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New law empowers city councils to collect taxes

Santo Domingo. – The National Assembly yesterday approved the levying of taxes by the city councils, as long as they “don’t coincide with national taxes, inter-municipal commerce or exports, nor with the Constitution and the laws.”

In also established that the National District, the municipalities and the municipal districts are the base of the local and political administrative system and are judicial entities with public right responsible for their activities.

They’ll also benefit from their own patrimony and normative, administrative and budgetary autonomy and the power over ground use, determined expressly by the law and subject to the power of control of the State and the social control of the citizenship in the terms established by the Constitution.

Although the Assembly is close to ending the debates on the Constitutional Reform, few lawmakers attended yesterday’s session as the failure to reach quorum several times finally forced a postponement until 3 p.m. today.

From DominicanToday.com

Cops Arrest in Puerto Plata Missionary Accused of Molesting Boys

PUERTO PLATA – A Canadian missionary accused of sexually abusing dozens of young boys in neighboring Haiti was arrested in the northern Dominican province of Puerto Plata, authorities said Wednesday.

Joao Jose Correira Duarte, who goes by John Duarte, was captured on Tuesday in a hotel where he was staying as a tourist, the DNCD counternarcotics agency said in a communique.

He is accused of sexually abusing dozens of boys by taking advantage of his status as a religious minister.

Duarte is facing at least a dozen charges of raping boys between the ages of 12 and 17, according to the communique put out by the DNCD, which participated in the man’s arrest along with immigration officials.

Authorities said Duarte had sexual relations with a group of Haitian youngsters while he was a guest in hotels in Port-au-Prince.

They added that the Canadian had lived in the Haitian capital since 1995 “working as a missionary and serving as the administrator of an orphanage for boys.”

Duarte had sexual relations with the minors in exchange for economic favors, including buying them clothing and paying for the housing of some of his victims’ relatives.

The alleged pedophile will be deported in the coming hours to Canada, where he is facing rape charges. EFE

DR is world’s “second happiest “country

The Dominican Republic is the second happiest place on earth, according to the New Economics Foundation, an independent research group in Britain. (Costa Rica topped the list; nine of the ten highest-scoring nations are Latin American.)

The organization’s second annual Happy Planet Index 2.0: Why Good Lives Don’t Have to Cost the Earth, was published in July, 2009. The new Index is based on data for 143 countries around the world, representing 99 per cent of the world’s population.

The aim of the New Economics Foundation is to “create a new economy that serves people and the planet. We want to begin to redefine “wealth” and “progress”; to judge our systems and economies on how much they create the world we actually want, rather than how much money they generate.”

In addition to the “most content” factor, the foundation also considers the ecological footprint and life expectancy of countries. Britain ranked 74th, while the United States is 114 on the Happy Index, due consumption patterns and a huge ecological footprint. The report noted that the United States was greener and happier 20 years ago than it is today. Most developed nations lagged in the study.

While Britain ranked 74th, the United States snagged the 114th spot, because of its hefty consumption and massive ecological footprint.

The United States was greener and happier 20 years ago than it is today, the report said.

Other populous nations, such as China and India, had a lower index brought on by their vigorous pursuit of growth-based models, the survey suggested.

“As the world faces the triple crunch of deep financial crisis, accelerating climate change and the looming peak in oil production, we desperately need a new compass to guide us,” said Nic Marks, founder of the foundation’s center for well-being.

Marks urged nations to make a collective global change before “our high-consuming lifestyles plunge us into the chaos of irreversible climate change.”

The report, which was first conducted in 2006, covers 99 percent of the world population, the statement said.

For more information visit the New Economics Foundation web site

POP Report Front Page

Hurricane season to be less intense say experts

Experts are predicting that this year’s hurricane season, June 1 until November 30, may be less intense than 2008. They say there will be 12 tropical storms and six hurricanes in the Atlantic, two of which are expected to be severe.

Last year there were 16 tropical storms and eight hurricanes, four of which were severe. Hurricanes such as Fay, Hanna, Gustav and Ike raked across the Dominican Republic last year leaving 12 dead, 65 communities flooded, 15 bridges and highways destroyed and some 40,000 people homeless.

Meanwhile they advise that a better forecast for this season is no reason to relax vigil.

The Miami Hurricane Center has announced the following names for Atlantic storms: Ana, Bill, Claudette, Danny, Erika, Fred, Grace, Henri, Ida, Joaquín. Kate, Larry, Mindy, Nicholas, Odette, Peter, Rose, Sam, Teresa, Víctor and Wanda.

The names Gustav, Ike and  Paloma, will not be used again until after 2014 due to the damage these storms caused in 2008.

The following precautions have been published by the Canadian Embassy in Santo Domingo.

According to experts the key to hurricane or tropical storm protection is preparation. By taking sensible measures before, during, and after a hurricane, many lives can be saved and property damage averted.

