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Daily News - Wednesday, 17 January 2007

President lauds students and teachers
President Leonel Fernandez has given out a series of awards and presents to over 330 students and 18 teachers in ceremonies at the Presidential Palace. The awards ceremony covered the school term between September and November 2006. The Ministers of Education and Higher Learning were present at the ceremony, together with the head of the National Training Institute (INFOTEP) Melanio Paredes, and Las Americas Technological Institute (ITLA) Jose Armando Tavarez. Each student received a diploma and a gift from the President. According to Education Minister Alejandrina German, the program that was instituted in 1996 has awarded over 750,000 students and teachers for their good work. Augustina Reyes, from the Barahona School District, was the student with the highest average, 99.25%. The teachers received gold pins from the Minister in recognition of their excellent results.

SEA to sell poultry cheap, cheap
The Ministry of Agriculture (SEA) will be selling poultry very cheaply due to the massive over-production that is currently affecting the industry. A number of government organizations, including the SEA, the Department of Livestock and the National Poultry Commission, are all contributing to the program that will set up hundreds of sales points across the nation to provide inexpensive poultry to consumers. Farmers, processors and other industry members are assisting the government's efforts. Prices will vary according to region, but they will most likely start at RD$11.00 per pound at the farm. RD$60.00 should purchase a frozen three-pound or more broiler chicken. According to Agriculture Minister Salvador Jimenez, the low prices should last during the rest of January and throughout February.

Forests grew by 5%
Minister of the Environment Max Puig was very happy to announce the news that Dominican forests have grown by 5% over the past 15 years. The announcement was made in Santiago during a ceremony at the Centro Leon. Puig said that the Dominican Republic was one of the nations with a good environmental record, along with Costa Rica, Cuba and Jamaica. Also present at the activity that called for imposing fees for the use of the Yaque River watershed were executives from Plan Sierra, the Center for Agricultural and Forestry Development (CEDAF) and the German Cooperation Agency, GTZ.

Cocco demands attention
Miguel Cocco, the hard-nosed Customs chief, is demanding attention. And, he is getting it. Yesterday he put his staff on buses and went to the Attorney General's offices in Santo Domingo where he handed over a large file that implicated three people who had been caught attempting to evade over half a billion pesos in import duties. A magistrate has ordered three months in preventive custody at La Victoria for one of the accused, Julio Alfredo Rondon Abreu,. However, the names of the other two accused were not released to the public. With his personal appearance at Radhames Jimenez's office, the customs czar wanted to emphasize the urgency of the case, according to Diario Libre. Cocco said that Rondon imported appliances but declared them to Customs as items receiving preferential duties. One issue that apparently caused great bother to the Director General of Customs was the fact that Rondon had been processed in a case involving RD$56 million and "he kept acting as if nothing had happened."

JCE cries foul!
The Central Electoral Board (JCE) and its Forged Identities investigating Commission have announced that the situation facing the electoral tribunal is so severe that even evangelical pastors have been involved in the production of fake identification papers leading to the issuing of fake "cedulas", the national identification card. According to Listin Diario, magistrate John Giuliani Valenzuela said that the pastors gave false birth certificates to people who had never been officially registered, to help them obtain the "cedula". He said that his office is working on thousands of forgery cases, mostly involving Dominican citizens who have gone to live in other countries and subsequently returned. Upon their return they are required to produce their "cedulas", but to their surprise, these have been forged and given to some other person. Anyone found to have falsified these documents is liable to jail terms, according to the magistrate.

Superpowers to Power Superintendent
In today's Hoy newspaper the economic editor Mario Mendez highlights the fact that as drafted, the bill to modify the Electricity Law grants the Superintendent of Electricity full powers to override the law, including the right to make changes to the power rates. Article 17 of the bill that seeks to modify Art. 30 of the current Electricity Law, establishes that the Electricity Superintendence will be able to resort reasonably to legal, administrative and technical measures that it considers necessary for public safety and to safeguard the power companies' rights. The business sector is also debating the fact that the bill aims to oblige large companies to pay a surcharge for access to power outside the distributor's availability, an exception that was previously exempt from charges. Being able to access lower cost power has been the difference between collapse and being in business for many companies, given the exorbitantly high power rates for industry in the DR.
Business sectors are also critical of the fact that the government plans to subsidize consumers of less than 300 kWh, with the high fees that clients using more than 1,000 kWh per month will be charged. Anyone using an air-conditioner is likely to run into the range of 1,000 kWh per month.
"In other words, the government is the good guys that subsidize those consumers, while the users of more than 1,000kWh are the bad guys, who have to be penalized by paying that subsidy," reports today's Hoy.

Ecuador offers energy help
The new Ecuadorian President, Rafael Correa, has promised his country's assistance for the Dominican Republic in the search for solutions to its energy problems. Correa instructed his Energy Department to work through the Dominican Embassy. This news was given to Listin Diario by Dominican Vice-President Rafael Alburquerque who attended Correa's inauguration ceremony in Quito, and who held a private meeting with the new chief executive. According to Alburquerque, the Ecuadorian president was very clear in his desire to help and cooperate with the DR in energy-related matters.

"Scrap" exports push mining
The Dominican Republic exports so much "scrap" metal that it is pushing out mining for leadership in the industry. Iron, copper and steel, supposedly gathered as scrap are now exported in quantities that are close to exceeding the ferro-nickel ingots from the Falconbridge mine in Bonao. It is a major business. In 2006, "scrap" exports of steel and iron totaled 93,540 tons. 980 tons of zinc and nickel was exported, along with 1300 tons of copper. Under the guise of "scrap" these metals are shipped overseas, mostly to China where it is said that the construction of the world's largest hydroelectric dam project is leading to a huge increase in the demand for metals. The demand, according to Diario Libre, is also part of the push to steal metals from wherever they may be found, including electricity transmission lines, telephone lines, manhole covers and iron park benches. During the first eight months of 2006, exports of "scrap" iron and steel totaled over US$18 million. The area of Villa Consuelo in Santo Domingo is one of the major centers for collecting and smelting the "scrap" which, after processing, is untraceable.

