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Daily News - Wednesday, 03 December 2008

Confidence or rhetoric?
While President Leonel Fernandez accepts that the state of the world economy could bring potential problems to the DR in 2009, he also remains confident that the DR will overcome any obstacles and that 2009 will be a year of peace and prosperity for the nation. Quoted in Hoy, Fernandez said the government would do all it could to guarantee the nation's stability. "We are going to work in 2009 in the midst of adverse international circumstances," he said when interviewed on occasion of the Christmas tree inaugural at the Presidencial Palace. Priorities in 2009 would be to create more jobs, reduce crime and resolve the nation's long-standing energy problem. Central Bank governor Hector Valdez Albizu claims that 2009 will not be as bad as some observers are indicating. Quoted in El Caribe, he said the DR would do well in spite of the international financial crisis.

Pilgrim's highway complete
Yesterday, President Leonel Fernandez inaugurated the new highway connecting the Santiago de la Cruz crossroads with Buena Vista and Loma de Cabrera, in Dajabon province. The 20-kilometer road stretch cost RD$296 million. But it was the efforts of concerned citizen-turned social activist Angel Sosa that really got the road completed. Sosa, dubbed the Pilgrim of the Cross, lobbied the government to finish the road and walked an astonishing 300 kilometers from his home to the doorstep of the Presidential Palace in Santo Domingo to promote his cause. Officials say that the road would improve the quality of life for local residents. Dominican musician Fernando Villalona also attended the inauguration ceremony.

Metro in December?
Rafael Serrano, sub-director of the Transport Reorganization Office (OPRET), has announced that the Metro would open to the public sometime in December. Serrano made the announcement at the close of a training program for 134 of the more than 400-person Metro security staff. He expressed optimism that the Metro will run in time for Dominicans to ride the system during the holiday season. Nevertheless, last week that it was reported the Metro had not yet received international certification. According to El Caribe, without these international permits the Transport Reorganization Office (OPRET) cannot officially start running the Metro. According to El Caribe, OPRET should have secured the permits by the end of October and would have then gone through with a 'dry run' of the trains without passengers on board. To complete the trial OPRET needs all 57 cars. Only 36 of the cars have arrived. Eighteen of the remaining cars should have been delivered by November.

Senate approves deficit
The Senate has approved, after two consecutive sessions, a bill submitted by the Executive Branch to increase the budget deficit by RD$10.8 billion. The increased deficit, which includes loans, would be used to stabilize the nation's failing electric sector. During the urgent sessions, senators approved a motion favoring government intervention on behalf of 1,000 Falconbridge workers whose jobs are at risk after the mining company announced an indefinite suspension of operations.
Writing in Hoy, economist Carlos Despradel says that the government should be more fiscally responsible in these days of global financial troubles. Despradel estimates the external deficit in 2009 will be US$5 billion. Despradel is also concerned about the DR's trade deficit, as exports in 2008 fell by US$200 million while imports grew by 20%. According to economist Isodoro Santana the balance of payments will affect jobs and proposed wage increases, as well as productive activities. According to Santana the deficit in the balance of payment was 12.2% of the GDP, or US$4 billion, during the first nine months of 2008.

Remittances forecast
Economist Henri Hebrard says that if the exchange rate hovers around RD$37 to US$1 as projected by the government in the National Budget figures, Dominicans receiving remittances from abroad will reap an additional RD$6.76 billion. He forecast nonetheless that remittances would decline in the last quarter of 2008 and the decline would continue for most of 2009 as a consequence of the global recession that is affecting the US and Spain, where the largest population of expatriate Dominicans live.
Freddy Ortiz, president of the Association of Remittance Companies, forecasts a 6% decline in remittances for the last quarter, but an overall 2% increase for 2008, as reported in Listin Diario.
Nevertheless, a Listin Diario reader comments that the decline in the association's numbers can also be attributed to families finding alternative ways of sending the money.