Although most of the impacts associated with tropical storms and hurricanes occur in the coastal areas, these storms can also affect inland areas. The biggest threat to life and property inland is damage from flash flooding and landslides due to excessive rainfall.

Keep well informed by listening to the latest warnings and advisories on radio, television, or web sites. Many Hurricane centers will issue and update these when necessary. It is also important to follow the advice of local authorities and emergency response personnel, and to know how to contact the nearest Canadian government office.

A hurricane preparedness plan includes three basic things that are important in the threat of any severe weather event, and not just for hurricanes:

1. Maintaining a disaster or emergency supply kit;

2. Securing your home and property;

3. Having a safe place to go in the event of evacuation or prolonged utility outage.

A disaster or emergency supply kit should include the below listed items as a minimum.  It is recommended that you consult the two websites provided at the end of this email for additional information and more detailed lists.

– Water – have at least four litres of water available per person per day for three to seven days

– Food – maintain a supply of non-perishable food that is enough for at least three to seven days.  This should include non-perishable items such as: canned food/juices, food for infants or the elderly, snack foods, a non-electric can opener

– First Aid Kit, medicines and prescription drugs

– Sleeping bags, blankets and pillows

– Flashlights and batteries

– Battery operated radio

– Toiletries and hygiene items – including toilet paper, soap, moisture wipes

– Clothing – put aside at least one change of clothes per person, including rain gear and sturdy shoes or boots

– Telephones – ensure cell phones are fully charged.  Each home should be equipped with a traditional, non-cordless phone

– Cash – bank machines, credit cards, and other forms of electronic commerce may not be available during an emergency

– Important Documents – place essential documents in a waterproof containet (ID, passports, medical records, insurance information, etc)

– Fuel – fill all vehicle fuel tanks in advance of a storm

– Tools – have a set with you during the storm

– Specialty items for the children, elderly. Games, toys, and books to keep you and children entertained.

– Pets – plan for you pets by having a sufficient supply of food and water available for them.  If you need to go to a shelter, have a plan in place for where your pet will go.

We would encourage you to visit the following web sites where further information is available on hurricanes specifically and emergency preparedness in general.

Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada: http://www.psepc.gc.ca/prg/em/gds/genprep-en.asp

The US National Hurricane Centre:

http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/

Canadians abroad are recommended to bring their whereabouts to our attention if they are not already registered with the Embassy. Registration can be completed online at http://www.voyage.gc.ca/main/sos/rocapage-en.asp or by visiting the Canadian Embassy in Santo Domingo or the Canadian Consulate in Puerto Plata.

Should you have particular concerns, please feel free to contact the Consular Section of the Embassy at 809-685-1136. After hours, you may place a collect call to Foreign Affairs Canada’s Operations Centre in Ottawa at (613) 996-8885.

Canadian Embassy Contact Info:
Internet: http://www.santodomingo.gc.ca

Canadian Consulate in Puerto Plata

Calle Villanueva No 8, Edificio Abraxas

Tel: (809) 586-5761

Fax: (809) 586-5762

Puerto Plata e-mail canada.pop@gmail.com

Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic

Office of the Canadian Embassy

In Punta Cana

Carretera Veron- Bavaro Km. 2 1/2, Amstar

Business Center, Building 4, office 404.

(809) 455-1730 main line

(809) 455- 1733 Fax

(809) 455-1734

DR scores as eighth nation in the hemisphere with least crime victims

The Dominican Republic’s crime-victim rate is lower than Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Brazil, Nicaragua, Paraguay, the United States, Guatemala, Bolivia, El Salvador, Venezuela, Uruguay, Chile, Ecuador, Peru and Argentina. It is among seven of the hemisphere’s countries with the least crime victims.

The report “Political Culture of democracy in the Dominican Republic, 2008: The impact of governance” by the organization Barometer of the Americas states that the number of Dominicans who reported being the victim of a crime rose from 6.8% to 16.2% from 2004 to 2006, then fell to 14.8% in 2008.

The groups which reported the highest percentage of victimization by crime were men, youngsters, inhabitants in the big cities and people with a higher level of education.

The research found the region’s lowest percentage of victimization by crime in Jamaica, with 8.3% reports in the last year, followed by Panama, with 8.4%; Belize with 10.6%; Honduras was fourth with 13.7%; Canada, 14.2% and Haiti, 14.3%.

Perception of security

With a sampling of 1,507 people, the poll concluded that the perception of insecurity among Dominicans is relatively moderate, as of the 23 nations in the study, 14 have higher levels, whereas 39.5% of those surveyed said they feel unsafe, to the 54.5% who affirmed feeling “very safe.”

This level of perception of personal insecurity has negative effects on political tolerance, the legitimacy of political institutions andinterpersonal confidence, the report says, and affirms that the population displays “certain confidence” in the judicial system’s capacity to confront criminality, and to capture and condemn the
guilty, but notes a distrust in the National Police’s capacity to protect citizens.

