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Daily News - Monday, 02 June 2008

Fernandez off to Europe
President Leonel Fernandez is continuing a series of trips that started in El Salvador last week, and now he is off to Miami, Madrid, Rome and Barcelona for meetings. Fernandez will be attending the World Food Summit in Rome, sponsored by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The summit will deal with Food, Global Warming and Bio-fuels. Key cabinet members and industry and farm businessmen are on the Dominican delegation.

Shell agrees to sell for US$110 million
Negotiations between the Dominican government, owner of 50% of the shares in the Dominican National Refinery (Refidomsa), and the Shell Company, the owner of the other 50% have concluded. According to several newspapers, the final price for the Shell holdings is placed at US$110 million that reportedly would be covered by earnings yet to have been received from the operation of the Refinery. According to DiarioLibre, the sale will be finalized within 90 days. Minister of Hacienda Vicente Bengoa said that the source of the money would be disclosed as the sale comes to a close.

European Bank loans RD$1.1 billion
The Office of the National Coordinator for European Funds (ONFED) announces that the European Investment Bank (EIB) has approved a EUR20,000,000 loan, equivalent to RD$1.1 billion pesos. The funds will be managed by the Banco Ademi, the Dominican Association for the Development of Women (Adopem), and the Development Fund (Fundesa). The loan, to be paid out over two years, is designed to assist small and medium-scale businesses, which employ most people in the DR. The organizations will provide micro-loans as well as small loans to be paid back over longer-than-usual timeframes. Onofre Rojas, program coordinator for the Dominican Republic, told Diario Libre reporter Wanda Peralta that the sector provides 27% of GDP and nearly 50% of the jobs in the country.

Greater Caribbean export opportunities
Economist Roberto Despradel encourages Dominican exporters to take advantage of its geographic position to export to the Greater Caribbean marketplace. In a feature in El Caribe today, he comments how the area covers 25 countries of varying size, each with their own pecularities.
From the larger Central American nations to the tiny Leeward and Windward Islands, all are open to trade with the Dominican Republic, thanks to a series of agreements that date back ten years or more. Currently, Puerto Rico, Haiti and Central America represent close to 50% of all Dominican export markets.

Caribbean airline alert
Caribbean expert David Jessop says that the DR stands to be hit the hardest by the fuel crisis that is affecting the airline industry. According to Jessop, all around the world the biggest airlines are reducing services, increasing fares, levying surcharges and abandoning destinations as the cost of fuel continues to rise. "According to industry sources, those destinations likely to be hardest hit as the year proceeds will be those served by American Airlines, such as the Dominican Republic, the Dutch Antilles and a number of Eastern Caribbean nations served by American Eagle's San Juan hub, as these are replaced by less frequent direct services from the US mainland. They cite increased fuel costs coupled with the high levels of operating costs and taxes levied in the countries concerned as reasons for the choice of cuts to these and possibly other regional points.
When airline fares were dropping, the Dominican government padded them with increasing taxes and over the years this has added up to the point where the destination has the highest non-fare charges on tickets in the region.
Recommendations for tackling the situation will be presented at the First Annual Caribbean Tourism Summit, (ACTS) scheduled for Washington, 21-25 June.
Many of the solutions being considered concentrate on ways in which governments might reduce costs for the airlines and increase regional competitiveness. They focus on issues such as a reduction in landing fees, reform of the region's aviation standards, reducing the region's multiple air traffic control systems and navigation fees so that there is a single charge, as is the case in the European Union. They also focus on the ever-growing range of passenger taxes and airport fees and surcharges levied by governments on air travelers - but not on cruise ship passengers - that are often hidden in ticket prices.

Local authorities monitor airline situation
Airport Department director Andres Van der Horst and Civil Aviation Institute director Jose Tomas Perez have told El Caribe that they are monitoring the airline situation and flight reductions with a view to putting forward solutions aimed at helping compensate airlines for the increases in costs. Vanderhorst, a former minister of Tourism, acknowledged the crucial importance the airline industry has in transporting passengers and cargo to the island.
News reports indicate that American Airlines has already cut flights from nine to five a day, leaving two at Cibao International, two at Las Americas and one at Punta Cana. American Airlines is the leading carrier serving the DR, making 6,646 fights to Las Americas, 2,958 to Santiago, 1,708 to Punta Cana, 788 to Puerto Plata and 412 to La Romana in 2007.
In an interview with El Caribe, Jose Tomas Perez said: "If the plan is to cut routes, we will have to authorize new frequencies for new airlines to fill in the void.
Air Dominicana, in which Air Europa, the Spanish carrier, is the main investor, and the Dominican government a minority investor, is scheduled to start operations with its first plane.
Perez, nevertheless, favors lowering taxes in order to keep fares down to a reasonable level. Local government taxes and airport charges are said to be the highest in the region.

