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Daily News - 06 March 1998

Exchange controls seek to counter speculation
The Monetary Board ruled that exchange banks must open a special account in hard currency in commercial banks to cover the hard currency demands of their clients. The accounts will primarily be used for the payment of imports and services. The resolution dated 5 March also rules that commercial banks must sell all hard currency no later than 48 hours after the purchase has been made. Remnant hard currency must be sold to the Central Bank at the official rate, which at the present time is about RD$0.50 less than what they would get from their clients. The measures seek to counter speculation. Nevertheless, economic analysts have criticized the recent measures as retrograde, similar to measures taken in years past by other governments, which have proven ineffective over time. The analysts say that political considerations are overriding sound long term economic policy. The municipal and congressional elections will be held 16 May 1998.

Peña Gómez criticizes Minister of Public Works
Dr. Jose Francisco Peña Gómez, president of the Partido Revolucionario Dominicano, the leading opposition party, criticized that government officers are choosing public works contractors in an "arbitrary" and "capricious" way. Peña Gómez, who is his party's candidate for mayor of Santo Domingo in the 1998 election, criticized new Minister of Public Works Diandino Peña's decision to personally choose the contractors. So called "grado a grado," or choosing contractors without a tender being called, was a common practice in the Balaguer administration that was criticized by the Partido de la Liberación Dominicana, when the latter was in the opposition.

Electricity bills rise, despite blackouts
Dominican consumers are suffering a new wave of increases in their electricity bills. The CDE is clearly resorting to increase total collections by increasing amounts billed to those who pay. About 50% of the energy served is not billed by the CDE, but it is faster and easier to increase the billings to those who pay. The increase is occurring prior to the entrance into service of the power plants that are forecast to represent an additional RD$100 to RD$300 million a month in fuel costs to the CDE. Electricity bills for January and February increased from 100%-500%. The increases come at a time when consumers are suffering up to 12 hours of blackouts daily.

12-year old assassination court hearing postponed
Judge Julio Cesar Cano Alfau postponed for 28 May the case against Mario Jose Redondo Llenas, Juan Manuel Moliné Rodríguez ,and against Luis Palma de la Calzada and Martin Palma Meccia, the husband and son of the former Argentine ambassador in the country. The four are the principal accused of the assassination of 12 year old Jose Rafael Llenas Aybar on 3 May 1996. The boy was found with 34 knife wounds in the Laguna de Arroyo Lebrón, near Km. 24 of Duarte Highway. The lawyers of the family of José Rafael Llenas said that the case was postponed because of a legal technicality used by lawyers of Mario José Redondo, in an effort to delay the case for unexplained reasons.

Bernardo Vega on U.S.-D.R. issues
The Listín Diario published an interview by Ana Mitila Lora with Dominican ambassador in Washington, D. C., Bernardo Vega, that focused on U.S.-DR issues of interest such as a recent Washington Post article, regional trade integration and the delays in the appointment of a U.S. ambassador to the Dominican Republic
 
Washington Post article
Ambassador Vega clarified that a recent Agency for International Development (AID) study on drug addiction in the Dominican Republic showed that there are about 35,000 drug users in this country (of a population of around 8 million people), a number which is much less than the 400,000 figure used by the Washington Post in a recent article highlighting the use of the D.R. as a link used by drug traffickers to smuggle their drugs between Haiti and Puerto Rico.
The same Washington Post article estimated that money laundering is at US$1,100 million dollars between the U.S. and the D.R. Ambassador Vega cites U.S. Treasury sources whereby money laundering is estimated at US$100 million a year. The US$1,100 million in remittances is acceptable given the large numbers of Dominicans living abroad, he observed this number is not far fetched. It is estimated that Dominicans remit about US$212 dollars to their families and friends in the D.R. Also indicated was that Dominicans living in Europe use U.S.-based companies to send their money to their families. As proof of the smaller volume of money laundering, the ambassador said that when the money controls were implemented, contrary to as what happened in Colombia, there has not been a significant decline in the remittances. The controls require the name and address of the sender to be listed.
He also pointed out that five days after the article was published, the U.S. State Department certified the Dominican Republic and praised efforts for stopping the trafficking of drugs.
Ambassador Vega says that the article points to Puerto Rico as the principle bridge between Colombia and the United States for the export of narcotic drugs. He said that "all the criticism that the Caribbean countries do not do enough to combat drug trafficking collapses when the reality is that an island that is part of the United States, with three military bases, where customs and migration is controlled by U.S. Federal government, is the main point from where the exports take place."
If the U.S. cannot control the entrance of drugs from Puerto Rico, what can be expected of countries that do not have anywhere near its resources?
Latin American nations have continuously said that it is futile to try to control the exporters, if the importers and the consumers continue strong in the United States.
 
