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Daily News - Monday, 15 January 2007

Electoral Board to reduce size
The Central Electoral Board (JCE) has announced an austerity plan that will reduce salaries and payroll. The plan will also increase the cost of some documents, including triplicate and quadruplicate copies of the personal identification card, the "cedula". The decision was adopted during the JCE Administrative chamber's last session. The move was necessary in the light of Law 497-06 and the recent 47% decrease in funding in the 2007 budget consigned in the 2007 Budget Law. The JCE also agreed to create a Foreigners Registry Book that would allow for the registration of children born to illegal foreigners who do not have proper documentation that would allow them to reside in the Dominican Republic.

Metro ups and downs
The Santo Domingo Metro System (SDMS) will transport an estimated 250,000 people a day, according to a story in Saturday's Listin Diario. According to the report, several kilometers of tunnel have now been finished, and reporters visited the tunnel at the intersection of Tunti Caceres and Maximo Gomez, where part of the platform area is near completion. According to SDMS sub-director Leonel Carrasco, the project is following its critical path and is on schedule, so far. However, today's Listin Diario headline reports that part of the wall of the excavation collapsed yesterday afternoon, leading to road closures along Maximo Gomez Avenue between Santiago and Ramon Santana Streets in Gazcue. The closure, sure to further disrupt traffic even further, will last for at least two months. The collapse occurred at 2:30 in the afternoon and was attributed to the rains that fell over the last few days, as well as a heavy crane that used the roadway next to the trench wall. The accident also destroyed a ten-inch water pipe servicing the area, and also flooded the tunnel itself.

Lights won't go up in 2007
President Leonel Fernandez met with his electricity cabinet on Friday to define their plan of action for 2007. After the meeting, which lasted for over three hours, CDEEE executive vice president Radhames Segura reported that the government was not thinking of increasing the electricity rates in 2007. Segura also said that the government was planning on increasing the supply of energy to customers as well as increasing the number of paying customers. He also promised increased government investment in the energy sector. The CDEEE executive said that negotiations with at least three of the Independent Power Providers (IPPs) had produced an agreement, but he refused to identify the three entities.

Authorized bill numbers
The Department of Taxes (DGII) has announced that businesses can purchase bills with authorized numbers (Numeros de Comprobantes Fiscales) for diverse transactions. The DGII is making these available to small business that did not complete the application procedures for the numbers in time for the 15 December deadline. The 100 bills in each category cost RD$500 each.

Urging end to trucking monopoly
The president of the Association of Industries, Manuel Diez Cabral is calling for an end to Fenatrado's monopoly on trucking of goods. Diez described the 35% rate increase announced by Fenatrado as "abusive". He said that the only way of finding out whether this increase is fair is to allow free competition in goods transportation. In the DR, the reality is that only Fenatrado-affiliated truckers are allowed to remove cargo from Customs. In the past, Fenatrado has used violence to impose its illegal monopoly, and the authorities have traditionally looked the other way. Diez demanded that the authorities should provide the conditions for free competition of cargo to prevent these disproportionate increases that he said would only translate into higher consumer prices.

Lost jobs in free zones
The former president of the Association of Santiago Free Zones, Carlos Manuel Alvarez said that the sector is on the verge of collapse. He said that 25,000 jobs were lost in Santiago in 2006, and 45,000 nationwide from 2004 to 2006. He attributed the crisis to the expiry of the benefits of the United States Generalized System of Preferences and the progressive increase in local manufacturing costs. He said that goods transportation is one of the major factors affecting the free zones' profitability.

Business wants more credit
The Dominican Republic Industrial Association (AIRD) will request meetings with the Dominican Banking Association (ABA) as well as with government financial control entities in order to obtain more credit for local industries. The industrialists are particularly interested in obtaining credit for capital goods, and they are finding that the recent restrictions imposed on banks have moved most credit towards consumer items rather than productive credits. Before the 2003 banking crisis, about 20% of credit went to consumer- orientated loans. The current situation was part of the conversation during Hoy newspaper's weekly Economic Meeting. The AIRD representatives, headed by Manuel Diez Cabral, said that the main issues concerning the local industrial sector included the need to really remove tariffs on raw materials and capital goods. One of the good points that the AIRD commission found with the pending DR-CAFTA agreement was the fact that many of the trade benefits conceded under the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) were soon to be removed, but under the DR-CAFTA agreement, they will become permanent incentives for local industry. At the same time, the executives saw that there was more leeway for securing raw materials from different countries, and this would allow Dominican products a better chance of entering the US market.

