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Daily News - 26 February 1998

February 27 is Independence Day
The DR One daily news section will not be posted on 27 February, a national holiday. On 27 February 1844, Dominicans gained their independence from Haiti through the efforts of a group led by Juan Pablo Duarte, Francisco Rosario Sánchez and Ramón Matías Mella. News updates resume on Monday, 2 March.

Paychecks retained for 1,221 government officers
The government retained the paychecks of 1,221 officers on 25 February, payday. The officers have not fulfilled their obligation to present their personal financial statements showing their assets and liabilities at the time of accepting their position in government. Law 82-79 obliges high-ranking government officers, judges, mayors and congressmen to declare their wealth. National Treasurer Haivanjoe-NG Cortiñas retained the paychecks requested by Attorney General of the Republic, Dr. Abel Rodríguez del Orbe.

Solar eclipse seen best at 2 pm
A solar eclipse will be visible in the Dominican Republic from 12:48 to 3:15 pm, according to the Meteorology Department. The best time to view the eclipse is around 2:15 pm. The total eclipse is expected to last eight minutes. This will be the last solar eclipse of the millennium. Taking advantage of the solar eclipse, several cruise lines offered specials. Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Sea even altered its route so that passengers can have an entire day at sea to observe the eclipse. The passengers will be boarding and disembarking in Santo Domingo at the Sans Souci port. Most of the path will be over the water of the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. The eclipse begins in the Pacific Ocean and heads northwest, across the Galapagos Islands and northern South America, before passing over the Caribbean.
Eclipses occur when the moon's orbit takes it between the earth and the sun, casting the moon's shadow over the earth. An eclipse of the sun can only take place at a new moon. At that time, the sun, the earth, and the moon, must be very nearly, if not precisely, aligned. During most months, the new moon occurs when the moon is too far north or south for an eclipse to take place. But when the sun is close to the ascending or descending node of the moon's orbit, an eclipse will occur.
In total eclipses such as this one, the moon blocks the sun for several minutes, the skies darken so much that birds prepare to settle down for the night and the stars become quite visible before the phenomenon when the last rays of sunlight gleam through the irregularities on the moon's surface.
Experts warn that observing the sun directly - even during a partial eclipse - can cause permanent eye damage. Damage to the eyes comes predominantly from invisible infrared wavelengths, so the fact that you feel no discomfort while gazing at a partial eclipse does
not guarantee that your eyes are safe. Experts say that you can peek at the sun, but not stare. Experts say a total solar eclipse can be safely viewed with the naked eye, since the sun's disk is completely obscured. But appropriate precautions should be taken when the total phase ends.
For more information, check out NASA's web site eclipse page at http://planets.gsfc.nasa.gov/eclipse/eclipse.html

Inespre: unfair competition with colmados
Economists have expressed concern over the new subsidized food sales program being implemented by the Instituto de Estabilización de Precios. The program is said to be politically oriented. While it benefits consumers, it is seriously affecting the profitability of "colmados", small grocery shops, many of which have seen sales drop 30%. INESPRE recently purchased a fleet of 200 vehicles and turned these into mobile grocery shops that visit the barrios to offer their goods at low prices.
Economists Eduardo García Michel and Isidoro Santana criticized the new role of Inespre saying that it is using its ability to import goods without paying taxes and then selling at subsidized prices. Private business spokesmen say that this is unfair competition with the colmados, which have to pay taxes.

Physician sought by U.S. judiciary freed by Dominican judge
Judge Ramón González Pérez ordered the release of Dr. Rafael Pedro González Pantaleón on grounds that his imprisonment is illegal as it was not ordered by a judge. González Pantaleón was found guilty of fraud against Medicare, the U.S. Federal Government medical insurance program. He was sentenced to 78 months in prison or the payment of a US$3.5 million fine. The physician was director of the Dominican Institute of Social Security and ambassador before the United Nation during the past governments of Dr. Joaquín Balaguer. He is sought in extradition by the United States judicial authorities. His lawyers say a law dating to 1969 prohibits the extradition of Dominicans. Dr. Pantaleón says he was framed.

