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Daily News - Friday, 12 October 2007

President inaugurates theater
President Leonel Fernandez inaugurated the Narcizo Gonzalez Cultural Center and the Monina Sola Theater in the Villa Juana section of Santo Domingo yesterday. Hoy reports that construction of the culture centers dates back to 1986 when remodeling works at the Villa Juana neighborhood removed community centers to make room for the V Centenario Expressway. The theater has capacity for 319 people. The center will serve the neighborhoods of Villa Consuelo, Villas Agricolas, La Fe, Simon Bolivar, Cristo Rey, Las Canitas, Gualey, Capotillo, La Zurza, Villa Maria, Bameso, Miraflores, La Julia, Villa Francisca, Luperon and Kennedy. As is usual, the inaugural started late because the President arrived at 8:30pm, though the presentation was scheduled to start at 7pm.

Fernandez's appointments criticized
Wednesday's presidential appointments were received with the usual criticism. Members of the opposition claim that the naming of musicians, transport businessmen and opposition party activists violates the Constitution and the Law of Austerity. Opposition party deputies Cristian Paredes, Carlos Martinez and Ramon Rogelio Genao accused the government of using the government payroll to buy votes. The deputies feel that Fernandez disrespects the public when he names transporters that up until recently were voicing their opposition to the current government. The deputies also claim that every 15 days the PLD members in government not only raise their own salaries but create unnecessary posts to give affiliates jobs where they can just collect a check without working. In the DR this is known as a "botella" (bottle). The deputies made the point that the funds could have been put to better use.

Taiwan asks Dominicans for help
Taiwan is asking the DR for advice on new labor reforms that that Asian country is undertaking. Vice President Rafael Alburquerque, himself a leading Dominican labor expert, said that Taiwan is willing to reciprocate in terms of training Dominican technicians in the areas of manufacturing and industry, both in Taiwan and the DR. The Vice President said that as soon as he returns from Taiwan he would speak with President Leonel Fernandez in order to delegate onto the Ministry of Labor making contact with the Taiwan counterpart so that the technical exchange agreement can be signed and implemented. Alburquerque is one of 12 experts that the World Labor Organization counts on. Alburquerque also met with the Taiwanese economic minister with whom he discussed trade issues.

Preparing for bird flu
Though there have been no reported cases of avian influenza in the DR, officials at the Plaza de la Salud are getting a head start on the issue and implementing a contingency plan if the likes ever occur in the country. The program has the support of the United Nations system for prevention, health, patient care, education and promoting healthy living. Niky Fabiancic, United Nations Development Program country representative and Plaza de la Salud head, Dr. Julio Amado Castanos Guzman signed a cooperation memorandum to train hospital staff on how to detect the lethal disease. Cristina Nogueira, Pan-American Health Organization country representative will be responsible for following up on the program. Both Castanos and Fabiancic said that while there has not yet been a case of bird flu in the DR, policies need to be in place considering that the DR is one of the favorite stopovers for migratory birds. The UN will provide equipment and prepare personnel.

The dead are no longer insured
Health and Work Risk Superintendent (SISALRIL) Fernando Caamano said that yesterday 1,370 deceased people were removed from the social security program. He says that the detection of dead people in the registry is normal because it is a massive database with more that 2 million affiliates. He explained that UNIPAGO, the company that processes data for SISALRIL, is constantly updating its records. Caamano explained that a majority of those still included as recipients of health care died within the past month. The announcement by Caamano came days after Jose Ramon Fadul, president of the National Social Security Council, said that the health risk administrators keep dead people on the books in order to collect the per capita charge.

Forgiveness should be mutual
Historian Bernardo Vega said yesterday that forgiveness is a mutual thing and that both Dominicans and Haitians should ask for forgiveness from each other. Vega explained that Haitians should apologize for the 19th century massacres ordered by Jean Jacques Dessalines in Moca and Santiago and that Dominicans should apologize for the 1937 massacre ordered by the dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo. Vega said that both sides should look at the example set by Willy Brandt, who when German prime minister, apologized on behalf of the German people for the genocide of the Jews. The historian and writer said he hoped this would happen while he is alive. Last week, during the 70th anniversary of the 1937 massacre Bishop Diomedes Espinal of Mao-Montecristi, on behalf of the Catholic church and the Dominican people, apologized for the massacre.

