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Daily News - Wednesday, 07 May 2008

No exit polls on 16 May
The head of the Central Electoral Board (JCE), Julio Cesar Castanos Guzman, has warned that the Electoral Law does not allow exit polls to be published or broadcast before the JCE issues its bulletins. Castanos Guzman also warned that the media should refrain from announcing any results that do not come from the JCE itself, since the JCE is the only official source of election information. He pointed this out in order to prevent any misunderstandings on Election Day. He also noted that while the reports from each polling station are public documents, only the JCE could provide official results. So far, according to the chief magistrate, the elections have cost RD$1.7 billion and a second round of voting would cost a further RD$300 million.

Top ten electoral provinces
Just like politicians in the United States clamor for votes from California, New York, Texas and Illinois, politicians in the Dominican Republic look at just ten of the 31 provinces to assure their victory in any election. Santo Domingo (19.71%), National District (13.08%), Santiago (11.2%), San Cristobal (5.5%), La Vega (4.6%), Duarte (San Francisco de Macoris - 3.66%), Puerto Plata (3.54%), San Pedro de Macoris (3.06%), Espaillat (Moca - 2.79%), San Juan de la Maguana (2.76%) are the apples on the election tree that they all want to pick. With more than 5.5 million voters on the rolls, these provinces account for 70% of the total potential voters. Only four other provinces have as much as two percent of registered voters (La Romana, Azua, Monsignor Nouel and Peravia (Bani), and six provinces have between 1.5% and 1.9% of voters. In 2004, President Leonel Fernandez won in all those ten provinces, as reported in Hoy.

Breadbasket of the Caribbean
The Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, has expressed confidence in the Dominican Republic's ability to set up a program aimed at solving food shortage problems throughout the Caribbean. The project to convert the DR into the breadbasket of the Caribbean could be pushed forward with the help of the UN and the developed countries, and it has a projected cost of between US$800 million and US$1 billion. Speaking at a luncheon hosted in his honor by Dominican Foreign Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso, Ban Ki-moon said that he would call the Security Council to session on Haiti and the Dominican Republic to take a look at the issue "where we should all work together and create a coordinated effort". All Rio Group representatives and the permanent members of the Security Council as well as Mr. Ban and members of his staff attended the luncheon.

Spain grabs low-skilled workers
The Minister of Labor Jose Ramon Fadul says that 14,000 Dominicans have migrated to Spain legally to be employed as household help, cook helpers and as waiters. The labor department has an agreement with the Spanish government for legal migration. Fadul said there are also openings for work in stocking supermarket shelves, beauty salon manicurists and other low-skilled labor jobs. The worker gets a one-year contract with an employer, but if the employee finds a better job, this can be broken. Applications need to be made at the www.set.gov.do site, clicking on the Viajes a Espana link.
Fadul says they also have work agreements with Canada, and have sent 30 butchers there. He added that Italy has requested nursing staff.

Energy issues in tourism sector
The chief executives of the National Association of Hotels and Restaurants (Asonahores) broke their fast with editors of El Caribe newspaper yesterday morning. Their conversation focused on the serious issues facing Dominican tourism in the current energy crisis. Luis Lopez and Arturo Villanueva explained that energy accounts for 20% of the cost of a room at all major hotels or resorts. The energy factor also contributes to the level of competitiveness of Dominican tourism offerings versus what other nations have to offer. If local hotels and resorts purchase energy from local providers, they are paying US$0.24 cents a kilowatt-hour, but our major competitors are paying half or less that price for the same amount of energy. According to both executives, efforts to purchase energy directly from the providers have met with stiff resistance from the electricity distributors. In another series of comments, Villanueva remarked on the need to finish some of the basic infrastructure projects, such as the Tourism Corridor which is designed to prevent the creation of slum areas near tourist areas, as has occurred in Puerto Plata to the detriment of that destination. Such a corridor would provide safety for the tourist and allow for adjacent areas to prosper from the tourist trade.

Protected park areas
The Ministry of Environment has confirmed that 35 million square meters in the municipality of Higuey are not available for tourism development. The Ministry of Environment disputes the go-ahead for hotel construction in the area that had been granted by the Ministry of Tourism to Spanish investors. The Ministry of Environment says that the property is located in the National Park of the East. The property dispute will be heard at the Higher Land Tribunal on 30 May. Deputy Minister for Protected Areas of the Ministry of Environment said that once the court gives its decision, they would decide whether or not to intervene. The case involves Daniel Antonio Minaya Rodriguez, who is the owner of the property, and the Spanish businessmen Ignacio Coronado Ruiz, Carlos Sanchez and Andres Lietor Martinez, who are down as the purchasers. These individuals have been linked to the Marbella money laundering scandal in Spain. Also involved is Pablo Pinero Ibernon of the Bahia Principe hotel chain.

