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Daily News - Monday, 08 January 2007

Austerity didn't reach Congress
Both the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies will enjoy an ample budget for 2007, a total of RD$3.454 billion pesos. This amount includes an increase of RD$300 million for the Chamber of Deputies, while at the same time the Justice Department's budget was slashed by over a billion pesos. Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Subero Isa warned of the likely consequences of the reduction. Neither the PRD nor the PRSC deputies voted for the 2007 budget, which was set at RD$258 billion.

Subero Isa calls for changes
The Chief Justice of the Dominican Supreme Court has called for the creation of a Legal Council that would oversee the Justice Department. Jorge Subero Isa also placed his job at the disposal of the National Council of Magistrates so that this body could evaluate his performance as the chief magistrate of the Dominican justice system. Subero Isa was speaking at yesterday's ceremony marking National Justice Day. President Leonel Fernandez also attended the event, and said that he would convene the Council of Magistrates this year so that they could evaluate the proposed revision of the justice system as suggested by Subero Isa.

Hospital charges to be removed
The Minister of Public Health, Dr. Bautista Rojas Gomez, has announced that the charges previously collected at the nation's public hospitals will be eliminated as soon as the government-subsidized Family Health Insurance is applied. According to the minister, this change will be introduced in four regions (III, IV, V and VI), which include the provinces of Duarte, Maria Trinidad Sanchez, Salcedo, Samana, Bahoruco, Independencia, Barahona, Pedernales, Hato Mayor, El Seybo, La Altagracia, La Romana, San Pedro de Macoris, San Juan de la Maguana, Elias Pina and Azua. Five hundred thousand people are already affiliated to the Family Health Insurance programs in these provinces, and the government expects this figure to increase to 800,000 this year. The minister also announced that medical staff would begin to receive their salary increases this month.

Not enough AMET officers
The director of the AMET traffic police, General Jose Sigfrido Fernandez Fadul, has told reporters that due to deficiencies in Law 241 (that governs traffic violations), the small number of officers in the Metropolitan Traffic Authority, and the lack of education of many drivers make law enforcement very difficult. As reported in Listin Diario, the General called for changes in law 241 and for more officers. In his letter to Listin Diario editor Miguel Franjul, Fernandez Fadul said that AMET officers had issued 695,000 tickets in 2006, but their aim is to issue fewer summonses through driver education. The General pointed out that when AMET was founded, its brief was to control specific traffic routes in Santo Domingo, but has now been assigned responsibility for traffic control in most of the country's major towns and cities. General Fernandez congratulated Franjul on his recent editorial about the need for more order on the nation's streets.

Study for Santiago tramway
The mayor of Santiago de los Caballeros, Jose Enrique Sued, has announced that two technicians from Spain are to conduct a feasibility study for the construction of a tramway or urban rail system in Santiago. Called the Ferrocarril Metropolitano en Santiago, the rail system idea will be evaluated by experts from the Spanish firm of Ferrocarriles de Via Estrecha (FEVE). The narrow gauge rail system in Spain is a state-run enterprise by the Spanish Ministry of Development. According to Mayor Sued, the rail system could provide services to over a million passengers per year. Angel Buitrago and Andres Garcia will arrive in Santiago on Wednesday to look at the infrastructure and roadways that will contribute to the construction of the rail system. The Santiago system will connect the international airport with the city and is expected to cost a fifth of the amount being spent on Santo Domingo's controversial Metro system. According to Sued, the entire project will be financed by Vasca Norgestion and the municipality would "not be spending one cent". Norgestion is described on the Internet as a business consulting firm with offices in Bilbao.

Former President recovering
Former President Salvador Jorge Blanco is reported to be recovering satisfactorily at Santo Domingo's Clinica Abreu. He underwent surgery to insert a valve that would permit efficient drainage of cerebral fluid. Over the last few months, the former chief executive (1982-1986) has been suffering from a form of hydrocephaly that has prevented him from walking. Neurosurgeon Jose Joaquin Puello operated on the politician. Orlando Jorge Mera, currently the secretary general of the PRD, announced that his father was making very good progress and that he would be released from the hospital within a couple of days. The former President was transferred from the ICU to a normal suite over the weekend.