“Only 42% of the Dominicans surveyed said the Police protects, although this percentage was even lower in 2006 (30%).”

The report concludes that in 2008, 48% of the Dominican population
onfides in the Police to capture the culprit of a crime, an average perception which is the highest in Latin America’s other 17 countries, and in the region surpassed only by Jamaica.

source: www.DominicanToday.com

Next election term to be six years

(AP) — The next crop of Dominican mayors, legislators and other elected officials will get to serve an extra two years in office under a new measure that aims to cut costs by holding all elections at the same time

Candidates who win in 2010 will stay in office until 2016, according to a constitutional amendment approved late Tuesday by a special government committee. Officials usually serve four-year terms.

The Dominican Republic used to have a single, unified vote for all offices, until fraud allegations tarnished the 1994 presidential election. A new vote for the presidency and vice-presidency was held two years later, and the election cycle has been off-kilter since.

The government has not said how much money it expects to save by re-coupling municipal and presidential elections.

The amendment also moves elections to a Sunday to avoid interrupting
business activities, since a work holiday is traditionally declared to
make it easier for Dominicans to get to the polls.

Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Government lifts tax to kick-start construction

From dr1.com

According to Superintendent of Banks Rafael Camilo, there is a housing deficit of 975,000 units, and the government is taking new steps to help fill the need. According to Diario Libre, yesterday the government issued instructions for the materials used in the construction of housing units with construction costs of under RD$1.4 million to be exempted from income tax, ITBIS (VAT) tax, and other taxes, as part of a plan to get the economy moving via the construction sector.
The exoneration of taxes for materials used in housing construction is expected to “kick-start” the economy through the construction sector that is known to create more jobs and have a trickle-down effect on other industries.
The measures will be implemented through the administration of the Department of Taxes (DGII), while the Congress discusses the legislative proposal that will be sent by the President’s Office today.
The measures come in response to requests from the construction sector and the small and medium business sector. The President and his economic cabinet met with representatives of these sectors yesterday.
Camilo acted as spokesman for the government and told the press after the meeting that it was agreed that the Central Bank is also studying a mechanism that will fix mortgage interest rates on middle class housing for three years. Camilo reported that just what that rate will be is not yet known but the decision could be taken in two weeks time.
Camilo also said that the government is exploring the possibility of donating state lands for the construction of low-cost housing projects.
According to studies, a house that would sell for RD$1.4 million would be between 75 to 80 square meters, and cost between RD$800,000 to RD$900,000 to build with the tax exemptions and the so-called land bonus the government would provide.

Judge defends right to call your kid ‘Dear Pineapple’ if you want

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (AP) — A judicial panel says Dominicans are free to name their kids “Dummy,” “Dear Pineapple” or anything else for that matter. The Central Electoral Commission has rejected a proposal that would ban any names that could be confusing or give no indication of gender, such as Querida Pina (Dear Pineapple) and Tonton Ruiz (Dummy Ruiz); both of these being real examples.

Judge Jose Angel Aquinas had called for a crackdown on unusual names after the country’s civil registry showed some families were naming their offspring after cartoon characters and car brands. One family named their girl Mazda Altagracia

But the commission concluded it is not appropriate for the government to dictate what parents name their children.


											

Amnesty International rails against anti-abortion law

Constitutional and legal reforms now underway in the Dominican Republic could lead to violations of women’s human rights, Amnesty International warned today. The measures may be used as justification for criminalising abortion in all circumstances, including where the life or health of the woman is at risk or where the pregnancy is the result of rape.

Dominican congress is considering a new constitutional provision that includes a reference to the inviolability of the right to life “from conception to death”. The constitutional amendment is widely thought to have been introduced to bolster efforts to criminalize and prohibit abortion in all cases. The Dominican Congress is also considering an amendment to the penal code which would increase the penalties for persons involved in carrying out an abortion and explicitly providing for the imprisonment of women pregnant as a result of rape, incest or involuntary assisted fertilization who seek or cause their own termination of pregnancy.

International human rights law and the Constitution as it is currently in force already protect prenatal life. Amnesty International calls on the Dominican Republic to give effect to this obligation in a manner compatible with the rights of women, including their rights to life and health.This may include measures to prevent miscarriage and stillbirth, the provision of antenatal, emergency obstetric and post-natal care and skilled attendance at birth. Pregnancy cannot be used as an occasion for suspending the concerned woman’s human rights. The protection of the foetus does not invalidate women’s human rights claims.

In order to give effect to its obligations under international human rights law, Amnesty International calls on the Dominican Republic authorities to reform the Penal Code to ensure that women and girls are not subject to criminal sanctions for seeking or obtaining an abortion under any circumstances. In particular, Amnesty International calls on the Dominican Congress to eliminate the proposed Article 239 which targets rape, incest and involuntary fertilisation victims for criminal punishment for abortion. The reform must also ensure that medical practitioners are not criminalised solely for providing abortion services that are safe. The Dominican Government must take all necessary measures to ensure that safe and legal abortion services are accessible without unreasonable restrictions to all girls and women who require them in cases of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest and in circumstances where continuation of pregnancy would put the health or life of the woman or girl at risk.

