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Daily News - Wednesday, 14 February 2007

Tackling propane shortages
A series of propane gas (LPG) shortages in Santo Domingo and other main cities forced the President to meet with suppliers and distributors yesterday, to work out some sort of plan to reduce the recurrence of this problem. According to El Caribe, the President authorized the construction of three storage tanks in San Pedro de Macoris, another storage facility in Puerto Plata and the anchorage of a storage vessel holding 22.5 million gallons of LPG in the port of Azua. Investors from Miami and the Dominican Republic will build the facility in Puerto Plata. President Fernandez met with Jacques Boudet, the president of Geo Gas Trading, and Arturo Santana Reyes, the head of Coastal Petroleum Dominicana.
The storage vessel that will be based in Azua is due to be up and running within three weeks. The storage tanks in San Pedro de Macoris will hold three million gallons each and cost US$8 million to construct. Santana Reyes told reporters that the government has awarded a Mexican company with the contract for the construction of the tanks in San Pedro.

NGO swapped for incentives
The National Congress agreed to abolish the practice of funding non-governmental organizations created by legislators in the 2007 budget. But, as reported in El Dia newspaper, this was replaced by monthly "incentives" that amount to RD$218 million a year, approximately RD$18 million a month from taxpayer money. The Dominican Republic's 32 senators receive a basic salary of RD$120,000, operate from fully equipped offices at the Congress and another in their provinces, and receive RD$5,000 per each session (usually Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday), or approximately RD$60,000 in four-week months. The senators receive an additional RD$400,000, plus one peso per voter in their province or district. For instance, Cristina Lizardo (PLD-Santo Domingo) receives RD$1,432,026 a month in incentives, because her province has 1,032,026 voters. Meanwhile, the senator for Pedernales receives an incentive of RD$16,809 a month, in addition to his RD$400,000 plus RD$120,000 wage, as well as other benefits. As reported in El Dia, Senate leader Reinado Pared Perez receives RD$732,078 in incentives, in addition to his wage and benefits.
These incentives are in the news after recently elected Central Electoral Board judge Aura Celeste Fernandez disputed their legality.
In the DR, the government now has become one of the most, if not the best paying employer in the country.

The best of all possible worlds
The AM editorial, on page 2 of Diario Libre, is a mixture of Voltairesque satire and good, old-fashioned irony. The writer, Ines Aizpun, says that people are wrong when they say that there are no solutions to the problems affecting the population. On the contrary, says the editorialist, the nation has the people, the money and the diagnostics. All that is needed is to be focused on one issue.
For example, she says, just imagine if the financial freedom enjoyed by Diandino (Pena, the Metro builder) were twinned with the meticulousness and polish with which Roberto Salcedo (Santo Domingo's Mayor) breaks up curbs and gardens that are in good shape. Or imagine if the determination with which Leonel (Fernandez) wants to change the Constitution - by explaining what it is we want - were added to all of the ideas that Danilo (Medina, the former presidential minister) has come up with since he left office.
All this, the prize-winning editorialist continues, protected with a little of the "what-do-I-care" attitude of Felix Jimenez (Tourism Minister) in dismissing his critics. Add the air of serenity that surrounds Amable (Aristy Castro, the head of the Municipal League) since he got his US visa back, a document that apparently justifies his existence upon this earth and that he recovered thanks to the intervention of Our Lady Of Grace, among others.
Aizpun goes on to ask the reader "to imagine Juan Hernandez (Department of Taxes) deciding to look into the pockets and corners of the government administration instead of in ours, and find the money that is needed in the over-sized payrolls, in the illegal commissions, in public officials' parallel accounts." Imagine, she says, Carlos Morales (Foreign Minister) dedicating his efforts to Foreign Relations as if he really believed in them and making all the ambassadors on the payroll actually do some work. Or imagine Radhames Segura (CDEEE) investing the same amount of hours into lowering the electricity rates as he does explaining to us why they are so high.
Imagine if all this talent, all this money, all these skills and discourse were to be directed, for example, at resolving the crisis in the education system. How dizzying!

Manning on FTA
Kevin Manning, the president of the American Chamber of Commerce in the Dominican Republic (AmCham), said that two recent Ministry of Industry and Commerce resolutions are stumbling blocks for the start up of the DR-CAFTA agreement. Both decisions from the ministry concern the regulation of fuel haulage across the country, and Manning says that they contravene the free trade treaty, and it will therefore be necessary to find some sort of solution to this stalemate. The businessman, noted for his role in the energy sector, said that those two notes from the ministry are the reason that the United States has not given the go-ahead for the Dominican Republic to enter the agreement. The ministry's resolutions prevented Texaco-Chevron from taking over the transportation of its petroleum products in the Dominican Republic. These fuels are currently transported by contract carriers who allege violations of agreements and loss of privileges earned over time. Yesterday, the Minister of Industry and Commerce, Francisco Javier Garcia, met with the nation's business leaders in an attempt to explain the rules that Texaco-Chevron is complaining about. No information was given to the press after the meeting. The government's official position is supposed to be announced today.

90% of farm workers are Haitian
Hardly any agricultural activity in the Dominican Republic is possible without the labor of Haitian workers. Dependence on these workers is such that that many large-scale farmers have told Listin Diario that the latest surge in agricultural production and exports would not have been possible without the Haitian workforce. As examples, the report says that bananas, rice, coffee, cacao, industrial tomatoes, beans and vegetables are almost entirely cultivated by Haitian laborers. Conservative estimates by the Dominican Agribusiness Council (JAD) and rice producer Victorio Valerio reflect the fact that nearly 100% of the rice-farming workforce is Haitian. In this sector alone over 88,000 foreign workers are employed at salaries ranging from RD$200 to RD$300 per day, depending on their role and the region of the country where the farm is located. As many as 55,000 Haitians are employed in the sugar fields, equivalent to about 95% of workers in the sugar cane industry, an industry that is being increasingly mechanized. The JAD estimates that at least 35,000 Haitians work in the banana industry, although Dominican women make up the majority in the washing and grading operations of this export crop.

