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Daily News - Monday, 01 October 2007

Strike is on, maybe
According to all of today's newspapers, the 24-hour general strike called for tomorrow by the Alternative Social Forum is on, unless the government adopts some of the measures demanded by the Forum. Yesterday, several business organizations and Bishop Jesus Maria de Jesus Moya from San Francisco de Macoris joined in a rejection of the protest. Strike promoters protested against the arrests of Forum members in Moca, Villa Altagracia and Navarrete, and promised that the strike would be a peaceful protest. Transport union leader Juan Hubieres, the president of Fenatrano, has said that his organization, while not one of the strike organizers, would, as members of the Forum, support the decision to strike. Another transport union, COSATRAN, said that their 50,000 members would also suport the strike leaders.
The strike primarily affects the availability of public transport, and thus makes difficult for workers to get to and from work. The strike is not felt in the major tourism sectors, where transport operates as usual.
Several civic and business organizations staged a successful walk against corruption on Saturday. Supporters walked from Plaza de Espana through Calle El Conde to Independence Park. Dominicanos por la Integridad, Red Dominicana Anticorrupcion, Participacion Ciudadana, Fundacion Institucionalidad y Justicia (FINJUS), Consejo de Organizaciones de la Region Oriental (CORO), Asociacion Nacional de Jovenes Empresarios (ANJE), Coalicion por la Transparencia y la Institucionalidad (CTI), Centro Juan XXIII participated in this activity. None of these organizations, though, supports the nationwide strike called for Tuesday.

What is behind the strike?
The Alternative Social Forum's demands are certainly nothing new. According to one reporter, they are "aged claims that have rusted away in the agendas of public officials." Salary issues, including a call for a 30% wage increase; a government decreed reduction in the costs of medicines and foodstuffs; a one-year halt to government evictions from public lands; and some modifications in the Hydrocarbon Law are just a few of the Forum's demands. The 20-odd organizations that compose the Forum are staunch in their demands, insisting that the government has done little or nothing after the 9 July work stoppage. The sole exception is made up of the legislative activities surrounding the modification of the Hydrocarbon Law. Just last week Melanio Paredes, the Minister of Industry and Commerce, announced that he would recommend some changes to the President. The way the law is structured, the government profits directly from each gallon sold.

Armed Forces and Police are ready
Both the Armed Forces and the National Police have issued press releases that state their level of preparedness for tomorrow's strike. The Minister of the Armed Forces, Ramon Aquino Garcia, warned that in case of any disturbances, anyone who violates public order would feel the weight of the Armed Forces. The general also guaranteed military protection for any buses that choose to run that day. Readers will remember that a private bus was attacked and some of the riders were burned during the July strike. Today will see all military personnel in their barracks until things settle down.

Government fuel plan not working
With oil prices reaching unimaginable levels, the Dominican government is obliged to rethink its fuel saving plans. Former plans have not done a lot to reduce fuel consumption in the Dominican Republic. These plans, announced in 2005, called for a ban on official vehicle use on weekends and holidays, alternate working days for public transportation, the elimination of speed bumps except in front of schools and military bases, and restricted hours for sale of gasoline and other fuels. The proposals also included special lanes for buses and public cars, and generators to keep the traffic lights working during blackouts. Another promise was to change the engines of the government's buses (OMSA) from gasoline to diesel, promote these changes in other government dependencies and establish fixed bus stops along streets and avenues. There were more ideas in the decree, but most of it was lost over time. According to Listin Diario, the reduction of the number of vehicles circulating in Santo Domingo, the elimination of the speed bumps, the use of Easy-Pass cards for tollbooths, and the dedicated lanes were never applied in full. Others, such as limited sales hours and alternate working days were tried and eliminated over time. The Dominican Republic consumes between 52 and 55 million barrels of petroleum products per year. The current cost of about US$2.5 billion is expected to increase by US$400 million this year.

Sun Land case
Many readers might not be blamed for failing to understand the commotion surrounding the heated debate about what is being called the Sun Land Case. Everything stems from a case of government-issued notes that total US$130 million. According to lawyer Adriano Miguel Tejada in his A.M. column in Diario Libre, if the government has not violated anything in the Sun Land contract and allows itself to get all wound up with the opposition party, that's their problem. The editor then goes on to say, "now, a lot of people feel that the lack of a clear defense about the details of this contract is an attempt to hide something, and this is bad for the government." Tejada says that it would be so easy for the government to show the document or the documents that state that Sun Land and the debt holders are notified that the government has stepped away from the operation. If the government cannot prove this so-important point, they are going to be on a very poor footing. As a lawyer, Tejada says that the legal opinions presented by the government up until now do not address the main issue: whether or not the money has been disbursed. Tejada admits that the operation could be legal, within the parameters of the necessary authorizations, but it could also be illegal in terms of where the money was to go. No matter where the money went or how it was used, this must be explained to the complete satisfaction of public opinion. A lot of people think that this situation is a lot like the case of the artificial island, where it was left in a sort of limbo, but leaving a bad taste in everyone's mouth. Tejada says that in this case, nonetheless, things are different. We are now on the campaign trail, and the opposition, especially the PRD, is not going to blink until they prove their point. Now the ball is in the government's court.

