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Daily News - 5 April 2004

Lots of generals, few troops
Saturday’s Diario Libre recounts how the number of generals in the Dominican Armed Forces has dramatically increased during the Mejia administration. According to the paper, the country is suffering from an “inflation” of generals. Not including those in the National Police, there are 190 generals in the three branches of the Armed Forces. The writers say that 88% of current generals received their promotions during or after August 2000, when Hipolito Mejia was sworn in as president. In absolute terms, the year 2003 was a bumper crop for the generals’ ranks with 70 new generals getting their stars. The year 2004 is not far behind, however, with 54 new general officers so far. The paper’s lead article, which is not credited to any particular writer, says that this quantity of generals forms an exceptional military situation in the world today, where so many generals command only 41,000 troops. Each general would have 215 troops under his command, although there are generals that command only souls, as in the case of Major General and Cardinal Nicolas de Jesus Lopez Rodriguez. A few of the generals have passed the retirement age, such as Major General Luis Maria Perez Bello, a former military backstop for President Joaquin Balaguer who celebrated his 75th birthday last 31 March. The Army has the most generals, with 29 major generals, 65 brigadier generals and one lieutenant general - the Minister of Armed Forces. All of these generals command about one half of the 41,000 troops. The Dominican Air Force has 14 major generals and 39 brigadier generals. The emaciated Navy has nine vice-admirals and 33 rear-admirals. Perhaps modesty has kept them from having an admiral. In August 2000, the Mejia government inherited an Armed Forces with 33,000 members and 23 generals. Major generals at that time were the cardinal, national hero Antonio Imbert Barrera and Manuel Antonio Frias Gomez. Among brigadier generals was Miguel Angel Santana Mercado, the military chaplain.

Air traffic controllers back on job
The nation’s air traffic controllers went back to work on Friday, ending a two-day walkout that disrupted air travel at all Dominican airports. The Diario Libre reported that because the military controllers were handling the daily flights in a “precarious manner,” the civilian flight controllers decided to come to an understanding with the head of the Civil Aeronautical Board, Carlos Alvarez Guzman, for “reasons of national security.” Alvarez Guzman promised both “verbally and morally” to study the series of demands made by the air traffic controllers.

Herrera to stay open
El Caribe reports that the president of the Fifth Chamber of the Civil Court of the First Instance for the National District, Matias Modesto del Rosario, found in favor of the nine airlines that operate from the Herrera Airport, against the Public Works Ministry, the Airport Commission and the National Civil Aeronautical Board. The judge ordered fines of RD$10,000 per day for the interim president of the Airport Commission and the Director General of Civil Aeronautics should they do not obey his decree within five days.
A group called Grand Realty, SA published a full-page ad in Saturday’s press calling attention to the fact there are several construction companies owed enormous sums of money for the reconstruction of the Duarte Highway between Santo Domingo and Santiago. Some of this money has been owed since 1996 and 1998. According to the announcement, the engineering firms reached a deal with the government, accepting the land of the Herrera Airport in lieu of payment. Grand Realty says, however, that they hold the official titles to the property.

Severe scarcity of propane hurts barrios
Hoy newspaper reported yesterday on a serious shortage of propane gas in many barrios of Santo Domingo. Reports of rationing and long searches for the principle cooking fuel indicate that most of the centers that refill household propane tanks were out of the product. Reporter Fernando Quiroz says that heroic deeds were necessary in order to obtain a refill at the Gloria Comercial propane station in Villa Juana, the only place that had the gas, but only for three and a half hours. Quiroz commented on the wild assortment of people looking for propane: women with rollers in their hair, professionals, motoconcho, publico and taxi drivers, and homemakers. According to the report, some of these people had already visited as many as 15 other places before arriving at Maria Montez Street in Villa Juana, where some waited as many as four hours for their tanks to be refilled. Of course, politics and politicians were frequently mentioned in the queue. One group asked the Hoy photographers to take their picture for “the good times,” an allusion to President Mejia’s campaign slogan. Others were less sympathetic.

