By Marta Florian
Santo Domingo, Aug 16 (efe-epa).- Luis Abinader was on Sunday sworn in as president of the Dominican Republic with the challenges of facing the ongoing COVID-19 health and economic crisis, as well as corruption, a scourge that each year costs the country, on average, 1.1 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).
The 53-year-old economist was sworn in before the new head of the Senate, Eduardo Estrella, after the outgoing president, Danilo Medina, broke with tradition and handed him the presidential sash in a separate ceremony in the National Congress, claiming that he did so as a preventive measure for the coronavirus.
Due to the pandemic, the ceremony was scaled down and only attended by delegations from eight countries, including the president of neighboring Haiti, Jovenel Moise, and the president of Guinea-Bissau, Umaro Sissoco Embalo.
United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was among the attendees at Sunday’s swearing-in ceremony.
In his first speech, Abinader, from the Modern Revolutionary Party (PRM), promised to increase the health budget to 66 billion pesos (about $1.118 billion) in the first four months of his administration to address the crisis caused by the coronavirus, which has kept the country in a state of emergency and has killed more than 1,450 people.
At the same time, he announced that a national plan to detect, isolate, track and treat infected people will be launched “on an unprecedented scale.”
Abinader also reaffirmed that his government would “guarantee access to the vaccine to the entire Dominican population as soon as it is available.”
The situation has considerably affected the local economy, with the greatest expansion in the region until the arrival of the disease.
Abinader was particularly critical of his predecessor’s administration for the increase in public debt, saying that “there was no increase in the welfare of citizens… but there was an increase in debt and deficit.”
“This is the scenario we are facing,” he said, and stressed that “no government has ever faced such a combination of challenges and threats.”
Among the measures to relaunch the economy, Abinader announced a guarantee and financing program worth more than 100 billion pesos (about $1.694 billion), in addition to a repair and construction plan that will benefit more than 30,000 families.
On Aug. 24, the strategy to relaunch tourism, the country’s main source of income, will be announced, according to Abinader.
On the other hand, he promised to extend until December the social assistance programs promoted by his predecessor for laid-off employees and freelancers.
Regarding corruption, Abinader affirmed that “it will not go unpunished,” neither that of the past nor of the future.
In his first speech as president, he said that his country will strengthen strategic relations with the US, its main trading partner, and “will continue to reinforce” relations that the nation maintains with the rest of the world, including the European Union.
He also referred to neighboring Haiti, whose bilateral relationship “is very important for the Dominican Republic,” he said at the event, from which he went to the National Palace to swear in his cabinet, made up of 19 male ministers and three female ministers. EFE-EPA