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Daily News - Monday, 17 September 2007

Fernandez in the States
President Leonel Fernandez begins a two-week tour of the US that will take him to Miami, Washington, D.C., Boston and New York City. First on the President's agenda is a talk on trade and US-Dominican relations at the University of Miami in Coral Gables this Monday, 17 September. The event, organized by the University's Center for Hemispheric Policy, begins at 4:30pm at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, 50 Alhambra Plaza. The fee is US$30 for the general public and free for UM academics and students with valid ID. To attend, contact Isabel.[email protected] or call 305 284-9918 for more information.
The President's trip also coincides with 15th Annual Dominican Week, organized by the Russin, Vecchi & Heredia Bonetti law firm. President Fernandez is on the program of events for that activity, which seeks to strengthen relations between the US and the DR.
The President's agenda continues with a Tuesday, 18 September 8:30am to 9:45am address on competitiveness and free trade at the US Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C. The event is part of a series of activities for the American Chambers of Commerce in Latin America (AACCLA)'s Annual Meeting/Businessmen and Policy makers from the Western Hemisphere.
See www.aaccla.org/events/detail.asp?EventID=135
On Wednesday, 19 September, the President will be a speaker in the Washington, D.C. "Report Card on Education in Central America and the Dominican Republic" breakfast discussion organized by Inter-American Dialogue. The event will take place from 9:30am to 11am, at the Rayburn House Office Building B-318. This is part of a Partnership for Educational Revitalization in the Americas program in coordination with the Global Foundation for Democracy Development (GFDD). The event is by invitation only.
Later on the 19th, the President will be in New York City to attend the 2007 World Leadership Awards fundraising gala that will showcase world leaders who are being singled out for their contributions to improving lives in their regions at Guastavino's in New York City. President Fernandez is being honored by Counterpart International, in association with its Caribbean Media Exchange on Sustainable Tourism (CMEx), for "championing the cause of the needy and underprivileged."
On Thursday, 20 September, in New York City, President Fernandez is scheduled to participate in the opening of the Ministry of Industry & Commerce office in New York and meet with Dominicans studying on government-sponsored university scholarships in New York City.
On Thursday, 20 September, in New York City, President Fernandez will speak to an audience of investors and financial sector representatives on business and investment opportunities in the DR at the New York Yacht Club, 37 West 44th St (7:30-9:30pm), as part of Dominican Week activities.
Also on his agenda is a meeting on Friday, 21 September at Hunts Point Economic Development Corporation.
On Saturday 22 September, he will take part in an event highlighting the availability of bonds for housing in the DR for hundreds of New York-based Dominican families.
On Sunday, 23 September he is due to pitch the first ball at the New York Yankees vs. Blue Jays Toronto game at the Yankee Stadium.
He then travels to Boston on Sunday, where on the next day, 24 September he will be speaking at Harvard University.
On Tuesday, 25 September, he will be attending a breakfast meeting hosted by the United Nations Secretary General and meeting with visiting statesmen in NY for the UN 62nd General Assembly.
On Wednesday, 26 September, he will be a guest speaker at the University of Columbia.
On Thursday, 27 September he will speak at the 62nd UN General Assembly.
He is also scheduled to attend a workshop organized by the Clinton Foundation.
Traveling with the President are First Lady Margarita Cedeno and Foreign Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso, Administrative Minister Luis Manuel Bonetti; Economy Minister Temistocles Montas, press secretary Rafael Nunez, and CEI-RD director Eddy Martinez, among others.

More troops to the border
The government is sending 500 more troops to the Dominican frontier with Haiti in an effort to stem the illegal trading in foodstuffs, firearms and drugs, as well as human trafficking. The troops will be posted to four border provinces -Pedernales, Independencia, Elias Pina and Dajabon. The Armed Forces Ministry will be establishing the Specialized Frontier Corps (CEFRON) this week. Lieutenant General Aquino Garcia said that his troops will be on the watch for any illegal activities along the border, and the move is seen as a response to President Fernandez's call to end cross-border smuggling.

Central Bank places CDs
The Dominican Republic Central Bank has been able to place 61.1% of the RD$5.0 billion offering of Certificates of Deposit. This was the first time that the CDs were offered to pension funds, but the bank did not say just how much was spent on the certificates. The CDs paid interesting returns as witnessed by the 13.5% APR average for the RD$3.208 billion that were placed. Three-year CDs held a 12% APR; five-year notes were at 14.3% APR and seven-year notes were at 15.9% APR. This was the first time that the Central Bank had placed such long-term certificates on the market, and observers told Diario Libre that this was a vote of confidence for the country's economic stability.

