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Daily News - 10 December 1998

Senate approves budget
Last night the Senate approved the National Budget after four hours of sometimes angry debate. Despite their criticism of the RD$44.671 billion budget compromise package worked out between a bicameral committee and budget officials of the Fernández Government. All but one member of the Santo Domingo Accord (ASD) bloc voted in favor of the budget. ASD is the coalition of the Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD) with a group of small parties. Many ASD senators were unhappy because the budget package did not include enough public works projects for their provinces. Others complained that some of the nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) designated in the budget to receive government aid are phantom groups unworthy of getting public funds. Despite these complaints, coalition loyalty led all but Samaná Senator Milton Ray Guevara to vote for the budget package negotiated by the ASD's leaders in Congress.
Already approved nearly two weeks ago by the Chamber of Deputies, the bill now goes to President Fernández to be signed into law.

Sammy Sosa visits White House
Dominican home run king and the National League's Most Valuable Player (MVP) Sammy Sosa met last night with President Bill Clinton. Sosa and his wife Sonia met with President Clinton and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton briefly. They then joined other honored guests for the annual ceremony where the nation's official Christmas Tree is lit by the President on the grounds outside the White House known as the Ellipse. Also attending were famous singers Leona Mitchell, José Feliciano and Tony Bennett.

Departure tax to be collected by ticketing agents
The head of the Directorate-General for Internal Revenue (DGII), Juan Hernández, issued yesterday a new regulation to change how DGII collects the US$10 departure tax imposed on airline passengers starting January 1, 1999. The tax is currently collected by DGII at the airport, with passengers forced to have US$10 cash handy, in exchange for which they receive a tax stamp on the back of their boarding pass. Under General Norm No. 9-98, the US$10 will be paid in advance by passengers when they buy their plane tickets. Airlines must submit to DGII the tax collected no later than one working day after each flight. Charters, however, can submit the collected monies on a monthly basis. Hernández said that this should alleviate the bottlenecks and bother that tax collection and inspection sometimes creates among departing passengers.

Honor student a celebrity for questioning Leonel
In Tuesday's national merit awards ceremony at the National Palace, one of the 400 recipients caused a sensation by interrupting President Fernández's televised speech about the modernization of the Dominican school system. Clarissa Carmona Ramíez, a 17-year old high school student from Baní said: "Excuse me, Mr. President, I understand perfectly what you have said about the process of modernization and I am completely in agreement. But what happens in communities like mine, where there are not even a roof under which to have classes?" The student was urged to sit down and shut up by the Education Ministry's regional official for Azua, among others. She insisted on speaking, and President Fernández allowed her to pose her question. When reporters tried to question the girl, she was escorted out of the auditorium by Press Undersecretary Sandy Lockward. Later some Palace officials wondered aloud ­ off-the-record ­ if the student had been put up to the act by an adult in order to publicly embarrass the President, or if she was a young activist for an opposition party.
Yesterday most of the major news dailies sought her out in Baní for interviews, making her an instant celebrity. The articulate student said that the intervention had been her own idea and was not politically motivated. She had not intended to embarrass the President, she asserted, but rather to make him understand what conditions are truly like outside the capital. She insisted that the Palace officials did not keep her from speaking to reporters; it had been her own choice not to. Carmona showed reporters how class is conducted under a group of mango trees instead of a school building.

