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Daily News - Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Fernandez and Soto Jimenez
President Leonel Fernandez says that he is committed to seeing his five-point plan through. The five points include strengthening democracy, increasing economic growth, and enhancing social, environmental and security policies, as reported in Hoy.
"There is no democracy with empty stomachs," said Fernandez, who seeks reelection to complete these goals. Fernandez also said that he needed four more years to resolve the energy issues plaguing the country. The President made his comments during an event funded by the V Republic Foundation, of former Minister of the Armed Forces Jose Miguel Soto Jimenez.
The President says that the DR is in the same boat as many nations in the region that have depended on farming rather than industrialization. Fernandez spoke of the challenges of the shift of the population from 70% living in rural areas to 70% living in cities.
Fernandez spoke of the recently implemented Family Health Insurance (SFS) that would benefit more than three million. He also stressed the importance of an environmental agenda for progress. He said that the bigger problems need to be solved through education.
Former minister of Armed Forces during the Mejia administration, Soto Jimenez had praise for President Fernandez. He commented on the intellect, university professor background and political successes of the President stressing Fernandez is on his way to be a member of the exclusive club of those who have been President of the DR for three terms. Soto Jimenez said the time has come to "link the dream of a little New York with a big Santo Domingo."

Alliance to keep milk prices down
President Leonel Fernandez launched the Plan of Action for the Competitive Production of Milk, an alliance between the government and the milk producers. He said that increases in international dairy prices will represent an added charge of US$160 million. Milk prices are rising internationally due to rising energy costs, tight supply, and especially the rising demand. This is forcing the government to take measures to face the issue.
The plan will inject RD$271,197,000 to increase domestic milk output by 50 million liters, beginning this year. Fernandez has promised the sector funding for technical assistance, cooperation, and credit. Fernandez, in turn, has committed the producers to keep milk prices down.
The plan looks to supply the nation's demand for fresh milk and reduce the effects of rising international milk prices. The plan comes at a time milk consumption in China is increasing, increasing international demand and thus making local supply more important.
The DR imports 32 metric tons of powdered milk to compensate for shortages in local supply.

School breakfast program begins
On Monday the Education Minister Alejandrina German inaugurated the School Breakfast Program with the distribution of 1,760,000 food rations. This year there will be an increase of 60,000 rations due to an increase in the number of students, reports the Ministry. The investment in education this year is of RD$2,600,000. The school breakfast encourages low-income parents to send their children to school.

Court rules on school for all
The Dominican courts have taken a stand on the issue of schooling for children that do not have birth certificates. Three youngsters who do not have birth certificates were ordered to school by magistrate William Encarnacion Mejia of the Civil Chamber of the Court for Children and Young People in Santo Domingo. The judge issued his sentence, revoking a decision by a school principal who had denied the children access to the school due to lack of proper documentation. The children have not received their birth certificates because their mother is an illegal alien who does not have her own identification papers. The magistrate said that articles of the Dominican Constitution, the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights had been violated. The case involved the Republic of Panama School in eastern Santo Domingo, and the sentence handed down by the judge ordered the principal of the school, Sixta Aquino Jimenez, and/or any other official of the school to re-register the children at once. The Dominican Code for Minors states in Article 45 that in no way can children be denied education due to a lack of documents. Given the large number of children that do not have birth certificates, the usual practice has been for these to be admitted to elementary school. This is a first time a court has ruled on the matter.

Venezuelan doctors to operate
Seven Venezuelan doctors currently in the DR will operate without charge on 250 low-income patients from all around the country that suffer from various lip and bone problems. Dr. Ignacio Escobar, one of the Venezuelan doctors, said the operations will take place at the new Juan Bosch Traumatology Hospital, in La Vega.

Call for revoking freight increase
The National Competitiveness Council (CNC) criticized that Aerodom, the private operator of Las Americas, Puerto Plata and Samana airports, announced charge for air cargo freights would double as of 1 November. Andres Vanderhorst Alvarez backed the position of the Civil Aviation Board and the Airport Commission that have urged the company to revoke the increase. He said it affects government and private sector efforts to diversify exports. In a press release, Vanderhorst Alvarez criticized that Dominican airports are already deemed expensive in the Caribbean. "We urge that Aerodom find ways to minimize their costs and not try to pass these on," he stated, calling for an awareness that exporters produce the hard currency the country needs. He said that the CNC together with the Ministry of Agriculture has promoted the development of agriculture clusters that have brought about an increase in exports that demand airlift. "While it is true that we cannot compete based on low prices, it is also necessary that export costs not be an obstacle to the sale of these Dominican products," he pointed out.

