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Daily News - Wednesday, 05 September 2007

Fernandez for President
For the first time in Dominican political history, a presidential candidate will be listed by a coalition of 14 or more political parties, headed by the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD), as reported in Hoy. With eight months still to go for the 16 May 2008 presidential election, of 21 political organizations recognized by the Central Electoral Board, at the time of writing, half will be presenting Fernandez as their candidate. In the 2004 presidential election, six parties fielded Fernandez, who was able to win in a first round with 2,063,871 votes or 57.11%. The opposition party, PRD, presented Hipolito Mejia, who sought re-election and obtained 1,215,928 votes or 33.65%. The PRSC with Eduardo Estrella received 312,493 votes, or 8.65%, the lowest percentage that party has ever obtained in an election.
Parties that have already announced their support for Fernandez's candidacy are: Alianza por la Democracia (APD), Max Puig; Quisqueyano Democrata (PQD), Elias Wessin Chavez; Bloque Institucional Social Democrata (BIS), Jose Francisco Pena Guaba; Democrata Popular (PDP), Nelson Didiez; Nacional de Veteranos y Civiles (PNVC) Thania Baez and Trabajadores Dominicanos (PTD), Jose Gonzalez Espinosa.
Also Renacentista Nacional (PRN), Agustin Encarnacion Montero; Popular Cristiano (PPC), Hector Rafael Peguero Mendez; Liberal de la Republica Dominicana (PLRD), Andres Vanderhorst; Fuerza Nacional Progresista (FNP), Marino Vinicio Castillo; Union Democrata Cristiano (UDC), Luis Acosta Moreta; Unidad Nacional (PUN), Pedro Corporan and Humanista Dominicano (PHD).
Hoy reports that the PLD has ties with these minority parties and has appointed several of their leaders to government posts.
The newspaper goes on to explain that minority parties that have not yet announced their alliances are Partido Revolucionario Independiente (PRI), Trajano Santana; Unidad Democratica (UD), Fausto Sicard Moya; Alianza Social Dominicana (ASD), Movimiento Independencia, Unidad y Cambio (MIUCA), Virtudes Alvarez; Partido Popular Reformista (PRP), Amilcar Romero. The JCE is yet to decide on recognition for the Partido Alianza Popular (PAP), Pedro de Jesus Candelier.
Other political electoral movements bring together former PRSC presidential candidate supporters, including the Consejo Presidencial with Carlos Morales Troncoso and Alexandra Izquierdo's Consenso Electoral Reformista, both of whom hold posts in the PLD government.

JCE wants to halt early moves
The Central Electoral Board wants to halt the early start of the campaigns for the presidential election set for May 2008. According to Diario Libre, the JCE is trying by all possible means to halt the flood of media attention, the use of inaugurations for political purposes, and public displays of party colors. However, it is evident that the JCE's intentions are not being met with much sympathy from the different political contenders. In view of this situation, the principal magistrate of the JCE's Contentious Chamber, Mariano Rodriguez, has called for a meeting between the parties to revise the law that establishes the opening of campaign activities. Meanwhile, amidst internal issues and the complaint by magistrate Jose Angel Aquino that there is a conspiracy within the JCE itself, the entire board will meet today to discuss the remaining 27 articles of the newly proposed regulations for controlling the electoral campaign for the 2008 elections. Most observers feel that there is scant hope for a successful outcome of today's session.

IMF sees improvement
The International Monetary Fund has released a study that shows an improvement in the Dominican balance of payments. According to an article in El Caribe, the IMF predicts a balance of payments result that will go from -2.2% of the GDP to -1.6% of GDP between 2007 and 2008. This favorable forecast is contained in the IMF's Perspectives of the World Economy. In 2005 more capital left the DR than entered and this resulted in a balance of payments deficit of -1.5% of GDP. In 2006 it continued to decrease, resulting in a -2.4% of GDP. The IMF guidelines set for 2007 are showing a reduction of the downward trend, and the prediction is for a -2.2% of GDP result by year's end. The Central Bank of the Dominican Republic has reported a 26.5% increase in imports and an 8.4% reduction in exports for the first half of 2007.

S&P ups DR ratings
Standard & Poor's Rating Services says the Dominican Republic risk factors have improved. The ratings agency raised the long-term sovereign credit rating on the DR to a B+ from a B, with a stable outlook. The stable outlook reflects continued strong economic prospects and the rising international reserves. S&P, however, kept the short-term sovereign credit rating of the DR at B.The upgrade is due to the initiation of structural changes that can have a positive effect on government management policies and the fiscal balance. S&P's ratings also reflect the fiscal improvement generated by the tax reform measures created at the end of 2006. Richard Francis, the S&P analyst, underlined the fact that the structural reforms created under the auspices of the IMF "will improve" the formulation of policies and their supervision. He pointed out the recent laws criminalizing electricity theft and providing for the recapitalization of the Central Bank over a 10-year period. The analyst sees as positive the creation of the new Ministry of the Treasury (Hacienda), which replaced the old Ministry of Finance. The new ministry is responsible for complete supervision of all aspects of budget and public debt management. The DR-CAFTA agreement also figured in the analyst's final assessment of the Dominican risk factors. On the downside, the S&P report points out continued institutional weakness, the Central Bank deficit and the shadow of the upcoming elections looming over the country.

