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Daily News - Friday, 16 November 2007

President outlines energy saving plan
In a televised address to the nation last night, President Leonel Fernandez presented his long-awaited energy saving measures. Fernandez explained that the constant fuel price rises over the last three years are caused by increases in international oil prices. Fernandez said that this situation had arisen due to a lack of vision for the future since the large oil-producing nations failed to build new refineries and increase reserves during the 1990s, when oil prices were low and stable. Fernandez also explained that the instability in Iraq, which holds 10% of the world's oil reserves, the US's ongoing problems with Iran and a devaluation of the US dollar have all played their part in the current energy situation. According to Fernandez, the DR's fuel bill for 2007 will be US$3.2 billion and admitted that the only way the DR has been able to cope with the situation is the lower-priced fuel purchased under the PetroCaribe agreement with Venezuela.
Fernandez said that the government would buy the remaining shares in the Dominican Petroleum Refinery (REFIDOMSA), making the institution completely government owned. Fernandez said that by buying shares in the Shell Company the country would have access to 50,000 barrels of crude oil per day under the PetroCaribe agreement, compared to the current 35,000.
Fernandez went on to announce that official vehicles would no longer be used on weekends and holidays, except in case of emergencies and with prior permission. Some might remember that this measure was included in Fernandez's Austerity Plan earlier this year, but as many will have noted, wasn't followed.
A program will also be implemented to push for the rational use of energy and the promotion of efficient energy use both in the public and private sector. With this aim in mind, the President announced the creation of an Institutional Committee on the Rational Use of Energy for promoting energy-saving practices, mainly lighting and air conditioning use in public buildings. The private sector, according to Fernandez, will provide free advice on the issue. Also, tax breaks will be given for the purchase of low-energy equipment for domestic and business use.
Other energy saving ideas outlined by Fernandez included the installation of 750 new LED stoplights, stop watches, batteries and cameras in Santiago and Santo Domingo in 2008, in order speed up transit and save an estimated 28,575 barrels of petroleum per year, or 60 million gallons of car fuel. The plan will include a road and street repair plan, to reduce the time a vehicle spends on the streets. A program to restructure urban transport routes will be put in place with the construction of urban bus terminals, which will impede buses from directly entering city centers.
The Office for the Reorganization of Transit (OPRET) will be in charge of setting up the Drivers Training School and there will be an increase in the use of natural gas for public and private transport. Initially, 80 OMSA buses will be converted from diesel fuel to natural gas buses, 2,000 public taxis that use Liquid Gas Propane and 400 Army and Police vehicles will also be changed to run on natural gas. Funds will come from the Transport Development Fund (FONDET) and will require the installation of natural gas pumps by the private sector. The government will provide facilities for gas pump owners to import the necessary equipment.
The propane subsidies will also be restructured. Fernandez said that of the 29 million gallons of GLP that the country uses monthly, only 13.9 million are used at home and the other 15.1 are used in transport. Of the 15 million used by vehicles, 12.6 million is for private vehicles. The government will use the money saved on GLP to subsidize the use of diesel fuel for freight transport and urban transport. This would keep transport costs down.
The President also announced a subsidized bus fare program for UASD students, although the subsidies would only be available to students who maintain a G.P.A above C, and for public taxis around the DR to work on an alternating schedule.
Finally, Fernandez supported the development and use of renewable energy supported by Law 57-07, and said that the Santo Domingo Metro will greatly help in reducing petroleum dependence. Fernandez estimated that 75 million users a year would use the metro, on trains that hold 700 passengers per unit.
For the full text of the speech (in Spanish) go to www.presidencia.gob.do/app/...

Fernandez presents check
President Leonel Fernandez has presented the state agricultural bank, the Banco Agricola with a check for RD$4 billion. The money will be used in the recovery of the agricultural sector, which was heavily damaged by Tropical Storm Noel. The President also ordered the Armed Forces Minister to deploy his members to help with the recovery work. Fernandez presented the check during a visit to Barahona yesterday, as part of his tour of the southwest, which was one of the areas most heavily affected by TS Noel. The President said that farmers in the region would also get RD$1.3 million in seeds, fertilizers and other farming materials. The President promised the construction and painting of houses for victims of Noel and said that a dam would be constructed at Monte Grande in order to prevent future flooding in the area.

Fuel situation back to normal
Industry and Commerce Minister Melanio Paredes says that the fuel situation in the DR is back to normal despite the fact that the Dominican Petroleum Refinery is still not processing crude oil after damage sustained during Tropical Storm Noel. Paredes said that the market has received enough fuel to supply the current demand. Paredes added that the work on the refinery would be finished in the next few days.

Giuliani vs. Olivares: truce called
The public spat between Central Electoral Board judges Eddy Olivares and John Giuliani is apparently over after JCE president Julio Cesar Castanos Guzman asked both men to cease the public conflict, which was causing disruption to the JCE. Castanos said that both men have agreed never to mention the disagreement again and added that a political affiliation doesn't detract from a person's merit. Castanos also explained that Giuliani's petition to sanction Olivares was disregarded. The spat between Olivares and Giuliani began when the JCE judges voted in favor of ceasing all political advertising campaigns and forcing the political parties to remove all ads from TV as well as billboards and posters.

Congress passes resolution
The Chamber of Deputies has passed a resolution asking the Central Electoral Board (JCE) to hold a summit meeting between the country's political parties and media outlets so that all sides can come up with a decision on rules for political campaigning for the 2008 presidential elections. The resolution was passed, although it was subject to criticism from the PRD. The summit should be held in within 10 days.