INESPRE outlives usefulness
The National Price Stabilization Institute (INESPRE) has probably outlived its usefulness. Created by the late President Joaquin Balaguer nearly 40 years ago, the institution has become little more than a warehouse for employees with little or nothing to do. The Listin Diario says that 87% of the budget goes towards the payroll of 3,000 employees.
Low-cost supermarkets that were once stocked with inexpensive foodstuffs are now either vacant or lined with near-empty shelves. According to INESPRE's director general, Jose Francisco Pena Guaba, the Ministry of Agriculture has created a substitute in the Farmers' Markets that have been set up all over the country. These markets have stripped Inespre of its functions. In order to avoid entering into a political controversy, Pena Guaba told Listin Diario reporters that the ministry is closer to farmers than the institute he directs, which is why the government had asked the ministry to set up farmers' markets. Pena Guaba did say that the ministry is not there to trade with farm goods, "because one entity cannot be involved in the management of production and marketing of those products at the same time". According to the paper, one of the main problems with Inespre is that its budget hardly covers its payroll, leaving scant funds to purchase farm goods for sale at reasonable prices.

Ikea in Santo Domingo
Anders Alm, Ikea's director for the Canary Islands and the Dominican Republic, says that the opening of a branch of Ikea in Santo Domingo is just a sampling of what the chain has in mind for Latin America. Alm said that Ikea has 260 stores in Europe, Asia, Australia and the US, but the Santo Domingo store will be their first in Latin America. "This is only the start. We have much more to do. Here in Santo Domingo, we will show all that we can do together," said Alm.
Alm said that Ikea would give Latin American shoppers a taste of what the Swedish chain offers. Ikea boasts a wide range of home furnishings that are functional, well designed and at prices so low that anyone can purchase them, as reported in Listin Diario. Ikea is best known for its affordable contemporary design. Its wacky promotions are expected to quickly gain the attention of the Dominican market. DR1 would like to take this opportunity to apologize for confusing Anders Alm with Ikea CEO Anders Dahlvig in a recent news bulletin.

Farm costs ever higher
Farmers are facing a 24% reduction in the amount of credit that is available to them. That, however, is not all. They are also facing price increases in everything that goes into producing a crop. According to Listin Diario's Jairon Severino, farming supplies have increased by anywhere between 40% and 119% over the past 15 months. For example, in January 2006 the price of a gallon of diesel fuel was RD$96.80, while today it is pegged at RD$156.40, an increase of RD$59.60, or 61.5%. The most popular fertilizer, 15-15-15, has gone up from RD$496.60 for a 100-pound bag to RD$1,086.82, an increase of 118%. In the livestock sector similar increases in corn prices, soybeans and other feeds have increased from between 40% and 60%. The Agro-Business Board (JAD) is asking the government to reduce the cost of diesel fuel by targeting a special tax-free fuel program at farmers. The JAD also wants the government to give more capital to the Agriculture Bank in order to finance more crops.

Bus stop businesses
As anyone who has ever been to the New York Port Authority Terminal in New York City at 42nd Street and 10th Avenue knows, there is a lot of business to be done at a bus stop. This is also the case in the Dominican Republic, although to a less grandiose scale. This is especially true at bus stops around the intersections of Duarte, Paris, Ravelo and Jose Marti streets in downtown Santo Domingo. All around the bus stops, small businesses provide services for passengers and everything from candy to haircuts are on hand, so that nobody travels without "something for the folks" or a nice haircut. Food is prominent among the offerings, with fried, artery-clogging salamis, meat and plantains on the one hand, and crackers and cheese for the less hungry. Diet-conscious travelers can get fruits of many different kinds. These informal businesses, including the ever-present shoeshine boys who can earn as much as RD$500 a day, represent at least 50% of all business done in the Dominican Republic and employ 55% of all workers. According to Listin Diario, many of the businesses at the bus stop on Duarte and Paris streets have been there for more than a decade, and they protect their space with an informal organization that recognizes each person's patch and type of business. This vibrant activity is what gives "life" to what is otherwise just an ordinary bus stop.

Meat exports still on hold
Eight years after the United States put a stop on Dominican meat imports, the Dominican Republic is still waiting to get a new federal license to export meat to the US. Almost every year since then, there have been announcements to the effect that the ban was being lifted and that meat exports would be renewed shortly. However, this has not happened, and apparently, according to Diario Libre, it is not likely to happen in the near future. The director of livestock for the Ministry of Agriculture tells reporters that the problem is one of "equipment in the slaughterhouses". Authorities from the United States say that the issues are of a phyto-sanitary nature and a lack of laboratories to test the meat. The newspaper says that the government has done very little to tackle the problem. Meat exports to the United States started to grow in the 1980s, and by 1998 they had reached 20,000,000 pounds. The problems started when the laboratories became careless, according to the paper, and the United States began to require a Federal Export License. Of the fourteen slaughterhouses operating in 1997, the new requirements and controls eliminated all but four. By 2000, the Dominican Republic no longer had a license to export meat and the government requested new inspections but, for some reason, the license has not been forthcoming, and meat imports have increased. Just last year, the country imported US$30 million in meat and offal.