The ancestors of Moca
Moca original settlers were multiethnic and not entirely of Spanish descent as originally thought. The finding earlier this week of 18th century death certificates with Dutch, English, Spanish and even African names and skeletons and artifacts at a colonial style cemetery have townspeople looking into where their ancestors came from. Also, it proves the town could be much older than previously thought, as the registry shows persons born in 1722.
Marcio Veloz Maggiolo, director of the Museum of Dominican Man, who is heading the investigations, told Diario Libre that the new migrants would later become the ancestors of small farmers that relocated throughout the rest of the Cibao, as reported in Diario Libre.
Studies on the remains themselves have begun with samples sent to Italian anthropologist Alfredo Coppa at the Sapienza University in Rome, Raphael Panhuysen of the Leiden University in Holland and to the state of Florida for forensic testing. During a press conference, bones, nails, bricks, dental pieces and other items were shown to the public. In all, 37 skeletons have been identified by initial studies but the estimate is that there could be around 100 skeletons in all. Only 6 of the skeletons have been removed for investigations. The remaining skeletons will be left in place, but the burial sites will be maintained.

Trade with Aztecs on the rise
Dominican ambassador to Mexico Pablo Martinez said that economic relations between the DR and Mexico have grown to the point where the DR has become Mexico's main trading partner in the Caribbean. Bilateral trade has now reached US$757.9 million. Mexican investment in the country has also increased to US$3.5 billion, making the DR the second destination for Mexican investment, second only to Brazil.
A mission of executives from Banco Popular, Cap Cana, BHD, Parque Industrial Santiago Norte, Ferreteria Hache, Brugal, Barcelo, Laboratorio Magnachen, Almacenes Caraballo, Alambres Dominicanos, Hainamosa Zona Franca, Lantec, Silverkey, Innovadent, Cinco, Maquinas y Repuestos traveled to Mexico in order to increase relations now that both countries have a free trade agreement with the United States. BHD bank vice president Canoabo Gonzalez said that the DR represents business opportunities for Mexican investors as well as a great geographic location because of the country's proximity to Florida.

Cement becomes an issue
The presidents of the College of Dominican Engineers, Architects and Surveyors College (CODIA) and the Cibao Association of Promoters and Constructors (APROCOVICI) say that the increase in the price of cement is negatively impacting the construction industry in the Cibao region threatening jobs. The presidents said that given the low inflation and stability in the currency exchange market, there is no reason for a bag of cement to be sold at RD$206. In Santiago the construction industry produces RD$200 million per year and currently because of the recent increase in costs many projects have been halted.
Hardware store owners are also asking for help and are asking the government for transparency in the production costs of cement so that some producers don't attempt to "dump" goods, or sell the product below the production costs in order to impede the importing of cement that could halt the present price increase of domestically produced cement. Luis Mejia and Luis de los Santos, ex-president and current president of the Hardware Store Owner Association (ASODEFE) said when they meet on Monday with the minister of Industry and Commerce they will present a plan to halt cement price increases. They estimate that cement prices should be 30 to 40% lower.
As a response to the growing concerns over the increase in prices, Industry and Commerce Minister Melanio Paredes said that his department is meeting with the producers and distributors to determine the real cost of cement production to set new stable prices for buyers. Paredes said that according to government policies increase in prices should be justified in order to protect the consumer.
The cement market moves around RD$23.5 billion a year with a production of 117.5 million bags a year, according to the Listin Diario. Hardware stores say consumers would benefit from imports from China. They say the ton of imported cement would cost US$95 compared to US$150 price tag of locally produced cement.

Nothing new: tourists pay more
The lack of an efficient information system for tourists who visit the DR has created an informal practice of charging tourists 25% more for gifts and artwork they buy in the country. Hoy is reporting that in the DR there are 5,000 stores and 2,500 producers dedicated to making and selling artwork and gifts to tourists. In the Colonial Zone, Santo Domingo's most visited tourist area, 4 tourist guide companies operate employing 12 to 15 people. He explained that stores pay the tourist guides 25% sales commission for items purchased by tourists they bring into the store. This is down from a max of 35% in the past.
The unnamed owner of a gift shop told Hoy that "tourists are managed like sheep, when they see something in a store window and stare at it and might stop to buy it, the tour guide says 'no don't buy that because at that store they sell fake gifts and other bad stuff,' so the guide can take the tourist to another store."
Hoy explains that in other Caribbean nations, with which the DR is competing, tourists are given brochures and magazines showing where they can go for shopping and everybody receives the same 10% commission on sales. The high commission is passed on to the tourists, making the gifts more expensive, and causing long term damage to the sector, complained the store owners.

