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07SANTODOMINGO2780 2007-12-21 17:45:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Santo Domingo
Cable title:  

SANTO DOMINGO ECONOMIC-POLITICAL ROUNDUP, DECEMBER

Tags:   PGOV PHUM ENRG DR 
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E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM ENRG DR
SUBJECT: SANTO DOMINGO ECONOMIC-POLITICAL ROUNDUP, DECEMBER
21, 2007

(U) In this edition of the Roundup:



1. Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Journalist's FOIA Request


2. New Model Community for Sugarcane Workers


3. Government Will Not Prosecute Electricity Theft


4. Music Inspires Social Progress



1. (SBU) Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Journalist's FOIA
Request

On December 6, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of journalist
Luis Eduardo "Huchi" Lora in an important test of the
Dominican Republic's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Lora
had requested documents regarding construction plans and
geological studies of Santo Domingo's controversial subway
project after he received information that proper feasibility
studies had not been conducted. A lower court ruled in April
that the Presidential Transportation Reorganization Office
(OPRET) must provide the requested information; however, the
government appealed the decision on national security
grounds. The Supreme Court upheld the lower court's ruling,
forcing OPRET to provide the requested information. Lora has
already received several bins and folders of documents from
the government and he expects to receive additional
information. Comment: During the Ambassador's courtesy call
on Supreme Court President Subero Isa on December 19, Subero
cited the subway FOIA case as one the two most important
decisions made by the court this year. It is indeed rare
here to see the executive branch lose a major court case and
this one is precedent setting, since the public and
government are testing the scope and limit of the 2004 FOIA
law. The two court rulings and OPRET's eventual compliance
are significant steps toward open, transparent governance and
adherence to the rule of law. End Comment.



2. (SBU) New Model Community for Sugarcane Workers

The major sugar producing firm the Vicini Group has broken
ground on a USD5.5 million housing project designed to
improve living conditions for its sugarcane workers and other
"batey" (sugarcane community) residents. The 18-month plan
calls for relocating approximately 1,000 individuals --
workers, their families, and selected long-term non-working
batey residents currently scattered among three bateys --
into a new community of 127 basic concrete homes centered on
a primary school, a health clinic, and two churches.
According to the Vicinis, residents of this new community
will be provided with electricity, water (potable water and a
sewage system), and trash collection, none of which are
currently common. Two additional communities are in planning
stages. All three communities will be served by a high
school, paid for by the Vicinis, that is nearly complete.
Vicini Group senior officials took pains to assert that these
relocation plans are part of a long-term, preexisting effort
to improve social responsibility and not a response to NGOs
and others that have recently criticized conditions in the
sugar industry, most notably in a spate of films (e.g. "The
Price of Sugar," "Big Sugar," "Sugar Babies"), and in the
controversially titled photographic display, "Slaves in
Paradise."



3. (SBU) Government Will Not Enforce Prosecution of
Electricity Theft

The Dominican Superintendent of Electricity announced on
December 3 that recently passed legislation criminalizing
electricity theft will not be enforced for at least another
three months. This announcement was made despite the fact
that the grace period for implementation, which was supported
by officials from the distribution companies, has expired.
The legislation was passed as a condition of the country's
current IMF stand-by agreement and is a pillar of the reform
efforts necessary to reduce the country's roughly USD650
million subsidy for electricity. Comment: Upon passage of
the legislation in July, Bear Sterns' regional analyst made a
prescient warning, i.e. "We are concerned about the
government's ability and/or willingness to enforce this new

law given the proximity of next May's presidential election."
While excuses were provided such as the need to launch a
public awareness campaign and hire special prosecutors and
staff, the failure to implement this legislation clearly
reinforces the perception that the government is currently
unwilling to pay the political cost of holding those
responsible for theft accountable. The decision also
contradicts the government's recent statements about the need
for energy conservation in the context of rising fuel prices,
since there is little incentive to save energy when there is
no penalty for its theft. Resolving the electricity sector's
problems is essential to reducing the government's burdensome
subsidy and, more broadly, for improving the prospects for
economic growth. End Comment.



4. (U) Music Inspires Social Progress

The First Lady of the Dominican Republic headlined the launch
of a campaign against domestic violence on December 19
entitled, "Pegale a la Pared," which was inspired by a song
of the same title by Mexican musician Reyli Barba. The
launch witnessed the signing of a law enforcement and
assistance cooperation agreement between the Attorney
Generals' Offices of the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.
Domestic violence has reached alarming levels in recent years
in the Dominican Republic, according to the Dominican special
prosecutor for women's issues. Barba, who played the
campaign's theme song live to a packed audience, was joined
by musician Gilberto Santa Rosa, also know as the "Gentleman
of Salsa," and a representative of the Dominican merengue
music idol Juan Luis Guerra, who together have added
celebrity clout to this campaign's message. The most
concrete outcome of the campaign's launch appears to be the
initiative to open as many as 27 domestic violence support
centers throughout the Dominican Republic in 2008.

(U) This report and additional information can be found on
Embassy Santo Domingo's SIPRNET site,
http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/wha/santodomingo/
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