Sun Land not on the agenda
The case of the Sun Land Corporation and US$130 million is not on the Supreme Court agenda, according to magistrate Julio Ibarra Rios. The Sun Land case deals with the government taking on US$130 million in foreign debt without congressional approval.
According to a report in Listin Diario, Ibarra Rios says that the case has not been submitted because the chief justice of the court (SCJ) has not placed it on the agenda of the full court. Ibarra Rios rejected accusations made by the PRD party and the Alternative Social Forum that said that the Supreme Court (SCJ) was "running away" from its responsibilities in this case. The magistrate said that he would make his position known when the time comes, but the agenda of the full court is written by the chief justice and apparently the chief justice, Jorge Subero Isa, feels that there are more important issues than this case of unconstitutionality.

Policemen fired for brutality
Five police officers have been fired for negligence in the line of duty, and penalties were imposed on a further five officers. The men were fired for their involvement in the death of seven civilians on Charles de Gaulle Avenue in the Campo Bello sector in Santo Domingo East and four civilians and a Police colonel in La Caleta, in Boca Chica municipality. The Police said that Captain Valentin Encarnacion Ramirez, First Lieutenant Narciso Lugo Ramirez and civilians Jose Antonio Beltre Montero and Hector Antonio Carrion Lopez would be prosecuted for the death of four civilians and a Police colonel in La Caleta. The La Caleta incident occurred during a police chase on the trail of cash stolen from a business at Las Americas International Airport.
Commenting on the Charles de Gaulle incident, the Police said that Major Domingo Antonio Diaz Rodriguez, 2nd Lieutenant Lorenzo Rodriguez Marte and Corporal Edgar Vasquez Diaz are accused of shooting dead three minors who had been arrested after being beaten by civilians who caught them stealing in a colmado. The police brutality was captured on a cellphone video. The Police also ordered 30 days arrest for several other policemen involved in the incident. The policemen who were fired will be tried as civilians.

Red Alert
The Emergency Operations Center (COE) has maintained its Red Alert for Monsignor Nouel and La Vega provinces, calling on residents to be very aware of the risk of floods and landslides. A further eleven other provinces are under Green Alert: Santo Domingo, Samana, Maria Trinidad Sanchez, Santiago, Espaillat, Duarte (especially the Lower Yuna Basin), Puerto Plata, Hato Mayor, El Seibo and Sanchez Ramirez. Residents in San Pedro de Macoris, Monte Plata and Salcedo as well as in the National District are also advised to be cautious. A low-pressure area over the country is expected to cause heavy rains today.

Wednesday sales
Supermercados Bravo is advertising plantains at RD$7.95ea, limes for RD$9.95lb, passion fruit for RD$24.95lb, imported pork fillet for RD$89.95lb, and Welch's juice for RD$99.95/64oz.
Super Pola has its usual 35% off on fruits and vegetables.
Nacional supermarkets have 40% off garlic and onions, and 20% off all other fruits and vegetables. Also chicken thighs for RD$29.95, Milex milk powder for RD$384.95/2000g, Michel cheddar cheese for RD$112.95lb, and Food Club lima beans for RD$34.95lb.
Carrefour is advertising pineapples for RD$9.95lb, bugaloo tomatoes for RD$6.90lb, broccoli for RD$8.40lb, carrots for RD$6.50lb, plantains for RD$7.50ea, watermelon for RD$6.45, red grapes for RD$62.95lb, white onions for RD$8.95lb, and celery for RD$2.90lb.
La Cadena supermarket is advertising apples for RD$26.95lb, tomatoes for RD$5.95lb, eggplant for RD$6.95lb, red capiscum peppers for RD$12.95lb, banilejo mangos for RD$5.95lb, red globe red grapes for RD$55.95lb, and plantains for RD$7.95ea.
SuperLama has 30% off select meats and seafood.
La Isla department store is advertising four days of sales: Wednesday - clothing, accessories, crystal and tableware, Thursday - upholstery material and rugs, Friday - Broyhill furniture, and Saturday - all Broyhill furniture.
Cuesta is advertising 10-25% sales for shoppers with discount cards that will be distributed on Friday, 9 May in Diario Libre, Listin Diario and Hoy newspapers. The cards are for sales on the 9, 10 and 11 May. The store will be open till 6pm on Sunday.
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