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Daily News - 10 April 2002

An hour and a half to Samana
President Hipolito Mejia broke ground yesterday for the new 120-kilometer Santo Domingo-Samana highway, which will cut 76 kilometers from the present shortest route to get to the northeastern vacationland. Today it takes four hours to drive from Santo Domingo to Samana. The new route means significant savings in time and fuel. The highway is scheduled to be completed in three years. 
The government awarded a concession to build the highway to Dominican-Colombian venture, Autopista del Nordeste. Minister of Public Works Miguel Vargas Maldonado announced that the private company is responsible for 80% of the estimated RD$2.1 billion cost, and the Dominican government will pay for the rest. The company will recover its investment by collecting the tollbooth fees over a 30-year period. 
Columbia’s Minister of Foreign Trade Angela Maria Orozco Gomez also attended and spoke at the groundbreaking ceremony. 
The new highway starts at Km. 15 of the Duarte Highway, and goes north, past Bayaguana, Monte Plata, Sabana Grande de Boya, south of Los Haitises Park, Batey Majagual, and the River Yuna rice fields.  

Control government spending
Business spokesmen Celso Marranzini, Jose Ernesto Sanchez Berges and Ignacio Mendez recommend that the government control its spending, postpone contracting more foreign debt and try to save energy. The business leaders are concerned over the rising price of petroleum on world markets. 
In the past 30 days, a barrel of petroleum increased from US$20 to US$27, the highest since April 2001. The Listin Diario reports that the next quarter fuel bill could be US$100 million more. The newspaper explains that the DR spent US$307 million in fuel imports last year, US$102 million more than in 2000 when fuel imports were a high US$409 million.
El Caribe newspaper points out that the situation is worse for the Dominican Republic because it gets most of its fuel from Venezuela. Political turmoil in Venezuela has increased as antagonism and protests against the regime of embattled President Hugo Chavez grow. A 24-hour anti-government work stoppage by Venezuelan petroleum employees was extended to 48 hours in response to what was described as the government’s aggressive and intolerant attitude during the first day of the strike. The extension deals another blow to Venezuela’s oil output whose production in the last three days was estimated to have fallen by 450,000 barrels per day (bpd). 
The work stoppage is estimated to have already cost the country US$20-US$30 million, according to Venezuelan news sources. 

Tax relief for business sectors?
El Caribe newspaper commends the government for its decision to stop charging apparel producers outside of free zones the ITBIS sales tax and the exchange duty. The duties were levied on the sector as part of the January 2001 Mejia administration tax reform package. As a result, thousands of small shops that surged after the previous government eliminated taxes on inputs and machinery, have closed or lost sales because they can’t compete with lower cost imports. 
The government has also announced its decision to exempt the local footwear industry from the same taxes. Luis Valerio, president of the Santiago Footwear Association, commended the move. The footwear sector had appealed to the President to repeal the measure because imports, which were not affected by high production costs and high taxes, had cut into local production. He explained that in the 80s, some 360 footwear plants manufactured shoes for the local market, but by 2001, only 60 had survived. 
President Mejia also recently announced that the military and public schools would source their boots and school shoes domestically. 
The Listin Diario headline today says that President Mejia will also grant zero taxes on inputs and machinery for the agribusiness industry. There already is a law that grants this tax exemption but restricts it to new companies. It is unclear whether the government will be extending this concession to existing operations. 
Dates or official decrees for the application of these measures have not been given.

Many immigrate, few leave
The parish priest of the Iglesia Nuestra Señora de la Caridad del Cobre in Quisqueya, San Pedro de Macoris has denounced in El Caribe that the illegal trafficking of Haitians continues strong. Jac Fabre said that in the past three months at least 200 illegal Haitians have arrived to the area. The priest said this trafficking in labor is a business that benefits the military and government migration department officers. He criticized the government for saying it maintains the right to deport illegal Haitians while allowing the trafficking to continue. 

