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Daily News - Wednesday, 28 February 2007

President Fernandez speech
Yesterday's traditional Presidential Independence Day address to Congress was a mixture of multimedia hype and promises, according to detractors, and a message of hope and a strengthened democracy according to his supporters. President Leonel Fernandez offered new housing projects, billions of pesos for the industrial free zones and increased pensions for thousands of elderly citizens. PRD presidential candidate Miguel Vargas Maldonado said that there "was nothing new, just the same old story." Businessman Cesareo Rodriguez told El Caribe that the President's speech "would convince anyone, but the promises are never fulfilled." PRSC general secretary Victor Gomez Casanova told reporters that the speech "only sold illusions... a lot of theories." The new president of Private Business Council CONEP, Lisandro Macarrulla praised the President's plans for the free zones, calling them "a step forward." The reality was that the speech was very long and at least three people fainted during the address, which covered every aspect of Dominican life. For the complete speech in Spanish, see http://www.presidencia.gov.do/webpage/discursos_amp.php?idSpeech=35

A.M. on the Speech
Diario Libre's prize-winning editorialist Ines Aizpun did not think much of yesterday's speech. Her page two column, A.M., pointed out that President Fernandez is on the campaign trail and that he has new advisors. But that does not explain the children waving Dominican flags during the speech, or the paragraphs that sounded as if the President were speaking at a political rally. All told, according to the writer, an inappropriate use of the occasion. While "cold" the President has always been a vote-winner and so many gimmicks perhaps tried to hide the weakness of the speech. The columnist says that the risk of narrating in code the heroic achievements of the normal work of the administration - after all, that is what they are there for, and have more money than ever - is that the successes are reduced in value. Aizpun says that this is what happened yesterday. According to her, the administration cannot accept any laurels for the performances of Marcos Diaz or Joan Guzman, because their personal and family efforts, carried out over years, received little or no official assistance until they were hugely successful. Aizpun says that while these examples might be trivial, they do point out the severity of our social problems, and reveal why the speechwriters gave a certain tone to several paragraphs. The Presidential vision on some areas is removed, disconnected from the reality described by people who are affected by health, education, industrial free zones, or crime issues. Using satire worthy of Voltaire, the editorialist says that facing up to drug trafficking with the shout of "they shall not pass!" is scary. The final paragraph of A.M. could not let pass the Presidential joke about eating pork rinds on the new Metro. Aizpun says that this dismisses the most poorly managed, non-transparent of investments, and it is an insult to our intelligence, even if he is on the campaign trail.

Free zone closures affect all
The president of the Grupo M industrial consortium, Fernando Capellan, has told reporters that the recent closure of several factories in the Santiago Industrial Free Zone has had "devastating effects on the local economy". Capellan stressed that the current situation threatens the nation's political stability, and applauded President Fernandez's statement on the Dominican Republic's very imminent entry into the DR-CAFTA agreement. President Fernandez announced a RD$1.2 billion government-guaranteed fund to assist in the reconversion of free zone companies. Free zone sectors have called for allowing the peso to float, flexibility in allowing them to choose cargo transporters, and improvements of closer ports as measures that would increase their competitiveness.

Investors meet with Fernandez
President Fernandez has met with two key investors in the tourism sector, the head of AMResorts (Secrets, Dreams and Sunscape brands) and the CEO of Apple Vacations. Alejandro Zozaya of AMResorts told the President that his group was planning the construction of three five-star hotels this year and next to meet what he has described as the booming demand for accommodation in the luxury all-inclusive market segment. The new properties will have 1,308 suites and generate 2,200 new jobs during the construction phase. Press reports do not mention the location of the hotels. According to the hotelier, AMResorts is the fastest growing chain of hotels in the Dominican Republic with an investment of over US$500 million. John Mullen, the head of Apple Vacations told the President about the promotional campaign his company was running to attract more tourists to the DR. Currently, Apple brings over a quarter of a million tourists on 1,300 charter flights to the Dominican Republic every year.

Pay incentives OKayed by JCE
The entire Central Electoral Board (JCE) met on Monday night and voted to recognize the incontrovertible legality of the judges' pay incentives that cover overtime and work on legal holidays. Recently appointed judge Aura Celeste Fernandez has denounced the controversial payments as illegal and corrupt, on the grounds that they were devised to compensate for income tax and retirement deductions from the judges' basic salary. The new agreement stipulates that further remunerations may not take any tax deductions or other deductibles into consideration and that furthermore, all additional wages are also subject to income tax payments. According to the judges' written statement released to the press, "a majority" voted to keep the pay incentives. However, president of the JCE, Julio Cesar Castanos Guzman, Aura Celeste Fernandez and the judge who heads the Disputes Chamber, Mariano Rodriguez, have all refused to accept the payments on principle.

