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Daily News - Friday, 15 May 2009

Fernandez + Miguel Vargas deal
The presidential candidates of the arch-rival PLD and PRD political parties signed a political truce yesterday. If the provisions make it into the 2009 Constitution, they will have major effects on the business of politics in the DR. The perceived strongmen in the PLD and PRD, President Leonel Fernandez (PLD) and Miguel Vargas Maldonado (PRD) agreed to:
Nationality. Change in the combination of jus sanguinis and jus soli for granting of Dominican nationality.
Number of deputies. Eliminate the provision that pegs the number of deputies in Congress to the province's population, freezing instead the number of deputies to the present 178.
Legislators abroad. Propose the election of new legislators to represent Dominicans living abroad.
Deputies based on national representation. Proposal to choose national deputies depending on the votes received, and chosen in proportion with the number of votes obtained by each party.
Unification of the congressional and municipal election with the presidential election. For this, the legislators to be elected in 2010 would remain in their posts for 6 years, through 2016. Up to date, legislators and city government officers have been chosen for four years.
Armed Forces and Police. Include provisions in the Constitution to modernize, increase the professionalism and strengthen the institutions of the Armed Forces and the National Police.
Presidential reelection. Adopt, with immediate effectiveness, the formula that was approved in the constitutional reform of 14 August 1994, that bans consecutive re-election. President Leonel Fernandez in his original proposal had requested the Constitution be changed to allow that after two consecutive terms in office, a third term break be taken, but then the former President be allowed to run again.
Witnesses at the event were president of the Senate Reinaldo Pared Perez (PLD), president of the Chamber of Deputies Julio Cesar Valentin (PLD), and Cesar Pina, legal advisor to the President for the PLD. For the PRD Eduardo Jorge Prats, Milton Ray Guevara, and Orlando Jorge Mera, secretary general, and senator Roberto Rodriguez. Also PRSC ally to the PLD, senator Amilcar Romero, and Elias Wessin of the PQD and Modesto Guzman of the PRSC.
The proposals need yet to be passed by the members of the Constitutional Revisory Assembly, but the deal among the party strongmen seeks to ensure that the votes are there for the approval of what has been suggested.
Political analysts comment that Fernandez will leave the presidency at a time when the PLD will be at a low point due to numerous critiism regarding the prevalence of political patronage in government, bloated payroll expenses, major corruption in government departments that have been proven to operate as private companies of their incumbents, a lack of solution to the electricity crisis despite several terms in office, a substantial drop in fiscal revenues, and growing government deficit, among other major weak points in government. Thus the PLD candidate running in 2012 will not be riding a wave of discontent in the population.
Miguel Vargas Maldonado ran against President Leonel Fernandez in the 2008 presidential election, garnering 40% of the vote dispite a widespread discontent with the then ruling PRD government of former President Hipolito Mejia. Vargas Maldonado is said to have the support of six senators of that party and of 54 of the 62 deputies.

Reactions to the agreement
PRD President Ramon Alburquerque says that former presidential candidate Miguel Vargas Maldonado has shown disrespect towards PRD party statutes by signing an agreement with current President Leonel Fernandez. He added that Vargas had no right to speak on behalf of the party. Alburquerque compared Vargas to an Arab sheikh, telling Hoy that, "we can see what his presidency could be like, he'd be an Arab sheikh, an Ayatollah violating everything." But other PRD members are in agreement with the pact. Both Hipolito Mejia and Milagros Ortiz Bosch have described the agreement as positive.
Danilo Medina, who aspired to be the PLD party's presidential candidate in 2008 and was defeated by Fernandez himself, commented: "I have no opinion. I am not active in politics, and I did not participate in that agreement," he said, as reported in El Caribe. Medina is a former president of the Chamber of Deputies and was Secretary of the Presidency in the first two Fernandez administrations. He is seen as a Fernandez dissident within the party.

Revisory Assembly fails to meet again
For the second time this week the Constitutional Revisory Assembly failed to meet because not enough members turned up. Yesterday's session was scheduled for 9am, but Assembly president Reinaldo Pared Perez canceled the session at 10:10. Listin Diario says that the absence of many legislators was in reaction to the news that President Leonel Fernandez that day would be signing at 11am a pact with former PRD presidential candidate Miguel Vargas Maldonado.

