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Daily News - Friday, 02 February 2007

Aura Celeste and JCE policies
Central Electoral Board (JCE) Judge Mariano Rodriguez has made it clear that at no time did he express disapproval about fellow judge Aura Celeste Fernandez's attitude and her work, or her right to question dealings at the JCE. Another JCE judge, Eddy Olivares called for harmony among judges so as not to affect the work that needs to be done. Olivares, nevertheless, is in favor of the RD$66,000 incentive.
Meanwhile, Fernandez has received the support of the National Ethics Commission and Fight Against Corruption president Jose Joaquin Bido Medina who said that the JCE should explain the RD$66,000 in incentives being paid to judges, which Fernandez rejected on the grounds that it breached the law.
On the matter, JCE president Julio Castanos Guzman said that he would seek advice from the Chamber of Accounts, the government audit office, about the controversial incentive payment.
Fernandez continued to criticize procedures at the JCE. Yesterday she questioned why JCE judges are allotted pension plans after working for just three years while all other public officials must be at least 50 years old, and need to have worked for more than 20 years to qualify.

DR takes on Grupo Rio presidency
The Dominican Republic will take on the pro-tempore presidency of the Rio Group next month, and President Leonel Fernandez will travel to the handover ceremony in Guyana on 3 March. President Fernandez has also scheduled trips to India and the Middle East for after the PLD presidential primary. The Rio Group is made of 19 Latin American countries and is a high level forum for regional issues.

JCE close cedula center
The JCE has closed a cedula issuing center in eastern Santo Domingo after the National Investigations Department (DNI) and JCE officials found "serious irregularities" in the issuing of the ID and voting cards at the center. The center was issuing around 2,600 cedulas a month. Investigators said that the loss of 500 original blanks and security plastic for making the cedulas was what triggered off investigations. Authorities were already suspicious of goings-on at the Monte Plata civil registry office where the disappearance of the blanks was commonly reported. The Administrative Chamber of the JCE dismissed the person in charge of the center in eastern Santo Domingo, all subordinates and all auxiliary staff.
The investigation revealed that the mafia had a range of pricing for a fake cedula. The cheapest fake cedula cost RD$3,000 and was sold to people with the same personal information (name, date of birth, place of birth, etc.) and then given to a third party to change the picture. More expensive cedulas cost around RD$30,000 and were made with the original plastics and materials.

Clarifying the breathalyzer controversy
Police and the Interior Minister Franklyn Almeyda has clarified that 122,000 disposable tips have been purchased for the new breathalyzers that Metropolitan Transit Authority (AMET) officers will use while patrolling the streets. The government bought 1,200 of these devices and a stock of 100 tips per unit. Almeyda said that the tips would not be reused, not just for reasons of health and hygiene, but also because a reused tip would not accurately measure the driver's blood alcohol level.
Almeyda, as reported in Hoy, said that a color meter would determine whether the driver is drunk. If the machine flashes red it means intoxication. A tolerance level of 0.25 mg/l in air has been set for drivers in general, while drivers who transport passengers and goods need to comply with a maximum 0.15 mg/l limit in air, as reported in Diario Libre.
The controversy over the breathalyzers and their health implications was raised by Dr Julio Demorizi, a specialist in infections, who said that the repeat use of the tips could be a vehicle for the transmission and spread of diseases.
Almeyda also announced that AMET officers would now be equipped with pepper spray as a first line of defense for when a person gets out of control.

UNICEF offers help in registering kids
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) is concerned about the large number of children in the DR who do not have birth certificates and has offered to help the Central Electoral Board (JCE) resolve the problem. Tad Palac, UNICEF's representative in the DR, met with JCE president Julio Cesar Castanos Guzman to discuss possible cooperation on the issue. According to the National Statistics Office, 22% of Dominican children between the ages of 0-5 don't have birth certificates. In the northern and southern Cibao region 17% of children have not been declared. Meanwhile in the southwestern San Juan de La Maguana and Elias Pina areas, 38% of children have not been declared and in the country's urban areas, 18% of children have not been declared.

Expatriates want citizenship to be automatic
The Dominican community abroad is proposing that second and third generation Dominicans should be able to automatically acquire Dominican citizenship through line of descent, without having to wait until the age of 18 as is currently stipulated in the Dominican constitution. The proposal was made during a meeting of the Consejos Consultivos de la Presidencia de los Dominicanos en el Exterior (CCPDE), a Dominican expatriate advisory board in New York. President Leonel Fernandez was present at that particular meeting during his last trip to New York.

Danilo fights for his people
PLD Presidential hopeful Danilo Medina is defending his supporters who he says have been removed from their posts in government simply because they support his presidential aspirations. Medina says that his supporters who work in government have the same rights to their positions as their fellow government workers who support President Leonel Fernandez's re-election bid. Danilo is quoted as saying that some of his current supporters had also campaigned for Fernandez in the past, and that fact should be respected. Medina continued by saying that if the PLD votes "freely" he is going to be the party's presidential candidate for 2008.

