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Daily News - Monday, 10 March 2014

US Vice President suspends DR visit
The Ministry of Foreign Relations has announced the suspension of United States Vice President Joe Biden's visit to the DR, planned for Tuesday, 9 March given the priority the US government is giving to the Ukraine crisis. After attending President Michele Bachelet's inauguration in Chile, Biden will return to Washington in time for Wednesday, 12 March when US President Barack Obama meets with Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, in what is said to be a prominent show of US support for Ukraine's fledgling government. The White House says that Biden plans to reschedule his trip to the Dominican Republic.

Last week, the Presidency reported that talks with Haiti would be postponed until 20 March to allow for the Vice President's visit.

"We hope that Vice President Biden can soon enjoy Dominican hospitality and continue to strengthen cooperation relations with the Dominican Republic that are at a high point, as spokespersons for the US Department of State and the White House recently told the press," said the Ministry in a press release announcing the suspension of the visit.

In a briefing on Friday, 7 March, the White House announced the agenda for the Santo Domingo stopover. The nationalization of Haitian immigrants living in the Dominican Republic, and Venezuela and energy issues topped US Vice President Joe Biden's agenda.

Senior administration officials listed the issues to be discussed as:

Nationalization bill

"We are hopeful that there will be a conclusion to this matter through legislation that will address those most affected by that ruling," stated the official at the press conference.

"First of all, we recognize that every country has the sovereign right to determine its nationality laws and its domestic legislation. With respect to the constitutional court ruling, we've conveyed our deep concern to the government of the Dominican Republic regarding the impact on the citizenship status of persons living in the Dominican Republic, including those with longstanding either residence or close ties to the Dominican Republic. Our understanding is that perhaps as many as 200,000 people could be affected by this.

"We've engaged at senior levels with Dominican authorities who've been very transparent with us in discussing their approach to this and their desire to achieve a resolution that is nondiscriminatory and that reflects the need to have a just solution for people who have longstanding ties and connections to the Dominican Republic, and also to not further those groups that are already in a condition of vulnerability or that would be at risk in other senses, or deny them documentation and the ability to fully participate in the country - they belong and where they live.

"So this is something that is important not just to us, but other members of the international community, and it's something that we've worked very closely on with a number of partners. And we know that other actors are also very active in dealing with this."

Venezuela and energy issues

Venezuela is the Dominican Republic's main fuel supplier, as well as the country's leading creditor through the PetroCaribe oil purchasing agreement. Nevertheless, in recent years, the DR has been fitting generator plants to source natural gas that the US now has more readily available, thus reducing dependence on Venezuelan oil and PetroCaribe.

"The Vice President will place particular emphasis on the issue of energy security while he's in the Dominican Republic, given the challenges and opportunities that have been created in recent years in the region, and our deep investment in making sure that all the countries of the Caribbean and the broad region are able to access secure, stable, and affordable supplies of energy to power their economies and provide better lives for their people," stated the official.

"On energy issues, we already have lots of cooperation. But we're very interested in expanding our leadership role and cooperation not just United States, but also by working with Canada, Mexico, and other partners to help address some of the distortions and market issues that have affected the distribution of energy in the Caribbean. As my colleague mentioned, this is an area that's important to us, because we see it as key to improving the competitiveness of the Caribbean and for Central America, for that matter, in the global economy."

The US administration pointed out the strong ties with the Dominican Republic as reflected by the fact that more than 1.5 million Dominicans and descendants live in the US and more than 250,000 US citizens live in the Dominican Republic, plus around 1.5 million US tourists visiting every year. Moreover, the US is a major beneficiary of the DR CAFTA trade agreement that has been key for increasing US exports to the Dominican Republic. The US administration says that the DR is an important voice in issues facing Caribbean countries, as well as Central American countries, as the current president of the Central American Integration System through June 2014.

They also pointed out the good cooperation with Dominican authorities in terms of security and law enforcement, and recent support for setting up the 911 system in Santo Domingo. The official said that the US government is running programs for HIV/AIDS prevention, climate change vulnerability reduction and strengthening government institutions.

The Vice President is traveling with his wife, Jill Biden, a prominent US educator. It was announced that she would have her own agenda while in the Dominican Republic.


More background on the Vice President's visit
Writing in today's Listin Diario, Monday 10 March, political analyst Guarionex Rosa speculates that Vice President Joe Biden's visit was aimed at assuaging fears following the recent meeting between President Obama and Haitian President Michael Martelly in Washington. Rosa says that the meeting in Washington took place at the insistence of the Black Caucus, a major Obama supporter group that backs Haiti in the differences with the Dominican Republic. Another purpose of the visit was to support political appointee US Ambassador James Brewster in his start as US ambassador in the country. Brewster has already mentioned that the US is satisfied with the way the Dominican Republic has managed drug trafficking, while General John Kelly recently said in the US Chamber of Representatives that the Dominican Republic is cooperating in the containment of illegal Haitian immigration to the United States. The visit also seeks to strengthen US relations in the Caribbean given the political turbulence in Venezuela.