Sirena Luperon's grand opening
During an event attended by President Leonel Fernandez and First Lady Margarita Cedeno, Grupo Ramos and its top executives inaugurated the newest commercial center on Luperon Avenue, MultiCentro La Sirena. With the opening of Jumbo earlier this month, Luperon Avenue is becoming a major shopping area. Also located in the area are Semma and El Canal department stores.
President Fernandez cut the ceremonial ribbon on the new 12,674 square meter commercial development, which was built at a cost of US$30 million. The new building has 600 parking spaces and has been equipped with solar panels, with a capacity for obtaining 30% of energy from the sun. This is the 17th MultiCentro built by Grupo Ramos and is expected to create 490 jobs.

Post Office announces Export-Easy
The Dominican Postal Institute (INPOSDOM) and the Center for Export and Investment (CEI-RD) announced the start of a mechanism that will facilitate shipments abroad made by micro, small and medium-size businesses. ExportaFacil is the name of the new export tool. Eddy Martinez, of CEI-RD, explained that the system basically cuts red tape. To use the service, all that is needed is the merchandise, a client abroad, a filled-out form, and presenting the product at the Post Office. The total value of the shipment has to be under US$3,500 and each shipment is limited to a weight of 30 kilograms per item or package. Packages are billed at a minimum weight of 5 kilograms.
Also attending the start of the service were Modesto Guzman, director of Inposdom, Juan Rodriguez Melendez, director of the National Council for the Promotion and Support of Micro, Small and Medium Size Business (Promipyme), Leticia Pena, deputy director of Customs Department, Isaachart Brugos, president of the Dominican Confederation of Small and Medium-Sized Companies, Acelis Angeles, technical deputy director of CEI-RD, among others.
The announcement comes at a time when first quarter value of exports has dropped by US$304 million. Martinez of CEI-RD, nevertheless, is optimistic there will be a turnaround in exports by the end of the year.

Valdez Albizu gets elected
Dominican Central Bank governor Hector Valdez Albizu was elected president of the 46th meeting of American Continent Governors and 88th meeting of Central Bank Governors from Latin America and Spain, organized by the Central American Monetary Council (CEMLA). During his speech Valdez called on his colleagues to keep promoting dialogue and cooperation as a way for economies to keep transitioning to macro-economic stability and sustainable growth.

Government stalls on energy payment
State-Run Electricity Companies (CDEEE) vice president Radhames Segura announced yesterday that within 15 days the government would present a plan to pay its US$450 million debt with the energy distributors. Segura said that during a meeting with President Leonel Fernandez and other representatives from the energy sector it was decided that a US$250 million bond would be issued, buying some more time for the government. According to Listin Diario, the government has been dragging its feet on this debt since 2004.
As part of the government's plan there will be an application for a credit line from the Colombian Exterior Commerce Bank for the purchase of petroleum, which the government would then provide to the generators. Marcos de la Rosa, speaking on behalf of the generators, expressed his concern about the situation due to the US$600 million debt they are owed. Government arrears translate into an increase in blackouts for consumers.

Business calls for change in CDEEE
Several leading business and civic organizations are calling for a solution to the worsening electricity crisis in the DR. Foro Ciudadano, Participacion Ciudadana, Federation of Asociaciones Industriales, ANJE, Centro Alternativo, Copadeba, Centro de Estudios Sociales P. Juan Montalvo, La Lucha, among others make the point the continuing deterioration of the eletricity system in the DR is affecting the competitiveness and economic development of the DR. They say there is a distrust in the present government electricity team due to the "politicizing of the electricity service that is every day more expensive and inefficient and affected by growing arrears with the power generators," as reported in El Caribe. They criticize the lack of transparency in the different companies that make up the government electricity sector. "None want to give information on their payrolls. The financial information and information on tenders are very poor," they state in a public document.
The civic organizations and business groups say that the inefficiency of the electricity sector has become one of the principal constraints to economic and social development. They called for an audit and that the results be publicized. They say this would be an important step to restore confidence that entered into a critical phase after a TV investigative reporter revealed mayor payroll scandal at the Program for the Reduction of Blackouts (PRA). "The fact that the CDEEE was not able to detect the serious anomalies at the PRA calls the attention of all," says the document.

Williams doesn't change
Hoy reports that Senator Wilton Guerrero (PLD-Peravia), head of the Senate Ethics Committee is furious at what is described as Williams's "continuous disrespectful and arrogant behavior" and is planning to heavily sanction the Senator. According to Guerrero, Williams missed a meeting at the Senate to discuss the charges against him and also failed to attend a second meeting with the Ethics Committee. Guerrero has scheduled a meeting with members of the Ethics Committee on Wednesday to discuss Williams's punishment.