Trade between D.R. and Cuba at US$30 million
In an interview with Hoy newspaper, the Cuban consul in the Dominican Republic, Miguel Pérez Cruz, said that trade between the two islands is over US$30 million a year. He foresees an increase in trade transactions following the opening of consulates in both countries. The countries primarily trade cement, metal rods, fish, seafood, and supplies and furnishings to the tourism industry. He says trade is balanced in both directions. While the Cuban consulate has been operating for several weeks now, the Dominican consulate is yet to open. Cuban government is conditioning the home where the Dominican embassy was located in Havana, prior to the severing of trade ties due to the Organization of American States embargo. The Cuban Consulate is located on Calle Santiago No. 25, in the Gazcue section of Santo Domingo.

The National Dialogue
President Fernández scores with Dialogue talks
Journalist Ana Mitila Lora, who has been following the National Dialogue talks for the Listin Diario, the leading Dominican newspaper, said that President Leonel Fernández and his government are the big winners of the event. The President has benefited politically from the event at a time when opposition parties are still suffering through leadership transition periods which result in difficulties in the choosing candidates to electoral posts in the municipal and congressional elections of 16 May 1998. The journalist says the national press has focused on the debates and discussions, leaving little space to the pressing problems griping the population. Lora cautions that the talks could have a boomerang effect as hundreds of persons, most previously unknown, have participated and spoken their minds and entered their proposals and will request a follow-up. Lora comments that to meet the proposals that have been accepted, the country would need resources three times those in the National Budget.
 
President requests removal of re-election talks from debates
President Fernández requested that the debate on the constitutional reform, that relates to the possibility of re-electing the president, be eliminated from the debates. He said it distorts the objective sought by the National Dialogue. A consensus had been reached to modify the Constitution to permit two consecutive presidential periods.
President Fernández says that the National Dialogue seeks to establish national policies in the short, medium and long range. He suggested putting aside the issue of re-election and that instead, the plenary focus on the major problems that affect the nation. When participating in the political reforms subcommission, the chief of state stressed that the Dialogue should end with an overall vision of the Dominican reality, in order to establish overall development policies. The President said that similar experiences have already been implemented successfully in Bolivia and Guatemala. He explained that in the United States the method was proposed by President Clinton who called for the celebration of a national forum to design the new social security policy of that nation. He stressed that it is the duty of everyone participating in the National Dialogue to press authorities so that what was agreed upon turns into concrete action.
 
The electricity issue
During sessions to discuss the electricity situation, the Subcommission on Infrastructure and Energy approved 72 of the 128 proposals during three days of debates. These include a proposal that demands that the National Congress urgently approve the General Electricity Bill that provides for rules for fair privatization of electricity services, and creates a Superintendency of Energy. The subcommission also approved a proposal for the implementation of a 10-year plan for the production, transmission and best use of electricity. The participants rejected that companies receive benefits such as tax exemptions and other government subsidies as was approved in the electricity bill passed by Congress but vetoed by the Presidency. Temístocles Montás, general manager of the government electricity utility, Corporación Dominicana de Electricidad, said that if congressmen do not approve the electricity bill soon sans the contested privileges, the government will have to resort to ruling on privatization by presidential decree. The bill would provide clear rules of the game for major companies to compete for the production, transmission and marketing of power. The bill is seen as the foundation for a definite solution to the electricity supply crisis.
 
Olympic Committee sports plan approved
The Ministry of Sports was not represented, but participants in the Subcommission on Sports at the National Dialogue approved the sports plan presented by the Dominican Olympic Committee. The plan has been endorsed by the Presidency, but the funds have not been there for the start of its implementation. It was reported that the government has only disbursed monies needed for the Olympic Committee to campaign in favor of Santo Domingo being chosen for the site of the Pan-American Games in year 2003. The Ministry of Sports has its reserves with regard to the plan. The president of the Dominican Olympic Committee, Dr. José Joaquín Puello Herrera, presented the project that is known as 1997-2003 Sports Plan.
 
Less import taxes, higher sales tax
A consensus was reached in the Economy Subcommission for a need to reduce import taxes and increase the value-added tax (Impuesto a la Transferencia de Bienes Industrializados y de Servicios). Likewise, it was felt that the petroleum tax income should be included in the National Budget. Minister of Finances. Daniel Toribio said that the D.R. is one of the countries in Latin America where residents pay the least in taxes. Several of the country's most renown economists participated in the talks. They agreed on the importance of a balanced budget, and that the government not go overboard in spending, such as happened last December, and that there be a reduction in infrastructure works not considered priority.

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