VAT to go to 16%?
Today’s El Caribe carries the dire headline that our Value Added Tax (VAT), also known as the ITBIS, could be raised to 16% and extended to cover more items. The tax reform proposal resulting from the IMF Stand By agreement is comprised of four phases designed to bring RD$15.87 billion to Dominican coffers. The document entitled “Tax Adjustment for Sustained Growth” proposes the elimination of the 4.75% exchange commission on all imports and a simplification of the import duty structure for non-luxury items with just four tax rates (5%, 10%, 15% and 20%). In the second phase, the maximum tariff would be lowered from 20% to just 15%. In the third phase, all tariffs for non-luxury goods would be eliminated. In the fourth and final phase, the 5.25% exchange commission surcharge would be dismantled. The government argues it will lose RD$15.89 billion in income from the customs duties over these four phases. In order to support their proposal, the technicians from the IMF maintain that current procedures contained in the tax code are no longer valid as a legal base for modern fiscal management, reportedly saying there are “several weaknesses in the fiscal administration that keep the government from implementing very necessary tax reforms.” As an example, they pointed out that money collected from the ITBIS fell by RD$1.69 billion or 0.43% of the GDP in 2002 because of a weaker economy. Also among the suggestions is the overall application of the 1.5% anticipated payment on earnings. Currently, live animals, basic foodstuffs, propane and diesel fuels, essential medicines, electricity, bank deposits and other financial and non-commercial social services are exempt from the VAT.
On the other hand, former President Leonel Fernandez’ Fundacion Global Democracia y Desarrollo published a proposal suggesting the reduction of taxes to a formula of 10% VAT, 10% income tax and 10% import tariffs, on grounds that by reducing taxes there will be less people evading payment and business would be reactivated.

Latest blackouts spurred by late payments
El Caribe reports that the latest series of blackouts are the result of late payment by the CDEEE to the generators. Cesar Sanchez, the head of CDEEE, told reporter Mercedes Gonzalez that he met last Thursday with the power generators and explained that payments would be made to the generating companies as of today, although not in the proportions set out in February’s agreement. This agreement called for US$32.5 million to be paid to the various generating facilities, but Sanchez said the government simply does not have those levels available. The government was supposed to have begun payments on 26 March, but failed to come through. As a consequence, the electricity supply, which had risen to as much as 97.5% of demand, began to drop off, with last week’s supply falling to 90% of demand. EgeHaina reduced its output by 50 megawatts, placing 199 MW online. Itabo and Smith-Enron reported internal problems and Cogentrix in San Pedro de Macoris is only producing 100 MW for financial reasons. Because of the delay in payment, the current debt has reached the US$400-million mark, which matches the level of last year at this time. The generators have warned that if they do not receive significant payments on their accounts, they will begin to shut down their operations. At present time, the generation deficit is estimated to be 150 MW.

Stable dollar means lower prices
The Listin Diario’s economic section is reporting that the relative stability of the exchange rate over the past few weeks has begun to reap some positive effects on the local marketplace. Firstly, according to the report, agricultural prices began to decrease, with prices for manufactured goods following suit. Powdered milk, edible oils, canned goods, processed meats, and salted cod and herring became less expensive. Refined sugar and salt have yet to come down in price. According to Jairon Severino, powdered milk fell 10.7% last week and even red beans came down about RD$2.50 a pound or RD$5.00 a kilo. Pablo Adon Guzman, the president of the National Business Union, said the lower prices were a reflection of the decreased peso cost of a dollar in the exchange market. Guzman attributed the process to the signing of the IMF agreement and a renewed confidence in the future. He pointed to a 10% decrease in the cost of disposable diapers that meant a RD$50 savings per package. The government has announced a program to supply small retailers with rice at RD$7.00 a pound.

