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Daily News - Tuesday, 14 August 2007

President Fernandez in Mexico
Trade, investment, education and energy topics were the focus of talks between President Felipe Calderon of Mexico and President Leonel Fernandez in Mexico City yesterday. The Dominican President was on a two-day visit to Mexico following his trip to Venezuela where he attended the PetroCaribe Summit. Fernandez and Calderon held a 45-minute meeting at the Mexican President's Los Pinos residence, as reported by the Dominican Presidency website. President Calderon accepted an invitation to visit the DR from President Fernandez.
Calderon said priority would be given to talks aimed at reaching a free trade agreement. He also said he gave instructions to his Hacienda Minister, Agustin Carstens to review the San Jose Agreement signed with the DR. To date, the DR has not been able to access an accumulated US$250 million from a soft loan fund that is part of the agreement.
The San Jose accord was signed on 3 August 1980 and is a regional fuel supply agreement for the purchase of oil at preferential market prices from Mexico and Venezuela. The two countries agreed to provide soft loans for development projects for 20-25% of the purchase price of the oil. So far, only Venezuela has honored this part of the deal.
During a side trip to the northern city of Monterrey, President Fernandez was given commitments for Mexican assistance to develop trade and education. There, President Fernandez met with Nuevo Leon state Governor Jose Natividad Gonzalez Paras. President Fernandez and Governor Gonzalez stressed the importance of creating a triangle with Mexico for maximizing opportunities created by the DR-CAFTA agreement with the US and Central America. President Fernandez announced that a mixed bilateral commission would work on developing a strategic alliance for the development of trade, education and technology. President Fernandez invited Governor Gonzalez to visit the DR in the near future.
During a visit to the Tecnologico de Monterrey, President Fernandez received a commitment for 200 scholarships for masters and doctorate studies. Dominican Higher Education Minister Ligia Amada Melo signed on behalf of the Ministry of Higher Education. Fernandez also signed a cooperation agreement between the Tecnologico de Monterrey and President Fernandez's Global Foundation (FUNGLODE) for developing joint programs aimed at sharing knowledge and experience that may contribute to regional development and improved competitiveness for the DR and Mexico.
In July, Tecnologico de Monterrey rector Rafael Rangel and Dominican First Lady Margarita Cedeno signed an agreement opening the way for the country's Community Technology Centers (CTC) to bolster their mission of offering distance learning by adopting the Monterrey university's Community Learning Centers' model. This virtual university model would bring quality education to underprivileged Dominicans who live in remote corners of the country. The plan will initially be developed in Azua, Barahona, Dajabon, Elias Pina, El Seibo, Hato Mayor, Independencia, Monte Cristi, San Jose de Ocoa, Santiago and Santiago Rodriguez centers.

Inching one step closer to SFS
Two decisions published by the Health and Labor Risk Superintendence (SISALRIL) yesterday have moved the government's health plan, the SFS, closer to going into effect in 1 September. SISALRIL in Resolution 128-07 and 129-07 establish the agreement with doctors that sets services fees. The government accepted a 8% increase on previously agreed on fees. The so-called Health Services Plan (PDSS) will cost RD$5,800 a year, or RD$483.33 per month.
SISALRIL announced that is was establishing a RD$400 doctor's minimum fee for outpatients and RD$500 for hospitalized patients. Patients will be required to contribute RD$100, and the remaining RD$300 will be paid by the Health Insurance Providers (ARS) that are funded by deductions from workers' wages. SISALRIL also announced a RD$250 tariff for daytime emergencies and RD$340 for nighttime emergencies, to be covered by the ARS. A RD$1,200 per day limit for coverage of a hospital room is set, and any difference is left up to the patient.
Traffic accident injuries will be covered under a separate fund, the National Traffic Accident Fund, as established in Law 87-01, paragraph II, Art. 119.
Fees are listed at www.sisalril.gov.do

Voting in jails
It appears that political campaigning could become part of life in prison, now that the Central Electoral Board (JCE) is announcing that inmates that have not been found guilty by a court will be able to vote in the 2008 presidential elections. Voting stations will be opened at the Rafey (Santiago), Najayo (San Cristobal) and La Victoria (Santo Domingo North) jails. Judge Roberto Rosario, president of the JCE's Administrative Chamber made the announcement. Rosario said the decision was reached following petitions from the Attorney General's office. The JCE will prepare voting lists to determine which inmates qualify to vote. The JCE would provide voting cards (cedulas) to those who qualify.
He said the JCE is also working on making voting easier for people with eyesight problems.
Rosario said the JCE is planning 13,000 voting stations nationwide for the 16 May 2008 election. A maximum of 600 voters is registered for each station.

