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Daily News - Friday, 16 February 2007

Sharma's visit: "historic"
President Leonel Fernandez has described Foreign Minister of India, Anand Sharma's visit to the Dominican Republic as historic. Yesterday Sharma met with Fernandez for over an hour and they discussed ways in which relations between the two nations could be increased, not only diplomatically but also to benefit commerce and education, generic medicine manufacturing, energy, tourism sectors, and ideas for technical assistance. As part of his visit, Sharma also offered 30 scholarships for Dominicans in India. Sharma also announced incentives for Indian firms who wish to do business in the country. He met with Senate leader Reynaldo Pared Perez, head of the Center for Export and Investment (CEI-RD), Eddy Martinez, Environment Minister Max Puig, Higher Education Minister Ligia Amado Melo and Humberto Salazar of the HIV-AIDS commission, among others. He made a formal invitation for President Fernandez to visit India this year.

Shopping for airplanes?
President Leonel Fernandez made an unusual visit to the San Isidro Air Base. Press reports on the visit, on the occasion of the 59th anniversary of the Air Force, say that the Air Force is contemplating the purchase of a fleet of 8 to 10 Brazilian warplanes, with a 100% loan from the Brazilian government. The airplanes would reportedly be used to pursue drug traffickers. As reported in Hoy, the Air Force argues that their aviation fleet is currently limited to Chilean-manufactured Pillan airplanes, primarily used to train air force pilots, several helicopters and two Spanish registered airplanes for transport. On the occasion of the President's presence, sellers of the Brazilian Super Tucano airplane exhibited the airplane's maneuverability. Brazilian ambassador Edgar Dunlop was also present. President Fernandez also observed the aircraft's interior and was given explanations about its range of fire.
National Drug Control Department (DNCD) head Rafael Radhames Ramirez Ferreira yesterday said in Congress that the country needs airplanes, high-speed boats and radars to combat drug trafficking.
During the ceremony Fernandez cut the ribbon inaugurating the remodeling of Air Force Academy facilities, the construction of the new helicopter hangar, and the rehabilitation of a 100,000-gallon fuel tanker.

IMF on the DR
Deputy Managing Director and Acting Chairman at the International Monetary Fund, Murilo Portugal has issued a public statement about the completion of the fifth and sixth reviews of the Stand-by Arrangement with the Dominican Republic. In the statement he acknowledges the authorities' efforts so far that have led to a strong macroeconomic performance with a 10.7% rate of growth and inflation of 5% in 2006 and makes recommendations for the government to adhere to the fiscal program in 2007. "There were delays in structural reforms and slippages in fiscal policy, although their impact was contained by a prudent monetary policy stance. Strengthening medium-term growth prospects and reducing vulnerabilities will require that the authorities adhere to the fiscal program and build on the progress made thus far in implementing their structural reform agenda, particularly following the approval of legislation reforming fiscal management practices," says Portugal.
The IMF authorized the disbursement of US$57.5 million, and approved the extension of the 28-month arrangement by eight months to January 2008 and the re-phasing of disbursements to bolster the credibility of the authorities' commitments in 2007.
In the statement, Portugal also encouraged the authorities to reduce energy subsidies, and maintain strict control over current expenditure. "Adhering to the fiscal targets will be an important challenge ahead of next year's presidential elections," he states.

Ministry of Health to fortify foods
In response to the United Nations report that 27% of the Dominican population is malnourished, the Ministry of Health has announced RD$450 million in funding for a program to fortify foods for infants and pregnant women. The goal is to reduce anemia and Vitamin A deficiencies in these two groups. Maltide Vasquez, Nutrition sub-Minister, says that the goal is to 100% fortify wheat with iron, folic acid, vitamin B, and fortify 80% of sugar with Vitamin A. The program looks to lower the anemia rate in children under five years old to 20%.

Protecting the ecosystem
The Dominican government and the German Development Bank KFW plan to spend EUR9.5 million on sustainable environmental projects in the border region. The projects will be concentrated in the Artibonite river basin area and the Jaragua-Bahoruco Enriquillo Biosphere Reserve. KFW will invest EUR5.5 million while the Dominican government will contribute EUR4 million. Diario Libre writes that the four-year program will start this year. Funds will be used to support sustainable development in protected areas, reforestation, protecting zones vulnerable to erosion, introduction of eco-friendly agriculture, and the promotion of ecotourism.

