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Daily News - Monday, 23 June 2008

IMF to meet with Fernandez
The Deputy Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) arrives in Santo Domingo today to meet with President Fernandez and his economic team. Murilo Portugal received a special invitation from the governor of the Central Bank, Hector Valdez Albizu. This evening Portugal will give a talk on "World Economic Perspectives and Challenges for the Dominican Republic". The talk will focus on the effects of increasing oil prices and world food shortages. Portugal will be accompanied by Paulo Nogueira Batista, Jr., the Executive Director of the IMF's Brazilian sector - which includes the DR - and Jose Fajgenbaum, the IMF Western Hemisphere assistant director. Also on the IMF team are Andy Wolf, the IMF chief of mission in the Dominican Republic and Portugal's assistant Gerard Schwartz. The IMF will meet with both public and private sector representatives as well as members of civil society.

DR signs loans for US$75 million
The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) has loaned the Dominican Republic US$35 million for three major projects, and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) is providing a further US$40 million for a series of projects. According to El Nuevo Diario, the funds are for highway construction, the construction of aqueducts and water treatment plants in the main tourist areas and for rural development along the frontier with Haiti. The Minister of Hacienda, Vicente Bengoa, signed the loan agreements for the Dominican Republic, and Suleiman Jasir Al-Herbish signed on behalf of OPEC. The "soft" loans include US$30 million to repair and construct the nation's highways, and to help the DR fix the damages caused by Tropical Storms Noel and Olga. Bengoa said that the US$40 million from the IDB would go towards rural development and better roads. A US$5 million package was focused on developing aqueducts and water treatment facilities in the Dominican Republic's main areas. The loans carry a 3.75% interest, a five-year grace period and a twenty-year loan period.

Ag Bank to sell headquarters
The head office of the Agriculture Bank of the Dominican Republic (Bagricola) is to be put up for sale, according to the latest decision of the board of directors. Paino Abreu Pichardo told reporters from Hoy newspaper that not only the headquarters building, a huge1950s edifice between George Washington and Independencia Avenues, but many of the farms that have fallen into the bank's possession will go on the block as soon as President Fernandez authorizes the sale. Abreu Pichardo said that the funds generated from selling the building and the farms would go towards re-capitalizing the bank. According to Hoy, the bank's head office occupies about 18,000m2 of very prime real estate facing the Caribbean. This sale alone is expected to generate at least one billion pesos. Among the properties are 45,000 tareas (nearly 1000 hectares) in the east coast tourist areas. Where some of the farms have squatters, the bank will allow for the purchase of titles at very convenient terms. Some of these lands are in Cotui and Maimon.

The real price of diesel is closer to RD$200
The Ministry of Industry and Commerce froze the price of diesel this past week and only increased the price of regular and premium gasoline by RD$1.30 and RD$2.50 respectively. According to Hoy newspaper, both subsidized and non-subsidized propane went up RD$2.00 per gallon. Diario Libre reports that the real price of diesel fuel should be RD$196.60 for the best diesel and RD$191.80 for 'regular' diesel. That is, if the prices were deregulated or the subsidy removed. LPG or propane would be pegged at RD$106 a gallon, even with the government's RD$17.35 subsidy under deregulation. For the new president of the Association of Gasoline Retailers (ANADEGAS), Juan Ignacio Espaillat, the government subsidies are very important for diesel but they are too high for LPG, which hurts gasoline sales. The Minister of Industry and Commerce, Melanio Paredes, said that the government should have increased the price of propane by RD$20 pesos rather than just RD$2.00, and diesel should have gone up RD$17 pesos.

Black beans for black gold
Over the medium term the obligations that the Dominican Republic has contracted with Venezuela under the PetroCaribe Pact cannot be paid by foodstuffs produced in the DR. The main cash crop, black beans, has not seen an increase in local production for years. Ever since it was made known that the oil from Venezuela could be paid for with farm products, people, including Presidents Chavez and Fernandez have referred to the Dominican Republic as the potential "breadbasket of the Caribbean," but the programs for planting more beans and other products have yet to start, according to Listin Diario. The Dominican Republic has to pay Venezuela US$4.8 million next October as part of the Petrocaribe Pact that finances a major portion of the 50,000 barrels a day that is allocated to the country under the pact. While black beans might be high on the Venezuelan list of farm products, they are not well-liked in the DR and are not all that profitable for farmers, and, therefore they are not planted on a lot of land. Agricultural economist Frank Tejada says that rice, milk, beef, poultry and eggs can be shipped to Venezuela, since the DR has an installed capacity to produce in excess of local consumption.

