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Daily News - Friday, 14 December 2007

RD$300 billion budget approved
Hacienda Minister Vicente Bengoa has announced that the National Development Council approved a RD$300 billion budget and public spending bill for 2008. The 2008 budget is RD$50 billion more than the 2007 budget. Bengoa, speaking at a press conference, said that public employees' salaries would not be increased. The bill will be sent to the government-party majority Congress next week.
Hoy writes that estimates for 2008 internal revenues are RD$264 billion and external revenues are RD$36 billion. Current spending accounts for RD$191.5 billion and RD$67.9 billion has set aside for capital expenditures for a total of RD$259.5 billion. RD$41 billion will be used to pay the foreign debt.
Bengoa said that 10.5% of the budget total, or RD$31.5 billion, has been assigned to education, and will be distributed for education at all levels, including funding for the state university UASD as well as the construction of schools.
Public health was allocated the second largest portion of the 2008 budget with RD$21.5 billion, or 7.1%.
The Presidency has assigned itself RD$35.6 billion. Bengoa justified this saying that 32 public institutions depend directly on the Executive Branch. These include the Administrative Ministry, the Ministry of Economy, Planning and Development and the Public Works Supervising Office. The government allocated RD$10 billion to the construction of the first 14km line of the Santo Domingo Metro in 2008. This includes RD$7 billion that will be borrowed and RD$3 billion from local revenues.
Bengoa added that the Central Electoral Board (JCE) was allocated RD$3.6 billion, although it had asked for RD$7.6 billion and the Judicial Branch was assigned RD$3.4 billion. Congress was allocated RD$4.32 billion.
Bengoa said the budget also includes RD$21 billion for electricity subsidies and RD$5 billion for propane gas subsidies.
RD$9 billion was assigned to the Central Bank to cover the quasi-fiscal debt.

GDP up 7.5% says ECLAC
The Dominican economy grew by 7.5% in 2007, well below the 10% registered in 2006, but above the 5.6% regional average. The DR's economic growth places the country fifth on the list of countries with the highest rates of economic growth in 2007, according to the Economic Commission for Latin American and the Caribbean (ECLAC). The regional leaders were Panama (9.5%), Argentina (8.6%), Venezuela (8.5%), Peru (8.2%) and Uruguay (7.5%).
The organization forecasts a general overall downturn in growth in Latin America, and expects growth of the DR's Gross Domestic Product to decline to 5.5%, which would be enough to rank the country seventh in growth in the region.
ECLAC attributes the growth to increased taxation, and higher international nickel export prices.
The growth of the Dominican economy is due in part to the 2007 tax reform, as well as an increase in international nickel prices and an increase in revenue obtained from taxes on companies.

Santiago protests cargo monopoly
Santiago business organizations published an advertisement today, calling for national support to put a stop to private groups that use violence, intimidation and threats to continue to control the transport of goods and passengers. The Santiago Chamber of Commerce, Association of Traders and Industries (Acis), Association of Industries of the Northern Region (Airen), Association for the Development of Santiago (Apedi) and the Association of Free Zone Industries of Santiago are calling for firm action to guarantee producers and consumers rights to the free contracting of transport of goods and services.
"The Dominican Republic has joined globalization and the opening up of markets, and as a country we cannot allow the process to end at the ports and airports and for the transportation and distribution of goods to continue being tied to an illegal monopoly," state the associations. The business groups asked for public support. They emphasized that the monopoly affects export competitiveness, increases import costs and makes consumers pay more. They explain that the unfair trade practices that limit the rights of companies and consumers to free contracting and transit violate the Constitution.
Industry & Commerce Minister Melanio Paredes has warned that the authorities would enforce the law and called for the leaders of the Federacion Nacional de Transporte Dominicano (Fenatrado) to attend talks. Paredes said that the wellbeing of all Dominicans should be paramount. "I call on my friends in Fenatrado to moderate their stances, so that we may find solutions together, and not unilaterally because that kind of conduct is unacceptable, and not possible, especially at times like these," said Paredes.

