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Daily News - 03 April 1998

Peña Gómez travels to New York for check up
The candidate to mayor and leader of the Partido Revolucionario Dominicano, Dr. José Francisco Peña Gómez left for a medical check up in New York City yesterday. Peña Gómez leaves when there is but one weekend left for intensive political campaigning before the political parties take a break for the Easter Week vacation period. Upon leaving, Peña appointed Santo Domingo senator Milagros Ortíz Bosch as coordinator for the political campaign. Ortíz leads all polls by far as the most likely winner of the senatorial seat for the capital city in the 16 May 1998 municipal and congressional elections. Peña Gómez leaves for his medical check up at the Sloan Kettering Memorial Medical Center amidst speculations as to his health. He admitted to the press that the stress created by the internal fighting for the municipal and congressional candidacies has affected his health. Peña Gómez suffers from cancer of the pancreas, but his cancer has been said to be in remission.
Peña Gómez, who was the most voted candidate in the 1996 presidential election ever, but lost in the second round to President Leonel Fernández, leads in the voters' preference over the runner up Roberto Salcedo, a TV producer turned politician who is running on the Partido de la Liberación Dominicana ticket.

Business spokesman criticizes new high interest rates
Celso Marranzini, president of the Consejo Nacional de la Empresa Privada, the leading business association, criticized the Central Bank authorities for letting interest rates climb in order to attract new capitals in an attempt to stabilize the peso. He said that this policy is affecting local production. He said that the Central Bank monetary policy should be coherent, brave and that conditions should be created that generate the growth of all sectors in a transparent and uniform way. He said that high interest rates are an impediment to companies investing, creating new jobs or keeping old ones and that the economy in general will suffer. He said it is not in the nation's interest that interest rates go up in order to avoid a devaluation of the peso. He said that if the peso is not allowed to float, then we are less competitive in several sectors, and non-traditional exports will continue to suffer. Local banks that were paying 9.5%-12.5% interest on deposits, are now offering 18-20% interest rates. The prime rate has shifted from 18% to 25%, with non-prime rate loans going for 36%.

Other sectors have attributed the decline of the peso to the overspending of the government. This situation will not improve, especially during this period of political campaigning, when the government has just disbursed RD$171 million to fund the political party campaigns.

Puerto Rican bank invests in DR bank
The Banco Popular de Puerto Rico, one of the largest banks in Puerto Rico, announced the signing of a strategic alliance with the Banco Gerencial y Fiduciario of the Dominican Republic. The Banco Popular purchased a large shares package in the bank, although the Dominican partners will maintain majority ownership and control of management. Richard L. Carrión, chief executive officer of the Puerto Rico bank, was in Santo Domingo to sign the agreement. Enrique Armenteros Rius, president of the board of the bank, and George Manuel Hazoury, general manager signed for the Banco Gerencial y Fiduciario. The Banco Popular is 104 years old, and has US$20,000 million in assets, 451 offices in Puerto Rico, the United States, the Caribbean and Central America.

Criticizing the new JCE
Dr. Cesar Estrella Sahdalá, the lawyer who restored the credibility to the Junta Central Electoral, the Dominican electoral court, and did in 1996 what no one thought was possible, organize an undisputed elections in 1996, said that the Junta Central Electoral has not respected the will of the legislators in their interpretation of the requirement that 25% of the positions congressional and municipal go to women. The parties have interpreted the ruling to their convenience and while they have given women in politics 25% of the candidacies, these have been in positions with little possibility of being elected. Estrella Sahdalá said that the intention of the law was that for every four winning municipal and congressional candidates there be one woman elected. The JCE, which has several new judges, has been criticized for showing weakness in the execution of its mandate. For example, the JCE allowed the registration of candidacies after the deadline, and the parties' leadership has overrun candidates winning the primaries.

John F. Kennedy Avenue bus route begins Sunday
The Metropolitan Transport Authority (AMET) announced that starting this Sunday some 120 buses will operate on the North Corridor. This is the second major bus route put into effect by AMET, the new government organization that is in charge of reorganizing traffic in Santo Domingo. The John F. Kennedy corridor will have 70 bus stops along a route of 22 kilometers crossing the city from East to Northwest, from the El Tamarindo on the East side to Km. 9-1/2 of Autopista Duarte.

Passengers will be able to try out the new route for free on Sunday, 5 April from 7 am to 10 pm.

AMET announced it is working on a third corridor, where some 80 buses will be used, from Los Alcarrizos, along the Autopista Duarte, to Km. 12 of Haina.

New cellular facility
Tricom, the second largest telecommunications company in the DR, launched CellCard that is targeted to tourists and business travelers. Company spokesperson Ingrid González said that users of the new card will be able to use their own cellulars without having to activate them in this country. The prepaid cards will sell for RD$300, and are sufficient for 10 average calls. They are sold in hotel gift shops, airports and Tricom offices.

No delays for the signing of Central American free trade agreement
Minister of Foreign Relations Eduardo Latorre denied that the signing of the free trade agreement with Central America would be postponed. He said that when the Minister of Economy of Guatemala, Juan Mauricio Wurmser and the Minister of Foreign Commerce of Costa Rica, Jose Manuel Salazar said that they felt that the agreement should be postponed until the list of excluded products was completed, they were giving their personal opinions and not making official statements.