Dominicans in Cuba
Twenty-three Dominican students will be traveling to Cuba to continue their studies in medicine. Cuban Ambassador to the DR Juan Astiasaran and Higher Education Minister Ligia Amada Melo met the students who have received the scholarships and will travel to Cuba. This is the third group of students to receive these scholarships. An agreement signed between the two countries in 1999 awards 50 to 100 annual scholarships for medical studies in Cuba. Melo explained that former students have returned to serve in the Dominican Republic with the knowledge they acquired in Cuba.

Dominicans in Dutch communities
Dutch statistics register the presence of over 300,000 people of Dominican origin who are living in Holland and Curacao and Aruba. Expatriate Advisory Board Minister Alejandro Santos said he was surprised to hear this from Dominican consul Jose Goris when visiting Amsterdam, Holland as part of a five-country European tour that will take him to Spain, Germany, France and Switzerland for talks on how the Presidential Expatriate Advisory Board can strengthen ties between Dominican expatriate communities and the DR. Santos is on tour to appoint the members of each country's advisory board, which will serve as a link between the diaspora with the Dominican government.

Sirchal revitalization workshop
The National Competitiveness Council sponsored Puerto Plata Tourism & Cultural Cluster (CTCPP) is hosting the Workshop SIRCHAL II in Puerto Plata, from 16 to 21 February. Community development experts from France, the US, Spain and the DR are taking part. The event is under the umbrella of the Consejo Directivo del Plan de Rescate y Revitalizacion del Centro Historico de Puerto Plata, a board that promotes the preservation and restoration of Puerto Plata city's historic heritage. The workshop is to set the base for reaching a consensus between stakeholders in the future of the city and an action plan for the restoration of the historic city center's cultural heritage.
Sirchal uses a participative method that unites public and private sectors towards a common goal. During the weeklong workshop, investment opportunities will be identified, as well as sources of funding for small and medium sized companies, in order to attract cultural tourism and stimulate the local economy.
Also part of the activity, talks will be held in Puerto Plata next week and are open to the general public at 6:30 pm at the Cariatides, Plaza El Doral, Carretera Luperon Km. 3.5, west of Playa Dorada. On Saturday, 17 Feb: Overview on the Chocolate Factory in Puerto Plata with the participation of Randolph Langenbach (USA) and Erik Samson (France); Monday, 19 Feb: The Cultural Heritage of Amiens as Base for Urban Revitalization" with Xavier Bailly (France); Tuesday, 20 Feb: "Proposals for Museums in the Historic Center of Puerto Plata" with Ana Maria Conde (DR); Results of the SIRCHAL workshop on Wednesday, 21 Feb.
Other sponsors of the event are the Inter-American Development Bank, USAID, the US Embassy's Franklin Center, the Puerto Plata Hotels Association, the Playa Dorada Hotels Association, OPETUR and the Fundacion Atlantica.

Pared Perez asks for the truth
Senate President Reynaldo Pared Perez is asking the US authorities for an explanation for the latest delays in the country's entry into the DR-CAFTA agreement. Pared called the treaty a never-ending story, and said that in his understanding, Congress has passed all bills required for DR-CAFTA to come into effect. Pared's comments come a week after Industry and Commerce Minister Francisco Javier Garcia said that the Dominican Republic has done everything it was asked to do in order to enter DR-CAFTA and that the DR doesn't have to do anything that wasn't originally agreed upon. Recently, Kevin Manning, president of the American Chamber of Commerce, explained that recent resolutions passed by the Ministry of Industry and Commerce contravened the treaty.

The tallest building
Once it is completed later this year, the 38-floor, 150- meter Torre Caney will be the tallest building in Santo Domingo. Construction has already reached the 35th floor, as reported in the Listin Diario. With a heliport and a swimming pool on the roof, Torre Caney will consist of 31 luxury apartments (853 square meters each) that are due to be handed over in mid-2008. Constructor Rodriguez Sandoval reports that 80% of the apartments have been sold. The company has already submitted plans for the approval of a 60-floor tower on Anacaona Avenue also facing the Mirador del Sur park that would begin construction at the end of the year or beginning of 2008, as reported in Listin Diario. Until recently Santo Domingo's tallest building was a 26-floor tower, also on Anacaona Avenue.

