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Daily News - 13 May 2002

1.5% is here to stay
President Hipolito Mejia says the 1.5% tax on gross sales is here to stay. The tax is set to expire in December 2003, but President Mejia says no one should have any expectations the government will drop it. “That is not possible, that is not negotiable. I would like those who have never paid to start paying,” he said in El Caribe newspaper.  

Justifying borrowing much more
The Technical Secretariat of the Presidency published a four-page spread in the newspapers today to justify the borrowing spree of the Mejia Administration. The main argument is that 2001 statistics show the DR is one of the least indebted countries in the area. The DR percentage of government debt compared to the Gross Domestic Product is 22%. Jamaica has a 144% ratio, Costa Rica 57.4%, El Salvador 40.1%, Chile 19.4% and Guatemala 19.2%. 
The graphs published indicate that the government believes it still has a margin to borrow much more. According to the government, it needs to borrow US$808.3 million to US$1.66 billion more. The graph shows the Mejia administration has taken on US$2.3 billion in loans (including US$500 million in sovereign bonds). 
The government argues that even if it took on more debt, the country would maintain the same percentage of foreign debt to exports of goods and services as it had from 1996-2000, or the same ratio of debt to Gross Domestic Product. 

Venezuelan First Lady visits
Venezuela’s First Lady Maria Isabel de Chavez visited the Dominican Republic on Saturday and left on Sunday. She flew in on a private jet from the United States and was received by President Hipolito Mejia and First Lady Rosa Gomez at the presidential home in Juan Dolio. She spent the evening at the Coral Canoa in La Romana, as reported in Diario Libre newspaper. 
Diario Libre said she came to personally thank President Mejia for his solidarity during the attempted coup in Venezuela. Mejia had invited Chavez’s wife and children to Santo Domingo during the coup attempt, fearing for their lives, but the coup ended quickly so they did not come. 
On this trip, the First Lady was traveling with their daughter and President Chavez’s son from a previous marriage.

Mejia vs. Fernandez?
The mid-term congressional and municipal election started out as a race to define the strengths of the political parties in the DR. But in the past few weeks, the active presence of President Hipolito Mejia has changed things.
Orlando Gil, political commentator for Listin Diario, says the active participation of President Hipolito Mejia as a “gladiator” in the ring for the PRD candidates led former President Leonel Fernandez to intensify his own campaigning. 
As a result, the 2002 election has become a contest between two forces: the PRD and the PLD. The PRD majority congress has said it will send the presidential re-election bill to Congress once the elections are over, thus it is possible that the two candidates for the 2004 Presidential election will be the godfathers of the 2002 elections, Hipolito Mejia and Leonel Fernandez. Gil says that what we are seeing is an early start of the 2004 presidential race. 
He says that Mejia’s aggressive campaigning has divided the political forces into two parties, not three. The PRSC, which had hoped to measure its own strength in these mid-term elections, may now barely have a chance. 
Gil says Mejia’s campaigning may persuade those who would have otherwise voted for PRSC candidates to vote instead for or against the government. Gil says this was a tactical error of President Mejia’s because if each party had gone to the elections on its own merits, the PRD would have grabbed the lion’s share of the votes because it has the most militant voters. 
In the 1998 congressional and municipal election, 52% did not vote. Gil says those who might have stayed away from the polls this year may now change their minds. He says, the trend is either to vote white or purple, referring to the colors of the PRD and the PLD. 
He analyzes that while it is unlikely the PLD will gain a majority, the party stands to position itself stronger going into a Mejia-Fernandez contest in 2004. 
“What counts here are the godfathers,” says Gil.

Free transport on election day
The government instructed the Oficina Metropolitana de Servicios de Autobuses (OMSA) to offer free public bus transportation on Thursday, 16 May, to facilitate voters reaching the electoral stations.

Electoral factoid
4,647,839 Dominicans are eligible to vote in the 16 May congressional and municipal elections this Thursday. That’s about half a million more than in 1998. There will be 11,649 electoral stations nationwide. 
11,000 candidates are running for the 2,006 positions available. This includes 1,824 city government positions and 182 congressional positions (150 deputies and 32 senators). 
The municipal and congressional electoral campaign ends on Tuesday, 14 May at midnight. Dominicans are given two days to reflect on their choices before voting. 

Keeping politics in the family
Federico Cabrera, writing for the Listin Diario, points out that there are many candidates running for office on the reputation of a relative. Some of them have made a professional name for themselves, but others are just riding on the popularity of their living or dead relatives. 
Among the candidates banking on the reputations of their relatives: 
Melania Salvador (PRD-Bahoruco) is the wife of senator Francisco Jimenez Reyes. 
Rosa Canepa, is the wife of District Attorney, Maximo Aristy Caraballo. She is running for deputy mayor on the PRD ticket in Higuey. 
Peggy Cabral, running for mayor of Santo Domingo province, is the wife of the late Jose Francisco Peña Gomez.
Ligia Barcelo, senatorial candidate for Hato Mayor, is the wife of Ricardo Barcelo, a former PRSC senator.
Karina Aristy is running for mayor of Higuey. She is the daughter of PRSC candidate to senator, Amable Aristy. 
Lucia Medina is the sister of former PLD candidate to the Presidency, Daniel Medina. She is running for deputy of San Juan de la Maguana. 
Minou Tavarez Mirabal is the cousin of former Vice President Jaime David Fernandez Mirabal, and daughter of national hero Minerva Mirabal. She is running for deputy on the PLD ticket. 
Ponciano Rondon Sanchez, candidate to senator for the PRI, is brother of Hato Mayor senator Ivan Rondon.
Lourdes Contreras, candidate to senator for Unidad Popular, is the wife of Narciso Isa Conde who is running for deputy. 
Elias Wessin Chavez is the son of former PQD presidential candidate Elias Wessin y Wessin and he is running for senator in the Province of Santo Domingo.
Mary Cantisano, running for deputy for the Partido Nueva Alternativa, is the wife of Ramon Almanzar, president of the Partido Nueva Alternativa. 

