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Daily News - Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Summit conference announced
Heads of state from Central America will be meeting at Casa de Campo on 22 and 23 November to discuss potential solutions to the international financial crisis during the "Emerging Financial Global Order: A Regional Perspective" conference. As well as heads of state from Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama the event will also include the participation of presidents from regional banking institutions, regional financial experts and hacienda ministers from each nation. President Leonel Fernandez, who called the meeting, will be hosting the event, and Alicia Barcena Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) will also speak at the conference.
Presidents Alvaro Colon of Guatemala, Luis Antonio Saca of El Salvador, Manuel Zelaya Rosales of Honduras, Daniel Ortega Saavedra of Nicaragua, Oscar Arias Sanchez of Costa Rica and Martin Torrijos Espino from Panama are expected to attend the summit.

Costa Rica signs DR-CAFTA
Four years after the treaty went into effect, Costa Rican legislators have approved their country's entry into the Central America, Dominican Republic and United States Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA), effective 1 January 2009. Costa Rica signed the agreement in 2004 along with El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras and the DR, but congressional approval had not been achieved until now. The passing of the DR-CAFTA agreement comes at a time when Costa Rica positions itself to strengthen its trade relations with China.

Vietnam shows interest
A Vietnamese company has shown interest in installing a solar panel energy generation system in the DR. Listin Diario says Vietnamese businesspeople would also be willing to donate a kilometer's worth of light bulbs required for the system as part of a pilot street lighting program. The bulbs would be installed on one of the main avenues in the DR as part of the testing process. This would be an innovative and effective way for the DR to save money on its energy bill and ease its dependency on foreign oil. Minister Miguel Mejia explained that Dominican Ambassador in India Hans Dannenberg Castellanos, whose remit also includes Vietnam, had sent on the Vietnamese offer in writing to President Leonel Fernandez. Venezuela, Cuba, Cambodia and Laos have also taken part in the solar energy program. Reports indicate that the government will choose the avenue for installing the bulbs and the duration of the program will depend on the government. Vietnamese company Vive Light will provide the technical expertise for the installation and education of technicians.

Almeyda on migration
Interior & Police Minister Franklin Almeyda says that he is waiting for Congress to pass changes to the Constitution on nationality and migration issues in order to issue the Migration Ruling required for the implementation of Migration Law 284-04 that was passed three years ago, as reported in Listin Diario. Almeyda says that the ruling will apply to foreigners of all nationalities. In his opinion, the Police should monitor migration via the border with Haiti, not the Armed Forces. He said that a first step towards regularizing migration in the country is to determine how many foreigners live here, and their nationality. Almeyda has said that his department wants foreigners living in the DR to regularize their status. "A person who has been living here for 30 years, 20 years, we say that person becomes a resident of the country, and they would receive a foreigners ID, not an ID for an illegal person". That category does not exist, he said, to clarify a misinterpretation of his statement about providing identity documents to illegal residents in the DR. He explained that the Ministry of Interior & Police and its dependency the Department of Migration would decide a person's status, and then the Central Electoral Board would issue the identity card. The Ministry of Interior & Police has recognized that in the case of Haitians the difficulty is that most Haitians do not have a legal identity when they migrate from Haiti.

Tucano loan approved
The Chamber of Deputies has voted in favor of a US$93.6 million loan for the purchase of eight Brazilian Super Tucano air fighters. Of the 128 legislators, 87 voted in favor, eleven voted against and 30 abstained. Eugenio Cedeno, vice president of the PRD block in Congress, said that PRD members had voted against the bill because of observations that the Tucanos are not the best planes for fighting drug trafficking. Cedeno added that in a country with so many problems the government should not spend US$93.6 million on planes when the money could be used to build 6,486 houses or 2,705 schools in rural communities.
There has been a great deal of controversy about the purchase of the planes. The deal was first announced in November 2007. Critics have argued that the planes are outdated and not agile or fast enough to engage the state-of-the-art planes used by drug traffickers. Experts point out that most drug planes fly below radar, but the Tucanos planes aren't capable of doing that, making them obsolete for drug reconnaissance. In addition, the Dominican Air Force's lack of capacity to train its pilots in "dog fight" maneuvering, which is needed to chase down these plane, adds an extra challenge. Opponents have also questioned the lack of transparency surrounding the deal, and cited rumors that "incentives" had been paid to Congress members over the last few days to ensure their support for the project.

Tourism slows
The Quisqueya Foundation, quoting Central Bank figures, says that during the third trimester of the year tourism to the DR slowed by 3.1%, compared to the same period in 2007. This represents the largest decrease in the flow of tourism since 1998. Quisqueya Foundation directors Frank Valenzuela and Hector Frias say these figures point to the start of a slowdown in Dominican tourism markets. They explain that 24,835 fewer people visited the DR during this period for a total of 771,267 while in the same period in 2007 the total was 796,102. Travel from the US was down from 279,328 to 270,043 visitors.

