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Daily News - 22 July 2002

President Mejia travels to Washington
President Hipolito Mejia travels today to Washington, D.C. for meetings with US government and multilateral institution officials. On his agenda are meetings with Secretary of State Colin Powell; Trade Representative Robert Zoellick; National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice; Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs Otto Juan Reich; State Department spokesman Richard Boucher; Eduardo Aguirre, acting president of the Export-Import Bank of the United States, Adjunct Secretary of the Organization of American States Luis Einaudi. 
David Lewis, of the Manchester Trade lobby group that works for the Dominican government, said in a news release that President Mejia is also scheduled to meet at the White House with President George Bush. 
The trip is a follow-up to a letter President Hipolito Mejia sent to President George Bush after the US President opened exploratory talks with Central America that could lead to a free trade agreement with that region. Dominican free zone businessmen fear the DR could suffer a trade setback if excluded from these trade preferences. Too recent in the memory of Dominican businessmen are the millions in contracts lost when Mexico signed a free trade agreement with the United States. 
Consequentially, in recent weeks, the Dominican Republic has done a turn-around in its trade negotiations style, seeking the favor of the US government. The professional negotiating corps has been left behind, replaced primarily with a core of proactive Dominican businessmen. 
Other recent measures taken include the removal of Dominican ambassador before the World Trade Organization, Federico Cuello, who had maintained an independent position in favor of less developed countries positions to the chagrin of US government officials. Cuello was appointed ambassador at the service of the Ministry of Foreign Relations. In Geneva, Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Ruben Núñez, replaced him. 
In line with the new strategy, President Mejia will not be traveling to Washington, D.C. with the Dominican Republic’s trade negotiators. The Presidential official delegation is made up by Minister of Foreign Relations Hugo Tolentino Dipp, Dominican ambassador in Washington Roberto Saladin, economic advisor to the President Carlos Despradel, Technical Secretary of the Presidency Rafael Calderon, president of the Dominican Institute of Telecommunications Orlando Jorge Mera. Former Minister of Industry & Commerce Hugo Guiliani Cury (Mejia’s choice for ambassador in Washington, D. C. as of August) as part of the delegation. El Caribe reports that President Mejia has also invited banker Ramon Baez Figueroa; Central Romana’s Ramon Menéndez; TV producer Freddy Beras Goico; president of the National Council of Business (CONEP), Marino Ginebra; Dominican Free Zone Association president Jose Clase; businessman Abraham Hazoury, Frank Rainieri and Manuel Tavarez. Also on the official delegation are fashion designer Oscar de la Renta and contemporary music star Juan Luis Guerra. 

Different agendas
In its editorial on Saturday 20 July, El Caribe newspaper points out the marked differences between the agenda of the Dominican delegation to Washington, D.C. and that of the US government. The editorial states that the Dominican delegation seeks the start of talks for a free trade agreement that would avoid a detour of apparel contracts to Central America. But for the US government, the issues are security matters, terrorism, drugs, money laundering, extradition of criminals, illegal migration of Dominicans and foreigners from the DR, intellectual property violations, and US investors’ disputes. Also, the concern that the Dominican government is buying directly from European companies, without holding tenders to give US companies a chance to bid for the business. 
The editorial writer seems to imply that the US government officials want a lot from the DR and may have little to realistically offer on the bargaining table. President Mejia’s trip to Washington, D.C. could be premature. The newspaper explains that the US Congress has not authorized President Bush to negotiate the free trade agreement with Central America. It also explains that it will be difficult for the Dominican Republic to obtain the coveted bilateral free trade agreement because then Colombia and Jamaica would pressure for similar deals. 

Colonial City off limits to big trucks
The Direccion Nacional de Patrimonio Monumental (DNPM), the government department that oversees the Colonial City, banned container delivery trucks and other heavy duty trucks from entering the colonial zone. Only pick-ups and smaller trucks of less than three meters capacity are authorized to deliver goods. The DNPM secured an area in the Feria Ganadera where the merchandise can be unloaded from the large trucks onto smaller transporters. The measure is taken to preserve the 500-year-old historic buildings in the zone.

Smith-Enron returns to negotiating table
El Caribe newspaper reports that Smith/Enron Cogeneration Limited Partnership, Inc. wants to return to talks with the government regarding its 185-megawatt combined-cycle power facility mounted on a barge at Puerto Plata. Last week, government negotiators had announced they would take the dispute to international arbitrage in Geneva after talks came to a standstill last Thursday. 
News reports say that the Dominican government offered to pay US$20 million on overdue receivables to rescind the contract that expires in 2015. But Smith-Enron negotiators wanted US$35 million. 
The contract signed by the Dominican government in 1993, under the Balaguer administration, is rated as the most onerous of all signed with private power producers. It requires the government to pay the company US$3.5 million, regardless of whether the plant is in operation or not. George Reynoso, director of the National Power Commission that is negotiating with the company, said that Enron executives would travel from Houston to continue the negotiations.
(See http://www.guerrillanews.com for background information on the Enron/Arthur Andersen operation in the Dominican Republic.) 