Leptospirosis sparks red alert
The Public Health Ministry has declared a red alert throughout the country due to the increase in leptospirosis cases. Eight people have died in the last week, and a total of 49 cases have been reported, according to Diario Libre. Health Minister Bautista Rojas advised doctors to treat incoming patients with penicillin. Also, the authorities plan to fumigate the Ozama River bank and surrounding areas. At the Luis Eduardo Aybar hospital, Dr. Rafael Espaillat said that he was treating 28 patients with five different strains of leptospirosis. Espaillat says that most of the patients worked in the recovery efforts after Tropical Storm Noel, or live in slum areas or near flooded rivers. Tourist areas, which were not affected by Noel, are not considered to be at risk, although visitors should take care not to swim in rivers near affected areas. The alert was issued so to make the public aware of leptospirosis, as it can be confused with the common cold. It is not fatal when diagnosed early. Symptoms to look out for include yellowing of skin and eyes, and muscle pain.

Vehicles without 'marbete' will be impounded
As of today, Metropolitan Transit Authority (AMET) officers will confiscate vehicles whose owners haven't renewed their 'marbete'. AMET director Latif Miguel Mahfoud said he felt no sympathy for drivers, who had been given enough time to get their renewals. Mahfoud said that confiscated vehicles would be held until the tax is paid. When their vehicle gets impounded, drivers must pay a fine and the cost of the tow truck. Tax Department Motor Vehicle director Alfredo Mirabal said that 300,000 vehicle owners still haven't renewed their licenses.

Tucanos coming in January
The eight Super Tucano airplanes that the government bought from Brazil at US$9.5 million each will start arriving in the DR in mid-January 2008. Major General Pedro Rafael Pena Antonio, Chief of the Dominican Armed Forces, explained that the payment source for the airplanes has yet to be determined by Congress. Pena said that two planes would be here in January and that 12 pilots have already been selected, and will fly to Brazil in December for specialized flight training. Technicians and engineers will also be sent to Brazil for training. The purchase of the planes caused controversy because some feel that the planes were too expensive, out of date and unsuited for combating the drug trade.

INVI builds in Bonao
The National Housing Institute (INVI) has announced the construction of 300 houses in Bonao for local victims of Tropical Storm Noel. INVI will build 70 houses in Piedra Blanca, 50 in Maimon and 200 more in the Bonao municipality. INVI director Alma Fernandez said that the houses would be built on land owned by the housing institute. The 300 houses are part of a plan to build 1,000 homes for people affected by Noel. Fernandez said that INVI has spent RD$70 million on building materials.

PRSC in NY wants investigation
The PRSC substitute delegate to Central Electoral Board (JCE) in New York Ludovino Ramirez is calling for an investigation into the use of funds that were designated for cedulas, birth certificates and voter registration in NY. Ramirez, quoted in Diario Libre, said that 35 people have recently been appointed to the Office for Voter registration Abroad (OPREE) in NY on a salary of US$1,500 per month, but have done no work so far. Ramirez said that this has raised eyebrows and said that these 35 people represent a cost of US$70,000.

HIV/AIDS vaccine fails
The HIV/AIDS vaccine that the Merck Pharmaceutical Company was testing on patients in the DR has been declared ineffective. The vaccine was being tested on thousands of patients who didn't have the virus, and it didn't reduce the viral count of HIV/AIDS in the bodies of those already infected. The information was provided by the Dominican Vaccine Unit. The vaccine was created by combining three components, each one a replica of a component of the common cold. Yeycy Donastorg of the Vaccine Unit said that this setback just provides a challenge for a vaccine to be created. She also reminded that the polio vaccine took 47 years to develop, Measles took 30 years, Hepatitis A took 22 and Hepatitis B took 16 years.

Santiago's Most Wanted
Santiago Attorney General Raul Martinez has released a list of the city's 13 most wanted criminals. The names were published on the AG office's website at www.fiscalia-santiago.gov.do. Topping the list is Jose Liriano Ulloa, alias Jose Anemia. Aristides Perez Clase, Hector Quezada Vicente, Richard Manuel Martinez Mercado, Nelso Antonio Fernandez Sanchez, Ramon Antonio Tavarez, Dario Paulino Diaz Vargas, Levi Nunez, Oscar Estrella Salas, Basilio Marte Saldana, Jose Dolores Reinoso Rojas, Ramon Antonio Marte and Ramon Eugenio Peralta are all on the list. Martinez said that anyone with any information should send it to [email protected].

More drugs found
The National Drug Control Department (DNCD) has seized 127 kilos of cocaine in a rural area of Higuey. This is the second drug haul found in the eastern province this week, making a total of 220 kilos of drugs. The drugs were seized with the help of the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

Chinatown almost finished
The Santo Domingo municipal authorities have announced the completion of the Chinatown stretch of Duarte Avenue for the first two months of next year, as reported in Hoy newspaper. The stretch, from Mella Avenue in the south to Mexico Avenue in the north, encompasses an area filled with ethnic Chinese shops and restaurants. Mayor Roberto Salcedo and Public Works engineer Francesca de los Santos told reporters from El Caribe that the work was 90% complete and things should be finished in time for Christmas. The official inauguration would take place towards the end of the year or at the beginning of 2008, according to the authorities.

In last night's only game the Gigantes beat the Aguilas 3-1. After the first inning the game was temporarily suspended due to rain but was began once again half an hour later. Licey is now in first place in the standings, a game in front of second place Aguilas. The Gigantes are 1.5 games behind and the Azucareros are now 2.5 games behind Licey. Estrellas and Escogido continue to toil in futility and are now 3.0 and 4.5 games behind the first spot in the standings.
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