Many pharmacies cannot fill RXs
A month into the new Family Health Insurance plan (SFS), many pharmacies located in the more densely populated areas of Santo Domingo still can't fill the prescriptions issued by the HMOs under the Single Prescription (Receta Unica) issued by the SFS. However, pharmacies located in the more prosperous areas of Santo Domingo are able to fill the RXs with little problem. Hoy reporter Amarilis Castro went around the city trying to get service under the new guidelines and found that only one in six pharmacies in the poorer areas were able to fill prescriptions under the new rules. According to the managers or owners of the non-cooperating pharmacies, they are trying to register with the HMOs in order to get certified and able to fill the prescriptions under the new rules. There were some complaints that the HMOs only registered pharmacies belonging to big chains, and were leaving the little guys out. However, the reporter indicated that it might be the process that is preventing more pharmacies from entering the plan. First there is a process handled by Public Health; then documentation is needed by the HMOs and then all of this is put together to determine whether the pharmacy qualifies for affiliation.

Anti-theft program for cell phones
The Dominican Telecommunications Institute (INDOTEL) has announced that it received over 2,000 complaints of stolen cell phones in August 2007 and more than 30,000 for the year. However, as Indotel launches "Phase II" of its anti-theft program, Phase I's effects are already in evidence. According to INDOTEL head Jose Rafael Vargas, cell phone theft is down by 75% and Phase II is designed to eliminate the remaining 25%. Phase II is called "Series Denied". In order to launch the new phase, Vargas met with the chief of police, the Attorney General and the chief of the National Drugs Control Department (DNCD) as well as the National Department of Investigations (DNI) commanding officer. According to Vargas, there was a serious lack of information about pre-paid cellphone calls. Vargas added that there was also a diminished capacity for quick action, and this has been eliminated through programs that will block the activation of stolen phones.

Cesfront seems to be working
The Specialized Frontier Security Corps (Cesfront) appears to have taken effective control of the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. According to the commanding general, Adriano Silverio Rodriguez, "not even a reminder" has passed through the border. During the first days and nights of their new job, the Cesfront troops have picked up weapons and contraband goods as well as illegal immigrants trying to enter the DR under the cover of darkness. General Silverio did not tell reporters that there was a total cessation of illegal activities along the border, but he emphasized that new patrols were in place to greatly reduce the flow of illegal goods. As perhaps an additional proof that things were changing, the "El Espia" (The Spy) column in Diario Libre carried a note telling of an incident in Jimani whereby a Cesfront lieutenant stopped a group of civilians crossing the border assisted by a Dominican army major. Although the major attempted to pull rank, the lieutenant stood firm and the major had to back down. Some observers of the scene described it as "a good start."

Jail for bus killer
The prosecutor's office has requested remand custody for the former military lieutenant who shot and killed a young college student in a fit of rage. The preventative custody was ordered by magistrate Keila Perez Santana. The former officer, Rafael Garcia Sosa, is accused of killing young Engelis Gonzalez Castillo when a bus driver did not stop where he demanded. Attorney General Radhames Jimenez has requested that the prosecutors ask for a 30-year jail sentence for the accused murderer.

Four perish in arson attack
Three children and their great-great grandmother have perished in a fire that was allegedly caused by arsonists trying to intimidate the children's father. The tragedy occurred in the Katanga area of La Romana, and the children's father, community leader Armando Ortiz, told El Caribe reporters that the firebomb was the work of "anti-social elements" in the neighborhood that were seeking to intimidate him for his stance on crime in the area. Ortiz said that he had denounced the sale of drugs, the high incidence of robberies and other crimes, and this was probably the cause of the attack. Ortiz, his wife and two other children lived on the first floor of the two-story structure. The fire destroyed the wooden second story and resulted in the deaths of the occupants.

Church goes on the offensive
The Dominican Catholic hierarchy will form a human fence around the National Congress as a method of pressuring legislators not to decriminalize abortion. Dominican Cardinal Lopez Rodriguez and the bishops of the Santo Domingo archdioceses will offer a short Eucharistic ceremony as part of the activities that will begin on Wednesday at the Casa San Pedro on Romulo Betancourt Avenue. All Christian churches are invited to participate. Both the PRD and PRSC parties have expressed their opposition to the legislation aimed at decriminalizing certain forms of abortion in the Dominican Republic.

EU prosperity sends more home
The current prosperity in the European Union is resulting in increased remittances for the Dominican Republic. According to Diomedes Olivares, the president of the International Federation of Antilles Bar Associations, this year, EUR600 million entered the DR during the first six months and a total of EUR1.5 billion is expected to be sent home for the year. This is the equivalent of RD$60 billion. These funds come from the 250,000 Dominicans who live in Europe, 175,000 of whom live in Spain.
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