Buying votes the old fashioned way
Yesterday PRSC presidential candidate Amable Aristy Castro held a march in La Cienaga part of Santo Domingo and handed out RD$500, RD$100, RD$50 and RD$20 bills to those who attended. The candidate also gave away 5,000 frozen chickens to those who attended the rally and baskets with baby goods for pregnant mothers. Diario Libre reports that Aristy avoided being filmed by TV cameras while handing out the money. Diario Libre reports that a child was almost crushed when falling between two vehicles as the mother pushed her way through to reach Aristy for the cash, a cameraman had his video camera stolen, a journalist had his recorder stolen, and the frenzied crowd almost became violent as they clamored to get as much money as they could. Aristy Castro is campaigning on a platform that he is the candidate of the poor.

Crack down on drugs
The National Drug Control Department reports that an army sergeant was arrested when caught in custody of suspected drug dealers on their way to Playa Los Charcos, in Rio San Juan on the northeastern coast, where they would receive a shipment of cocaine. The sergeant was identified as Miguel Segundo Garcia. He was chief of a Nagua military post. DNCD officers had been on his trail and others that foster drug trafficking in the northeastern provinces of Duarte, Maria Trinidad Sanchez and Samana. As reported in Diario Libre, alleged drug dealers that were accompanying the sergeant wore military garb. The DNCD officers found a small portion of cocaine on the officer. The sergeant was part of the 13th Company of the Army.
Diario Libre also reports that last Saturday a drug-manufacturing lab was dismantled in a Villa Consuelo, Santo Domingo apartment, as police sources told EFE wire service. Interestingly, it was located in the same building as a Police station. Four suspect drug traffickers were arrested and the 11 agents appointed to the station. As reported, this was not the first time that the apartment was searched. The first time, four weeks ago, two persons were detained for having 50 portions of crack. The next week, another person was detained. On Saturday, a larger quantity of crack ingredients was confiscated and the 11 police agents were arrested, including two second lieutenants, and several sergeants.
The move comes on the heals of the appointment of a new police chief.

Driving in DN dangerous
Metropolitan Transit Authority (AMET) director Brigade General Latif Miguel Mahfoud Rodriguez explained in today's Hoy why driving in the National District (Santo Domingo) can be dangerous. Mahfoud explained said that during a two-hour surveillance operation on Abraham Lincoln, George Washington (Malecon), Luperon and Los Proceres avenues transit police ticketed 611 drivers for running a red light. Since August, AMET officers have fined 90,000 drivers. 11,500 of these tickets were issued to red light offenders. The director reminded drivers that the fine for running a red light is RD$884.

Good news for Puerto Plata
Puerto Plata gets a nonstop connection to New York again. JetBlue Airways announced effective 10 January 2008 it will be flying into the north coast airport from New York City's JFK International Airport. Fares for the nonstop flight begin at US$109 each way (plus taxes and airport charges). The flight has convenient travel times, with a JFK departure at 10:30am for arrival on 3:20pm to POP. The return flight leaves POP at 4:15pm getting into JFK by 7:05pm.
The decision will benefit the north coast destinations. After AA discontinued their flights to the Gregorio Luperon Puerto Plata International Airport, independent travelers had to make a Miami or San Juan, Puerto Rico stopover or land at the Cibao International Airport, and make the hour-long trip to Puerto Plata.
The decision is also welcomed by the north coast communities, and recognized by New York politicians. "I am so pleased that JetBlue is continuing their commitment to bringing New Yorkers more access to low cost travel options by offering this new service between JFK and the Caribbean," said Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, commenting on the new flight. "This is particularly welcome news for many New Yorkers in our Caribbean community who are looking for affordable air fare options so they can visit family and friends back home."
"Congratulations to JetBlue on this expansion to the Caribbean," said Chairman Charles Rangel (NY-15th). "My Congressional District has the largest population of Dominicans outside of the Dominican Republic. JetBlue's expansion of service to not only Santo Domingo and Santiago, but to Puerto Plata as well, will make it much more convenient for my constituents to visit the island and their relatives."
Tourism Minister Felix Jimenez also celebrated the new flight. "We offer JetBlue and all its customers the warmest welcome to Puerto Plata," said Mr. Felix Jimenez, minister of tourism of the Dominican Republic. "The Dominican north coast offers innumerable tourist attractions, world class golf, extreme sports, adventure tourism and a tremendous diversity of accommodations and gastronomy. Don't miss the opportunity to discover the most complete vacation destination in the Caribbean, which all can enjoy with serenity, safety and fun."
 
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