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Daily News - Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Santiago low areas under water
Latest reports indicate Santiago is the province most affected by Tropical Storm Olga. The damage was caused by the opening of the Tavera-Bao Dam floodgates, probably to prevent a dam break, at midnight without warning those in the path of flooding. This released more than 5,000 cubic meters/second of water and caused a major swelling of the Yaque del Norte River. As reported in the Listin Diario, the governor of Santiago says at least seven people died after being caught unaware. There was major flooding in low areas of the city of Santiago.
President Leonel Fernandez is expected to visit Santiago this afternoon.

COE first report
Tropical Storm Olga did not realize that the hurricane season had ended on 30 November, and came at the Dominican Republic with torrential rains and strong gusts of wind. The Emergency Operations Committee (COE) reports in its first bulletin on the storm that 6,000 persons were evacuated and 24,595 persons had to be relocated due to the flooding, especially in areas near rivers in Santiago and northern and southern provinces. COE estimates 5,000 dwellings were affected by the storm.
COE also reported earlier that 38 houses were buried by a mudslide in the community of Juan Lopez III in Moca, Espaillat province. No victims were reported because the families had been evacuated. In Maria Trinidad Sanchez province (Nagua), 400 families were evacuated from areas close to the shoreline. Winds from the storm knocked down trees and blocked traffic along the highway between Nagua and the Samana peninsula. Nearer to Santo Domingo, flood waters cut off four communities in Monte Plata province. The COE said that it was particularly worried about communities in the Lower Yuna River basin, a low-lying area that experiences flooding nearly every time it rains.
Twenty eight hundred people have been displaced, more than 500 houses have been damaged and more rains are in the forecast. The COE is maintaining a preventive Red Alert for the National District and the provinces of Santo Domingo, San Cristobal, Monte Plata, Santiago Rodriguez, Dajabon, San Pedro de Macoris, Santiago, Puerto Plata, Espaillat, Hermanas Mirabal, and Duarte - especially the Lower Yuna River basin.

Minimal effect in tourism areas
International airports operated as normal during and after the passing of Tropical Storm Olga, with the exception of Puerto Plata's International Airport where three flights after 11pm had to be cancelled due to the high winds. Airport operations resumed in the early morning. Some damage is reported to on the beach storefronts in Cabarete, on the North Coast and Samana on the Northeast Coast but for the most part, tourism activities are expected to resume as normal as the rains move west passing the island. Hotels are not reporting any damages. Golf courses in some areas need to wait to dry out, but regular activities are expected to resume nationwide shortly.
By 10am, all tropical storm watches and warnings for the island of Hispaniola were discontinued. Light rains continue in some areas, but reports from Puerto Rico indicate that good weather is headed our way.

Schools close for Olga
The Ministry of Education has ordered all schools to close for an "indefinite" period due to Tropical Storm Olga. Deputy Education Minister Fausto Mota Garcia told reporters that he was following orders from Minister Alejandrina German, who was in Argentina yesterday. Students taking final exams were advised not to worry, as the exams will be held at the next convenient date. According to the official school calendar, schoolchildren go on Christmas vacation on 21 December. Private schools are reporting there will be classes tomorrow and that they will be closing earlier than the official date.

Hacienda and IMF come to terms
The government and the International Monetary Fund have reached an agreement on their positions on the 2008 budget. A major part of the agreement was to increase the funding of subsidies (propane and electricity) to RD$26.0 billion pesos. According to the Minister of Hacienda, Vincente Bengoa, the IMF disagreed with the appropriations that the government had assigned to the LPG subsidy (RD$2.4 billion) and to the electricity sector (RD$15.0 billion). The parties agreed to the increase to RD$26 billion. The government will also see a 1.3% of GDP surplus, equivalent to RD$19 or RD$20 billion. Originally, the IMF was demanding a surplus of RD$30 billion for 2008. According to Bengoa, the 2008 budget will hover around the RD$300 billion mark, about RD$50 billion more than last year.

GDP growth sees few jobs
While the Dominican economy has grown by 8% during the current year, according to Temistocles Montas, the Minister of Economy, Planning and Development, there has been little growth in the manufacturing or business sector. The conclusion was presented by Lisandro Macarrulla, the head of Private Business Council CONEP, and economists Jose Luis de Ramon and Apolinar Veloz. They presented the argument during a roundtable discussion on the performance of the Dominican economy in 2007 and the outlook for 2008, sponsored by Hoy newspaper. Economist de Ramon said that over a quarter of the 8% growth in the GDP could be attributed to cell phones sales, part of the communications sector. Productive sectors that use credit instruments have not changed significantly. At the same time, Veloz said that statistics show that the areas of greatest increase are the banks (27%) and communications (17%), but these are not sectors that generate a lot of jobs. Farming and manufacturing only grew by 2%, and these are the two sectors that create more jobs than those with highest growth rates. Veloz questioned the fact that the sectors producing goods and services are experiencing less growth than the sectors providing services to the productive sector.

Government hands over plans
The Transport Reorganization Office (OPRET) has handed over the plans for much of the new Metro system to journalist Huchi Lora. During a ceremony held at Lora's residence, lawyers and OPRET officials signed over the plans (seven boxes, models and bound documents). Dominican Journalists Association president Mercedes Castillo, lawyer Laura Acosta, and Huchi Lora's daughter Diana were all present. OPRET lawyer Joan Alcantara arrived promptly at 11:15 in the morning and turned over plans for the elevated section in Villa Mella, the construction of the tunnel walls, the stations on the Isabela and Ozama riverbanks, and the geophysical and geotechnical studies that guarantee the construction, as well as other documents. The handover was witnessed by a Supreme Court attorney, Ramon Feliz Lopez. Huchi Lora was the first to speak, telling reporters that the documents would be studied by a team of experts, including geologist Osiris de Leon. A spokesperson from the Journalists Association said that the case should not have gone this far, to the point where a Supreme Court decision was needed in order to gain access to these documents.

