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Daily News - Monday, 03 November 2008

All countries should define reform
Dominican President Leonel Fernandez has called on all countries, not just the Group of 20, to take part in reforming the international financial system, which must be "fairer and more equal" and to fight the speculators. Fernandez, who is attending the first session of the Biarritz Forum in France, stressed that the new international financial system should include all countries, in a criticism of the make up of the Washington summit on 15 November, which will bring together the G20, the seven richest countries in the world and some of the larger emerging economies. The Dominican president launched a diatribe against the phenomenon of speculation that, in his view, was behind the food and energy crises that have developed lately, and which he said have caused "an immense and incalculable amount of damage on the economies of the nations" and "suffering" for their citizens. Above all he warned, "We are at risk of seeing the return of these phenomena in the not too distant future." Since the same speculative mechanisms were used to create the mortgage crisis in the United States, which then became a financial crisis, this crisis, he warned, "cannot be overlooked, it is the general lack of confidence" in the system that appears to be a "casino economy." The Biarritz Forum is in its ninth session and its purpose is to debate issues related to relations between Europe and Latin America. Over 700 people are attending the forum, including eight former presidents and half a dozen ministers and parliamentary leaders from both sides of the Atlantic.

Minister urges buyer to accept repayment
Environment Minister Jaime David Fernandez Mirabal is urging the businessman who bought the extensive area across the street from the Tabacalera in Villa Gonzalez, to accept the refund of his money in order to resolve the situation amicably. The area was in the news as one reporter took statements made by the man as a warning that there were very large snakes in the area. Later on, the businessman, Alberto Garcia, told reporters from El Caribe that he was not referring to serpents of the slithering kind, but to people who were involved in the dispute over the use of the land he had purchased. Leading a day of tree planting, Fernandez Mirabal was accompanied by dozens of men and women from Villa Gonzalez. He said that the ideal solution would be for the buyer of the lands to accept the return of his money because it is a natural green area that is part of the tradition of Villa Gonzalez. According to El Nuevo Diario, the area is located across from the local church, and the local municipal council built a small park there some years ago. The minister was accompanied by Santiago Senator Francisco Dominguez Brito, Tobacco Institute director Adalberto Rosa, Cibao Ecological Society president Eduardo Rodriguez, Deputy Environment Minister Anibal Abreu and the ministry's provincial director Domingo Rodriguez, a noted ecologist. While Fernandez Mirabal was planting trees, the president of the opposition PRD party, businessman Andres Santos Taveras, a native of the town, accompanied the minister for a few moments.

Economists call for IMF agreement
Three economists from the Intec, Apec and the UASD universities, are saying that the Dominican Republic needs to sign a new Stand-by agreement with the IMF in order to confront the effects of the world economic crisis. The economists, Favricio Gomez of Intec, Melvin Perez of the UASD and Carlos Cuello of Apec share the view that an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) would send a positive signal to investors and improve the country's risk rating. Speaking to reporters during Listin Diario's breakfast meeting with economic editors, the economists also feel that an agreement with the IMF would give the perception that measures were being taken to stabilize the economy. The economists described an agreement with the IMF as a parachute to help the DR survive the difficult times ahead. They pointed out that the IMF has US$200 billion available to help economies that are affected by the crisis. They argued that since the Dominican Republic has just finished going through a successful agreement with the IMF, this would permit a gradual series of adjustments to face up to the impact of the global situation.

Tourism grows by 2.2%
According to data from the Central Bank, more than 3.1 million tourists visited the Dominican Republic between January and September this year. Over half (52.1%) of the tourists came from North America, and 37.5% came from Europe. These two markets have become the traditional suppliers of the Dominican tourism industry. According to El Nuevo Diario, the Central Bank emphasized the "significant" increase in tourists coming from countries like Russia, France, Belgium, Scotland and Switzerland, in spite of a "slight" decline in absolute terms in the number of tourists coming from Europe. At the same time, the bank highlighted the fact that this increase in tourist activity was taking place in the middle of the current world economic crisis. Tourism is the main source of hard currency for the DR, followed by remittances and the industrial free zones.

