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Daily News - Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Leonel shops for planes in Brazil
President Leonel Fernandez has announced the purchase of nine Super Tucano airplanes from Brazil. The US$45 million deal will be financed by the Brazilian National Economic Development Bank (BNDES). The planes are intended for use in the fight against drug trafficking operations using the Dominican Republic as a transshipment point to the United States. Fernandez made the announcement while visiting the Brazilian Aeronautical Company (Embraer) plant in Sao Jose dos Campos, Brazil. Fernandez says that the first planes will arrive in the DR in December. The airplanes would be paid from a new 12-year scheme funded by US$1 levied on tourists visiting the Dominican Republic.

Campaign reform could become reality
Central Electoral Board (JCE) head Julio Cesar Castanos Guzman, quoted in Diario Libre, says that the board plans to hold consultations with the owners and directors of media, political parties and civil society as part of the process towards campaign reform. Castanos said that these discussions would take place once the JCE has ready the new rules on campaign reform, which were submitted to the Administrative Chamber (CA) of the JCE yesterday. Although many would welcome a reduction in the constant political campaigning, others are already criticizing the plan and the proposed rules by saying that they infringe on freedom of speech. Yesterday the president of the International Press Society (IAPA) Rafael Molina Morillo called the regulations "unacceptable" because they threatened freedom of expression and media use rights. Molina, who is also the director of Santo Domingo's El Dia newspaper, said that freedom of expression was a basic right without which other rights would be exposed to violation. CA head Roberto Rosario responded to these claims today by saying that the document delivered to the CA yesterday in no way restricts freedom of speech. Vice President Rafael Alburquerque, quoted in Listin Diario, said that he agreed with campaign reform.

Discussing desertification
The Fifth Forum Africa-Latin America and the Caribbean on Combatting Desertification is taking place this week at the Ministry of Foreign Relations in Santo Domingo. Sixty countries are taking part in the event. Vice President Rafael Alburquerque, who is heading the 60-country forum, said that this is a problem that threatens 70% of the Dominican Republic and affects more than five million Dominicans. The forum deliberations continue until Thursday.

SFS finally makes progress
The presidential commission that was appointed to resolve the remaining problems with the Family Health Insurance Plan (SFS) has finally made some progress. The commission, headed by Vice President Rafael Alburquerque, will take on the contributions to the traffic accident fund for the 12 months of 2008 while the Dominican Medical Association (CMD) has reached an agreement that will allow patients to receive care from the specialist of their choice once the SFS enters into effect. The Vice President said that the cost of consultations and surgery, and how this will all financially affect the Plan is still pending discussions. The private sector debated the application of the plan that lead President Fernandez to announce a 90-day postponement. Both sides had until September to work out their differences and make the plan work.

Senate to vote on Sichuan loan
The Sichuan Machinery & Equipment Company has been contracted by the government to build a 600 MW energy producing coal plant in Montecristi and today the Senate will be presented with the application for a US$30 million guarantee, which can be automatically renewed 27 times, so that Sichuan can get the financing necessary to construct the plant. However, the guarantee is being challenged by the HN Energy Company who said they would sue the state if Sichuan were granted the guarantee. HN Energy says that the guarantee was not part of the initial contract presented during the bidding process. PRD representatives have also voiced opposition to the guarantee saying that it will further indebt the country and force it into yet another onerous contract, even worse than the Cogentrix and Smith & Enron cases, as reported in Diario Libre. The newspaper reports that Sichuan's proposal was rejected in 30 January 2006 because they did not comply with the terms of reference, but nevertheless, the company was subsequently awarded the contract.

Asonahores meeting yet to happen
The National Hotels and Restaurants Association (ASONAHORES) was unable to hold a meeting it had scheduled for last week to discuss Tourism Minister Felix Jimenez's request for support from the leading tourism organization. That meeting has now been rescheduled for 27 June, as reported in Diario Libre. Jimenez has said that if ASONAHORES doesn't support his tenure he will resign from his post. Jimenez has been in the news recently for a land use study for the National Park of the East and for granting a "no-objection" for a developer to build in that area despite the fact that only the Ministry of Environment can give permission to do so. Ernesto Veloz, of the Association of Hotels and Tourism Projects of the East, commented when appearing on the Uno+Uno TV program that it is not up to the hotel association to give on opinion on criticism to decisions made by the minister. "We should not take part in that," said Veloz. 52.5% of the tourists that travel to the Dominican Republic stay at hotels in the East Coast. While the board of Asonahores has yet to meet on the topic, the president of Asonahores verbally has expressed his support to the minister.

Medical equipment scam
The dean of Unibe Medical School and president of the board of the Plaza de la Salud General Hospital is calling for an audit of past purchases by the government of medical equipment for public health hospitals. As reported in Hoy newspaper, Julio Amado Castanos Guzman said that the audit should investigate the purchases, the criteria used to make these and should establish responsibilities. "We are opening a box of Pandora that should give a lesson and example in the struggle against administrative corruption," said Castanos. He said it is unfortunate to observe how government officers secure government funds for the purchase of equipment and construction of hospitals with the sole intention of benefiting from commissions. He commented that this has become "a habit." Newspaper reports have recently covered the existence of equipment cemeteries.

Cheap Santo Domingo?
According to a report released yesterday says that Santo Domingo is still one of the cheapest Latin American cities to live in. The report, which studied the cost of living in 143 cities around the world, was conducted by Mercer Human Resources Consulting. According to the report, Sao Paulo in Brazil is the region's most expensive city while Asuncion, Paraguay is the cheapest. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil was also at the top of the list in terms of high cost of living. San Juan, Puerto Rico was ranked as the third most expensive city in the region. This finding should come as a surprise to most Dominicans that have experienced a gradual increase in the cost of living in the capital city over the past few years. For more details, go to: www.mercerhr.com

Diario Libre scholarships
The Diario Libre Foundation (FDL) has announced the launch of their first international masters program in journalism. The scholarships will last for a year with students required to attend five international sessions during this period. Each session will last for two weeks. In addition, at the end of the year the scholarship participants will have a one-year job opportunity at Diaro Libre. Students are expected to go to classes from Monday through Friday for eight hours each day. Requirements include taking the EXADEP exam, writing an essay, holding a visa to travel to the US, knowledge of English and a good conduct certificate. The scholarship program is managed through a cooperation agreement with the University of Miami. For more information, contact Mercedes Peralta on (809) 476-3070.

Scholarships for Cuba
Students of industrial engineering, chemistry, computer science or economics will have a chance to earn a scholarship to study in Cuba with all expenses paid by the government. Applicants must be under 25 and the scholarships are targeted at people from low-income families. Applicants, who must have a grade average above 80%, have until 18 June to submit their applications. These must include a legalized birth certificate and medical record, twelve 2x2 photos, with names on the back, a good conduct certificate, a photocopy of their cedula and a copy of their passport, if available. Applications should be submitted to the international scholarships department at the Education Ministry from 8am to 2pm.

USF helps Miches
The University of South Florida (USF) has added its name to the group of organizations that is working to transform the municipality of Miches into a model for sustainable development. Betty Castor, former education secretary of the state of Florida and former president of USF, and Mark Amen, Patel Center for Global Solutions program director at USF, made the announcement after a meeting with John Gagain Jr., the executive director of the Dominican Presidential Commission for the Millennium Development Goals. As well as USF, INTEC University in Santo Domingo, New York's Columbia University and Spain's University of Seville are also taking part in the project. James Danoff Burg, director of Environmentally Sustainable Economic Growth (ESEG) at Columbia, is directing the Miches project.
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