Business backs UNDP report
The president of the National Council for Private Business (Conep), Lisandro Macarrulla, highlights the importance of the findings of the 2008 United Nations Human Development Report. He says the report should enable the nation to create an inventory of priorities that need to be addressed. Macarrulla hopes the report will serve as a catalyst for all sectors of society to understand the need to join forces to promote a national agenda with short, medium and long-term objectives. He said that the country needed to restructure its development model to solve the issues highlighted in the UNDP Report, as reported in Hoy. Macarrulla said that the sectors that had reported the highest growth rates were commerce, communications and finances, but these are not the ones that contribute most to improving people's quality of life. The business leader called for more support for productive sectors such as tourism, construction and manufacturing.
The president of the Association of Industry and Business of Santiago (ACIS) said the report has hit the nail on the head. He said that in the case of Santiago, no administration has made significant investments in a province that contributes 14-16% of the GDP. He called the research a serious and courageous effort.
The UNDP report was presented on Wednesday.
For a discussion, see www.dr1.com/forums/government/...

Drivers put fare hikes on hold
The drivers' unions that control the transport of passengers and freight throughout the country have put a hold on any fare increases until this Wednesday. According to Listin Diario, Juan Hubieres, who heads the Fenatrano union, told a meeting of his members that he had asked the government to remove the diesel subsidy, since only three of the 36 million gallons of subsidized diesel fuel go to the unions. Another leader, Ramon Perez Figuereo of the Unified National Transport Central (CNTU), told reporters that he would be meeting with his group to discuss fare hikes today. Both organizations called on the government to reduce the taxes on fuel.
In a related story, the Alternative Social Forum (FSA) movement says that the government should modify the Hydrocarbon Law so that fuels can be purchased at a reduced cost, eliminating the need for the diesel subsidy. The coordinator, Jesus Adon, said that if the government reduces the taxes on fuels and makes changes to the Hydrocarbon Law, it would no longer need to maintain the current diesel subsidy that the unions receive. Adon said that while he is opposed to the announced increase in fares, he does not see how the sector has any other solution to the increasing prices for fuel at this time.

Experts question dam conditions
Two well-known experts in the field, Osiris de Leon and Isidro Rodriguez, have told reporters that dams and reservoirs in the Dominican Republic are not properly maintained. De Leon told Listin Diario reporters that the Dominican Hydroelectric Generation group is only concerned with the earnings of the dams as a result of electricity generated.
Isidro Rodriguez of Santiago's Cibao Ecological Society (SOECI) said that the government has never carried out adequate maintenance on the dams and there is no organization that does this, and nobody knows how the dams will react in the case of an earthquake. Santiago's Cibao Ecological Society (SOECI) asks for the Commission on the Management of Dams and Reservoirs to be called into permanent session in order to avoid another occurrence of the 12 December 2007 tragedy, when the Tavera Dam floodgates were opened, unleashing a torrent that caused severe human and material damage in Santiago during Hurricane Olga.

Good coffee sells well
The National Coffee Council (Codocafe) has announced the prizes for the best coffee produced in 2007. The prizes went to farmers' collectives. The first prize went to the La Experiencia association of small growers and the second prize went to the Coffee Growers of La Laguna. The competition is held as part of the program aimed at improving the quality of the Dominican harvest that is currently generating around US$20 million a year in export dollars. Some of the financing for the project comes from the French Development Agency and is administered by CODOCAFE. According to Fausto Burgos, the head of the council, Dominican coffee maintains a marked price differential in the market due to its flavor characteristics. Burgos says that last year Dominican coffee sold for US$30 more per hundredweight. The sector employs 70,000 people.