Major traffic tie-ups near UASD
Drivers nearing the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo (UASD) are having a hard time finding their way. The closure of Maximo Gomez Avenue between Ramon Santana and Santiago Streets is forcing drivers to wind their way through a series of backstreets that were never designed to bear that much traffic. Local street vendors are constantly asked for directions. Official traffic signs such as one-way or STOP are routinely ignored by drivers trying to reach their destinations. Unfortunately, the lack of signage is a major contributor to the chaos. An unwary driver can reach the intersection of Ramon Santana and Maximo Gomez and suddenly discover that the streets are closed. And this, combined with the mixing up of normal traffic patterns is creating havoc and causing some accidents. Yesterday morning a truck ripped out the electric poles from a stretch of Santiago Street near Elvira de Mendoza Street and hit a barrier that was impeding his path. Local residents heard the crash. One neighbor, a lady, told Diario Libre that last weekend alone there were four accidents due to the lack of signage and any AMET officers to direct traffic.

Pared wants SCJ to get tougher
Senate leader Reinaldo Pared Perez is asking the Supreme Court (SCJ) to be more demanding and critical in order to prevent so many corruption cases from being dismissed without prejudice by irresponsible magistrates who are allegedly being paid off. Pared Perez told Hoy reporters that he favors chief justice Jorge Subero Isa's stance that the entire Justice Department would benefit from the "wave of reforms" currently in vogue. His comments came after the head of the Department for the Prevention of Corruption (DEPRECO), Octavio Lister, said he would resign in reaction to his office's failure to obtain convictions in the courts. The Senate leader said that faith in the justice system leads to a peaceful society. Pared was particularly incensed at the outcome of the Plan Renove case. The legislator has asked the SCJ to investigate the magistrates who issued the latest verdict, which is being appealed.

Attorney General blames gangs
The Dominican Republic's Attorney General Radhames Jimenez Pena said yesterday that the current crime wave in Puerto Plata is due to in fighting among drug gangs. He also said that organized crime was behind all recent incidents. Referring to "normal crimes", the minister said that petty crimes and other "normal" crimes were under control in the province. Jimenez Pena said that ever since Major General Rafael Ramirez Ferreira took over the leadership of the National Office for Drug Control (DNCD), there has been an all-out conflict with drug traffickers and this has led to internal struggles between gangs. The AG also said that he did not discredit the comments made by presidential advisor Vincho Marino Castillo who suggested that a Russian mob was behind much of the criminal activity along the North Coast.

Two officers killed
On Monday, army Major Angel Veras Ortega was shot and killed in what was described as a "settling of accounts." According to Listin Diario, nothing was taken from the Major's body, but reports in other newspapers tell of a missing weapon and cell phone. The Major was an officer in the Presidential Corps of Military Adjutants. Yesterday police Captain Cristian Altagracia Jimenez was murdered in a shootout with thieves who were trying to steal his car. Hoy newspaper quotes a police spokesperson as saying that Jimenez had stopped his vehicle to switch from propane to gasoline when three armed individuals approached him and told him they were taking his car. The Captain took out his service pistol and fired at the three would-be thieves, two men and a woman, injuring the woman and receiving mortal wounds in the process. The captain and the woman died several hours later.

Drugs Council says judges are afraid
The president of the National Drugs Council (CND), Mabel Feliz Baez, has accused the Justice Department of being "afraid and weak" when dealing with drug-related cases. As reported in Listin Diario, the spokeswoman said that the judges' attitude often prevent them from taking more positive steps to halt the scourge of illegal drugs. Feliz Baez said "it is not fair that members of the Drug Control Agency risk their lives arresting and searching drug dealers if they are released within a few days." The official stated emphatically "there is a weakness in the justice system when it comes to drug traffickers." Hoy newspaper reports that accused Colombian drug trafficker, Ciro Alfonso Logreira Rincon, arrested during a police operation in November 2006 along with several other Colombians, was released by magistrate Clara Luz Almonte Gomes after a 36-minute court session. Sources at the Nation Drug Control Office told Hoy that Logriera Rincon was arrested with eight packages of cocaine in his possession, but the judge ignored all the evidence presented by the prosecutor.

Resources for love
Perhaps because today is Valentine's Day, this story in El Caribe is quite appropriate. It tells of merchants throughout the country who sell potions, prayers and ingredients that guarantee success in love. Colored water, saints, candles, flowers for baths and special prayers are part of the offerings. Merchant Rafael Perdomo assured reporters from El Caribe that Valentine's Day was an especially busy time for his trade. He told of one man who brought in a prescription from a purveyor of mysteries who assured the fellow that the flowers and incantations were a sure thing. The most popular plants used are basil, rue, sunflowers and rose petals. In the market in Villa Consuelo, all the ingredients one needs are available. With such practical names as "forget-me-not", "man ties", "blessed cologne" these potions are fast sellers according to Janet, a merchant with long experience in the business. In Villa Mella, Luisa is looking at a statue of St Anthony that she wants to take home. It must be perfect, with no nicks, since imperfections would not allow her prayers to be heard. She told reporters, "It is to get me a boyfriend. This saint always listens to prayers, if one behaves well." True or false, this is all part of a genuine Dominican belief.
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