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Daily News - Friday, 25 April 2008

Expatriate voting times
The Central Electoral Board (JCE) has extended voting hours abroad. The JCE has set up 321 overseas polling stations in 11 countries in the Americas and Europe. These stations will be open for voting from 7am to 9pm in the Americas, and from 8am to 10pm in Europe. As reported in Diario Libre, the JCE expects the European votes to be counted first, because they will be in by 4pm Dominican time due to the time difference with Europe. The JCE said it has phoned all the Dominicans who registered to vote abroad to inform them of polling station locations and opening hours.

Resurrecting the CB
Members of the opposition party will not let the Base Committee (CB) payroll scandal lie, and have submitted a complaint at the Attorney General's office against six government officials for their involvement in the scandal. Representatives from the PRD, PRSC, PRI and Alianza Popular submitted the complaint against Victor Diaz Rua (Ministry of Public Works), Salvador Jimenez (Ministry of Agriculture), Hector Rodriguez Pimentel (INDRHI), Francisco Rodriguez (INAPA), Mariano German Mejia (CAASD) and Maria Taina Gautreaux (Comision de Desarrollo Barrial). The CB scandal deals with the payment of RD$3,000 and RD$4,000 monthly checks out of state funds to PLD ruling party members without them actually doing a job in government. In March, Hacienda Minister Vicente Bengoa stated that this wasn't part of a re-election campaign and that the people who receive these funds would vote for Leonel Fernandez anyway because they are PLD members. He argued that if the program had been political in nature they would have "hired" non-PLD members in order to guarantee that they vote for Fernandez.

Tourism Dept clashes
The Ministry of Tourism-supported National Tourism Development Institute has clashed with several government departments that are challenging the formation of the proposed government body on the grounds that it would impinge on their jurisdictions. The Ministries of Economy, Planning and Development, Hacienda, Public Works, Environment, and the Dominican Aviation Institute and Airport Department have asked the PLD-majority Chamber of Deputies to revise the bill so that it respects the jurisdiction of their departments. Recently, Tourism Minister Felix Jimenez accepted that the bill needed changing so that the new department could not take on foreign debt, as this is an attribution assigned only to Congress.

Dominican economic outlook
Economist Bernardo Vega speculates that there has been a fiscal deficit in the first months of the year due to an increase in government subsidies, public employee payroll and social spending in the run-up to the 16 May election, as reported in Hoy. Vega was addressing a workshop on "Prospects for the Dominican Economy 2008" organized by the National Young Entrepreneurs Association (ANJE). He commented that the government has not published the monthly budget allocation statements as is customary. He said that if there had not been a deficit, the statements would have been published, as reported in Hoy. Vega feels that there has been a considerable increase in money in circulation, and thus the Central Bank's injection of US$100 million of international reserves into the exchange market. The eminent economist says that tourism and international remittances have yet to show the effects of the US recession and international market difficulties. On the contrary, he says that foreign investors have brought their money here, seeking greater yield for their capital.
Meanwhile, fellow economist Jose Luis de Ramon commented that the effects of the international crisis are already being felt. He said that the country could see a US$2.5 billion trade balance deficit. He described the 5.4% deficit of the Gross Domestic Product in the current account of the 2007 trade balance as "alarming", and said this will not change in 2008. He commented that prices have increased 9.89% in the five month spread from November 2007 to March 2008, more than in all of 2008, when inflation closed at 8.55%. De Ramon believes that the country will depend on whether it continues to be attractive to foreign investors and savings that can be secured in fuel imports. Direct Foreign Investment grew by 52% in 2007. The economist said that the present subsidies are distorting, and that it will be politically very expensive to eliminate the new subsidies on bread, fuel, free zones, food products and the Santo Domingo metro.

Fifth time won't be lucky
For the fifth time this year public hospital doctors will go on strike seeking a pay raise and other benefits. Government officials have refused to go back to the negotiation table, calling the doctors' tactics harsh, and reiterating that they were not prepared to negotiate with the doctors until after the 16 May presidential elections. In all, 177 public hospitals will be affected by the strike. Dominican Medical Association (CMD) president Waldo Ariel Suero said that emergency rooms will stay open and that patients in critical condition will be treated.

Rains cause damage
The Emergency Operations Center (COE) is reporting that 30 homes were flooded and 155 people have been evacuated in the central province of Sanchez Ramirez (Cotui). The COE has maintained a yellow alert for La Vega, which is still recovering from last week's tornado, and a green level alert for the East and Cibao regions for fear of possible mudslides.

Venezuela to revisit PetroCaribe
Venezuelan Ambassador to the DR Francisco Belisario Landis says that Venezuela is open to the idea of renegotiating some of the terms of the PetroCaribe oil agreement. The ambassador said that now more than ever, the agreement has become very important to member nations. Belisario Landis said that a renegotiation of the agreement could help fight the petroleum squeeze caused by rising oil prices. In December 2007 President Leonel Fernandez ratified the PC agreement, which at the time stipulated that if the price of a barrel of oil reached US$100, the DR would pay 50%, and the remaining 50% would be deferred for 25 years. The agreement would allow the DR to receive a total of 50,000 barrels of crude per day. The oil is being sold at market prices, although it allows the Dominican market to finance it with a two-year grace period and very low interest rates, as if it was on consignment, and with the option of paying over a period of 25 years.