Recapping Olga
The number of deaths caused by Tropical Storm Olga has climbed to 25, of which 20 occurred in Santiago, as a result of the flooding of the Yaque del Norte River, as reported in Diario Libre. Emergency Operations Center (COE) director, General Jose Manuel Mendez says that 30 provinces are still on red alert, because light rains have been forecast.
The latest report from the COE indicates that 41,840 people were displaced of whom 35,850 are staying with family members and 5,990 are in government shelters. In all, 8,368 homes have been affected by the storm and of these 8,126 are repairable. Also, 11 canals and 23 dam systems were affected. Finally, 136 communities are still cut off from the national road network.

Olga damages farms
Rains and flooding attributed to Tropical Storm Olga has caused major damage to banana plantations in the northeast. Listin Diario reports that 60,000 tareas of bananas were affected by the storm. The loss of export revenue could reach US$39.7 million. Likewise, 40,000 tareas of plantains were affected. The storm also damaged large areas planted with rice.
Hoy is reporting that prices of products like cassava, sweet potato, plantains, bananas, garlic and onions have gone up by between 5% and 15% and in some cases more, due to the latest shortages. Plantain prices, for instance, increased from RD$7 to RD$10 in some cases, and banana prices have increased by RD$2 per unit.

US doctor gets Dominican honor
The Dominican government has awarded American doctor Christopher M. Putman the Duarte, Sanchez and Mella Order of Merit for helping more than 200 poor Dominicans who suffer from cerebral problems. Dr. Putman was presented with the medal by Public Health Minister Bautista Rojas Gomez. Putman is a consultant and visiting professor and on the medical advisory board of CEDIMAT advanced medicine center in Santo Domingo, sponsored through the Juan Manuel Taveras Rodriguez Foundation. Dr. Putman, an interventional neuroradiologist and specialist in brain aneuryms from Inova Fairfax, Virginia has been coming to the DR since 2000, making a total of 19 trips. The Inova Fairfax Hospital in the Washington, D.C. area where Dr. Putman practices is ranked as one of "America's Best Hospitals" by US News & World Report.

Dominicans can spell
The DR, Cuba, Spain and Mexico were joint first place winners at the eighth annual Hispanic America Spelling Contest, which was held at the UASD University. Twelve countries took part in the competition. Panama and Guatemala came in second place while Chile came in third. Anibal Santillan from the Sagrado Corazon de Jesus school in La Romana won 100 points in the seven rounds of competition. The winners received a laptop computer, a trophy and a certificate.

Juma 66 introduced
A new rice variety, Juma 66, has been introduced to the Dominican market. The rice seeks to fill demand from the Asian community in the DR and could eventually be exported. Hoy writes that the rice could increase the country's competitiveness and sustainability in the area of rice production as the country opens its markets and removes tariffs on imports. The new rice is produced in the San Juan de la Maguana and Bajo Yuna areas.

Capt Kidd ship discovered
Indiana University (IU) researchers announced the discovery of an pirate ship, the Quedagh Merchant, confiscated earlier by pirate Captain William Kidd. The wreckage was found by a local scuba diver off Catalina Island on the southeast coast of Hispaniola. IU researchers say that the find is valuable because of its potential for revealing important information about piracy in the Caribbean.
The ship was abandoned by the 17th century pirate as he raced to New York in an ill-fated attempt to clear his name. Captain Kidd had been entrusted with fighting pirates and instead turned to pirating himself and had confiscated the Quedagh Merchant in a raid. The investigators marveled at the fact that the ship was found resting in less than 10 feet of Caribbean seawater.
IU marine protection expert Charles Beeker said that his team was licensed to study the wreckage and to convert the site, which is in the National Park of the East in the modern day Dominican Republic, into an underwater reserve, where it will be accessible to the public.
Beeker, director of Academic Diving and Underwater Science Programs at IU Bloomington's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation, said that it was remarkable that the wreck has remained undiscovered all these years considering its location, just 70 feet off the coast of Catalina Island in the Dominican Republic, and because it has been actively sought by treasure hunters. Catalina Island is a popular scuba diving site.
"I've been on literally thousands of shipwrecks in my career," said Beeker. "This is one of the first sites I've been on where I haven't seen any looting. We've got a shipwreck in crystal clear, pristine water that's amazingly untouched. We want to keep it that way, so we made the announcement now to ensure the site's protection from looters."
The Quedah Merchant was a huge 400-ton ship. When Captain Kidd took it over in a pirate raid it contained one of the greatest pirate treasures ever.