Fewer Dominicans returning
According to a report from the Central Bank, 30% fewer Dominicans returned to their native land for vacations or family visits. The information is contained in the latest version of the Report on Tourist Flows published by the Central Bank. For the eight-month period from January to August 2007, 25,000 fewer Dominicans returned home. The reduction was blamed on fare increases that include as much as 35% in taxes and airport charges, according to the Dominican Association of Travel Agents (ADAVIT). For example, a ticket to Miami costs about RD$11,000, of which RD$5,000 goes on taxes and other charges. The flow of non-Dominican tourists also decreased by 44,000 over the same period according to ADAVIT president Jochi Mella. Mella described the situation as "worrisome."

Ritz Carlton Cap Cana
Marriott International chairman and CEO Bill Marriott and Ricardo Hazoury of Cap Cana have announced plans to build a Ritz Carlton Cap Cana and adjacent Residences at The Ritz Carlton, Cap Cana on the east coast beach destination. The billion-dollar investment in the 220-room luxury hotel will feature a 1,490 square meter spa and private beach club, as well as five restaurants. The Residences will consist of 194 private beach and golf residences scheduled for opening in 2010. The announcement follows on the heels of the Trump at Cap Cana development, announced earlier this year.
"The Ritz Carlton, Cap Cana is a new paradigm in the Dominican tourism industry," stated Ricardo Hazoury, president of the board of directors of Cap Cana, upon making the announcement.
2007 has become the year when luxury non-all inclusive hotels have begun to take root in the DR. Work is well under way on the Starwood/Westin Roco Ki (Macao, on the east coast) and the Four Seasons at Casa de Campo (La Romana, on the south east coast).
In the Caribbean region, Ritz Carlton operates hotels in Cancun, Cayman, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, St. Lucia, Turks & Caicos and the US Virgin Islands, as well as in the Bahamas.

Car imports up 30%
New car imports are expected to reach 27,000 units and used car imports are likely to reach the same level, according to recent estimates by the National Association of Vehicle Distributors (ANADIVE). This information from Anadive shows that between January and August 2007, association members reported vehicle imports and sales of 9,046 units, compared to the 9,346 units sold during the whole of 2006. July and August were the busiest months for importers that are members of the association. A series of auto sales fairs were said to be partly responsible for the increase in sales. Association spokespersons told Hoy newspaper that December is traditionally the busiest sales month when people use their Christmas bonus to replace their vehicles.

Fuel prices force changes
The ever-increasing price of fuel has forced Dominicans and foreign residents alike to make changes in their daily lives. In most cases, movement has been reduced to the absolutely essential, reducing the normal frequency of family visits and nights on the town. And these might be just two of the more obvious changes. Salesmen have seen their travel costs double over the last three years. Trips to the supermarket are fewer and closer to home. So far in 2007, gasoline has climbed by 25%. Even students are reporting that fewer people are willing to give them lifts, and many people switch off the air conditioning when waiting in traffic jams. Drivers told El Caribe that switching from gasoline to diesel was just the first step, and many are looking towards natural gas as a possible solution. And, finally, many people are learning to car-pool as a way of saving fuel.

Bread sales down by 30%
The scare over the possible use of potassium bromate in flour used for making bread has led to a 30% decrease in bread sales, according to an article in El Caribe. Bakery owners in Santo Domingo told the newspaper that the decrease in sales reflected the public's lack of confidence. The newspaper also reports on a study by pharmacy students at the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo (UASD) that showed the harmful effects of potassium bromate in foodstuffs.

Sugar harvest down
A couple of decades ago the news that the sugar harvest was down by 20,000 tons would have sent the Dominican economy into a tailspin. Today the news merits headlines in the economic section of just one daily newspaper, the Listin Diario. The news, however, is not good. According to the president of the Dominican Association of Sugar Sharecroppers (FEDOCA), the current harvest is 20,000 tons short of what had been projected. According to the National Sugar Institute (INAZUCAR), the harvest ended with 493,000 tons of sugar, divided between brown sugar and refined sugar. As is now the norm, the Central Romana Corporation produced 70% of the harvest, the Vicini Group produced 15% and the Barahona sugar mill produced 9%. The Porvenir and Consuelo mills also contributed to the harvest. The Dominican Republic consumes 200,000 tons of brown sugar and 150,000 tons of refined sugar each year.