Remittances are stable
Even though the current economic downturn has caused financial difficulties across the globe, the Latin American and Caribbean Economic System (SELA) says that remittances have remained stable during 2008 and 2009. The study polled immigrants in the US from five different countries, including the DR. Of all Dominicans polled, 71% send back the same amount of money each month, while 15% send more money and 14% send less. According to SELA, the average Dominican in the US sends US$218 per month to family members in the DR. Asked why they had immigrated to the US, many of the Dominicans interviewed said that the cost of living made it difficult to live in the DR. The poll also revealed that 66% of Dominicans polled felt confident that they would keep their jobs.

Business proposes 12% wage increase
Representatives of the business sector have proposed a 12% increase in the minimum wage to the National Committee for Salaries. Gloria Henriquez, director of the Committee, said that the business sector made their proposal based on consumer price index statistics presented by the Central Bank for 2007 and 2008.
Representatives of the labor sector seek a 40% increase for all those who make up to RD$20,000 a month, and a 25% increase for those that make RD$20,000 to RD$30,000.
Marisol Vicens, president of Copardom that represents the companies, said they are recommending the 12% of minimum wages, subject to the reclasiffication of companies following Law 488-08 on small and medium-sized businesses (MIPYMES), and seeking to preserve jobs.
A second meeting of labor and business representatives was set for Thursday, 21 May.

Contreras gets deported
The director of the Gender Studies Center at the INTEC University, Lourdes Contreras, is speaking about her recent deportation from US territory. A women's activist, Contreras says she traveled to Miami for a connecting flight to Jamaica, where she was due to take part in a conference on "gender and governance." However, Contreras says that three Immigration officials stopped her and began to question her without revealing their reasons for detention. She added that while in Miami her visa, that would have expired in 2017, was revoked, she was told to get a new passport and deported back to the DR. Immigration director Major General Jose Anibal Sanz Jiminian said that Contreras would have to request an official explanation from the US State Department via the DR's Foreign Ministry.
Contreras is married to leftist politician Narciso Isa Conde, who protested that his wife was kept in isolation for 17 hours without explanation and then deported.
David Searby, press officer for the US Embassy in the DR, said: "As a general rule, the US Government does not discuss individual cases of travelers who have been refused entry to the United States. Any decision to refuse entry for a person into the United States is done strictly according to US law".

Dominican prepares for 'Bee'
Yulkendy Valdez has become an inspiration for people all across the US. The 14-year-old immigrated to the US from the DR just four years ago, speaking no English, but with hard work and dedication she has mastered the English language and will be competing in the Scripps National Spelling Bee later this month. Scripps has become the leading spelling bee in the US and is now a nationally televised event. Valdez attends Ferguson Middle School in St Louis, Missouri and has won several spelling bees across the state. She says she is excited about competing in the national event. Valdez says that she learned English by "reading a ton of books and watching American television instead of Spanish language programming" to practice. She first heard about the spelling bee the very year she entered school in St. Louis.
See http://www.stltoday.com/blogzone/the-platform/tag/yulkendy-valdez/

Marichal Culture and Sports Center
Months of rumors and speculation were proved to be well-founded yesterday as officials announced the building of the Juan Marichal Culture and Sports Center. Legendary pitcher Juan Marichal is the only Dominican currently in the Cooperstown Hall of Fame.
The project, announced as a joint public-private initiative, will include the remodeling of the Quisqueya baseball park, a new hotel, casino, a housing complex, office and commercial space and a baseball history museum. The project's initial price is US$135 million, as reported in the Listin Diario.
Architect Joaquin Geronimo, general manager of the National Housing Bank, said that the groundbreaking ceremony for the Center would take place next month. Geronimo added that a request for transfer of lands from the state to the Housing Bank (BNV) has already been submitted to Congress and that the construction works would not affect this year's winter baseball tournament. Geronimo said that building work, which is expected to last for three years, will be funded by the sales of apartments and commercial space. The project calls for the construction of 20 high rises of 9 to 19 floors each.
Hector Cruz, writing in the Listin Diario, comments that it is likely that the money will be borrowed from foreign banks "and will be paid by my grandchildren and their children in the next 50 years." He speculates that it looks like the government will be providing the land on which the complex will be built, the logistics, and the loans.
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