Bordas sent to Miami as consul
Former Minister of Tourism and director of the Dominican Export Promotion Center (Cedopex) Ramon Alfredo Bordas was appointed the Dominican Republic consul in Miami. He replaces Manuel Duran. The government did not name a new Cedopex director. Hoy newspaper speculates the department could be merged with the Dominican Republic Foreign Investment Promotion Office (OPI), head by Danilo del Rosario, a close aide of President Mejia.

Sans Souci to be developed
Spokesman for President Mejia, Luis Gonzalez Fabra announced that the government is studying an offer of a pool of companies interested in developing the Sans Souci beach and port area in the Province of Santo Domingo. At present a Naval Base and cruise ship terminal are located in the Sans Souci area that is close to the Columbus Lighthouse monument and the sports park going up for the 2003 Santo Domingo Pan American Games. 
Reportedly, Royal Caribbean International Cruises and the Port of Barcelona are interested in the project. Foreign companies propose to invest US$550 million to build three hotels, a marina and large shopping mall on state-owned area of 80 hectares. 
President Mejia appointed a committee to study the proposal. Members of the committee include the ministers of agriculture, armed forces, tourism, culture, environment, finance and public works, and the technical secretary of the presidency.

Power ruling goes into effect
Listin Diario reports that power users will now be able to legally seek compensation from the power distributors in case of irregular suspension of the service. On Saturday, 20 July, the power ruling that complements Electricity Law 125-01 went into effect. The ruling contemplates 400 dispositions that regulate relations between power companies and users. Among the measures, is a ruling that disallows the power distributors from unilaterally establishing penalties on users for alleged fraud. Now each case needs to be reviewed by the Power Superintendent that will decide if there is fraud or not.

50%+1 vote requirement stays
President Hipolito Mejia supporters were not able to garner the vote of two-thirds of legislators present during the constitutional reform session in order to pass the last of three changes requested changes to the constitution. Given the number of legislators that actually attended the session, some 107 votes were necessary, of which 100 voted in favor and 62 against revising the number of votes needed to win the presidency in a first round.
While the reduction of the 50%+1 votes minimum requirement to win the presidential election in a first round had passed earlier in a first reading in Congress, PRSC legislators voted against this in the Saturday session. 
Political affairs specialist, Flavio Dario Espinal speculated during the En Contexto TV program that the 45% plurality could have passed if Balaguer had been alive. Balaguer was especially complacent with requests from President Mejia. But with the unexpected death of Balaguer, members of the PRSC that had opposed reducing the percentage imposed their criteria. 
The revised 2002 Constitution eliminates closed voting stations, reinstates re-election, while limiting this to only two consecutive periods (US style). To win the presidency, a candidate must obtain 50%+1 of the vote. To obtain this majority, in the past politicians have needed to secure the overt or covert support of a contender party. 
El Caribe newspaper reports that the Supreme Court of Justice could still overturn the changes on grounds that the convening of the assembly was irregular.

PRSC-PRD love affair over
President Hipolito Mejia said on Sunday evening on the Una Vez por Semana TV program that he has brought home the goat and elephant he had tied in the patio of the the late President Balaguer’s home. He said he feared that they would not be taken care of with Balaguer gone. The animals symbolized the good relations Mejia maintained with the legendary politician. He emphasized his relations were directly with the late head of the party, not with other party members, specifically mentioning Carlos Morales and Osvaldo Leger, who he called dinosaurs. 
Meanwhile, Jacinto Peynado, who polls rank the highest among PRSC politicians that aspire to the Presidency, when asked who President Mejia would meet with regarding party affairs said this was the RD$64,000 question. “Perhaps Hipolito will meet with the president of the party, Rafael Bello Andino, or with the political secretary, or the secretary of the organization, or with some other friend of his. That is the RD$64,000 question.” 
But Peynado symbolically told El Caribe: “I have never been an animal breeder.” 
Peynado explained that in the future all PRSC matters would be debated in the same collegiate manner in which the party decided to vote to keep the 50%+1 vote requirement. “No longer will decisions be taken against the party board. He said that the party headquarters would be conditioned for future meetings. George Rodriguez is the new party spokesman.

Balaguer’s last wish
Former President Joaquin Balaguer’s physician of 36 years made headlines last weekend after revealing on the La Vida Misma TV program of Colorvision one of the last wishes of the politician. He said that Balaguer had asked that his heart be preserved in alcohol and be placed beside the tomb of his father. Dr. Dunlop lamented that unfortunately this was not done upon his death at the Abreu Clinic, where Balaguer died. Once the body was taken to the funeral home, it became too difficult to meet Balaguer’s last wish. 
Listin Diario tells of the little known relationship of the legendary seven-time President of the Dominican Republic with his father. Balaguer’s father had wanted his son to help him in his tobacco business. But Balaguer, only male among six sisters, insisted on a career as a poet, writer, philosopher and politician, to the chagrin of his father. Balaguer’s father died in 1956, many years before his son was to take off as the Dominican Republic’s most powerful politician.
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