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Daily News - Thursday, 17 November 2005

Margarita, Cardinal and Roberto top poll
The First Lady, the Cardinal and the Mayor of Santo Domingo are the public figures gaining the highest scores in the Listin Hamilton public opinion poll carried out recently, according to the lead story in Listin Diario. The President, Leonel Fernandez was placed fifth. Those polled were asked to rate a number of public figures. Other high scorers were Monsignor Agripino Nunez Collado who received almost as much support as Santo Domingo Mayor Roberto Salcedo. 32% of those polled expressed a "very favorable' opinion of First Lady Margarita Cedeno de Fernandez, awarding her first place in the poll. The lowest scores were obtained by former President Hipolito Mejia, PRSD leader Hatuey Decamps and leading PRSC member Carlos Morales Troncoso. Listin Diario also reports that Decamps has criticized the results of the Listin Hamilton poll and declared that his new party, the PRSD, which broke away from the PRD earlier this year, would "deliver some surprises" in next year's congressional and municipal elections. For his part, former President Hipolito Mejia interpreted the poll's results to mean that his successor Leonel Fernandez had an approval rating of just 24%, dismissing his own 71% "unfavorable" score.

DR "enters exclusive circle"
El Caribe reports on United States ambassador Hans Hertell's speech to Ibero-American University (Unibe) students in Santo Domingo yesterday, in which he listed the benefits of the forthcoming DR-CAFTA agreement, and said that by joining the treaty with the US and the Central American nations, the Dominican Republic "was entering an exclusive circle" by joining countries like Mexico, Canada, Australia, Chile and Singapore, all of which are engaged in trade agreements with the US. He said that DR-CAFTA was the most important agreement the Dominican Republic had entered into in the last few years. By doing so, the country would become more closely integrated with the US than ever, stated Hertell. Hoy focuses on another portion of the ambassador's address, in which he said that the US would help the Dominican Republic control migration from Haiti. Hans Hertell told the students that the Dominican authorities did not have "a coherent migratory policy" and that the US would be offering some proposals for collaboration aimed at addressing the problem. He stated that some sectors in the country, most notably the building industry, actively provide incentives for increased illegal migration from Haiti by seeking out and employing Haitian workers. "This has to be tackled by the DR authorities. The only language you hear on building sites is Creole", said Hertell, as quoted in Hoy. The ambassador was speaking during an event marking International Education Week.

FTZs cannot compete without power
Hoy carries the comments of a leading Free Trade Zone employer, who claims that unless the current power crisis is resolved, Dominican Free Zone factories will not be able to compete with others in the region. Simon Torres Fernandez of Industrias Femar in Santiago says that the benefits of the forthcoming free trade agreement will be worth nothing if the situation does not improve. He proposed more investment in alternatives to conventional fuels, and pointed to the extra costs incurred by businesses such as his due to power cuts. "We will never be able to compete with other countries in the region unless electricity costs are reduced to a reasonable level", said Torres.

Adoexpo slams 20% port duty
The exporters' association Adoexpo has expressed its opposition to the 20% increase in port duties, announced last week by Presidential decree. Adoexpo president Jose Antonio Flaquer Lopez said that this should not have been done without reviewing the state-run port authority's operational costs. He claimed that his association had not been consulted in the lead up to the decision, and that there was a lot of unnecessary expenditure involved in the port authority, mainly due to what he described as excessive numbers of employees. This number could be cut down by half or even more, he added. Flaquer Lopez said that if the government could show that it had rationalized this expenditure, then the exporters would be prepared to accept an increase in duties.

Forging titles is a huge earner
Diario Libre quotes national coordinator of property registration Wilson Gomez as saying that the falsification of property titles is a "mafia activity" on a par with drug cartels. It has powerful tentacles that reach across the country and beyond, moving millions in the process, said Gomez. This "mafia" involves many law firms and government officials, and concentrates mainly on areas where the land has greatest value, like Samana, Bahia de las Aguilas, Higuey, Barahona and Puerto Plata, as well as the capital. These activities have even attracted the attention of the US Treasury Department, said Gomez in an interview granted to the newspaper.