Deputies approve salary 14
The Chamber of Deputies has approved the proposed legislation to give all government employees a 14th check in June 2008. The idea is to help pay for the cost of their children's school supplies for the 2008-2009 academic year. Some modifications were made to the original bill. Instead of full salaries being paid to high-ranking officials, people receiving between 5 and 10 minimum salaries will get 75% of their salary; those who receive between 11 and 20 minimum wages will receive 50% of their salary, and those who receive a salary of more than 20 minimum salaries will receive 25%.

FINJUS targets "little barrel"
The Institutionalism and Justice Foundation (Finjus) has called on the Executive Branch to put an end to the policy of providing legislators with their infamous "little barrels", a sum of money deposited for their exclusive use to help their communities. The so-called Legislative Social Fund has received harsh criticism from all sides since the monies that are assigned are used with very little transparency, and often just duplicate other government agencies' efforts.

US ambassador on the way
Paul Robert (Bob) Fannin, a Phoenix lawyer, arrives in the DR tomorrow and will present credentials to President Leonel Fernandez as the new United States ambassador. According to Diario Libre, Fannin will arrive on a private jet, and will hold his first press conference after the presentation ceremony at the Presidential Palace. Since the departure of former ambassador Hans Hertell last January, the US Embassy has been run by Charge d'Affaires Roland W. Bullen. Fannin is a partner at the Steptoe & Johnson law office in Washington. This is his first ambassadorial position.
See http://www.usemb.gov.do/Ambassador/index-e.htm

Court suspends removal of signs
The on-going battle between Santo Domingo Mayor Roberto Salcedo and the Impacto Urbano publicity company continues. The chief magistrate of the Tax and Administrative Contentious Court in Santo Domingo, Sara Henriquez Marin, ordered a halt to all removals of signs belonging to Impacto Urbano. The court accepted a request to cease and desist, filed last August by lawyers Eduardo Jorge Prats, Rolando de la Cruz Bello and Rafaela Espaillat Llinas, who argued that the mayor was acting on his own and that there had been no previous dialogue on the issue. The courts have ordered Salcedo to replace the signs and refrain from removing any of the remaining signs.

Fenatrado closes Haina port
The Dominican National Federation of Transport (Fenatrado) shut down the Port of Haina yesterday in protest against a soft drink firm that does not use their services. The union is demanding that the company give part of its business to Fenatrado affiliates. The company, Industria San Miguel, which makes Kola Real and is located in Santiago Rodriguez, has refused to assign its cargo to any of the Fenatrado members. Company spokespersons told El Caribe that a Fenatrado truck has once more blocked the entrance to their factory in Santiago Rodriguez. The press release also said that company trucks were hit with stones and gunshots as they tried to enter the bottling plant. The spokesperson went on to point out that, "this type of aggression against private property also damages national interests, and at the same time it presents the Dominican Republic as an insecure country for foreign investment."
Fenatrado has been known to use violence to impose the use of transporters belonging to the trucking union with the complacence of governments over the years. Business groups have urged the government to crack this monopoly that affects business competitiveness.

UNICEF numbers
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has just published a report that reveals that 42% of the Dominican population lives in poverty. The yearly review by UNICEF also reports that in the past decade poverty has declined from 63.4%, which means that there has been progress in that area. Although the agency realizes that macro-economic stability is a top priority, it also sees an increase in social spending as a way of redistributing wealth and reducing poverty, and called for more social programs. The UN agency also reminds readers that the first of the Millennium Goals is "The eradication of extreme poverty and hunger", and this will require political decisiveness in order to be achieved. Currently, the Dominican Republic is the third worst country in Latin American as far as social spending is concerned.

No baseball
The Dominican Baseball League was forced to suspend the games scheduled for last night in Santo Domingo (Tigres del Licey-Estrellas Orientales), San Francisco de Macoris (Gigantes-Leones del Escogido) and La Romana (Aguilas-Toros del Este). Given the intensity of the storm, there is a chance that the games scheduled for tonight might also be affected. This would create a serious problem for the league, with the teams forced to play 12 games in ten days. Tonight the scheduled games are: Gigantes del Cibao vs. Tigres del Licey in Quisqueya Stadium in Santo Domingo; Estrellas Orientales vs. Aguilas Cibaenas in the Cibao Stadium in Santiago; and Leones del Escogido vs. Toros del Este in La Romana.

2 DR teams in Caribbean Series
The winner and runner up of the Dominican Winter Baseball League Championship will battle the winners of teams of Mexico and Venezuela in the Caribbean Series scheduled to open Saturday, 2 February 2008 in Santiago de los Caballeros. The runner up DR team will replace Puerto Rico that this year did not celebrate its tournament, and thus will not be sending a representation to the Caribbean Series, according to Juan Francisco Puello Herrera, president of the Caribbean Baseball Confederation. The Santiago home team, Aguilas Cibaenas is in third place in the regular season so far, but fans are optimistic it will make the playoffs in January. Another Cibao team, the Gigantes is in the first place. Puello commented in an interview with the Listin today: "In case the Aguilas Cibaenas are left out, that does not affect [the tournament] in anyway, because it is an event that is usually sold out weeks in advance and it is a show the public always enjoys." He added that fans should remember that the winners represent the Dominican Republic, not a particular team.
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