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Daily News - Thursday, 02 August 2007

Montas highlights DR economy
Economy, Planning and Development Minister Temistocles Montas says that the DR has one of the most open economies in the region and one of the countries with the lowest risk for investors and investments. He added that a continued process of social, economic and political reforms has moved the DR ahead of countries like Jamaica, Cuba and Bolivia. Montas also said that in recent years the DR has implemented more reforms than any other country in the region and has fewer tariffs than Mexico and other countries. He said that Customs income represents only 10% to 12% of the country's total revenue and that just a few years ago it accounted for 35% of the country's total revenue. Montas made these comments during a breakfast meeting with the Dominican ambassador in Mexico, Pablo Martinez.

Rum and tobacco could lose market
Dominican rum and tobacco's duty-free access to the European market will heavily depend on the signing of the Caribbean Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with Europe, as reported in Hoy. Jose Alberto Garcia, president of the Barcelo Rum board of directors and vice president of the Dominican Rum Producers Association, said that duty-free rum's access to the European market would come to an end this December. Garcia is in favor of the Caribbean signing the EPA as has been proposed in time for it to be enacted in 2008. Garcia explained that Dominican rum is sold in 40 countries, but the European (Spain, Italy, Germany and Czech Republic) market is the most important. In 2006 the country exported 600,000 cases of rum. Luis Nunez, president of the Santiago Association of Commerce and Industries (ACIS), said that the EPA would be highly beneficial for the local tobacco industry. While the DR has 60% of the US market, it has a healthy 40% market share in Europe. In 2006, 40 million Dominican cigars were exported to Europe for a total value of US$40 million.

Students get scholarships
First Lady Margarita Cedeno de Fernandez and Higher Education Minister Ligia Amada Melo handed out 2,240 scholarships at a ceremony at the UASD yesterday. Of the 2,240 scholarships, 1,610 fund university studies in the DR and the rest cover study abroad programs at universities such as the Sorbonne in France, Complutense in Madrid or Palermo in Argentina. Melo expressed regret at the fact that only 26% of students between the ages of 18 and 24 have access to higher education, but reminded the students to keep the country's name in the positive spotlight as they continue their studies abroad. During the ceremony 1,150 student credit cards from BanReservas were also handed out.

Attorney General responds to Subero
The Attorney General has responded to yesterday's claims by Chief Justice Jorge Subero Isa by saying that prosecutors are not making public statements about opinions expressed by judges and dismissed the idea that the Public Ministry has failed in the fight against corruption. Yesterday Subero said that the Attorney General has a "fairly large file" of issues submitted by the Supreme Court detailing prosecutors' activities that have had no repercussions. AG Radhames Jimenez says that during his tenure he has only received formal complaints on irregular activities from an attorney general in San Pedro de Macoris, who was fired following an investigation. Jimenez says that he has never commented publicly on the decisions made by judges in the DR. Jimenez says that both he and Subero should meet and find a solution to fight corruption considering that they are the DR judicial system's main voices.

Lack of follow-through hurts system
The Foundation for Institutionalism and Justice (FINJUS) finds it deplorable that corruption in the DR continues to go unpunished in the judicial system and warns that it is weakening the institutions that are meant to support and uphold democracy. FINJUS vice president Servio Tulio Castanos Guzman says that Dominicans continue to doubt whether or not democratic institutionalism actually exists in the DR. He expressed concern at the fact that a crisis surrounding the credibility of the justice system has developed and says that the effects of corruption have become part of the national agenda.

