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Daily News - Wednesday, 31 January 2007

Giant push for agriculture
After the latest Government Cabinet meeting at the Presidential Palace, Agriculture Minister Salvador Jimenez announced a new massive government-backed program to sow 1.6 million tareas (100,000 hectares) of basic food crops during the first quarter of 2007. The minister said that the government would pour RD$125 million into the project to guarantee a solid supply of foodstuffs at reasonable prices. According to El Caribe, central government will allocate an additional RD$350 million to the nation's rice crop, and extend it to the pre-harvest crop mortgage programs on rice, garlic and beans. Going even further, the minister said that an additional RD$50 million would be spent on improving rural access roads to farmlands. The 17 basic crops to be bolstered by the plan include plantain, cassava (yuca), sweet potato, malanga (yautia), potatoes, garlic, onions, eggplant, christophine (tayota), carrots, peppers, and beets. The government will accept milk mortgages for the first time.

New Presidential Guard
Visitors to the Presidential Palace will be greeted with a new spectacle: the newly created Ceremonial Battalion. The troops have new uniforms and are on parade at the front gate of the palace. The chief of the Presidential Guard, Pedro Caceres Chestaro officially placed the group on station. The new unit was organized to attract tourists to the building as well as to provide greater importance to official visitors and ceremonies. The corps is on duty from 8am until 5:45pm

Give twelve, pay for two
The former administration of the CDEEE (the Dominican Corporation of State-owned Electricity Enterprises) awarded the Puerto Plata Electric Company (CEPP) a twelve-year contract for 50 megawatts of power, under the Madrid Accord, as payment for the final two years of a former contract. According to a report by the Renegotiating Commission carried in today's Diario Libre, the idea was that the state would be released from the former contract and the new contract was to be carried by EdeNorte, administered at the time by Spanish company Union Fenosa. All this took place in 2002. Under the former contract, the CDEEE was obliged to purchase electricity from the CEPP at US$0.129 (12.9c US) kw/h, but when the Madrid Accord was signed, the price dropped to US$0.119 (11.0c US). The Renegotiating Commission now wants to lower the price per kilowatt/hour to 8.9c US.

Breathalyzers go on trial
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (AMET) has announced the first trials of the new Breathalyzers recently purchased to enforce the decrees aimed at stopping drunk driving. The government has purchased 1,200 of the units. AMET said that they would begin the trials across the country next week.

Wedding fees are blow to tourism
As part of the recent Central Electoral Board (JCE) reorganization, new wedding fees have been set for foreigners. The higher fees appear to be aimed at offsetting the lower fees for foreign residents and Dominicans. But the decision could prove a blow to the country's booming wedding tourism industry. The highly competitive wedding tourism business is particularly desirable for a country because it has the extra bonus that most couples will want to return to the place they got married. Furthermore, wedding parties usually mean small groups that accompany the couple to be wed, meaning more business for the DR.
The JCE announced that the fee for foreigners to wed at hotels would be increased to RD$15,000, or approximately US$270 more.
Isabel Gonzalez, a promoter of wedding packages to the DR, points out the bad timing of the measure that has come on the heels of the recently introduced US government passport requirement that has increased the cost of traveling to the DR for people without passports.
"Are we going to give away, packaged like a wedding gift, our growing wedding destination business?" she asks. She stresses that this is not about losing just the couple, but about the group that accompanies the couple. "A couple very rarely comes without guests. They usually bring at least four people, and there are many groups of 100 or more guests," she points out.
"We need to think of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, where Americans can visit without a passport, and Mexico that offers great deals, as well as Cuba," she mentions.
She also highlights the fact that most weddings are booked many months in advance. "How are we going to tell them they now have to pay US$270, as if we were talking about cents?" she asks.
As of this week, for a foreigner to wed outside a civil registry office (in a hotel, for instance), the charge is RD$15,000. If the couple visits a Civil Registry Office, the charge is RD$10,000. When one of the two is a non-resident foreigner, the wedding will cost RD$8,000 outside the office, or RD$5,000 at the office. When the foreigners are legal residents, the cost will be RD$3,000.
Dominicans who get married outside the offices need to pay RD$3,000, and RD$1,000 for a marriage at the registry.