Lluberes Montás's family to Balaguer: Tell what you know
The family of retired Air Force General Salvador Lluberes Montás ("Chinino") yesterday held a press conference to call upon ex-President Joaqu'n Balaguer to tell all he knows regarding the 1975 murder of journalist Orlando Martínez Howley. Lluberes Montás is currently incarcerated while being tried for involvement in a conspiracy surrounding Martínez's murder. The general's family referred to the infamous blank page regarding the Orlando case in Dr. Balaguer's memoirs, "Memories of a Courtesan," which the former President said would be filled in after his death. The general's sister, Zaida Lluberes de Tavárez, said that Balaguer "is the only person who has said in writing that he knows who is or are responsible for the crime." She called for Balaguer to be forced to tell the courts what he knows, and questioned why he has yet to be interrogated by prosecutors.
In a related story, Attorney-General Mariano Germán Mejía yesterday ordered a new battery of medical tests to be performed on the retired general to determine if his health truly warrants release from jail. Since Chinino's re-incarceration on Monday by the judge overseeing the Orlando case, his lawyer, friends and family have warned that his health condition is too grave for him to survive jail time.

Trade treaty goes to Congress today
The Fernández Government is due to send to Congress today the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) it recently concluded with Central American nations. The treaty setting the framework for the FTA was signed in Santo Domingo last April by the DR and five Central American nations: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.
Recently concluded and signed is an extremely important Protocol to the treaty which sets out important details to the trade accord, including which products will not be subjected to trade liberalization measures called for by the treaty.
So far only the DR, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Guatemala have signed the protocol. Last week Dominican officials said that Honduras and Nicaragua had not signed because they needed time to recover economically from the devastation caused by Hurricane Mitch. Yesterday Honduran Trade Vice Minister Hernán Erazo told the EFE news service that the hurricane was not the only reason his country did not sign the protocol. Erazo said Honduras did not sign because the DR placed too many important products on the "negative list" exempt from trade liberalization. Honduras, he said, was interested in exporting to the DR tobacco, cigarettes, beer, milk products, chicken and beef, but the DR insisted on putting all these on the negative list. He said that his boss, Commerce and Industry Minister Reginaldo Panting, plans to seek negotiations soon with Dominican officials to make Protocol changes that would allow Honduras to sign.
The Fernández Government's economic team plans a publicity offensive next week to convince public opinion of the desirability of the treaty and the need for Congress to adopt the recently-submitted tariff/tax reform proposals if this treaty is to be put into effect.

"Technical Rectification" takes effect in January
During yesterday's discussion of the Central American treaty, the government's economic team revealed that the "Technical Rectification" made by the DR to its Uruguay Round trade commitments take effect in January 1999. The Uruguay Round accords, agreed in 1994 and now overseen by the Geneva-based World Trade Organization (WTO), included measures liberalizing imports of agricultural goods. The DR signed onto the accords, but when they were brought home for ratification, domestic agricultural interests protested that the commitments would ruin them. The then-Balaguer Administration launched negotiations with major agricultural trading partners for changes in its Round agricultural trade commitments under the guise of a so-called "technical rectification." The formula finally agreed sets import quotas on eight key items, such as rice and chicken, for which quantities the tariff levels agreed in the Round will be applied (20% in the case of rice, 25% for chicken). Once the quota limit is reached, a variable (higher) tariff takes effect, depending on quantities imported.

President travels to Miami today
President Leonel Fernández travels to Miami today, where he is due to received the "Golden Star of the Caribbean" award from the private group Caribbean and Latin American Action (CLAA). CLAA is giving Fernández the award in recognition of his efforts to promote regional integration. Since coming to office the President proposed and achieved FTAs with both the Central American nations and with the Caribbean Common Market (CARICOM).

PRSC takes anti-JCE campaign abroad
The Reformista Party (PRSC) has decided to take its opposition to the current composition of the Central Electoral Board (JCE) to a new level in the hopes of garnering international pressure to change the Board. The PRSC has firmly opposed the new JCE since its appointment this past summer by a PRD-controlled Congress, arguing that its new membership, particularly JCE President Manual Ramón Morel Cerda, are PRD activists and thus unlikely to be impartial. The PRSC has called for the JCE membership to be decided by consensus among the three major parties. PRSC official Dr. Gómez Bergés yesterday told the television program "Hola" that the offensive has already begun, with presentation last week of the PRSC's accusations to the leadership of the Union of Latin American Parties (UPRA) and to the president of Venezuela's national electoral board. UPRA is a grouping of several political parties in Latin America that counts among it members Presidents Amil Mahaud of Ecuador, Andrés Pastrana of Colombia and Hugo Banzer of Bolivia. Gómez Bergés said that the PRSC will take its case to other Latin American leaders and opinion-makers and to Europe and North America as well.