Background

Abortion is criminalized under the current national legislation (Penal Code). In August 2006, the executive branch decided to develop a new penal code and tasked the national congress with revising and correcting “incongruities” in the text. After one year a bicameral commission was formed to evaluate the penal code revisions and in July and August 2007 public hearings were held for arguments on decriminalizing abortion.  This review process is still ongoing.

Article 8 of the Constitution as it is currently in force only mentions the “inviolability of life”. The current constitutional reform proposal was introduced to Congress by the President of the Dominican Republic, Mr. Leonel Fernandez, in October 2008. The proposal is currently being examined by the Congress sitting in its capacity of “parliamentary assembly for the revision of the constitution” (Asamblea Revisora). The assembly votes article by article in first reading. The text will be then subject to a second reading, in which any changes will be voted.

The proposed Article 30 of the constitutional reform has provoked concerns among women organizations, the medical profession and other civil society organizations. In particular, the Dominican Society of Obstetrics and Gynaecologists expressed its concerns that the impact of the article could “be catastrophic on maternal mortality”, as a consequence of the restrictions that the interpretation of the article would impose to the medical sector.

Article 4.1 of the American Convention on Human Rights uses language similar to that of the proposed constitutional amendment, providing that “[e]very person has the right to have his life respected. This right shall be protected by law, and, in general, from the moment of conception.” According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, state parties to the Convention that dopermit abortion in law and facilitate access in practice are notin violation of the Convention. The President of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has commented: “In certain cases, such as when continuing the pregnancy would endanger the life of the woman, or when the pregnancy is as a result of rape, the criminalization of abortion would cause a violation of the obligation of the state to protect the life of the woman”.

Amnesty International regrets to note that the proposed reform of Article 30 does not follow the human rights-affirmative approach taken by the Constitutional Court of Colombia in its 2006 judgment invalidating the complete ban of abortion, an approach which distinguished the right to life of the woman from the state’s duty to protect prenatal life in international human rights and constitutional law.

John F ousted for Juan B in street name change

Puerto Plata city council has voted to change the name of a main downtown street,  John F. Kennedy Ave., to Profesor Juan Bosch. The proposal was tabled by city councillor Dr. Rafael Santana along with a 200-name petition and was passed by a large majority of votes.

Juan Bosch was a politician, historian, short story writer, essayist, educator, and the first cleanly elected president of the Dominican Republic for a brief time in 1963. Previously, he had been the leader of Dominican opposition in exile to the dictatorial regime of Rafael Trujillo for over a quarter century. To this day he is remembered as an honest politician and regarded as one of the most prominent writers in Dominican literature. He is the founder of both the Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD) in 1939 and the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) in 1973.

Before being named in honor of John F. Kennedy, this street was originally called Calle de Comercio, or Commerce Street.

North coast drug scandals pit Dominican Police, Justice Ministry

SANTO DOMINGO. – The Justice Ministry yesterday accused Police agents of being accomplices of drug trafficking in Puerto Plata, forming “a serious stumbling block” to the prosecutors’ work to fight it, charges expected to unleash a confrontation between the heads of those departments.

Contrary to Police chief Rafael Guzmán’s allegation that it’s the zone’s prosecutors who conspire with drug traffickers, a report by Assistant prosecutor Ramon Arístides Madera says Police, antinarcotics (DNCD), and some Armed Forces agents destroyed and contaminated evidence, didn’t carry out Justice Ministry instructions, switched drugs sent to the forensics lab to protect narcotics traffickers and didn’t investigate bloody crimes in that zone.

“There was no way to break the inertia of those corrupted agents.” says the report given to Justice minister Radhamés Jiménez, and defends the actions of the prosecutors Grimilda Disla, Wilfredo Martinez and Ramon Núñez, “who have done their part, acted responsibly and heroically when denouncing and confronting the evil of drug trafficking in Sosúa and Puerto Plata.

It states that it was those prosecutors’ efforts that uncovered the actions 31 police agents who were fired for serious offenses.

On February 16 Guzmán denounced that the three assistant prosecutors had links with and provided protection for rings of narcotics traffickers in Sosúa, and made reference to taped telephone conversations between alleged narcotics traffickers and prosecutors.

From: dominicantoday.com

DC fire chief grilled on donations to Sosua

WASHINGTON — Reporters and the DC City Council have been trying to find out who in the city is behind an unusual deal sending a surplus fire engine and ambulance to the beach resort Sosua in the Dominican Republic. Answers have been hard to come by.