Over a million fake IDs
Dominican Foreign Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso has told reporters that he believes the figure of one million Haitians with fake Dominican papers to be, in his words, "conservative". According to Hoy, the minister expressed confidence in the great job that the Central Electoral Board (JCE) was doing in supervising and controlling Civil Registry offices around the country. Local media has reported the results of the investigation carried out by state security officials that revealed that over a million Haitians possess false documents, many of which were obtained with the assistance of NGOs. The report shows that much of the irregular documentation was processed in the towns surrounding sugar mills where itinerant Haitian workers make up a large percentage of the population.
A report in Diario Libre says that the town of Guerra was a hotbed for forgery. JCE inspectors have taken over the local registry office, and are investigating an alleged mafia that sold birth certificates to thousands of people. The National Investigations Department (DNI) is working alongside the JCE officials. According to the report, the Civil Registry office in Guerra was a "factory" for the manufacture of false IDs. According to the investigators, many of the people supplied with false documents came from as far away as Elias Pina and Bavaro.

Church asks for definition
Members of the Catholic Church hierarchy have submitted a proposal for an amendment to the Dominican Constitution that would define Dominican identity. The council, according to Hoy, was emphatic in asking that the means of acquiring Dominican citizenship needs to be defined once and for all.
The 31 paragraphs of the document propose that the Constitution consecrate the right to free, compulsory primary and secondary education, and penalties for parents who shirk their duty to send their children to school. They also ask for guarantees for health care and employment. The bishops also want punishment for corruption and strict controls on state resources. The bishops also touched on the issue of the nation's maritime limits. The article in Hoy shows that the bishops did not leave many areas without a recommendation. Education was at the forefront, and the Church leaders called for the creation of more technological institutions. The right to life, basic human rights, security, payment of taxes, guarantees for private property, a requirement for those 18 to 21 to to help society, the recognition of the family as the basic unit of society and clear-cut limits on each of the government's three bodies were among other suggestions.

Children will not be tried as adults
The Chamber of Deputies is poised to reject a bill that seeks to establish that children between the ages of 16 and 18 can be tried as adults in a court of law. Teodoro Reyes (PLD) submitted the bill to the Chamber citing the increase in juvenile crimes as his motivation. Opponents of the measure explain that the DR would be in violation of many international agreements and covenants that protect the rights of children, and that the country would be subject to sanctions by international organizations. Many who oppose the bill also feel that it would be a retrograde step for the Dominican judicial system if children were to be tried as adults for certain crimes. The fact that children are being used in the drug trafficking business is one of the main reasons for the drafting of the bill.

Cardinal doing fine
After being discharged from the CEDIMAT medical center at Plaza de la Salud last week, Cardinal Nicolas de Jesus Lopez Rodriguez is reported to be doing well. The Cardinal is slowly recovering from triple bypass surgery performed at the CEDIMAT center on 13 January.

New call for an end to violence
Representatives of a number of social sectors are calling for an end to the violence that is shaking Dominican society. Legislators, legal officials and housewives have joined the call to end the current epidemic of violence affecting the entire nation. Senate leader Reinaldo Pared Perez said that the authorities would review the government's National Security Plan, and senators Francisco Dominguez Brito and Amilcar Romero want the government to increase its efforts to control crime and drug trafficking. In an article in El Caribe, a spokesperson for the National Drug Control Office (DNCD) said that the "bloody events involving drug traffickers are 100% due to the struggle between (drugs) wholesalers and distributors". In today's Hoy, the leading paragraph in page two's "Que se dice" (What's being said) column questions the effectiveness of the government's efforts. The columnist writes, "For some, still undetermined reason, violence has returned quite strongly during the first days of the year, despite the fact that the police chief, for reasons that are easy to understand, wants to hide by denying the facts. The large number of violent incidents that fill the news columns, especially those related to drug trafficking and consumption, have forced the population, as well as public opinion, to look at the Safe Barrio Plan, the public safety plan under way in Santo Domingo and Santiago that had, until recently, restored barrio residents' sense of security." The writer suggests that the police may have let their guard down or that the scope of the program is overwhelmed by the size of the problem. The writer applauds the announcement that the program will be strengthened in areas where "there is a higher incidence of violence."

