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Daily News - Friday, 31 August 2007

Government revenues up in July
Government revenues were again up this month, with RD$19.40 billion, which is RD$723.9 million more than estimated, according to the Budget Department (DIGEPRES), published in El Nuevo Diario. Likewise, spending for the same period was RD$18.67 billion. During July, the government received foreign revenues for RD$90.7 million and RD$1.07 billion.
The breakdown of collections by department:
Tax Department (DGII): US$11.26 billion (58.1%)
Customs (DGA): RD$4.74 billion (24.4%)
National Treasury: RD$3.39 billion (17.5%)
Capital Expenditures spending for the period was: RD$5.96 billion (31%), Current Spending RD$12.71 billion (68.1%). Of the Capital Expenditures chapter, the DIGEPRES says that RD$1.52 billion, or 25.4% was invested in the construction of homes.

Morales Troncoso in Vietnam
At the invitation of the Vietnamese government, Dominican Foreign Relations Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso is paying a visit to Vietnam from 28 August to 2 September. This is the first time a Dominican foreign minister has visited Vietnam since diplomatic relations were established in July 2005. The visit aims to enhance the relationship of friendship and cooperation between Vietnam and the DR. Morales is also traveling to lobby for votes for the DR's candidacy as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council for the 2008-09 term.
After a first day of meetings in Hanoi, Deputy Prime Minister Pham Gia Khiem and DR Foreign Minister Morales emerged from talks with a Memorandum of Understanding on the establishment of reference mechanisms between the foreign ministries of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and the DR.
According to a Vietnam News Service release, "Vietnam wants to further develop ties with the Dominican Republic and the Latin American region as a whole, focusing on economics-trade, investment, agriculture and tourism," he said.
Morales Troncoso expressed his admiration for Vietnam's past struggle for independence and national reunification as well as its present economic development.
Morales Troncoso also emphasized Vietnam's role and position in his country's external policy towards Asia.
They pointed out the need to speed up negotiations for early signing of treaties and agreements to establish legal foundations for bilateral cooperation as well as encouraging businesses to set up direct partnerships and act as entrance gates for goods in the two regions. The foreign ministers also exchanged views on working together within international organizations and multi-lateral forums, including the UN, the Non-Aligned Movement and the Forum of East Asia-Latin America Cooperation.

Malecon section closed
The Office for the Reorganization of Transport (OPRET) has announced the closure of the capital's Malecon seafront boulevard between Maximo Gomez and Abraham Lincoln avenues on Saturday from 3pm to Monday at 6am. Rainwater and sewage works for the Santo Domingo metro will carried out in the area. Access will be possible using north-south roads. Drivers traveling from west to east need to turn on to Lincoln Avenue and then take Independencia Avenue. Construction works also include a drainage ramp from Alma Mater to Correa y Cidron streets and the Malecon.

Bringing back Quisqueya Verde
Environment Minister Omar Ramirez Tejada has reinstated the Quisqueya Verde Plan (Green Quisqueya) along the border with Haiti. As reported in El Dia, he announced a plan to invest CAN$25 million in the tree planting that begins in October. He said that the plan would be carried out jointly with the Canadian venture to rescue the Artibonite River that borders both the DR and Haiti. He said Offem Quebec would be contributing CAN$5.5 million. "Quisqueya Verde is not only about planting trees in the mountains, but it will also plant in schools and homes to return the greenery to all the country," he said. He said the plan would benefit 10,000 rural families.
Quisqueya Verde was a major reforestation effort under former Vice President Jaime David Fernandez. Ramirez is known to have close links with the former Vice President's faction within the PLD.

Felucho says he is an open book
Tourism Minister Felix Jimenez defended himself during questioning in the Chamber of Deputies yesterday, indicating that he has always been transparent in his dealings as a real estate businessman.
The Chamber of Deputies had summoned him alleging conflicts of interest between his work at the Ministry as an industry regulator and his work as a tourism industry entrepreneur. During the session, Jimenez confirmed that he is a shareholder in the Vista Mare tourism project in Samana and Stanza Mare in Bavaro.
Vista Mare was criticized for receiving presidential authorization to build within the 60-meter beach strip and initiating construction without Ministry of Environment permits, and Stanza Mare came within an area where density was increased.
Jimenez said that he does not hide his ownership of real estate developments, and openly uses his own name or those of relatives in the company formation documents.
He said that he is not managing any company after having been appointed minister of tourism, and emphasized that he has been in real estate for 32 years.
He said that those who question the fact that he is both a regulator and investor should look back to the precedents set by Eligio Jaquez, Hipolito Mejia, Ramon Baez Romano and Bolivar Ortiz, and dozens of other government officials whose decisions might have favored their companies.
Jimenez recently sued El Caribe for RD$100 million for publishing a commentary by journalist Daniel Garcia Archibald questioning his participation in tourism companies. He later withdrew the suit from the newspaper but maintained it against the journalist. Jimenez has threatened to sue anyone who publicly defames him.
Jimenez in his presentations criticized PRD presidential candidate Miguel Vargas Maldonado who he said has investments in the name of third parties with Carlos Sanchez, who is involved in the Marbella real estate scandal in Spain.
The Chamber of Deputies did not allow TV crews to film yesterday's session.

