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Daily News - Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Fernandez speaks tonight
President Leonel Fernandez is scheduled to address the nation about the immediate future of the Family Health Plan (SFS) at 9pm tonight. The President's speech will be broadcast on CERTV and Dominicana FM. After much debate the social health plan is due to begin next Friday, but there are still a number of issues that the government, doctors' representatives and the business sector have not been able to resolve. These sticking points, still unresolved so close to the entrance date, led President Leonel Fernandez to take charge of the talks in the hope of providing a solution. Fernandez has stated that the SFS will go ahead as planned. Diario Libre writes that the President will also use his speech to announce reductions in the taxes on alcohol and tobacco. Consumption of both products has decreased ever since government imposed new taxes, which in turn has resulted in a decrease in the amount of revenue collected by the government.

Playing the vehicular blame game
Interior and Police Minister Franklyn Almeyda says that it is not his fault that Ford Focus police cars are stranded because of the lack of spare parts, preferring instead to blame the Chief of Police, who he said has the responsibility for the maintenance. The vehicles were bought for US$1 million from a Ford supplier in Spain, but according to Viamar, the local Ford dealer, vehicles purchased in Spain run on diesel, while the locally sold Ford Focus vehicles operate on gasoline, so the local dealer does not have the necessary spare parts to repair the vehicles and has to import them. Viamar is now asking for 5% of the total cost of the vehicles, equal to US$59,250, in order to import the spares. Almeyda says that the fleet of vehicles was originally bought through a commercial bank loan from the Spanish government, which was approved by the Dominican Congress.

Tourism Minister has unfair advantage?
A resolution passed by the Tourism Ministry has led to some raised eyebrows because some feel that it gives Tourism Minister Felix Jimenez an unfair advantage. Resolution 154-05, passed 12 November 2005, modifies the amount of bedrooms that can be built in a particular area of Bavaro. Originally the resolution allowed between 25 and 40 bedrooms per hectare to be built in the area. The Ministry divided the area into five plots. One of the plots, plot "number four" where the project Stanza Mare is being constructed, has been allowed to construct 70 bedrooms per hectare. As reported in Diario Libre, the Stanza Mare project is partially owned by Tourism Minister Felix Jimenez and many are saying that the resolution gives him an unfair advantage. Diario Libre adds that in the Pueblo Bavaro real estate development project, where Jimenez is also a partner, contractors are being allowed to build 75 bedrooms per hectare. When questioned on the topic Jimenez said that he wouldn't respond to cheap rumors, claiming that he has always been forthright and honest about his investments.

Puig criticizes plan
Environment Minster Max Puig is criticizing efforts by some legislators who want to reform law 202-04 governing protected areas. Puig, quoted in Hoy, says that the country's protected areas are under attack from people who are continuously trying to take control of lands that he says are also part of the country's heritage. Currently 27% of the country's territory is protected under the law. Puig has refused to name names but says that if the process continues he will reveal the legislators who are trying to modify the law so that the whole country knows who they are. Puig referred to the log cutting incident at the National Park of the East in Higuey province where a court allowed 35 million square meters of protected land to be used for logging, although he says that the ruling is in appeal because the judge made a mistake in the case. Puig also denied reports printed a US newspaper that stated that the DR would be exporting sand from its beaches to Miami. Puig says that the DR would not export its sand anywhere, under any circumstances.
The president of the Chamber of Deputies, Julio Cesar Valentin challenged Puig to release the names of the legislators.

Record number of consuls
On their inaugural broadcast, Huchi Lora and Nuria Piera set the tone for their CDN La Radio 5-7 pm talk show reporting that the Dominican Republic has more consuls in the US than Mexico and India, as reported in El Caribe. The investigative journalists said that the DR has appointed 182 consuls in the United States, with wages that run from US$1,800 to US$5,000 a month, plus benefits. Lora said his source of information was the Ministry of Foreign Relations, where he had to place multiple requests and appeal to the Free Public Information Access Law to get the information. He said the Ministry only supplied the information after a court ordered that the Metro office (OPRET) release information on the construction of the Santo Domingo metro to Lora.
Lora revealed that the Fernandez administration has appointed nine consuls, two honorary consuls, 72 vice consuls and three honorary vice consuls. This is in addition to 89 assistants to consuls, two honorary assistants to consuls, two consular counselors and two cultural counselors.
In New York alone, where there is a general consul, there are 26 vice consuls, 42 assistants and two counselors. Mexico, the country that has the most legal migrants in the US has 15 consular members based in New York. India that has the largest number of legal migrants in the US has only seven members in its New York consulate. France has only 13 members in its consulate.
Lora and Piera reported the government pays RD$40 million a month in wages at the consulates in only five countries.