DC Fire and EMS Department Chief Dennis Rubin was the first on the hot seat in front of Phil Mendelson, the chairman of the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary. As part of a regular budget hearing, Mendelson wanted to know why the department sent Deputy Chief Ronald Gill Jr. to Sosua for 6 days earlier in the year. Gill is in charge of fleet maintenance for the department.

Chief Rubin, who said he was unaware of the trip until after the fact, takes responsibility for the fire department’s actions and is sorry the trip was made. Assistant Chief Alfred Jeffrey gave permission for Gill’s travel as part of a delegation of city employees. Jeffrey was unable to tell Mendelson who else from the city went to Sosua and who in the city government approved the trip or the donation of the fire equipment.

The donation was made through the group Peaceoholics which works with young people in the city in an effort to curb violence. After the donation was made public Peaceoholics co-founder Ron Moten ordered the equipment returned to the city. It had made it as far as the Port of Miami.

Rubin and Jeffrey indicated this deal was in the works before either man was appointed to their positions in the department.

In one of a number of testy exchanges with the fire officials, Phil Mendelson said the answer to why Chief Jeffrey approved the travel defies logic and wanted to know why the assistant chief didn’t ask more questions.

The whole deal is now part of an investigation by the Office of the Attorney General. Mendelson believes there may be a conflict of interest because he says that office approved the emergency rule making allowing Peacoholics to be given the fire equipment.

From: Dave Statter
STATter911.com

27 Police officers arrested for drug involvement

PUERTO PLATA— President Leonel Fernandez last night relieved Puerto Plata-based Northwest Regional Police commander general Bienvenido Calderón Efres, and replaced him with brigadier general Eduardo Alberto Then.

The measure comes amid an investigation of 27 Police officers, including two colonels who served in that region, for alleged involvement in drug trafficking, including the death of a reported drug dealer and of collecting “tolls” to allow the activity, and just months after a similar number of Dominican Navy officers were charged with the killing of seven Colombian drug traffickers in Bani.

The measure was announced after a meeting of the Democratic Security Council headed by Fernandez in the Palace.

Prior to his duties in Puerto Plata, Then headed the Central Cibao Regional command based in Santiago, where he stood out for his work against organized crime.

Fernandez also fired Puerto Plata Police Investigation commander colonel Frank Felix Almonte, who was accused -together with 21 other senior officers and enlistees assigned to that precinct- of drug traffic and several murders orderered by drug traffickers.

The Presidency’s Chief of staff Cesar Pina Toribio announced Fernandez’s decision in a press conference, after a meeting with of the National Council for Citizen Security.

“These are the results of an investigation that lasted more than three months,” said Police chief Rafael Guzmán.

National Police chief Rafael Guzmán Wednesday said he won’t allow Dominican Republic to become “Mexicanized,” in reference to Mexico, a country he said has a high crime index.

He said he’ll unwaveringly fire and prosecute to full extent of the Law the agents, including generals, linked to drug trafficking.

Guzmán affirmed that at president Leonel Fernandez’s instructions the Police is immersed in a anti-corruption campaign. “We won’t allow the country to become Mexicanized in its institutions. I’m very clear and aware of the situation and the President of the Republic has expressed it to me thusly.”

The Police Chief added that there are currently more regional commands under investigation, two days after Puerto Plata Precinct commander, general Rafael Calderon Efres, was relieved of duty after investigators found evidence of his alleged links to organized crime.

From: Dominican Today

Brugal patriarch dies

George Arzeno Brugal, president of the Dominican Republic’s largest rum distiller, died in Tampa, FL, Friday while taking part in government-sponsored talks to deal with the effects of the global economic crisis.

Luis Concepcion, a company spokesman, confirmed Brugal’s death, saying he had not been ill and that his children were with him when he died.

Brugal was president of the rum and beverage company Brugal, founded in 1888.A year ago this month it sold 83% of the company’s shares to The Edrington Group, a Scottish distilling company, for $400 million.

He also was president of the Brugal Foundation which has made major grants to non-profit Dominican institutions for the past decade.

German family drama in Sosua

Sosua – A 52-year-old German businessman apparently killed his wife before committing suicide in the Dominican Republic, police said after the couple had been found dead. Dominican police suspect this was a “crime of passion,” a police spokesman in the town of Sosua told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa. No signs of external involvement had been found at the site, he said.

Heinz Gerhard F, who managed a construction company, and his wife, Karin, 51, had lived for 17 years in the northern Dominican tourist resort of Sosua. A friend found them both dead in their bed, the spokesman said. Over the weekend, a brother of the dead man who lives in Germany received an email that alarmed him, so he had asked the friend to check the house. The police spokesman refused to reveal the precise content of the email. Karin F had been shot in the temple, and her body showed signs of mistreatment. Forensic doctors were to investigate the origin of the injuries. The woman’s husband was said to have died immediately afterwards, of a shot in the mouth. The businessman, who suffered from diabetes, had had various financial and health problems in recent times. His business was going badly, and he reportedly once said that he had lost a lot of money while speculating in the stock market.

