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Daily News - Thursday, 03 July 2008

Congratulations, Colombia
The Presidency has sent the government of Colombia a message of congratulations on the Colombian army's successful rescue of Ingrid Betancourt and 14 other hostages being held by the FARC. Betancourt had been in captivity for over six years. The note reads: "We send our congratulations to the government of President Alvaro Uribe for his persistent effort to restore citizen Betancourt's freedom, an effort in which other governments around the world also collaborated. The Dominican government celebrates the fact that Betancourt, three US citizens and 11 Colombians were freed, and advocated that others who are still in captivity be freed so that Colombia may continue on the road to peace."

A look at the economy
Between January and June 2008 the government spent RD$130.9 billion, of which RD$43.5 billion or 32.4% was spent on subsidizing fuel, free trade zones, bakers, milk producers, transport, farmers and other sectors. The government spent an additional RD$41.5 billion, interests payments accounted for RD$134.1 billion, loans RD$4.88 billion and RD$28.9 billion went towards capital spending. The central government's revenues were up with the Tax Department (DGII), Customs and the Treasury collecting a total of RD$132.3 billion. This is 9.9% more than was budgeted and is 4.7% higher than the same period in 2007. The report by the Ministry of Hacienda says that inflation between January and May was 5.07%. The report also indicates that there was less money circulating in the DR in June, with RD$133.4 billion in circulation. This is RD$655.2 billion less than in May 2008. Listin Diario writes that this restrictive policy could be a way of combating inflation caused by the devaluation of the dollar and fuel price increases. Gross international reserves registered at US$2.6 billion in June; that is US$2.21 billion less than May. Net international reserves decreased from US$2.2 billion to US$1.95 billion.
On the same subject, economist Bernardo Vega, writing in Clave newspaper, says that in order to keep inflation under control after the big spending of the election period, the government has resorted to selling reserves, increasing interest rates and putting new banking reserve restrictions in place to reduce money in circulation.

Got change?
The Central Bank is denying reports of a shortage of change in the DR and says that 3.4 million RD$5 coins have been put into circulation since 18 June. Officials say that the use of coin machines, juke boxes, tolls and bus fares has lead to an increased need for coins. The Central Bank says that shortly a further 1.5 million RD$5 coins will be put in circulation and that another, 500,000 RD$10 coins will soon be released to the public. A press release by the CB reports the bank has requested the minting of 15 million RD$5 coins and 10 million RD$10 coins. They have also requested 10 million RD$25 coins. Hoy reports that three million of those coins are currently on a boat that is due to arrive in the DR in mid July. By December the DR is expected to have received 40 million RD$1 coins, 23 million RD$5 coins, 23 million RD$10 coins and 15 million RD$25 coins.

Transport issues resolved?
The government and the transport sectors have reached a deal which could put an end to the rift between both sides. According to a report in El Caribe, the consensus towards a potential agreement was at 97% of 13 points demanded by the transporters. The agreements would require the final approval of the President. Though no details of the agreement have been revealed, Hoy reports that the government has agreed to absorb the increase in fuel prices. Union leaders Juan Hubieres, Ramon Perez Figuereo and Ricardo de los Santos were present at the negotiations. Also present at the meeting was Diandino Pena, director of the Transport Reorganization Office (OPRET) and Melanio Paredes, the Minister of Industry and Commerce.

Drivers take advantage
Transport fares have gone up by 67% during the first six months of the year, but fuel prices have only gone up 13.3% and 23.8% for gasoline and GLP. El Caribe writes that bus unions have been complaining that fares must be increased to cover their costs and arguing that passengers should absorb those cost increases. But the disproportionate increase in fares demonstrates that drivers are in fact increasing their profit margins. Bus fares have gone up in recent weeks without any official policy and the increases have been arbitrary. Some drivers will charge RD$5, RD$10 and RD$15 more per route, on the grounds that things are more expensive. This has left many of the poorest people in the DR with few transport alternatives, since buses and taxis are their only option.

ANADEGAS suspend protest
Affiliates of the National Association of Fuel Retailers (ANADEGAS) have called off their protest and will keep their gas stations open. ANADEGAS had warned that beginning today at 6am its affiliate gas stations would close indefinitely as a response to the closure of three affiliate gas stations. ANADEGAS has 600 member gas stations. ANADEGAS president Juan Ignacio Espaillat said gas stations would be open until negotiations with the government were complete. Listin Diario reports that the three gas stations were shut down because they had been illegally selling liquid propane gas (LPG). ANADEGAS represents 70% of the gas stations in the DR.

