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Daily News - 14 January 1999

Leonel’s Europe trip
President Leonel Fernández had the first full day of his European tour yesterday, the longest trip of his Presidency. He leads a delegation of 30 – 16 high-ranking officials and 14 "special guests" (such as Baninter President Ramón Báez Figueroa and National Council of Private Enterprise head Celso Marranzini) Officials accompanying the President include Foreign Minister Latorre; Industry and Commerce Bonetti; Technical Secretary Temístocles Montás; Attorney-General Mariano Germán; Armed Forces Chief of Staff Manuel Florentino; Lomé Convention Coordinator Max Puig; Antonio Isa Conde, President of the Commission for Reform of Public Enterprises (CREP); Eddy Martínez, Director of the Office of Investment Promotion (OPI); and Hamlet Hermann, Director of the Metropolitan Transit Authority (AMET).
Yesterday President Fernández spent the day in Madrid, where he lunched privately with Spanish Prime Minister Jose María Aznar (the Spanish stop is not considered an official state visit). The two reportedly discussed informally a number of cooperation projects planned or currently underway totally some US$128 million.
Later while speaking to reporters, President Fernández urged Spanish companies to invest more aggressively in the DR, and particularly stressed Spanish participation in the upcoming capitalization of the Dominican Electricity Corporation (CDE). Three Spanish firms – Endesa, Unión Fenosa and Iberdrola – have already been pre-qualified for bidding for parts of CDE. Technical Secretary Montás and CREP President Isa Conde both met yesterday with officials of the three firms to discuss their interest in CDE. The two plan a similar meeting today in Paris with the huge French utility Electricité de France (EDF), which is also pre-qualified for CDE bids.
President Fernández departed at 6:00 pm for Paris, where he will stay until Sunday. Today’s events include: (1) a breakfast with French businessmen belonging to the International Movement of French Enterprises; (2) a meeting with French President Jacques Chirac, who will host a lunch in the Dominican President’s honor and decorate Fernández with the Legion of Honor medal, the highest award given by the French state to foreigners; (3) a 4:00 pm visit to Paris’ famed Sorbonne university, where Fernández will receive an honorary doctorate; (4) an 8:00 pm meeting meet French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, followed by a state dinner in Fernández’s honor; (5) a courtesy call on the head of the Senate (at 11:00 am); (6) the signing of a series of agreements with France (see separate story below).
The President’s Friday schedule includes (1) an 8:30 am courtesy call on National Assembly President Laurent Fabius; (2) a 1:00 pm lunch in his honor hosted by the Assembly’s International Relations Committee, Jack Lang; (3) a 3:30 pm visit to the Supreme Court ("Corte de Casación); (4) a 5:30 cocktail in his honor at the Dominican Embassy hosted by Ambassador Guillermo Pina Contreras. Saturday is being reserved for private meetings and events.
Fernández will fly on Sunday, January 17th to Rome. On Monday, January 18th he will have an historic private audience with Pope John Paul II -- it will be the first time a Dominican head of state has been received by a Pope at the Vatican since the dictator Rafael Trujillo in 1955. Also on Monday he will have meetings with Italian businessmen meet with President Luigi Oscar Escalfaro and Prime Minister Massimo D’Alema. He is expected to sign a BIT with Italy, a financial cooperation accord plus other unspecified cooperation agreements. His time in Rome will include signing an agreement with the United Nation’s Rome-based International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) for the development of the Dominican Southeast.
It was announced yesterday that the President will return to the DR on January 20th instead of the 21st as originally planned, so that he might attend the special mass scheduled on the 21st at the Basílica de Altagracia in Higuey. The 21st is a national holiday honoring the Virgin of Altagracia.

