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Daily News - Thursday, 05 March 2009

DR and Cuba try for closer ties
President Leonel Fernandez spoke at the 11th Meeting of Economists in Havana, Cuba yesterday, focusing on what he considers insufficient measures taken in view of the persistent global crisis.
See his speech in Spanish at www.presidencia.gob.do/app/article.aspx?id=10496
Meanwhile, representatives of the Dominican Republic and Cuba promised to make efforts to double trade from US$100 million to US$200 million. Dominican and Cuban officials pledged to sign a Medium-Range Trade Agreement. The issues were tackled at the Bilateral Discussions on Foreign Trade, Investment and Cooperation. During the meeting, the officials talked about promoting trade in professional services, health, training and technical consulting, as well as the possibility of providing joint service packages to other Caribbean nations such as Haiti. They also held talks about increased trade in farm products and agro-industrial products, and to resolve any roadblocks not related to tariffs for certain export products from the Dominican Republic, such as the case of poultry products and other foodstuffs. The DR will provide Cuba with technical assistance for developing golf tourism, including golf course design, administration and maintenance. For their part, the Cuban government will provide technical assistance in the area of energy savings and health, through the promotion of Operation Miracles. They agreed to work together to promote flights to both countries by an Asian airline. On the issue of basic education, they agreed to set up a pilot project of the "Yes, I Can" adult literacy program in Santiago de los Caballeros to provide improved literacy training for former free zone employees who have lost their jobs.
The DR was represented at the talks by Eddy Martinez, director of the Center for Export and Investment (CEI-RD) and Marco Herrera, advisor to the President on foreign investment. Cuba was represented by Rodrigo Malmierca Diaz, foreign trade minister, and Rogelio Sierra Diaz, director of the Latin American and Caribbean Department at the Ministry of Foreign Relations, as reported in Hoy.

Parade of Presidents to Cuba
Fausto Rosario Adames of Clave newspaper gives some insights into President Leonel Fernandez's recent five-day trip to Cuba, where he met with former leader Fidel Castro and President Raul Castro.
Journalist Rosario Adames points out that Fernandez is just one of many Latin American statesmen who have traveled to Cuba in the last two months to be photographed with the Cuban legend. Others before him have been Cristina Fernandez (Argentina), Michelle Bachelet (Chile), Luis Ignacio Lula Da Silva (Brazil), Martin Torrijos (Panama,), Alvaro Colom (Guatemala), Rafael Correa (Ecuador) and Jose Manuel Zelaya (Honduras). That does not include frequent visits by Hugo Chavez (Venezuela) and Evo Morales (Bolivia).
Rosario Adames says that so far the US government has not issued an official statement on the meetings between the Latin American Presidents with Castro and his brother, Raul.
"When the visits began it was thought that they were bidding their farewells to Fidel Castro, who was apparently on his death bed. But the photographs, with or without make up, made it clear this was no farewell," he observes.
"Later it was thought that the visits were for direct negotiations about Venezuelan fuel. But the price of fuel has dropped and Chavez is keeping a lower profile," he writes.
"Now people think that the Cuban government plans to take an aggressive step, which could mean it joining the Inter-American system with the blessing of the United States. What is not known is the dimension of the step that Cuba will take, with Fidel and Raul in the lead," he concludes.
Havana's Prensa Latina dated in Havana had reported that President Leonel Fernandez "expressed his opinion on the US blockade against Cuba, stressing that 50 years of that wrong and failed policy have passed, which should lead the US government and President Barack Obama to reflect on it."
Havana Journal also reports that since October 2008, when Brazilian President Lula visited Cuba, President Raul Castro has met with 10 heads of state, including President Hu of China, President Medvedev of Russia, President Jose Eduardo dos Santos of Angola, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria and President Hifikepunye Lucas Pohamba of Nigeria.

Ministry bans hunting
The Ministry of Environment (SEMARENA) has issued Resolution 011-2009 that bans the hunting of native birds and mammals in the country. Environment Minister Jaime David Fernandez Mirabal specifies that the capture of wild animals for research could only be done with special permits granted for projects that had been approved by the Ministry. The resolution prohibits capturing, killing, disturbing or trapping of wild fauna as well as collecting eggs, nests or anything else related to these creatures. The resolution does not cover species introduced to the country such as mongoose, black rats, Norway rats, mice and wild dogs and cats. Fernandez Mirabal said that the aim of the resolution is to eliminate the practice of indiscriminate hunting that threatens the country's biodiversity. There is particular pressure on parrots and parakeets, solenodons and hutias. Deputy Minister Eleuterio Martinez told Hoy reporters that the resolution is also aimed at protecting migratory birds in the coastal wetlands. During the press conference, Fernandez Mirabal presented the Ministry's calendar featuring photographs of the nation's national parks and scientific and ecological reserves as a way of promoting public awareness of the importance of preserving the environment.