And if someone dared?
In today's page two editorial in Diario Libre, editor Ines Aizpun writes about the possibility of a new political option that could break down the inertia in the political system, "what even President Leonel Fernandez recently described as particracy, or the dictatorship of the mediocrity of the party members and their followers."
She goes on to muse, "Maybe the boards of the parties, including the candidates, do not have direct access to the tone of the commentaries of the people on the street. Voters are not interested in internal party fights until they affect their pockets and government inefficiency becomes painfully real," she writes. Aizpun comments that Customs Director Miguel Cocco's statements summed up the public feeling perfectly.
"This cabinet has no government plans, only directives and several personal business projects. That is the PLD's biggest failure that cannot be erased even if they beat the world record for building a metro line. The President, orphan of advisors, should listen because Cocco has given him the key to being reelected," she tells us today.
"The PRSC, after the unfortunate election of its candidate, even if he is the Yoda of negotiations - has nothing to look forward to... too high a rejection rate."
"People want to vote... but they do not know for whom. If someone presents a formula that would break the party mold, if someone can spur hope in a concerted national project, if only someone would throw the rotten apples out of their own party and go outside the party...
"There are many honest politicians for whom one could vote, but they are in different ranks... Good technicians, proven professionals with ideas and a sense of honor... Don't the sociopolitical realities call for a risky play?
Eduardo Estrella and Miguel Cocco have opened a door: there are things that not even professional politicians can uphold."
[Miguel Cocco, director of the Customs Department, on 30 July criticized that so many government officers had become wealthy while working in government and said that Dominican society should demand an end to corruption. "What I am saying is not a political statement, it is a complaint to all governments, including this one, my government, because we have not been what we have preached, and there is much that we haven't done," he stated.]

Let the name-calling begin
Vice President Rafael Alburquerque has called PRD presidential candidate Miguel Vargas Maldonado "ignorant" because he apparently wasn't aware of the law that created the controversial Dominican Social Security System, as reported in Hoy. The Vice President said that Vargas needed to learn that the DSS is not funded by the state, rather by the employees and employers. The government only was required to contribute funds to cover public employees. He added that the subsidized health program is totally different from that system because the government needs to fund medical coverage for 700,000 poor Dominicans who do not contribute to the system and for whom RD$1.75 billion have been allotted in the 2007 budget. During a press conference at the Presidential Palace Alburquerque said that a presidential candidate should know about these subjects and added that if he doesn't know what's going on he should get counseling from his advisors. Alburquerque defended the government's modifications to the Law on Social Security saying that it would not increase the contributions of employers nor workers by one cent, as it only transfers 1% of the increase in pensions registered as of June.
As reported in the press, the new legislation, pending approval by the Chamber of Deputies, indeed increases employees' share to 2.86% and employers' to 6.67%. The costs will be increased each year until they reach 3.04% for employees and 7.09% for employers. The legislation in Congress will give the Superintendence of Workers Health and Injury programs (SISALRIL) the power to unilaterally vary the contributions to be paid by companies and employees.

Business sector unhappy with SFS
The business sector has voiced its dissatisfaction and surprise at the modifications to the Social Security Law that the Executive Branch sent to the Chamber of Deputies for prompt approval. Diario Libre reports that in a letter written to the Chamber of Deputies, AIRD, COPARDOM, ANJE, ADOZONA, AIREN and ASONAHORES and 32 other private business organizations state that the modifications to Social Security Law 87-01 are the "breakdown of the dialogue process and the consensus that is required by tri-partisan politics." The letter asks the authorities to reconsider the modifications to the law in order to maintain the peace and to protect the public. Diario Libre writes that the Chamber has the Law on its agenda today, but regardless of the opposition vote, it is almost a foregone conclusion that the modifications to the Law will be passed. The ruling PLD party holds the majority in Congress.

Election time inaugurations banned?
Judge Aura Celeste Fernandez's proposal to modify the Central Electoral Board (JCE) rules would ban Dominican Presidents from inaugurating public works during the official three-month electoral campaign period. Presidents seeking re-election have traditionally campaigned by inaugurating public works during the final stretch of the campaign.
Judge Fernandez's also proposes to create a new and all-encompassing Department for Political Parties and Electoral Campaigns. The National Elections Department, which currently regulates the use of media outlets for electoral campaigns, would be placed under the Political Parties Department in this new structure. The Political Parties Department would take on the roles of the Administrative Chamber, which would be its subordinate. The Elections Department would also be dismantled. The JCE's presiding judge would have a more decisive role in the organization if Fernandez's proposal is approved. The Administrative Chamber is currently headed by Judge Roberto Rosario, the only judge reconfirmed from the previous JCE administration. Prior to her appointment to the JCE, Fernandez had recommended a clean sweep of all the JCE judges in the makeup of the new board.