Construction slump forecast
Cemex Dominicana is predicting a 16% decline in cement sales for 2009, as local construction slows down. The company forecasts that local demand for cement will decline from 3,441 metric tons to 2,879 metric tons, as reported in Diario Libre.
Cemex Dominicana president Carlos Jacks told reporters that the global financial crisis that started with the sub-prime mortgage crisis is affecting the real economy with constraints on financing and liquidity. He said consumer confidence is down. He commented that the average decline in housing starts in the US is 52%, in France 27.8%, UK 30.3%, Germany 36.8% and Spain 58.4%.
He said that in the DR, construction makes up 4.2% of the GDP, and that GDP is expected to grow 3.2% this year and 5.3% in 2009.
Jacks forecasts a drastic decline in cement demand in 2009. He says 2009 will be a difficult year with all economic indicators worsening, with the exception of inflation that from 11% in 2008 is forecast to close at 9.2% in 2009. He commented that the lending rate that was 11.9% in 2007, has climbed to 24% this year and will increase to 25% in 2009. He also expects a larger fiscal deficit. He says the DR will feel the effects of the US economy closing with a 0.5% growth this year and 1.2% in 2009.

DR-CAFTA not fair?
Observers initially welcomed the DR-CAFTA trade agreement with the US and Central America with optimism, but according to Miguel Angel Olivo, president of the Dominican Pig Farmers Federation and spokesman for the farming competitiveness movement, statistics from the US Department of Commerce indicate that between January and June 2008 pork imports (from the US to the DR) reached an unprecedented level with a 294.7% increase, while beef imports increased by 342.94% and chicken and turkey imports increased by 24%. He added these products exceeded the quota established for meat imports and that an estimated 1,500 metric tons of pork and chicken (518 pork and 1,052 chicken) entered the DR without paying the proper tariffs.

Farmers not happy
Farmers at Los Haitises National Park are not happy with the joint decision by Environment Minister Jaime David Fernandez and Armed Forces Minister Pedro Rafael Pena to post 1,200 military personnel in the park to continue evicting squatters and farmers. The farmers say the government's decisions are arbitrary and abusive and are angry at not having been given alternative plots of land before the evictions started. The farmers told Hoy that although Fernandez is pressuring them to get off the land he is not willing to pressure the State Sugar Council (CEA) to give them the 25,300 acres of land they want in order to farm. Hoy reports that yesterday, at the onset of Operation Hutia, guards began to remove crops planted by the farmers. In 1992 it was decided that families living in the park would be given RD$82 million to relocate. So far RD$46 million has been given to 2,799, as well as 2,047 plots of land, and 788 houses have been distributed. The guards ordered the eviction of inhabitants in Sabana de la Mar, El Valle, Pilancon, Gonzalo, Majagual, Guaraguao and Laguna Cristal. Reportedly, 45 permanent guards will be stationed throughout the park.

AMET not kidding
The Transit Authority (AMET) has announced the confiscation of 2,350 vehicles whose owners failed to purchase their marbete stickers. The deadline was last Friday. As of last week the Tax Department (DGII) said 100,000 drivers had failed to get the sticker. The penalty is RD$1,200 for cars 2003 or earlier or RD$2,200 for 2004 and beyond plus RD$1,300 and RD$500 fines respectively. Impounded vehicles are taken to the dog track on Los Restauradores Avenue, as well as the Police Department or the Armed Forces.

Arms disagreements continue
The Attorney General's office and the Ministry of Interior & Police don't seem to agree on the details of the holiday gun ban resolution. Yesterday Attorney General Radhames Jimenez Pena warned that any officer caught illegally impounding a gun would be dismissed, while adding that he supported the measure. Jimenez, however, voiced a different opinion to that of Interior and Police Minister Franklin Almeyda, by stating that the measure seeks to reduce the display of arms and not to disarm the public. But today Interior and Police Minister Franklin Almeyda said that police officers would impound guns if necessary, especially if owners don't have permits. However, bankers, messengers and currency exchange businesses have announced they will not give up their guns during the holiday ban, in fear for their safety. Exchange agent Edward Matos said that messengers and other people who deal with large amounts of money needed protection, not only when they are working, but also when they go home at night. Armed Forces Minister Pedro Pena Antonio said the measure was "hateful" but must be applied. He said the Armed Forces would help the police to implement the measure. Although the measure is intended to disarm the public and create a safer holiday environment, many feel that the rampant crime that has troubled the DR and unlicensed gun use by criminals makes it impossible for some to give up their guns and feel safe, especially if the criminals aren't giving up theirs. Diario Libre is reporting that the authorities have already impounded seven guns as a result of police raids in Santo Domingo.

