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Daily News - Monday, 17 December 2007

No one is happy with budget
With the announcement of budget allocations last week, many government departments have openly expressed their displeasure with their piece of the pie. The Supreme Court, the Central Electoral Board (JCE), the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies all told reporters from El Caribe that the budget funding for their organizations were not what they had expected, and that it wouldn't be enough to cover the needs of the departments. The RD$300- billion budget, the highest in Dominican history, was approved by the National Development Council, but has yet to be sent to the legislature for final approval. Supreme Court chief magistrate Jorge Subero Isa told reporters that he hoped that the legislators would grant the court the funding it really needed. Meanwhile, a JCE spokesperson said that the board had met in emergency session to evaluate the impact that the budget reductions would have on their work during the 2008 fiscal year. The leaders of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies requested a meeting with the government's economic team to take another look at the budget allocations.
The Centro de Investigacion Montalvo, an economic research center, also complains that the government has released its allotment to education and health in regards to the Gross Domestic Product. This has declined from 2.4% in 2007 to 2.33% for 2008, despite a RD$2 billion increase. The Law of Education establishes that 4% of the GDP or 16% of the total budget should be allotted to education.

EPA negotiations end
After three and-a-half years of stressful negotiations, the Caribbean and European negotiating teams have concluded the first Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). Both parties completed the massive task around 1:30am on Sunday, 16 December at the Grand Barbados Hotel in Bridgetown, Barbados.
As of January 2008 all exports in goods and services originating from within the Cariforum countries (CARICOM plus DR) will receive duty-free and quota-free access in Europe. Eighty percent of the goods produced in Europe will receive duty free access to the Caribbean markets within the next 15 years.
Hugo Ramirez Risk, former Director of Trade Negotiations for the DR, who witnessed the round that took place in Bridgetown, from Wednesday to Sunday last week, indicates that non-discriminatory access with respect to the region's culture industries, including the performing arts and writers, one of the major sticking points in the negotiations on services, was finally overcome late the last night of the round with a commitment offered by 25 of the EU's 27 member states.
"What makes this development all the more significant is the fact that the Caribbean has emerged as the first of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries to finalize an EPA arrangement with the European Union," he reports.
"The reaffirmed mandate by CARIFORUM's negotiators was to conclude the most beneficial and complete accord possible in preference to securing a market access arrangement by the 31 December 2007 deadline, and so the DR did. By 2010, all vital exports will be eligible for duty-free and quota-free access to Europe's market," he explained.
With respect to Caribbean sugar exports, Ramirez Risk explains that the agreement is that Caricom sugar producers will gain an additional 30,000 tons on top of current allocations while the DR is to benefit from a separate 30,000 tons, but only until 9 September 2009.
The EPA arrangements concluded in Barbados are to be submitted to the EU Council on Thursday this week, for the insertion of the 15 Cariforum countries in the European Commission's regulations to permit unhindered access to Europe's market from January 1st 2008.

The country's business associations are calling on the authorities to take urgent measures against the transport monopoly enjoyed by the Fenatrado trucking union. The associations argue that the monopoly increases transport costs and the National Council for Private Business (CONEP) is also encouraging its members to resist being cowed by the union this time round. A Conep press release said that Fenatrado is trying to keep its monopoly on moving cargo from the docks to industries. Conep says this stance has a chilling effect on foreign and private investments. Conep leader Lisandro Macarrulla told reporters from El Caribe that, "intimidation tactics to preserve the monopoly that the union enjoys is undermining national producers and their capacity to compete in local markets." Macarrulla called for the enforcement of the current laws and the application of new measures to correct the "distortions" the union has created. The Dominican Republic Industrial Association (AIRD) also called on its members to resist pressure. Their press release, signed by Manuel Diez Cabral, said that the union was trying to create a "monopoly of freight transport to and from the docks of Dominican ports." Diez Cabral called this practice "inadmissible".

Fernandez announces recovery plans
President Leonel Fernandez returned to Santiago over the weekend and announced some of the plans the government has for reconstructing damage caused by the floodwaters from the Tavera Dam. As part of the program, the President announced the construction of 600 houses in the Rafey and Bella Vista areas of the city, and the repair of hundreds of houses affected by the floodwaters. The head of state also announced that the Armed Forces would become involved in the cleanup. Armed Forces Minister Ramon Garcia Aquino announced that 600 men, including doctors, were helping in the cleanup efforts. Fernandez also accepted the request of hundreds of people who reported the loss of their special food cards, part of the "Comer es primero" program.

