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Daily News - Friday, 23 May 2008

Fernandez to Rome
President Leonel Fernandez will be attending the World Food Summit organized by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome on 3, 4 and 5 June. He will travel with First Lady Margarita Cedeno, Foreign Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso, Agriculture Minister Salvador (Chio) Jimenez, Administrative Minister of the Presidency Luis Manuel Bonetti and Hacienda Minister Vicente Bengoa.
The summit on food security will discuss the current global food shortage crisis. The summit will be held at a time of mass migration to cities, when food output has stagnated, prices have risen and food stocks are at their lowest since 1980, while economic growth has created a higher demand for food. All this is combined with the effects of global warming, rising fuel and fertilizer prices and diverting of farmland for biofuel production. The FAO says that the situation is "alarming" and that by the end of 2008 food import costs could be four times what they were in 2000.
The head of the UN's Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), Kandeh Yumkella, said that wider trade links and a focus on agribusiness, or the business of food production, were the long-term answers to the shortages. He said that by 2030, more than half the world's population would live in urban areas and require sophisticated methods to bring in food.
Also expected to attend the summit are President Lula da Silva of Brazil, Nicolas Sarkozy of France, Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, Giorgio Napolitano of Italy and Cristina Fernandez of Argentina, among other heads of state. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon will give the opening address. Ban Ki-Moon told Dominican Foreign Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso that the DR could become the breadbasket of the Caribbean.
According to Dominican representative at the FAO Mario Arvelo, FAO chief Jacques Diouf visited President Fernandez in Santo Domingo earlier this month and invited him to the summit so that he could share measures implemented in the DR to increase farm production and competitiveness.

Diandino: Metro to run for Xmas
The director of Santo Domingo Metro, engineer Diandino Pena announced the first Santo Domingo Metro line will be in operation in Santo Domingo at the end of November or start of December. He said they are at present working on organizing bus feeder lines for the metro. In an interview with Listin Diario, he highlighted that the opening of tunnels allowed for the burying of city electricity lines, making this one of the little known benefits of the metro construction. Thousands of Dominicans tested the metro in April and early May during the National Book Fair.

GLP subsidy to poor households
Industry and Commerce Minister Melanio Paredes said yesterday that the government would only maintain the propane gas (GLP) subsidy for household use supplies. Paredes said that the GLP will be distributed through the Unique Beneficiary System (SUIBEN) that identifies poor families in the DR. Many vehicles have converted to GLP, but the government says only 23,000 pre-selected public transport vehicles will be eligible for subsidized GLP. For other vehicles, the government is backing a program to help vehicle owners convert to lower-costing natural gas. In November 2007, President Leonel Fernandez had already announced that as part of his energy saving plan public transport vehicles would be equipped with natural gas converters. Paredes, quoted in Hoy, said that in the next 60 days Fernandez would receive a new proposal aimed at radically changing the GLP subsidy distribution. Paredes explained that in the 2008 budget RD$5 billion was allotted to subsidize GLP and that 60% of that subsidy has been consumed to date. As reported in El Caribe, Paredes says that these subsidies are not sustainable in the context of the rising fuel prices.
Economy, Planning and Development Minister Temistocles Montas said that if fuel prices continue to rise at their current pace, the fuel subsidy would reach US$1 billion, which is US$400 million more than was budgeted for 2008. This will represent a 66.7% increase in the fuel subsidy for 2008.
The economic cabinet of the Fernandez administration will be meeting today to discuss the rising fuel prices.

Example starts at top
Consultant Federico A. Martinez is calling on the government to set an example to citizens. Martinez, as reported in Hoy, says that the government can't maintain the current job perk that enables government employees to buy large gas-guzzling SUVs at a time when fuel prices are hitting record highs. The large number of government officers benefiting from the program is apparent in any government office parking lot, where dozens of expensive SUVs are parked.
Commenting on the Cogentrix energy plant, the consultant says that it is a shame that a generator that produces 12% of the nation's consumption has been paralyzed because of high fuel prices. He says that it is a crime that the government has to pay Cogentrix US$7 million per month even though the plant is not generating energy. He added that the issues with Congentrix could be solved in six months if the will to do so was present. Martinez called for proper precautions to be taken as oil prices climb towards the US$200-per-barrel mark. Oil is currently at US$130 per barrel. Fuel has nearly doubled in price in the past year and has shot through the roof by 13% in just the last month.

Tax increase not the answer
Former Central Bank governor Carlos Despradel doesn't believe that a new fiscal reform, code for tax increase, is the best option for the Dominican government. Despradel believes that the government needs to get a better grip on public spending and do so more efficiently. Despradel feels that in some cases taxes are excessive and added that there is no way that more money should be squeezed out of taxpayers. The former governor understands that raising taxes is the easiest way to tackle some of the issues caused by external pressures, but added that this is not necessary considering that the government has doubled its tax revenues in the last three years, up from RD$135.5 billion in 2004 to RD$272.6 billion in 2007. This represents an increase of 101.1%. Despradel added that tax revenues increased even though general prices also went up. He says that this shows that it's not an issue of revenues and money, but how the money is managed.