Source: www.earthtimes.org

Rare venemous mammal rediscovered on Hispaniola

In the journal Oryx researchers from EDGE, a program of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), have announced the rediscovery of a small population of Hispaniolan solenodons in Haiti. At the same time scientists in the Dominican Republic have taken the first ever footage of this endangered mammal.

There are few animals stranger than the Hispaniolan solenodon. The species can perhaps be best described as a plump rat sporting multi-colored fur and the long dangly nose of an elephant shrew. Its eyes are tiny pin-pricks, while its feet have long gnarled toes and nails that appear in desperate need of trimming. Something about the animal makes it look old and cantankerous, like an insectivorous hairy Yoda. But the Hispaniolan solenodon is no flight-of-fancy.

Hispaniolan solenodon taken in the Dominican Republic. Photo by Gregory Guida, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust.
Dr. Samuel Turvey, a member of the EDGE research team who rediscovered the species in Haiti, says that solenodons “constitute an ancient mammal lineage that diverged from all other living mammals around 76 million years ago, during the time of the dinosaurs”. The Hispaniolan solenodon has only one living relative, the Cuban solenodon, which Turvey describes as “only distantly related”. Both species are often referred to as a ‘living fossils’ since they are essentially a windows into the early mammals of the Cretaceous.

The solenodon is unique in more ways than outward appearance. “They are the only living mammal species that are able to inject venom through specially modified teeth, similar to the way that snakes inject venom – a very unusual adaptation for a mammal!” explains Turvey. While there are other venomous mammals, including two species of shrews and the male duckbill platypus, they are capable of only passively conveying venom; shrews’ venom resides in their saliva and duckbill platypuses possess a poisonous claw on their hind leg.

In spite of its uniqueness in the animal kingdom, the Hispaniolan solenodon faces great pressure today. Its forest habitat has been invaded by alien predators and degraded by humans, allowing for only pockets of small populations to survive. Before European colonization of Hispaniola—the island which today includes the nations of Haiti and the Dominican Republic—it is believed that the solenodon had no natural predators. It’s slow and clumsy gait, hardly useful for evading predators, is cited as evidence for this. However, once Europeans arrived the island became overrun with dogs, cats, and the Asian mongoose which prey heavily on the island’s endemic species, including the solenodon. In fact, the solenodon is one of the few island mammals to have survived this onslaught.

Hispaniola was “never colonized by true carnivores,” Turvey said, “so solenodons probably represented the top mammalian ‘predators’ of these unusual island ecosystems before human arrival, although they are generalist insectivores rather than really carnivorous.”

Detail of Hispaniolan solenodon feet and claws. Photo by Gregory Guida, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust.
The appearance of invasive species, compounded by human encroachment and habitat degradation, has pushed the solenodons to the verge of extinction. By the 1990s a couple populations persisted in the Dominican Republic, but Haiti’s only population of solenodons was predicted to have only 10-20 years left before it vanished. While the bleak prognosis was due largely to the amount of pressure on the solenodon, it also reflected the general laxity of the conservation community toward species that don’t have the requisite ‘charisma’ or popularity with the public. It is a trend EDGE is working to overcome.

“So far solenodons have been sorely neglected by conservationists,” Turvey says, “many of whom have probably never even heard of them.”

Rediscovery in Haiti

The survey in Haiti undertaken by Dr. Turvey and colleagues was to ascertain if any solenodons still survive or if the nation had lost one of its natural treasures. In April 2007 the team of scientists spent eleven days in Massif de la Hotte region of Haiti interviewing subsistence farmers and villagers. This mountainous region was the last place where solenodons survived in Haiti; previous researchers outlined an area of solenodon habit in the Massif de la Hotte of only about eight to ten square kilometers.

The survey proved a success. The scientists’ interviews and the subsequent discovery of three dead solenodons—one of which had been eaten by a farmer—confirmed that the solenodon still survives in Haiti. In fact, the researchers believe that the species’ range may be even larger than it was a decade ago. They found evidence that the solenodons occupied lower elevations than expected and could even survive in largely degraded habitat. In the paper announcing their results, the researchers hypothesize that a widespread culling of dogs in the region may have saved the solenodons from extinction and even allowed them to expand their small range.

The re-discovery of the Haitian population of solenodons is important for an additional reason. Researchers stress that preservation of solenodon habitat and conservation measures would not only aid the solenodon but other endangered species, including Hispaniola’s only endemic rodent, the hutia, which is classified as vulnerable by the IUCN, as well as the gray-crowned palm-tanager, also endemic to the area. The Massif de la Hotte region may also be ripe for new discoveries: while visiting for only eleven days the researchers made the first sighting of an indigo bunting in Haiti and recorded the island’s first yellow-headed blackbird.

