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Daily News - 28 January 1999

Aristy Castro installed as LMD head
Accompanied by the Interior and Police Minister and a heavy security contingent, Senator Amable Aristy Castro [Reformista Party (PRSC) – Altagracia] yesterday was led into the headquarters of the Dominican Municipal League (LMD) and sworn into office in a brief, impromptu ceremony. Interior Minister Ramón Andrés Blanco Fernández did the swearing in, proclaiming, on his authority, Aristy Castro as the legitimate LMD Secretary-General (SG).
The brief show was only the latest installment in a bizarre political drama begun months ago and reaching a crescendo within the past week. Since Aristy Castro announced his candidacy for the position early last autumn, he has claimed the support of the ruling Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) and to have lined up enough votes to win the SG spot at January 26 elections. The sitting LMD SG, Julio Maríñez Rosario (Dominican Revolutionary Party – PRD), and PRD allies swore that they would not allow the LMD to leave PRD control. They argued that since PRD won most of the nation’s municipal elections last May, the LMD is rightfully theirs. (Note: Maríñez himself was elected to the post in 1995 when the PLD allied with his party, with their delegates voting against the PRSC candidate. At the time, the PRSC had the majority of city governments, as the PRD has today.)
The PRD has repeatedly accused the PRSC and PLD or buying votes or bullying delegates to the General Municipal Assembly – the body that usually elects the SG – to vote for Aristy Castro. Party spokesmen also pointed out that LMD rules called for the SG candidates to have a university degree, which Aristy Castro does not.
At stake in this political battle is the League’s control of 4% of the national budget, currently RD$6 billion (about US$400 million at current exchange rates). PRD wants to retain control of the League, arguing that it is rightfully theirs after they won most of the nation’s municipal elections in 1998. The PRSC, which since the last elections has controlled no major national political institution, sees this post as insurance that it will remain a major political force.
On Tuesday, January 26th, the two sides held parallel "assemblies" and elected different SGs. PRD and allied delegates met in Santo Domingo’s Embajador Hotel and "re-elected" Maríñez Rosario after "nullifying" the designation of Minister Blanco Fernández as President Ex-Officio (and thus convenor) of the Municipal Assembly. PRSC and PLD sympathizers met at the Macorix Hotel in San Pedro de Macorís and "elected" Aristy Castro after "amending" LMD rules to allow any prominent national politician to stand for the SG position, whether a college graduate or not.
Yesterday’s show at LMD headquarters notwithstanding, the battle for control of the LMD is not yet over. It now shifts to the Supreme Court, where PRD lawyers are already filing briefs challenging the legality of Aristy Castro’s election.
For his part, Aristy Castro yesterday apologized to the PRD and its allied parties in the Santo Domingo Agreement (ASD) coalition, claiming that he had never intended to offend them by standing for the office. He promised "not to persecute anybody" because of their stance during the political fight, and not to dismiss LMD employees "even if they are botellas," using the Dominican nickname for employees receiving paychecks but whom never work. He also reiterated his pledge to resign as Senator to devote his full energies to the LMD, and to campaign to raise the municipalities’ slice of the national budget to 17%.

Reactions to events of the LMD struggle
Reactions to the events surrounding the LMD fight have come from all quarters within the last 48 hours, in large part due to the shootings on Monday and the Tuesday deployment of armed troops. On the international side, Socialist International (SI), the international political organization to which PRD is affiliated and of which deceased PRD leader José Francisco Peña Gomez was an officer, yesterday expressed its "profound concern" over the events of the last few days and called on President Fernández to intervene "decisively" to prevent the situation from degenerating into a "massive aggression" against PRD. SI affiliates in Latin America and Europe have been asked to send similar messages to the Dominican President. During his recent trip to Europe, Dominican President Leonel Fernández noted that most of the governments of the European Union (EU) were now controlled by SI affiliates, and that his government wanted to foster good relations with them. The presidential remarks sparked rumors in Santo Domingo that Fernández’s PLD would seek SI affiliation, after years of questioning the importance of the international political body.
The Washington, D.C.-based Human Rights Watch yesterday called on the Dominican Government to launch an official investigation into the "political violence" associated with the LMD case, including the wounding of a Senator and several journalists. HRW is a human rights watchdog group whose work is often cited by Members of the U.S. Congress. HRW Executive Director José Miguel Vivanco deplored the "indiscriminate use of force" by Dominican authorities against political activists. He said that events of the past three days appear to violate international and Dominican human rights norms regarding the right to assemble, the right of free association and right of free movement, and should be investigated as such.
At the national level, the Plenary of the National Council of Private Enterprise (CONEP), the business group representing 25 business associations, yesterday adopted a resolution expressing grave concern over the events of the past few days, and calling on all parties to respect the law and rule of law. It called on the Catholic Church to try to mediate a solution to the crisis.
The National Union of Businessmen (UNE) yesterday called upon President Fernández to take a personal hand in finding a peaceful resolution to the LMD crisis. UNE head Andrés Dauhajre called upon Fernández to act "like the President of the Republic, and not a member of the Central Committee of his party" and seek a quick and peaceful resolution to the crisis. He said that the three political parties involved in the LMD fight have no idea of the damage they are causing to the image abroad of the DR, noting that TVE, Spain’s state-owned televisions chain, has projected images to 20 countries of armed Dominican troops with the Congress in the background.

