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Daily News - Tuesday, 21 August 2007

The smell of politics
At the start of his fourth year in office, at a time when press reports are clamoring for changes in the cabinet because of corruption, President Leonel Fernandez has responded by appointing people known to have strong ties to groups within the PRSC, PRI and PRD parties, as well as the PLD's Jaime David Fernandez faction. "Judging by where many of the new appointees are coming from, it is apparent that the winds favor the President's political project," writes Diario Libre in its front-page story today, implying that the government is gearing up for reelection.
Freddy Majluta, brother of the late PRD Vice President and short-term President Jacobo Majluta (who took over as President following the death of President Antonio Guzman), has been appointed as director of Corpohotel, which manages government hotels and properties and is a division of the Ministry of Tourism. The late Jacobo Majluta and several of his family members originally left the PRD, citing ideological differences, and went on to found the PRI. Interestingly enough, Freddy Majluta took out an ad in today's newspapers renouncing his affiliation with the PRD and throwing his support towards Fernandez.
The President also appointed Angela Pena, daughter of former Mayor of Santo Domingo and PRD strongman Jose Francisco Pena Gomez, as deputy director in charge of Border Development (Desarrollo Fronterizo). Once a PRD member, later a dissident, former congressman Rafael Peguero Mendez was appointed to head INDESUR, the development organization in the Southwest.
From the PRSC factions, the President appointed Hector Rodriguez Pimentel to head the National Institute of Hydraulic Resources (INDHRI).
PLD man Omar Ramirez was promoted to the post of Minister of Environment. Previously, he was deputy minister in charge of planning. Sometimes controversial former Environment Minister Max Puig was appointed to the post of Presidential advisor on environmental issues. Omar Ramirez is known to be a supporter of former Vice President Jaime David Fernandez's faction within the PLD. Jaime David Fernandez has announced that he will campaign for President Leonel Fernandez's re-election.
Another member of his faction, Melanio Paredes, formerly at INFOTEP, was promoted to Minister of Industry and Commerce.
Other appointments include the lesser-known Victor Diaz Rua who was appointed to the post of Minister of Public Works, replacing Freddy Perez who was appointed as an advisor to the President.
Norge Botello, who is ill, was appointed minister without portfolio.
Frank Rodriguez was appointed to head the Aqueducts Department (INAPA) and Mariano German Mejia, brother of Education Minister Alejandrina German and a former Attorney General during a first Fernandez administration, is now the director of the Water and Sewer Authority (CAASD). Marcio Veloz Maggiolo is the new director of the Museum of Dominican Man.

Gallup poll on government
The president cabinet changes coincide with the publishing of an August Gallup-Hoy poll that shows the popularity and perception of the Fernandez administration sliding. According to the poll, 31% classed Leonel's performance over the last three years as positive, but 42% consider it to have been negative. Of those polled, 29% described his presidency as good and 2.3% as very good, while 10.7% qualified his tenure as very bad and 31.6% as just bad. On a regional basis, the eastern part of the DR, 45.2%, considered Fernandez's presidency to be good, which is above the national average. In the National District, 38% considered his presidency to be positive and in the northeastern part of the country, 25.2% of those polled classed his presidency as positive compared to just 22.7% of respondents in the south. Asked whether or not things were worse now compared to how they were when Fernandez took office in 2004, 47.3% of those polled said that things were worse, 16.1% said that things were the same and 34.6% said that things were better now. In the major areas of concern Fernandez received sub par ratings. In the area of energy, 51.8% considered his performance over the last three years as negative, 51.8% considered the efficiency of his cabinet to be negative, and corruption received a 57.8% negative rating. A total of 78.6% considered his track record on employment to have been negative, public transport received a 52.6% negative rating, public health received a 45.8% negative rating, 71.4% viewed the fight against crime as negative, 73.4% viewed the fight against illegal immigration as negative, 51% have negative feelings about economic stability, and 68.8% viewed the fight against drug trafficking as a failure. Education was the only area where the President received a positive rating, with 48.8% viewing it as positive. Finally 52.3% of those polled feel that the President's last three years were worse than expected as opposed to 29.8% who say that his performance has been better than expected and 18% who feel it's what they expected.
See http://www.hoy.com.do/article.aspx?id=122240