Going bananas
Once more, the issue of banana exports to Europe is garnering the attention of the agricultural sector. An apparent disarray of criteria among the different interest groups has relegated one of the chief non-traditional exports to the back burner. According to Hoy newspaper, there is a chance that the mighty multi-nationals such as Dole, Delmonte and Chiquita Brand (United Fruit) could push aside exports from the Caribbean and many of the African nations. The European Union's Director General for Agriculture and Rural Development has let slide any commitment towards the facilities to be offered to the ACP (Africa, Caribbean and Pacific) nations for their banana exports. Last year, the Dominican Republic exported 180,000 tons of bananas to the European market. The current "first come, first served" system instituted towards the end of 2006 favors the multi-nationals. The ACP nations are divided on the question of just which tariffs should be instated, and the DR, together with Jamaica and the Eastern Caribbean nations, is in favor of the current tariff rules.

Wedding tourism on the rise
The eastern Dominican Republic resorts of Bavaro, Punta Cana and the surrounding area have experienced an interesting rise in wedding holidays. According to Listin Diario, 20% of all marriages celebrated in the Dominican Republic are between foreigners, and 60% of all marriages are between Dominican and foreign citizens. Hotels are offering wedding packages that include a civil ceremony with a JP, a "free wedding" package, and a Catholic wedding package. According to the wedding coordinator for the Melia Caribe Tropical, prices range from US$979 to US$1,656. Each package is a turnkey operation with everything from rum to horse-drawn coach included.

Metro CC bond issue
The Metro Country Club will begin the sale of US$38 million in bonds through the local stock exchange. The bond issue has been approved by the Superintendent of Assets (SIV). The bonds are targeting foreign investors as well as the general public. A minimum investment of US$10,000 is required, and the bonds will carry a 10% interest rate. The bonds are being offered through the Valores Leon, SA, a member of the Santo Domingo Stock Exchange. The bonds carry a triple B rating (BBB).

Customs officials under arrest
The Director General of Customs has announced the arrest of 30 employees and the firing of 23 additional staff. This comes as a result of recent discoveries of contraband in 218 containers. The loot involved everything from beans to whiskey. Some of the illegal consignments were discovered in the port of Haina Oriental and another part in Boca Chica. While editorialists have called on the Customs Department to reveal the names of the consignees, the director general of Customs, Miguel Cocco, has refused to do so. According to Hoy newspaper, three large wholesalers are involved and 28 customs agencies are under investigation.

Vanessa Foundation helps 33
The Vanessa Foundation, set up by the parents of Vanessa Ramirez Fana after the 18-year old was killed by a young man who was trying to steal her cell phone, has announced that it plans to foster thirty-three young orphan girls at the Sister Petra Mariana Grullon shelter in the Las Colinas sector of Santiago de los Caballeros. Vanessa's mother, Dr. Rosaida Fana de Ramirez made the announcement, and said that the girls would receive medical and dental checkups, and vaccinations. The foundation will be working to increase the shelter's capacity as well as providing education, clothes and other necessities. The announcement was made on 6 January, Three Kings Day, when Vanessa would have celebrated her nineteenth birthday.

Pope calls in Dominican bishops
Pope Benedict XVI has called on the Dominican bishops to visit him this summer in a meeting called "ad limina", which means simply "a trip to the Holy See." These trips are organized, in general, every five years, but Pope John Paul II's failing health prevented the last trip from taking place. The Dominican bishops will meet with Pope Benedict in both public and private audiences. Each bishop will give an account of his dioceses during a private session with the Pope. For some it will be the first time, and for others it will be the first since their change of status. Archbishop Ramon Benito de la Rosa y Carpio, the Archbishop of Santiago de los Caballeros was "just" the Bishop of Higuey during the last visit to Rome, and now he presides over the Dominican Council of Bishops. Nicanor Pena was previously the Bishop of Puerto Plata and he is now the Bishop of Higuey. Also making the trip once more will be Bishops Francisco Ozoria of San Pedro de Macoris, Antonio Camilo of La Vega, Jesus Maria de Jesus Moya of San Francisco de Macoris, Freddy Antonio Breton, from Bani, and Jose Dolores Grullon, from San Juan de la Maguana. First time travelers include the Bishops of Puerto Plata, Julio Cesar Corniell, Mao's new bishop, Diomedes Espinal and Barahona's Rafael L. Felipe who were all elevated to their posts in 2000.