President orders dredging of lakes
President Leonel Fernandez has ordered the Navy to start work on the dredging of the Tavera Dam reservoir as well as all the other artificial lakes in the Dominican Republic. The President said that many of these lakes still contain scraps of wood and other debris left from Hurricane David in 1979. The President was speaking during a graduation ceremony at the Naval Academy, where he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate. Recently the deputy minister for Soils and Waters at the Public Works Ministry suggested that a tender should be announced for removing sediment in the Nizao river area that is threatening the life span of the dams at Las Barias, Valdesia and Jiguey-Aguacate. Some US$15 million is needed to do this work. Estimates say that there are 20 million cubic meters of sediment in the Valdesia reservoir.

Guards praised for heroism
The conduct of the Rafey prison guards is being praised for having saved hundreds of lives during the flooding caused by the waters flowing from the opened gates at Tavera Dam. The Dominican Republic's Attorney General, Radhames Jimenez Pena, told reporters from El Caribe that the heroic actions of prison staff deserved to be acknowledged by all. The 200 guards worked to get the 734 inmates from the Men's Prison and 86 from the Women's Prison to safety. According to the AG, "We could describe the prison guards as heroes, firstly, because they saved the inmates, and second, because these exemplary actions also helped save many of the people in the neighborhood of Rafey." Jimenez Pena went on to say that this sort of action should make people proud that there are still men and women with such courage and altruism.

EdeNorte reports near full service
The north and north-central power utility EdeNorte is reporting that 955 of its circuits are back on line, after having been affected by Tropical Storm Olga. Felix Tavarez, spokesperson for EdeNorte, told El Caribe reporters that 121 electricity poles were damaged by the floods, and 21 transformers and 149 kilometers of the network of power lines had been affected.

Numbers increase in Olga's wake
The number of people killed by last week's storm was reported as 33 as of Monday morning. The National Emergency Commission (CNE) reports that over 61,000 people were displaced from their homes during the flooding. The CNE also is keeping a Red Alert in place for the provinces of Santiago, Duarte, Montecristi, Valverde, Maria Trinidad Sanchez, Samana, La Vega and Sanchez Ramirez. Other reports indicate that 23 bridges and highways were affected by the floods, and 40 shelters have been set up to assist the victims. The shelters are in schools, churches and community centers.

Lower Yaque under water
The drama of flooded areas that was first seen in central Santiago de los Caballeros early last week is now happening in the lower Yaque basin, to the northwest. The towns of Mao, Guayubin and Castanuelas are struggling against the floodwaters, and thousands of acres of farmland are under water. Plantain and rice farms in the northwestern region suffered from the flooding Yaque del Norte river waters. A report from Monte Cristi says that 20,000 tareas of tomatoes were destroyed by the flooding. Two hundred banana farmers met and reported losses of RD$120 million. Reports in El Caribe indicate that 90% of the crops in the basin were damaged or wiped out by the flooding. It is estimated that as many as 10,000 families will be affected by the tomato crop loss. Listin Diario is reporting that the river has severed all traffic between Dajabon and Monte Cristi, and has cut off 20 communities in the region. A number of tiny communities like Las Matas de Santa Cruz, Walterio or Carbonera were flooded. The town of Villa Vasquez is currently housing over 5,000 refugees from the flooding.

They are back where they were
Even after the experience of running from the huge waves generated by Tropical Storm Olga, the residents of Villa Iris in Nagua have gone back to build houses on the beaches. People are walking along the beaches in search of the odd piece of tin roofing or usable piece of wood. They are rebuilding less than 15 meters from the storm wall that was built to hold back the sea. In the shantytown of Rincon de Molinillo alone, the waters destroyed 110 houses in less than an hour before the very eyes of their inhabitants who had not heeded the Civil Defense call to evacuate the area.

Refugees get help and multiply
In a note that appears in Diario Libre, it seems that in one shelter for the victims of Olga in Santiago, what started off as 300 grew to 600 as aid arrived. Ten thousand meals are served each day to two thousand people housed in shelters, and besides the rations, the evacuees are also being given blankets, mosquito netting and medical care. Provincial governor Jose Izquierdo reported that a census is being taken to find out just how many people are being sheltered and in need of official assistance, and as a way of preventing the influx of "infiltrators" who take advantage of every situation. As an example, the governor pointed out the case of the Barranquita shelter where the original 300 displaced people suddenly grew to 600, some of whom came from the South (Barahona, Pedernales area).