One of the good ones killed
A 34-year old Army captain, Ismael Fernando Astacio Montero, who was in charge of National Drug Control Department (DNCD) operations in Azua, was buried yesterday. DNCD chief Major General Rafael Ramirez Ferreira said that the murder is proof of what the department is up against. "The threats against our members and officers is a reality," said Ramirez Ferreira. Astacio was shot to death by alleged drug dealers who attacked his unit when they were about to arrest the suspects while they were engaged in a cocaine transaction. Astacio had been assigned to Azua, one of the most difficult drug points in the country, after serving in La Romana. One of the suspected dealers was also killed in the shooting. Astacio was a highly regarded officer.

Dominicans named in MLB probe
Two Dominicans, Jose Guillen and Miguel Tejada, have both been named in the Mitchell Report, a full-length investigation into the prevalence of steroids and performance-enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball. The report was conducted by former Senator George Mitchell, who is also on the Boston Red Sox board of directors. The report reveals the names of more than 80 current and former players who at some point used drugs in their baseball careers. Players listed in the report include Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Andy Petitt, Gary Sheffield and Rafael Palmeiro. Dominican slugger Sammy Sosa, who has vehemently denied the use of steroids, is not mentioned the report, despite the fact that Sosa's homerun chase in 1998, with accused player Mark McGwire, highlighted what is being called the "Steroid Era." Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz were also absent from the report although Ortiz has in the past commented that as a younger player he might have unwittingly taken steroids in the DR because of his ignorance about the substances. Steroid use has become a big issue in the DR because of the increased number of Dominican players suspended for drug use. MLB has begun an advertising campaign warning younger players about the dangers of the performance-enhancing drugs.

Horford gets suspension
Dominican power forward Al Horford has been suspended for one game by the NBA for a dangerous hit that sent Toronto Raptors guard T.J. Ford to the hospital on Tuesday. Horford tried to defend Ford as the guard went to the rim only to swipe at his face forcing the guard to the hardwood. Horford has apologized for the incident, saying he did not mean to hurt Ford and visited him in the hospital. He said that they had talked and that there is no bad blood between them. Horford presence will be missed, as he is averaging 8.3 points per game, 10.3 rebounds per game and 1.1 blocks, and was voted last month's rookie of the month.

Super Sanchez and Peguero to Beijing
Felix Sanchez, reigning Olympic champ in the 400-meter hurdles and Arismendy Peguero, national 400-meter champion, have both classified for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. Jose Rubio, president of the Dominican Federation of Track and Field associations, said that Sanchez had qualified by winning a silver medal at the World Championships in Osaka, Japan. Sanchez, still recovering from injuries and far from his Olympic form, won the race with a time of 48.01 seconds. Peguero also qualified at Osaka with a time of 44.92, the minimum time needed to qualify for an Olympic competition. The DR's 4x400 team, made up of Peguero, Sanchez, Yoel Tapia and Pedro Mejia, also qualified at Osaka as well as through their performance at the Pan Americans Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Baseball calendar extended
Diario Libre reports that the Dominican Baseball League board of directors has voted to extend the winter baseball season through next Thursday in order to make up for games rained out during Tropical Storm Olga and other games rained out this year. Baseball, barring any last minute changes, will continue today with Escogido playing the Azucareros, the Tigres playing the Gigantes and the Aguilas playing the Estrellas.
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