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Daily News - Monday, 25 May 2009

Fernandez to promote business in PR
President Leonel Fernandez plans to travel to San Juan, Puerto Rico to take part in the Dominican Business, Investment Exposition that will be held concurrently with the 81st Annual Convention of the Puerto Rico Association of Industries. The event is scheduled for Thursday, 4 June to Sunday, 7 June. The theme this year is "Forging Alliances with the Americas." Fernandez will be the keynote speaker at the event, and will speak to motivate Puerto Rican corporate executives about opportunities for investing and doing business in the DR. Also on the program are contributions by Tourism Minister Francisco Javier Garcia, Export and Investment Center (CEI-RD) director, Eddy Martinez, and the Governor of Puerto Rico Luis G. Fortuno. Dominican participation is being coordinated by the US-Dominican Business Development Group, presided by Pedro Diaz Ballester. For more information on the event, call 809 947-3253 in Santo Domingo and 809 582-5775 in Santiago.
Fernandez is expected back in Santo Domingo today, after a 9-day visit in Spain.

IMF agreement inevitable
According to Listin Diario, a new Stand-by Arrangement between the DR and the International Monetary Fund seems almost inevitable. Listin reports that the government is seriously considering signing an agreement with the multilateral organization because of the lack of financing. Listin also reports that most international financial organizations have stipulated that the DR should sign an agreement with the IMF before they discuss any further loans.

DR gets new area code
The DR has a new area code: 849. The number has been assigned by the North American Numbering Plan Administration and is due for implementation this year. Indotel, the government entity that handles all telecommunications issues in the DR, has yet to confirm when the number will come into use. This is the third area code assigned to the DR, the first being the long-established 809 followed by 829, which was introduced in 2005. Indotel director Jose Rafael Vargas said that a new ad campaign to promote the new 849 code would be launched soon.

FENATRADO calls for boycott
The Fenatrado freight transport union has called for a boycott on Haitian cargo transporters. As a result, Dominican freight drivers will not transport any merchandise into Haiti and will not allow any Haitian drivers to travel into the DR either. The resulting boycott is the latest chapter in the negotiation process by both sides, which have reached an impasse in talks.
The conflict began last week when Dominican drivers were stopped from transporting freight to Haiti. Fenatrado leader Blas Peralta is quoted as saying that not even a fly would be allowed across the border. Peralta also announced that the bi-national markets would not be held at any of the four border crossing points today, and that merchandise would not be allowed to be brought in to the DR on foot either.
According to Hoy newspaper, Dominican truck drivers have lost an estimated RD$10 million because of the freight dispute. Haitian truck owners are demanding that Dominican transporters pay a fee of RD$4,000 to transport cargo into Haiti or to allow Haitians to carry 50% of all cargo to be delivered in Haiti. They are applying violence, in a similar way to the tactics used by Fenatrado to impose its monopoly on inland cargo in the DR.
Ricardo Koenig, president of the Dominican Exporters Association, says that the transport impasse is costing US$1.6 million in lost business, not taking into account informal business losses. He explained annual trade with Haiti is at US$514 million, most of which moves by land. Haiti is second largest buyer of Dominican exports, after the United States.

Cardinal enters fray
Cardinal Nicolas de Jesus Lopez Rodriguez has thrown his two cents into the discussion about the border transport conflict by dismissing comments made by Haitian Prime Minister Michele Pierre-Louis. Last week she said that this latest incident could strain relations between the neighboring nations and also referred to other acts of violence, saying that these could have the same effect. The Cardinal said that her comments displayed an unwillingness to help resolve the problems. Lopez Rodriguez also commented that Pierre-Louis should be supportive of the issue consider that thousands of Haitians have received the same benefits as Dominicans while they are in the DR.
Recently, Michele Pierre-Louis said relations between Haiti and the DR have suffered as a result of recent headline-making incidents. These include the decapitation of a Dominican and suspected revenge by his relatives who decapitated a Haitian, and incidents with truckers at the border after Haitian truckers demanded a 50% share of the cargo to be transported.
Minister Pierre-Louis also announced that the Bilateral Commission would be reconvening to discuss issues affecting both countries.

Distortions in the transport system
Hamlet Hermann, who at was at the helm of the Metropolitan Transport Authority in its better days, writes in Hoy newspaper today criticizing recent investments in traffic reorganization announced by the Fernandez administration. He criticizes the fact that the government discarded more efficient solutions, such as those implemented in Curitiba, Brazil and Bogota, Colombia in favor of the Metro, and says that the government is concealing the metro's real finances. "They are afraid of telling the truth about the small number of users... They are hiding the foreign indebtedness and the interest payments so that their sacking of the treasury is not revealed".
"The monthly payroll for the staff and maintenance crew of the Metro is being camouflaged so no one can discover that the metro is milking our finances", he writes, in more prosaic terms. And he is critical of the government announcement of major financing with Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht. His criticism is that the overpasses are built for cars and SUVs and not for the use of moto-conchos or public buses, or trucks. "It will then become an investment for cars and privately-owned SUVs that transport a minimum number of passengers," he writes, complaining that the money would have been better spent on purchasing more OMSA buses.
"Thanks to all those works under construction, we will see how the directors of these projects resume their respective personal projects as private corporations with money that appears to have come from who knows where. And we will see how the vicious circle of mass poverty continues, while government officials multiply their fortunes". Meanwhile, public transport will continue to be distorted, but there will always be someone to blame: the transport unions, he writes, explaining that this has always been their way of justifying getting rich at the taxpayers expense.