Gallup poll gets responses
The negative nature of the results of the recent Gallup-Hoy poll on the last three years of President Leonel Fernandez's presidency weren't enough to stop Economic, Planning and Development Minster Temistocles Montas from saying that if elections were to be held today, the PLD and its candidate Leonel Fernandez would win. Speaking in San Cristobal, Montas said that the PLD is conducting its own polls throughout the country and that these are always accurate.
Meanwhile, the PRD's Orlando Jorge Mera and the PRSC's Luis Toral say that the results of the Gallup poll reflect their opinions of the PLD's record to date, which they say has had only had negative consequences for the public. Mera and Toral say that the poll shows just how unhappy the public is with the current administration and Fernandez. Jorge Mera said that the PLD should use the results to reflect and change some of its economic policies.

Nice cop Santana is replaced
Police Chief Bernardo Santana Paez, who served in the post for two years, was appointed police affairs advisor to the President. In his place, Major General Rafael Guillermo Guzman Fermin was appointed to replace the many times softly-spoken Santana. Diario Libre reports in his first comments after his appointments, Guzman says he is making a 90-degree turn in his policy on crime in the DR. He stated he does not need more resources, just the cooperation of Dominican society.
Guzman's appointment, which has been welcomed by some Dominicans who would like to see a tougher approach, is being described as a retrograde step by some human rights groups. The National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) said that Guzman's promotion to the post was a joke because the new chief has pending cases in San Francisco de Macoris. Interestingly, President Fernandez appointed Human Rights High Commissioner Porfirio Rojas Nina as his advisor on human rights.
Guzman, nicknamed "The Surgeon", is known for his tough stance on crime, maybe too tough, and the CNDH says that his appointment will take his predecessors' work a step backwards. Guzman is accused of having shot suspected criminals in the knees and in the back, leaving them in wheelchairs. Both Santana and former Police Chief Manuel de Jesus Perez Sanchez were considered to be very respectful of human rights and Santana was awarded the Order of Merit for his work.
The President made several other appointments in the Police force.
Major General Jose Sigfredo Fernandez Fadul, who was in charge of the Police's Metropolitan Transport Authority (AMET), is appointed deputy chief of Police. The new AMET director is Brigade General Latif Miguel Mahfoud. President Fernandez appointed Colonel Manuel Geraldo Rodriguez, as chief of the Tourism Police (Politur), replacing Colonel Pablo Lugo Adames. Former Police chief Major General Manuel de Jesus Perez Sanchez, who was police advisor to the President, was appointed coordinator of the Executive Secretariat for the Commission for the Reform and Modernization of the Police. Brigade General Ramon Francisco Rodriguez Sanchez was appointed Police information director. General Rafael Calderon Efres was named regional director for the Northeast, based in San Francisco de Macoris, replacing Brigade General Osiris Alcantara Rodriguez. Brigade General Rinel Rafael Lozada was appointed regional director in the East, based in La Romana, replacing Brigade General Luis de la Cruz Consuegra. Brigade General Hilario Gonzalez Gonzalez was appointed director of the south central region. Brigade General Jose Almonte Sanchez was appointed inspector general.
Vice Admiral Julio Cesar Ventura Bayonet, Chief of the Navy, replacing Vice Admiral Ivan Pena Castillo. In the military, Brigade General Felipe Henriquez Molina was named to command the Third Brigade, Brigade General Joaquin Felix Perez to the Fourth Brigade, and General Jose Lopez Lajara to the Sixth.

