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Daily News - Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Salcedo gets new name
Last night the Senate approved a name change for Salcedo province. In the future, if President Fernandez signs the bill into law, the province will be known as Hermanas Mirabal. The name change honors three sisters who were cruelly assassinated in 1960, during the last years of the Trujillo dictatorship. Maria Teresa, Minerva and Patria are considered to be heroines in the fight against Trujillo. The Mirabal family is from Ojo de Agua, a small village in the province. The provincial capital will be the city of Salcedo, and the other major towns are Villa Tapia and Tenares.

Billions for waterworks
The government announced last night that it will invest RD$1.6 billion to rebuild the irrigation, drainage and aqueduct systems damaged or destroyed by the floods caused by Tropical Storm Noel. These major installations are dams, pumps, the largest irrigation canals, and local aqueducts. The directors of the National Institute for Hydraulic Resources (INDRHI), Hector Rodriguez Pimentel together with the head of the National Institute for Water and Sewers (INAPA) Frank Rodriguez and the director of the Santo Domingo Aqueduct (CAASD) Mariano German, talked to reporters at the Presidential Palace. INAPA is to receive RD$350 million. Frank Rodriguez said that even before the government disbursement, INAPA engineers had restored dozens of local water systems. The most serious damage occurred in Ocoa and Peravia provinces where 15 aqueducts were destroyed or seriously damaged. The INDRHI boss told reporters from Listin Diario that 95% of the irrigation canals in the southeast, south and northeast had been damaged, and he confirmed the figure of RD$963 million needed to repair the damage. The head of the Santo Domingo Waterworks said that the government had earmarked RD$300 million for repairs to the system that collapsed on 29 October, and has only been 70% restored.

Farm export overview
The Center for Export and Investments (CEI-RD) is predicting a lull in exports worth about US$18 million for November and December due to farm damage caused by Tropical Storm Noel. Nevertheless, Eddy Martinez, head of CEI-RD, said that the year should end with total exports reaching an annual total of US$2 billion. He said that of a forecast US$36.6 million in exports, the country would only export US$18.48 million. The storm primarily affected banana plantations where exports this year would have totaled US$8.5 million, but are now likely to be US$5.1 million, a 40% decline. Chinese cabbage exports suffered big losses, and exports of US$5 billion of a previously forecast US$8.3 billion are now expected. Avocado exports will now be down 50%. Of a projected US$1.84 million in exports, harvests will now yield exports totaling about US$920,000. Other export crops that were significantly affected were peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, cabbage and sweet potato, which suffered losses of around 70%.
The breakdown of volume of crops affected is as follows: Chinese vegetables (Santiago, La Vega and San Cristobal), 75-80%; plantains (Santiago, La Vega, Barahona, Azua), 70-95%; avocados (Barahona, Azua, San Cristobal) 45-50%; tomatoes, peppers and onions (San Cristobal) 80%; bananas (Valverde) 80%; sweet potato, cassava (La Vega) 70-75%.
Martinez added that efforts are under way to restore the farms and recover the export crops in the short and medium term.

100 kilos of cocaine near Macao
The National Drug Control Department (DNCD) has announced the confiscation of 100 kilos of cocaine in the municipality of Higuey, as reported in El Caribe. Major General Rafael Radhames Ramirez Ferreira said that the drug control agents also confiscated a Toyota Lexus vehicle, a locator beam with battery, and a bag containing several cell phones that had been abandoned by the drug dealers when they fled from the authorities. The DNCD says that the drug consignment had been dropped by air from an unidentified aircraft near the Macao area.

Senasa garners pharmacies
The National Health Insurance group (SENASA), a government-sponsored HMO, has received hundreds of requests from the National Pharmacy Union to become affiliated under the Family Health Insurance Program (SFS). This is an important step forward for the program, since pharmacy owners have been reticent to take part in the program due to the payment schedules offered by the HMOs. The head of SENASA, Dr Altagracia Guzman Marcelino said that her group was receiving affiliation requests from all over the country after a newspaper announcement outlining the requirements was placed in papers last 10 November. The Pharmacy Union has over 3,000 affiliates in the country, and, so far, some 700 have presented their credentials to SENASA.