Traffic restored to Constanza
The Ministry of Public Works reports that traffic has now been restored to Constanza. A mudslide caused by recent heavy rains had blocked the road.

Reservas interest rates at 15%-17%
The governmental Banco de Reservas has set the prime rate for the farm sector, manufacturing industries, construction, and micro, small and medium-scale businesses at 15% to 17%. The reduction is aimed at stimulating growth in the productive sectors, improving the business climate and promoting economic development.
Bank administrator Daniel Toribio made the announcement during a press conference attended by Central Bank Governor Hector Valdez Albizu. Valdez Albizu says this means a reduction in interest charges of up to 5% on some loans. Valdez Albizu is optimistic that the measure will stimulate commercial banks to follow suit and lower their interest rates.
Furthermore, Toribio said that all the 20-year and up to RD$12 million mortgage loans approved during this month will get a special 15% rate that will be fixed until the end of the year. He said that beginning this year the interest rate will fluctuate with the market. Toribio said that the mortgage policy would involve six-monthly reviews of interest rates where the rates will be modified in accordance with market rates. At the June to December rate, there was an increase of six percentage points, and this was for all the bank's mortgage clients, but it was decided not to collect this, which indicates that there was a 6% reduction in the rates.
Toribio reported that the BanReservas measure was adopted in reaction to the Monetary Board resolution that reduced rates on overnight commercial deposits from 7% to 6%. The first resolution, issued on 12 February establishes that the funds allotted to the productive sectors, some RD$7 billion, should be considered as part of the individual lending banks' legal reserve. Valdez Albizu announced that beginning Thursday (today), earnings on the legal reserves would be transferred to the commercial banks so that they can reduce interest rates on the outstanding loans.

Foreign debt up US$485 million
The DR's external public debt has increased by US$485 million, a 6.6% increase compared to September 2007, reports Diario Libre. The country's total debt now stands at US$7.85 billion, according to reports filed by the Central Bank in the National Congress. Debt from multilateral organizations contracted, as well as bilateral funding agreements, accounting for 74.7% of the debt while debt with private financial entities totals 25.3%. Of this 25.3%, the greatest proportion corresponds to documented debts in Sovereign Bonds and Brady Bonds. According to this report, the evolution of the public sector foreign debt during the period January - September 2008 shows that for disbursements, the Dominican public sector received US$326.9 million more than in the same period in 2007, reaching US$1.12 billion for that period. "This increase is due to two financial arrangements: One is Petrocaribe with Venezuela that increased substantially as a result of the high oil prices, causing the long term credit over the total of the invoice to go from 50% to 60%; and the disbursement of the last part of the Stand-by arrangement signed with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 2005," says the report. During the period cited in the report, obligations for US$1.06 billion were paid, a 9% reduction in relation to the payments made in 2007, due mainly to a decline in interest rates.

Monitoring competitiveness
Although only in Spanish, the National Competitiveness Council's Competitiveness watchdog website is one of the best sources for keeping a grasp on how the Dominican Republic is faring compared to the rest of the world. The website is constantly updated with new national and international reports on economic and business indicators, and local initiatives. The site has sections on clusters activities, the business climate, new legislation affecting business, the local business agenda and the international financial crisis.
For instance, by accessing the website you find that the World Economic Forum has just released its "Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2009" with an overview on how the industry has fared through years of terrorism, high fuel prices and the current recession.
Deputy director of the National Competitiveness Council Maria Victoria Abreu says that the site design was recently enhanced and that it is constantly updated to share information on achievements in the area of competitiveness and the challenges ahead.
See www.competitividad.org.do