Minister on SFS glitches
Bautista Rojas Gomez, the Minister of Public Health, has told reporters from El Caribe newspaper that the recent start up of the Family Health Service (SFS), while marked by some glitches, is moving forward, and that the pending issues will be resolved. One issue that apparently confounded the minister was the lack of prescription pads for the health services providers. The Single Prescription forms are required in order to access SFS funds for medicines. Rojas Gomez said that there was a public announcement on 13 August that explained where to procure the prescription pads and how much they cost. The minister said that a special evaluating commission would be meeting this morning to look at the first three days of the SFS. According to the minister, one of the major problem areas is the fact that the public is not fully informed, and to alleviate this situation, the ministry has set up special information desks at all private clinics and staffed them with people who are trained to answer patients' questions.

US$35 million from USAID
The Dominican Republic and the United States have signed a US$35 million agreement aimed at improving the quality of governance, economic growth, health and education. The sum of US$35 million is for just the first year. The agreement was signed by the Minister of Economy, Planning and Development, Temistocles Montas, the Charge d'Affaires of the US embassy in Santo Domingo, Roland Bullen and the head of the USAID office in Santo Domingo, Richard Goughnour. The program is part of USAID's strategy in the Dominican Republic for the next five years. During the signing at the Presidential Palace, Bullen called the DR "a much valued partner of the United States". Montas pointed out that the agreement would help fuel economic growth in the long term as well as focusing assistance on health and education.

Educational gap = social gap
The president of the National Council for Private Business (CONEP), Lisandro Macarrulla, warns that the poor quality of public education in the Dominican Republic has contributed to a sort of social segregation that only intensifies the economic differences. As the keynote speaker at the Business Forum for Quality Education, Macarrulla pointed to studies that show that children from the top 20% of the social scale end up receiving fifteen times more educational input than the lowest 20%. According to Macarrulla, this is due to deficiencies in public policy as well as deficiencies within society itself. The business sector is not exempt from some responsibility for this situation, and the root cause is the bad quality of public education. As a way of solving this problem, Macarrulla suggested that the government should comply with the law and assign 5% of the GDP to education with 4% going to the Ministry of Education and 1% going to the Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Technology.
To emphasize his points, Macarrulla cited a study by the World Bank (WB) that indicated that while Dominicans go to school for 12 years, they only finish with an eighth grade level education. In effect, they lose four years. Macarrulla also spoke out about the state of the country's public education, saying that research has shown that it is one of the least efficient systems in the Caribbean region.
The CONEP executive joined with Monsignor Agripino Nunez Collado in expressing his feeling that education was too important an issue to be left in the hands of the government. The Forum for Educational Excellence is an initiative by CONEP, the American Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Young Entrepreneurs (ANJE), the Foundation for Institutionalism and Justice (Finjus), the group Action for Basic Education (Educa), the Pontifical Catholic University Madre y Maestra (PUCMM), and the Dominican Confederation of Small and Medium-sized Businesses (Codopyme).

AES launches a new bond issue
The National Council of Securities (CNV) has approved a new bond issue for the AES-Andres electricity company. The issue is for US$25 million. AES is the second energy company to use the securities market and they are also the second to issue bonds in United States currency. The bonds will be placed in minimum values of US$10,000, and carry an 18-month time limit. Interest rates on the bonds will be announced shortly. CNV superintendent Haivanjoe Ng Cortinas announced the issue together with Marcos de la Rosa, the CEO of AES Dominicana. The bond issue will use the services of BHD Securities and Securities Leon. Dominican Power Partners are the guarantors.

Ines on transportation
Today's popular A.M. column in Diario Libre asks the question: Transportation? Editorial commentator Ines Aizpun asks the question because she feels that there is no safety on the streets. The award-winning journalist says that logic dictates that vehicles used for public transportation should be inspected with much more acuity than those used for private use. All said, if a person wants to travel in a poorly kept vehicle, that's their problem. However, if this is a lucrative business and hundreds of people put their lives at risk, then that is another matter. This is the authorities' business. The editorial goes on to say that we have assumed that here everything is the opposite. It is totally unacceptable that the pubic accepts as normal the use of the filth we call public transportation. She points out that there are 12 different government entities responsible for regulating the transport sector, all of which are useless, obsolete and therefore expensive. As soon as one of these is shown to be inefficient, another one is created on top of the previous one. All of this is paid out of our pockets. The drivers ignore red lights; they think No Passenger zones are places to pick up passengers; and they mistreat their passengers with filthy, rusty seats. They don't have windows, and, sometimes doors, these junk-heaps the authorities certify and back as adequate for use by the public. The transport unions are responsible for the accidents that these people create. And they should pay. The most recent case was the accident that killed Antonia Castro, who was traveling in a minivan belonging to FENATRANO. Aizpun also says that the authorities bear part of the responsibility in this case since they allow this type of vehicle to carry passengers and for not stopping the irresponsible drivers who disobey basic traffic laws day in and day out on any of the streets of Santo Domingo.