Gasoline supplies returning to normal
Premium gasoline was again available at local gas stations yesterday as the Dominican National Refinery (Refidomsa) resumed dispatching the fuel to tanker trucks. There were long lines of tankers, and drivers told Diario Libre reporters that they were having to wait for up to three hours. According to the report, things got "congested" close at around midday when the refinery called for a "technical halt" to the dispatch of fuels in order to rest the equipment. Premium gasoline was in very short supply over the weekend and the refinery was only able to service the demand after the arrival of a ship carrying 5.5 million gallons. In the two weeks since Tropical Storm Noel hit the country, the refinery has not been able to process fuels due to damage to several of the pipelines. Repairs to the lines are under way, according to reliable sources at the refinery.

Sun Land sent to AG
The Supreme Court (SCJ) has sent the files on the controversial Sun Land financial transactions to the Attorney General's office. The case was presented to the court by the PRD political party and the Alternative Social Forum who have argued that the deals for US$130 million and US$200 million were in violation of the Constitution, which says that Congress needs to approve government borrowing from abroad. The PRD wants the Sun Land loan for US$130 million to be declared null and void. The agreement was for Sun Land to fund the construction of 11 projects, including several state university campuses in cities around the country. The deal was backed by a series of 19 IOUs signed by Freddy Bautista, the head of the Office of Supervising Engineers for Public Works, with express authorization from President Leonel Fernandez. The government recently released an addendum to the contract authorizing that instead of the 11 contracted works only five would be built for the same amount.

PLD pulls TV spot
After much hue and cry, the PLD party has announced that it is removing the controversial television spot featuring the President and an active military officer, who is also a professional actor. While stating that "no one can be forced to do something that is not covered by the law, nor prohibited from doing something the law does not prohibit," Spokesman for the ruling PLD party, Cesar Pina Toribio, who is also the presidential legal advisor, stated that the PLD would refrain from political propaganda if the other parties also cease their campaigns. Other party spokespersons were not so cordial, and told reporters from El Caribe newspaper that there was no reason to take their messages off the air, since they did not violate the Electoral Law.

A.M. and the JCE and spots
Today's Diario Libre page two editorial is a lesson in law and politics. Editor Adriano Miguel Tejada, himself a lawyer, clearly defines the role of the Central Electoral Board (JCE) according to the law. The JCE is in charge of running the elections, especially the period, more or less ninety days before the elections, until the day after a candidate is officially declared the winner. Electoral Law 275-97 says that the JCE can prohibit political campaigns outside the timeframe. Tejada says that this aspect should not be the aim of the board, even though the public would appreciate a little peace and quiet, because the JCE's essential mission is to referee the electoral game and nothing more. In this role, the board will have to decide on any controversies that arise, but the board is not "a Commissioner" responsible for balancing the different teams.
The editor then points out that the JCE is not a court that establishes constitutional guarantees. Complaints filed charging Constitutional violations have to go to the normal courts. Electoral crimes are limited by the Election Law, and it is a premise of the legal system that there is no crime nor punishment if there is no existing law describing such a violation. The current briar patch in which the JCE is currently entangled only has one exit door: Apply Paragraph 1 of Article 6 of the Election Law that orders that the decisions in the Contentious Chamber be taken after hearing from the political parties. To correct errors is intelligent. The JCE cannot permit the differences of opinion between its members to deepen, as well as the differences between the JCE and the political parties. They should reopen the issue and obtain a consensus from the parties, says Tejada.

Rains cause havoc in the east
Torrential rainfall in the eastern Dominican Republic has forced hundreds of people to flee their homes, cutting off several villages from the rest of the country. According to Listin Diario, in the town of Miches in El Seibo and villages in La Altagracia provinces, more than 60 houses were flooded. The town of El Cedro, near Redondo Lagoon, was isolated by the floodwaters. El Cedro is considered a high-risk area.
Last night, the bishop of the diocese of La Altagracia in Higuey, Nicanor Pena Rodriguez, used radio and television hookups to warn people living in low-lying areas to evacuate at once. The rains came on the heels of the Red Alert issued by the authorities the day before yesterday, but many people were surprised by the intensity of the downpours. Armed Forces units, together with Civil Defense volunteers, helped hundreds of persons to evacuate their homes. Some of the movements were hampered by bridges already damaged by Tropical Storm Noel. As a result of these rains, the Center for Emergency Operations (COE) has been forced to station a full time evacuation team of volunteers from the Red Cross, the Civil Defense, Fire Departments, the Army and the Air Force in the area of the Lower Yuna Basin. In other areas, people living near rivers, large and small, are once again being forced to leave their homes. In Bavaro, Metropolitan Transit Authority (AMET) officers were called in to help moving vehicles when traffic came to a virtual halt due to the heavy rains. According to the COE a total of 668 people were evacuated from areas in Puerto Plata, Duarte, El Seibo and Miches.

