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Daily News - Tuesday, 06 February 2007

Leonel and Hipolito meet
Former President Hipolito Mejia and President Leonel Fernandez held a meeting at the Presidential Palace last Thursday. The meeting was arranged by Monsignor Agripino Nunez Collado, coordinator of the constitutional reform debates. Diario Libre speculates that President Fernandez was seeking to gain Mejia's support for the constitutional reform bill that is to be presented to Congress. The newspaper's sources say that the former President said that he could not make any promises about the reform but would support the decision his party takes.
Meanwhile, the Que se Dice column in Hoy wonders why President Fernandez has not given legislators a more active role in the constitutional reform debates, instead of leaving them the task of approving what is submitted.
Recently, Congress, which has a PLD majority, approved the budget and fiscal reform bills sent by the President with only minor changes after the President accepted increases to the legislators' own remuneration plans.

DR ratifies disabilities agreement
The Dominican Republic ratified and promised to respect the Inter-American Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against People with Disabilities at a ceremony at the Organization of American States in Washington, D.C. yesterday. The agreement obliges the DR to adopt the legislative, social, educational, labor-related, or any other measures needed to eliminate discrimination against people with disabilities and to promote their full integration into society. With the ratification, the DR is committed to ensuring that new buildings and facilities constructed allow access for people with disabilities.
For more on the treaty, see www1.umn.edu/humanrts/instree/disabilitytreaty.html

Dominican doctors at work
Doctors at CEDIMAT in the government hospital complex Plaza de la Salud have saved the life of 15-year old Hairo Rodriguez Cruz, who suffered from rheumatic cardiopathy, complicated by bacterial endocarditis. Rodriguez had one of the valves in his heart replaced. The valve that was replaced had been infected. The young boy from Bayona, in western Santo Domingo says that he eventually wants to play baseball and ride his bike. The success of Rodriguez's operation comes on the heels of Cardinal Nicolas de Jesus Lopez Rodriguez's much-publicized triple bypass surgery at the same facility. In today's Listin Diario, the Cardinal revealed that he had received many offers and opportunities to have the surgery done abroad but he trusted the professionalism and abilities of the CEDIMAT staff.

Creating jobs
The Government Council is planning to support a program aimed at reducing the unemployment rate to 13.4% with the creation of 200,000 new jobs. When Leonel Fernandez took office the unemployment rate was 19.7% and the current rate stands at 16.4%. Labor Minister Ramon Fadul says that so far 286,000 new jobs have been created in tourism, agriculture and construction during the present government.

JCE inquires if incentive is illegal
Judges at the Central Electoral Board (JCE) have submitted an inquiry to the Chamber of Accounts to determine the legality of the RD$66,000 incentive payments for judges. The judges at the JCE have decided not to receive the extra payment until the Chamber has ruled on the matter. The question about the legality of the incentive was raised by JCE Judge Aura Celeste Fernandez last week, who said that the payment was made to compensate the judges for income tax deductions. The JCE judges have also decided to increase efforts to uncover the mafia at the JCE that provided cedulas to illegal Haitians and drug traffickers.

NY JCE rep defends himself
Miguel Melenciano, director of the Central Electoral Board (JCE) office in New York City, defended himself yesterday against accusations that say that the JCE in New York is also part of the mafia that provides fake cedulas to Dominican and Colombian drug traffickers. Melenciano questioned where the information released by the National Intelligence Department (DNI) might have come from. He explained that the JCE in NYC has yet to issue a cedula. Melenciano says that the only thing the JCE in NYC does is register Dominicans to vote.
According to the report obtained by Hoy, a JCE official in New York City worked in conjunction with another official in Santo Domingo, and together "they changed the identities of Dominican and foreign (Colombian) drug dealers."

AES ash case update
The Dominican government's case against the AES Corporation in a US court resumes this coming 16 February. In advance of the hearing, the law firm Burke Pyle LLC of Philadelphia and Washington, DC deposited a motion in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on 22 January 2007 for summary judgment against Florida businessman Roger Fina and AES on behalf of the Dominican Republic. The DR is asking for a compensation payment for the dumping of 80,000 tons of ash containing arsenic and other noxious substances from an AES power plant in Guayama, Puerto Rico that polluted the air, water and land near the northwestern town of Manzanillo and the northeastern province of Samana.
The case moved after the US Court ruled that the DR had grounds "for bringing nuisance, civil conspiracy and aiding and abetting claims for pollution damages in Manzanillo and Samana" and that such damage claims should be heard under Dominican Law 64-00, which the Court found allows the DR government itself to claim damages.
The lawyers have submitted proof that the ash was dumped in the DR despite the fact that AES was aware that the Ministry of Environment had not issued the necessary permit. A limited certificate was issued after the first shipload was dumped but it specified that the company had to take all measures needed to prevent harm to the environment, a condition they did not fulfill. The lawyers established that Fina, the contractor, continued to dump ash even after the permit had expired.
The legal documents deposited by the DR government lawyers seek to establish that AES clearly took part in, and was the financial beneficiary of the dumping, as it knowingly hired Fina, a businessman without any previous experience of disposing of (or using) the AES ash because Fina was substantially cheaper than retaining an experienced ash disposal contractor. The law firm has deposited in court documents that establish that AES executives Al Dyer and David Stone authorized Fina to take the ash to the DR and leave it in Manzanillo and Samana.
AES is the largest private power generator in the DR. It manages the EdeEste utility and operates the Andres natural gas plant and the Los Mina plants, for a total 987 MW generation capacity.
To read more on the case, see:

AES Dominicana sues government
AES Dominicana, which runs EdeEste, is suing the Dominican government for US$700 million in a New York City court. The lawsuit was brought specifically against the State Run Electric Companies (CDEEE), the Energy Superintendence and the National Energy Commission (CNE). The lawsuit claims that the Dominican government violated its contractual obligations and claims that the government didn't set up a tariff system as was designated under the 1998 agreement. Finally, the suit claims that the AES received a discriminatory agreement compared to EdeNorte and EdeSur and that this situation has led EdeEste to bankruptcy. According to AES, none of the transfers that the company has received from the government has been enough to fulfill the contract requirements. The lawsuit was filed at the International Chamber of Commerce Arbitration Tribunal as well at the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNICITRAL).