Avocados a big hit
The DR is becoming a world leader in avocado exports. It is currently the seventh largest exporter in the world, according to a report in Hoy. There are an estimated 8,500 avocado producers in the DR, farming more than 350,000 tareas (Dominican local land measurement unit equivalent to 629m2). Avocado plantations could cover 500,000 tareas in the next three years. According to Gustavo Florentino, president of the Avocado Cluster at the Dominican Agribusiness Board (JAD), the increase in local production is spurred by international demand. The DR consumes about 85% of the avocados it produces and the rest are exported. Florentino says US$20 to US$25 million worth of avocados could be exported this year. The main markets for Dominican avocados are the US, Europe and Japan, and other parts of the Caribbean.

RIP Luis Augusto Caminero
Probably the first Dominican to publish a tourist guidebook about the DR, 81-year old Luis Augusto Caminero died on Wednesday, 21 May after a long illness. By 1962 he had already published the fifth edition of his book, 'Things to Know', focusing on the Colonial City of Santo Domingo, which at the time was considered the country's leading attraction. In 1966, the publication evolved into 'Bohio', a periodical on tourism topics and 'La Cotica' (1984), a tour guide. Both Bohio and La Cotica are still in publication. Caminero was born in San Pedro de Macoris, son of poet laureate and writer Mario Caminero Sanchez.
Well before tourism became an important economic activity in the DR, Caminero was aware of the need for more information about the country from his post as assistant to the press director of the United States Embassy from 1960-62. In 1962 he worked as director of La Nacion newspaper and in 1963 he was press director at the Presidential Palace.
In 1977, he founded the Dominican Tourism Press Association (Adompretur), the first local travel writers association. As a prolific writer on tourism issues, Caminero was closely involved in the early efforts to position the DR on the world tourism map.

Woman gets 15 years
Yahislin Acosta Abreu has been sentenced to 15 years in jail for the 26 March 2007 murder of Victor Eduardo Rodriguez Bodre. Listin Diario reports that Rodriguez died after Acosta stabbed him several times. Listin also writes that Acosta murdered the man because he was supposedly beating up her best friend Noemi Altagracia Ramirez Rosario, who was in a relationship with Rodriguez.

"La Piedra" kills a man
A Dominican man in the US has died after using a natural aphrodisiac known as "La Piedra." Reports indicate that users should wipe the small rock on the tip of their penis and on no other part of the body. Though details are scarce, Diario Libre reports that the man was admitted to New York Presbyterian Hospital suffering from convulsions. La Piedra as well as similar male stimulant pills are illegal in the US, but the newspaper reports that this product as well as "El Chinito" and "La Pela", a generic version of Viagra, have become extremely popular there. Demand for sexual stimulant pills has also created a small black market in NY. Diario Libre says that a reporter investigating the case found that many stores in Manhattan were selling "La Piedra" and other products for as much as US$10.

Internet porn causing problems
According to psychiatrist Jose Miguel Gomez, internet pornography addiction is becoming a big problem in the DR, to the point that he has registered an increase in the number of couples attending his office for counseling. He added that many couples end up getting divorced because of lack of communication and sexual interaction, partly due to the increase in cases of pornography addiction.

Mother's Day shopping
Expect major traffic jams in the big cities as last minute shoppers hit the stores for Mother's Day in the Dominican Republic. Mother's Day falls on the last Sunday in May, or Sunday, 25 May. To attract shoppers, several large departments have been advertising sales. Dominicans take Mother's Day seriously, with it being together with Christmas Eve, one of the most important days for family gatherings.
For more on holidays in the DR, see http://dr1.com/travel/prepare/holidays.shtml

Mother's Day Concert
The National Youth Symphony Orchestra will be performing works by Mozart, Bach and Handel at the lovely 16th Century setting of the Dominican-German Center located in the Colonial City at Isabel La Catolica 212 from 7pm.
For more weekend events, see http://www.dr1.com/calendar

Update on American football in DR
The Dominican Republic was admitted to the Pan American Football Federation (PAFAF) at its 2nd Annual Congress in Panama City, Panama, held the 9th of May. The DR will be represented by the Dominican Football League (DFL). The conference focused on the continued growth and development of American football in Latin America. "The main theme of the Congress was the development of youth leagues in the member nations in order to lay the foundations for perennial competitions and for player development", said Fernando Rodriguez, director of International Affairs for the Uruguayan Football League (UFL). The Pan American Federation now has 10 member countries -- Canada, USA, Mexico, Panama, Guatemala, Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, Bahamas and the Dominican Republic. "This is an enormous and positive step for the DFL and the country", said Dr. Ross A. Levy-Tovar, president of the Dominican Football League. "We are now better situated to benefit from the support provided by the Federation and simultaneously contribute our efforts to the development of the sport in the Western Hemisphere". Representatives from the National Football League (NFL), International Federation of American Football (IFAF), USA Football, and the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) participated in the Congress to support the continued organization and development of American football throughout the hemisphere.
The Dominican admission comes three months after the Dominican Raiders (flagship team of the league) played its first international game. The Dominican Raiders practice at the Juan Pablo Duarte Olympic Center track and field stadium in Santo Domingo at 3pm every Saturday.
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