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Daily News - 1 May 2002

President to travel to Spain and Morocco
President Hipolito Mejia will travel to Spain on 16 May, shortly after casting his vote in the congressional and municipal election. In Madrid, Mejia will participate in the II European Union/Iberoamerican and Caribbean Summit, a three-day event organized by Spanish head of state Jose Maria Aznar. The President’s participation is considered important, because Mejia will host the Iberoamerican statesmen in November at a summit scheduled for the Barcelo Convention Center in Bavaro, Punta Cana. 
Mejia will continue on to Morocco to attend the annual meeting of the African, Caribbean and Pacific block of nations -- which the DR chairs -- to revise European Union programs. This will be the first time a Dominican President visits Africa. President Mejia is also scheduled to make stopovers in Barcelona and the Canary Islands during his visit.The 10-day trip will be one of the longest of his administration so far. 
In July, Mejia is scheduled to visit Fiji to participate in the III Summit of heads of state and government of the ACP-European Union group.

Senators want hotels in Bahia de las Aguilas
Hoy newspaper reports that several senators from the southern provinces will present a bill to modify the Environment Law to allow the construction of hotels in National Parks. PRD Senator Angel Dignocrates Perez also called for the replacement of Frank Moya Pons as Minister of Environment, saying he is an obstacle to the development of the southern region. The senator said if the bill passes, the beach at Bahia de las Aguilas would be taken out of Jaragua National Park to allow for its development. He said that other southern senators support the proposed changes. 
The president of the National Hotel & Restaurant Association, Ramon Prieto, clarified that the association does not oppose tourism development in the far south, but does oppose the construction of hotels in the Bahia de las Aguilas area of Pedernales and in other National Parks. He said the authorities need to define what type of development should be allowed in these areas. But he insisted when interviewed yesterday after a meeting with the President that the parks need to be protected and should become complements to the hotels, not sites for the construction of hotels. He said he does favor the construction of low-density ecotourism hotels in the area but he wants the existing laws to be respected.
Prieto said there are already 54,000 hotel rooms in the DR, enough to meet demand into the next three years. “That means any new project should be located in low density areas and should introduce a new product that allows us to capture new market segments,” he said. For example, he had praise for the development of two deluxe hotels in Punta Cana to be marketed to high-income travelers. He opposes the construction of more of the same type of beach hotels that have become the standard here.

President on Jaquez’s re-election opinion
President Hipolito Mejia says his Minister of Agriculture and former presidential campaign manager Eligio Jaquez was not speaking for him when he announced that the PRD majority in Congress would modify the Constitution to allow Mejia to run again in 2004. Jaquez is the coordinator of the Hipolito Mejia Presidential Project (PPH), which has been promoting Mejia as a candidate for the PRD in 2004. Mejia said: “I have always said that I am not in favor of presidential re-election. I reject it completely and have considered it a curse on this country because of the damage it has caused.”
Nevertheless, according to Orlando Gil, political commentator for the Listin Diario, the President recently joked that since there has been so much insistence in his seeking re-election, he is getting enthused. 
Meanwhile, the president of the ruling PRD party, Hatuey De Camps, called Jaquez’s statements untimely. “The focus at this time is on a PRD victory and those statements by Jaquez are imprudent and do not comply with the party political guidelines and also they are a totally unnecessary provocation that plays into the hands of our opponents,” he said. 
Jáquez had pointed out the importance of taking advantage of the PRD majority to introduce changes to the constitution like presidential re-election and the reduction of the percentage needed to win in the first round to 40%. 
Spokesman for the PRD block in the Senate, Pedro Antonio Luna (PRD-Sanchez Ramirez), said 19 PRD senators support the reform of the constitution to allow re-election. He confirmed the reform bill would be introduced after the elections and described it as a national necessity. Luna said he respects the President’s decision to not seek re-election, but said the citizens will decide. If there is popular support for Hipolito Mejia to seek another term, he should accept this request, said the senator. 
On 3 January 2002, the Supreme Court of Justice turned down a bill that would have convened the National Assembly to revise the constitution, citing irregularities in the procedure. To revise the constitution, a vote of two thirds of the legislators is needed. 
While the PRD has enough legislators, a large number of them voted against bringing back re-election.

Interest rates up
El Caribe reports that the average interest rate is back up to 27%, after having declined to 19.5% this time last year. The climb began in October when the nation’s authorities sought to put a stop to the devaluation of the peso against the dollar. Interest rates on deposits are also up. Average interest rates paid on deposits increased from 13 to 15%, while term deposits earned up to 18% in banks in April. 
The monetary authorities had announced the drop in interest rates as an achievement of this administration. Rates dropped when the Central Bank discontinued the practice of issuing deposit certificates to restrict liquidity. But the relief to productive sectors was short lived. 
In fall, the Central Bank did an about face on these policies, returning to its strategy of reducing money in circulation to curb the devaluation of the peso. The government had allowed a 2.5% devaluation of the peso in 2001. In only four months of 2002, the peso dropped 3.8%. 
According to El Caribe, the past government had kept the dollar rate under control by using monetary restrictions that increased bank interest rates. At the start of its term, the present government sought to reduce bank interest rates by liberalizing credits while containing the exchange rate.