JCE charges 50
The Central Electoral Board is charging 50 former workers with providing forged identification cards to baseball players, Haitian nationals, dancers, drug traffickers and other fugitives from justice. Diario Libre writes that this is the first time that this type of fraud is being sent to justice. In the past, anyone found guilty of forgery was simply fired.
The National Department for Investigation (DNI) is currently looking into JCE operations in New York City as well as cases in Guerra, Monte Plata, Duarte, Azua, Barahona, San Pedro de Macoris, La Altagracia and San Cristobal civil registry offices.

Rockash case update
Judge Gerald Bruce Lee of the United States District Court in the Eastern District of Virginia, who is hearing the case between the Dominican government and AES Corporation, will decide today if he will accept the Dominican government's petition to publicly release documentation submitted by AES Corporation and Roger Charles Fina. Hoy reports that these documents may prove that AES bribed Dominican officials in order to allow the rockash into the country. The Dominican government is suing AES for bringing 80,000 tons of ash into the country, in violation of Environment Law 64-00 and damaging the environment. The country, however, will not be allowed to sue for damages to tourism or public health. Environment Minister Max Puig says that the government wants all the documents out in the light, and called for transparency and for the real story behind the rockash to be known. Puig says that the government is ready for the 5 March trial.

Dominican prostitution ring dismantled
Argentinean authorities have broken up a group that forced eight Dominican women to work as prostitutes. The group was discovered at a brothel in the Once section of Buenos Aires and a man identified as a Dominican national was arrested and charged. The man later posted bail but the crime could be punishable with 15 years of prison. Prosecutor Marcela Sanchez said that the mafia would charge the women US$5,000 for the visa and trip to Argentina as well as making them work as prostitutes after their arrival in Buenos Aires.

Haitians gang members arrested in DR
UN Special Envoy to Haiti, Edmond Mulet says that intense operations in Haiti have forced Haitian gang members to flee the country and come into the DR. UN envoy to Haiti Edmond Mulet said that Dominican authorities have caught a number of Haitian gang members trying to enter the DR illegally after UN peacekeeping troops began their special operations in and around Port-au-Prince a month ago.
UN troops started entering the slums in order to neutralize the armed gangs in December after Haitian Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis authorized the 7,000 UN troops and 1,300 police to intervene.
The UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) stepped up operations against gunmen and kidnappers following public criticism of the UN force for what Haitians perceived as indifference to the rampaging armed groups.

Drug shipments busted
A ship carrying 800lbs of cocaine and 55lbs of heroin has been intercepted by the United States authorities. The drugs have an estimated value of US$8.5 million. The Bolivian-registered Osiris II was crewed by eight Colombians and was headed for the Dominican Republic. The ship was caught 200 miles south of the Dominican Republic as part of an operation called Corredor del Caribe. The US Coast Guard, the FBI, the DEA and the Federal Justice Department are all working on the operation. U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Ricardo Castrodad said that the Osiris experienced difficulties as it approached Dominican shores. At that moment the Coast Guard ship Thaoma went to help and discovered the drugs in the process. Once the ship stopped it was tugged to US Coast Guard facilities in Puerto Rico.
In related news, Customs and Border Protection Agents (CBP) at the Puerto Rican port of Mayaguez have found a large shipment of drugs in a tow truck that was aboard the Caribbean Express ship that had come from Santo Domingo. While inspecting the truck, the authorities were alerted to the possibility of drugs by the canine K-9 unit and upon further inspection the drugs were found in a hidden compartment. A total of 358 bricks, 309.7kgs (682.7lbs), were found in the hidden compartment with an estimated value of US$5.5 million. This is the largest shipment of drugs found this fiscal year and Diario Libre reports that during the last fiscal year CBP discovered a shipment of 10,879lbs of drugs. Puerto Rican customs also found a shipment of 23kgs of drugs that had also come from the DR.
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