The next Haiti-DR bilateral meeting was postponed to 20 March. The Dominican government said this was to give time for the Biden visit.


Why there can't be a general amnesty for illegal immigrants in the Dominican Republic
Diario Libre's editorial today, Monday 10 March, comments that the country should be pleased when people ask about the Constitutional Court Ruling 168-13 and the Illegal Immigrant Legalization Plan. Adriano Miguel Tejada says this is an opportunity to present our side of the story. "Everyone can understand whatever they want, but after listening to our arguments they will understand our dilemma better," he writes.

The first question is always why are all the immigration cases being analyzed individually. The explanation is very simple: there have been so many falsifications of civil state documents and the ID document (cedula) that all the cases cannot be dealt with together.

He says that everyone asks why not just give a general amnesty for all the cases. He gives two very powerful reasons: first, no Dominican law covers a civil state amnesty, that is a public order matter; second, the announcement of an amnesty would open the floodgates for thousands of Haitians who are in Haiti to cross the Dominican border. To prevent this, border guards would have to shoot and this would become an international crisis.

Tejada writes there is no risk of statelessness, and that the government, despite its delay, has assured that the due process and human rights of those affected would be respected.

"It is sad that we were not able to explain this to Vice President Biden," writes Tejada. "He would have left thinking differently."


Toll increase or application of the 1% on luxury vehicles?
Ministry of Public Works employees were seen working on improvements to the toll booths over the weekend of 8-9 March nationwide, as the increase in tolls is imminent. Last week the Ministry announced plans to increase tolls on the Las Americas, 6 Noviembre, Carretera Sanchez and Duarte highways from RD$30 one-way at present to RD$50 both way, or RD$100 for the return. Trucks and buses will pay much more.

The Ministry said it would be increasing the tolls instead of applying the 1% on value of vehicles that was approved in the Fiscal Reform of November 2012.

A report in Diario Libre today, Monday 10 March, says that for most citizens the imposition of the 1% tax would have been better. The report analyzes how the 1% tax on luxury vehicles would have affected many fewer Dominicans than the government decision to increase tolls several times. The 1% tax was included in the November 2012 tax reform, but in 2013 the government postponed its implementation and again decided to do so. It is a common government practice to pay officials for the use of their vehicles. This is part of the wasteful spending the government is much criticized for. This has enabled hundreds of thousands of luxury vehicles to be purchased by government officials, vehicles that private employees cannot afford.

Diario Libre comments that an owner of a 1600cc Toyota Corolla 2008 valued at RD$371,498 according to the Tax Department (DGII) would just pay RD$1,200 for the permit to circulate. In order to cross one of the tollbooths, however, they will now have to pay RD$100 (both ways). That means that a commuter working five days a week would have to pay RD$2,000 a month.

In contrast, the owner of a 2960cc Mercedes Benz 2013 valued by the DGII at RD$4,082,668 is released from paying RD$40,826 for the tax on luxury vehicles.

The DGII had said that 60% of the vehicles would pay no more than RD$2,200 for the 1% on vehicle assessed value.

The Diario Libre report comments that the biggest beneficiaries are a minority of luxury vehicle owners while the toll affects everyone.

Last week Administrative Minister of the Presidency Jose Ramon Peralta announced there would be no increase in taxes or more taxes.




Government borrowing continues to increase
Dominican public debt increased 5% during the first year of the Medina administration, moving from 32.6% of GDP in 2012 to 38.5% in 2013. The government says that in 2012 the public debt was US$19.23 billion, and this increased to US$23.20 billion by year-end 2013, up US$3.96 billion. Of the total US$14.92 billion is foreign debt contracted with multilateral institutions, commercial banks and bonds. The internal debt is US$8.23 billion, including loans with commercial banks, bonds and the inter-governmental debt.

During the past five years (2009-2013) the public debt increased from US$13.25 billion to US$23.20 billion, and compared to GDP it grew from 28.4% to 38.5%. GDP increased from US$46.7 billion to US$60.2 billion, as reported in El Dia.

Economist Ernesto Selman of the Regional Center for Economic Strategies (CREES) says that while in the short term the situation is not complicated, there could be problems in the medium term. "Government indebtedness is moving from passing a yellow light to passing a red light," he said when commenting on the debt on Hector Herrera Cabral's D'Agenda TV show on Channel 11. In 2000, the foreign debt was US$3.6 billion. Selman said that to make payments on the debt, the country needed to allocate 45% of taxation revenues.

Selman commented that up to 26 February the Central Bank had injected more than US$900 million to keep the exchange rate in check.