Safety issues dampen tourism
Security issues led the Dominican Republic to have a lower acceptance by tourists, according to a report by the World Economic Forum on Tourism 2008-2009. According to El Caribe, the report is called "Competitiveness in Travel and Tourism 2009", and the DR is ranked at number 67 of the 133 countries evaluated on 14 points and where safety is considered to be the most important factor. The drop in perception was four places down on the 2007 report. On the question of protection for foreigners, the country dropped to position 101. In 2008 at least 91 foreigners were victims of different types of assaults, including 18 deaths, according to data from the National Police Criminal Investigations Department.
When it came to ground transport, another aspect that was evaluated, in the year 2008, 27 tourists lost their lives, most on the highway between Veron and Higuey in La Altagracia province. Ten foreigners lost their lives on roads in the Puerto Plata area, in the north of the country.
The Forum points out that at these times of crisis, tourism represents an important economic sector for international growth and development. The statement is backed by data from the World Tourism Organization that shows a 2% increase in the number of trips compared to 2007. Despite this overall increase, the report says that the Dominican Republic received 49,353 fewer tourists in 2008. In the Caribbean region, the DR ranked 13th of the 26 countries evaluated. The chief competitor in the Americas, according to the Ministry of Tourism, is Mexico, ranked 6th in the region, behind Canada, the United States, Barbados, Costa Rica and Brazil. The United States recently issued warnings for students planning to spend their Spring Break in Mexico due to the outbreak of wars among drug gangs in many of the main Mexican cities. On a global level, Switzerland and Austria are ranked 1-2 on the list, and Costa Rica is the highest-ranked Latin American country at 42nd on the list.

Chamber of Deputies ups wages
The Chamber of Deputies has announced a 15% pay raise for staff earning less than RD$30,000 per month. Chamber president Julio Cesar Valentin said that when the Executive Branch increased public employees' salaries last year, staff at the Chamber of Deputies did not benefit. The minimum wage at the Chamber is RD$10,000. Valentin said that the proper handling of the Chamber of Deputies' budget had resulted in sufficient funds to cover the pay increase. Valentin added that before the President ordered the salary increase for state workers, the legislature's lower chamber had already provided its staffers with 10-15% wage increases and in some cases even more. Plus, they were also awarded what is now called the "14th salary" to be used to pay for children's school supplies in July and August.

Summit commission calls for compliance
The Organizing Commission of the Summit on National Unity in the Face of the World Economic Crisis has asked all the public institutions involved in the fulfillment of the agreements reached during the first phase to begin the process of applying the agreed measures that were announced by President Leonel Fernandez.
In a press release from the Ministry of Economy, Planning and Development, the commission also reported that it would meet with the members of the Economic, Social and Institutional Council this week to work out the timeline for the second phase of the Summit. The commission is coordinated by Economy Minister Temistocles Montas and includes Monsignor Agripino Nunez Collado, businessman Antonio Isa Conde and sociologist Jose del Castillo. There is also a Follow-up Commission that includes the coordinators of the seven phase one working groups. The commission said that it sent all the public institutions involved in complying with the agreements an outline that they need to apply during the rest of this year, with a recommendation that they should complete the information about the compliance process that they have to follow. "The institutions need to indicate the expected timeline for the adoption of these measures, the mechanisms that will be used, and if through administrative measures, the incorporation of programs already under way, whether they need to submit legislative proposals to the Congress, and so on." The commission emphasized the importance of establishing the timeline that the application of each of the measures is likely to take.

Constitution reform rules for debate
The hot topics of Presidential re-election, judicial questions, elections and questions about Dominican nationality will be deferred until the latter part of the debates on the Constitution reform proposals. This was decided by the commission that is studying the rules and regulations for the debates during the Revisory Assembly. According to El Caribe, Senate president Reinaldo Pared Perez said that this decision was needed in order to speed up discussions on the changes to the Constitution. Pared Perez made the announcement after a working session of the commission held in the Senate library. He said that there were many suggested changes that would not provoke a lot of debate and that these could be dealt with fairly swiftly, allowing more time for the weighty questions that will involve a lot of discussion. Listin Diario reports that the public can watch the debates on television. Julio Cesar Valentin, the leader of the Chamber of Deputies said that all the members of the Revisory Assembly will have the right to speak and the discussions would be televised so that the population could watch the votes of each member of the assembly. Valentin added that he expected the assembly to work four days a week in order to gain time for important discussions.

Fernandez Capellan on labor rules
Fernando Capellan of Grupo M, the leading apparel manufacturer of the country, is staying on as president of the Dominican Free Zones Association. He says that he will use his new term to lobby for changes in labor legislation to make it more flexible in keeping with these challenging times. "It is impossible to implement policies to keep and create new jobs with the present employee social benefits required of employers today, which are often double those of our Central American competitors," he said during the General Assembly where he was re-elected. He says the country needs a new legal structure for the free zones that complies with international labor agreements, but also with the new trade schemes.
He said Adozona would continue to work closely with the Dominican Republic Industries Association (AIRD), the Agribusiness Council (JAD) and the Exporters Association (ADOEXPO) to improve competitiveness of manufacturers. The focus will be on promoting exports, fostering a competitive macro-economic environment, improving the labor situation for business, securing access to competitive financing, improving ground transport and resolving the electricity situation.
Capellan said that first and foremost, Adozona seeks to press the point that the DR needs to make exporting the country's bet on the future. "When a country exports, its people progress," he stressed.