Leonel to net 9 agreements with France
President Fernández’s European tour today will start to yield its first tangible fruits. Nine bilateral accords are to be signed today and tomorrow. The agreements to be signed today grabbing the most headlines in Santo Domingo involve (1) a letter of intent to purchase five helicopters for the Dominican Air Force (FAD); (2) a financing agreement for the construction of a tramway in Santo Domingo. On the former, Dominican officials stress that the US$10 million purchase is for rescue, aid and other non-military purposes, although the FAD will administer their use. The tramway accord involves financing by the French Development Agency; a feasibility study just completed two days ago (a prerequisite to get French help) estimates the cost of building the tram as between US$146 million and US$175 million. As envisioned, the tram would commence at Kilometer 9 on the Duarte Highway, run the length of Avenida John F. Kennedy until it reaches the elevated portion, follow San Martín to reach Avenida 27 de Febrero near the Braulio Alvarez Park, and pass along Avenida Duarte until stopping at the Sánchez bridge. President Fernández will urge French officials to accelerate normally slow disbursal processes so that the project might start by June this year. Administration officials would like to complete the project and demonstrate its value before the end of Fernández’s term of office in August 2000.
The other agreements include:
  1. a bilateral investment treaty (BIT) protecting investment flows between the two countries;
  2. an extradition agreement;
  3. an agreement to improve market access for Dominican coffee, rum and tobacco products in the French market;
  4. two technical assistance agreements on legal matters, one with the French Government to help build the DR’s planned National Magistrate School to train judges, and to assist in strengthening the functioning of the Public Ministry and Attorney-General’s Office, and another with the Supreme Court to provide training for the new School’s professors;
  5. a technical assistance agreement to create a school to train career Dominican diplomats, creating a professional diplomatic corps;
  6. for improving the DR’s civil aviation regime, modernizing the Dominican judicial system.

Puerto Rican Governor to visit
Foreign Minister Eduardo Latorre revealed yesterday that President Fernández’s has invited Puerto Rican Governor Rosselló to make an official visit in March and to attend as an official observer at the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) meeting to be held in Santo Domingo in April. The invitation was extended and accepted during the very brief meeting with the Governor during a flight stopover in San Juan on Tuesday night en route to Europe. The exact dates of the Governor’s March visit are yet to be worked out.

A single currency for Latin America?
Speaking before the American Chamber of Commerce yesterday, Dominican Ambassador to the U.S. Bernardo Vega called for the creation of a single currency for all Latin America and the Caribbean and the elimination of central banks throughout the region. Citing forecasts of the benefits of the European Union’s new single currency, the "Euro," and Japan’s recent suggestion that the yen become the basis of a single currency for Asia, Ambassador Vega called for Latin American and Caribbean nations to seriously consider following the example in order to create regional macroeconomic stability. He noted that many of the region’s economies are already "dollarized," meaning that they closely track movements in the value of the U.S. dollar. He also recalled that most of the Central American and Caribbean banks have only existed in the latter half of the 20th century, and he questioned their benefits to those nation’s economic stability. Regional governments should discuss openly the costs and benefits of "dollarization" on their economies and design a single currency and monetary authority, a lá the Euro and the European Monetary Institute, after which national central banks would become superfluous.

Another FAD officer questioned about Narcisazo
Another official of the Dominican Air Force (FAD), Aldeso Antonio Martínez, was questioned yesterday about the 1994 disappearance (and presumed murder) of Professor Narciso González ("Narcisazo"), a vocal critic of then-President Joaquín Balaguer. Antonio Martínez was one of the officials on-duty the night that the professor was allegedly abducted and taken to A-2, the intelligence arm of FAD. He was interrogated by Judge Sánchez Ortíz of the Seventh Circuit Court, who is in charge of the case.

FENACODEPRO urges boycott of pricey products
The President of the National Federation of Commercial Retailers of Provisions (FENACODEPRO), Giovany Leyba, called on wholesalers and retailers alike to boycott products which try to raise their prices without clear justification. He noted that a number of products are arriving at retailers with price hikes of 10%, without any explanation of the need for such a large price hike. He cited detergents, hand soap and dental creme as three examples. He called on retailers in particular to at least deny such products display space, if not refuse to sell them at all, so that producers get the message that uncalled-for price hikes will not simply be passed on to the consumer. Although not expressed in equally strong terms, the national association of pharmacy owners also expressed this week concern about 10% price hikes in a wide range of products, particularly imported breastmilk substitutes and supplements.