DR-CAFTA in limbo
According to Listin Diario the DR-CAFTA agreement is still in limbo due to resolutions passed by Industry and Commerce Ministry. Listin writes that the free trade agreement will remain on hold until the DR and the US can come to an agreement on the issue of fuel transportation. This appears to be the last hurdle to cross before the country officially enters the free trade agreement. Hoy writes that the tie up is with resolutions 148 and 23 that were passed on 26 December and 18 January. The resolutions regulate the contracts for the transportation of fuels, but the company Chevron submitted a complaint to US Trade Representatives Office that handles the DR-CAFTA agreement for the US.

US cuts all military aid to DR
President George W. Bush has cut all military aid for countries in Latin American, but will continue to provide some aid to Colombia and El Salvador in the areas of training and military education. The 2007-2008 budget removes all types of military aid for the Dominican Republic, Chile, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama.

DNCD head receives death threats
Major General Rafael Radhames Ramirez Ferreira, head of the National Drug Control Department (DNCD) has received death threats from what Hoy newspaper calls "powerful quarters." General Ramirez says that he won't be intimidated and will continue to fight drug trafficking, as reported in Hoy.

Charges against Customs head
Customs Department head Miguel Cocco and four other government employees have been charged with entering a private warehouse without the proper search warrants from a judge. Juan Carlos Genao is suing for RD$300 million in damages. The charges stem from an incident that took place on 5 January when Customs officials showed up at Genao's Manoguayabo warehouse and broke the locks on the door, "with intent to seize merchandise." Hoy reports that although the tax on the merchandise had been paid, Customs ordered officials to guard the warehouse.

Vigilantism "not the solution"
Police Chief Bernardo Santana Paez is asking the public to refrain from taking justice into their own hands. Santana's comments come in response to the lynching of three people in Yaguate, San Cristobal last Saturday. Preliminary reports indicate that the three men assaulted and robbed Sergeant Genaro Isabel Martinez of the National Police. Soon after, the men were chased down by a small group of men before being lynched.

Armed Forces on pensions issue
In 60 days the armed forces will, with the help of the Central Electoral Board, begin the process of providing cedulas to 8,800 pensioners who are currently unable to receive their pensions electronically. The ability to receive their pensions electronically will help reduce the amount of fraud and theft of funds in the pensions process. This announcement comes after it was revealed last week that a mafia within the Armed Forces was registering either dead or non-existent staff in order to receive more money illegally.

Is she or isn't she Sonia Pierre?
Listin Diario is reporting that Haitian rights activist Sonia Pierre's real name is Solian Pie. Radhames Batista, president of the National Border Council, said that Pierre has used the alias Sonia Pierre to hide the fact that her parents were illegal. Pierre, who recently received the Kennedy Foundation award for her activism in favor of Haitian immigrants, is president of the Dominico-Haitian Women's Movement (Mudha), an NGO with internationally funding. Batista told the Listin that following his revelation, he has received personal threats and that his office at the Ministry of Foreign Relations was broken into on two occasions. He said that the intruders had stolen documents, computer hard disks and CPUs from his office last week. Batista claims that Pierre obtained her cedula fraudulently because she is the daughter of sugarcane-cutters who did not have legal status when they lived at a batey in Villa Altagracia.
Pierre is an advocate for the granting of Dominican citizenship to all children born in the DR, regardless of their parents' immigration status. The Supreme Court last year ruled to the contrary, and the practice so far has been that only the offspring of parents with legal status are legally awarded citizenship.

Political poll
A poll conducted by Carlos Fara & Asociados, an Argentinean polling company specializing in political surveys, says that President Leonel Fernandez would beat Miguel Vargas Maldonado, Eduardo Estrella, and Amable Aristy Castro in a presidential race. The poll asked, "Who would you vote for as President of the Dominican Republic?" Fernandez obtained 39.6% of the vote while Vargas received 20.6%, Estrella 5.2%, and Aristy 3.0%. Even in head-to-head match ups Fernandez comes out on top. Pitted against Vargas Maldonado he wins with 51% of the vote, while his race against Estrella and Aristy have him coming out on top with 52% and 53% of the vote. The Carlos Fara poll also looked into the possibility of Danilo Medina as the PLD presidential candidate. If Medina were to run he would beat Vargas Maldonado by gaining 42% of the vote, and if Medina were to run against Estrella and Aristy he would still come out on top with 44% and 45% of the vote.

DR leads in Caribbean Series
The Aguilas Cibaenas, representing the DR in Caribbean Series, continue undefeated in this year's tournament. In yesterday's game the DR pounced on Venezuela 7-1 and removed the Venezuelan team from championship contention. Today the DR will face the 0-3 Mexican team in the second to last game of the tournament.
Also, today it will be decided if Santiago will be the host of the 2008 Caribbean Series.
In other sports news, Major League Baseball player David Ortiz will be honored as Athlete of the Year for 2006. The presentation of the award will take place at the main hall of the Club Sirio Palestino Libanes at 11am on 11 February.
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