New EGE Haina corporate bonds
A Basic Energy company and the leading power generation firm in the DR, EGE Haina has just placed US$30 million in corporate bonds on the Dominican Stock Exchange in order to finance an increase in working capital. Superintendent of Stocks, Haivanjoe NG Cortinas said that Fitch Ratings Dominicana rated the placement BBB (dom). The bonds are attractive to large and small investors as they are available as corporate bonds worth US$1,000 each, with expiry terms of 12, 18, 24 or 36 months. The yield is determined at the launching. Interest payments will be made monthly on a 365-day base to the holder of the bonds through the Centralized Deposit of Stocks (Cevaldom). The placement was made by BHD Valores Puesto de Bolsa, S.A.
EGE Haina is a mixed Dominican government and private consortium. Haina Investment Company LTD has 50% of the shares and the Fondo Patrimonial de Empresas Reformadas (FONPER) of the Dominican Republic and smaller investors holds the remaining shares. EGE Haina has an installed generation capacity of more than 600MW, or approximately 22% of total capacity of the country's interconnected system.
For more information, see www.egehaina.com

Bonao and POP cop cases in limbo
A commitment made by the chief of police, Major General Rafael Guillermo Guzman Fermin, who stated that he would prosecute 42 cops from the Bonao and Puerto Plata detachments who were accused of "taking money" from drug dealers, is apparently in limbo because although three months have gone by since the first case was uncovered and 20 days have elapsed since the detection of the second, people are still waiting for the accused to be sent to court. Both cases are only waiting for the high-ranking commissions, one headed by Assistant Prosecutor General Bolivar Sanchez and the other by the director of Police Internal Affairs, General Manuel Castro Castillo, to hand in their reports.
After the "mess in Bonao" exploded, the Chief of the National Police replaced Colonel Antonio Cepeda Urena and appointed Colonel Miguel Andres Suriel in his place.
In the Puerto Plata case, it was reported that the group had not been charged because the authorities were waiting to finish the paperwork on the discharges and "that takes some time to complete." Nevertheless, Diario Libre learned yesterday that the agents involved in the case are still drawing their salaries regardless, although they remain relieved of their duties and are no longer under restraint.
The Puerto Plata scandal "carried away" General Rafael Calderon Efres, who was replaced by General Eduardo Then who had served in Puerto Plata when he was a colonel. Calderon Efres was involved in another scandal surrounding a Hummer SUV in 2005 when he served as Assistant Chief during Major General Manuel de Jesus Perez Sanchez's tenure as chief. The SUV in question was assigned to the Assistant Chief by a Customs Department official.
After the emergence of the Bonao case, the commission appointed to investigate whether police agents were "collecting tolls" from a small-time drug trafficker named Nelson Sanchez, (El Gordo), who was arrested during a search, has yet to hand in its report. Initial complaints said that El Gordo had made notes listing the names of police officers receiving bribes in return for "letting them do their work."
In both cases the Chief of Police has warned that he would not hesitate to dismiss any agent who is found to have engaged in such disgraceful activities. Guzman Fermin himself went to Bonao accompanied by National Police spokesman Colonel Nelson Rosario, to oversee the changes in personnel. The Chief ordered an investigation into the case to be opened with the aim of determining the guilt of the agents involved in the case who are said to be "toll collectors."

Cool weather
The Weather Office (Onamet) is predicting unseasonably cool temperatures and some light rains for the next couple of days. Yesterday the whole nation felt an unusual chill (about 24C at noontime) and winds that were not normal for this time of the year. The cooler temperatures come in the wake of major snowstorms along the Eastern Seaboard of the US.
Weather forecasters say that while some rains might fall in the northeast, east, southeast and the central mountains, the cool snap is for the most part enjoyed by Dominicans. Onamet said that the chance of rains will diminish over the next 24 hours, but cool winds and temperatures would continue to prevail. The frontal system that brought the rains has now passed over the DR and is located over Puerto Rico. Last evening's six o'clock bulletin from Onamet said that the weather would improve across the whole country.

DR loses 2nd warm up game
The Dominican Republic team to the World Baseball Classic lost 6-1 against the Baltimore Orioles in the 2nd exhibition warm up game. Pitchers Johnny Cueto and Pedro Martinez were not able to contain the Orioles.
See www.baltimoresun.com/sports/baseball/...
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