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Daily News - Friday, 05 December 2008

Haitises Park crops for export
Environment Minister Jaime David Fernandez claims that Dominican and Haitian farmers are being contracted to grow vegetables in Los Haitises National Park for sale in Puerto Rico. Fernandez explained that these crops can't be farmed in Puerto Rico. Fernandez's latest comments come as part of his ongoing bid to protect the National Park, which is being farmed by squatters. Fernandez has declared the Park a national security issue and says that many of the country's rivers and streams originate there. Knowingly at odds with a series of business interest groups, Fernandez has made it clear that he will guarantee the DR's environmental safety during his tenure. Most recently he closed down three companies that were illegally extracting sand from local rivers and refused negotiate with the owners.

Clean-up in Haina
Environment Minister Jaime David Fernandez and Blacksmith Institute president Richard Fuller were in attendance as the clean up work, in an area called 'God's Paradise' in Haina, began. God's Paradise is listed among the top ten most polluted places in the world. Fernandez and Fuller were accompanied by community representative Sandra Castillo and Environmental Management deputy-minister Ernesto Reyna. The group visited the former Metaloxa factory site, where most of the contamination occurred. Fernandez says part of the plan is to remove the toxic material from the land and refill it with a layer of vegetable matter, to allow for the construction of an ecological park. Fuller said that with Environmental Ministry cooperation, Blacksmith has been able to study the magnitude of the problem. Community leader Sandra Castillo commented that this was the first time an Environment Minister had visited this severely polluted area.

Airports penalize exporters
The executive director of the National Competitiveness Council, Andres Van der Horst Alvarez has criticized the decision by the new owners of the Las Americas and Puerto Plata airport management concession to double airport charges levied on Dominican exporters, as reported in Listin Diario. Van der Horst called the decision a blow to exporters, saying that it affects fruit and vegetable exporters, who cannot pass the increase on to their clients. He said that the same charge in Costa Rica and Panama is just US$0.02, compared to the new US$0.04 charge in these two Dominican airports. He said that after Aerodom increased the tariff, the other private airports followed suit, "making for an oligopoly in the airport tariff charges that impedes competitiveness in the country".
Van der Horst said the DR would not be able to compete with exporters in Honduras, Nicaragua and other Central American countries. He added that this comes at a time when exports are important for the balance of payments and increasing trade deficit.

Government spending skyrockets
The international financial crisis is slowly rearing its head in the DR and the private sector is asking government to tighten its belt, but Diario Libre is reporting that despite all the warning signs the government has instead increased its 'official' spending by 31.1% in 2008. As of 21 November, the government had disbursed RD$236.5 billion. Of the total spending RD$73 billion corresponded to expenditures while RD$19 billion were for interest rate payments. Transfers totaled RD$78 billion, which increased by 47% from 2007. Capital spending totaled RD$55 million, according to the Ministry of Hacienda.

Government needs loan
The government is asking the Ministry of Hacienda to approve a RD$650 million loan from the government-owned BanReservas commercial bank in order to pay out the annual holiday bonuses for public employees. The bill, which was accompanied by a note from President Leonel Fernandez, states the loan will be paid off during the next 11 months, in 11 monthly quotas with preferential interest rates. Beginning on 13 December employees throughout the DR will begin to receive their "double salary," or holiday bonus. This marks the start of the holiday and shopping season.

IMF's Strauss Kahn to visit
The managing director of the International Monetary Fund Dominique Strauss Kahn is scheduled to meet with President Leonel Fernandez and the Dominican government economic team on Monday. The IMF head will then hold a press conference with the Governor of the Central Bank, Hector Valdez Albizu.

US$2 billion for coal plants
The ruling PLD party has taken a special interest in Congress authorizing the issue of US$2 billion in bonds for the construction of two coal-fired power generators with capacity for 600MW each, as reported in Listin Diario. If construction begins in 2009, the plants would go online in 2012. The PLD presented the bill to its legislators for channeling through Congress. The ruling party believes that this is the solution to the country's ongoing energy problems. The plants would be built in Monte Cristi and Azua.
The idea is that the coal-fired plants' lower generation costs would oblige private generation companies to negotiate lower rates. The PLD's spokesman on energy and mining issues, Antonio Herrera Cruz said, "We need a way to pressure them so that they understand that this country needs cheap energy and an end to the power outages".
The bill stipulates that the State-run Electricity Companies (CDEEE) will be responsible for acquiring, installing and maintaining the power plants. The construction plan dates back to 2006 when the government signed agreements with Emirates Power and
Chinese company Sichuan, but a lack of funds was blamed for the project not getting of the ground.
In the new power deal, the government reportedly guarantees it will purchase 90% of the energy that the plants generate, up from 50% when the construction of the two coal-fired plants was originally negotiated at the start of the first term of the Fernandez administration.