Met Office warns of more rains
Meteorology reports for today are forecasting more rains, especially in the northeast, southeast and the Cibao Valley, due to a slow-moving frontal system that is moving eastwards. The COE, in its Bulletin #2 is warning people living near rivers or creeks or other high-risk areas to be very cautious. The warnings are especially focused on the La Altagracia, Hato Mayor, El Seibo and Duarte provinces. The Lower Yuna Basin is considered particularly vulnerable due to the flooding of the Camu River.

Panel calls for educational funding
The vice-president of the American Chamber of Commerce (Amcham), William Malamud, has warned that the results of the World Bank's Index of Competitiveness concerning education in the Dominican Republic "constitute a recipe for economic, moral and social disaster." During a panel discussion on Commercial Exchange between the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and the United States, held yesterday, it was decided that, "the private sector has to become more involved in education and should demand state investment in the necessary human resources to improve human capital in the country." The panel was organized by the economic section of Hoy newspaper and featured, besides Malamud, John Murphy, the vice-president for International Affairs for the US Chamber of Commerce and Armando del Valle Munoz, the director of the Puerto Rico Commercial Office in the Dominican Republic. Malamud reported that the Dominican Republic is listed is 129th place out of 131 countries in primary education rankings; 127th place in quality of Mathematics and Science, and 127th overall with regard to general education. This is what Malamud called a "recipe for disaster." The Amcham executive called education the "only renewable resource that the country possesses." Minister of Industry and Commerce Melanio Paredes told the panel that these negative indicators are being improved and the country is taking steps in the right direction, but admitted that "the results will not be seen in the immediate future."
The Hoy newspaper panel also focused on the negative effects of corruption on the Dominican Republic. Corruption was singled out as affecting competitiveness and one of the main obstacles to development.

Luxury SUVs popular
The number of luxury gas guzzling SUVs on the road is increasing, at a time when the price of fuel is also steadily climbing. Listin Diario points out today that while in year 2000 there were 57,414 "yipetas" (luxury SUVs - from jeep), last year the DGII had records of 144,351 units, for a 151% increase over the six-year period. The total number of automobiles increased by 29.5%, going from 444.154 to 575,386. The figures show a marked preference for purchasing luxury SUVs. In the DR, these vehicles come in handy because of the poor state of many city streets and rural roads, as well as at times of flooding during heavy rainstorms. Another reason for the increase is the change of government. Government departments offer very attractive financing facilities for officials to purchase these vehicles for their use. During the six-year period, two governments have been in office.

Highway accident halts traffic
An accident on the bridge over the central Yuna River in Bonao caused two serious injuries and halted traffic for hours yesterday. As many readers may know, traffic at that spot is required to use just one of the two bridges crossing the river, due to damage suffered during the recent flooding. Yesterday, a small Daihatsu truck rear-ended a larger tanker truck that had stopped for traffic at the bottleneck. The small truck was, in turn, rear-ended by a passenger car. The truck driver and his companion were trapped for hours in the crumpled Daihatsu, until Civil Defense and Fire Department rescue workers could cut them out and get them to the nearest hospital. Traffic was backed up for kilometers as a result.

Baseball games
Licey defeated the Estrellas 4-1 yesterday in Santo Domingo, and places itself half a game behind the leading Aguilas. In La Romana, the Azucareros defeated Professional Winter Baseball leading team, Aguilas, 7-3 at the Francisco Micheli Ball Park. In San Francisco de Macoris, the Gigantes pleased their fans with an exciting 7-6 win over the Escogido. The Aguilas continue in first place, followed by Licey, Gigantes, Azucareros and Estrellas, with Escogido in the last place, four games behind.
 
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