Suppliers suffer from forced financing
Merchants are relying more every day on supplier credit in order to avoid having to pay high bank interest rates, as reported in Hoy newspaper. Thirty-day terms are now stretching to 90 and 120 day payments, stressing the suppliers’ finances. Rafael Alvarez Crespo, president of the Association of Herrera Industries said this is a problem for all. He said businessmen now have to contend with the added cost of payment arrears. 
Celso Marranzini, former president of the National Business Council (CONEP) said the situation always gets worse when interest rates go up. The prime rate is at 24%. He explained that the situation affects only local suppliers, because merchants give preference to paying international suppliers that do not accept late payments. 
Ignacio Mendez, president of the Federation of Industrial Associations, said industrial capital is now stagnating in inventory, investment in machinery and the extension of the payment terms.

City government owes RD$800 million
The next mayor of Santo Domingo will inherit many bills. Under Mayor Johnny Ventura the city has accrued RD$800 million in debt when its annual budget is slightly more than RD$1 billion. Most of the money owed, or RD$600 million is owed to garbage collection companies. 
Most of the city government’s current budget has been used to pay employees. The city government has 9,000 people on its payroll, of which 6,000 are active employees.

New flights to USA
Aerocontinente Dominicana is advertising its new flights to Miami, Havana, New York, Panama, San Juan, Aruba, Lima, Curacao and Caracas from Santo Domingo starting 18 May. The airline is promoting a US$199 (taxes not included) daily flight to Miami. For more information, call 563-9131.

Great fares to Europe
Martinair is advertising fares of US$700 to Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and Scandinavia. The airline is also offering fares of $768 Euros from Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands to Santo Domingo. Iberia is promoting a US$600 fare to Switzerland and US$575 fares to Madrid. 

Go ahead for National Sports Games
The 13th National Sports Games will take place 15-22 March 2003. Minister of Sports Cesar Cedeño handed the Organizing Committee of Monte Plata a check for RD$27 million to build the sports venues for the games. The government also authorized a RD$150 million line of credit with the Banco de Reservas for the construction of the facilities. The idea of the games originally was to dot the nation with sports venues. But in practice, the millions spent on these facilities has been wasted because in most cases after the games are over the facilities quickly deteriorate due to lack of maintenance funds. 

Second youngest in the Big League
Alex Rodriguez yesterday became the second youngest ball player in the history of the Major League to hit 250 homeruns. Rodriguez is 26 years and 277 days old. Only Jimmy Foxx, who was 26 years and 269 days old, batted more homeruns. 
Rodriguez joined the Texas Rangers for the 2001 season becoming the highest-paid player in sports history. Averaged out over the full calendar year, he makes approximately US$25.2 million. 

FIFA starts Goal Programme in DR
Construction began over the weekend on a football (soccer) field in San Cristobal under the Goal Programme, initiated by Joseph S. Blatter, the president of FIFA (International Federation of Football Associations). The DR could receive up to US$5 million to develop the sport here. Keith Look Loy, representative for FIFA for Central America and the Caribbean, visited for the start of the Goal Programme in the DR. In its first phase, US$400,000 will be invested to build the new football facility that will become the training center for national teams. The facility should be ready in six months time.

Jose Rijo is back in style
Jose Rijo, the most valuable player of the 1990 World Series, is back. The US sports press is calling his comeback one of those miracles that gets people to fill stadiums. “Miracle Man Rijo” won his second game and the team their seventh straight last Saturday. 
After five elbow operations that left him with no ligaments in his elbow and a six-year layoff, Rijo has had an outstanding start of season with the Cincinnati Reds and has become a medical miracle. Sports writers are focusing on the 37-year-old’s new bionic elbow. They report that while the pitcher used to throw a 90 mph slider that was unhittable, now he throws 70 mph killing balls. 
“I don't feel that good of a pitcher (anymore),” Rijo said Saturday afternoon. “But I feel lucky.” As of Saturday’s game against the San Francisco Giants, Rijo was 2-0 with a 1.89 ERA. 
“He just keeps amazing me,” said Reds manager Bob Boone. “The way he pitches, it's not easy to hit. He throws strikes (54 out of 72 pitches), has a real effective breaking ball, changes speeds, hits spots. That's what pitching is all about.” 
For more on Jose Rijo’s comeback, see http://reds.enquirer.com/
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