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Daily News - Friday, 01 June 2007

Mother Nature beats down on the DR
The rains continue pouring down over the DR and the damage and death toll keeps rising. Diario Libre is reporting that the number of people dead as a result of the heavy rains has risen to eight while 16,604 people have had to be evacuated, 4,151 homes have been damaged and 14 bridges have collapsed. In all, the rains have affected 21 of the country's provinces in some way. The Center for Emergency Operations (COE) says that the worst affected zones are in the Cibao region, especially La Vega, Espaillat, Sanchez Ramirez and Duarte provinces, but Santo Domingo was also heavily hit. Transport was a nightmare for most yesterday and the front pages of today's newspapers show pictures of vehicles at intersection of Gustavo Mejia Ricart and Nunez Avenues flooded by the rainwater. According to reports, the new RD$300 million "environmental park" built under responsibility of the Santo Domingo aqueduct department (CAASD) to channel away the sewage water that used to gravitate to the low-lying area has created another drainage problem.
The rains are forecast to continue throughout the day, forcing the government to come up with a contingency plan with an initial budget of RD$25 million.

Hurricane season starts
Hurricane season in the Caribbean starts today, 1 June, with August-October being the peak months. The recent heavy rains appear to be just a taster for what is set to be a busy hurricane season in the Caribbean. The current projection is for an above normal hurricane season, with 13 to 17 tropical storms headed our way this year with the possibility of 7 to 10 progressing to full fledged hurricanes.
However, Gerry Bell of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says there are a couple of unknowns that could affect the overall picture. One of them is "La Nina" which is a cooling of oceanic currents close to the American continents and the other is "El Nino" where the opposite is true. La Nina comes once every two to seven years and brings increased rainfall to normally drier places. It also brings above average normal hurricanes. According to Bell, La Nina could form in one to three months, but there is some doubt if it will form at all. If it does form, cooling the equatorial oceanic currents, a much higher than normal storm season is expected. But Bell warned that even if La Nina does not develop, the conditions associated with the ongoing active hurricane era still favor an above-normal season.
Meanwhile, the National Meteorological Office (ONAMET) has assured the public that it has both the technological and human resources to handle the upcoming storm season. ONAMET director Gloria Ceballos says that Doppler radar systems are in place at Punta Cana International Airport and that systems are in place for the season. The government will also receive support from storm-chasing airplanes provided by the United States, which the Dominican government has expedited clearance for these to fly over Dominican airspace. The storm season ends on 30 November.
For background on hurricanes in the DR, see http://www.dr1.com/weather/hurricanes.shtml

JCE force officials to stop
The Central Electoral Board (JCE) has ordered 157 civil registry officials and their substitutes to suspend their duties and says that the civil officials will be working in a provisional capacity until December. The move, according to the JCE, will be used as a way to "clean out" the civil registries that issue birth certificates and other civil documents. The hope is that there will be a reduction in the number of investigations and corruption claims about the validity of those documents. The civil registries will however, keep functioning normally as the JCE has created a system for appointing new civil officials.
In related news, the JCE has also announced that due to the budget crisis, all programs aimed at increasing the transparency and credibility of the 2008 elections have been suspended because there is no money, according to JCE administrative chamber head Roberto Rosario. Rosario also said that the SOMO civil registration automation project is almost completely paralyzed because of this lack of funds.

Senate head "forgives" AC
Senate head Reynaldo Pared Perez has accepted the Accounts Chamber judges' apologies, saying that a meeting between him and the judges at the Senator's office led to a "happy" ending. Pared Perez said that he was satisfied with the judges' explanations, and continued by explaining that the Chamber of Accounts members were excluded from the country's Austerity Law. The controversy started when the judges decided to increase their salaries by an exorbitant amount. Salaries jumped from R$249,000 per month to almost RD$500,000 in some cases, although no justification was provided. Chamber head Dr. Andres Terrero said that the judges had acted within the boundaries of the law and said that they did nothing wrong in approving their own salary hikes. Terrero is quoted in Listin Diario as saying that he made a mistake in agreeing to the raises, but since the resolution was revoked, he feels there is nothing wrong. He said he believed that citizens should give him and the other judges a vote of confidence. After meeting with Pared Perez, Terrero said that he would continue to run a clean administration, but did say that the word "corruption" is very subjective. Hoy writes that when Telecentro journalist Nelson Mateo asked whether the judges had paid back any of the money they received after the pay hike, Terrero said that this was being looked into. Pared Perez jumped in and continued defending the judges by saying that the point is to look to the future, not the past. Civil society groups say that the Chamber of Accounts decision sullied the judge's credibility to audit government offices, and is calling for their resignation.