CDE explains why the long blackouts
The Corporación Dominicana de Electricidad (CDE) reported that while the installed capacity in large power plants in the DR is 2,006 megawatts potentially generated by 12 thermoelectric plants, six turbogas plants, 19 hydroelectric generators, and 11 private power plants, these are only producing 50%. The Dirección de Operaciones del Sistema of the CDE said that the CDE is counting on about 1,050 megawatts, a slight improvement over January. Engineer Saul Santana, deputy administrator of the CDE network, said that sectors would suffer four hour blackouts a day if these were equitably distributed. He said that privileged sectors, those near aqueducts and public hospitals, suffer blackouts of only one hour a day, while other sectors suffer blackouts of 10, 15, and 18 hours a day. He said that the demand for power is 1,250 megawatts at the present time.

Colmados furious about unfair competition
The government refuses to discontinue its Alimentos para Todos food sales program until after the elections. Owners and spokesmen for associations of colmados, or small grocery shops, representing the over 70,000 small grocery stores all around the country, say that the government low cost food sales are unfair competition and should stop now. The Instituto de Estabilización de Precios, the government department in charge of the program, has offered to discontinue the low cost food sales in 60 days, or after the 16 May election. The businessmen complain that the unfair competition has caused a decline in their sales of about 60%. Housewives prefer to purchase the lower costing food staples from the Inespre suppliers that practically take them the goods to their door or are located near the principal colmados of the neighborhoods. This has also affected colmado product suppliers, that have not been able to place new orders or pay their bills on time.

The colmado owners complain that Inespre has opened 72 fixed points that are located near the colmados. Furthermore, the Inespre program includes 400 trucks that sell basic food stuffs at prices lower than at the colmados throughout some 102 neighborhoods in Santo Domingo. The colmados complain that the Inespre vendors do not have the cost structure they do. The Inespre program was begun in January at a cost of RD$135 million and targets low income neighborhoods.

The director of Inespre, engineer Gustavo Sánchez says he agrees with the point of view of the colmado owners but that they would not suspend the Inespre sales until after 60 days.

Latorre to Cuba
Minister of Foreign Relations Eduardo Latorre will visit Cuba from 7 to 9 April for the opening of the Dominican Republic consulate in Havana. The opening of the consulate marks the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with that nation, that were severed in 1959. The new Dominican consul is Grecia Fiordaliza Pichardo, who made a name for herself with her work at reorganizing the Dominican consulate in Montreal, Canada. The Dominican Republic and Cuba signed several agreements in late 1997, on migration and trade.

Beach volleyball championship
As is traditional in Easter, Presidente beer will sponsor the beach volleyball tournament that will take place all around the country. The championship opens 10-11 April in Boca Chica beach. During that event, some of the nation's best volleyball players will participate. The event is a qualifying event for the Dominican team to the Central American and Caribbean Sports Games set for Venezuela later this year. Volleyball events will take place also in Bayahibe, La Romana; Juan Dolio, San Pedro de Macorís; and El Cortesito, La Altagracia in the East. South Coast events will take place in San Rafael, Barahona; Salinas, Azua and Palenque, San Cristóbal. On the North Coast, the schedule includes games in Playa Dorada, Puerto Plata; Poza de Bojolo, Nagua; and Juan Bolaños, Montecristi.

Beach basketball tournament
Barceló & Compañía, a leading rum company, announced it is sponsoring a beach basketball tournament to take place over the Easter long weekend. The tournament is dedicated to the chief of the Police, General José Anibal Sanz Jiminián. The championship will take place from Friday, 10 April with finals on Sunday, 12 April in Boca Chica beach. Over 200 athletes are expected to vie for cash prizes.

Decorations for journalists
President Leonel Fernández will honor Rafael Núñez Grassals columnist and executive of Hoy newspaper; Emilio McKinney, managing editor of El Caribe newspaper; Pía Rodríguez, journalist and producer of the Puntos de Vista TV program; Rafael Molina Morillo, executive editor of the Listin Diario, and Ramón de Luna, a journalist from Santiago de los Caballeros on occasion of the Day of the Journalist, 3 April. The group will each receive the prestigious Duarte, Sánchez y Mella medal.

Photography contest in colonial city
Kodak is sponsoring a photography contest in the colonial city. "El Color de la Semana Santa," (Colors in Easter) is the name of the contest that is open to all resident photographers in the Dominican Republic. Photographs must be taken from 3 to 12 April 1998. Kodak will be awarding RD$15,000 to the first prize winner. The deadline for the event is 29 May 1998.

Big day for Pedro Martínez
Pedro Martínez surpassed the expectations of Boston Red Sox fans in the Boston Red Sox opening game on Thursday, 3 April that took place in Oakland, California. Martínez, the highest paid player in the Major Leagues, winner of the 1997 Cy Young award, threw a no-hitter in his first game with the Red Sox. Martínez, who signed a contract for US$75 million earlier this year, set down the first 11 Oakland batters he faced. The game ended Red Sox, 2, A's O. Martínez left after seven innings with 11 strikeouts, a yield of three hits and two walks, and a 2-0 lead. The 11 strikeouts were the most by a Red Sox pitcher on opening day since Roger Clemens fanned 11 Tigers in Fenway Park 10 years ago.

Martínez, who last season had 18 games in which he struck out 10 or more batters, including 15 10-K games in his last 22 starts, was lifted by manager Jimy Williams after throwing 116 pitches, 71 for strikes.

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