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Daily News - Monday, 19 November 2007

Bottoms up!!
The Ministry of the Interior and of the Police has announced a temporary reprieve from the limits on selling alcoholic beverages over the 12 days of the Christmas and New Years holidays. According to the ministry, Decrees #308-06 and 316-06 establish the relaxation of restrictions on sales hours beginning Friday, 21 December and ending Saturday, 1 January. Normally, drinking establishments or eateries can only serve alcoholic beverages until midnight from Sunday until Thursday, and until 2am on Fridays and Saturdays. The press release from the ministry says "Beginning at dawn on 2 January, the decrees will be reactivated in full."

A shift in subsidies?
The government is proposing to shift RD$218 million in subsidies from LPG to diesel fuel in an attempt to keep the cost of cargo and passenger transportation at reasonable levels. The proposal is to create a temporary subsidy on diesel fuels for buses and trucks until the fleet can be switched to bio-diesel or natural gas. This is the plan. However, strong resistance is expected against the move to limit subsidized LPG to household and publicos serving the working public. The restriction of access to subsidized LPG for private passenger cars or SUVs is a hot issue, according to reports in all of today's papers. El Caribe says that every month private vehicles use 12.6 million gallons of LPG out of the 29 million gallons sold. According to the newspaper, 13.9 million gallons are used for cooking gas, while publicos (the dilapidated cars that travel fixed routes along the main roadways of the capital and the major cities) use an estimated 2.5 million gallons. The government wants to take the money saved by eliminating the RD$17 peso subsidy on those 12.6 million gallons of LPG, (over RD$220 million per month) and use it to subsidize diesel fuel. While the transport unions approve of the idea, many important people will resist the plan.
In the meantime, fuel prices rose to yet another historic high over the weekend, with premium gasoline reaching RD$167.70 a gallon, regular gasoline priced at RD$156.50 and diesel going up to RD$133.10.

Government subsidy for telecom
The Dominican Institute of Telecommunications (INDOTEL) wants to implement a half billion-peso program to provide telecommunications services, including Internet, WIFI and telephone connections to one thousand communities in 16 provinces. Indotel head Jose Rafael Vargas told reporters from Hoy that the first phase of the program would cover half of the communities. According to Vargas these 16 provinces are very poorly connected, a problem that goes hand in hand with poverty levels there. Among the provinces that will benefit during the first phase are the seven frontier provinces plus San Jose de Ocoa, Azua, Hato Mayor, El Seibo, Monte Plata, Sanchez Ramirez and Santiago Rodriguez. According to Vargas, these communities are seriously lacking in telephone service and Internet access, as well as any sort of wireless service. Vargas said that it is no longer possible to say that the Dominican Republic is a country with excellent communications when there is "another Dominican Republic that is truly lacking in communications."

Cesfront has more issues
The Specialized Frontier Security Corps is facing more criticisms after only a few weeks since it was first deployed. Now, Father Regino Martinez and the Dajabon Defense and Development Committee have revealed that they possess videos showing many of the offenses that the mayor and other local officials have been criticizing. They say that the videos show Cesfront soldiers extorting money from Haitians, mistreating Haitians and stealing the merchandise that they purchased in the Dominican Republic. The group told reporters from Hoy that the soldiers demanded a "double toll" for crossing the Massacre River. Father Martinez even said that soldiers were shown chaining Haitians who were caught as they crossed the border to work on Dominican farms, holding them until five o'clock and then releasing them. While admitting that the army has always charged "a toll", the new troops have apparently doubled the fees. Martinez said that he was trying to get an appointment with the Armed Forces Minister to show him his evidence.

Better beans and pigeon peas
After eight years of research, the Dominican Republic has finally developed two new strains of pigeon peas and beans whose nutritional values are 15% to 20% superior to current varieties. Commercial harvest began this year in San Juan de la Maguana. The new variety of red beans is now available in the local markets and some of the pigeon peas are being exported to Puerto Rico. The new strains were developed at the Dominican Institute for Forest and Agricultural Research (IDIAF), in collaboration with the University of Nebraska.

ANJE does not see austerity
The National Association of Young Entrepreneurs (ANJE) is not happy with the way the government has gone about with its austerity programs. In fact, according to the association, the government is spending more now than it was when it passed the Law of Austerity 497-06. ANJE president Joel Santos told Hoy reporter Evaristo Rubens that the government's payroll has increased by 7% over the past year, and personal services (covering publicity and per diems) is up by 15%. The LPG subsidy, originally pegged at RD$2.4 billion is now costing over RD$5.0 billion. Because of all of this the folks at ANJE are saying that the "Austerity Law is being flagrantly violated."