In 2000, the foreign debt was US$3.6 billion



Victor Castro: Less wasteful spending
Herrera Industries Association (AIEH) president Victor Castro is calling for improved efficiency in government spending. He said that the government could increase the tax burden without creating new taxes or increasing the rates of those already in place by increasing efficiency in public spending, as reported in El Caribe. Castro said this would enable a move away from the present model in which few pay a lot and many pay very little, which affects business in the Dominican Republic. He said there is a need to move towards more quality in public spending and less wasteful spending. He expressed his disapproval of the postponement of the integrated reform pact to after 2016, saying it was a bad sign for the short-term future of the economy.

He was responding to statements by the Administrative Minister of the Presidency Jose Ramon Peralta who said last week that the government would not carry out fiscal reform during this term. But he would be agreeing with him if by his statement he means that the productive sectors cannot bear more taxation. He says a reform that simplifies the system, promotes fiscal equity, eliminates distortions, promotes production, jobs and attacks tax evasion should be considered.

Castro said that if the country does not take on the immediate challenge of a comprehensive tax reform, economic growth would continue to depend on the government taking on more debt, a high-risk trend that has been flagged up by the visiting mission from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

During the past five years (2009-2013) the public debt increased from US$13.25 billion to US$23.20 billion, and compared to GDP it grew from 28.4% to 38.5%. This is up from US$3.6 billion in 2000.

The business sector has called for the government to fulfill its commitment to carry out the comprehensive taxation pact under the umbrella of the Economic and Social Council (CES) as ordered in the National Development Strategy Law.

"The time is now; taxation patches are consumed quickly and we get back to the same place: the decision whether to raise or create new taxes to fill financial holes," he said.

See more at: www.elcaribe.com.do/2014/03/10/aeih-dice-pueden-subir-ingresos-sin-crear-mas-impuestos

RD$67 million for political parties
The Central Electoral Board (JCE) has announced the imminent disbursal of RD$67 million to registered political parties in fulfillment of the law that calls for the government to contribute to political parties. Some 26 parties will benefit.

The PLD, PRD and PRSC will each receive RD$17,889,855.

Other parties receiving funds are:

Movimiento Democratico Alternativo: RD$1,208,790

Bloque Institucional Socialdemocrata: RD$1,029,206

Revolucionario Socialdemocrata: RD$932,611

Partido Quisqueyano Democrata Cristiano: RD$916,526

Union Democrata Cristiana: RD$691,716

Partido Humanista Dominicano: RD$681,451

Fuerza Nacional Progresista: RD$670,361

Partido Civico Renovador: RD$613,612

Trabajadores Dominicanos: RD$605, 092

Partido Popular Cristiano: RD$568,624

Partido Accion Liberal: RD$558, 910

Alianza Social Dominicana: RD$540,438

Partido Socialista Verde: RD$497,681

Partido de Unidad Nacional: RD$480,081

Democrata Institucional: RD$473, 333

Liberal: RD$473,103

Partido Democrata Popular: RD$452,005

12,000 new jobs to open in Santiago free zone plants
Miguel Lama, president of the country's largest free zone park, the Santiago Free Zone Corporation, has announced that the park is being expanded to install 19 eco- industrial factory buildings in a new area in western Santiago. Lama said the expansion would add 209,191 square meters of manufacturing area. Another 303,000 square meters has been reserved for future growth.

Lama said that the expansion supports President Danilo Medina's bid to create 400,000 new formal jobs during his term of office. The park will create another 12,000 jobs, he said.

The new facilities are built with translucent sheets to make the most of natural light and are equipped for solar panel installation. Engineer Ingrid Fernandez, who is in charge of the construction, added that the ventilation would be above the usual standards for better worker comfort. Eating areas are also being provided so that employees do not need to buy their meals outside from street vendors, as was the case in the first part of the free zone.


Eat shrimp, let lobsters breed through June
The government has announced the start of the seasonal spring ban on lobster consumption in the Dominican Republic. The closed season, from 1 March to 31 June, is aimed at allowing lobsters to breed. Consumers are asked to refrain from eating lobsters during this period, unless they are imported.

Painter Guillo Perez passes away
Guillermo Esteban Perez Chicon, better known as Guillo Perez, passed away on Sunday, 9 March. He was 88. Born in Moca in 1926, he was one of the best-known Dominican painters, acclaimed for his use of local themes and color. He is remembered for his sugar cane and palm tree landscapes, and his roosters, along with other popular subjects. He studied with Yoryi Morel, a relative.

His daughter Angela told Listin Diario: The legacy my father has left his children can be summed up in that we should always struggle to reach our dreams." She said that her father always told people: "love life, love color, enjoy nature."


