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Daily News - Tuesday, 23 January 2007

Education and health get money
After meeting with his cabinet, President Leonel Fernandez has decided that investment in education and health is a leading priority. As a result of this decision, RD$54 billion is being allocated to the modernization and improvement of the country's public schools, hospitals and clinics. This year the education and health sectors will each receive RD$24 billion while Higher Education will receive RD$10 million. Also, it was decided that the subsidy for public hospitals would be increased by 25% and there will be a "zero tolerance" strategy in programs to fight infant and maternal mortality at hospitals, vaccinations against dengue, malaria, tuberculosis, and the fight against HIV/AIDS. Also, 62 ambulances will be given to various hospitals around the country in order to help transport patients to the hospital.

Dominican ship prohibition lifted
The United States government has lifted a ban on Dominican commercial ships travel to US ports that had been in effect since 2003. American Coast Guard Rear Admiral D.W. Kunkel commended the Specialized Port Security Corps (CESEP) efforts that lead to the lifting of the ban that benefits six of 12 Dominican ports. Armed Forces spokesman Rear Admiral Hector A. Lizardo explained that Dominican ships from Haina (Oriental and Occidental), La Romana, Cayo Levantado (Samana), Multimodal Caucedo and Molinos Modernos (Santo Domingo) are now cleared for ships to depart to the United States without their crew or cargo needing a previous inspection by the US authorities. Lizardo said that these checks had damaged the country's maritime trade. He added that CESEP's agenda for June and July includes the certification of the remaining ports so that they too can be accepted into US ports without the checking requirement. These restrictions were imposed on the Dominican Republic together with many other nations as a counterterrorism measure after the 9/11 attacks on the United States.

Que se dice
Today's edition of "Que se dice," in Hoy takes a scathing look at recent developments at the Central Electoral Board (JCE). The article mentions yesterday's announcement by JCE judge Dr. Aura Celeste Fernandez that some departments in the JCE are composed of entire families, which she calls distortions in the payroll while at the same time JCE head Julio Cesar Castanos Guzman claims to have put an end to the squandering of JCE funds. This all comes at a time when a mafia is uncovered that is reported to have sold cedula identity cards to foreigners and drug dealers. The change in judges at the JCE has shed light on a tangled situation at the organization and has aired all of the JCE's dirty laundry. Revealing these situations has made it hard to believe that the former judges would mishandle these situations to such an extent, but what is most difficult to believe is that after the former judges presided over the institution and created this almost irreparable damage at the JCE, they were awarded such juicy pension plans for their "fantastic" service to the public. What a special country this is, exclaims the author.

Hotels to get rating
Tourism Minister Felix Jimenez has announced that all the hotels in the Dominican Republic will be classified by beach, resort and city by the end of this year. According to Jimenez, this will make the tourism sector more competitive. Jimenez pointed out that there has not been an inventory of the hotels and resorts in the Dominican Republic since 2000, which has led to many hotels classifying themselves as 3 or 5-star hotels without meriting such ratings. Jimenez said that this task would not be conducted by a Spanish company because many of the hotels and tourism infrastructures in the DR are Spanish-owned, and according to him this could lead to a potential conflict of interest in the classifications.

Underground for Santiago?
Preliminary studies for the Santiago tram system suggest that there will be a tunnel connecting Independencia and Las Carreras streets. The technical and feasibility reports were completed by a Spanish company and it had been previously been announced that the Santiago tramway would be completed through private investment. The initial plans show the tramway extending from the Monumento area all the way to the Cibao International Airport. Santiago Mayor Jose Enrique Sued says that executives from Ferrocarriles Espanoles de Via Estrecha (FEVE) will visit Santiago to conduct a second evaluation and feasibility study in February.

Microsoft DR donates US$1.9 million
Yesterday, Microsoft Dominicana announced that they would be donating US$1.9 million (RD$64 million) in order to buy licensed software for the computer centers that the Dominican Institute of Telecommunications (Indotel) is building throughout the country. The donation was made through the Esperanza Internacional foundation. Ex-Major League Baseball player Dave Valle is the foundation's president. The foundation also received US$25,000 from the New York Mets last week to help out poor families in the area of Nigua.