Lower those airport charges
Airport Department Director Andres Vanderhorst says that the DR is the country that charges the most airport charges and government taxes among all international airports. Vanderhorst says that the excessive taxes and charges are making passenger and cargo fares to and from the DR exorbitantly high and harming tourism and exports.
He is concerned airlines will abandon Dominican routes. Vanderhorst added, as reported in Listin Diario, that efforts to make the DR competitive are hampered by the excessive charges.
He specifically mentioned, for instance, that it is illegal for Immigration, Customs and the Plant Health to levy extra hour charges on flights that arrive at the airports between 4pm and 6am. The director added that an airport that already operates 24 hours per day has no reason to charge extra hours.
Vanderhorst also favors that small private planes be exempt from fees. "For example, Bahamas receives 950,000 tourists a year that arrive on private planes because these are not taxed at those airports," he said.

Inflation in August was -0.6%
According to the Central Bank, the inflation rate for August, measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI), was at -0.6%. The accumulated rate for the year dropped to 3.9%. The report by the Central Bank indicates that the CPI from August 2006 to August 2007 was 4.6%. The DR has projected a 6%-7% inflation rate at year's end. The decline is attributed to the stability of the exchange rate (RD$33.10 for purchase and RD$33.60 for cash sales) and slight decline in fuel prices.

Many perks at the Central Bank
PRD president Ramon Alburquerque, speaking in the Listin Diario, is reviving the controversy that Central Bank governor Hector Valdez Albizu is overpaid and presented documents that show that Valdez makes over RD$2.1 million per month, with perks and salary. Alburquerque criticized President Leonel Fernandez for giving his government employees millionaire contracts and juicy contracts, while the public has meager monthly salaries. Though Valdez has denied that he makes such an exorbitant amount the Listin today carried a graph with "Total Revenues of the Central Bank President" reporting on a base salary of RD$600,000 with RD$200,000 in representation costs, RD$150,000 in incentives and RD$50,000 for vehicle use. The document also reports RD$30,000 for gasoline, RD$50,000 for vacations, an RD$100,000 birthday bonus, RD$137,000 for his children's education and RD$600,000 as a Christmas salary. The governor also receives RD$12,500 for health insurance, RD$12,500 for medicines, RD$90,000 for unused per diem, RD$12,500 for gym and club memberships, RD$50,000 for chauffeurs, and RD$50,000 for food and supermarket purchases. Alburquerque says that Valdez makes upwards of RD$25 million per year and that he also has access to a credit card without a limit. Valdez would be making more than US President George Bush and Irish President Mari McAeenee.

US new radar
The United States has offered a new radar unit to control unauthorized flights in and around the Dominican Republic. The new equipment, a model TPS-78, is worth US$5 million and is currently on display at the San Isidro Airbase in Santo Domingo. The radar has a range of 240 knots and can cover the whole country. According to a sergeant from US Army Southern Command, Jose Juan Sanchez, the radar can monitor activity at altitude of 90,000 feet and it can detect anything that flies over Dominican territory. The equipment is designed to assist in the fight against drug smuggling and the illegal movement of immigrants to Puerto Rico. According to the technicians, the unit requires an electricity supply from an external source, like a portable generator. During a press conference yesterday, Air Force Public Relations Officer General Ricardo Cabral Vittini and Colonel Karin Hernandez, a technician at Air Command Operations, showed off the equipment, which they said was being offered for sale to the Dominican Republic. According to Hernandez, the modern radar needs much less maintenance than current equipment of the same type.