Too many chickens?
The National Livestock Office (DIGEGA) says that unusually low demand for poultry has created a chicken surplus for January and February. A series of meetings are scheduled to take place between poultry producers' representatives and the Minister of Agriculture, Salvador Jimenez, to discuss the situation. The surplus could lead to a ten-peso fall in prices for live birds, according to poultry consultant Jose Miguel Pena, and this could bankrupt hundreds of small poultry farmers. According to a report in Listin Diario, livestock director Angel Faxas said that poultry farmers started to import fertile eggs after the largest local producer, Carlomagno Gonzalez stopped local sales. Faxas also stated that local producers had requested the liberalization of the import permits, citing their ability to self-regulate the poultry supply. Several solutions to the crisis have been suggested, including the mortgaging of future poultry supplies, as has been done with the garlic and bean harvests. Meanwhile, consumers should look to falling prices for chicken on the market.

AgroFair for February
The Dominican Republic's main farm and agribusiness exhibition, AgroAlimentaria 2007, is scheduled for 21-24 February at Santo Domingo's Dominican Fiesta Hotel. The DR is a leading supplier of food products, beverages and cigars, and this international fair seeks to showcase the industry. Processed goods as well as fresh produce will be on exhibition. The fair aims to be the major food, beverage and cigar event held in the Caribbean. Over 600 products will be on show, and stands for 200 Dominican companies and 100 foreign vendors will be located in the city hotel's convention center.
The event is part of the effort by the Center for Dominican Exports-Investments and the Dominican Agribusiness Board (JAD) aimed at promoting the best of Dominican farm produce.
For more information, see http://www.agroalimentaria.com.do
Or write to Yety Guzman at [email protected]

The Semi-Final phase of the Dominican Winter League reached the halfway point over the weekend and the Aguilas Cibaenas managed to climb into first place. On Friday night, the Aguilas visited the Gigantes in the Julian Javier Stadium over in San Francisco de Macoris. The Aguilas won the game 7-2, with Melky Cabrera, Luis Polonia and Tony Batista hitting doubles and Edwin Encarnacion hitting a three-run home run. The Aguilas also got a fine pitching performance from Fausto Carmona who threw six innings of shutout baseball. The Gigantes managed to get one run in the eighth inning and another one in the ninth, but to no avail. Eric Almonte and Wilson Valdez were the run producers for the Gigantes. In Friday's other game, the Tigres del Licey inflicted the ninth defeat in a row on the hapless Azucareros from La Romana who fought hard before succumbing, 3-2. Nelson Figueroa pitched eight innings for the Azucareros, and he pitched well, allowing just one earned run, but two errors allowed the Tigres to win the game.
There were no games on Saturday, and the round robin phase of the tournament continued on Sunday with the Tigres del Licey going to Santiago to battle the Aguilas and the Azucareros traveling to San Francisco de Macoris to face the Gigantes.
The Gigantes defeated the Azucareros 7-2 and extended their losing streak to ten games. Kendry Morales was the hero for the Gigantes with two home runs that accounted for six of the Gigantes' runs. Over in Santiago, it was big league star Jose Lima who put on a show, pitching six 2/3 innings of shutout baseball in one of his most "spectacular" outings. With the victory, Lima tied Julian Tavarez for the all-time playoff record of victories at 15. Tony Batista and Mendy Lopez, with three runs each driven in, and Edwin Encarnacion accounted for all seven runs scored by the Aguilas, who won 7-0.
Team W-L Avg. Games Behind
Aguilas 8 - 2 .800 --
Gigantes 7 - 3 .700 1.0
Licey 5 - 5 .500 3.0
Azucareros 0 - 10 .000 8.0
Tonight's games
* Santiago de los Caballeros, Estadio Cibao 8pm
Gigantes vs. Aguilas
* La Romana, Estadio Francisco Micheli 7:30pm
Licey vs. Azucareros
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