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Daily News - 23 February 1998

Peña Gómez on the campaign trail
Dr. José Francisco Peña Gómez, leader of the Partido Revolucionario Dominicano, and self-appointed candidate for mayor of Santo Domingo, opened his city campaign on Sunday, with a caravan through city streets. Milagros Ortíz Bosch, actual PRD senator for Santo Domingo, who is seeking another run for Congress, and Johnny Ventura, candidate for vice mayor, joined him. The PRD politicians campaigned on issues of the blackouts, lack of potable water in city neighborhoods, and the high cost of living. Peña Gómez, who lost to Dr. Leonel Fernández of the Partido de la Liberación Dominicana (PLD) in the 1996 presidential elections, said that he would be doing in the municipality a sample of the government he had planned to carry out as president of the Republic.

Debates for a national agenda
President Leonel Fernández opened the "Diálogo Nacional," debates stressing their importance and telling the more than 4,000 persons that filled the National Theater that "for the first time the Dominican people are participating in the building of our destiny." The National Dialogue is an open forum where groups and individuals can present proposals or witness discussions. Participating groups are divided in economic policies, social policies, popular sectors and unions, political reforms, laws, cultural policies, international policies, infrastructure and energy, agriculture, environment, and ecology.
President Leonel Fernández, in his opening speech, said the electricity crisis is the number one problem affecting the nation, and that the government was making significant efforts towards its resolution. "We know we cannot enter the 21st century without a definite solution to the energy crisis," he said. "Perhaps there is no immediate definite solution, although it is obvious that progress is being made with the incorporation of new plants and rehabilitation of the old."
President Leonel Fernández committed to act upon the decisions reached by the National Dialogue as he foresees the debates will bring upon visionary decisions that will benefit the population in years to come.
He said the National Dialogue is a start in the building of a new nation with the participation of all Dominicans. He said it is the Dominican answer to the great challenges of the times. The discussions will climax at a plenary session on March 6-8.
There is much skepticism among the population as to the need for the very costly debates. Political analysts have commented that everything has been said already, and that what is needed now is action.
While Gallup Poll shows that President Leonel Fernández is the most popular Dominican, presidential credibility is not high. The President had offered a relief to the energy crisis in 120 days that end this week. 120 days after the presidential promise, Dominicans continue to suffer through the worst energy crisis since 1990.

Why did IFC fund the plant?
Temístocles Montas, general manager of the Corporación Dominicana de Electricidad, continued to criticize the Smith-Enron contract to supply power to the state energy grid, saying that it was negotiated by National Palace officers against the recommendations of the state electricity utility technicians and international organizations, including experts of the World Bank. Last week it was revealed in the press that the International Finance Corporation was one of the finance companies of the private power generator, which also received funding from the Caribbean Development Corporation. The CDE says that the Dominican government does not have to honor the contract because it was not sanctioned by Congress and therefore is illegal. Officers of the IFC have traveled to Santo Domingo to seek a friendly agreement to the conflict, given their involvement. Hoy newspaper says that the CDE is in conflict with Smith-Enron over a difference of US$37.5 million. The differences will be heard in an arbitrage court in Mexico in March. The monies are broken down as: US$13,647,246 per installed capacity; US$5,601,705 per operation and maintenance; US$10,306,000 per fuel consumption; US$5,253,307 per interest payments and US$3,004,630 per unavailability funding.
In a press tour of the plant, new general manager Kevin Manning denied that the company was billing for energy not supplied. He said that the company billed the government between US$6.5 and US$7 million a month.
The CDE's main gripe is that the Smith Enron plant has not been a stable supplier of energy at times when every kilowatt is needed. Guillermo Tejeda, spokesman for the CDE, said that the country has a deficit of almost 300 megawatts of power, which results in blackouts of 10 to 12 hours and Dominicans having to rely on their alternative sources of power. The government has purchased five Alsthon turbogas plants from France and a Siemens plant from a German company which are expected to provide some relief by summer.

Public hospitals to get assistance
The Dominican government signed loans with the Interamerican Development Bank in Washington, D.C. last week for US$68.2 million. The loans will benefit the health and judicial sectors. Some US$61.2 million will go to programs being implemented by the Ministry of Public Health. The funds will be used to improve health services available to low income persons utilizing public hospitals. Some US$7 million will go to a program to be implemented by the Supreme Court of Justice. This program seeks to computerize and organize the registration of land titles. Both loans are at an interest rate of 3.5% and for 30-year repayment periods. Nancy Birdsall, executive vice president of the Interamerican Development Bank, signed for that institution, and Architect Eduardo Selman, Technical Minister of the Presidency, signed for the Dominican government.

European Union programs for education
Max Puig, in charge of the Dominican government relations with the European Union Lomé IV program, said that the country will benefit from RD$1,018 million in European Union programs this year. Included in the programs is one for US$23 million for the implementation of Caribbean studies graduate programs at three Dominican universities (Universidad Católica de Santo Domingo, Pontificia Universidad Católica Madre y Maestra, and Universidad Nacional Pedro Henríquez Ureña) and a fourth in Jamaica (West Indies University). The PUCMM will be offering graduate studies in management, and the UNPHU will be offering degrees in tropical architecture and conservation of monuments.
Puig said that the funds will also help finance Los Toros Hydroelectric in Azua, a program to reduce the spread of AIDS, and programs to protect national parks.

J.F. Kennedy bus route operation postponed
The Autoridad Metropolitana de Transporte (AMET) announced it was postponing the start of operations of the new government buses on the Avenida John F. Kennedy corridor due to delays in the preparation of the new bus lanes. The John F. Kennedy route runs from the populous Los Alcarrizos in the west to San Isidro on the eastern side of the city.

New free zone to use airport facilities
Full paper advertisements in Listín Diario and Hoy revealed the contents of the presidential decree dated 28 January that creates the Zona Franca Multi-Modal Caucedo. The free zone calls for the construction of a maritime port and the use of facilities of the Las Americas International Airport. The decree establishes that the assembly plants, warehouses, construction of ships, data processing, telecommunications operations, production of energy, handling of import, and export or re-export cargo, can be carried out from industries located within the park. Companies interested in applying for installation within the park should request authorization from the National Council of Free Zones. The decree establishes that the Minister of Industry and Commerce will sign all pertinent contracts.

Small businesses - a big market for credit
Yolanda Valdes de Del Monte, executive vice president of the Banco de la Pequeña Empresa, a bank that caters to small businessmen, urged other Dominican banks to establish special units to make loans to small businesses. She spoke about the opening of a new branch of the bank. She said that Fondomicro studies show that small businesses generate 23% of the Gross Domestic Product and employ 859,225 persons. She stressed the importance of these businesses, saying they contribute four times more jobs than the industrial free zones, three times more than the central government, and 30% more farming. She said that estimates made by Fondomicro, a study group, show small business have an unsatisfied demand for RD$2,500 million in credit.

Partial eclipse of the sun
Those in the Dominican Republic on Thursday, 26 February, will be able to see a partial eclipse of the sun. The partial eclipse will take place at 12:48 noon. Astronomers cautioned to avoid looking directly at the eclipsed sun.

Circling the nation by bicycle
The 1,100 kilometer Vuelta Ciclistica Independencia Nacional, the most important cycling tour held in the Dominican Republic, took off on Friday. Some 120 cyclists from 15 countries are participating in the 19th year of the competition that will end in Santo Domingo on 27 of February, National Independence Day. The competition concludes at the Avenida Charles de Gaule. Participants are from Germany, United States, Costa Rica, Venezuela, Guadeloupe, Guyana, Martinique, Panama, Grand Cayman and Switzerland.

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