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Daily News - Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Back to school
President Leonel Fernandez officially opened the 2007-2008 school year during a ceremony at Santo Domingo's Cristina Billini Morales magnet school. The public school offers innovative instructional programs. According to Listin Diario, the President told his audience that the government had spent RD$842 million on 35 schools and two administrative buildings for the Ministry of Education. The President was accompanied by his wife, Margarita Cedeno. Minister of Education Alejandrina German said that more than 2.4 million children were registered at the country's schools and that she was most proud of the fact that of the 183,203 children who are under five years of age, 177,455 were registered in pre-schools. One of the features of the magnet schools are their facility for holding video conferences, and President Fernandez was happy to talk to students at the Liduvina Cornelio Hernandez School in Hainamosa and the Melba Baez de Erazo School in Haina in real time.
President Fernandez also used the day to promote the agreement signed with the Tecnologico de Mexico in Monterrey would lead to the creation of 150 virtual universities throughout the country, which will be accessible from the high tech centers being set up by the First Lady's Office. Also in the pipeline are 60 new high tech centers for high school students. Fernandez said that his government has revolutionized education in the country, by incorporating the best of technology and classroom equipment and with its support for higher education. He said that students would be able to obtain high school degrees attending Bachinet, or Bachillerato por Internet (High School by Internet). He spoke proudly of the new state university (UASD) facilities in Santo Domingo, Higuey, Nagua and Puerto Plata.

Political musical chairs
The latest batch of Presidential decrees has prompted headlines in all today's newspapers. Most of the articles discuss how the President has recruited members of opposition parties or nearly non-existent parties to fill a plethora of posts, some of which called for creative thinking, particularly the Presidential Gastronomic Advisor. Curiously, the two most controversial personalities, chef Mike Mercedes, the recipient of the above-mentioned title and former professional wrestler Rafael Sanchez, known professionally as Jack Veneno, were both late in arriving for the swearing-in ceremony at the Presidential Palace. Other, more important jobs were shuffled about among the party faithful. Freddy Perez became a Special Presidential Advisor with the rank of a Minister of State, and his substitute, Victor Diaz Rua left his job at the National Water Institute (INAPA) to take over the Public Works Ministry. Frank Rodriguez moved into Diaz Rua's old office, and left the National Institute for Hydraulic Resources (INDRHI) to Hector Rodriguez Pimentel. Former Minister of Environment Max Puig also became a Presidential Advisor on environmental issues, with the rank of a Minister of State, and his portfolio was given to Omar Ramirez. Over in the Ministry of Industry and Commerce offices, Melanio Paredes was moving in after leaving his former post at the Institute for Professional Training (INFOTEP) for which he has gotten good reviews.
President Fernandez appointed Agustin Encarnacion Montero to direct the National Population and Family Council (Conapofa).
Elias Wessin Chavez, leader of the PQD minority party, a PLD ally, was named as manager of the National Property Department (Bienes Nacionales.) He occupied several posts during the Mejia administration, including director general of the Passport Department.
Also, Pedro Corporan was appointed president-manager of the Cooperatives Institute (IDECOOP).