MVP and Ortiz big spenders; JCE wants reform
Miguel Vargas Maldonado and Milagros Ortiz Bosch have spent a total of RD$87.6 million on their campaigns for the PRD presidential nominations. Ortiz has spent RD$35.3 million so far while Vargas Maldonado has spent RD$52.2 million on his campaign. This unlimited spending has forced Central Electoral Board (JCE) President Julio Cesar Castanos Guzman to call for the approval of a law to regulate funds given to the political parties by the state. Castanos says that the law would prevent funds from being misused. Castanos also called for the cooperation of all sectors to fight what he calls a crisis in the Civil Registry and a loss of the Dominican identity.

Transportation strike warm up
Yesterday drivers gave the public a taste of what could happen next Tuesday if the government doesn't give in to the transport unions' demand for a fare subsidy. Many Santo Domingo drivers suspended their services for four hours between 6am and 10pm, leaving many commuters frustrated and looking for alternative ways to get to their destinations. This is the second such stoppage by the transport unions and it is a precursor to an announced larger and more generalized service strike scheduled for 30 January. Yesterday's action was in response to the Metropolitan Transit Authorities' new plan to stop and impound vehicles that don't display their license plates. The AMET authorities have impounded 800 carros publicos (public cars), angering the transport unions, but the AMET says that they will continue to stop and impound vehicles that have not complied with the transit requirement. The heads of Conatra, Fenatrano and the CNTU unions have joined forces to put pressure on the government to provide fare subsidies.

Fake trip to Spain; 270 get conned
Members of a supposed mafia that swindled 270 people out of over RD$30 million have been sent to a pre-trial hearing to determine the date and place for their court case. The mafia had promised the group a trip to Spain at a cost of EUR3,000 per person. When the day came for the group to depart for Spain they were left stranded at the airport, victims of a con. Members of the mafia included Franconelis de los Santos Rivas, ex-secretary of the San Cristobal prosecutor's office, Yirda Pellier de Leon, Lissette Altagracia Perez, Pedro Antonio Pena and Santo Valdez Cuello. This is a common type of con trick in the Dominican Republic where many people unsuspectingly pay large sums of money to people they trust in order to get visas and trips to Europe.

Haitians repatriated
Over 4,000 Haitians were repatriated in the first 20 days of the new year. Reports from the National Police and the J-2 intelligence unit indicate that between 150 and 225 Haitians are repatriated daily. Most illegal Haitians entering the country cross the border at Dajabon, Pedernales and Jimani. Diario Libre writes that this increase in repatriations at this time of year is common because many Haitians living in the DR cross back into Haiti to visit family members during the holiday season, only to encounter many difficulties upon their return to the DR.

Cardinal to go home
Cardinal Nicolas de Jesus Lopez Rodriguez could be going home either today or early Wednesday morning. The Cardinal has been satisfactorily recovering after having triple bypass surgery at the capital's CEDIMAT health center last Wednesday. Doctors explained that once the Cardinal returns home he shouldn't drive or life heavy objects so that the sternum can heal properly. His convalescence should take three to four weeks.

Dominicans and Alzheimer's disease
A report released by Columbia University Medical Center shows that more Dominicans suffer from Alzheimer's disease than any other ethnic group in New York City's Washington Heights area. The study included 350 families and a total of 1,800 people, half of whom suffered from Alzheimer's disease. The preliminary report studied family members in New York City and their relatives in the Dominican Republic and pointed out that Dominicans display three times as many cases of Alzheimer's than any other ethnic group studied in the area. The research began in 1994 to study the development of Alzheimer's in the elderly in a Hispanic section of Manhattan. Doctors who conducted the study say that although they don't have sufficient and concrete numbers they estimate that at least 12% of the Dominican population has Alzheimer's disease. In the United States 4.5 million people are affected by Alzheimer's, a genetic disease that affects memory loss.

Things are getting mighty ugly mighty quick for Licey as the baseball finals roll on. Yesterday Licey lost to the Aguilas 7-2, giving the Aguilas a 3-1 series lead, and putting Licey in a must-win situation tonight. The Aguilas only need two more victories in this best of nine series to clinch this year's crown. It was a special night for Aguilas pitcher Julian Tavarez. He struck out four batters, placing him number one in the post-season with 47 career strikeouts and he started his 13th career playoff game also making him number one in the playoff's history. Tonight's game:
Estadio Cibao: 8pm
Licey vs. Aguilas
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