Despite this wealth of biodiversity, conservation in Haiti faces many hurdles. “Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, and obviously the ongoing humanitarian crisis has meant that there have been few national resources available for conservation or environmental work,” Turvey said. “So far there are only a couple of sites in the entire country that have been awarded national protected status. The Massif de la Hotte is home to a large number of unique endemic species restricted to this small mountain region, but although it contains one of Haiti’s few national parks, and has been identified as a globally significant region by the Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE), there still is little concerted conservation activity even here.”

The solenodons of the Dominican Republic

At the same time as the EDGE team was surveying in Haiti, conservation work concerning solenodons was taking place on the other side of the island in the Dominican Republic.

A large number of organizations—ZSL, the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust (DWCT), the Ornithological Society of Hispaniola, the Audubon Society of Haiti, and the Dominican Republic’s National Zoological Park and Agency for Protected Areas and Biodiversity—are currently collaborating to create a program that would conserve Hispaniola’s endemic land mammals, including the solenodon, throughout Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Richard Young, a conservation biologist with the DWCT who is working on the program, says “the project would enable the long-term conservation of the Hispaniolan solenodon by conducting large scale surveys to assess its population status and a field study in order to identify the main human-driven threats to its survival”.
A pilot project was conducted by the DWCT and the Ornithological Society of Hispaniola this past summer. Due its scarcity and the general lack o knowledge about the solenodons, Young was surprised by the success the team had in finding solenodons: “during one month of intensive trapping effort one individual was caught in a live-trap, providing a valuable DNA sample and some very rare film footage of the solenodon after the animal was released”.

The DWCT, created by the popular author and honored naturalist Gerald Durrell, focuses much of its attention “on conserving vulnerable communities of endemic animals which make such a valuable contribution to global biodiversity” according to Young. Like EDGE it has a history of working with species and places that haven’t gained the attention of the larger conservation community.

The future of the solenodon

While the solenodon’s future remains precarious, the recent attention from EDGE, DWCT, and other organizations will be vital if the species is to survive.

Now that there has been confirmation of the species in Haiti, a more thorough study of the population needs to be undertaken. “Given the lack of any targeted mammal conservation research in Haiti for almost 2 decades,” the scientists wrote in Oryx, “immediate further investigation is required into solenodon distribution, habitat utilization, density, and interaction with introduced predators across the region”. Until such a major project begins, community-based endeavors such as local surveys and the general raising of awareness (because of its scarcity the species is unknown even to many Haitians) is currently underway.
While the immediate future of the project in the Dominican Republic is focusing on fundraising, Young hopes the project will begin in 2009. The long-term goal of the project is to establish a species action plan that “would set out the main actions needed to conserve the species, and develop an island-wide monitoring programme to understand if future conservation efforts are effective.

A final mystery remains. In 2001 biologist Jose Alberto Ottenwalder suggested that the solenodons of Haiti may be distinct enough from those in the Dominican Republic to represent a subspecies; Ottenwalder went ahead and named it Solenodon paradoxus woodi . Others have even suggested the solenodons in Haiti could be a distinct species, providing even more urgency for the conservation of the Haitian population. Further studies should provide the answer to the level of relation between the populations.

Such debate is not new to solenodons. The taxonomy between the Hispaniolan and the Cuban solenodon is under discussion: some believe they should not share the same genus since the two species are separated by an astounding 25 million years.
When asked about their hope for the future of the solenodon both Turvey and Young proved cautiously optimistic.

Noting their extreme scarcity and the number of threats they face, Turvey sees hope in the mammal’s ability to survive: “solenodons seem to be tenacious little animals in many ways, as they have somehow managed to survive in the West Indies when over 100 other land mammal species have died out in the region as a result of human activities.”

Young says that the species has a chance “given some good conservation science and planning and if effective partnerships between national and international partners can be built, conserving this species is possible but actions are needed urgently.”

Both scientists agree that without active conservation the solenodon will likely go extinct. There is little doubt that if this is allowed to happen, the world will suffer the loss of one of its most unique inhabitants.

Samuel T. Turvey; Helen M.R. Meredith; R. Paul Scofield. Continued survival of Hispaniolan solenodon Solenodon paradoxus in Haiti. ORYX October 2008.

Source: http://news.mongabay.com

Mob retaliation burns Haitian dwelling

MONTELLANO — A Dominican mob destroyed at least 10 dwellings belonging to illegal Haitian immigrants in the northern province of Puerto Plata after three Haitians allegedly killed a courier.

The mob ran several Haitians out of the town of Montellano in retaliation for the killing of Rafael Ventura Tineo.

Police said the 35-year-old courier was attacked Saturday with machetes by three Haitians who tried to steal his motorcycle and money.

The three suspects are being held at the police station in Puerto Plata and will be turned over to the criminal justice system, police said.

Ventura Tineo died from his wounds early Monday at the public hospital in Puerto Plata, police said.

