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Daily News - Friday, 19 August 2005

US passport requirement may be changed
US tourists traveling to Caribbean countries by air may not have to present their passports when re-entering the US until 31 December 2006. The new passport requirement is part of the Western Hemisphere Initiative section of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 that seeks to strengthen US border security.
In an interview with the Listin Diario, Tourism Minister Felix Jimenez had quantified Dominican losses at US$486 million if the 31 December 2005 deadline is implemented.
The Caribbean tourism sector had complained about the measure requiring passports at an earlier date than Mexico and Canada. Currently, US passport-bearers or green cardholders can travel to the Caribbean countries only presenting a birth certificate and photo ID such as a driver's license. More than one million US tourists visited the DR in 2004 and an increase is expected this year.
The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 requires that by 1 January 2008 all travelers to and from the Caribbean, Bermuda, Panama, Mexico and Canada to have a passport or other secure, accepted document to enter or re-enter the United States. The US State Department has announced that the timeline for phasing in these requirements is being reviewed and will be published in the Federal Register as soon as it is finalized.

First year government achievements
At a ceremony led by President Leonel Fernandez, the government presented a 400-page book detailing the achievements of their first year in power. The book was presented together with a documentary by the Director of Information, Press and Publicity of the Presidency, Rafael Nunez, at the National Palace. Attending the ceremony were the First Lady Margarita Cedeno de Fernandez and dozens of government officials.
The government highlights that the unprecedented economic recovery, the restoration of confidence among businessmen and the stability of the economy are major achievements of the first year. Technical Minister of the Presidency Juan Temistocles Montas stated that the GDP increased 5.8%, inflation that in August last year at the time of the change of government, was at 52%, had declined to 0.98% by June 2005.
Another major achievement is the major decline in the drug trafficking operations in the DR, with major confiscations and arrests, including that of 1,387 kilos of cocaine in December 2004, and the subsequent accusation in the US of recently promoted army colonel Quirino Ernesto Paulino Castillo, who is due to stand trial in the US on 6 September.

Burned plane being investigated
The Armed Forces and the National Drug Control Department (DNCD) are investigating the origin of a small plane that appeared yesterday morning on the Autovia del Este road to La Romana, as well as the circumstances in which it was burned and whether the case has to do with drug trafficking as is suspected. The chief of the Armed Forces Intelligence Department, General Rafael Ramirez Ferreiras, said that investigations are under way by J-2 and DNCD officers who inspected the plane and the site where it appeared. He reported that the plane is totally burned, its registration number hardly visible and inside the plane loading mechanisms for AK-47 and M-16 weapons were found. They are trying to determine if the aircraft had brought drugs into the country. No drugs have been found in the plane as yet. The plane was burned near Villa Verde and San Carlos in La Romana. Two passers-by reported that they saw the plane landing between 12 midnight and 12:30 am and watched it being set on fire by people who had boarded the aircraft, and later left the scene in two SUVs. It is presumed that the plane was used in a drug trafficking operation.

Liquid cocaine smuggler caught
A Dominican has been caught trying to smuggle liquid cocaine out of the country. Carlos Antonio Veloz, 38, was arrested by the National Drug Control Department in the Immigration area of the airport when trying to board Air Europa flight 088 to Madrid, Spain. DNCD spokesman Buenaventura Bueno Torres said that Veloz was detected by the narcotics agents because of his suspicious profile. He was arrested and his luggage removed for inspection. When they inspected the suitcase they found a container with 3 kilos 684 grams of liquid cocaine. Veloz claimed that he was serving as a "mule" for drug traffickers and was to have received his payment in Spain.

Following up on prices
The government is insisting that the tax reform will cause the prices of a series of products to drop as a consequence of the abolition of tariffs and the exchange rate commission, and announced that it will not allow speculation on those products. The Industry and Commerce Minister Francisco Javier Castillo said that his department is preparing a list of products with the intention of monitoring their pricing trends. He warned that the authorities will not allow the tax reform to be used as an excuse to increase prices, and said the government would have to act drastically if that happens. He stated that even products that are currently subject to VAT (ITBIS) would go down in price because the rate of VAT is lower than the exchange rate commission, which is due to be abolished.