President's daughter in ICU
President Leonel Fernandez's eldest daughter Nicole Fernandez was admitted to intensive care at the Gynecology and Obstetric Clinic yesterday. Fernandez went to the clinic emergency room complaining of a sharp pain. No official word from family members or doctors on Nicole Fernandez's condition has been given, despite requests from the press. Diario Libre reports that she underwent surgery to have a cyst removed from her ovaries.

Too much for three parties
Julio Cesar Castanos Guzman, president of the Central Electoral Board (JCE) warns that political parties are turning into big bureaucracies. As reported in Hoy, he said that the time would come when a cap to the amount of money that parties receive will need to be imposed. If not, they will get "astronomical sums."
Political parties already receive about RD$300 million in non-election years and double that amount in electoral years, as established in the Electoral Law.
Castanos also raised the point that the three leading political parties alone are managing 80% of the abundant resources currently available for funding politics in the country, as reported in El Nuevo Diario.
He explained that the remaining 20% is distributed among all the other parties, of which 12% receive equal sums and 8% according to the proportion of votes obtained in the previous election.
He said that the JCE distributes RD$18 million a month to the PLD, PRD and PRSC, and RD$6 million to the 20 other political organizations recognized by the JCE.
He advocated that it would be fairer if all the resources were equally distributed depending on the number of votes each party secured in the election. He said that a party that receives 5% of the votes should not receive the same amount of funds as one that received less than 1%.
He said that political parties needed to be accountable, as this is "very diluted" right now.
Castanos called for more investment of party funds in educating the politicians of the future and less on propaganda.
The JCE is responsible for civil registry and organization of elections in the DR. Castanos Guzman spoke at a workshop on "Financing of Political Parties".

Who do Dominicans vote for?
In today's El Caribe columnist Miguel Guerrero comments on how Dominicans have consistently been known to cast their votes against candidates, instead of in their favor. He mentions that Dominicans voted for Guzman to get rid of Balaguer, and then went on to re-elect the latter, when wanting to rid the nation of the PRD. When the nation tired of the aging caudillo, it chose Fernandez, who had no experience of government, not because he was trusted, but because most wanted to prevent Pena Gomez from being elected.
History repeated itself four years later, when most voters favored Hipolito Mejia. Many who voted were not attracted by him, but were disillusioned with the PLD government. After three consecutive defeats in presidential and congressional elections, the PLD candidate returned to the presidency. "But as always happens, voters chose him because their aspirations for change had been frustrated," he writes.
"The lack of content of political campaigns continues to perpetuate this weakness in Dominican politics," he comments. The better minds of the nation keep urging politicians to focus on proposals to solve the serious national problems. But those calls have not been heard, he writes.
"As has happened so many times in the past, voters will vote to remove a President or prevent another candidate from reaching the Presidency, more than for someone who would guide the country to better future.
"Sad situation," he concludes.

Windpower for Samana
Last week, the town of Las Galeras in Samana became the first part of the DR to benefit from clean electricity generated by wind power, according to Jose Oscar Orsini, president of Luz y Fuerza de Las Terrenas, C. por A. power company. The operation of the country's first commercial wind-powered generator, a 60KW generator, will reduce electricity prices by 5-8% for consumers in Las Galeras. The company plans to sell the kWh for US$0.15 and US$0.17.
Luz y Fuerza de Las Terrenas, C. por A. has the concession for power distribution in the north and east of the Samana Peninsula. It purchases the power from Generadora Eolica de Las Galeras, S.A., presided by Jaime Fernandez.
The Las Galeras wind park is located on a plain at Las Guzumas, Cabo Samana, where the winds are very favorable. A coastal shelf formed by a marble mine at 800 feet dropping down to the sea creates a kind of Venturi air flow effect that accelerates the force of the winds.
The generator can currently provide 15% of the power used in the beach town of Las Galeras. Generadora Eolica de Las Galeras, S.A. plans to install a wind park with the capacity to generate 1,200KW to supply 20% of the north and eastern areas of the Samana peninsula. The park has the capacity for three 275KW and four 60KW generators when the Las Galeras and Las Terrenas systems are interconnected. The first four 60KWs will be installed by June 2008 and plans are for the system to be interconnected by the end of 2008. The wind park requires a US$1.5 million investment, of which US$500,000 has been invested in the first system now in operation.
The site was chosen 10 years ago when USAID financed a study on wind power potential in the Dominican Republic, which was carried out by National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NREC) of the United States.

Haiti trade at US$160 million
Haitian Ambassador Fritz Cineas has told Hoy newspaper that trade between Haiti and the DR is up this year. He said that official records show that Haiti imported US$147.9 million from the DR in 2006. This year, he expects imports to increase to US$160 million, given that the half-year figure is around US$75 million. He explained that estimates are that when overall imports, including the informal markets, are added, trade will reach US$500 million. He said that Dominicans only imported US$4 million from Haiti, according to official records.
The principal Dominican exports to Haiti were steel rods for construction, US$12 million; eggs, US$9 million; and flour, US$12 million.
Cineas said that the DR has never shown an interest in signing a free trade agreement with Haiti, but neither has there been any such request from the Haitian government. He said he does not know what interest there would be in Haiti. Cineas believes that a trade agreement would favor Dominican exporters.