Crisis not felt yet
While experts keep warning the international financial crisis will soon be felt on the home front, Listin Diario writes that consumer sales remain high. According to the newspaper, government collection of ITBIS taxes, the local value-added tax, was up in October 2008, indicating that consumers are still spending their money. ITBIS tax is a key indicator of consumer trends in the DR. Between January and September collections grew by 15% for a total of RD$56.54 million, compared to the RD$48.87 million collected in 2007. Tax collection through Customs and DGII totaled RD$60.58 million (RD$27.74 million from Customs and RDD$33.84 million from DGII). Customs taxes increase by RD$3.35 million while DGII tax collections grew by RD$4.23 million, compared to figures from the same period in 2007.

Highways for Samana
Yesterday the Senate approved a government concession for the construction of an extension to the Santo Domingo-Samana highway. The concession is granted to the same company, Nordeste that built the first south-north part of the highway that reduces traveling time to Samana from Santo Domingo by half. The new concession covers the reconstruction and rehabilitation of 124 kms west-to-east from Nagua to Rincon de Molinillo-Sanchez, Santa Barbara de Samana-El Limon-Las Terrenas. Another 25 kilometers of new road would be built from El Catey International Airport to Las Terrenas.

Government gives Bonogas cards
Yesterday, the government began to hand out Bonagas cards to more than 14,000 public transport drivers. The gas cards will allow the drivers to purchase RD$3,420 worth of subsidized gas, or 52 gallons each month. El Caribe writes that the subsidized fuel could translate to cheaper fares for passengers. The government will be spending RD$200 million per month on subsidizing the program.

Haiti "did not reject aid"
Haitian Ambassador to the DR Fritz Cineas denies reports that the Haitian authorities had rejected an offer of humanitarian aid from the DR following the catastrophic school collapse in Petionville, near Port-au-Prince last week. One hundred and two people, mainly children, are believed to have died in the disaster, and many more are injured and missing. Cineas, quoted in Hoy, thanked President Leonel Fernandez for his solidarity and thanked Education Minister Melanio Paredes for commemorating the tragedy in Dominican schools yesterday. Flags at all Dominican schools were flown at half-mast yesterday in memory of the victims. Cineas says that the claims that aid was rejected are false, adding that he has no idea who released such information.

AMET officer murdered
Police Major Paola Carrasco was murdered outside her home in the Claret sector of Santo Domingo yesterday by two men who got away on a motorcycle. She was sub-director of Internal Affairs at the Traffic Police (AMET) department. Initial reports indicate that around 8pm thieves, who had been lying in wait, tried to rob Carrasco of her weapon as she entered her home. Thirty-nine year old Carrasco was a 20-year veteran of the Police department and leaves behind an eight-year old son.

Survivors get a year in jail
Judges in Duarte province have sentenced two of the "lost at sea survivors" Gregorio and Saulo Maria Marizan to a year in prison for their role in a tragic episode that cost the lives of 30 people. The Marizan brothers have been charged with involuntary manslaughter. Family members have revealed that the small craft was constructed at the Marizan household in Guiza to take a group of Dominicans to Puerto Rico. On 3 November it was reported the group had been lost at sea for 15 days and 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.

Villanueva and Horford are stars
Dominican-born basketball player Al Horford is no longer a rookie and he is letting the rest of the league know this. The young star, who many feared would settle for the successes of his rookie year is quickly gaining the praise of basketball fans and insiders. In last night's game against the Chicago Bulls Horford scored a career high 27 points with 17 rebounds, leading the Hawks to its best season start since 1999, with a 6-0 record. Horford also added six blocks, three assists on 9-18 shooting. He also went 9-13 from the free throw line.
Another Dominican-American, Charlie Villanueva, in contract season, is slowly creeping back to form and scored a double-double yesterday, scoring 12 points and adding 10 rebounds in 36 minutes of play for the Milwaukee Bucks.

Baseball updates
Last night fans saw a glimmer of the old Jose Lima as he pitched eight scoreless innings against the Estrellas Orientales. Lima's success helped guide the Aguilas to a 2-0 victory over the Orientales. As of late the Aguilas have entered a groove and have climbed back into first place. In last night's second game the Toros took care of the Escogido in a come-from-behind 9-7 victory. Though the Toros persevered to win, two passed balls by the Escogido catcher gave the Toros the window for victory.
Team W-L Avg. Games Behind
AGUILAS 13 - 9 .591 --
TOROS 13 - 9 .591 --
LICEY 12 - 9 .571 0.5
GIGANTES 12 - 9 .571 0.5
ESCOGIDO 10 - 11 .476 2.5
ESTRELLAS 4 - 17 .190 8.5

Tonight's games
Santo Domingo, Estadio Quisqueya 7:30pm: Estrellas vs. Escogidos
La Romana, Estadio Francisco Micheli 7:30pm: Gigantes vs. Azucareros
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