Small quake on Saturday
Santo Domingo shook on Saturday, 11 May at around 11:26 pm. The UASD Seismological Institute reported the earthquake measured 3.9 on the Richter Scale. Its epicenter was 80 kilometers west of Santo Domingo. No damage was reported.

UNPHU announces major expansion
The Universidad Pedro Henriquez Ureña (UNPHU), once the most important private university in the Dominican Republic, is working on a comeback. Rector Margot Taule has announced the start of construction of modern buildings in the university’s Campus II on Duarte Highway. A commission has been appointed to oversee the construction project. Its members are Margot Taule, Leonte Bernard, William Read, Rafael Bisono, Manuel Troncoso, Gustavo More, Juan Mubarak, Tony Valdez, Franklin Objio and Pedro Jose Alfonso. The commission is in charge of logistical support for the projects, which will be executed by the School of Architecture of UNPHU. To this day, the UNPHU school of architecture is rated among the best in the Caribbean. 

Travel to Punta Cana down but recovering
Overall, travel to Punta Cana in the first quarter was down 14.7%, or 60,359 passengers less from January to April 2002 than during the same period last year, as reported in El Caribe newspaper. 
The lull is mainly attributed to less European travel. However, more visitors are coming from Canada, the United States and Puerto Rico, as reported in El Caribe newspaper. 
Spokesman for the Punta Cana Group, Jose Oliva, told El Caribe that in the first quarter travel from Canada was up 11,000. Travel from the US increased 6,400, and 3,500 more Puerto Ricans visited. Today, North American and Puerto Rican travel represents 57% of all air arrivals to Punta Cana. 
Air arrivals to Punta Cana were down 30,000 in January. This recovered to 20,000 less in February and 10,000 in April. Oliva is optimistic that by summer, traffic will have fully recovered.
The Dominican Republic has been the most popular Caribbean destination for European travelers for years, but European travel to the Caribbean declined last year. Punta Cana has not be spared from the decline in travel to the Caribbean. 
In the first quarter of 2002, compared to 2001, 25,500 fewer Germans came, or a 36% decline. There were 9,600 fewer French travelers, 8,200 fewer Spaniards, and 6,860 fewer Italians. 
Punta Cana was also hard hit by the Argentinean economic crisis. Some 22,000 fewer Argentineans came from January to April. 
Oliva is optimistic there are better times ahead. He is especially excited about American Airlines’ launch of four weekly direct flights from New York City. And as of 28 October, Air France will operate three direct flights from Paris. 

Piantini reappointed to National Symphony
Maestro Carlos Piantini returns to the Symphony. The well-known Dominican musician will be the Conductor Laureat of the National Symphony Orchestra of the Dominican Republic. Its present conductor, Maestro Alvaro Manzano, will act as musical director. The move is expected to strengthen the Symphony. For more information on Piantini, see http://www.fiu.edu

Bowling alley in Punta Cana
Punta Cana has a brand new RD$20 million championship bowling alley. It’s less than 10 minutes from the Punta Cana International Airport, Club Med, and the Punta Cana Beach Resort. It was constructed on a 2,500-meter lot adjacent to the Punta Cana residential development. 
Frank and Haydee Rainieri cut the opening ribbon of the new sports facility, which has 18 bowling lanes, six billiards tables, an Internet room, ice cream shop and cafeteria. Architect Rosi Pablo de Mella designed the center. The center’s president Manuel Fernandez says it has the capacity to be expanded to 24 lanes.

US Olympic Committee president visits
Sandra Baldwin, President and Chairman of the Board of the United States Olympic Committee visited over the weekend to see for herself the preparations for the Pan Am Games in Santo Domingo.
She met with President Hipolito Mejia on Friday at the Presidential Palace and toured venues under construction as well as the Pan American athletes village with members of the 2003 Pan Am Games Organizing Committee. Hoy reports she was impressed with the quality of the venues underway. 
She reiterated the offer for Dominican athletes to train at the Colorado Springs Training Center with expenses covered by the US Olympic Committee. She also offered all her support to the Dominican organizers of the Pan Am Games. 

Keep an eye on Juana Arrendel
Juana Arrendel is gradually making a strong comeback. The Dominican who was stripped of her gold medal in the Winnipeg Pan Am Games in 1999 for minimally testing positive in a doping test, has been winning in international events ever since her two-year suspension ended. Arrendel won the Iberoamerican Athletics Championship held recently in Guatemala. She cleared 1.87 meters in the high jump. Her countryman, Yohelin Santa also won gold in the 400-meter run, clocking in at 45:69 seconds. Both are strong medal contenders going into the 2002 Central American and Caribbean Games and the 2003 Pan Am Games. 
Last August at the IAAF World Athletics Championship in Edmonton, Canada, Arrendel jumped 1.88 meters. 
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