Looking for solution
A bi-cameral Congressional committee is studying the possibility of increasing the taxes on credit card transactions, gun permits and fireworks in order to cover the cost of increasing doctors' and nurses' pay. Listin Diario reports that government needs to come up with an annual extra RD$3 billion to cover the wage increase. Subsidies in the DR are at an all-time high, as is the national deficit. The world is entering an economic crisis and government spending is also at an all-time high, making it difficult to find the money for these increases.

No help for AIDS patients
Jose Manuel Vargas, president of the Dominican Health Risk Administrators Association (ADARS) says that it is not financially feasible to include AIDS patients in the social security program because this would entail an estimated annual cost of RD$315,000 per person. He estimates that if 80,000 AIDS patients were integrated into the system that would total RD$13.54 billion per year. Director of the Presidential Council on Aids (COPRESIDA) Gustavo Rojas says that if social security payments were increased by RD$5 this would enough to cover the entrance of patients into the system.

Citrus concerns
El Caribe reports that Diaphorina citri, destructive bacteria that attacks citrus products has been detected in Imbert and Luperon in Puerto Plata province. The disease, which recently affected Cuba, forced officials there to eliminate 80% of their citrus crops. El Caribe reports that the outbreak is affecting a 9-kilometer area. The Ministry of Agriculture says that no substantial damage has been registered so far but the outlook is not positive. Officials say the bacteria could have entered the DR through the port of Luperon, on a boat from Cuba or Florida. The bacteria first emerged in Asia in 1998 and ever since, the local agriculture authorities have been working to prevent it from affecting the DR.

Licey and Gigantes play nice
Only days after engaging in one of the ugliest incidents in Dominican sports history, the Tigres and Gigantes were back on the field. However, no bottles or baseballs were thrown and smiles and handshakes were calls of the day. Though it will be difficult to forget what happened last Saturday night, after players and fans began hurling bottles and baseballs at each other, both teams were able to put the incident behind them, at least for the night. Baseball officials are still investigating the incident and lawsuits against players are pending. In all 10 fans were hurt during the erratic outburst last Saturday. Dominican baseball officials plan to institute new safety regulations in the hope of preventing future incidents.

Baseball updates
In last night's action the Aguilas halted Estrella's five-game winning streak with a 5-3 victory. The deciding moment came when the game was tied at three all when a wild pitch and two singles brought in the game-winning 4th and 5th runs. In last night's other game the Licey and Gigantes were able to keep it on the field as Erick Aybar hit for the cycle, pushing Licey to a 10-9 victory after an 18-inning marathon. In last night's final game the Leones were able to muster out a 6-4 victory against the Toros. It has been a season of struggles for the Leones with little hope for improvement as the season enters its final weeks.
Team W-L Avg. Games Behind
GIGANTES 22 - 14 .611 --
LICEY 20 - 16 .556 2.0
TOROS 20 - 17 .540 2.5
AGUILAS 19 - 18 .514 3.5
ESCOGIDO 18 - 19 .486 4.5
ESTRELLAS 11 - 26 .297 11.5
Tonight's Games:
Santo Domingo: Estrellas v Escogido, Estadio Quisqueya 7:30pm
Santiago: Licey v Aguilas, Estadio Cibao 8pm
La Romana: Gigantes v Toros, Estadio Francisco Micheli 7:30pm
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