Senate wants to interrogate Interior Minister
The Senate yesterday adopted a resolution demanding that Interior and Police Minister Blanco Fernández appear in its chambers next Tuesday, February 2nd, at 3:00 pm to answer its questions about the "arbitrary and abusive" closing of the LMD facilities and impeding the access thereto of Senators. The resolution was proposed by Senator Milton Ray Guevarra (PRD-Samaná) and approved by the 17 ASD Senators attending. No PLD or PRSC Senators attended the session.

ASONAHORES: No impact yet from LMD incidents
The Executive Vice President of the National Association of Hotels and Restaurants (ASONAHORES), Arturo Villanueva, worried aloud yesterday that the widely reported LMD struggle and associated scenes of violence and disorder might harm the DR’s tourism industry this winter and spring. In a presentation yesterday of the 1998 results for the sector, Villanueva reminded politicians that one of the DR’s principal assets in attracting tourists has been its image of peace and warm hospitality; they should reflect on that and seek a more harmonious solution to the LMD problem. Today’s Hoy newspaper claims that information it has obtained shows that 40,000 reservations for DR vacations have already been canceled in Spain alone in response to the political crisis. ASONAHORES, however, claims that its check of hotels does not reveal any significant impact in the form of cancellations, although it cautions that the full impact cannot yet be assessed, since it may come in the form of many tourists simply not choosing the DR as the site for their vacation in the first place.

Orlando case reopens today
The famous Orlando Martínez case resumes today in the Tenth Penal Court of the National District under the direction of Judge Katia Miguelina Jiménez Martínez. The trial concerns the 1975 murder of journalist Orlando Martínez Howley. Martínez had been critical of the government of then-President Dr. Joaquín Balaguer, but it is believed that he may have been assassinated because he was about to uncover in his column an economic scandal involving the State Sugar Council (CEA). In his famous biography, "Memories of a Courtesan," Dr. Balaguer left a blank page (No. 295) about the case that he said would be filled in after his death, hinting that he knows critical secrets about the murder or its original police investigation. Five former military men are standing trial for the murder: retired generals Salvador Llubers Montás ("Chinino"), Joaquín Antonio Pou Castro and José Isidoro Martínez, plus former military Rafael Alfredo Lluberes Ricart and Luis Emilio de la Rosa. Dr. Balaguer has been called as a witness, but had repeatedly declined to attend court proceedings, pleading ill health. He will not attend today’s hearing because he is currently in Houston, Texas, undergoing medical treatment. Another key figure missing from today’s proceedings will be ex-Air Force sergeant Mariano Durán, believed to have been the trigger man in the killing. Durán is under arrest in New York pending a decision on the DR’s extradition request. Judge Jiménez Martínez had originally postponed proceedings last December until today in the hopes that Durán would be processed and extradited in the interim in order to attend the trial. However, it was revealed yesterday that Dominican authorities committed a major procedural error which has slowed the processing of the extradition request: they did not submit a copy of the request in English, as U.S. law requires. Prosecutors are expected to ask the judge today for more time in order to get Durán back on Dominican soil and into the courtroom.

EIU: DR has one of highest growth rates in world
The London-based Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), a highly-respected, widely-read political and economic information and analysis service, reported this week that the DR’s 1998 growth rate was one of the highest in the world, and several times higher than the average for Latin America. The EIU says that the Dominican economy grew 7.3% last year, one of the highest, despite the severe damages caused by Hurricane Georges to many sectors of the economy. It predicts a 1999 growth rate in the DR’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 6.8%, higher than that forecast for China, India (6.5%) and Taiwan (4.4%), and far higher than the average of 0.8% predicted for Latin America as a whole.