State lawyers re Baninter closing
In the continuation of the state prosecutors' closing arguments in the case against Baninter executives and advisors, Judges Antonio Sanchez Mejia, Pilar Rufino and Esmirna Giselle Mendez heard lawyers Lorenzo Fermin and Ramon Pina Acevedo, who represented the state monetary and financial authorities and rejected conclusions presented by prosecutors yesterday calling for 20- and 6-year sentences and fines of RD$2.5, RD$1.5 and RD$1 million in the Baninter bank collapse case.
Yesterday, Lorenzo Fermin spoke of the magnitude of banker Ramon Baez Figueroa's involvement in the Baninter fraud, highlighting evidence that RD$1.77 billion was removed from Baninter accounts for personal purchases. "He spent US$57 million (RD$1.45 billion) on his yacht Patricia alone. So much opulence with public funds," said Fermin, as he showed photos of the yacht. Furthermore, he advocated that the Listin Diario newspaper should be considered as evidence of fraud. Prosecutors have removed the oldest Dominican daily from the case. Fermin says that more than RD$2 billion was spent on capitalization and improvements to the newspaper's infrastructure, a figure equal to Baninter's capital in 2002.
Lawyer Pina Acevedo began his presentation indicating that the verdict requested by the prosecutors yesterday did not match the magisterial nature of their closing words. He quoted Cuban jurist Jose Agustin Martinez: "When politics enters a court, justice jumps out the window." He explained that he said this "because this process has been surrounded by a series of matters that end in evidently unacceptable and illogical conclusions." He said that the lawyers who represent the state do not completely accept the conclusions presented by the prosecution expert on banking matters.
Local dailies report that assistant prosecutor and banking expert Daniel Miranda Villalona did not sign the document where the prosecutors asked for a RD$2.5-RD$1 million fines and 20-6 years jail for the principal accused. Miranda said he did not sign it because he had not been consulted on several points. Only prosecutor Francisco Garcia and Government Corruption Department director Octavio Lister have signed the document.

US increases penalties
US Coast Guard authorities have announced that anyone who enters the US illegally will be sentenced to 20 years in jail and a maximum fine of US$250,000.The Coast Guard says that since it implemented a bio-metric identification system, 42 small vessels have been intercepted and data on 1,134 people has been recorded. Since the program was introduced, 68 people who tried to enter Puerto Rico illegally have been detained. Of the 68, 46 have been processed while 22 cases are still pending. Captain James E. Tunstall says that human traffickers and anyone who enters PR illegally will face criminal proceedings and jail.

Sonia doesn't agree with Fritz
Dominican-Haitian Women's Movement (MUDHA) coordinator Sonia Pierre doesn't agree with recent statements by Haitian Ambassador to the DR Fritz Cineas, who told Hoy newspaper that children born to non-resident Haitian parents in the DR are Haitians, not Dominicans. She says that the Haitian Constitution doesn't have jurisdiction in the DR and that the Haitian constitution doesn't allow for dual citizenship. Pierre suggested that Cineas should raise his voice in defense of Haitians in the DR if, as he said, they are as Haitian as he is.
The Dominican Supreme Court has ruled that Dominican nationality will not be granted automatically to children born in the DR to foreign parents if these are not legal residents.

Orchids as old as dinosaurs
The discovery of an "exquisitely preserved orchid pollinarium attached to an extinct stingless bee preserved in a piece of amber, has led scientists to conclude that the flower is older than once believed. The discovery of the bee and the pollen indicates that orchids could have been around during the time of dinosaurs, 80 million years ago. The bee and pollen, found in the DR, represent the first known fossil remains of an orchid. While there are around 30,000 orchid species, up until now scientists have never had a fossil to determine their history. Dr. Santiago R. Ramirez of Harvard University says that the fossil flower is called Meliorchis Caribea, and comes from the Goodyerinae orchid family. The results of the findings were printed in Nature magazine. Previous to this discovery, scientists thought orchids were a relatively recent flower.
"This result is puzzling and fascinating at the same time because modern species of Vanilla orchids are locally distributed throughout the tropical regions of the world. But we know that tropical continents began to split apart about 100 million years ago, and thus our estimates of 60 to 70 million years for the age of Vanilla suggest that tropical continents were still experiencing significant biotic exchange much after their dramatic split," says Ramirez.
"Since the time of Darwin, evolutionary biologists have been fascinated with orchids' spectacular adaptations for insect pollination. But while orchids are the largest and most diverse plant family on Earth, they have been absent from the fossil record," Nature magazine quoted lead author Santiago R. Ramirez, a researcher in Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology and Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, as saying.
The fossilised bee, Proplebeia dominicana, was recovered by a private collector in the Dominican Republic in 2000, and came to the attention of the researchers in 2005.
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