Metal exports double
Exports of scrap iron and steel make up the fourth largest part of all Dominican exports. The increase in the theft of metal, electric cables and bronze items was reflected by the fact that export of these metals nearly doubled in the first half of 2007. As reported by Diario Libre, scrap iron and steel exports constitute the fourth item of the industrial products exported from the DR, more than beer, cardboard containers, plastics, pasta and other exported manufactured items. The Dominican Center for Exports and Investment (CEI-DR) has released a statistical report that shows that during the first six months of 2007 exports of scrap iron and steel reached US$15.3 million, an 81.9% increase over the 2006 figures. Correspondingly, the number of reported thefts of metallic objects also increased during the first half of 2007.

Solidarity with Haiti
Rafael Abreu, executive vice president of the National Workers Union (CNUS) said that Dominicans would pick up the health costs for an estimated more than a million illegal Haitians who live in the country, because the National Social Security Law establishes that health services cannot be denied. With the new National Health Plan (SFS), the Dominican government will pick up the tab for their health care, as reported in Hoy. Likewise, he said that Dominican taxpayers would be covering the health costs of Haitian women who come to give birth in Dominican public hospitals. He said there have been discussions about the need for a pact with the Haitian government, so that international health organizations create a hospital network in Haiti to relieve the Dominican health system, which suffers the consequences of the deficiencies in Haiti.

Baninter defense closing arguments
Lawyers representing the accused in the Baninter case, regarded as the fifth largest bank collapse in history, began presenting their closing arguments yesterday. They are expected to continue for another four days. In his opening address, lawyer Juarez Castillo Seman dismissed proof and witnesses on which the prosecutors based their case, especially the validity of Luis Aurich to audit the bank, including the fact that he is not a member of the Dominican Institute of Accountants, and instead relied on his wife, a former operations manager at Baninter, to sign the statements. On the contrary, the defense sought to prove that the witnesses, instead of incriminating, served to validate the defense's case.
The defense continued to stress that the practices where Baninter is accused of wrongdoing were generally accepted practice in banking at the time.
The lawyer attributed the collapse of the bank to external situations created by then President Hipolito Mejia's government. Castillo opened his case with the now legendary statement from Mejia: "I will close the bank and put you in jail." He also brought to light the case against former presidential security advisor Pedro Julio Guerrero and the more than 40 million pesos spent using the so-called Pepe Card issued by Baninter for presidential expenses abroad. "We are proving here, that there was no fraud. What happened was that Hipolito Mejia used the same maneuvers that he used to take Pepe Goico out of jail to incriminate Ramoncito (Baez Figueroa)", Castillo Seman emphasized during the trial.

Police haul in hundreds
The chief of police has reported the confiscation of 197 automobiles and 484 motorcycles due to improper placement of license plate or the total absence of this item. Due to license plate theft, many people have taken to placing the plates inside the rear windows, and, of course, there has been a perennial shortage of license plates for motorcycles, although recent government efforts have been quite successful in getting owners to register their vehicles. The detentions took place in Santo Domingo, according to a report in Diario Libre. The measure follows orders from the new police chief, Major General Rafael Guzman Fermin. Guzman Fermin told reporters recently that motorcycles and cars without visible license plates were reported to be involved in crimes, and the measure will increase public safety. Metropolitan Transit Authority (AMET) officers are assisting in the effort. According to the report, more than 2,000 people were cited for violating the rule for properly displaying the license plate.

Soldiers held in Moca shootings
The Inspector General of the Army has ordered the detention of several of the men involved in the deaths by shooting of three men in Moca jail. The three men were supposedly attempting to break out of jail during the early hours of last Monday. The District Attorney for Moca, Jacobo Marchena, told reporters from Diario Libre that the investigating commission will determine whether excessive deadly force was used in the incident. In another interview, the regional director of the Pathological Forensics Institute, Dr. Victor Garcia, told reporters that the dead men had multiple gunshot wounds, all in the chest, head and back. The investigating commission is made up of the Director of Prisons, General Jose Ignacio Sandoval Cabrera, commanding officer of the Second Brigade, General Plutarco Medina Gratereaux, and the District Attorney for Moca. The three victims were all serving long prison terms for robbery, murder and assault, according to newspaper reports.
According to local reports, the prisoners managed to break one of the bars of their cell and reached the roof of the prison where two were killed by soldiers. The third was killed as he got tangled in the barbed wire fencing. Other sources say that the guards first fired shots into the air in an attempt to halt the prisoners. None of the prisoners were armed.

US Coast Guard picks up 31
A total of 31 Dominicans, including two minors, were picked up on the high seas by a unit of the United States Coast Guard and returned to La Romana. They were handed over to the Dominican authorities, along with fuel tanks and personal possessions. Recently, the Dominican authorities warned of an increase in the number of illegal boats trying to carry immigrants to Puerto Rico.
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