Criticism pours on artificial island
The public hearing held yesterday to discuss the proposed multi-million dollar artificial island project off Santo Domingo's Malecon seafront avenue was a rowdy affair, according to today's papers. 25 out of the 27 speakers opposed the project, and the controversial island's promoters were heckled and booed by those present. In favor of the project, apart from the promoters themselves - Novo Mundo Siglo XXI, were the Dominican College of Engineers, Architects and Surveyors (CODIA). Voices against included architect Leopoldo Espaillat Nanita, urban planner Amparo Chantada and journalist and politician Raul Perez Pena. Other opponents include the Colonial Zone Development Foundation, civil society group Participacion Ciudadana and the Dominican Surfing Association. CODIA defended the proposed island on the grounds that the companies involved in the development were internationally prestigious, and that the project would solve environmental problems. The promoters say that the island will generate 30,000 new jobs and energize the local economy. Chantada argued that the opposite would be the case, that the island would create serious environmental problems. Espaillat Nanita described the project as a betrayal of the Dominican people; typical of those who value anything that comes from outside the country at the expense of the country's urgent needs. Many of those present staged a walk-out when Novo Mundo's Eulogio Santaella took the stand. The meeting took place in the Senate building and lasted for over two hours.

Sans Souci sale approved
All this morning's papers carry the story that the Senate has approved the sale of all land and buildings in and around the site of the proposed tourist development at the Sans Souci port area in Santo Domingo. Only one Senator, Jesus Vazquez (PRD, Nagua) opposed the move, which was passed by 20 votes to one. Vazquez had argued that the sale, which has a total value just short of US$40 million, should be submitted to a public hearing because of the site's historical importance. A provate company, Inversiones Turisticas Sans Souci plans to build a tourist-oriented complex including a yacht marina, a shopping center, pedestrian walkways, a remodeled cruise ship terminal and parkland. The project, which was submitted to the Lower House by the President in August, has now got to be approved by Congress.

Govt to switch to gas?
Today's El Caribe leads with a report that the government is considering a radical change to its fleet of vehicles, as part of the recent fuel saving measures. The proposal is to convert all government-owned vehicles to run on natural gas (LPG) instead of conventional gasoline. The government is negotiating a contract with an Argentinian company, Galileo Asociados, for this purpose. According to Ruben Montas who heads the Energy Commission, this could lead to savings of approximately 20% in fuel expenditure. The plan is to implement a pilot project before the end of the year, covering OMSA (urban buses), CDEEE (the state electricity company), and Public Works vehicles. If this pilot project shows positive results, it could be rolled out to include all government vehicles, said Montas. Argentina is a leading producer of natural gas, and 1.5 million vehicles there have been converted to run on the fuel, which is much cheaper than conventional gasoline. At the same time, the current LPG shortage in the country persists. Delays in recent shipments have made it difficult for domestic and transport use customers to obtain their usual gas supplies at retail level.

Renta blames Baez Figueroa
A headline article in online newspaper Clave Digital reveals that business consultant Luis Alvarez Renta, who was found guilty of major financial irregularities in a Miami court last week, is pointing his finger firmly and squarely at Baninter president Ramon Baez Figueroa. Alvarez Renta blames Baez Figueroa for the colossal fraud that brought down the bank and all but decimated the Dominican economy in 2003. Alvarez Renta, who has been closely associated with the banking collapse, claimed he had no part in it and that Ramon Baez Figueroa and his deputy Marcos Baez Cocco were those responsible. Clave Digital quotes lawyer Matias Dorta as saying "Alvarez Renta places all the blame on Baez Figueroa". Dorta is part of the legal team acting on behalf of the Dominican authorities in the case against Luis Alvarez Renta in the United States. Renta was fined a massive US$174 million, to be paid to the Dominican authorities, and the government's legal representative, Carlos Salcedo, said that the government's priority was to ensure the money is paid back. These remarks were made during a debate that took place at a meeting of the Coalition for Transparency and Institutionalism in Santo Domingo last night, during which Alvarez Renta's lawyers were also present.

Rapists sentenced
All today's papers report on the 20-year prison sentences handed down to the four men who raped the 16 year old daughter of the Dominican ambassador in Canada, Eduardo Tejera. The crime was committed in Santo Domingo in August 2004, as the teenager was returning home with a friend. The latter was beaten up and his vehicle was stolen. The convicted men were also required to pay compensation of RD$2 million each to the victim, who cannot be named for legal reasons, and her family. Clave Digital carries an interview with her father, in which he describes how his family received death threats and expresses satisfaction at the sentence.

Last farewell to Agapito
Agapito Sanchez, the Dominican former world bantamweight boxing champion who was murdered in Santo Domingo earlier this week, was given his final send off by friends, family and fans yesterday. Hundreds of people attended his funeral, including prominent figures from the world of sports and politics, according to press coverage of the event. Sanchez was shot dead by Air Force Sergeant Diogenes Nova Rosario, allegedly because the former world champion had asked to dance with Nova's girlfriend. Diario Libre reports that the "colmadon" where the murder took place has been closed down by the authorities.
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