Two plastic surgery clinics closed
The Ministry of Public Health has announced the temporary shutdown of two plastic surgery clinics in Santo Domingo. A Puerto Rican resident in New York, 28-year old Beverly Ann Brigoni, is reported to have died after a liposuction procedure at one of the clinics on 20 February. The clinics that were closed are the Centro Medico Vista del Jardin and the Doctores Lima Mejia clinic. The authorities said they found bacteria suspected to have caused the infection that led to the victim's death at the Doctores Lima-Mejia clinic.

The Lima-Mejia clinic operated at Calle Bonaire 7 in Ensanche Ozama, in Eastern Santo Domingo and Centro Medico Vista del Jardin was at Av. Republica de Colombia in Los Rios, National District.

The closures followed inspections carried out by specialists from the General Directorate of Preparation and Accreditation, and technicians from the Dr. Defillo National Laboratory.



Watch your luggage, French woman asks to serve jail sentence in France
Liana Guillon, a 41-year old French woman who says 11 kilos of cocaine were planted in her luggage when she left it in storage at her hotel in Puerto Plata, is now asking to serve the rest of her sentence in France. She was accused of being a drug trafficking mule and sentenced to eight years in jail. The woman says she is innocent but after two years in jail is morally and physically hurting. Her brother Eric Marin-Vallas says she has lost 20 kilos and suffers from constant epileptic fits. A mother of five, she wants to be able to see her children. The family is now requesting a transfer so she can serve the remainder of her sentence in France. She was initially offered the option but did not accept because she thought it would appear that she was admitting guilt. The French Supreme Court says there had been irregularities in the procedure, according to one of her lawyers, Mariana de Sevin who spoke during a press conference at the National French Assembly. Guillon was arrested at Puerto Plata airport in April 2012 prior to returning to France with her husband and a 15-month old baby. Her husband, Christophe Guillon, was also arrested but then released in October 2012. The deputy for French citizens abroad, Sergio Coronado said that Guillon's arrest took place at a time when there was an increase in drug trafficking between the DR and France. 50% of cocaine arriving in France comes through the Dominican Republic, he said. Coronado pointed out that traffickers take advantage of French tourists, around 250,000 to 300,000, to ship the drugs to Europe.


Vicente Bengoa's son robbed at gunpoint
Vicente Bengoa Aranguiz, the son of the former Minister of Hacienda and general manager of BanReservas, the governmental commercial bank, was robbed at gunpoint on Saturday, 8 March. The incident took place as he was entering the building where his father Vicente Bengoa Albizu lives, at Calle Pio X, Urbanizacion Real, just a few meters from the Armed Forces Military Intelligence Department.

In a press release, the victim, Vicente Bengoa Aranguiz, producer of the Channel 19 (Cinevision) program Economia y Politica said he was followed after he withdrew money from a bank. He was asked to hand over an envelope with the money he had withdrawn from the bank.

This is not the first time that a Bengoa family member has been a victim of armed robbery. A similar thing happened to one of his sisters, Maria Jose, at Av. Privada near 27 de Febrero, not far from where her brother was robbed.


Looking for Nikolai Baev
The Police are on the lookout for a Russian national named as Nikolai Baev, known to be the roommate of the late 31-year old Artur Alikberov in the Condominio Playa Arena Gorda, Residencial White Sands in Bavaro. A maintenance worker at the residential complex, Nelson Carrasco, said that Alikberov and Baev had had a heated discussion after which Baev left. On Saturday 8 March, Alikberov's body was found with knife wounds. He had bled to death. The argument took place on Wednesday, 5 March. Nikolai Baev is the chief murder suspect.


Fernando Villalona at Neptuno
Merengue great Fernando Villalona is playing a concert-dance at Neptuno Restaurant in Boca Chica on Saturday, 29 March. Tickets are RD$1,000 per person if purchased in advance, and RD$1,500 at the door.

The theater from all around the DR at the Teatro Monina Sola
The Ministry of Culture is inviting theater lovers to the XIV International Amateur Theater Festival. The opening is this Tuesday, 11 March at 7pm at the Teatro Monina Sola, at the Centro Cultural Narciso Gonzalez in Santo Domingo. Carlota Carretero's Escalera para Electra with the Teatro Rodante Dominicano will be staged.

The Festival seeks to introduce new cultural groups and a selection of the best drama performances nationwide is made with prizes of RD$75,000, RD$50,000 and RD$25,000 in adult and children's plays. The best productions will be staged at the Teatro Monina Sola from 11-28 March.

Performances are staged at 10am and 7pm.

The Teatro Monina Sola is located at Americo Lugo corner Marcos Adon streets in Villa Juana, Santo Domingo, Tel 809 684-2033.

See the schedule here: http://centroculturalnarcisogonzalez.blogspot.com/p/festival-internacional-de-teatro.html

For more on upcoming events, see www.dr1.com/calendar

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