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Daily News - 8 February 2002

RD$500 fines for not wearing seatbelts
The Metropolitan Transport Authority (AMET) says drivers will be fined RD$500 for not buckling their seat belts, starting Monday, 11 February. The fine will also apply to front seat passengers not wearing seat belts. AMET says passengers in taxis are exempt from the rule. It is normal for taxis to fit two passengers in the front, making the seat belt rule impractical.
The Listin Diario in its editorial today says that this exception is discriminatory.

President warns teachers their wages could be cut
President Hipolito Mejia said the government would deduct wages from teachers’ paychecks for each day they go on strike. The public school teachers have protested that the government has not increased their base wages as promised in past talks. They dispute the 6% inflation adjustment ordered by the government. 

DR asks to be included in regional free trade talks
El Caribe reports that the Dominican government has formally asked to be included in the free trade exploratory talks scheduled for 25-26 February with Central America and the United States. Santiago Tejada, Deputy Minister of Foreign Relations in charge of trade negotiations, said the Ministry has sent a request to US Ambassador Hans Hertell expressing the DR’s interest in participating in the meetings and being part of the US-Central American agreement. The Dominican government asked for the US Ambassador’s help in making this interest known to the US Department of State, Department of Commerce and the US Trade Representative. Dominican ambassador in Washington, D.C., Roberto Saladin, would follow up on the initiative. 
If Central America signs a free trade agreement with the United States, Dominican apparel exports would be at a significant competitive disadvantage. 
In a speech before the Organization of American States on 16 January, US President George Bush expressed his interest in signing an agreement with the region. 
Santiago Tejada explained that the goal is to carry out the negotiations parallel to negotiations for a Free Trade Agreement of the Americas. He said it is possible the FTAA may not advance on schedule, due to opposition from some South American nations over farm product protectionist measures in the US. 
Tejada explained that the 25-26 February meetings are to discuss the viability of a free trade agreement; they are not the start of negotiations on the free trade agreement. 
The Dominican Republic has already signed a free trade agreement with Central America.

Doctors protest delays in subsidy payments
Hoy newspaper reports that doctors at the San Pedro de Macoris public hospitals Antonio Musa and Jaime Oliver Pino have declared the hospitals in a state of emergency due to delays in receiving subsidy payments from the Ministry of Public Health. 
The newspaper also reports that the medical staff at the Salvador B. Gautier Hospital in Santo Domingo also went on strike to protest delays in their wages. Both the public health and social security system are affected by arrears in wages and hospital subsidies from the government. 
Meanwhile, El Caribe newspaper reports that the government invested RD$232 million to remodel Arturo Grullon Children's Hospital in Santiago. This includes RD$187 million in new equipment. 
Hospital Director Thelma Rosario said the work is 95% completed and the hospital should be fully operational by April.

Rice producers protest border contraband
Rice producers are demanding the government put a stop to the sale of contraband rice from Haiti. The president of the National Federation of Rice Producers (Fenarroz), Fausto Pantaleon, urged the government to confront the contraband problem. 
“There has to be some kind of agreement with the authorities,” he said. “It’s no secret to anyone that there is rice on the market that is not produced locally.”
He demanded the Department of Customs, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of the Armed Forces put a stop to the freight trucks loaded with rice that are illegally crossing the border from Haiti.
The president of the San Juan de la Maguana Association of Rice Producers told Listin Diario that if the Minister of Agriculture, Eligio Jaquez, admits the contraband involves government sectors, they (the rice producers) cannot control this traffic. He said their role is to produce the rice, not police the smuggling. The authorities have asked the producers to identify those responsible for the contraband rice. 
Luis Yanguela, president of the Northeast Association of Rice Producers, said the rice contraband concentrates high profits in the hands of very few. 
The rice producers say that if the authorities are able to confiscate concealed illegal drugs coming across the border, how can they not detect the large freighter vans that are crossing. 

Low inflation in January
The Central Bank reports that the Consumer Price Index for January was a low 0.57%. Inflation in 2001 was 4.38% according to the Central Bank. This is the lowest in the past 10 years. The Central Bank says that the low inflation is due to the drop in fuel prices.