Publico drivers recover part of subsidy
President Leonel Fernandez has ordered the Office for the Reorganization of Transport (OPRET) to begin feasibility studies on the payment of subsidies for students, disabled and elderly people who use this unique system of transport, shared publicos - or public cars. The President did not mention where the funds for this subsidy would come from. The President also announced the creation of a set of rules for the Organization of Ground Transport. While there is at least a six-month window for any of this to happen, the head of the CONATRA transport union, Antonio Marte, said that he was satisfied with this offer. He also mentioned the fact that the dialogue that began in OPRET head Diandino Pena's office, averting a nationwide strike, would continue.

Don't drink and drive
The Metropolitan Transit Authority (AMET) is getting ready to hit the streets with the new breathalyzers next week, enforcing Article 93 of the Traffic Code (Law 241). AMET spokesperson Jose Jaquez told reporters that there was no hurry (the equipment arrived in Santo Domingo a month ago), and promised that there would be no "witch hunts." He did emphasize that Resolution 03-06 by the Ministry of Interior and Police prohibits any driver or their passengers from drinking any alcoholic beverage while driving. The costs for violations of the measure can be significant, if controversial, since they include confiscation of the vehicle and the subsequent payment of towing fees and fines. The breathalyzers will be used on anyone who is suspected of being under the influence.

Regulating police promotions
President Leonel Fernandez announced Decree 63-07 last night. The decree overrides all other provisions on police promotions of equal or inferior hierarchy. Five decrees are thus affected. The latest decree establishes the rules and legal procedures relating to police promotions. It states, according to El Caribe, that promotions should be automatic and be carried out, for the most part on Independence Day, 27 February, and, under special circumstances under presidential prerogative, on 16 August, Restoration Day. The new measure establishes a Superior Police Council and a Promotions Board that will work continuously on the promotions list.

12,700 promotions
As part of the celebrations for the 163rd anniversary of Dominican independence, a total of 12,700 members of the armed forces and the police have been given promotions. The breakdown was 7,200 members of the armed forces and 5,500 police force officers. The announcement was made by Major General Hector Antonio Lizardo Jorge. According to the General, only members who obtained the grades and the qualifications received promotions. Special mention was given to 100 members from each of the branches of the armed forces and the police.

President creates the Police Auxiliary
Presidential decree number 62-07 has created the Police Auxiliary in order to strengthen the National Police's working capacity. The decree places the Director General of the Police Auxiliary on the board of directors of the Superior Police Council. This Director General will be an active member of the police and will be appointed by Presidential decree. The new department will be under the control of the Ministry of the Interior and Police. Dominican high school graduates between the ages of 18 and 30 and with a clean background will be eligible for the new corps. Service will be for six months and up to four hours a day, five days a week, as long as this does not interfere with the academic training each recruit will have to undergo. Recruits will have the option of joining the force upon completion of the study modules. Since all recruits will receive the first module of basic training, recruits who do not finish basic training can become part of the auxiliary.

Massive roundups in Herrera
The National Police carried out a large dragnet in the Herrera area of Santo Domingo yesterday, detaining 125 people and seizing 75 motorcycles and five guns. The operation took place in the barrios that are considered the most vulnerable in the area, near the Guajima Creek. Listin Diario quotes unnamed sources as saying that the chief of police has ordered a survey aimed at locating the gangs and their leaders in an area where two young men were shot dead last week. At the same time, these sources say that the police are trying to target the source of the problems, mostly drug related, and seek to eliminate them. Among some of the other issues mentioned by the sources were: the removal of personnel at several of the local precincts, the formation of neighborhood groups to combat crime and more community service training for police units. Many of the people interviewed by the reporters refused to speak out in fear of reprisals from the gangs. According to residents, the gangs are well armed with rifles and shotguns, and use flak jackets and two-way radios. The reporters said that there were very few people on the streets by 4pm. Today's Listin Diario reports that yet another young person has died as a result of the gang wars the police are trying to stop. Yancy del Orbe Gonzalez, 22, was shot at close range. He reportedly belonged to the gang that killed two brothers last week.

New tax makes weddings expensive
The president of the National Hotel & Restaurant Association, Luis Lopez was critical of the government's decision to double the tax on weddings in the DR. As reported in Hoy newspaper, the Central Electoral Board (JCE) ruled that as of January, foreigners choosing to marry in the DR would have to pay US$500, up from US$125. Lopez called this a blow to the celebration of weddings in the DR. In 2006, 90,000 foreigners chose to marry in the DR. He said this would affect weddings that have already been booked, because the couples will have to pay the difference or cancel the ceremony. He considered the US$500 tax excessive. In the US, persons can get married for just US$15. "We are concerned that some sectors do not understand how tourism industry works. Decisions like that reflect the fact that it is not understood, because our competitors are not being taken into consideration", he said. He criticized the fact that the country is becoming one of the most expensive in the region.
Some hotels are encouraging couples to get around the fee by getting married in the US, and then staging a symbolic ceremony in the DR.
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