Ban on riverside quarries
Press reports carry today widespread support for The Ministry of Environment Resolution 16-07 that bans the extraction of construction material from quarries located on riverbanks.
As reported in Hoy, Environment Minister Max Puig said that the time had come for a total ban on extraction of materials from rivers, with no exceptions. He said that this practice is banned in Puerto Rico and Cuba.
The Ministry says aggregate vendors will have to source the material from 502 dry sites that have been identified. Of these, 256 are in operation primarily in Peravia, San Cristobal, Santiago, La Altagracia, Monsenor Nouel, and La Vega provinces.
Puig said that the measure taken this week had been announced in a 5 June speech at the UASD University. He said in August 2004, 50% of construction material was being extracted from river sites, but today, this has reverted to 80% being extracted from dry quarries, so that construction activities or the price of construction material would not be affected.
The Ministry is calling for citizen vigilance to ensure that the materials are not extracted from rivers. He said that the 90-day period does not allow companies to continue to extract material. The period is for the closing down and removal of extraction installations at the river sites. The Ministry said that at the Nizao river site, one of the most affected, five companies are still running mining operations that need to be dismantled.
Max Puig said that since 2004 the department has imposed 1,843 penalties for violation of regulations on extracting construction material from rivers. These penalties have generated RD$6 million in fines. The Ministry has 500 inspectors for this purpose.
Geologist Osiris de Leon said that in 1971, 1986 and 2000, the aggregate companies had promised to move to the dry quarries. The measure comes with the realization that fresh water sources were being considerably affected, as environmentalists have been warning over the years.
De Leon explained that the quarry business has transactions of around RD$2.5 billion a year, which is enough to buy off public opinion. In the past, the companies lobbied for continued extractions, arguing that if these were discontinued, the country's construction industry would be paralyzed. De Leon explained that construction companies have always argued that dry quarries are more expensive, because riverside extractions provide free material. The only cost is transportation.
De Leon said that the difference could be absorbed by the spread between the production cost and the sales price, which he said is 10 to 1.
The geologist warned that if extractions at the Nigua, Yubazo, Nizao, Yuna and Yaque del Norte rivers, among others, are not stopped, there will not be fresh water in the country within 15 years. He said that permanent damage has already been caused to the Yubazo, Nigua and lower sections of Nizao River. De Leon said if the measure is respected, the country would have sufficient water sources for another 100 years.
Luis Carvajal, an environmentalist from the Academy of Sciences congratulated the Environment Ministry on the long-overdue measure and said that a complementary resolution should oblige the construction material extractors to repair the damage, as reported in Listin Diario. He said that the decision to ban riverbed construction material extraction should have been taken years ago. He described the measure as the most complete adopted by President Fernandez and the Ministry of Environment to protect natural resources.

Haiti and DR doctors work together
The Dominican Medical Association reported on a meeting with Haitian colleagues where they discussed working together on programs to eradicate HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, filariasis and other common medical issues, as reported in Diario Libre. Haitian Health Minister Robert August visited the DR yesterday and stressed the importance of health issues being dealt with by both countries adopting joint measures. Cristina Nogueira, representative of the Pan American Health Organization, highlighted how the meeting between Dominican and Haitian governmental and private medical authorities is important for drawing up common policies to tackle these diseases.

Back to school
School reopens in the DR this coming Tuesday, 21 August. More than 2.4 million students are registered at 11,890 state schools and 1,927 private schools. To mark the day, inauguration ceremonies will be held at 22 new schools in Santo Domingo province. President Leonel Fernandez is scheduled to start the year off at 8 am at the Los Guaricanos, Villa Mella Center for Excellence in Education. The Ministry of Education also reported that there are 63,000 state schoolteachers, and that they will be distributing 300,000 backpacks with school supplies, and 200,000 uniforms and shoes for children in impoverished areas. The Ministry also plans to distribute 14 million books to state school students.