Free zone workers still waiting for raise
Workers at the free trade zones are likely to have to wait one more month before receiving a pay rise, although there is no guarantee that their representatives will be able to reach an agreement with the business sector. Diario Libre writes that after a series of meetings the National Salary Council (CNS) has scheduled another meeting for 21 June where the hope is that both sides will reach an agreement, but it is believed that any wage increase free zone workers get will be substantially less than the 15% wage increases non-sectorized private workers recently received. The reason for this is the fact that free trade zones have lost out on competition recently, their sales have decreased and many have had to close down.

Body of soldier found; identification not made
Listin Diario is reporting that the body of a missing US soldier has been found, but no word yet if the body is of Dominican-American soldier Alex Jimenez. Listin writes that the soldier's body, which had a total of six gunshot wounds, was found in Jorf Al-Sakhr, a town 65km from Baghdad. The body was quickly returned to US custody. Jimenez was kidnapped near Baghdad on 12 May along with two other soldiers. Military personnel are continuing their search for the soldiers, one of whose bodies was found several days ago.

"Sextuplets" doing well; triplets not
The five surviving sextuplets born last week (one was stillborn) are doing well and are able to breathe on their own after their breathing machines were removed. Dr. Luis Rivera, who is helping to care for the babies, said that if all continues going well, they would be able to drink breast milk within a day or two. Unfortunately the triplets who were born last Saturday have passed away, as was predicted. The babies were born prematurely, weighing 500 grams, and doctors gave them little chance of survival. Listin Diario writes that the babies had shown slight improvements, but they were born much too early, at 23 weeks. Rivera says that 100% of children born at that weight in Latin America die. He says that only one Dominican child, who was born weighing 330 grams, has survived. That child, currently very healthy, is one of four children in the world, according to Rivera, who have survived after being born at such a low weight. Hoy quotes Rivera as saying that the authorities need to regulate assisted pregnancies because multiple births could become "an epidemic". Rivera points to the cost of caring for such cases, mentioning that this recent group has cost about RD$2 million to care for so far, and also says that these types of pregnancies put the rest of the family in danger.
As reported in the Listin Diario, Dr. Rivera says that the premature births are due to the use of low cost fertilization methods. He urged that the Ministry of Public Health rule on assisted fertilization so the many cases of multiple births do not continue. Rivera says that this is urgent or else the multiple births will continue as parents seek financial gains (apartment, jobs, subsidy) that those with multiple births have already received from the government.

Flood warnings continue
The Center for Emergency Operations (COE) has placed eight provinces on yellow and green alert due to the continuing rains that have been lashing those areas over the last few days. Forecasters say that the rains are set to continue for at least the next 48 hours. The heavy rainfall has already damaged 935 houses and two bridges, left two men dead and forced 3,470 people to be evacuated. Santo Domingo, Santiago, Puerto Plata and Maria Trinidad Sanchez are among the provinces included in the warnings.

Fighting domestic violence
The Women's Ministry (SEM) and the Attorney General's office have presented the Network for Prevention, Integrated Care and Penalties for Gender and Domestic Violence. During the event launching the program Attorney General Radhames Jimenez said that women are the victims of domestic abuse day in and day out, and noted that last year 178 women were killed in these circumstances. The Attorney General also pointed out that so far this year 51 women have lost their lives as a result of domestic violence. Jimenez said that the abuse is not only physical, but also emotional and sexual and the program will help by providing support mechanisms for women who are victims of this type of abuse. Twenty NGOs and government organizations are taking part in the program, as well as a number of private sector organizations.

Manny looks for record
While much of the focus this year has been on Sammy Sosa's quest for 600 homeruns, Boston Red Sox slugger Manny Ramirez is quietly chasing a milestone of his own. Ramirez, who hit his eighth homerun of the season yesterday, tied Jim Thome in 25th place on the all-time homeruns list. Manny's 478th blast over the Green Monster last night helped the Sox beat the Anaheim Angels. This means that Ramirez is now only 22 homeruns away from the 500 career homerun mark. It's not certain whether Ramirez is a sure fire Hall of Fame candidate, but 500 career homeruns sure helps.

Jose Maria Figueres at the UASD
World renown speaker on environmental issues, sustainable development and competitiveness, former President of Costa Rica, Jose Maria Figueres will be speaking to a Dominican audience this Thursday, 31 May at the Aula Magna of the UASD university at 6 pm. He will be explaining Global Warming, Challenges and Responsibilities, based on the Al Gore "An Inconvenient Truth" documentary.
The event is organized by the National Competitiveness Council.
For more on upcoming events, see http://www.dr1.com/calendar
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