Trade issues
Ambassador Vega also commented that Latin America has taken the lead in regional integration and free trade, originally proposed by the United States in the Miami Summit of the Americas, at times U.S. foreign policy is crippled by internal protectionism. The region will meet in April in Chile for the II Summit of the Americas. He commented that open regionalism continues in Latin America where Mercosur has accepted to integrate with the Andean Group. "The idea is for smaller regional groups to integrate into bigger schemes. While some think that integration is the new utopy, Latin America has taken it very seriously. The Dominican Republic has already taken the first steps with its negotiations that will end with free trade agreements with Caricom and Central America within the next few weeks, he explained.
 
On the issue of the missing U.S. ambassador
The U.S. has yet to appoint an ambassador for the Dominican Republic. Vega explained that this is due to the confrontations between the White House and Senator Helms. Other Latin American countries that have been affected by delays in the appointment of ambassadors are Mexico and Argentina, the latter without a U.S. ambassador for nine months. He said that the U.S. government compensates by sending key State Department officials, such as Deputy Secretary of State Hamilton,who is in charge of Caribbean and Central American affairs at the State Department.

Lessening traffic jams
Mayor Rafael Suberví Bonilla announced the city hall as invested over RD$18 million to purchase and install 30 intelligent traffic lights at the George Washington (Malecón), Máximo Gómez, Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy avenues in order to expedite the flow of traffic. He said the installation of the new traffic lights is part of a major project that includes road signs and the numbering of 50,000 households in the city, the placement of a large amount of informative signs, including several with tourist information, in the colonial city of Santo Domingo.

Consul on NBC accusations
Dominican consul in New York City, Bienvenido Pérez ,denied charges made on a four-minute NBC television program whereby he transports large amounts of money using the diplomatic pouch. The program also pointed out that the consul is not accredited by the U.S. State Department, to which Pérez said that the paperwork is underway. He stated that consular collections are deposited in a U.S. bank and a certified check made out to the national treasury is sent every month to the Banco de Reservas, the Dominican government commercial bank. He said the February check was for US$530,000 .
In his opinion, the focus of the U.S. media on the Dominican Republic reflects the increasing importance the community has reached in the U.S. He said that this also occurred in the past with the Irish, Italian, Jewish and Puerto Rican communities. The Dominican community is the migrant group that is growing the fastest in social and economic importance in New York City. NBC based its report on accusations of former consul employee, Julio Valdez. According to the consulate, Valdez was cancelled for beating the consular officer in charge of public relations.
As per accusations that the consulate issues false passports to delinquents, he said this is also false since the consulate and the Ministry of Foreign Relations have controls to impede this occurrence.

Foreign publishing houses at Book Fair
The National Book Fair, probably the most important cultural event of year, will take place at the National Music Conservatory grounds located between César Nicolás Pensón and Bolívar avenue, corner Alma Mater. The event is scheduled for 23 April to 3 May. This year, publishers from Spain, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the United States will be participating with large stands. This year the fair is dedicated to Spain.

Transit tax needed to pass toll booths
The Dirección General de Impuestos Internos (DGII) officers will be checking vehicles crossing the toll booths have paid the required transit tax, that is, have purchased the required license plate tags. 6 March is the deadline for the transit tax on vehicles. The DGII has made it easier to pay the transit tax by habilitating collection offices at Helados Bon ice cream shops (for motorcyclists), the postal offices, Shell gas stations, Banco Agrícola branches, and the 43 branches of the DGII. Vehicles dating before 1990 pay RD$250 a year, those after that date pay RD$500. Cargo vehicles are taxed RD$150 to RD$700. To pay the tax, a copy of the original registration and a photocopy of same is the only requirement.

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