Handling of rockash “smells”
According to the Diario Libre’s Diana de Martin, the reporter who covered the free trade talks in Washington, there is something fishy about the rockash deposits in Manzanillo. The 30,000 tons of the waste product that was deposited on the dock of Manzanillo arrived between 29 October, 2003 and 18 January, 2004 and has placed the legality of the operation under suspicion. The promoter of the deal, Trans-Dominicana de Desarrollo, S.A., the concessionaire for the Port of Manzanillo, argued before the Environment Ministry that it would use the rockash as part of an aggregate mixed with cement to strengthen the loading dock at the port. Nevertheless, part of the rockash has been used to fill in holes of highways. Dominican environmental law bans the importing of waste from other countries.

Peynado to stay out of politics
News reports indicate that former Vice-President Jacinto Peynado has chosen to stay out of the election campaign unless there is a second round. Peynado returned to the DR after a nine-month stay in Miami for health reasons. Tacito Perdomo, of his political team, said that Peynado has chosen not to support any of the contenders in the first round of voting. Peynado has not thrown his support behind his PRSC party's candidate, Eduardo Estrella, whom he has accused of fraud in the primaries.

Are we without a Constitution?
A bit of legal carelessness has placed Hipolito Mejia’s bid for re-election in serious difficulty. The Constitutional reform law of 2002, which re-incorporated the possibility of re-election into the country’s legal framework, has not been formally published in the Official Gazette. This oversight, of huge legal import, is attributed by reporter Kleiner Lopez of the Diario Libre to the former legal advisor to the President, Guido Gomez Mazara, whose responsibility it was to see that the publication took place. There are 35 Official Gazettes from 2002 pending publication, including the one that contains the modification to Articles 49 and 89 of the Constitution, concerning closed electoral boards and the revocation of the prohibition on Presidential re-election. According to Article 42 of the Constitution, laws become obligatory for all inhabitants of the country upon publication in the Official Gazette or a newspaper of nationwide circulation. The Constitution is not exempt from this requirement. Does this affect the aspirations of Mejia? In the opinion of some lawyers, it does. Mario Read Vittini and Frank R Fermin Ramirez think Mejia’s status as the PRD candidate should be invalidated, but the legal council of the Chamber of Deputies thinks the Supreme Court is the only authorized voice in this matter. According to Fermin Ramirez, Article 41 of the Constitution says that all laws passed by Congress must be sent to the Executive Branch for publication or “observation” (similar to a veto). If there are no observations, the announcement of the law must be done within eight days of its receipt, and publication must be within 15 days of the announcement. The article says the President is obliged to announce and publish the laws. If this is strictly interpreted, says the lawyer, the candidacy of President Mejia is null and void. An interesting note to the article is that the Constitution has been modified on 37 occasions, of which 26 amendments had to do with the legality, or illegality, of Presidential re-election.

National Police out in force
Both the Listin Diario and Hoy newspapers are reporting that the National Police will deploy 27,000 members of its forces around the country over the Holy Week festivities. The agents will patrol residential and commercial areas usually deserted over the long weekend holiday. Police spokesman Colonel Ramon Francisco Rodriguez Sanchez told reporters these sectors would be patrolled day and night to avoid property damages. Commenting on the fact that the police will be working in conjunction with the CNE, the police spokesman said that some of the agents would be patrolling the urban centers, as well as the highways and beaches.