Plan Sierra makes forest grow
About 28 years ago, then President Antonio Guzman and some of his advisors came up with an idea to reforest the Dominican Republic. The result was the launch of Plan Sierra, located in the Central Mountain Range, around the town of San Jose de las Matas. At the time the mountains were suffering from serious attacks by "slash and burn" farming methods, and on any given day palls of smoke could be seen all over the valley. Now, according to Arturo Grullon and Simeon Abreu, things are different. Twenty-eight years ago the forest cover of the mountains was estimated at just 22%, and now, thanks in very large part to Plan Sierra, the forest cover is at 41%. Forest fires are also pretty much a thing of the past, according to Grullon, the president of the board of directors. The Plan has changed the way people think, and now farmers manage the forests wisely, guided by business principles. The Celestina Project, the San Ramon Association and the Dominican Forest Co-op are just three of the Plan's main initiatives. As an NGO, Plan Sierra has withstood attempts by politicians to infiltrate and corrupt its goals, according to Simeon Abreu, the executive director. The aims for the next ten years are to reforest another 150,000 'tareas' (about 9,500 hectares), continue training for woodworkers, and reduce poverty levels in the region.

Ripples from Canadian drug bust
On Saturday, one of the newspaper headlines reported that the drug bust in the Canadian town of Durham, Ontario had cost the Dominican National Drug Control Department (DNCD) intelligence chief his job. The newspaper reported that recently re-instated General Cesar Castaing had replaced General Gerardo de los Santos Mora in the post. The reason, according to the reports, was the discovery of a Dominican link in the drug supply chain, which supposedly passed through Dominican airports on way to Pearson International Airport in Ontario, Canada every week. In today's Diario Libre the report says that Castaing's posting had caused some "jealousy within the DNCD" and the general was posted to the command of DNCD Internal Affairs, while Rear Admiral Victor Rodriguez was placed in the drug unit's intelligence office. Major General Ramirez Ferretera had reported that five officers at the Puerto Plata International Airport were expelled for the service following the announcement in Canada of the largest Pearson International drug bus ever. There is a connection to Pearson International Airport with stops at both the Punta Cana and Puerto Plata international airports.

Esso robber caught at AILA
One of the suspected robbers of the Esso station on Winston Churchill and Sarasota avenues last Tuesday was apprehended as he attempted to leave the country from Las Americas International Airport (AILA), as reported in Diario Libre. The police reported that Narciso Gonzalez Mateo was captured as he tried to board COPA flight 447 to Panama City. Gonzalez Mateo, one of the accused in the robbery, was accompanied by Air Force private Wenceslao Laureado Adom, a member of the CESA airport security corps, who had been paid RD$13,370 to ensure that Gonzalez Mateo got on the flight. Gonzalez Mateo was found in possession of RD$26,500 and a cell phone when he was arrested. Also under investigation in relation to the incident is Private Roberto Leocadio Munoz Puello.

Supreme Court jails judge
The Supreme Court of Justice (SCJ) has issued a guilty verdict in the case of a judge who was accused of accepting a bribe. The judges ordered the accused be stripped of his post and to serve three years in prison. Magistrate Cesar Generoso Martinez was caught in the act of accepting a US$2,500 bribe in marked bills in return for interceding in a case being heard in one of the courts under his control. The court listened to two tapes of conversations between the woman involved in the case and the former magistrate. In this case, due to the high rank of the accused judge, the SCJ acted as the Court of First Instance as well as the deciding court. Supreme Court judges Hugo Alvarez Castellanos, Victor Jose Castellanos and Julio Ibarra Rios were the judges who handed down the verdict.

Fake travel agents get 20 years
Last year readers witnessed the spectacle of hundreds of people stranded at Las American International Airport (AILA) with fake passports and documents, and no tickets. Yesterday, the Santo Domingo prosecutor ordered sentences ranging from two to twenty years for the organizers, recruiters and accomplices in the scam. Judge Victor Mejia handed down a 20-year sentence and a RD$200,000 fine to Santos Valdez, the brains behind the false trip to Spain. Farconelis Rivera, one of the principal recruiters, received a four-year sentence and a fine equal to 20 minimum salaries. Other participants in the false travel agency received lesser sentences and fines.

Shake off indifference
The country's largest private university, Pontificia Universidad Catolica Madre y Maestra (PUCMM) graduated nearly 900 students last week. A communications major, Virginia Antares Rodriguez Grullon, gave a memorable valedictorian address. While the students and crowd paid dutiful attention to the preceding enlightening speeches by rector Monsignor Agripino Nunez and keynote address by long-time PUCMM graduate Eddy Martinez, director of the Center for Export and Investment of the Dominican Republic (CEI-RD), the young journalist's words mesmerized the audience, which suddenly went silent and expressed its support with several rounds of applause.
In her talk, she urged her fellow classmates to shake off the rampant elitism and consumerism that has taken hold of a privileged minority of Dominican society and to become agents for change. "Indifference to conditions in which others live, sooner or later, will turn against us," she warned her graduating classmates. See the English translation and Spanish original text of the inspiring graduation speech at: http://dr1.com/news/2007/091707_valedictorian2007.shtml
 
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