Back into the river (beds)
Once again, the PLD government has reversed its position on the extraction of sand and gravel from the nation's riverbeds. The first time was back in 2000 when the President himself, Leonel Fernandez, prohibited such extractions from the Nizao, Yubazo and Nigua rivers. However, the decree did not last long. Now, faced with the need to rebuild so much of the damage caused by Tropical Storm Noel, the Ministry of the Environment has restored permission to extract building materials from riverbeds for companies supplying public works. Once more the pressure brought to bear by construction companies was effective in getting the government to change its mind. The most recent resolution, numbered 16/07 by the Ministry of the Environment, was drawn up under the leadership of Max Puig, who was shortly after replaced by Omar Ramirez, in a rare Fernandez cabinet member change. Now, in the current circumstances, the new minister has extended permission to excavate riverbeds for "six or eight months".
Environmentalists say that extraction of sand and gravel from river beds is in great part responsible for the major river flooding.

Bromate bread still on shelves
Despite orders to the contrary, the public is still consuming bread laced with potassium bromate, according to investigative journalist Nuria Piera. Nearly three weeks ago the Ministry of Public Health ordered a reduction in the quantity of potassium bromate used in the bread-making process. According to the report by Nuria Piera, the Chemistry Laboratory at the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo (UASD) found "considerable quantities of this substance) in samples from two bakeries, Ibis and Tou Pan. Officials from the Public Health Ministry said that their priorities were currently focused on the after-effects of TS Noel.

Legislators take too many days off
Last week Hoy newspaper reported that too many legislators are receiving their wages and benefits and not bothering to attend the sessions. Hoy says that of 178 deputies, only 17 took part in the seven sessions the Chamber of Deputies held in October, including one lecture delivered by US effectiveness expert Stephen Covey. The newspaper points out that Neney Cabrera (PRD), Radhames Antonio Fermin (PRSC), Pablo Vicente Jimenez (PLD) and Luis Rafael Sanchez (PRD), did not attend any of the sessions. Signing for attending one session were Jose Ulises Rodriguez, Alberto Attallah, Juan M. Castro and Leivin Guerrero, of the PRD, and Ramon Rogelio Genao of the PRSC.
In October, former baseball player Raul Mondesi only attended Stephen Covey's lecture.
Signing in for two sessions were the PRD's Pedro Alejandro Aguirre, Luis Ernesto Camilo, Wagner Mosquea and Henry Serraf, and the PLD's Gustavo Sanchez, Elias Serulle, Tulio Jimenez and Isabel Bonilla.
Deputies who attended all sessions were the PLD's Jose Ricardo Taveras, Yudelka de la Rosa, Lidio Cadet, Gladys Azcona, and Julio Cesar Valentin, Mirtha Elena Perez, Angela Pozo, Milciades Franjul, Isabel de la Cruz, Elpidio Baez, Juan Alberto Aquino. Also Nestor Julio Cruz Pichardo and Bernardo Sanchez for the PRD.
Hoy reports that the legislators basic wage is RD$116,000. In addition, they receive RD$4,000 per every session attended (a maximum of 10 a month), and RD$87,000 for an assistance plan, plus RD$50,000 for a social plan. This is in addition to two unlimited tax exemptions for vehicles, and diplomatic passports for them and their families.
When interviewed about his attendance record by Nuria Piera and Huchi Lora, Neney Cabrera explained his failure to take part in the legislature with his more important job as campaign manager for Miguel Vargas, the PRD presidential candidate.
Raul Mondesi of the PLD downplayed the importance of his job, saying he was needed by people of his community, but was present for when the party needed him to cast a vote in Congress. When it was pointed out that he could help his community without having to be a legislator, he responded that he would not have the funds to do so.
Nuria and Huchi also interviewed Rafaela Alburquerque of the PRSC, who excused her absence on the grounds of the recent death of her mother, which had caused her immense personal sadness.

Shell asking US$183 million
The Shell Company is asking for US$183 million for its 50% stake in the Dominican refinery (Refidomsa), and the government wants to collect its money from the asking price. Shell received a US$183 million offer from the Coastal Group, and wants the government to meet that offer. The Minister of the Treasury, Vicente Bengoa, told reporters from Listin Diario that Shell owes the government US$41 million in taxes on the sale of its shares, plus another US$36 million in earnings withheld during the 2006 and 2007 fiscal years. According to Bengoa, these US$77 million will be discounted from the US$183 million, and the government will look for a loan to cover the remaining US$106 million needed to buy Shell's 50% stake in the refinery.