Clientelism or development?
In an interview with Listin Diario, the President's industrial advisor Antonio Isa Conde said that competitiveness in the country is affected because there is a sector in government that pushes for development, and another whose priority is clientelism, or political patronage. "We're trapped," he said. Isa Conde says that it is shameful that the energy problem has not yet been resolved. He said that it is like a dog chasing its own tail and going round and round in circles. Isa Conde said that President Leonel Fernandez is one of those who push for development. He advocated taking politics out of the energy issue and adopting a long-term vision. In his opinion, short-term solutions are the worse enemy of efficiency. "The problem is that politics makes us forget the long term," he said.

Closing Gomez
The Ministry of Public Works has announced that Santo Domingo's Mexico Avenue will be closed this Saturday from 10pm through Sunday at 12pm. Both traffic lanes will be closed. The road is being closed for the installation of a pedestrian bridge in front of Club San Carlos on the corner of Emilio Prud'homme Street.

Haitian burden
According to regional health director Dr. Bolivar Matos, the Dominican government spends an estimated RD$55 million on providing health services for illegal Haitian immigrants in border Elias Pina and San Juan de la Maguana provinces alone. According to Matos, 7,800 illegal residents have received medical treatment in those provinces since January, including surgery, physical examinations, maternity care and emergency interventions. Hoy reports that in the communities of Banica, Hondo Valle, Commendador and San Juan de la Maguana 50% of patients receiving medical care are Haitian nationals.

Falconbridge decision
After weeks of uncertainty the Falconbridge mining company has announced that it will lay off 900 of its 1,640 employees, most of whom live in Bonao. Falconbridge temporarily closed its doors in August and the closure was declared indefinite in November. The announcement has plunged company employees into uncertainty. Although some were still receiving wages, yesterday's announcement will certainly have serious repercussions on the surrounding areas that depend on a company with a monthly payroll of US$2.6 million. According to economist Rafael Paulino, for every person working at Falconbridge four will be affected. Paulino also warns of a possible devaluation of the dollar due to the reduced revenue from Falconbridge.
Ernst Mas, who made the announcement on behalf of the company at Club Falcondo, said that employees would receive their severance pay. This is likely to bring a short-term bonanza to Bonao this Christmas.
Workers are also concerned that the Bonao Educational Center, where many employees' children go to school, could also close down.
According to Falconbridge's public relations officer Luis Rosado, the company's decision came as a result of an increase in its operational costs, adding that the drop in fuel prices hasn't been enough to balance out the high cost of mining. Rosado said however that the company would continue to employ 740 people and that the closure would not be permanent thanks to a cash reserve it has been developing for 20 years. The most difficult aspect of this decision is the timing, in the run-up to the holiday season. Although officials had asked for the announcement to be delayed until after the holidays Rosado said it had not been possible to do so.

Claro & Orange I-Phone
Claro and Orange telecom companies are announcing plans for the launch of the Apple I-Phone 3G cell phone. Codetel reports that by midnight last night a large number of people had already lined up outside their Santo Domingo and Santiago headquarters to wait for midnight tonight (Friday), when sales are due to start.

Mother kidnapped her own kid
The police report that 22-year old Wilmari Madelin Rosso was responsible for kidnapping her own daughter, 2-year old Johanna Monegro Rosso. A woman had returned the child to the MacDonald's playground in San Francisco de Macoris before a ransom could be paid. The police says that the mother confessed that it was a plan to get RD$200,000 that her cousin needed in order to set up a business. As reported in El Caribe, her cousin Luis Federico Garcia Fernandez had had problems with the police, wanted to go straight and needed the money to start anew. The kidnappers had asked for RD$500,000 in ransom. The child's father lives in the US.

"80% is undemocratic!"
The Alliance for Democracy (APD) is claiming that the 80% allocation of public funds for the DR's two largest political parties, the PLD and PRD, is undemocratic. The APD, a PLD affiliate, is calling for a re-modification of the Electoral Law and asking for a fairer distribution of funds. The allocation of funds depends on total votes received in a presidential election, with the parties that obtain more than 5% of the vote dividing up 80% of all the funds. Of the RD$526 million allocated for 2009, the PLD and PRD will receive RD$420.8 million. The remaining 20%, RD$105 million, will be divided among 22 remaining parties.

Jefferson Marin Lopez extradited
Jefferson Marin Lopez (Chivirico) has been arrested and extradited to the US. According to press reports, he headed a Colombian network that exported large amounts of heroin and cocaine to the US using the DR as a transshipment point. He faces criminal charges in New York, according to National Drug Control Department (DNCD) chief, Major General Gilberto Delgado Valdez. As reported in El Dia, DNCD spokesman Roberto Lebron said that Marin Lopez belonged to a group of 28 individuals responsible for 85% of the cocaine shipped to the US via Venezuela and the DR.
 
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