Exorbitant government wages
The exorbitant wages paid to some government officials contradict the supposed austerity plan the government has announced, spokesmen for Fundacion Institutionalidad y Justicia (Finjus) and Participacion Ciudadana (PC) told Hoy newspaper. They pointed out that the inequity in government officials' wage levels and pensions is a reflection of a fragmented state that does not act in a coordinated manner. Many government officers receive wages fluctuating above RD$300,000 to more than RD$1 million a month when benefits are added in. Servio Tulio Castanos Guzman of Finjus said that many officials make more than the President. He mentioned wages of RD$975,000 for governor of the state commercial bank Banco de Reservas, RD$950,000 for the Central Bank governor, RD$740,000 for the Minister of Finance, and RD$705,000 for the Superintendent of Banks, in addition to hundreds of thousands of pesos worth in perks.

Lack of interest in national problems
Sociologist Ramon Tejada Holguin and political scientist Pedro Catrain concur that political clientelism prevails amongst the PLD majority in Congress. In an interview for Hoy, they highlighted their belief that the legislators put their party and personal interests first, and cited the way the National Budget was approved and the new judges of the Central Electoral Board were chosen as proof of this. Part of the 2006 education budget was redistributed in order to fund what they describe as "undignified" government Christmas handouts and the Metro. Tejada Holguin said that there are few exceptions, and mentioned Francisco Dominguez Brito (PLD-Santiago). Tejada Holguin criticized the fact that the PLD has yet to use its majority in Congress to resolve the country's poverty, education and power problems. Catrain feels President Leonel Fernandez has let down the voters who elected him with a record 57.11% in the 2004 election, and has neglected to work to resolve problems of poverty, education and power. Catrain said that Fernandez projected himself as "a progressive and modern leader, but in reality he is an ultra-conservative who displays irrational management of public funds, and lacks ethics and social priorities." In Catrain's view, there is no great difference between Hipolito Mejia and Leonel Fernandez. He lamented the fact that the country is reaching a crisis in traditional politics, saying that this was leading voters to look to new alternatives beyond this.

Too early start at sex
As many as 11.3% of females in the DR have taken on sexual partner before their 15th birthday, according to a nationwide survey, Enhogar 2006 (Encuesta Nacional de Hogares de Propositos Multiples). In the urban areas, the percentage is 10.2%, while in rural areas it is 14.2%, according to research carried out by the National Statistics Office (ONE), with the funding and technical assistance of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). The research found that young women who start a family before the age of 18 usually have a low educational level, low earning capacity, and scant opportunities for social mobility. The research also showed that one out of every 100 women has achieved a higher education (university) level.

Freddy recovering
The Dominican Republic's most famous television personality, Freddy Beras Goico, underwent surgery for pancreatic cancer over the weekend and is said to be doing very well after the operation. His personal doctor was present during the eight and a half hour operation at Massachusetts Generals Hospital in Boston. El Caribe said that Dr Fernando Contreras was surprised at the humorist's rapid recovery, saying that he was up about, walking around his room just one day after the surgery.

Nintendo saves the birds
Hoy newspaper's environmental editor Domingo Abreu points out that Nintendo has been a godsend for birds in Dominican cities, and a big reason for the increase in birds urban areas. He points out that birds have made Santo Domingo their habitat, even species that were expected to become extinct years ago. He provides a cultural explanation for the phenomenon. Slingshots are no longer popular with Dominican youngsters, whose innate violent nature is now being nurtured instead by Nintendo-type electronic games.

Rain, rain, go away
The recent rains have isolated more than thirty communities in the north east of the country, and at least two people have died as a result of the swollen rivers in the area. The province of Maria Trinidad Sanchez (Nagua) has been hardest hit. According to the weather bureau, a stationary front over the Windward Passage is the cause of the continual rains that have been falling since last Thursday. Diario Libre prints dramatic pictures, taken along the Gregorio Luperon Tourist Highway, that show large sections of the roadway falling into the valley below. In the famous "U curve" section of the highway, three small houses were left clinging to the hillside. In Bonao, a third death was attributed to flooding of the Los Quemado River. Streets in many of the central valley towns were flooded, and the Center for Emergency Operations (COE) called for people in low-lying areas to be very cautious.