Dean roundup
The DR was spared the worst of dangerous Hurricane Dean. Life went about as usual in most of the DR and most Dominicans continued with their long weekend vacation plans. Dean did not affect the north and east coasts. In the southeast, some debris was thrown on to beaches in Juan Dolio, but this was rapidly cleared. The Altos de Chavon 5,000-seat amphitheater's Caetano Veloso concert took place in front of a 4,000-strong crowd in La Romana, on the southeastern coast.
Because of Dean, flights to the Caribbean were suspended on Saturday, and the ferry to Puerto Rico did not sail. The main cargo ports were also closed on Saturday, as a preventive measure.
But there was also some tragedy and distress. A young man died when risking his life, reportedly to catch crabs, on the Las Americas Highway coastline. One of the gigantic waves that were hitting the coastline grabbed him into the angry seas, and he drowned as now more cautious bystanders looked on helplessly. The death led to warnings from the authorities to the thousands of bystanders who watched how the ferocious Caribbean Sea, with Category 4 force Hurricane Dean's 215 kph winds, churning approximately 240 kms away, battered the coastline.
Two bodies were found after a fishing boat capsized in the Taveras Dam's lake with seven men on board. Three more men are missing, and two reached shore. The fishermen were at work despite the bad weather warnings.
The capital's Malecon seafront avenue, mainly on its Autopista 30 de Mayo section, was one of the worst affected areas, with strong waves throwing rocks and debris thrown onto the highway. On Sunday and Monday, Santo Domingo city crews cleared the area, taking advantage of the reduced traffic due to the holiday.
In Barahona province, the underpass linking the cities of Barahona and Pedernales at Enriquillo was flooded. The authorities have been building a bridge there for many years, but for unknown reasons it has never been completed. Reportedly, traffic to Pedernales was cut off when the storm passed south of the DR's southwestern coast, the closest it got to Dominican soil. According to reports, the power supply in Pedernales is still cut off as repairs are being made to the distribution lines.
There is no final damage report, but the authorities estimate that 349 dwellings were damaged, 145 severely and 13 totally. Most of these dwellings were on the seafront.

US increases sugar quota
The US Trade Representative Office (USTR) has increased the DR's sugar export quota to 185,335 metric tons per year. This came as the USTR designated sugar quotas for 40 countries for the 2008 fiscal year, which begins on 1 October. Listin Diario reports that the DR and Brazil were the countries that received the highest preferential quotas. This means that the DR will be able to export sugar to the US with relatively low tariffs.

Tobacco tax in violation of DR-CAFTA?
A group of Dominican legislators have rejected the US Congress's approval for increasing a new tax on hand-rolled cigars on sale in the US because the move would have an adverse effect on the Dominican cigar industry. Deputies Victor Bisono, Abel Martinez, Dilsio Nunez, Ulises Rodriguez and Marino Collante have sent a letter to US Senators Max Baucus, Blanche Lincoln, Jim McCrery and Wally Herger explaining the repercussions that this move would have. According to Bisono, the move violates the DR-CAFTA agreement and will result in hundreds of job losses.

The DR joins group
The DR is increasing its regional participation and Foreign Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso will take part in the Third Ministers Meeting for the Latin American-East Asian Cooperation Forum (FOCALAE). During this event the DR will be officially admitted into the interregional organization. The event will take place in Brazil on 22 and 23 August.

Back to school
Today is the first day of the new school year and an expected 2,463,130 million students will be back in the classrooms. This is a total of 68,756 students less than the 2006-07 school year. President Leonel Fernandez is heading an official opening ceremony at 8am today. In preparation for the beginning of the school year, the Education Ministry says that it has spent RD$219 million on rehabilitating state school classrooms.

INPOSDOM getting some help
The Dominican Postal Institute (INPOSDOM) has received a new X-ray machine from the US Postal Service. The new machine will help increase security when receiving and sending packages. The staff members who will use the machine were also given training on how to operate it. The Real Time Radiography 4 is worth some RD$2 million.

Marcos Diaz sets record in NY
Dominican swimmer Marcos Diaz has achieved what many would consider impossible and took one step closer to becoming one of the greatest open water swimmers of all time. Diaz embarked on the challenge of swimming twice around the island of Manhattan, and completed the feat on Sunday after 22 hours of continuous swimming in the treacherous waters of the Hudson River. Diaz, who dedicated the feat to the Dominicans who live in New York, was greeted by thousands of fans as he emerged from the river. Diaz is the first person in 94 years to swim around Manhattan twice and the swimmer lost 13 pounds while training for this event. The Dominican Sports Ministry helped Diaz by giving him RD$$4.5 million which he used in his training.
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