New government posts created
Today's Clave Digital highlights the creation of dozens of highly paid posts in the Fernandez government. The new posts coincide with the last year of President Fernandez who seeks re-election, and contrast with a proposed austerity in government law that precisely proposed to reduce government spending on wages and other non-essential chapters enacted on the occasion of the government passing an additional tax reform in January 2007 levying considerable more taxes on individuals and companies.
The new government positions are:
Presidential advisor on environmental affairs - Max Puig.
Presidential advisor on gastronomic affairs - Mike Mercedes.
Deputy minister of Labor - Diego (Babado) Torres. Clave Digital mentions that this is the same person who during current Minister of Interior and Police Franklin Almeyda Rancier's term as UASD rector, at a graduation event, Babado Torres grabbed the microphone, plunging the ceremony into major chaos.
Deputy Minister of Interior and Police - Anibal Sanchez. Clave Digital points out that both Sanchez and Torres are PRD activists from the opposition party's Rafael Subervi Bonilla faction.
Presidential Assistant with rank of Minister -- Manuel de Jesus (Freddy) Perez, removed from his post as minister of Public Works.
Minister without Portfolio - Norge Botello, removed from the Institute for Civil Aviation.
Deputy director of the Industrial Corporation Institute (Fomento Industrial) - Rafael Almanzar.
Deputy director of the Industrial Corporation Institute - Rafael Agustin Peralta.
Deputy director of the Industrial Corporation - Jose Antolin Polanco.
Cooperative Affairs advisor to the President - Conrado Matias.
Deputy Director of the Department for Border Development (Direccion General de Desarrollo Fronterizo) - Angela Pena.
Member of the Commission for Reform and Modernization of the Farming Sector - Flavio Dario de la Rosa.
Deputy Minister of Culture - Carlos Hernandez.
Deputy Minister of Public Health - Alejandro Baez.
Deputy director of the National Water and Sewage Department (INAPA) - Franklin Cruz.
Deputy director of the Department of Generic Medicine (PROMESE) - Argentina Pichardo.
Deputy Minister of Interior and Police - Cristian Encarnacion.
Deputy Minister of Sports - Rafael Sanchez (Jack Veneno)
Deputy Director of INESPRE for the East - Isidro de Jesus Ramirez. Clave Digital explains that he is from the PRD's Rafael Subervi Bonilla faction).
Deputy Minister of Labor - Ismael Pena, based in La Altagracia.
Ambassador - Rodolfo Rincon (PRSC member who was Minister of Finances, in charge of Corde and Bienes Nacionales during Joaquin Balaguer administrations).
Deputy Minister of Higher Education - Hector Sandoval
Minister without Portfolio - Reynaldo Rincon Kury. Former PRD deputy who owns Rey Tacos and Bakkus bar.
Deputy Minister of Education - Ramon Camacho
Deputy Minister of Tourism - Delfin Santana.
Ambassador. Nelson Didiez. He is a leader of the Partido Democrata Popular (PDP, a traditional PRSC party ally).
Deputy director of the Dominican Agrarian Institute - Fernando Oviedo.
Deputy director of the State Sugar Council - Marcelo de la Cruz.
Deputy director of the Santiago Water Corporation (Coraasan) - Juan Henriquez.
Deputy Minister of Industry and Commerce - Luis Leonardo Taveras.
Deputy director of the Cattle-Ranching Department at the Ministry of Agriculture - Pedro de Leon.
Deputy director of Industry & Commerce - Jose Feliz.
Vice Consul in Marseille, France - Gloria Altagracia Peguero Mendez
Vice Consul in Port-au-Prince, Haiti - Zunelba Gonell.
Deputy director of the Institute for the Development of the Southwest (Indesur) - Alfredo Carrasaco.
Deputy director of the National Housing Institute - Tania Baez.
Deputy director of the Port Authority (APD) - Juan Quinones.

More reactions to the decrees
Diario Libre reporter Hector Marte Perez filed a report compiling reactions from the Young Entrepreneurs' Association (ANJE) as well as pointing out some inconsistencies in past Presidential speeches. Marte Perez observed that during the 2004 campaign Leonel Fernandez insisted on a reduction in government expenditure, but more and more deputy ministers, advisors and assistants have been added to the Presidential payroll during the last three years. At the beginning of his term, Fernandez appointed nearly one hundred vice-ministers, including 11 vice-ministers in the Interior and Police Ministry, eight in the Ministry of Youth, seven in Tourism and six in Public works. The President has also elevated some jobs to the rank of Minister of State; for example, the Superintendent of Insurance, the director general of the Metro project, the president of the Dominican Refinery board of directors, and the directors of ProComunidad and the Institute for Price Stabilization. Yesterday, ANJE pointed out that the government has not fulfilled its obligation to reduce its expenditure as required under Law 497-06 and which formed the government's share of the RD$17.5 billion "fiscal correction". Joel Santos was quoted as saying that most of the government's personnel changes have not come by way of substitution, but rather through the creation of new posts, and this is of concern to his association.

Understanding political maneuvers
In his column today, Listin Diario political analyst Orlando Gil explains the reasoning behind chemical engineer Hector Rodriguez Pimentel's appointment to the strategic National Hydraulic Resources Institute (INDRHI). Rodriguez aspired to the PRSC presidential nomination, does not side with either PRSC candidate Amable Aristy, or the party's former presidential candidate Eduardo Estrella. "INDRHI is a corporation with offices all over the country, and now Rodriguez Pimentel will be able to serve Reformists who may decide to campaign and vote for President Fernandez's re-election and not for Amable Aristy's candidacy or Eduardo Estrella's political project.
For Rodriguez this is a promotion from INDESUR, the development organization in the southwest. Gil reports that Rodriguez was overheard telling the President: "Get me out of there, President, there is nothing of anything there," during a meeting at Foreign Relations Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso's offices. His request has been answered.