Pass IP reforms, Bonetti urges
At the opening yesterday of the National Seminar on Intellectual Property (IP) Protection at Santo Domingo’s Plaza Naco Hotel, Commerce and Industry Minister Luis Manuel Bonetti called for the urgent passage this year of the IP reforms contained in the draft Market Regulation Code the Fernández Administration recently sent to Congress. Bonetti explained that the Code provisions were drafted with the help of the Geneva-based World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the UN body charged with managing IP issues, with a view toward ensuring the DR’s fulfillment of its treaty commitments under the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Uruguay Round trade agreement on Trade-Related Intellectual Property ("TRIPs Accord"). The TRIPs commitment would require significant changes in IP protections under patent, trademark, copyright, software and trade secrets laws. As such, it will fundamentally change how a wide variety of Dominican companies do business.
The seminar, cosponsored by the Industry and Commerce Ministry and WIPO, features a series of discussions and panels involving international and national IP experts and touching on the TRIPs requirements, existing international IP conventions and agreements, IP laws and experience elsewhere (particularly in Latin America), and what changes the DR’s regime must undergo. The Seminar is slated to conclude this afternoon.
Meanwhile, in a press conference at the Gran Lina Hotel timed to coincide with the Seminar, the Dominican Association of Software Producers (Prosoft Dominicana), the National Association of Informatics Businesses (ANEINO) and the Association of Computer Companies (ASETEC) decried the high level of software piracy in the DR, which they claim is around 90%. They claimed the high piracy rates are hurting the development of the DR’s informatics industry, particularly its employment-generation capacity. Jamie Angeles, Prosoft Dominicana’s Executive Director, told reporters that "we’re not asking the government to do something extraordinary, but rather to enforce the law that’s been on the books for 13 years."

Health Ministers meet in Boca Chica
The Ministers responsible for Public Health and Social Security of the Central American nations, DR and Cuba will meet today and tomorrow at Boca Chica’s Hamaca Hotel. The two-day meeting, sponsored by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), will promote an exchange of experience, information and ideas among ministers about the management of health care delivery in their nations. Attending will be the Ministers from Belize, Costa Rica, Cuba, DR, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama. They will discuss common problems and different responses to the difficulties of providing basic health care to all their citizens, keeping costs down and quality of care improving, and the general economic "sustainability" of their public health care and social security health care regimes.
Yesterday Public Health Minister Altagracia Guzmán Marcelino announced that during the course of the meeting she will sign a health cooperation agreement with her counterpart from Cuba, Carlos Dotres. The agreement provides for Cuban assistance to the DR in primary health care delivery, hospital management, creation of medical rescue teams and in technology transfer.

ILO & DR agree to modernize civil service
The Labor Ministry, National Office of Personnel Administration (ONAP) and the Geneva-based International Labor Organization (ILO) signed an agreement yesterday under which the ILO will help the Dominican government update and modernize the human resources management of its civil and administrative services. Under the agreement, the ILO will assist the Ministry and ONAP in creating a new system of rules, exams, evaluation procedures, etc. designed to promote a professional civil service and administrative support service where government employees advance according to performance and merit and not according to political affiliation.

IDSS & doctors reach accord on dismissals
The Dominican Social Security Institute (IDSS) and the IDSS Medical Group (AMIDSS), which represents doctors employed by IDSS, yesterday signed an agreement to try to resolve their dispute over the dismissal last week of 242 doctors. After the sudden dismissals the AMIDSS and the larger Dominican Medical Association (AMD) had put their members on alert and threatened to go on a national strike. The doctors’ groups argued that most, if not all, of the dismissals had not been justified and that the dismissals did not follow current Dominican law regarding contracting medical services (Law 6097). Under the agreement reached yesterday, IDSS will review each doctor’s file individually, and give special consideration to those who work in the country’s interior provinces. IDSS also pledges to follow strictly the rules and procedures set out in Law 6097.

Escogido pulls ahead
The Escogido Lions came from behind in the sixth inning to eventually win 4-3 last night against the Licey Tigers, breaking the tie in games won in the Final Series of the Winter Professional Baseball Tournament. The victory puts Escogido just one game away from winning the Series – to get the Tournament trophy, a team must only be the first to win five games in the Series. Game Eight will be held tonight at 8:00 pm in Santo Domingo’s Quisqueya Stadium. The Tournament winner will represent the DR at the Caribbean Series to be held in San Juan, Puerto Rico February 2-7.

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