Apartments for the Chocolate Factory?
Tourism Minister Felix Jimenez proposed apartments to be built on the 50,000-meter site of a former chocolate factory known as La Chocolatera in the center of Puerto Plata city during a presentation at an American Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
The project also involves relocating two nearby slum areas. Jimenez is also a leading national real estate developer.
The Minister's proposal conflicts with findings and proposals resulting from studies that are being conducted by the Ministry of Culture, which has legal custody of the factory installations. The Ministry of Culture has worked on proposals for the site, with guidance from Sirchal, a French consulting organization. The Ministry of Culture is focusing on using the site to develop cultural and educational activities for the city of Puerto Plata. The Inter-American Development Bank, Ministries of Environment, Education, First Lady's Office, the state training institute Infotep, and cultural and business groups from Puerto Plata have taken part in the deliberations.
As reported in Diario Libre, Deputy Culture Minister Lourdes Camilo says there are definite plans to restore the site with cultural projects. "That plan is the result of the Sirchal work sessions and we cannot discard what the population wants and the aspiration to turn that place into an educational and cultural center. But in the Minister of Tourism's opinion, the cultural center is nonsense," she complained. At the AmCham meeting Jimenez said "It can be a good purpose, a good objective between quotation marks, but it would not make sense because what is a cultural center doing when there are slums in the area, even in gullies. It makes no sense," as reported in Diario Libre.
Jimenez proposed that private companies should develop the site because the government does not have the funds for this purpose. Rafael Silverio, president of the Playa Dorada Hotels Association and owner of the Kuki Silverio Industrial construction company in Puerto Plata presented architectural drawings of the proposed apartment complex during the AmCham presentation.

You can eat your beans if you want
The Ministry of Public Health determined that none of the canned green beans that were recalled in the US entered the country. Lakeside Foods of the US manufactured the products. Environment Deputy Minister Felix Roa said that members of his department determined that none of the canned goods on local supermarket shelves were made by the affected company.

Ex-Panamanian president speaks tonight
Ex-Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso will speak this Tuesday, 14 August at the auditorium of the Global Foundation (Funglode) about women and politics. Moscoso said she is delighted that Dominican investors want to invest in her country, pointing out that Panama is experiencing a boom with regards to foreign investment. Tonight Moscoso will also have dinner with President Fernandez at the Presidential Palace. Moscoso, quoted in Hoy, said that politicians should remember their promises once they get into power.

Back to normal at Bahia Principe
Guests are arriving back to the Bahia Principe Rio San Juan resort in Gaspar Hernandez, Espaillat province after detoxification from a norovirus outbreak, brought in by a British tourist, that affected around 200 guests last week. Diario Libre reports that the tourists who were taken ill have recovered satisfactorily. The Norovirus infection typically lasts for two days, with self-limiting vomiting and diarrhea. A British medical team, headed by Professor Rodney Cartwright, for the UK Federation of Tour Operators, determined that the tourists were victims of Norovirus gastroenteritis.

Traffic chaos in La Otra Banda
Traffic between Veron and Higuey was affected for four hours when residents in La Otra Banda area held protests. One person was injured when police tried to break up the traffic jam that blocked traffic on the main road to Bavaro-Punta Cana area from 6 to 10am yesterday. The situation returned to normal around noon, after La Altagracia governor Pedro Rojas Morillo agreed to speak to protestors who were demanding the completion of the state high school (60% completed), a reduction in blackouts, repair of the Yabiki and Ojo-Aguey bridges, detour of traffic and improvements in the drinking water supply. An emergency meeting was called with representatives of the community and the governor, Senator German Castro, District Attorney Lucas Perez, Police commander Cepeda Urena and EdeEste power company representatives. The community has been threatening to block traffic for several days now if their demands were not heard.
There is an alternative dirt route from Veron through the sugar cane fields, but there is no signage on that route and it is only used by people who know the area well.

Another Dominican dies in Iraq
24-year old US Army Sergeant Joan Duran has become the fourth Dominican-born soldier to die in Iraq. Duran immigrated to Boston as a child, as reported in the Boston Globe. His friends nicknamed him Superman because he was so strong. Recently, another Dominican-born soldier, Juan Alcantara was also reported dead in the Middle East.
Duran died last Friday. He had plans to return to the DR in November, after serving in the US army for four years. He had hoped to teach university math and buy a home for his wife.

Job openings at UN
Dominicans will now have access to the UN's National Competitive Recruitment Examinations Program. The NCRE program is used to select junior professional officers for specialist positions. Candidates must be Dominican, born no earlier than 1 January 1976, and have a minimum bachelor's degree outside the US. Applicants must know either English or French, in addition to either Chinese, Arabic, Russian or Spanish. The tests will take place on 8 February 2008 for the Caribbean region, but anyone who is interested is advised to apply well in advance. Foreign Relations Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso said that a briefing session would take place at the Ministry of Foreign Relations Eduardo Latorre Diplomacy School, Tel. 809 535-6280. All applications need to be sent well before 31 October by mail or fax.
For more information and application form, visit: www.un.org/Depts/OHRM/examin/exam.htm
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