Changes are scary
In today's Diario Libre, editor Ines Aizpun comments on the new appointees to President Fernandez's cabinet.
She starts out by saying that the President, who manages the government budget, is immersed in an "intense, violent electoral campaign and is willing to take from up his sleeve the most improbable candidates to ensure that he does not leave the presidential chair.
And then continues: "But Diego Torres (Babado), Peguero Mendez, Rodriguez Pimentel in a PLD government? What for? Why? Is this what awaits us if he is re-elected? Are these the kind of government officials who will lead us to globalization, to development? Is this the best team the PLD can present to encourage us to vote for it again?
Making changes is an opportunity for correcting mistakes, ending offensive incompatibilities or rectifying materialistic vagueness. But none of that! The message is clear: anything goes, regardless how mediocre their concept of politics, there is room in the PLD government. (Billed to our taxes).
Choosing third-rate politicians, some of whom were even rejected by their own political parties, is such an obsolete way of viewing government office that it does not transmit messages of progress, on which Leonel's campaigns were based on in the past. They are throwing out the argument of probity or decency; the PLD is running out of topics.
We wanted changes, but we wanted these to be an improvement in the team.
To create new posts, such as gastronomical advisor, leads us into uncharted territory. Can we now also expect the appointment of a Presidential Fashion, Manners or Spiritual advisor, with responsibilities in the areas of self-esteem and leadership? There are more and more advisors without portfolio, without any role, but with earnings that no one has dared to courteously refuse.
Those changes are not just disappointing, they are scary."

Free hand for corruption?
63.7% of Dominicans feel that corruption has either increased (49.9%) or stayed the same (13.8%), according to a Gallup poll published by Hoy newspaper. The survey then asked whether they thought that there was more corruption than during the Mejia government in this administration, and those polled responded 29.8% more, 20.7 the same, and 46.7% less. The survey found that 25% of PRD followers feel there is more corruption in this government, while 33% of PLD followers say there is the same amount of corruption. For the survey, 1,200 Dominicans of voting age were interviewed from 9-13 August.
The same survey found that 47.4% of those polled described themselves as PLD followers. Only 34% described themselves as supporters of opposition parties.
Hoy newspaper interviewed Octavio Lister, director of the government anti-corruption office (DPCA) about the finding that 57.8% of the population is not impressed with the government's efforts in fighting corruption. Lister said that so far this government has investigated 156 corruption cases, of which 90 were not followed through for lack of proof or for concluding that no fault was committed. He said that 16 have been processed.

If elections were held today...
If the Presidential elections were to take place today, President Leonel Fernandez would receive 42.3% of the vote, Miguel Vargas Maldonado would get 35.3% and Amable Aristy Castro 14.1%, according to the 9-13 August Gallup poll published in Hoy newspaper. The Dominican constitution requires a 50%+1 vote for a candidate to win in the first round.
In a second round, absolute majority is enough to win. The same poll found that the PLD candidate is most popular in the eastern region (53.5%), followed by the Santo Domingo metropolitan area (47.1%), the southwestern region (40.7%), and the northern region (35.3%).

Falconbridge profit sharing
President Leonel Fernandez was happy to be handing out over RD$800 million to three provinces yesterday as the profits from the government's shares in Falconbridge were divided up. The government's CORDE (the Corporation for State-owned Enterprises) holds 285,982 shares in Falconbridge, the giant mining concern that extracts ferronickel from the hills in Bonao and La Vega provinces. Falconbridge funds administrative board members received the funds: Bonao received RD$613 million, La Vega received RD$83 million and Sanchez Ramirez (Cotui) received RD$98 million. Each province manages the funds it receives. For example, in Monsignor Nouel (Bonao) RD$100 million will be spent on health, education and construction projects with Bonao municipality receiving RD$50 million, Maimon receiving RD$25 million and Piedra Blanca getting the other RD$25 million.

AES-Andres back on line
The shaky Dominican electricity network got back one of the biggest suppliers as AES-Andres, the 300 MW natural gas generating facility, came back on line having been shut down when Hurricane Dean went past the Dominican Republic. Unfortunately, the AES Group also reported that Dean caused some damage to the gas terminal, but the company has enough Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) in reserve to stay in operation until the buoy is fixed in September. Dean damaged part of the LNG receiving area, but it did not damage the equipment that sends LNG to the Los Mina generation stations. AES said that its contingency plans for such natural disasters were being executed and that repairs were progressing at a satisfactory rate.