Over 100 swimming holes closed
The National Emergency Commission (CNE) has ordered 104 swimming spots all over the Dominican Republic to be shut down during Holy Week (Semana Santa) celebrations. The areas in question are considered dangerous for vacationers due to contamination or tricky currents and will not be supervised by Civil Defense or CNE volunteers. The CNE will have 350 ambulances stationed around the country and the volunteers will be seconded by members of POLITUR, the Navy, various fire departments and the Red Cross. There will be first-aid stations with 24-hour service along the highways and at many of the beaches. Volunteers and other workers will be easily identified by their bright orange uniforms and t-shirts.
For the interest of our readers, DR1 Daily News includes the list of those areas where swimming has been prohibited during this Easter Week. The beach or fresh-water swimming hole areas are considered unsafe for swimming, due to such things as dangerous obstacles or strong currents.
Puerto Plata. Beaches: Acapulco, Sand Castle, Encuentro, La Bonita. Swimming holes: El Canal, La Bombita.
Santiago. Swimming holes: Arroyo La Zurza, Represa La Otra Banda, Timbeque, El Hormiguero, Arroyo Hondo, Tavera Dam, Bao Dam, Lopez-Angostura Dam, Arroyo Gurabo, La Penita.
Monsenor Nouel (Bonao). Swimming holes: Rincon de Yuboa Dam, Plaza del Sol, El Dique, Rio Bonito in Los Quemados, La Poza de Angel Pena, Rio Colorado.
Samana. Beaches: Gran Estero, Chinuela, Frances, El Valle, Boca del Limon, Los Mesias.
La Romana. Beaches: Boca de Chavon. Swimming Holes: Hoyo de Chulin, Las Tres Aguas, Rio Dulce, Chavon.
San Pedro de Macoris. Beaches: El Muerto, Hawai, Marota, Villa del Mar, El Muelle, Las Sardinas. Swimming holes: El Puente, La Manguita, La Fuente de Angelina, Ramon Santana, Rio Bajito, La Piscina, El Uno, Desembocadura, Rio Soco.
National District/Santo Domingo. Beaches: Guibia, Los Gringos, Sans Souci, El 13 Manresa, Control de Guaguas. Swimming holes: El Charco, La Piedra, El Hoyo, El Puente (Palave), El Ocho La Victoria, Manati La Victoria, El Pozo La Malena, La Pocita, Pozo Bayohan, Bayona La Malena.
San Cristobal. Swimming holes: Los Cuadritos, Los Canones de Nigua, Puente de Nigua.
Azua. Beach: Caney.
San Juan de la Maguana. Swimming hole: Palero.
Barahona. Beaches: Acapulco, Saladillas, San Rafael, Caleton, Los Patos. Swimming holes: Rio Cano, Salto del Maiz.
Jarabacoa. Swimming holes: Salto de Jimenoa, La Poza, El Charco 12.
Sabana Grande de Boya. Swimming holes: Charco del Mango, Rio Yaguasa.
Santiago Rodriguez. Swimming holes: Rio Guayubin, Charco 7 Aguas, Paso Hato Viejo.
Elias Pina. Swimming holes: El Llano, El Jobo.
San Jose de Ocoa. Swimming hole: Tres Pailas.
Sabaneta. Swimming hole: El Paraiso.
Espaillat. Swimming hole: El Charco.
Sanchez Ramirez. Los Bambues.
Cotui. Swimming hole: El Vivero, La Trifulcacion, Hatillo Dam.
Cabrera. Swimming hole: Boca Catalina.
Maimon. Swimming hole: Rio Colorado, El Baden.
Monte Plata. Swimming hole. Comatillo.

Miss La Vega is Miss DR
Eighteen-year-old Larissa del Mar Fiallo won this year’s Miss Dominican Republic pageant, and will go on to compete in the Miss Universe contest, following her coronation by Amelia Vega, the current Miss DR and Miss Universe titleholder. The 5’11” beauty was accompanied in her court by Isaura Taveras from San Cristobal, Pamela Sued from Santiago, Yadira Geara from the National District, Dawilda Gonzalez from Hato Mayor and Claudia Cruz from Bonao. All newspaper reports say the entire show, as seen on national television, was well done, marred only by one short circuit. Del Mar Fiallo follows in her mother’s footsteps: on 3 April 1974, Gisel Scanlon was also crowned Miss Dominican Republic, preceding her daughter’s win by 30 years. 20-year old Fiallo studies hotel & tourism, is a professional model and practiced ballet and judo.
 
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