Poor showing for DR education
Cuba shows up as the best and the Dominican Republic as the worst in a study of third and sixth graders in 16 countries in the region, as well as the state of Nuevo Leon in Mexico. A total of 196,000 students, 8,854 classrooms and 3,065 urban schools were part of the four-year study, which was conducted by the Latin American Laboratory for Quality Evaluation under the aegis of the United Nations Education, Science and Culture Organization (UNESCO). Today's A.M. editorial in Diario Libre, written by Adriano Miguel Tejada, himself an educator, states that Dominican education has "never been good, despite the myth about the old schools." Tejada says that schools used to cater for very few people and the teachers were barely high school graduates. The big contrast was with the total ignorance of the general population. In that context, students and teachers were geniuses. Tejada, himself a product of this older system, says that this does not take any merit from those teachers, who did their best and who had a real vocation, but it does give the right perspective. After Trujillo's assassination, education took two mortal blows: politics and large-scale growth. Both led to the creation of private schools without being truly elite. All over the world, the elite sends their children to private schools, either locally or overseas, but here, all the parents who wanted to educate their children within the proper timeframe had to pay for it, and the quality of education suffered, although it appeared that it was better than the public schools, themselves affected by student mobilizations and taken over by "toughs" that scared the middle class away forever. Because of this, according to the editor-professor, despite having a very high percentage of students in private schools, some of these very good, Dominican education never climbed a point, as evidenced by the studies of mathematics that have been carried out since the 1980s, because, in reality, the parents not only pay for education but also for the protection of their children in a safe environment, even though they have to carry their own chairs to school every day like they do in the barrios.

Dominican heads hotel association
Eminent hotelier Enrique de Marchena Kalaf was elected to lead the Caribbean Hotel Association (CHA) during a meeting of the association in Washington, D.C. In his address to the assembly, De Marchena told his audience that the association was faced with the difficult task of making the United States government understand the importance of tourism in the Caribbean. De Marchena is the second Dominican to hold the post of president of the CHA, and he said that he was personally worried about the abrupt reduction of flights to the Caribbean due to the increased cost of fuel. Former head of the Federal Reserve Board Alan Greenspan will address an audience of the CHA and the Organization of Caribbean Tourism, which represents the Caribbean government's tourism ministries.

Dominican Jesuit wins science prize
Father Jose Navarro, S.J., has been awarded the Henri Nestle Prize for scientific research for his work in child nutrition in the Dominican Republic. The prize was awarded in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The prize rewards the best research in the areas of nutrition in public health, clinical nutrition, biochemistry and food technology that is done in Brazilian universities. Father Navarro, a native of Bonao, is the coordinator of the Dominican Catholic Church's Mother and Child Pastoral Service, which three years ago launched a pilot program to improve the development and nutrition of the very young. Navarro is an honors chemistry graduate of the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo.

Medicines and milk go up
Baby milk products and medicines have increased in price. According to a report by Aleida Plasencia in Hoy, a tour of several pharmacies revealed increased prices for formula, water for formula and medicines. In neighborhoods like La Fe, Naco and Cristo Rey, the effects of the strong euro, the increasing costs of raw materials and rising fuel prices all influence the cost of these important products. According to one source, the Bristol-Myers company has withdrawn from the Dominican market. According to Ms. Plasencia, a major concern is that the Family Health System (ARS) does not recognize the new prices for medicines and formula, and many of those interviewed told the reporter that their health care provider has denied the additional price increases for heart medicines or cold medicines.

Electricity kills hundreds
Today's newspapers give the account of a little girl who stepped on a live wire inside her home and was electrocuted. Dr. Julio Manuel Rodriguez Grullon, the head of the Luis Eduardo Aybar Hospital, says that in 2007 274 people were killed by electrocution, more than came to the health center for dengue, measles, TB, malaria or other illnesses. According to the doctor, 94% of those who were killed by electricity died as they tried to hook up an illegal connection to the power grid.

Weather and chaos
Over the weekend the newspapers talked about a weak tropical wave that would bring rains to much of the Dominican Republic. A Green Alert was issued for most of the east and as far north as La Vega. According to Hoy, the last bulletin from the National Meteorological Office (Onamet) was forecasting "rains, lightning and some strong winds." However, what happened at Kilometer 9 of the Duarte Highway was more than that. Huge billboards were knocked over and somewhere between 25 and 30 expensive cars were heavily damaged. Local witnesses told El Caribe reporters that "it was a cross between a tornado and a thunderstorm." Among the damaged cars the reporters saw a 2008 Infinity SUV and a new Mercedes Benz. In Villa Marina II the winds blew the roof off of a mechanic's garage and threw it into some parked buses belonging to the Fenatrano transport union. Another billboard fell onto a building and an electricity pole also was knocked down. More showers are predicted for most of the country today. Despite the rains, higher temperatures are punishing the people. According to Diario Libre, people are seeking relief from the heat any way they can, inflating plastic pools or just lying under shade trees. Some parts of the Dominican Republic are reporting temperatures of 33 degrees Celsius. According to the Onamet statement, the increased heat is due in part to the high content of dust from the Sahara desert that is in the local atmosphere, preventing radiation and humidity from escaping the surface.
 
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