New chief cop says it will be "easy"
The new National Police chief, Rafael Guillermo Guzman Fermin, told reporters that the teams he has on hand will make his job "easy" and he reassured journalists that he has sufficient training to carry out his job according to society's requirements. El Caribe reporters asked the general about his job during the swearing-in ceremony for new Police Public Relations Officer Ramon Rodriguez Sanchez. The reporters questioned the new chief about his opinions on the National Human Rights Commission's comments about his job performance in San Francisco de Macoris. The CDDH called his appointment as chief "a retrograde step" because during his term as police commander in San Francisco de Macoris, Guzman Fermin was accused of allowing his officers to maim a number of young criminal suspects. The new chief said that he would not be pressured by anyone, and that he would fight crime in strict accordance with the law. Guzman Fermin added that this does not mean that his officers will go easy on criminals. "The mission is to restore society's confidence in the fight against crime."

DNCD does not like reggaeton
The National Drug Control Department (DNCD) and the Attorney General's office have joined forces in an attempt to take reggaeton music dealing with drug related themes off the airwaves. Both law enforcement agencies will also pursue their battle against the sale of LSD-laced stickers. The head of the DNCD told reporters from Hoy that he considered both the reggaeton music promoting drugs and the sale of the LSD-laced stickers to be criminal acts, especially on school grounds. He called on radio programmers to cooperate with the DNCD in their battle against drugs. The Attorney General, Radhames Jimenez, said that he had instructed his investigators to verify the existence of the LSD-laced stickers.

Drive by shooting injures seven
Seven people were wounded during a drive-by shooting incident in the Baracoa barrio of Santiago de los Caballeros yesterday. The incident occurred as a group of men were playing dominos on the sidewalk. The barrio is located in the western part of the city, near the Yaque River. Most of the wounded were taken to the Jose Maria Cabral y Baez Regional University Hospital for treatment. One man, Felix Dilone was holding a little girl when the shooting occurred, and was wounded in the back as he dived for safety. The little girl was unharmed. According to Listin Diario, this is the second drive-by incident in recent days, and reporter Pedro Jimenez says that one witness was of the opinion that the shooters were not aiming at the domino players but at some of the passers-by. One of the wounded, Juan Jose, a.k.a. El Duende (the spirit), said that he was shot in the leg as he was fixing a door at a nearby house. A few weeks ago one person was killed and several others wounded in a similar incident when shots from a moving vehicle were aimed at a group that was drinking on the sidewalk. On that occasion the attackers returned to the site and shot at police investigators who were looking into the first incident. So far, the police have not found any suspects.

Visual Arts Biennial
Make a date in your calendar and be sure to attend the 24th Visual Arts Biennial at the Museum of Modern Art at Plaza de la Cultura in Santo Domingo. President Fernandez attended the opening of what is described in Listin Diario as a "fiesta of Dominican artistic creativity" on Monday, 20 August. This biennial is dedicated to sculptor Soucy de Pellerano. 144 visual arts exhibitions are on show.
See www.dr1.com/calendar for other upcoming events.

Juan Luis wins Latin Grammy
One of the Dominican Republic's most famous musical exports, Juan Luis Guerra, has been awarded the Latin Grammy's Person of the Year Award for 2007. According to the Latin Grammy committee, Guerra was chosen for the prestigious award due to his professional achievements, his music and his philanthropy. Guerra will receive his prize at a dinner gala in Las Vegas, Nevada on 7 November. The gala features a galaxy of musical performances. Last year Juan Luis Guerra was a featured artist as Ricky Martin received his award. Guerra has received Grammys for his Bachata Rosa in 1990, and his No es lo mismo ni es igual won a Latin Grammy in 2000. His 440 Foundation provides help to the poor.

Tropical wave will bring rains
The meteorological office in Santo Domingo is warning people to be on the lookout for the next series of rainstorms that will be produced by a tropical wave heading our way. The Center for Emergency Operations (COE) has issued a "green alert" for the provinces of Santiago and Monsignor Nouel (Bonao) as well as the lower Yuna Valley. COE head Colonel Juan Manuel Mendez Garcia has asked people living on the banks of small rivers and streams in the area to be on the lookout for flood conditions and landslides. The National Meteorological Office (ONAMET) is predicting scattered showers and thunderstorms for most of the Dominican Republic. Small craft warnings are also in effect for coastal waters, with four to six foot waves and winds of up to 18 knots. According to Mendez Garcia, the COE is warning about "probable flooding in both rural and urban areas with landslides in the southeast and the provinces of Santiago and Monsignor Nouel."
For weather updates, refer to the DR1 Weather & Beyond forum at www.dr1.com/forums/weather-beyond/
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