Figueres opposes coal-fired generators
Former Costa Rican President Jose Maria Figueres says that although the Dominican Republic has every right to increase its energy producing capacity, the country should consider using fuels that pollute less. Figueres says that the country should not build two planned coal plants that are expected to produce 300MW of energy each. A letter of credit for securing the necessary financing for the power plant is still pending Congressional approval. Figueres described the plants as "highly polluting".
Figueres, who spoke during a luncheon with the Corripio Group, says that the burning of fossil fuel is a direct cause of the increase in the earth's temperature. Figueres pointed out that this problem does not only affect the DR but the larger industrialized nations as well. Figueres, speaking on the state of trade and commerce, said that countries should find a way of making the most of globalization and says that anything that induces change and growth is important for any country. He also said that one-sided development is not the answer and this is why countries should also focus on environmental issues.
Figueres proposed that the DR create free trade zones along the border in cooperation with Haiti to generate jobs for Haitians and reduce migration to the Dominican Republic. The former president said that Haiti could become a trade advantage for the country. Figueres realized he was stepping into a minefield when he made his comments but said that the DR has nine million people next door who could become considerable consumers and investors.
"If tomorrow the DR tells the World Bank, the IMF, the IDB, the governments of the United States and the European Union and everybody who has wanted to fix the problem of Haiti and not been able to, that it commits with solidarity to help solve the problem, I am sure that we could finance the programs to train the people for those industries," he told the audience at the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo (UASD) Aula Magna during his address on responsibility for global warming and the current challenges.

CEDIMAT begins diabetes treatments
The Diagnostics and Advanced Medicine Center (CEDIMAT) at Plaza de la Salud has announced that it will begin a program to help treat patients who suffer from Type 2 diabetes. The treatment will be specifically focused on people who have lived with the disease for less than 10 years and are 50 years old or younger. According to Hoy, these treatments have a 90% success rate. Dr. Luis Betances, head surgeon at the hospital's Laparoscopic Unit, made the announcement. To date 500 people in the DR have received this treatment for the disease.

Government presents new HIV/AIDS plan
The Presidency's Administrative Ministry in cooperation with the Public Health and Social Assistance Ministry (SESPAS) and the President's Council for HIV/AIDS (COPRESIDA) has presented a strategic plan to fight HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. Humberto Salazar, head of COPRESIDA, helped draw up the plan that spans from 2007 to 2015. Salazar says that 18,000 people have been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in the country but he estimates that the actual number of people with the disease is closer to 70,000.

Dominican health risks
Though warm weather and beautiful beaches can be relaxing for visitors, it seems that it are not enough to lower the blood pressure of most Dominicans. According to results revealed by cardiologist Miguel Angel Arias, 24% of Dominicans above the age of 18 suffer from high blood pressure and have high levels of cholesterol, a combination that could lead to serious health risks. Arias revealed these figures during the inauguration of the Hypertension Clinic and the presentation of the Hypertension Club. Both entities work with support from the Centro Medico de los Maestros (SEMMA), an organization working to lower the levels of blood pressure amongst teachers. According to statistics, 30% of teachers suffer from high blood pressure and 10% have high cholesterol.

"Sextuplets" doing well
The five surviving babies born last week are doing well. Diario Libre reports that they have begun to drink breast milk and are breathing on their own within their incubators. Health Minister Bautista Rojas Gomez told the children's mother, Magdalena Rodriguez to rent a new, more spacious and comfortable house, and that the Health Ministry would cover the costs. Rodriguez and her partner currently live in a humble home with their grandparents and five other people in the Villa Francisca area of Santo Domingo. Reportedly, the government has spent RD$5 million to keep the five premature babies alive.

SDE mess getting smellier
Another scandal is hitting Santo Domingo East city hall. Reports are surfacing that a company that was bidding for a contract to collect the city's trash had submitted fake documents to the Department of Public Contracting. The company, Consorcio Higiene Integral, has since been disqualified from taking part in the bidding process. Accordingly, the Tax Department (DGII) sent the SDE city hall a letter dated 13 April, notifying them that the company's documents were in fact fake. The company will not be able to take part in any public bidding until the problem is resolved.