Chamber of Accounts hearing
The Senate began the hearing to decide whether the four remaining members of the Chamber of Accounts, the government auditing body, should remain in their posts or be fired. Five other members have resigned amidst accusations of misconduct, nepotism and violations of their role as auditors. President of the Chamber of Accounts, Andres Terrero said that weaknesses in Law 10-04 that rules the Chamber of Accounts have left that organization as a body that merely executes what its nine members decide. Terrero underwent a seven-hour questioning session by the senators to defend himself against accusations of misconduct and mismanagement. The current Chamber of Accounts achieved notoriety shortly after taking office when they authorized almost a doubling of their wages. Terrero says that he is innocent and that he had always opposed the increased salaries and nice perks the Chamber members awarded themselves. Terrero says that the Chamber was divided into two groups: one that followed the law and one group with "a thirst for gold." Although he never detailed any claims of corruption, he said that the members were more interested in obtaining special benefits. Trials will continue tomorrow with the interrogations of Julio de Beras de la Cruz, Alcides A. Decena Lugo and Jose Altagracia Gregorio.

Drugs came from DR
Spanish authorities have announced the seizure of a small boat carrying 1.5 tons of cocaine. The illegal narcotics have an estimated street value of EUR200 million (US$316 million). The authorities said that the boat, which was headed for the Basque region of Spain, has been traced to the Dominican Republic. Spanish officials say that two men have been arrested in the Basque city of Bilbao. No other details have been released.

FSA urges wage raise
The Alternative Social Forum (FSA), a protest movement, took to the streets yesterday in support of a 60% wage increase for Dominican workers who make less than RD$100,000 per month. The FSA has been central in organizing national strikes in the past. The FSA protested outside the Ministry of Industry and Commerce offices. FSA coordinator Romer Castanos said this protest is just the first in a series of protests planned by the FSA. Castanos said that if the FSA's demands aren't met it could lead to another nationwide strike. Hoy reports that a memorandum was available for Industry and Commerce Minister Melanio Paredes but no representative came forward to accept the memo.

Dominicans to the moon
A contest sponsored by Listin Diario and the First Lady's Office, "Inteligencia para el buen funcionamiento del mundo," will take six Dominican students and two teachers on a 10-day tour of NASA facilities in Huntsville, Alabama. The students will take part in the Student and Science Technology Competition during their visit. First Lady Margarita Cedeno encouraged the students to make the most of the experience and wished them well during their trip. She added that they were going with an open mind and should be willing to absorb as much as possible.

Lorenzo in midst of controversy
Dominican boxer Francisco Lorenzo is at the center of one of boxing's oddest and most confusing controversies. The Dominican boxer is technically the WBC super-featherweight title holder after his bout with Mexico's Humberto Soto. Technically though, he is not the WBC super-featherweight title holder. A bizarre incident occurred in the fourth round of the fight when Lorenzo was knocked to the ground and got a late hit to the back of the head from Soto. Lorenzo lay on the ground and seemed disoriented by what was happening around him. This led referee Joe Cortez to issue a disqualification to Soto and he handed the victory to Lorenzo. The WBC reviewed the tapes and said Soto's blow was not enough to cause injury to Lorenzo, implying that he milked the hit to get a technical victory, and will not recognize Lorenzo as champion.

Inoa's signing official
If all goes according to plan, Michael Inoa's next stop will be Cooperstown. There has been a tremendous amount of hype and media scrutiny surrounding the 16-year old's signing with the Oakland Athletics. Expectations for Inoa's success are becoming seemingly insurmountable. During a press conference yesterday, Inoa, a 6'7 and 210lb prospect, officially signed with the As and with it accepted a US$4.5 million signing bonus. According to Baseball America.com, Inoa's is the richest deal ever for an international amateur who is not from Cuba, eclipsing both the $2.44 million paid to Willy Mo Pena as part of his major league contract back in 1999, and the straight $2.25 million bonus paid by the Dodgers to Joel Guzman in 2001. Inoa is considered the best player in the DR and possibly the best player in Latin America. Speaking at the press conference, Inoa said that he was very excited about his signing and added that he hoped to surpass the success of his idol, Pedro Martinez.

Thursday sales
Bravo supermarket is advertising frozen chicken for RD$24.95lb, beef fillet for RD$159.95lb, fresh octopus for RD$89.95lb, and broccoli for RD$13.95lb.
Jumbo supermarket is advertising osobuco meat for RD$36.95lb, short ribs for RD$36.95lb, and California steak for RD$45.95lb.
Pola supermarket has frozen chicken for RD$22.95lb, frozen chicken breasts for RD$84.95lb, imported pork chops for RD$64.95lb, and smoked pork chops for RD$68.95lb.
Plaza Lama's household appliances department is advertising its LG LCD 26LC4 widescreen for RD$40,999, and its LG 21FJ4A for RD$7,999, Kenmore 15-foot refrigerator for RD$22.995, LG Trio GM 8228JTCA refrigerator for RD$66.975, Frigidaire washer for RD$15,985 (22lbs), and Frigidaire stove for RD$12,895 (30 inches).
Americana Departamentos has 20% off on its Fujitsu air conditioners, with a 12,000 BTU split for RD$19,200, for example.
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