When word spread that the victim had died, a mob gathered and went after the Haitians in the town, which is near one of the largest sugar mills in the area, destroying some of their dwellings.

A police spokesman in Montellano told Efe that officers acted quickly and kept the situation from getting worse.

Officers are looking for the people who destroyed the Haitians’ dwellings, the police spokesman said.

Municipal officials gave the immigration service four days to repatriate the illegal Haitian immigrants or they would take action themselves.

Dominican officials estimate that around 1 million Haitians live in the country, most of them illegal immigrants who work in agriculture and construction.

The Dominican Republic and Haiti share the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, with Haiti in the western portion. Though both countries are poor, Haiti is destitute, and Haitians cross the border to do work that many Dominicans will not do, such as harvesting sugar cane.

Haitians have been the target of mob violence numerous times in recent years, and the Dominican government has carried out mass expulsions of illegal immigrants.

In August 2007, a Haitian was lynched in the northern province of Santiago after allegedly being caught in the act of robbing a house.

Witnesses told the press that after being surprised inside a home in the Guandules district, Piti Pie, 23, was chased and then killed by a mob armed with sticks and machetes.

The migrant pleaded for his life by saying he only broke into the house in search of food, witnesses said.

In January 2006, mobs in the northern Dominican Republic burned two Haitian dwellings and beat at least six migrants with staves after reports circulated that two Haitian men tried to rape a young Dominican girl.

During the same month, seven Haitians were injured when their homes were burned down in reprisal for the death of a Dominican air force sergeant in Guerra, near Santo Domingo.

And in December 2005, scores of Haitian families were forced to flee their shantytowns in the northern Dominican Republic for surrounding hills and woods after mobs burned dozens of homes in response to the murder of a 40-year-old Dominican man, allegedly by Haitians.

On Dec. 12, 130 Haitians were repatriated after being detained in the city of Santiago, the immigration service said.

In January, the Dominican Republic repatriated 2,002 illegal Haitian immigrants.

Puerto Plata Police Kill 3; Accounts of Incident Differ

PUERTO PLATA, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC — Dominican police officers shot and killed three people whom they said confronted them with gunfire while resisting arrest, bringing to eight the number of civilians slain this week at the hands of law-enforcement officers.

The police identified the victims as brothers Jose and Ruddy Cabrera Peña, aged 24 and 21, respectively, and another man known only as Julio “El Santiaguero,” all of whom lived in the northwestern city of Puerto Plata.

But witnesses to Friday’s shootings refuted reports that the victims had fired at the officers and instead said they were summarily executed while pleading for mercy.

A woman who did not want to be identified told reporters that the three men were thrown violently to the ground by the officers and that two of the victims were handcuffed at the moment they were killed.

“They executed them; later they fired some shots in the air and placed a sub-machine gun next to their bodies. A lot of us saw what happened and we know they were killed like dogs,” the woman said.

Andres Cabrera and Felina Peña, the parents of the Cabrera Peña brothers, denied that their children were criminals and said they could have been executed by order of drug traffickers who operate in the area.

They also said that members of a police patrol usually demand money on weekends at a drug distribution point located near the house where the two slain brothers lived.

The parents said their sons opposed the operation of that distribution point and therefore called on Dominican authorities to carry out a thorough investigation into the case, adding that the version offered by the Puerto Plata police was fabricated.

The police officers, however, said the three men tried to confront them when they were about to be placed under arrest.

This incident occurred three days after police officers killed five suspected criminals in a shootout on a Santo Domingo avenue.

Juan Hubieres, president of the New Option National Transport Federation, one of the country’s leading labor unions, said Friday that three of the people killed belonged to that organization and denied that they were criminals.

Dominican police have a history of summarily executing accused criminals and then claiming that the fatalities were the result of an exchange of gunfire.

via The Latin American Herald Tribune

Marine nabbed at airport

SANTIAGO. – Dominican Navy lieutenant Mayobanex Rodriguez Montero, suspected to be the shooter in the case of the Paya, Bani killings, was arrested by narcotic agents while trying to board a plane leaving Puerto Plata destined for Grand Turk Island.

Rodriguez is alleged to the person who shot dead the seven Colombians in the southwestern community of Paya, Baní on August 4, in what authorities call a rip off among drug traffickers’.

Montero’s capture took place close to noon, and was handed over to Police to be escorted to Santo Domingo

More than 10 Navy officers and the same number of civilians are involved In the Paya case, and being held in various prisos.

The foreigners assassinated in Paya had 2,000 kilos of cocaine and a substantial amount of cash, the whereabouts of which are unknown.

SOURCE: diariolibre.com

Central Park gets a facelift

PUERTO PLATA— Construction fences came down in time for President Fernandez to cut the ribbon at Puerto Plata’s newly renovated Central Square. The makeover is the first step of a project to renovate the city’s historical zone. While some say the new look is barren, others insist that the new open plaza look is loyal to the square’s origins.

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