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Daily News - Monday, 05 March 2007

President Fernandez to Guyana
President Leonel Fernandez traveled to Georgetown, Guyana to attend the XIX Summit of the Rio Group. This presidential summit brought together leaders from Mexico to Argentina. This was the chief executive's 27th trip during this term of office. In his speech, the President argued strongly for increased support for Haiti and the continued presence of the UN peacekeeping force there. After his return on Saturday evening, Fernandez said that he had once again obtained a promise for the release of some US$200 million in funds from the San Jose agreement. Mexican President Felipe Calderon promised Fernandez that he would release the money, according to statements made to reporters from Diario Libre. However, the paper also notes that unlike Venezuela, Mexico has yet to release any of the San Jose Agreement money to the Dominican Republic. According to the paper this is the "umpteenth time Mexico has promised the Agreement's funds."

Bear & Stearns positive on DR
Franco Uccelli, who covers the DR for Bear & Stearns has released a positive outlook report on the Dominican Republic following a recent field trip to the country. He reaffirms the firm's "outperform" recommendation on the credit. "We view the Dominican Republic as an improving credit story, supported by its relatively strong economic performance and promising prospects," he reports.
On the downside, the country needs to deal with a presidential election in 2008, a fiscal plan, and an ongoing electricity crisis. Regardless, he concludes that "we believe that the Dominican Republic's renewed economic strength and proven resilience will allow it to keep pressures related to these challenges generally contained, keeping them from having a significant impact on its overall economic performance."
Bear & Stearns reports that since his visit, Uccelli has "upgraded the recommendation on the credit to outperform."
For the complete 5 March report, see http://dr1.com/news/2007/030507_Uccelli.shtml

Redesigned 'cedula' will stall forgers
The Central Electoral Board (JCE) has announced that foreign and Dominican experts are working on a new design for the personal identity card known as the "cedula" in order to prevent forgeries. The ID card is used as a voter registration card and the redesigned version will include 21 different security features, along with stricter measures for its issue, all designed to prevent forgery. According to Diario Libre, biometric information, special high-quality paper, fingerprints and the civil registry number are to be incorporated into the information on the 'cedula'. The JCE still has to vote on the measure, but its approval is a foregone conclusion.

JCE to get out the documents
The Central Electoral Board, (JCE) has announced that it has decided to face up to the fact that at least 480,000 people in the Dominican Republic do not officially "exist". These are people without birth certificates or the personal identity card known as the 'cedula'. Their efforts will be supported by five mobile offices that will travel the country and provide these documents, free of charge, to anyone who needs them. The measure will be under the supervision of the JCE's Administrative Chamber and work will begin within the next 30-60 days. The information was provided to Listin Diario reporters by magistrate Jose Angel Aquino. Next week the JCE will be accepting public bids for supplying the five mobile offices. The newspaper recently published a story about three families on the outskirts of San Francisco de Macoris who, for several generations, had never possessed the needed documents.
In a related story, Diario Libre interviewed judge Eddy Olivares, and asked him why the JCE was so intense about the Civil Registry offices. Olivares replied that the offices had "become centers of corruption." When the judge was asked why the crisis was so deep-rooted, Olivares answered that the officials who worked at the civil registry offices gave little importance to the alteration and forging of documents. He said that this was partly because many of the offices are in such poor physical condition, which leads to partial or total destruction of many registration ledgers. Olivares said that many of the problems date back many decades. Despite the fact that the penalties for destroying or altering official documents are harsh, the Attorney General has never put any process in motion to punish offenders. The judge pointed out that a 15-year old law had been a dead letter until the current JCE judges decided to enforce it.

Rock ash settlement
AES Corporation has agreed to pay the Dominican government a settlement worth US$6 million (RD$200 million), thus ending the court case heard in a Virginia Federal District Court. The settlement covers compensation for both the Samana and Manzanillo dumps of what is really called "fly ash" in the environmental community. The substance is the deposit that builds up inside chimneys during the coal combustion process. According to industry sources, this ash is basically the impurities left after the coal has burned off, and is supposedly inert. The announcement about the settlement was reported in Saturday's Listin Diario. The original lawsuit was for US$80 million. According to Minister of the Environment and Natural Resources Max Puig, the settlement includes legal fees, and will become available within ten days. One of the incidents that allowed for such a large reduction in the settlement was that, according to Listin Diario, a federal judge refused to try the case under the "Rico" Statutes on bribery and organized crime. According to Puig, the fly ash will be burned in cement factories.
On Sunday, environmentalists delivered their verdict. Once again Listin Diario reported that many campaigners felt that RD$200 million was an insignificant sum considering the ecological damage to Samana and Manzanillo. Environmental spokesperson Luis Carvajal told reporters that the whole story of just how the agreement was reached has not been told. Amparo Chantada, another environmental activist, said that the Dominican Republic had been damaged by the settlement and that AES got away with their deal. Both Carvajal and Chantada belong to the environmental committee at the Autonomous University (UASD) in Santo Domingo.