Cheaper rice shipped to Haiti
Locally produced rice is being shipped to Haiti as contraband. International rice prices have skyrocketed, almost doubling in three months, and this has led even US retailers like Costco and Wal-Mart to limit the amount of rice sold to consumers. Rice is now selling internationally for US$1,034 per ton, up from US$480 in October 2007. Local rice farmers fear that the government rice subsidies, which have kept down the price of rice on domestic markets, are being passed on to Haiti. Vendors in Haiti can reap greater profits by sourcing rice in the DR. These irregular exports are causing shortages locally.

DR exporting yuca
Beginning this year the country will once again export cassava (yuca) to the US. The cassava will be sold through the National Supermarket Association, which is made up of 400 Dominican small businesses. Oscar Hernandez from the Second Agro Export Platform says that the DR has a great opportunity to increase its fruit and vegetable exports, making the most of the DR-CAFTA agreement.

Linking Haiti, PR and DR?
It might sound like an April Fool's Day prank three weeks too late, but Listin Diario is reporting of plans that would link Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico via a railway system. The plan is being suggested by the Regional Development Council (CRD), and it proposes to unite the countries in order to promote increased trade. Regions of the DR would be connected to the international rail system by offshoot tracks located in communities throughout the Cibao, Puerto Plata and the southern and eastern regions of the DR. Adding to the plan is a second stage that proposes uniting Cuba and Florida via the same train system. International companies like Dorsch Consult, Euro American Capital Company, GMNBH, World Wide Humanitarian and even India have shown interest in the project. The project is still in its developmental stages.

Dominicans earn more
The average income of Dominicans living in the US has grown by 18% in a six-year period. The average Dominican now earns US$33,837 compared to US$28,729 in 2000. These statistics were provided by the Quisqueya Foundation, based on data from the National Census Bureau. Though positive in one respect, Dominican incomes are 57.8% lower than the average US income, which equals US$58,526. Dominicans' incomes were also below the average Latino income, which equaled US$40,024 in 2006. This increase in incomes has allowed poverty levels to decrease from 27.6% to 25% between 2000 and 2006, but Dominicans are still poorer than the average for the Latino community in the US, which went from 10% in 2000 to 19% in 2006.

DR spared new US baggage rules
The new baggage restrictions will not affect the Dominican Republic - for the time being, anyway. The US$25 surcharge on a second item of luggage so far only applies to US domestic flights starting 5 May 2008. Luggage allowances for several major airlines flying non-stop to the DR remains the same:
American Airlines: two items 50lb/23kg max per item (within USA and international).
Continental Airlines: two items 50lb/23kg max per item. For departures of US-domestic flights on or after 5th May 2008, the baggage allowance will change to 1 x 50lb/23kg. A second bag up to 50lb/23kg is permitted but a charge of $25 will apply (payable to airline at airport). However, please note that if your US-domestic flight is on the same date and connects with a transatlantic flight, the baggage allowance will remain at 2 bags 50lb/23kg max.
Delta Airlines: two items 50lb/23kg max per item (within USA) except EYW, which is one item 50lb/23kg max per item. The allowance is two items 50lb/23kg max per item for international flights.
US Airways: two items 50lb/23kg max per item. For departures on or after 5th May 2008, baggage allowance will change to one 50lb/23kg bag. A second bag up to 50lb/23kg is permitted, but a charge of $25 will apply (payable to airline at airport).
JetBlue: two checked bags with max weight of 50lb/23kg.
For full details see: www.ustoa.com/consumernews/airlinebaggage.cfm

Ortiz jersey nets big cash
The Boston Red Sox David Ortiz jersey dug up at the new Yankee Stadium earlier this month has been auctioned for a whopping US$175,000. The jersey has been the subject of much lore and talk. In all, 282 people bid on the jersey, but it was all worth it in the end, as the money will be donated to a non-profit organization, The Jimmy Fund. The lucky purchaser, known only as 2004carman, will also receive tickets to watch the Sox play, a replica David Ortiz Jersey and a Yankee Universe t-shirt. The New York Post reported that construction worker Gino Castignoli had buried a David Ortiz jersey at the site where the new Yankee Stadium is being built. Castignoli, a Red Sox fan, was hoping to give the hated Yankees more bad luck while adding more luck to the Red Sox. After hearing of the "myth", construction workers on the site approached management, saying they knew where the jersey might have been buried. With permission from the Yankee brass, workers proceeded to dig out the David Ortiz #34 jersey. Digging took five hours and cost US$50,000.

DR wins 3 bronze in FINA masters
Masters swimmer Danilo Vicioso (45-49 age group) has won two bronze medals, in the100m butterfly (1:02.29) and the 200m backstroke races (2L25.13) representing the Dominican Republic in the XII FINA World Masters Championships in Perth, Australia. Teammate Mercedes Aybar (30-34 age group) also took a bronze in the 100m backstroke race (1:14.45). Swimming, diving, water polo, synchronized swimming and open water swimming competitions were held.
See: www.2008finamasters.org.au/infoswim.htm

Friday sales
Hache hardware store is advertising 25% off from 6 to 10pm, and 50% off one item purchased between 9 to 10pm, by anyone who bought at least RD$1,000 worth of goods between 6 to 9pm.
Pilar Boutique has up to 80% off its women's apparel. Ave. Abraham Lincoln 998.
The Adidas store is advertising up to 40% off on Adidas items at their Acropolis Center and Plaza Megacentro branches.
Arbaje Soni (Paseo de los Locutores 27, Piantini) is advertising sales of up to 50% on bedroom sets, and discounts on mattresses.
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