The profits in the electricity sector
In his page 2 editorial column, Diario Libre editor Adriano Miguel Tejada shares what he describes as "a reasonable opinion" from an electricity expert. The expert has told him that the intermediation margin for power distributors is at 8 US cents per kWh, which should be sufficient to cover all financing, administrative, operation, maintenance and investment in infrastructure - and even yield a profit. He comments that the expert says that the increase in the rate suggested by the World Bank, the IDB and the IMF is just to resolve the fiscal deficit of the government that is now choosing to subsidize the sector with US$700 million to keep the present state of affairs, and bearing in mind fuel prices continue at the current rates. "The increase in the electricity tariff will not eliminate the subsidy to the electricity sector, as it did not eliminate it in 2005 when the rate was raised from an average 12 US cents kWh to 20 US cents kWh," he writes. "On the contrary, in 2005 when the rate was increased, the subsidy increased from US$250 million in 2004 to US$620 million."
He added that an increase in the electricity rate will only end up passing on the inefficiency of the distributors to the paying clients, and it is very likely that the subsidy will increase as it did in 2005, as a consequence of an increase in evasion even with the current law that criminalizes electricity theft.

Accused gets embassy position
Antonio Ramirez Medina, who is accused of committing fraud in San Juan de la Maguana by the Department for Administrative Corruption (DPCA), has been appointed to the post of Minister Counselor at the Dominican embassy in South Africa, the second highest position at the embassy. Ramirez used to work at the Regional Department of Agriculture in San Juan when the Ministry purchased 75,000 quintals of beans for RD$80 million in February and May 2008. Provincial Attorney General Pedro Antonio Mateo Ibert said that he couldn't implement an arrest warrant for Ramirez because the Foreign Ministry hadn't confirmed his appointment to the embassy. Victoriano Mesa, Hector Morillo and Fernando Ogando, Rafael Reyes and Hungria Jimenez were also named in the arrest warrant. The appointment of Ramirez as a diplomat would oblige the case to be heard in the privileged jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.

Second AH1N1 case reported
A second person with A(H1N1) flu is reported to have passed through the DR. The latest case is that of a Russian national who had been vacationing in the DR. Public Health Minister Bautista Rojas Gomez confirmed the news that was reported by Russian chief medical officer Gennady Onichtchenko. Hoy is reporting that tests on the tourist, taken at the Moscow Epidemiology Center, confirmed the presence of the A(H1N1) virus, previously known as "swine flu." This is the third case of the flu that has been reported by a tourist returning from the DR. Last week two Chilean tourists were diagnosed with A(H1N1). However, no case of the flu has yet been reported in the DR. The DR receives around four million tourists a year, with a large percentage coming from the US, one of the worst affected countries. The DR has yet to report its first confirmed case from tests carried out in the DR following the international protocol.

Higuey drug murders
Details are still being collected, but officials from the National Drug Control Department report that Colombian pilot Antonio David Gaviria Villa landed a plane in Higuey with a drug shipment containing 160 packets of cocaine. However, there was a dispute over the drugs and witnesses to the events say that four men in an unregistered Toyota Camry appeared at the Sanchez Colmado in Baigua in eastern Higuey municipality on Saturday and took Wandy Guerrero and Juan Cedeno with them. Guerrero and Cedeno were both shot and killed. Gaviria was arrested after he tried to escape and his SUV got stuck in a ditch and is being held in La Romana as a key witness.

Changes at Najayo
The National Prisons Department has ordered the replacement of Najayo prison warden Garibaldi Castellanos. The move comes as part of a series of recommendations after the death of former inmate Rolando Florian Feliz that revealed a number of irregularities, including allowing a visit by a minor unrelated to the inmate. Fabio Cabrera will serve as the interim warden. Colonel Bienvenido Berroa Lucas has also been designated as commander of Najayo Prison. He replaced Rafael Antonio Pena Garcia.

Rains slow, alerts still red
Following the heavy rains that have affected the DR for the last week, meteorologists say that showers will diminish over the next few days. However, officials are keeping red alerts for 18 provinces due to the risk of mudslides. The Emergency Operations Center reports that 4,365 people have been made homeless with 873 homes affected and 19 communities cut off. San Cristobal, Bahoruco, Elias Pina, Dajabon, Monte Cristi, La Vega, Monsenor Nouel (Bonao), Sanchez Ramirez (Cotui), Maria Trinidad Sanchez (Nagua), Monte Plata, San Jose de Ocoa, San Pedro de Macoris, La Altagracia (Higuey), La Romana, El Seibo, Monte Plata, Hermanas Mirabal (Salcedo) and Duarte (San Francisco de Macoris) will remain under red alert. Samana, Santo Domingo, Santiago and the National District are under yellow alert.

Where's Papi?
This is the question on everyone's lips as the once formidable and feared lefty bat of David Ortiz has taken a leave of absence. Ortiz is struggling through his worst offensive campaign in years and has many wondering if Papi is on the downside of his career. In 40 games played so far, Papi has had 154 At Bats, with only 15 runs and 30 hits. But more worrying for Ortiz is the fact that he has only one homerun this season and 18 RBI, and is batting a measly .195.

Latin America honored in Cooperstown
The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum honored Latin American baseball on Saturday, 23 May by unveiling a new, permanent exhibit in Cooperstown, New York entitled ?Viva Baseball! The exhibit recognizes the impact Latin American players have had on baseball. The region has produced 29% of the players on Major League Baseball's 2009 Opening Day rosters.
Hall of Famers Orlando Cepeda (Puerto Rico) and Juan Marichal (Dominican Republic) participated in the opening of the exhibit.
Viva Baseball! features nearly 150 artifacts and a state-of-the-art multimedia presentation celebrating the Latin love affair with baseball that has spanned nearly 150 years of history. The exhibit focuses on the rich baseball traditions of the major baseball-playing areas of the region: Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Venezuela.
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