Gun permit renewals
The Ministry of Interior and Police announces that firearm owners whose permits have expired can normalize their status by paying the taxes and operational expenses at any Banco de Reservas branch, as of 6 August. The permits with one year of expiration (15,261 users) only need to pay for one year. Permits lasting for two or more years (23,268 users) need to pay for up to two years, requesting the Formulario de Pago de Tramites and filling it out twice to pay for two or more years.
For more information, see www.seip.gov.do or call *788.

Increased security at the UASD
Beginning today all events held at the state UASD University will be monitored 24-hours a day by a new security system. The security system records the movements of people and vehicles around the campus and images are relayed to a special center where they are kept for a month. Dean Roberto Reyna said that the system is in its early stages and could theoretically turn the UASD into the safest area in the country. Reyna said the plan is to keep control within the university and prevent car theft, which has reached an estimated RD$70 million in the last few years. Surveillance cameras have been placed at various points on the campus at a cost of RD$7 million.

AIDS test lab closed
The Santo Domingo East Prosecutor's office closed down the Research Department at the controversial Medifarm Laboratories yesterday. Judge Jose Duverge Medina ordered the laboratory to be closed for violation of human testing procedures following the announcement of an alleged discovery of a cure for AIDS. Lab owner Dr. Jose Ramon Baez Acosta experimented with the drug Uman TS, which he claims cures AIDS. Diario Libre reports that as police entered the premises Ivon Perez de Baez, the doctor's wife and office administrator, began to pray. Two pigs and a donkey, samples of the drug and literature were taken to the Ministry of Public Health for investigation. Dr. Jose Ramon Baez Acosta claims that Uman TS can cure AIDS in six weeks. The drug can be administered by injection to anyone eight years or older.
In an interview with Hoy, Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) representative Dr. Ana Cristina Nogueira described the testing as unacceptable and almost criminal. Hoy reports that the Ministry of Public Health will locate the patients who were treated by Dr. Baez because they could face serious health risks.

Taiwan donates bicycles
The Taiwanese ambassador to the DR, Eduardo Chen, has donated 30 bicycles to the Dominican Postal Institute (IMPOSDOM). IMPOSDOM director Modesto Guzman accepted the donations on behalf of the DR. The bikes are worth RD$60,000. Guzman thanked the Taiwanese ambassador for his contribution to the restructuring efforts under way at the post office.

Dominican Scouts celebrate centenary
Scouts in the DR and around the world are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the Boy Scouts movement. Groups in Santo Domingo, Santiago, San Pedro de Macoris, Puerto Plata and Moca celebrated the event. Robert Baden-Powell founded the Scout movement at Brownsea Island in England on 1 August 1907. The Scouts first arrived in the DR in 1914. The DR Scouts joined the World Organization of the Scout Movement in 1930.

Daddy Yankee and a pencil
Reggaeton superstar Daddy Yankee gave the fans at the patron saint's day celebrations in Matanzas, Bani a show they are sure never to forget. Yankee, who is in the country shooting his latest music video and supporting his Daddy House children's foundation, showed up on stage during a performance by Dominican rapper El Lapiz Conciente. Fans thought it was a hoax until Yankee took his gear off and allowed the crowd to see his face. The reggaeton star then launched into a duet with El Lapiz and provided the crowd with 30 minutes of music mania. In recent months, El Lapiz has become the biggest star on the Dominican rap scene, so it was only fitting that he hit the stage with one of Puerto Rico's biggest stars.

Dominican soprano hitting her notes
Dominican Nathalie Pena-Comas, who lives and studies in the Austrian capital Vienna, is taking part in the Salzburg Festival, one of the oldest festivals in the world. Pena-Comas, a member of the legendary Vienna State Opera since September 2006, has been chosen to sing in four productions. Nathalie will sing in "Leilo", "Benvenuto Cellini", "Eugene Onegin" and "Intende Voce".
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