Energy crisis is worst in Cibao
"We have to tackle the situation," was all a powerless Superintendent of Electricity Francisco Mendez could say, while describing the crisis as "very worrying". According to the official, the crisis situation is not likely to change before Monday or Tuesday. Since one of the units that failed to come on line was San Felipe (the former Smith-Enron) in Puerto Plata, power cuts were longest in the Cibao region. The deficit reached 188 megawatts. The system generated electricity for only 60% of demand, leaving 199 circuits without power. The hope of things getting better in the supply of electricity rest with the arrival of ships loaded with fuel. The delay in payments to the generating companies by the distributors and the government caused the system to falter through the reduction in electricity generation. According to Hoy newspaper, the deterioration in the electricity supply has led to heated protests from industrial, business and community leaders. Mendez said yesterday, "We have problems with all circuits and we will continue like this at least until Monday or Tuesday". On Friday night, when the situation seemed to be less serious, generation totaled 1,450 megawatts in the face of a demand for 1,992 megawatts. The superintendent said that the situation yesterday was "pretty serious. Some 199 circuits are out of service, 1015 megawatts are on line, and demand is for 1,675. This gives us a 39% deficit." He said that the former Smith-Enron generator, with the capacity to produce 180 megawatts, was supposed to enter service yesterday, but it didn't. Mendez said, "I suppose it will enter tomorrow, and then we have to manage to get through this situation."

Country is close to losing it
The 18-hour blackouts are punishing the country, making everyone uncomfortable. The business community says it can't take it any more, and in the streets, some people get angry when asked about the situation. There are reports of blackouts lasting for up to 18 hours from the capital to the greater part of the Cibao. According to the president of the National Association of Young Entrepreneurs (ANJE) Pablo Piantini, the country cannot go on in this way and he demanded a definitive solution to the crisis in the sector. He said, "We are affected beyond measure, as citizens, because it affects our quality of life, and as businesspeople, because production capacity is lost." He added that moreover, even businessmen who have emergency generators have to spend a large amount of resources on maintenance, fuel and machinery, resources that cannot be invested, therefore, in plans for developing the business. Piantini said, "Definitely the electric system can not continue in this way, and without doubt, these situations are always going to be with us if we do not find a definitive solution, and that solution is to charge for service, reinvest resources in the sector, improve transmission lines and generation." On Sunday, total electricity generation was 993 megawatts in the face of a demand estimated at 1,477 megawatts, which is a deficit of 33%, according to a report from the Superintendent of electricity. In an interview with reporters from Diario Libre, Manuel Mora, a store clerk at the Los Hermanos de la Fe mini-market, said more or less the same thing: "The power situation is terrible, we only get three or four hours per day. We fill the freezer with beer on Friday and we haven't sold one, because they are warm, the meat goes bad half the time, besides which we have to buy more fuel for the generator". Maria Isabel Rodriguez, from the Ilusion Beauty Salon, also complained of the "worst" electricity service ever, and said that in order to stay open she has to spend as much as RD$1,200 on fuel, money that she sometimes doesn't recoup by doing clients' hair. The collapse of the electricity service is intensely felt in Santiago too, where some barrios get 18-hour blackouts, with the most affected on the outskirts, which do not have the so-called 24-hour circuits. Owners of mini-markets, supermarkets, cafeterias and butcher shops all say that their products go bad as a result of the blackouts, because they do not have emergency generators. An official delegation from the CDEEE traveled to Mexico on Sunday to talk with officials from the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) about the possibility of a project for electricity in the Dominican Republic. The project consists of the installation of a coal-fired thermoelectric generator, with options for financing from the Mexican government, as part of the facilities offered through the San Jose Agreement.