Felucho's project gets fined
The Vista Mare beach property development, of which Tourism Minister Felix "Felucho" Jimenez is a leading investor, was fined RD$498,542.16 for beginning the project without the proper permits and causing considerable environmental damages to a 186,140 square meter area, as reported in Hoy. The Vista Mare project features the construction of 93 apartments in 5 three-story buildings (80,000 square meter construction), in the Los Cacaos section of Los Naranjos in Samana. The fines on the project are dated 28 August, two days before Jimenez went before the Chamber of Deputies to answer to a query on conflict of interest of his private business deals with those of regulator of the tourism industry as minister of tourism. Hoy writes that that same day the Constructora JJ S.A. paid the fine via certified check.
The penalty had been approved by Resolution 010-07 of the Deputy Ministry of Environmental Management of the Ministry of Environment, signed by Deputy Minister Zoila Gonzalez, who is no longer in the post. The Resolution suspended the construction of the project until the due license be issued by the Ministry of Environment.
New Environment Minister Omar Ramirez awarded on 28 August the requested permit that had been denied by his predecessor, Max Puig.
Paying the fine that is a maximum half million (up to 3,000 minimum wages) is a common practice by project developers, as profits to be made are way beyond the cost of the penalty.
Hoy also reports that the Supreme Court of Justice rejected the hearing for a defamation and libel suit levied by Tourism Minister Felix Jimenez on Deputy Mario Fernandez Savinon (PRSCC-Duarte).

German to jail
National District prosecutors sent German Lutz Robert Gunther Meyerding to jail accused of trafficking in persons. Judge Keyla Perez Santana ordered Meyerding remain in jail for three months as the case against him is prepared. Meyerding, who had been a fugitive of justice, turned himself in on 6 September. He is being tried for operating an illegal business to attract Haitian women to engage in pornography for online broadcast for profit. National District Prosecutor Jose Manuel Hernandez has asked the director of Migration to deport the German.

Ramon Baez defense closes today
Defense lawyers for the former president of Baninter bank, Ramon Baez Figueroa, discarded their client can be accused of asset laundry or abuse of confidence, which would be criminal charges, with up to 20 years in jail. Lawyer Juarez Castillo Seman accepted charges of insider borrowing and the purchase of media but claimed in court yesterday that these were generalized practices among banking in the DR. These charges would mean a maximum of six years in jail.
To conclude the defense, lawyer Vinicio (Vincho) Castillo will speak today in court with the closing statements.

Gasoline station robbery
While the new Police Chief is promising more aggressive actions against criminals, three armed men who drove in a grey Nissan Maxima without license plate got away on Monday with about RD$1.3 million of the weekend sale during an 8:30 am assault at the centrally-located Sarasota-Winston Churchill Esso Bella Vista gas station. They left five employees tied with nylon rope and adhesive tape. The gas station is property of Luis Mejia Sanchez, a close relative of former President Hipolito Mejia, as reported in the Listin and El Nacional. The gas station's surveillance cameras were out of order, which will make more difficult the police investigation.

Santo Domingo Festival
Four stages set up on a four-kms stretch of the Malecon of Santo Domingo will host the Santo Domingo Festival organized by promoter Luis Medrano in coordination with the Santo Domingo City Hall for this coming Sunday, 14 October. This will be an all day event with a long list of big name performers that have been hired for the day and night of merengue, bachata, salsa, rock, regaetton, hip-hop, and boleros. On the list of performers are: Angela Carrasco, Jose Alberto (El Canario), Charityn Goico, Johnny Pacheco, Cuco Valoy, Geniris, Bonny Cepeda, Fernando Villalona, Eddy Herrera, Sergio Vargas, Rubby Perez, Los Hermanos Rosario, Tono Rosario, Cherito, El Torito, Kinito, Krisspy, Pochy Familia, Milly Quezada, Julian y Oro Duro, Vakero, El Lapiz, Omega, Maridalia Hernandez, Paola Moreno, El Prodigio, Fefita La Grande, Frank Reyes, Michell, Sexaapeal, Wilfrido Vargas, Raulin Rodriguez, Zacarias Ferreira, Joe Veras, Ramon Orlando, Jose Pena Suazo, Diomedes and Mio, Parada Joven, Oro Solido, Los Potros, Darlyn, Kiko el Presidente, Miriam Cruz, Las Caribenas, Las Chicas del Can, Jovanny Polanco, Nikol Pena, Nelson de la Olla.
 
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