Ministry authorizes hotel
The Ministry of Tourism has authorized the construction of a hotel on a small strip of land in the National Park of the East, reports Diario Libre. The newspaper writes that the permission to build the hotel was granted in a resolution passed on 10 January 2006, in which Tourism Minister Felix Jimenez authorized the construction of 40 rooms per hectare within lot 6-04-10866 that falls inside the National Park of the East. The authorization was given to Pablo Pineiro Ibernon and Gustavo Montenegro of Inversiones Coconut S.A. for the construction of the Bahia Principe Bayahibe resort. Jimenez explains that the strip of land had been released for development. The Higher Land Court has ordered an investigation and in 90 days a full report on the exact location and details of the project will be made available. Also requested was a report from the Ministry of Environment confirming whether the lot falls within the protected area.
Lawyer Fermin Casilla Minaya, state attorney to the Higher Land Court is disputing the release of the land for development.
Diario Libre also reports that on 9 December, Jimenez signed an agreement for an "offer for the preparation of a land use plan for the National Park of the East for EUR265,000, to be carried out for a period of 12 months with French company, Argos SA that is represented by its president, Francois Jean Simon Fontes. This is the same company that proposed the controversial construction of hotels in the Bahia de las Aguilas protected area in the southwestern province of Pedernales.
Jose Manuel Mateo of the Ministry of Environment told Diario Libre that it has not authorized any construction in the National Park of the East.
Diario Libre also mentions that the minister has issued other questionable resolutions, mentioning 154-05 issued on 2 November 2005 that changes the room density to favor the Stanza Mare and Pueblo Bavaro tourism projects in the east coast (Punta Cana) area where he is a shareholder. Diario Libre recalls reports in October 2006 that said that the minister also has shares in the Vista Mare aparthotel in Las Galeras, Samana, which was granted authorization to build within the 60 meters beach limit.

Lockward case to be reheard
The National District Court of Appeals has rejected an appeal presented by Fernandez government minister without portfolio Angel Lockward for rescinding the case of fraud in the sale of the propane gas subsidy during the Mejia administration. Lockward was the minister of industry and commerce at the time. The case is pending after a judge determined that there is evidence that he took part in a RD$200 million fraud in connection with the distribution of the coupons. Lockward now needs to stand trial in a criminal court.

Man kills two; commits suicide
A man has reportedly killed two sisters before turning the gun on himself. Hoy reports that incident occurred after a heated discussion about the sale of a property to two different people. Santa Reynoso, 26, Cipriana Reynoso Kelley, 35, and a man identified only as Jose Antonio (Papolito) were the victims. Police report that a 14-year old and a two-year old were also injured in the shootings. Local witness accounts say that Jose Antonio killed the two women, ran into his house and moments later took his own life with a single shot to the head. According to neighbors, Jose Antonio was considered somewhat of a troublemaker in the neighborhood and was said to have had problems with people in another neighborhood. Rene Moreta, a community activist, said that Cipriana had gone to the police in the past because Jose Antonio threatened her, but that the police never took action.

Soldier's parents go to embassy
The parents of missing Dominican-American soldier Alex Jimenez have gone to the Dominican embassy at the United Nations to meet with Ambassador Erasmo Lara Pena. Gregorio Morrobel, deputy ambassador, said that the soldier's parents were invited to discuss the soldier's disappearance. The meeting took place yesterday and Hoy reports that Jimenez's parents have sent out a message to their son's captors, through an Iraqi radio station, asking them to release their son.

All not good for A-Rod
Although he's considered one of the greatest players of his generation Alex Rodriguez (a.k.a. A-Rod) just can't catch a break. Reports are surfacing about Rodriguez being spotted in Toronto on Sunday with a mystery blonde woman who wasn't his wife. The report, which originally surfaced on the back page of the New York Post claims that Rodriguez was staying at the Four Seasons Hotel in Toronto when he went out on the town accompanied by two men and the mystery blonde. Accounts detail that the group dined at a fancy restaurant near the Toronto Blue Jays stadium and then headed for some fun at a strip club. As the night wound down the Rodriguez and his "lady" were seen heading back to the Four Seasons alone. Rodriguez has yet to comment on the incident. Now reports are surfacing that Alex's wife Cynthia has left the couple's home.
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