Locals can bring in $2,500 in goodies
The Director General of Customs has once again instituted the Christmas holiday facility for Dominicans and other residents who want to bring back presents for their family and friends. The limit this year is set at US$2,500 as duty and tariff-free. A press release from the Customs Department (DGA) says that this allowance will go into effect on 28 November and will last until 7 January 2009. The same facilities will also apply to articles that arrive 15 days before or 30 days after "due to airline restrictions on accompanied baggage". For these cases, the DGA points out and emphasizes that passengers should declare the articles and demonstrate their right of ownership in the shipping papers to the administrators of the customs offices, and prove, using their passport or another document that the items being claimed under the facilities, arrived within the stipulated period. Likewise, the memo points out that in the case of appliances, passengers can only bring one of each article. The DGA also warns that in order for the Christmas facilities to be applied, they will check passports, cedulas, time spent outside of the DR and other data in order to prevent irregularities. Finally, the letter says that in the case of detecting fraudulent activities that attempt to take advantage of the facilities without fulfilling the requirements of Law 9-96, the facilities will be withdrawn and the sanctions will be applied according to the law.

CONEP asks for urgent action on Haitians
The president of the National Business Council (CONEP), Lisandro Macarrulla, has deplored the violent incidents involving Dominicans and Haitians in the border region, especially in the areas of Neyba and Guayubin. He said, "These clashes, which should be dealt with in the courts and not through lynchings, completely validate CONEP's call for an integrated and conscientious immigration policy as soon as possible." Macarrulla pointed out that the current conflict between Haitians and Dominicans comes as a result of localized incidents, but should serve as a warning to the authorities to speed up their deliberations on a responsible policy before the situation gets worse and relations break down. Macarrulla said, "Conep believes that if the Haitian problem is not solved immediately and decisively, acknowledging the true scale and importance of the main issues of the conflict, isolated incidents such as these could create a dangerous vicious circle." He said that conflicts like these accentuate segregation and xenophobia, threaten racial harmony, increase a lack of understanding and bring condemnations from international tribunals.

OTTT operation gets lower fares
After the Land Transport Office (OTTT) carried out a full-scale operation that included AMET officers and other inspectors, and threatened to revoke operator's licenses in the National District and in Santo Domingo province, drivers seemed to react. Resolution 127-08 calls for fare reductions of between RD$2 and RD$5 on shared taxi or "concho" routes. The inspectors were accompanied by soldiers with assault rifles posted along San Cristobal Avenue at the corner of Tiradentes in the La Fe area, from the early morning hours, and where more than a dozen cars were stopped for nearly two hours because their drivers were charging the RD$15 fare. The action led to a protest by Fenatrano drivers on the la Agustina-UASD route who said that they were against the resolution due to the high prices of parts and tires. There were occasional moments of tension when arguments became loud and heated, and police reinforcements were brought in, because drivers resisted having their vehicles seized. In the middle of all of this the directors of the operation sometimes gave the impression that they did not know what to do and were seen as vacillating and indecisive. An AMET colonel told them, "We are here to carry out your orders." Leonardo Rosado Suriel, the person in charge, said that 50 people from the OTTT were covering the whole country. At the bus stop for the south, at Duarte and 27 de Febrero, drivers on the route between Santo Domingo and Barahona and Neyba, affiliated with the Conatra transport union were obliged to return RD$5 and RD$10 to their passengers. On the other hand, Rosado Suriel reported that it was different for drivers on the routes to San Juan de la Maguana, Bani, San Pedro de Macoris, Hato Mayor and Higuey, where drivers were charging fares in accordance with the resolution.

Good news for drivers
Fuel prices have gone down for the fourth week in a row. The government authorized reductions of RD$8 for premium gasoline, RD$7 for regular gasoline, RD$12.40 for regular diesel and RD$12 for premium diesel. Even propane gas went down by RD$0.63 cents. Over the past four weeks, premium gasoline has gone down RD$43.70, regular gasoline has gone down RD$43.60 and regular diesel has gone down RD$35.40. Premium gasoline is now RD$147.30, regular is RD$134.40 and regular diesel is now RD$123.20. Despite the fall in prices, according to a report in Diario Libre, analysts are calculating that prices will continue to fall, perhaps to the level of US$50 per barrel. Demand has fallen by 7% compared to the same period last year.

