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Daily News - Thursday, 18 October 2007

51% happy with SFS
Vice President Rafael Alburquerque says that a Gallup poll commissioned by the government found that 51.7% of users of the new government health plan, the SFS, are 'satisfied' or 'very satisfied' with the service so far. Of those polled, 21.6% said they felt things were much the same with the new health plan. According to the poll, when the plan came into effect on 1 September about 79.3% of private sector workers were covered by the SFS plan and 45 days later the figure has risen to about 89%. As for government employees, according to the poll when the SFS came into effect 79.7% of workers had insurance and today 92.5% are insured. The poll questioned 2,000 people nationwide, according to Hoy. Alburquerque stressed the credibility of the results, saying that the poll had been conducted by an independent company. He added that weekly meetings are being held to thrash out the remaining issues with the health plan until it is 100% efficient. Areas still pending include complaints by the National Pharmacies Union and a decision on penalties for those who violate the SFS rules and regulations. Alburquerque feels that the health plan's greater obstacles have been overcome.

Montas on energy and more
Economic, Planning and Development Minister Temistocles Montas is quoted in Hoy as saying that the subsidy for the energy sector will come to US$600 million for this year, despite having been budgeted at US$400 million. Montas was speaking during the American Chamber of Commerce monthly luncheon. Montas claims that part of the problem with the sector is that the energy distributors aren't charging users for part of the energy they supply. Montas commented that Dominicans are now used to the variations of gasoline prices as a result of international market price fluctuations.
The minister added that the country needed to do a better job in reducing the income distribution gap and strengthening Dominican institutions. Currently the distribution of income in the DR is at 27% compared to 42% in Brazil, 29% in the US and 44% in Colombia, among others, he said. Quoting a World Bank report, he said that although the DR is above the average for Latin American countries in term of institutionalism, it is behind the standards set by developed nations.
In addition, Montas said that if the Dominican population grew by 1.5% per year in the next three years, with an average GDP growth of 3%, it would take the country 100 years to achieve a per capita income of US$17,000 for Dominicans. But with a 5.1% economic growth over the next couple of years, which has been the trend in the Dominican economy since 1955, a US$17,000 per capita income would be reached in 40 years and with a continuous 7% GDP growth, the US$17,000 mark could be reached in 25 years.

DR will grow by 8%
An IMF report says that the DR will grow by 8% this year, two percentage points more than was estimated in April this year, according to a EFE press agency release published in Diario Libre. The IMF foresees a 4.5% growth for 2008, due to climbing petroleum prices. The DR has experienced consistent economic growth in recent years. Growth was 10.7% in 2006.
The IMF released the findings as part of its World Economic Outlook (WEO) released on 17 October. The report found that world growth in general would slow in 2008, but is still expected to remain solid at 4.75%. It points out that the US economy is expected to remain weak next year, with growth of just 1.9%. The average growth for Latin America in 2006 was 5.5%, expected to slow to 5% in 2007 and 4.3% in 2008 "to reflect in part spillovers from the slowdown of activity in the US on Mexico and Central America, mainly through trade linkages as well as somewhat slower growth of remittances from migrant workers, and the end of a hotel construction boom in the Caribbean."

DR/US trade deficit increases
The trade deficit between the DR and the United States has grown to US$1.1 billion in the first eight months of the year, according to economist Luis Vargas, as reported in Hoy. During the same period in 2006 the US goods trade surplus was already at a record high of US$819 million. In 2005 the deficit stood at US$115 million. The DR had its last trade surplus with the US in 2004, when it was US$94 million. Economist Luis Vargas says that it is important to note that the increase in the trade deficit is a result of DR-CAFTA. Vargas says that the country is being affected by substitution of productive investments, job reductions, and substitution of local products for imported products. Vargas added that the trade deficit could lead to higher levels of debt in the form of inorganic emissions of certificates and notes from the Central Bank.

Mexicans stuck at airport
Hoy is reporting on the plight of 100 Mexican workers stuck in the DR for the last 10 days. The newspaper explains that they were on their way to the Turks & Caicos when they were denied entrance into the country, and were subsequently returned to the DR. They have not been able to return to Mexico and have been sleeping on their luggage and on the floor at Las Americas International Airport (AILA). Hoy reports that the workers haven't received any help from the Mexican Embassy and that they don't have enough money to buy food or drinks. Eduardo Camarena Lopez, spokesperson for the group, said that Copa and Taca Airlines required an additional payment of US$125 per worker to return them to Mexico. Camarena says that the group paid US$7,600 to Caribair to travel to Caicos, money they can't get back. Airline officials say that the workers need the US$125 each in order to rebook a flight to Mexico because there was a change of dates.