Diversifying in free zones
Manufacturing at free zones continues to diversify as the country moves away from traditional apparel operations due to competition from Chinese factories. Listin Diario reports that the new contracts coming into the DR include the construction of airplane turbine parts, computerized architectural design for New York City Hall, patterns for clothing, test drive car dummies, pacemakers, software, printer ink cartridges, American Airlines tickets, even breaded eggplant among others. The DR still has an advantage in proximity to the US market, being only a 90-minute plane flight away, while ships from China take seven weeks. Luisa Fernandez, director of the National Council of Free Zones (CNZFE) told Listin that the DR was able to attract a company that produces baby music carrousels that used to be made in China. As a result, the apparel factories that used to dominate the free zones are no longer so common, making up just 41% of the sector. Of the 83 companies that requested authorization to operate in the DR last year, only 14.5% were apparel companies. In 2006, free zone exports totaled US$4.49 billion, compared to US$4.73 billion in 2005.

Texaco-Chevron insists on transport
Texaco-Chevron is insisting on the right to transport its own fuels to its filling stations around the country. However, the Industry and Commerce Ministry has been adamant in ratifying its position as the sole arbiter in transport issues. The multi-national company has appealed to the ministry as well as the US Trade Representative for a satisfactory solution to the issue. In their public appeals, Texaco-Chevron has emphasized its willingness to engage in a dialogue with the ministry in order to implement "a process of global optimization of transportation." According to Diario Libre, the problem is that this process would imply a unilateral breaking of the current fuel transport contracts. It would also involve the concession of addition transport permits to Texaco-Chevron that would hurt current fuel transporters who feel that they have acquired certain rights. Because of this, the Industry and Commerce Ministry emitted a decree in December 2006 stating that the rescinding of the contract must be approved by the ministry. Fuel transport in the Dominican Republic is a RD$2.2 billion a year industry.

Goodbye Verizon, Codetel is back
All today's newspapers carry a two-page advertisement announcing the official changing of the guard at Verizon, the nation's largest telecommunications company. The announcement by American Movil, the largest telecommunications business in Latin America, says that the mobile communications segment will be known as CLARO, and CODETEL, the previous brand name for the telephone company, would be again used for the segment in charge of land lines and internet services.

Connecticut baseball drive
The New Britain Rock Cats announced a partnership with Roberto's Kids to form "Batter Up!," a season long initiative that collects baseball equipment and cash donations for children in the DR. The Foundation is working on helping children in areas near Boca Chica, where the Rock Cats parent organization, the Minnesota Twins operates a baseball academy. Donations Roberto's Kids is a collaborative effort between the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Luis and Roberto Clemente Jr., Pindar and Steve Tremitiere of Newtown, Pennsylvania.
Pindar started the Baseball Equipment Project in 1999 in the Dominican Republic with a single donation from the Oneonta Little League. In 2005, the Pindar family collected five tons of equipment for Dominican children, collecting for all ages from organizations across the country. Tremitiere has collected tons of equipment from eastern Pennsylvania and central New Jersey for the Roberto Clemente Sports City Complex and other organizations in Puerto Rico over the last few years.
The Rock Cats Foundation is a Connecticut based non-profit organization dedicated to providing social, educational and scholarship opportunities for the youth in our surrounding communities in connection with the activities of the New Britain Rock Cats baseball club. For more information on the Rock Cats Foundation, the "Batter Up!" program visit the www.rockcats.com or call 860-224-8383.
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