US Consul General warns of tricksters
The Consul General of the United States, Michael R. Schimmel, revealed yesterday that during the last year at least one thousand Dominicans have been tricked by unscrupulous individuals ("buscones") who promise work visas to the United States. He told Hoy newspaper that dozens of these tricksters have been arrested by the police, mainly in the areas surrounding the consulate, where they make contact with their victims. He said that the consulate has a list of the conmen who operate in the area. He said that the police have done a good job, but many of those arrested are freed in a few days and go back to their swindling operations. Schimmel said that their activities affect people who go to the consulate to get a visa because it increases the security mechanisms needed and casts suspicion on everyone trying to get a visa to visit the US. He reminded the reporters that the US consulate issued 400 H2B work visas in 2007 to citizens who met the requirements and he estimated that a further 1000 tried to get work visas in a fraudulent manner, but were found out. He was firm in stating that a person who tries to get a visa with false documents or one that is processed by these swindlers loses the chance of ever getting a visa to the US, as well as losing their money. Schimmel spoke to reporters during the launch of the second stage of the campaign "Watch out for that frog!" an awareness campaign using billboards and radio and TV ads warning about these conmen.

Venezuelan gets 20 years for drugs
Magistrates of the Penal Chamber of the Appeals Court in Barahona have ratified a 20-year sentence for a Venezuelan citizen found guilty of violating Law 20-88 on Drugs and Controlled Substances. The judges sentenced Cristian Jose Gonzalez Gonzalez, 37, who is currently in the local jail. The foreigner was found guilty of trafficking 62.5 kilograms of cocaine when he was arrested by members of the Southern Division of the National Drug Control Department (DNCD). The arrest took place on 21 November 2007 near the Martin Garcia Mountain in El Curro, where the drugs had been brought in by a boat that was confiscated by the DNCD. The Appeals Court assistant prosecutor Israel Trinidad had requested confirmation of the lower court's decision. The Appeals Court panel of magistrates was composed of Joselin Moreta Carrasco, Domitilio Ferreras Medina and Luis Alberto Dias de la Cruz. Gonzalez was also ordered to pay a RD$250,000 fine.

Three dead in Miami shipwreck
A group of 40 (or 42) illegal immigrants, most from the Dominican Republic were shipwrecked off the coast of Miami Beach in South Florida over the weekend. Three were found dead in the Atlantic while rescuers are searching for nine others who are said to be missing. According to El Caribe, a spokesperson for the Customs and Border Protection said that "three are dead and thirty have been rescued." The spokesperson continued: "We are looking for another nine persons, approximately, who apparently have disappeared." These statements came after the Coast Guard interviewed the rescued travelers and indicated that the total number of people on board was more than 40. The latest rescues were carried out late in the day and some of the immigrants were found exhausted after they got to the beach. It was not immediately clear whether the people went into the water because the boat was in trouble or to escape from the authorities. The Coast Guard report says that as well as the Dominicans, four Brazilians were in the group. The nationality of the three deceased was not immediately available, nor was the registry of the ship that carried the Dominican flag.

Survivors ate human flesh
In a separate incident, a group of 35 people that was lost at sea for 15 days had to eat one of their companions in order to survive, while one woman, one of five survivors, died in the hospital in Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos Islands. The information was revealed by Tourism Minister Francisco Javier Garcia, through his spokesperson, journalist Rosanna Figueroa. According to Figueroa, Francisco Javier Garcia visited the hospital where the survivors are recovering, accompanied by Turks and Caicos Prime Minister Michael Misik, and they verified that the survivors are in good health, although they are dehydrated and their legs are swollen. According to Diario Libre, Figueroa said that the Minister of Tourism communicated with Foreign Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso, and requested that the body of the woman who died should be repatriated as soon as possible. He also requested that the four survivors should be returned as soon as they recover. The report from the Tourism Ministry says that one of the Dominicans currently in hospital told Javier Garcia how they saw about 22 of their companions die little by little and that they had to throw their bodies into the sea. The boat, which was carrying 35 passengers left for Puerto Rico15 days ago but became stranded on the high seas. One of the four said that the captain had abandoned them, leaving them adrift.
 
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