JAD urges elimination of INESPRE
The Dominican Agro-Industry Board (JAD) yesterday urged the Dominican Government to eliminate the controversial Price Stabilization Institute (INESPRE) in favor of two new agencies and revival of the Agro-Fishery Bourse (trading market). Originally charged with ensuring stable prices for certain Dominican staples, INESPRE has been used aggressively by the Fernández Administration to import cheap agricultural goods to pressure local producers, distributors and retailers to keep their prices down, and to directly distribute cheap staples in poor neighborhoods. In the process INESPRE has been severely criticized – by producers for undercutting local production in favor of imports, by neighborhood colmados for competing with them and making it difficult for them to stay in business, and by several sectors for alleged improprieties in the bidding and distribution processes. JAD President Osmar Benítez explained that JAD would prefer that the government dissolve INESPRE and create a new, more transparent Commercialization Institute, which he pointed out was originally envisioned in the program of the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) for President Fernández’s government. The new agency would untouched by past INESPRE scandals, such as recent allegations regarding rice imports. A new, separate entity could be designed to handle INESPRE’s more recent anti-poverty mission, namely helping to feed the poor. JAD would also like to see the Government reactivate the Bolsa Agropecuaria so that market mechanisms can promote cheaper prices through open pricing and bidding processes. He pointed out that such markets are functioning successfully in Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Nicaragua.

Senate approves Rice Institute creation
The Senate approved yesterday a law creating a National Rice Institute (INA) to be located in Nagua. Beginning in the year 2000 the INA will have an annual budget of RD$100 million. The INA, like the Coffee Institute before it, is intended to promote Dominican production of the commodity and improve its quality.

Invivienda Industrial Park devastated by fire
An industrial park located in Santo Domingo’s Invivienda sector was devastated by an early-morning fire yesterday. The Santo Domingo Fire Corps had to call in ten units to combat the blaze at about 5:00 am. It took nearly three hours to bring under control, in part because the firemen lost use of water for awhile due to low pressure. The fire began at La Castellaña, which manufacturers, imports and exports furniture, mattresses and curtains; their facility was completely destroyed. La Castellaña manages the industrial park. Authorities are investigating the cause of the blaze. The firemen’s difficulties with water pressure while combating this fire has raise again calls for the modernization of the Corps with a full complement of pump trucks.

Drop in tourists arriving via Puerto Plata
Tourism Minister Félix Jiménez said yesterday that the number of tourists arriving in the DR via Puerto Plata/Sosua’s Gregorio Luperón International Airport fell in 1998. According to Ministry figures, a record 739,325 tourists came through the airport in 1997, but in 1998 only 666,353. He noted, however, that in the 1990-1997 tourist traffic through the airport rose at an annual average of 9.9%, higher than the national average of 8.2%. Jiménez attributed the 1998 drop to rumors in the U.K. about food safety problems in Dominican hotels.

FENATRADO calls transport strike for South
The Dominican Federation of Land Transport (FENATRADO), a collection of some 150 organizations involved in transport, has called for a one-day protest strike on January 22nd in several Southern provinces. Included in the strike area are the provinces of Azua, Barahona, Elías Piña, Jimaní, Neyba, Pedernales and San Juan. According to FENATRADO director José Luis González, the strike is being called to protest government paralysis in rebuilding key regional infrastructure in the wake of Hurricane Georges. He cited as particularly troublesome the lack of progress in public works in San Juan de Maguana. The date of the strike picked is a "bridge" day – a Friday between a national religious holiday (January 21st) and the weekend, which many Dominicans take off from work to form a four-day weekend.

Public Works to ready facilities for National Games
Sports Minister Juan Marichal told reporters at a press conference yesterday that his Ministry was handing over repair and reconstruction work on La Romana sports facilities to the Ministry of Public Works. The press encounter was held to tout the 1998 achievements of the Sports Ministry. Marichal said that his Ministry’s engineers have readied all the necessary plans for Games preparations; all that is needed is the "aggressive" execution Public Works Minister Diandino Peña is known for. The move is intended to ensure that all work on the facilities is finished in time for the Twelfth National Sports Games "La Romana ’99," scheduled for this summer. The Games are an Olympics-style competition held at the national level. In response to questions, Marichal declared that the Fernández Administration never considered postponing the Games. Such denials aside, Marichal’s own Ministry was rife with rumors before Christmas that the Government was seriously considering postponement due to the long lead-time estimated necessary in order to repair the extensive damage done to La Romana sports facilities by Hurricane Georges.

Lions are regular season leaders
The Escogido Lions beat the Cibao Eagles 8-3 at Cibao Stadium last night with a five-run rally in the ninth inning. The victory made the Lions the regular season winners with 40 games won to the Eagles’ 39. Lions thereby automatically win a berth in final series ("playoffs"), while the Eagles must battle the third-place Licey Tigers (33 regular season wins) for the other series berth.

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