National accident prevention campaign launched
The Public Health Ministry (SESPAS) yesterday launched a new campaign to prevent traffic accidents to realize the objectives of the National Plan for the Reduction of Deaths by Traffic Accidents (PLANREMAT). Public Health Minister Altagracia Guzmán Marcelino said that while the 1998 campaign managed to reduce traffic accidents by about 40%, much still needs to be done. She cited recent studies showing that the cost to the Dominican economy of traffic accidents is around RD$250 million per year, and that trauma victims from such cases represent about 20% of all emergency cases in the larger public hospitals. Projections are that in the year 2000 some 140,000 people are likely to be involved in traffic accidents in the DR, 16,000 of which are likely to require medical attention. Worrisome, said Dr. Guzmán, is that around 90% of those hurt in accidents do not go for treatment, and those that do go do so 12-48 hours after the accident, increasing the chances of death or serious complications. Among major causes of accidents, Dr. Guzmán cited poor driver education, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and truck drivers pushed by their employers to drive more than eight hours at a time. She announced that in 1999 her Ministry will send to Congress several legislative proposals to address these issues. She called on producers of alcoholic beverages to always include in their advertisements a warning not to drink and drive. She also called on companies with truck fleets to conduct tests of their drivers and to adopt measures to ensure that the drivers do not drive more than eight hours at a time.

More voices favoring sex education in school
The Archbishop of Santiago, Monseñor Juan Antonio Flores Santana, agreed yesterday that sex education should be provided in schools, but cautioned that the teachers should be specially trained for this task to ensure that proper instruction is given. Parents must also work closely with their children to correctly orient them on this issue, he asserted. He indicated opposition to any distribution of condoms in schools, suggesting that this would only "exacerbate" the sexual appetite of youth and allow them to minimize the dangers of contracting AIDS.
In an interview with the daily El Siglo, Bishop Julio César Hoguín of the Dominican Episcopal Church advocated sex education in schools balanced by moral and value teaching at home. The school is a logical place to help children understand the scientific and medical aspects of their bodies, he said, while the family must take care of the values end.
Also yesterday the national representative of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr. Socorro Gross, agreed that a strong sex education program in schools is needed. She urged that the country not simply copy the programs of other countries, but rather engage all sectors of the country in discussing it and reaching consensus on a program appropriate to the Dominican context.
Meanwhile the managing board of the private Dominican Association for the Well-Being of the Family (Profamilia), whose Executive Director last week sparked the national debate by calling for the return of full-fledged sex education to the classroom, issued a communique yesterday calling for the immediate launch of a new sex education program. The communique also denied accusations issued by many of its critics, including Education Minister Ligia Amada Melo, that it advocates the distribution of condoms in schools.

Licey destroys Giants; Lions edge Eagles
The Licey Tigers destroyed the Northeast Giants 8-1 at Santo Domingo's Quisqueya Stadium last night. The Tiger offense took off in the fourth inning and never looked back. Meanwhile, the Escogido Lions edged out the Cibao Eagles 2-1 at Santiago's Cibao Stadium last night. Both teams played tough defensively and offensively.
As a result of last night's play, second-place Licey is now only three games behind the Eagles in the Winter Professional Baseball Tournament, while the Lions are only two games behind Licey.
Tonight the Giants play a double-header against the Lions at Julio Javier Stadium in San Francisco de Macor's. The first game starts at 5:00 pm, the second is slated for 8:00 pm. Meanwhile Licey faces the Eagles at 8:00 pm in Quisqueya Stadium.

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