Goods to be excluded from VAT
The tax reform proposal agreed upon by the government and part of the business sector excludes meat, powdered and evaporated milk, eggs, and electrical energy from VAT (ITBIS). Fresh vegetables including fresh or frozen potatoes, fresh or refrigerated tomatoes, onions and garlic are also excluded. The proposal, which will be submitted by President Fernandez next Monday, includes 122 tariff items in the exemption. Other exempted products include unprocessed fruit, cereals, oatmeal, rice and wheat flour. Tax Department director Juan Hernandez assured yesterday that VAT-exempt products are currently being taxed with the exchange rate commission of 13% and a 3% or 4% tariff, which means they pay 16% or 17% in taxes. After the tax reform they will remain with the same fiscal load or decrease in price. Fuels excluded from VAT include kerosene, natural gas, propane gas, crude petroleum oils, aviation gasoline, other types of gasoline and electricity. Medicines that are made of mixed products, and prepared for therapeutic use without dosage nor conditioning for retail will also be excluded from VAT. Other products to be excluded are bottled natural and mineral water, children's food, pasta and bread, books, magazines and pre-university level educational materials. Raw materials for the manufacture of medicines for human use will be exempted from import tariffs.

PR Governor supports DR-CAFTA
Puerto Rican Governor Anibal Acevedo Vila will explain the reasons for his country's support for DR-CAFTA with the US to members of the Dominican Congress today. On a short trip to the DR in support of President Leonel Fernandez' efforts for the FTA's approval, Acevedo will also be meeting with the President, the Minister of Foreign Relations Carlos Morales Troncoso, the Ministers of Agriculture, Industry and Commerce, the Administrative Secretary of the Presidency, and the Director of the Center for Investment and Exports, Amilcar Romero, Francisco Javier Castillo, Luis Manuel Bonnetti and Eddy Martinez, respectively. Morales Troncoso, who visited Puerto Rico in June, invited Acevedo to the DR to explore bi-national relations and the DR-CAFTA agreement. Acevedo Vila has stated that US President George W. Bush has described DR-CAFTA as a "vital instrument of regional development" which will allow the promotion of joint investments in Puerto Rico and the DR.

New beer on the market
AmBev Dominicana launched a new beer on the Dominican market last night. Brahma is the first beverage launched by the private corporation, whose CEO, Manuel Garcia Arevalo, said that the total investment in the project in the DR is US$100 million. Garcia stated that one of the largest breweries in the world has been built in Hato Nuevo in a record time of 11 months. The brewery has an installed capacity of one million hectoliters of beer and is providing 400 direct jobs for technically qualified employees, in addition to the 1,800 jobs already existing in the traditional operations of soft drinks such as Pepsi, Mirinda and Red Rock. Garcia informed that Brahma is one of the ten best-selling beers in the world and that its introduction here diversifies the Dominican market.

General blackout affects activities
The entire country was affected by a general blackout yesterday, the second of its kind in just two weeks. According to the Superintendence of Electricity, it resulted from damage to the transmission lines in Haina that caused all the generators on the interconnected electrical system to collapse. Last night approximately one quarter of the 450 circuits in the country was still out of service. The general blackout began yesterday at 8:27 am due to damage on the 138-kilovolt sub-station in Haina, where the transmission lines of the Haina and Itabo generators meet. Later all petroleum and coal-fired generators went out of service, leaving just the hydroelectric generators to supply 10% of the demand.

Dominican cinema turns to horror
"Andrea: The Revenge of a Ghost", a supernatural horror film by new-generation producers Robert and Frankeli Bencosme, is the latest Dominican film to open at local cinemas. It is supposedly based on the true story of a girl living in Moca, who takes a cross from a grave to place it on that of her deceased mother, and from that moment starts being haunted by a ghost. It has received mixed reviews, some stating that the film uses cliches from old horror films. Hensy Pichardo and Any Ferreiras star in the film. The premiere was held at Bella Vista Mall in the presence of the Minister of Culture, Jose Rafael Lantigua. First reviews on the film speak well for the success of "Andrea."
The film won the Audience Award during the New York Independent Film & Video Festival held in Miami in February 2005. The film was produced with a US$225,000 investment.

Miss Universe and her fiance
Dominican Miss Universe 2003 Amelia Vega has formally announced her engagement to Shalim Ortiz. Shalim is the son of Dominican TV and show business star Charityn Goico and Puerto Rican TV producer Elin Ortiz. Shalim grew up in show business in Puerto Rico and subsequently in Miami, when the family moved there. He is preparing the launch of a CD and Amelia Vega has plans to act in the film, "La mas bella," based on the life of Simon Bolivar and his life companion and lover Manuela Saenz, as reported in El Observador of Venezuela. Salma Hayek, Antonio Banderas, Penelope Cruz will be starring in the film, and there is also the possibility that Halle Berry will join the star-studded cast. Vega made her film debut in "The Lost City," an Andy Garcia production starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert Duvall that was filmed in the Dominican Republic, due for release later this year. Salma Hayek starred in the film version of "In the Time of the Butterflies," based on the story of the Mirabal sisters who were killed during the Trujillo dictatorship.
Both Shalim and Amelia Vega have been developing their artistic careers with Emilio Estefan in Miami. Amelia Vega is the niece of popular Dominican music star, Juan Luis Guerra.
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