Chamber of Deputies suspends its work
Listin Diario and Diario Libre speculate that the president of the Chamber of Deputies, Rafaela Alburquerque (PRSC-San Pedro de Macoris) suspended the work sessions of the lower house to avoid paying the political cost of approving more loans sent to the Chamber by the Executive Branch. 
Speaker for the PLD block of deputies, Isabel Bonilla said she supposes the suspension is due to pressure from the Executive Branch to continue approving the loans, but she could not confirm this. 
She said the Chamber’s objective could be to wait for the congressional and municipal elections to be held on 16 May 2002 before passing the loans. The present congress has been overly complacent with loans sent for approval by the Presidency. The current legislators can vote on the loans up until 15 August. 
Polls have shown the general public has a highly unfavorable opinion regarding the government taking on more debt.

Military shopping trip to US
Diario Libre reports that a Dominican Army mission traveled to the United States to make contacts for the purchase of new aircraft. On 12 June Congress passed a five-year loan with US commercial banks for the purchase of 11 helicopters and 120 vehicles for the Armed Forces for US$10.28 million with Eximbank. Congress also passed a five-year loan for military aircraft for US$11.16 million with the SunTrust Bank.

More Levis to be made here
The Dominican Republic could benefit from a decision by Levi Strauss & Co., one of he world’s largest brand-name apparel marketers, to outsource more of its manufacturing. The makers of Levi’s and Dockers jeans and casual sportswear announced plans to shut six US manufacturing plants in California, Texas and Georgia and cut 3,600 US jobs. 
The move is part of a previously announced shift away from owned-and-operated manufacturing to remain competitive in the industry. The company will be shifting more of its production to outside contractors. 
David Love, vice-president of the U.S. supply chain at Levi Strauss, said the company would be moving more production to contractors in Mexico and Caribbean Basin nations, including Guatemala and the Dominican Republic. All these areas have special trade deals with the U.S.
In January, the company said it planned to continue the change it began in the United States in 1999 to focus more on being a marketing and product-driven organization rather than a manufacturer. 
Levi Strauss & Co. is one of the world’s largest brand-name apparel marketers. It is in the midst of a five-year sales slump, which has seen its net revenues drop from $6.86 billion in 1997 to $4.23 billion for the fiscal year ending November 25. Apparel made up most of the US$2.9 billion in goods exported by Dominican free zones in 2001.

Dominicans support enforcement of traffic rules
Most Dominicans defend the new measures implemented by the Metropolitan Transport Authority (AMET) to control traffic. 61% of those polled in March by Hamilton, Beattie & Staff for Hoy newspaper said that while the measures are drastic, they are correct. Only 23% disagree with them. AMET officers are now enforcing the seat belt law, the law that permits only hands-free cell phone use while driving and other rules.

DutchBird starts flights to the DR 
DutchBird will begin flights to the Dominican Republic later this month. The Dutch airline began operations in November 2000 and by April 2001 had already acquired its third Boeing 757. The airline provides charter flights for tour operators to popular destinations. The 5th Dutch airline will operate from Amsterdam (AMS) to Puerto Plata (POP) and Punta Cana (PUJ) starting from 23 April 2002, as reported by Cristian Garcia to DR1. The Dutch airlines moving the most traffic are KLM (Royal Dutch Airlines), Martinair Holland (from Amsterdam to Puerto Plata, Punta Cana and Santo Domingo), Transavia, Air Holland and now DutchBird. For more information on the airline, see http://www.dutchbird.nl

Luis Pujols to manage Detroit Tigers
46-year-old Dominican Luis Pujols was named interim manager of the Detroit Tigers, after manager Phil Garner and general manager Randy Smith were fired. Former manager of the Montreal Expos Felipe Alou was offered a three-year contract as bench coach. Pujols spent last season as manager of the Tigers’ Double A affiliate in Erie, Pennsylvania. He coached under Felipe Alou in Montreal from 1992-2000, spending his last two years with the Expos as bench coach. Before his coaching career, he played 15 years of professional baseball, including nine seasons in the Major Leagues with Houston, Kansas City and Texas. 
Tigers President Dave Dombrowski said that while Pujols has the manager’s job on an interim basis, he is a candidate for the long-term position.
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