Dangerous accident
A propane gas tanker carrying 10,000 gallons of LPG overturned near Herrera. The resulting fire burned three people, two very seriously. The accident occurred when a small pickup truck cut off the tanker and in the ensuing evasion the tanker truck mounted the curb and overturned. Fortunately, action by firefighters prevented a major explosion, although traffic was tied up for many hours on the 27 de Febrero Extension in Herrera, near the 6 November Highway interchange.

Vigilante justice in Constanza
A furious crowd hunted down and killed a man said to have murdered two people. The victim of local justice was one Willis Brioso, who had apparently killed Jorge Gil Diaz, 29, and Crisitan Delgado, 43, because they would not give him RD$500 to buy drugs. Brioso also wounded Enrique Ferreira Santos. Ferreira is in the Morillo King Hospital in La Vega along with Miguel Angel Castillo who was hurt in the leg as the police tried to break up the mob that assaulted Brioso with guns, rocks and clubs. According to police sources, law enforcement officers in Constanza used up their entire supply of tear gas while trying to disperse the lynch mob. Local sources told El Caribe reporter Miguel Ponce that people had reported Brioso to the police for the double homicide, but the police had not acted on the case. When residents saw Brioso getting up the morning following the killings, they began to chase him, leading to his death.

More contraband money
US$969,166 in undeclared money being confiscated as it was brought into the country, as reported in Listin and Hoy today. The incident took place at La Romana International Airport, and the pilot of the private plane is currently in custody. Agents of the Specialized Airport Security Corps (CESA) and the Customs Department (DGA) discovered the money that was left abandoned in several packages in a private twin-engine airplane, registration N3230HJ that landed at 9:15am at LRM from Isla Grande Airport in Puerto Rico. The authorities say that the money was brought in by Cisnero Antonio Paredes, who left the airport as soon as he noticed the presence of the intelligence agents. The pilot was Sergio Oriolis, an American, who was detained by Customs officers. The DGA also arrested Air Force Major Honorio Acevedo Canela, and accused him of assisting Paredes to escape.
Paredes, a Dominican, is accused of trying to bring the huge sum of money into the country without declaring its origin as required by law. The Air Force major, an air traffic controller based at Portillo airport on the Samana peninsula, apparently tried to sneak Paredes out of a side door of the terminal and pick up the three suitcases without going through the customary checkpoints. Both the airplane and the money have been confiscated by the authorities. Over the last month over two million dollars have been seized under the laws concerning money laundering. DGA director Miguel Cocco recently forecast that more smuggled money would be confiscated and criticized judges for treating suspected drug dealers too leniently.

Lenient sentences favor drug dealing
Over the weekend, the president of the National Council on Drugs (CND), Mabel Feliz Baez said that they could do a lot more with their budget if the justice system sentenced the dealers. She said the funds could then go to rehabilitation and prevention campaigns. "The courts are slow in issuing sentences, and if we get sentences it is to return assets to the dealers," she said. She said that this is usual in Dominican society and that they would be launching a National Strategic Plan against Drugs on the occasion of the International Day of the Fight Against Drugs on 26 June. She feels all should join to fight drugs because it affects us all.

Contraband grows and sales slip
During the past few months, the volume of contraband has increased along the border near Dajabon in the northwest corner of the Dominican Republic, next door to Haiti. According to local deputy Carmen Mirelys Uceta, criminal activity has also increased at the same time that legal commerce has decreased. The Congress member told Hoy reporter Adalberto de la Rosa that the growing unemployment in the area is the principal issue for local residents. Without industries or factories, there are few legal avenues for people to feed and clothe themselves. According to the PRSC legislator, ever since Haiti halted Dominican poultry and egg imports, the situation has deteriorated. Currently the cattle industry is the only viable occupation but that absorbs little manpower, and is itself subject to rustling and contraband, despite the presence of the Specialized Frontier Corps (CESFRONT). Both Dominicans and Haitians are involved in the rustling operations, according to local sources. The result of all the contraband is reflected in a decrease in sales at the bi-national market in Dajabon and a reduction in activity among 1,500 motorcycle taxi drivers.

Manny bats his 500th
Boston Red Sox slugger Manny Ramirez joined the exclusive list of 24 Major League Baseball players to have hit 500 or more homeruns. He is also only the third (including Sammy Sosa and Alex Rodriguez. His homerun came on Saturday, 31 May at a game in Baltimore. The Red Sox won 6-3.
For local comments on the achievement, see http://www.dr1.com/forums/dominican-baseball/
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