Cruise ships are a-coming
The first of an estimated total of 70,000 cruise ship passengers disembarked from the good ship Braemar in Santo Domingo on Friday, marking the beginning of the cruise liner season. Spokespersons for the Sans Souci Tourist Group expressed confidence that this would be the best tourist season yet. A total of 1,800 passengers arrived to enjoy the sights of Santo Domingo. The cruise ship season lasts until April 2008.

DR-EU agreement gives jobs a chance
Professionals, technicians and specialized workers will be able to obtain work permits for jobs in the European Union once the Economic Partnership Agreement goes into effect, according to Foreign Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso. This agreement is currently under discussion in Europe and should go into effect by the middle of next year. The advantages of the agreement are expected to be even greater than those obtained under similar accords with Mexico and Chile. One of the programs is called "the Alternative Migration Program", and requests for specialized workers in different fields will come from Europe. The Dominican Republic currently has a similar agreement in place with Spain, but under the EPA, even musicians would be able to find work in Europe. Morales called the program "innovative." Another group to benefit from the program are banana producers, who would no longer have to purchase a license to place their crops in European markets.

New US Ambassador
Ambassador P. Robert Fannin, who was recently approved as the new US ambassador in the DR by the United States Congress, was sworn in during a ceremony at the State Department in Washington, D.C. Under-Secretary for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns performed the swearing in. Fannin replaces former ambassador Hans Hertell. The Dominican ambassador to Washington, Flavio Dario Espinal, also attended the ceremony.

Red Alert for 11 provinces
The National Emergency Committee (COE) has kept its Red Alert in place for 11 provinces and has issued a Yellow Alert for a further 16 provinces. The alerts come on the heels of the news that two more bridges have collapsed and several communities are isolated by flood waters as a result of the rains caused by a small weather system that passed over the northern parts of the country during the weekend. Communities in Monte Plata, Los Alcarrizos, Constanza, Maria Trinidad Sanchez, Nagua and Espaillat were affected by flooding. The provinces under Red Alert are: San Cristobal, Monsenor Nouel, San Jose de Ocoa, Azua, Peravia, Duarte (especially the Lower Yuna Basin), Barahona, La Vega, Sanchez Ramirez, Maria Trinidad Sanchez and La Altagracia. Special rescue brigades are stationed in the Lower Yuna Basin as a preventive measure.

14 wounded in prison riot
Over the weekend, prisoners took one of the wardens hostage at the Najayo Juvenile Center in demand for better living conditions and the suspension of alleged mistreatment. This led to a total of 14 injuries, four with buckshot and 10 with knife cuts. Tear gas was used to rescue the hostage. When questioned by reporters from Diario Libre, the director of the Juvenile Section denied that anything major had occurred, saying that "this is nothing major, the kids fight in all such centers." Neither the names of the hostage nor the wounded were released to the press.

Baseball in the Dominican Republic
The Dominican Winter League saw plenty of action over the weekend. The current champions, the Aguilas Cibaenas, were not so lucky, losing their fifth game in a row to the Leones del Escogido, 3-1 in Santo Domingo's Estadio Quisqueya. On Saturday night, the Aguilas shook off the losing streak by returning the favor to the Leones, beating them, 5-3 in Santiago's Estadio Cibao. However, the Gigantes del Cibao took over second place in the standings with a 9-3 shellacking of the Aguilas in the Julian Javier Stadium in San Francisco de Macoris on Sunday. The victory was the second for the Gigantes over the weekend. On Friday, they had lost to the Estrellas Orientales in their home field, 2-1, and on Saturday they reversed the outcome at the Estrellas' Estadio Tetelo Vargas in San Pedro de Macoris by a score of 4-2. The Toros, or Azucareros del Este, defeated the Tigres del Licey 6-3 on Friday, and narrowly defeated the same team 9-8 in an emotion-packed game in Santo Domingo. In Sunday's action, the Estrellas shut out the Azucareros del Este, 2-0, and a homerun in the bottom of the ninth gave Licey a 7-5 victory over their eternal rivals, the Leones del Escogido.
Current Standings
Team Win Lost Percent Games Behind
Licey 14 9 .609 --
Gigantes 13 10 .565 1.0
Aguilas 12 11 .522 2.0
Estrellas 11 12 .478 3.0
Azucareros 11 13 .458 3.5
Escogido 9 15 .375 5.5

Today's schedule
* Estadio Quisqueya, Santo Domingo: Azucareros vs. Escogido
* Estadio Julian Javier, San Francisco de Macoris: Licey vs. Gigantes
* Estadio Tetelo Vargas, San Pedro de Macoris: Aguilas vs. Estrellas Orientales
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