Cheap labor now creating a problem
Producers and farmers in the Cibao region are complaining about the problems resulting from the employment of illegal Haitian workers. Once just cheap labor, farm owners now say that the hidden costs of the imported workers and their increased demands are now catching up with them. Listin Diario writes that producers say they now have to deal with the demands of Haitian workers who want more money, as well as having to deal with the international organizations that campaign on their behalf. The workers are asking for RD$200 per four hours worked, RD$400 per eight hours worked, vacations, days off and severance benefits.
The president of the Northeastern Rice Producers Association, Rafael Diaz says that the rice-producing sector is one of the areas that is most affected by this situation. Diaz also pointed out that there is mistrust between the Haitians when it comes to pay. He says that sometimes payment might get backed up a day or two but the Haitians want their money that day, end of discussion. Finally Diaz explained that when many workers arrive in the country, they don't know Spanish and are only skilled in certain areas, so the producers have to find them translators, teach them the skills, and then pay them the same wages as their countrymen who are already working there.
Diaz says that the sector must stop using Haitian laborers. He added however that this creates another problem because Dominicans don't want to work in the fields. Diaz is urging more Dominicans to work in the fields instead of going to the big cities to work as drivers and similar jobs.

200 caught and brought back to the DR
The United States Coast Guard has caught 200 Dominicans who tried to get to Puerto Rico illegally, and returned them to the DR. The group traveled from La Romana in five yolas (small crafts) and the Coast Guard said that everyone was in good shape upon their return to the DR. Members of the group said that they had paid between RD$20,000 and RD$40,000 for the trip.

Fraud at the Armed Forces
The change in the way retired military are paid their monthly salaries has uncovered a major fraud in the Armed Forces and Police pensions programs. Up until now, payment was made by check, but the government has been moving towards paying employees using electronic transfers. When the government announced that it was changing to an electronic form of payment, many within the military protested, causing traffic jams near the Armed Forces Ministry buildings, because as Diario Libre writes, the electronic payments would reveal the fraud, which is what happened. The switch in systems disclosed that many people on the Armed Forces pensions list didn't actually exist, never "died" or were repeated in the payment system two or three times. Diario Libre reports that the total monthly fraud amounted to around RD$90 million. President Leonel Fernandez has been given the pension fraud case file.

Please say no to dolphins
Diario Libre is reporting that close to 50 environmental and animal rights groups are asking President Leonel Fernandez to stop the entrance of 12 dolphins that the Ocean World water park has requested permission to import from Japan into the country. The letter was sent to the President and to the Tourism and Environment ministers. Idelisa Bonelly de Calventi, president of Fundemar, says that by allowing the dolphins into the country, the Dominican government would be supporting what she calls "brutal hunting."

Roberto wants heliport
Santo Domingo Mayor Roberto Salcedo has set aside 3,400 meters of Plaza Omar Torrijos, opposite Abraham Lincoln Avenue for the construction of a heliport in coordination with the private sector, as reported in Listin Diario. He said that the heliport would serve VIPs who travel to the city and need a central landing point, after inner city Herrera Airport operations were relocated to the northern La Isabela airport. The project is planned as part of the improvements to the Malecon seafront avenue. Salcedo says that the studies are being conducted to ensure that the project doesn't displace the "essence" of the area. Salcedo added that once he has completed his term he will have finished remodeling 95% of the parks in the National District of Santo Domingo.

Caribbean Series gets underway
Anticipation for the Caribbean Series is mounting and the Dominican team is poised to win another championship this year. This Friday afternoon at 4pm the Dominican squad, represented by the Aguilas Cibaenas, who won the Dominican Winter League Championships, will face off against Venezuela. Always fiery Jose Lima will take the mound looking to give the DR its first victory in the tournament and starting things off on a positive note. Today's game against Venezuela is even more intriguing since it's a face off between last year's finalist teams and the Dominican team is seeking to avenge last year's loss. The series continues with the DR playing Mexico on Saturday, 3 February at 3pm, Puerto Rico, on Sunday, 4 February at 7:30pm, Venezuela on Monday at 3pm, Mexico on Tuesday, 6 February at 3pm and Puerto Rico on Wednesday, 7 February at 7:30pm.
This is the 49th anniversary of the tournament, which this year is being held at the Roberto Clemente baseball stadium in Carolina, Puerto Rico. This year might also be a historic one for star Miguel Tejada. With one more homerun Tejada will tie Tony Armas for most in the history of the Serie del Caribe. Armas has 11 long shots and Tejada has 10.
The DR has won most Caribbean Series pennants, with 15 championships, followed by Puerto Rico with 10, Venezuela with 6 and Mexico with 5. A Dominican team, nevertheless, has not won since 2004.

Jazz, soul and blues
The US Embassy is inviting to the performance of The Cultures of Rhythm, part of "Rhythm Road: American Music Abroad Program," sponsored by the US State Department. The Cultures of Rhythm is a New York-based collective of experienced young musicians from a variety of musical backgrounds. With a wide variety of perspectives represented, the players find common ground on a fundamental level, and the resulting musical explorations are a celebration of soulfulness, distilled into exciting new forms. The evening promises a selection of memorable jazz, soul and blues music.
The schedule of performances is Friday, 3 February at 9 pm at the Cinemateca Nacional of the Plaza de la Cultura (in back of the Museum of Modern Art) in Santo Domingo; Sunday, 5 February at the UASD auditorium in Puerto Plata; on Monday, 6 February in Santiago, and on Tuesday, 7 February at the City Hall of San Pedro de Macoris at 7 pm.
For more on current events, see http://www.dr1.com/calendar
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