are," he said.

    He added that in terms of innovation, they also observe the movement of illicit money from drug trafficking through bitcoin and other electronic methods to provide new technologies to combat them. He said that because of the amounts of money they handle, drug traffickers will seek ways to permeate the judicial system and its actors, so they must have judges and prosecutors with higher capacities to handle complex cases.

    Ventrell said the Dominican Republic is in a strategic area for the movement of many things, saying he has faith in the shared responsibility of both nations. He told El Dia journalists that several days ago, the office he heads intensified relations with the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Islands, in addition to making approaches to the Haitian government.

    The high-ranking anti-narcotics officer did not rule out the future possibility of the United States implementing plans like those of Colombia and Merida in the Caribbean, assuring that the US Congress has allocated resources. The Plan Colombia is a bilateral agreement signed between Colombia and the United States in 1999, which had three specific objectives: to generate social and economic revitalization, to end the armed conflict in Colombia and to create an anti-narcotics strategy.

    In 2008, Mexico and the United States signed the agreement on the Merida Initiative to optimize the capacities of police institutions, judicial processes and border security between both countries and Central America.

    Tony "Cabeza" Fernández passes away at 57
    The Dominican shortstop who helped the Toronto Blue Jays win the World Series in Toronto in 1993 passed away last week. He was battling kidney problems and had suffered a stroke. Fernandez won four consecutive Gold Glove awards between '85 and 1990 for his defensive prowess.

    Over his baseball career from 1983 to 2001, Fernandez played for the Blue Jays, San Diego Padres, Cleveland Indians, Cincinnati Reds, New York Mets, New York Yankees, Milwaukee Brewers and the Seibu (Japan) Lions.

    He died at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.

    Carnival in Santo Domingo's shopping malls
    Arte Foto "Colores de Identidad" is a collection of photographs on Dominican carnival showing in the north hall of the Galeria 360 shopping mall. More than 20 photos are on exhibit.

    Likewise, at the nearby Agora Mall, Diablos Cojuelos, Roba la Gallina, Pepeluses, Platanu, Macaraos, Guloyas, Se me Mueve Rebeca, Taimascaro, Calife, Los Tiznaos, Los Lechones are carnival characters on exhibition at the second and third floor of the mall. The exhibition also features photographs by Mariano Hernandez on carnival in the lobby of Agora Mall. The exhibits are part of "Carnavales de mi Tierra" that is open from 7 February to 16 March.
    Last edited by Dolores; 02-17-2020 at 11:20 AM.

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