The academies go recruiting
In 2006, 508 Dominican "diamonds in the rough" were harvested by the Major League Baseball academies in the DR, as reported in Diario Libre. This is 26% more than the 403 recruited in 2005. This year, MLB teams distributed US$25 million in bonds to the new players, compared to US$17 million in 2005. The average value of the bonds was also up, going from US$42,000 in 2005 to US$50,000 in 2006. The biggest bond was given to Angel Villalona, a 16-year old third base from La Romana, who received a US$2.2 million bond from the San Francisco Giants last August. According to MLB DR representative Ronaldo Peralta, as of 31 December 2005, there were 1,556 Dominicans under contract in the Major League teams. As of 31 December 2006, there were already 3,200 Dominican players, or a 105% increase. Of the 30 MLB teams, 29 have academies in the DR, the one exception being the Milwaukee Brewers. The New York Mets and the San Diego Padres announced that they would be investing millions to build their new training centers. Peralta pointed out that the MLB invests about US$84 million to train ball players in the DR and their operations generate over 2,000 jobs.

Important discovery in Bayahibe
Apparently people were making pottery in the DR many centuries before the Taino Indians. Such a discovery has apparently been made in the area of Bayahibe Point in the south east of the Dominican Republic. Spokesman Marcio Veloz Maggiolo said that his archeological team had submitted pieces gathered at the site in Bayahibe for radiocarbon dating, and the results showed that groups of hunter-gatherers were living in the area around 2000 BC and that later groups arriving around 1500 BC used pottery. Veloz Maggiolo said that the finds pointed to one group that was a typical hunter-gatherer and another that made weights for fishing nets and artifacts from conch and coral that were used to grate foods. According to the anthropologist, the finds are possibly the oldest in the Caribbean and reveal a transition period that is not completely documented. Archeological finds in eastern Cuba, the south of the Dominican Republic and the east of Puerto Rico date from the sixth century BC to the fourth century AD. Veloz Maggiolo says that the details of the pottery and other artifacts seem to suggest that the immigration was not from the coast of present-day Venezuela.

Cardinal under the knife
Cardinal Nicolas de Jesus Lopez Rodriguez is scheduled to undergo a heart bypass procedure today at the Cedimat Cardiology facility in Santo Domingo. Dr. Pedro Urena is the director of the cardiology section at Cedimat and Dr. Freddy Madera will head the cardiovascular surgery team carrying out the operation. According to newspaper accounts, the Cardinal is suffering from arteriosclerosis and will probably need two weeks to recover before he can return to his ecclesiastical duties. During a routine physical check-up, the Cardinal was found to have partial blockages in three of his arteries. Church leaders called upon the faithful to offer prayers for their Cardinal's rapid recovery.

20 years for smuggling deaths
A tribunal in Dajabon has sentenced the principal culprits in the deaths by suffocation of 25 illegal Haitian immigrants in January 2006. The chief magistrate of the court, Martha Sanz Ferreira, imposed 20 years imprisonment and fines of 250 minimum salaries (approximately RD$900,000) on Elvis Rodriguez Ortiz and Esteban Martinez Rosario, the truck driver and his assistant. The vehicle left Dajabon with the illegal migrants sealed in the back of a closed cargo body. They were headed for Santiago, and the passengers had paid RD$2,500 each for the ill-fated trip. Army Sergeant Santos Pena Reyes and Private Stalin Martinez Rosario were sentenced to 10 years in prison for failure to perform their duties at different checkpoints along the highway to Santiago.

Teen drinking brought to light
The National Drug Commission (CND) carried out a survey and found that as many as two-thirds of children of high school age drink alcoholic beverages. According to Hoy, 66.73% drink alcohol, 15.16% use tranquilizers, 15% smoke cigarettes, and smaller percentages consume drugs ranging from cocaine to hashish. According to Bolivar Valera de Leon, who coordinates the CND's Integrated Prevention Program, the average age for first trying tranquilizers is 12, while the average age for stimulants is 13. Over 1,500 schoolchildren were surveyed. According to Valera de Leon, parents who consume alcohol or drugs are the children's main motivation. In his report, Valera de Leon recounted incidents that pointed to the severity of the problem. In one case, a gang of teenagers was waiting for a student who owed them RD$20,000 for drugs, forcing the CND official to find the boy's parents in order to save the child from being killed.

Carnival news from Santiago
The Carnival Presidente Santiago 2007 has introduced some changes, with the idea of making the event more accessible to the public. Provincial Governor Jose Izquierdo announced that the festivities will get under way with the crowning of the Carnival Queen on 3 February and the "warm ups" will be held on the first three Sundays of February.

The Round Robin phase of the Dominican Winter League, dedicated to Ozzie Virgil, got really hot last night as the Tigres del Licey conquered the Aguilas Cibaenas 2-0 in Santo Domingo. At the same time, over in La Romana, in a nearly empty Estadio Francisco Micheli, the Azucareros del Este were defeating the Gigantes del Cibao 9-4. The result of these two games is to place the Gigantes in a "do or die" situation tonight as they host the red-hot Tigres at their own stadium. If the Tigres win, the final playoff will be between the Aguilas and the Tigres. If the Gigantes win, they will have to play an extra game to decide who faces the Aguilas. The game between the Azucareros and the Aguilas was cancelled, since it was not necessary.
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