Martinez Moya on DR-CAFTA
A former high-ranking official in several administrations, Arturo Martinez Moya takes a sharp look at the impact of the recently implemented DR-CAFTA agreement in an article in Hoy. The free trade agreement between the five Central American states, the Dominican Republic and the United States is now fully under way, but, in Martinez Moya's opinion it is quite possible that the Dominican government has not looked at all the possibilities. In fact, he ventures to say that the country has gone blindly into DR-CAFTA. He says that if there is a document that estimates the benefits and possible losses of the agreement, it is under wraps and of no use to anyone. His personal opinion is that such a study does not exist. After looking at imports from the United States and Dominican exports to the United States, in what he says is a fairly "conservative point of view," Martinez states that in the "short term" there will be a US$170 million trade balance in favor of the US. This represents over a quarter of the total increase in trade between the US and the DR brought on by the agreement. In addition, Martinez Moya points out that while most Dominican exports have traditionally been duty free in the US, since they are raw materials or of low added value, and what is imported from the US is generally speaking of high added value, the balance is once again against the DR consumer. Martinez Moya asks whether the DR consumer will be helped by the agreement in the short-term. His answer is already in the stores. Because the government's recent "tax correction" measures have increased taxes on many items, prices have risen almost across the board. The former official calls on the government to re-launch its support for small and medium businesses; to increase funding for education and training for the workforce; and to focus on businesses with higher value added products.

Health workers return to jobs
The Ministry of Public Health and health workers unions have reached an agreement to halt a strike that would have paralyzed hospitals for 72 hours. The agreement will rescind the assignment of thousands of health workers to the National Children's Council (CONANI) and recover RD$49 million that had been transferred to cover their expenses. A total of 120 doctors, nurses, lab technicians, dentists and pharmacists plus 2,009 administrative staff had been transferred to CONANI.

Fewer drug arrests in 2006
The fight against drug trafficking has led to a remarkable contrast between the arrest statistics for 2005 and 2006. Drug-related arrests during 2006 were just 30% of the total for 2005. According to Diario Libre, despite the protests about the proliferation of drugs entering the country by air, sea and land, statistics from the National Drug Control office show that while 3,840 people were arrested for drug trafficking in 2005, this figure dropped to 1,168 in 2006, a decrease of over 70%. Despite daily arrests and drug seizures and increasing pressure from the media, the number of arrests has fallen steeply. This is due in large part to drug smugglers using increasingly sophisticated methods. However, the total amount of drugs seized increased significantly over 2005: 3,902 kgs vs. 2,233kgs.

Are you on file?
El Caribe newspaper has found out that a surprisingly large number of people, including public figures, are on the National Police file system. According to the paper, the police have 635,000 names on its files. The list is said to include students, merengue musicians, humorists, journalists and politicians. In general, the public is reacting very strongly against the fact that the Attorney General's office has criminal files on so many people, since so many of them were opened due to political activities against the government as much as four decades ago. According to Santo Domingo District Attorney Jose Hernandez, his office is obliged to remove files on anyone who is found not guilty. For some, such as former student leader Osvaldo Santana, having his name on file is a "badge of honor" and proof of his fight against the government's policies back in the 1970s.

Two tourists hurt diving with whales
Two tourists were slightly injured when the fluke of a humpback whale struck them as they were diving near the large mammal. The tourists had sailed from Puerto Plata aboard the Turks & Caicos Aggressor II, a 90-foot yacht that takes tourists on dive tours to the Silver Banks, just north of Puerto Plata. According to the captain, Christopher Gugliermo, the incident occurred at about 4:30 in the afternoon as the tourists were swimming near a female whale and her calf. Captain Gugliermo reported that the tourists were swimming quite close to the whales when they apparently awakened, and when the two whales moved suddenly to distance themselves from the observers, the mother's tail (fluke) hit the two divers. They were taken to the Bournigal Clinic in Puerto Plata. Randy Thornton suffered a broken leg and Janet Blackwelder received a very strong blow to the back. Sunday's Listin Diario reports that both tourists are out of danger. After a day in the clinic's ICU, Thornton was transferred to a suite. Blackwelder was initially treated in the ER and later transferred to another suite. She suffered bruising to the spine. Apparently a strong current took the tourists, part of a group of 18 divers, too close to the whales. Regulations in place for whale observation limit how close observers can get to the whale, for both the safety of the whale and the observer.

Grand Finale for 2007 Carnival
Sunday's Grand Carnival Parade was a great success despite a number of incidents. The arrival of 500 "devils" from La Vega, 185 different troupes cavorting along the parade route and the amazing costumes thrilled tens of thousands of people along Santo Domingo's George Washington Avenue (the Malecon). According to Listin Diario and Hoy, the national event was a huge success. This year's Grand Marshall and Carnival King, Jose Ramon Lopez (Momon), an artist from the San Carlos barrio of Santo Domingo, represented 50 years of carnival fun. One of the more interesting moments was the arrival of a young man imitating the President. His act, and that of his buddies, was so convincing that many military and police officers were heard saying, "The President's arrived! Clear the way! Clear the way!" Famous Santiago chef Raudy Torres portrayed the character of "Se me muere Rebecca" to perfection and the character's extremely large derriere was pursued by mobs trying to take pictures. The town of Cotui presented what was perhaps the most varied range of carnival characters, with people dressed as paper figures, plantain leaf people, polar bears and crows. This celebration marked the end of this year's carnival.
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