Father Quinn received like a hero
The remains of the late Father Luis Quinn were given a hero's welcome in San Jose de Ocoa yesterday. Father Quinn, who passed away earlier this week in Miami, had worked for 42 years in the community where he distinguished himself for his leadership in developing the southwestern mountain region. Thousands of mourners packed the streets to welcome Father Quinn. The government, in honor of Quinn, has declared today as an official day of mourning. Father Quinn's body arrived in Ocoa at around 5pm and from there he was then taken to the San Jose Parish where thousands assembled to give their last farewell. The actual funeral will be held at 10am on Friday. President Leonel Fernandez is expected to attend.

Politics equal cash
Drivers waited in long lines yesterday in order to receive posters for display on their vehicles. The posters promote the President Leonel Fernandez's re-election, but the twist is that these drivers are being paid RD$1,000 in return for driving around the city with the posters and have been promised the same pay in the following months if the drivers show up with the poster still in place. Diario Libre reports that drivers of sports cars, SUVs, public taxis and others who were given the posters to display on their vehicles, were paid the sum of RD$1,000.

Cash exporters held
Juan Carlos Genao Dorrejo has been sentenced to three months preventive custody at La Victoria prison, after being caught as he tried to leave the country with US$250,000 in cash. It is illegal to travel through airports with more than US$10,000 of undeclared money. In related news, Diario Libre is reporting that Dominican William Perez, who tried to board the PR/DR ferry in Mayaguez, was apprehended by the authorities with US$543,000 in cash. Perez could be sent to jail for up to five years.

DNCD helps drug bust
The National Drug Control Department (DNCD) cooperated in Tuesday's drug bust that uncovered a drug ring that operated out of Santo Domingo's Las Americas International Airport and JFK airport in New York City. Reports indicate that baggage handlers at AILA would pack the drugs into the baggage of travelers headed to NY. Once the drugs arrived, handlers at JFK would move the drug luggage to separate areas and remove the drugs before customs officials searched it. Henry Polanco has been named as the leader of the drug ring and a total of 18 people have been arrested in connection with the operation. Investigations in the DR and NY are still ongoing. As part of a two-year investigation, officials seized 46 kilos of cocaine, 25 kilos of heroin and 3 kilos of ecstasy. Authorities at AILA indicate that the DNCD had asked American Airlines and Delta Airlines for security tapes of the last nine months with the intent of handing the tapes over to authorities in NY.

Merengue singer goes free
Merengue singer Domingo Antonio Concepcion Ramirez (aka Dimanchy) has been released by the authorities after his arrest on drug charges. Listin Diario reports that Dimanchy and several other men were arrested in a house with 12 packets of heroin, a 12 caliber rifle with 12 shells, a 9 millimeter rifle and military camouflage clothing, as well as bullet-proof clothing, radios and passports. Dimanchy was released on bail, issued with an exit impediment and instructed to appear periodically before a judge. Listin reports that this isn't Dimanchy's first drug related run-in with the law. Almost 10 years ago he escaped arrest in a drug case because he fled the DR.

Regulating motor-taxis
Yesterday the National Motor-Taxi Office (ONAM) was opened and will regulate more than one million motorcycle taxis that operate in the country. The new office is under the umbrella of the Technical Land Transport Office (OTTT) and the plan is to give motorcycle taxi drivers a special license. Representative of the motor-taxi drivers have asked to be included within the SFS health care plan.

450 cases of breast cancer
Breast cancer specialist Ruth Rivera is calling for increased breast cancer prevention efforts given the high cost of treating the disease. She told El Caribe newspaper that approximately 450 cases are detected each year in the DR, most at the advanced stages, which makes the disease untreatable or too costly for most people who are affected. Dr. Rivera said breast cancer has become a major health problem and that the risk of developing the disease increases when there is a family history of breast cancer, late menopause, childlessness, first pregnancy after 30 or lifestyle factors such as alcoholism, smoking or obesity. Rivera was speaking at a conference held at the School of Diplomacy auditorium of the Ministry of Foreign Relations as part of preparations for the celebration of International Breast Cancer Day tomorrow.
Dr. Andres Lugo Vizcaino warned that while breast cancer primarily affects women, there have been cases of breast cancer in men and that men should also take the same preventive measures.

Play ball!
Last night saw the first game in the Dominican winter baseball league and the perennial favorites Tigres del Licey lost to eternal underdogs Leones del Escogido, 7-2. The Aguilas Cibaenas beat the Gigantes 3-2 and the Azucarerors beat the Estrellas 6-5.
In other baseball news, tonight sees the fifth game of the AL Championship Series, and the once heavily favored Boston Red Sox are on the verge of elimination. The Sox lost on Tuesday night, 7-3, and are down in the series 3-1. Adding to Red Sox Nation's concerns are comments by Red Sox slugger Manny Ramirez who said that if the Red Sox don't win "it's not the end of the world, there is always next year."
On a sad note, the nation lost one of its baseball broadcasting legends, Billy Berroa, who died last night after several months of illness.
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