A.M.: The truth
Today's Diario Libre page two editorial is Adriano Miguel Tejada's hard look at Tropical Storm Olga and the aftermath of opinions. Tejada starts off by praising the work of government recovery teams working after both TS Olga and its predecessor, Noel. It is understandable in the light of the presidential elections, he says. However, what is not understandable is the fact that the government has not be able to obtain the assistance of all Dominicans in this recovery work, nor has it proceeded with sufficient vigor against those responsible: the lack of warning about Noel and the criminal opening of the floodgates at Tavera Dam in the case of Olga. These are not intentional acts by evil people, but in both cases errors were made that caused death, pain and untold material damage for individual citizens and the country as a whole. As a lawyer, Tejada knows the Criminal Code, and he cites Article 319 of the Code that sets fines and prison terms for anyone who "through stupidity, imprudence, inadvertence, negligence or lack of observation of the regulations, commits involuntary homicide..." The editor in chief of the newspaper goes on to say that it will be very difficult to convince Dominicans that proper protocols were followed in the release of the Tavera Dam waters. This dam has never caused so much damage despite the fact that (Hurricanes) David, Frederick, Georges and Noel, just to mention a few, brought more rain than Olga. The reason is that the dam was never opened so violently. Tejada ends by saying that the people have a right to know, in public, open and frank discussions, the reasons behind the tragedy, and the government would be well advised to get this out of the political arena where feelings are stronger than reason.

Economic damage by Olga
The flooding brought on by the opening of the Tavera Dam floodgates during Tropical Storm Olga has led to millions in losses for Santiago's commercial sector alone. The figure of RD$100 million is being quoted by the Wholesalers Association (AMAPROSAN), which also reports that the businesses along the Valerio Avenue were most seriously affected. Amaprosan president Jose Ceballos told Hoy newspaper reporter Jose Alfredo Espinal that all the commercial enterprises below Valerio Avenue had been "severely affected by the flooding."

Baseball update
In Friday night's action, the Toros del Este defeated the Leones del Escogido 7-0 in Santo Domingo. The Estrellas Orientales left the Aguilas Cibaenas in the field with a two-run rally in the bottom of the ninth to snatch a 4-3 victory from the third place Aguilas.
On Saturday, the Estrellas continued their winning ways with another 4-3 victory, this time over the Tigres del Licey, maintaining their fourth place standing with two games up on the fifth placed Toros del Este. In Santo Domingo's Estadio Quisqueya, the Gigantes del Cibao tamed the Leones del Escogido 4-2 in 16 innings. The victory gave the Gigantes a two-game advantage over the second placed Tigres, and plunged the Leones to three games out of fourth place.
The game between the Toros del Este and the Aguilas Cibaenas was rained out.
On Sunday, the Leones del Escogido won the City Championship as they defeated the Tigres del Licey 3-2 in the Quisqueya ballpark in Santo Domingo. This is the first City Championship that the Leones have won in five years.
Meanwhile, in La Romana, the Toros del Este shut out the Estrellas Orientales 4-0 to climb within one game of the coveted fourth place play-off spot. The Aguilas Cibaenas defeated the Gigantes del Cibao 8-3 in the Julian Javier Ball Park in San Francisco de Macoris. The Aguilas victory featured excellent pitching by Jose Lima (6.2 innings, 2 hits, 1 run) and great hitting from Rafael Furcal (4-5).
Current Standings
Team Win Lost Percent Games Behind
Gigantes 25 16 .625 --
Licey 24 17 .585 1.5
Aguilas 21 20 .512 4.5
Estrellas 19 23 .452 7.0
Azucareros 18 24 .429 8.0
Escogido 17 25 .405 9.0
Tonight's Games
San Francisco de Macoris, Estadio Julian Javier 7:30 p.m. - Estrellas Orientales vs. Gigantes del Cibao
Santiago de los Caballeros, Estadio Cibao 8:00 p.m. - Tigres del Licey vs. Aguilas Cibaenas
La Romana Estadio Francisco Micheli 7:35 p.m. - Leones del Escogido vs. Toros del Este
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