USCG rescues 23
The United States Coast Guard, alerted by the Dominican Navy, rescued 23 people who were attempting to make an illegal crossing to Puerto Rico in a small craft. According to Diario Libre, the boat capsized about ten nautical miles southeast of Saona Island. One woman was drowned and two are said to be missing. El Caribe reports that the small boat had been stolen and that it had left from the mouth of the Cumayasa River last Friday. Navy Captain Ulises Bobea Rosario, chief of the Dominican Navy's Intelligence Division, told El Caribe reporters that the travelers had been stranded for more than 20 hours after the boat overturned. Naval officials had already been informed of the stolen boat and were on the lookout for the craft. Captain Bobea Rosario said that so far this year, twelve illegal boats have been detained. In the latest incident the passengers are reported to have paid between RD$30,000 and RD$35,000 for the trip. In a related article, Diario Libre reports that nearly five thousand Dominicans tried to cross to Puerto Rico in 2006. Of these, only 800 managed to make landfall. These figures correspond to the one-year period from 1 October 2005 to 30 September 2006. The US Coast Guard document said that a total of 797 Dominicans and 707 Cubans managed to cross the Mona Channel successfully. A total of 3,116 Dominicans and 106 Cubans were "intercepted on the high seas" by units of the USCG, units of the Puerto Rican Rapid Action Group and United States Border Patrol units. The report also said that 457 undocumented Dominicans and Cubans were found on Mona Island, and 570 people were stopped short of the island. Since Mona Island is part of Puerto Rico, and therefore US territory, any Cuban who reaches the island is automatically given sanctuary.

Visa to Spain now more costly
Travel to Spain became more expensive beginning this month. The cost of a visa to Spain jumped in price from RD$1,330 to RD$2,380 on 1 January. The Spanish Embassy did not explain the reasons for the 78% increase in visa fees. El Caribe reports that the increase may well be explained by the large numbers of Dominicans seeking the highly treasured stamp in their passports. Recently, Spanish ambassador Almudena Mazarrasa reported that 50,000 Dominicans are currently working in Spain, and that there is high demand for more workers. While most of the immigrants are from working class backgrounds, there has been an increase in some professional people, particularly dentists, immigrating to Spain.

A smile for thousands
Two hundred deaf children, the first of over a thousand, received their hearing aids as part of a joint initiative by Isla Dominicana and the Starkey Hearing Foundation. One hundred adults also benefited from the program. Volunteers fitted the children with the hearing aids and also gave out toys, batteries and lunch boxes for the children. The event took place at the Casa de Bastidas Museum and the volunteers came from the National School for the Deaf and the Santa Rosa Institute for Helping the Deaf.

Cardinal hospitalized
Cardinal Nicolas de Jesus Lopez Rodriguez has been admitted to the Plaza de la Salud medical center in Santo Domingo. The Cardinal had gone in for a routine check up and was diagnosed with an artery obstruction for which he needs to undergo surgery. Dr. Pedro Urena, spokesman for the hospital's Cedimat center said that the Cardinal was booked for heart surgery on Wednesday, and that two or three bypasses would be fitted.

Concert in Higuey
The now traditional Concert for Our Lady of Grace, the patron of the Dominican Republic, will be held at the Basilica in Higuey on Wednesday. Maestro Julio De Windt will conduct the National Symphony Orchestra in works by Vivaldi, Wagner, Dinicu and Hahn. Soloists are Pavel Vucjcic on violin and Remy Vargas on the saxophone. The concert will open with the Overture of Wagner's opera "The Master Singers of Nuremberg" (Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg) written between 1862 and 1867. For more upcoming Calendar events, see http://www.dr1.com/calendar

Miguel Tejada to join Aguilas
Miguel Tejada has been given the green light to ensure that the Aguilas Cibaenas make it to the finals and get a good chance of winning the Professional Winter Baseball season. The team to beat this year seems to be the underdogs, the Gigantes de San Francisco, that have edged out the legendary Santiago champions on several occasions for the first place. Miguel Tejada is a regular in the final days of the baseball championship, playing for the Aguilas.

Here is the baseball
Over the weekend, the Tigres del Licey were able to win a couple of games and the Aguilas were happy to just be able to play one game. As a result, Licey got close to the Aguilas for a final play-off spot, but as a result of yesterday's great performance from star Jose Lima, the Aguilas pulled away and moved into a tie for the first place spot. Lima pitched a great game, allowing just three hits as he covered the entire route for the Aguilas. The Azucareros lost their fifteenth game in a row. Today will see the debut of Miguel Tejada in Santiago as the Aguilas make up two rain-outs with the Gigantes de San Francisco de Macoris. Licey will travel to La Romana to face the Azucareros.
Standings
Team W-L Avg. Games Behind
Gigantes 10 - 4 .714 --
Aguilas 10 - 4 .714 1.0
Licey 9 - 6 .600 1.5
Azucareros 0 - 15 .000 10.5

Tonight's games
* Santiago de los Caballeros: Estadio Cibao
Game 1: 5pm - Aguilas vs. Gigantes
Game 2: 20 minutes after the end of Game 1 - Gigantes Vs. Aguilas
* La Romana: Estadio Francisco Micheli 7:30pm
Tigres vs. Azucareros
 
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