GDP growth of 6% in 2002
Former Central Bank governor Hector Valdez Albizu is optimistic that the country’s GDP could grow 6% in 2002. He said to accomplish this, the government needs fiscal discipline and prudent monetary policy. 
In an interview published in Hoy newspaper, the economist expresses his optimism that improvements in the US and European economies will have a favorable effect on the DR. He says the sovereign bond placement will also have a positive impact on the economy in 2002. The government still has RD$5 billion of this money left to invest. 
Nevertheless, Valdez criticized the government’s borrowing from local commercial banks to cover its current spending. He stressed that current expenditures need to be covered with current revenues, not borrowed money. 
Commenting on the exchange rate increase, he said it is cyclical and normal during the first three months of the year. Money in circulation normally increases at this time due to the payment of the Christmas 13th wage and company profit bonus to employees. But he said what was unusual in 2002 was that there was an extraordinary 25% increase in money in circulation. More money in circulation means a greater demand for dollars. 
Valdez favors the market establishing the value of the peso. He says that the peso is currently overvalued and the government needs to program the slide in its value so it happens gradually and doesn’t push prices of local consumer products up. 
The peso also slid more than usual given new players in the market, such as the large foreign power companies that repatriate their earnings. Furthermore, the flow of dollars from tourism and free zone manufacturing companies has declined significantly this year as a result of the slowdown in the US and European economies and other events. This was somewhat offset, nevertheless, by the declining cost of fuel purchases. 

Bank interest rates take a leap
El Caribe newspaper reports that commercial bank rates have begun an upwards trend. The interest rates have climbed four points in the past two weeks. Economists had warned the government that one of the negative consequences of borrowing from local commercial banks could be an increase in interest rates. By borrowing on the local market, the government uses up the banks’ liquidity leaving less funds available to loan to private companies.

Bad news for Johnny Ventura
Diario Libre reports that Mayor Johnny Ventura failed to gather the needed support of aldermen to give him the green light to take out a RD$290 million loan to pay his garbage collection debt yesterday. The newspaper reports that Ventura, best known as a legendary merengue band director, also got the cold shoulder from his own party in his aspirations to run for mayor again in 2002. 
Neither has he received the support of President Hipolito Mejia, who has preferred to distance himself from the Mayor, perceived as not doing a good job in the post. President Hipolito Mejia could have made an emergency injection of funds to save Ventura’s image, but did not come forth with the money. The newspaper says that Ventura was not able to find a balance between pleasing party activists and keeping enough money to do a minimal job at managing the city. The newspaper speculates that the government will come to the rescue of the city. The city concentrates the most voters of any electoral district or province. 
Political analyst Orlando Gil, writing in the Listin Diario today, says that a PRD poll shows that mayoral hopeful Peggy Cabral has 73.6% of PRD voter support versus Ventura’s 15%. The same poll when opened to include all voters shows that 41.7% favor Peggy Cabral, versus 10.4% who say they would vote for Ventura. The winner of the PRD mayoral candidacy would face another show businessman Roberto Salcedo of the PLD, and former Frederic Harris consultant Ramon Perez Martinez (PRSC). The campaign has yet to open officially.

Johnny Ventura prepares anniversary bash
Johnny Ventura will celebrate his 45th anniversary in show business with a musical extravaganza at the Olympic Stadium. The bash is set for 1-3 March. The show will be a festival of Latin American music in its own right, with 16 of the better-known salsa, merengue and bachata performers. 
On the list are Grupo Niche (Colombia), 2000 Latin Grammy winner Celia Cruz (Cuba), son king Oscar de Leon (Venezuela), merengue bands Gran Combo (Puerto Rico), Jose Alberto-El Canario and Cuco Valoy (Dominican bands in New York). 
Other merengue greats scheduled for the evenings are Milly Quezada, Los Hermanos Rosario, Hector Acosta y los Toros Band, Kinito Mendez, Los Potros del Caballo (Johnny Ventura’s own band), Los Reyes del Mambo.
Bachata music will be represented by Frank Reyes, Luis Vargas, El Gringo de la Bachata.
For the closing evening, Johnny Ventura will present a show that compiles 45 years of his successful career in music. 
Ventura says that the participants are all his friends and wanted to join him for the celebration. 
The schedule for the concerts is: 
Friday, 1 March and Saturday, 2 March at 7 pm. Sunday, 3 March at 6 pm. Tickets are: RD$250 stands, RD$300 for grass area and RD$1,000 for the VIP seating area. 

Baby sea lion born in Punta Cana 
Listin Diario reports on the first Dominican sea lion to be born in captivity. The baby was born in Manati Park in Punta Cana. The mother, an eight-year-old sea lion, is from South America. 
In operation now for five years, Manati Park is a 130,000 square meter preserve with permanent exhibits of birds, reptiles, and fish. A press release from the park also mentions an agreement with the Ministry of Environment to increase the population of iguanas in national parks. 

DR stays alive in Caribbean Series
The Dominican Republic defeated Mexico yesterday to continue to battle for the Caribbean Series championship. Mexico had won all its games up to yesterday. The DR team, champions of last year’s Caribbean Series, was the favorite going into the series. Mexico last won in 1996 (DR1 erroneously reported Mexico had not won a Caribbean series). The DR needs to beat Venezuela, and for Puerto Rico to defeat Mexico today to stay alive. Then a tiebreaker game could be played on Saturday. A win by Mexico or a defeat of the DR team would result in Mexico winning the championship tonight.
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