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Daily News - 29 January 1999

Chávez visits after all
Just one day after his closest advisors had announced that Venezuelan President-elect Hugo Chávez would postpone his Thursday visit to the DR for health reasons, the controversial politician came anyway. He called Dominican President Leonel Fernández from Washington, D.C. to give just five hours warning that he would visit Santo Domingo after all. Chávez, accompanied by his advisors and many of his future ministers, arrived at Las Américas International Airport at 3:00 pm, where he was met by Vice President Jaime David Fernández Mirabal and Foreign Minister Eduardo Latorre. He was received by President Fernández and members of his Cabinet at the National Palace at about 4:00 pm. They held an immediate meeting, followed afterward by a late lunch.
During the meeting, lunch and in remarks to reporters afterwards, the future Venezuelan head-of-state repeated his past declarations that he envisions a special place for the DR in his Administration’s foreign policy, creating what he called a "Venezuelan-Dominican axis." He promised to expand and energize bilateral relations between the two countries, including improved benefits for the DR under the long-standing San José Agreement, which provides concessionary terms for purchases of Mexican and Venezuelan petroleum by Caribbean and Central American nations. One area Chávez singled out for closer Dominican-Venezuelan cooperation is the fight against drug trafficking. He also promised improved trade and commercial ties, and said that his Administration will provide every possible aid it can to the DR social and economic programs. "I want to say to the Dominican Government and to the beautiful and great people of Santo Domingo that over there, across the Caribbean [Sea], they have a brother, a President with his eyes fixed on the Caribbean and his heart beating in the Dominican Republic." Dominican diplomats and Chávez advisors have been instructed to hammer out a full, formal work agenda for improving all aspects of bilateral relations.
Chávez repeatedly praised President Fernández, whom he labeled the region’s "standard-bearer" of democracy and constitutional reform. President Fernández has promised to attend the presidential inauguration of Chávez in Caracas next Tuesday, February 2nd.

Maríñez sets up rival LMD office
Underlining his determination not to concede loss of the top job at the Dominican Municipal League (LMD), Julio Maríñez Rosario (Dominican Revolutionary Party – PRD) yesterday set up a "provisional office" in the PRD-controlled municipal offices of the National District in order to continue acting as LMD Secretary-General (SG). Yesterday his rival for the post, Senator Amable Aristy Castro [Reformista Party (PRSC) – Altagracia], was installed at LMD headquarters with a heavy security contingent and a swearing in by Interior and Police Minister Ramón Andrés Blanco Fernández.
On Tuesday, January 26th, two parallel "assemblies" of municipality representatives were held which elected two 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 convenor) of the General Municipal Assembly, the body normally charged with electing the organization’s SG. PRSC and Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) sympathizers meanwhile 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 (Aristy Castro does not have a university degree).
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.
The Aristy Castro and Maríñez Rosario office shows aside, the battle for control of the LMD now shifts to the Supreme Court, where PRD lawyers are filing briefs challenging the legality of Aristy Castro’s election. Still unclear is the stance of the Presidency toward such a legal challenge. Newspapers reported that the President’s Legal Counsel had said that the Executive Branch would not recognize the Court’s authority to hear the case, but yesterday denied making such a declaration.
In a related story, PRD President in charge of functions Tony Raful declared that 95 mayors belonging to PRD and its allies will ignore any measures ordered by Aristy Castro.

Taking the LMD dispute to the OAS?
As the first step in a planned international campaign to denounce the Fernández Administration for alleged violations of human rights during the LMD affair, Senator Jesús Vásquez Martínez yesterday deposited a formal complaint with the Organization of American States (OAS) along with a copy of the Senate resolution condemning the Administration for the military cordon around the LMD, the wounding of two Senators and the police confrontation with Senate President Ramón Alburquerque. Other Senators within the PRD-led Santo Domingo Agreement (ASD) coalition will be filling similar complaints with the United Nations, the European Parliament, Socialist International, national parliaments in Latin America, the U.S. Congress, Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue and the Carter Foundation.

SECTUR, ASONAHORES: Tourism not affected by LMD fight
The Tourism Ministry (SECTUR) yesterday labeled as completely false the reports by Spanish media that thousands of Spaniards have canceled DR vacations in response to perceived violence in the struggle over the LMD. The Dominican Association of Hotels and Restaurants (ASONAHORES) likewise said telephone checks with the DR’s hotels and tour operators said bookings had not been affected. ASONAHORES stressed that tourists in the city and popular beach resort destinations have been unaware of the political scuffle. Life goes on as usual in Santo Domingo. The exception is the police that are stationed around the National Congress and LMD headquarters, both on the extension of Winston Churchill Avenue near the intersection of Independencia Avenue. Unless one is a PRD, PLD or PRSC politician, the story of the LMD is but a storm in a tea cup. Today, in Santo Domingo, attention is focused on who will win the Escogido-Licey ball game tonight, and the Professional Baseball Winter Championship.

Orlando case hearings postponed
The judge overseeing the Orlando Martínez murder trial, Katia Miguelina Jiménez Martínez, decided yesterday to adjourn the proceedings until February 10th. She made the decision in order to provide time for a doctor chosen by the Prosecutor to examine one of the defendants, retired General Salvador Lluberes Montás ("Chinino") and determine if there is merit to his petition to be excused from court appearances due to health reasons. The delay will also allow time for one of the witnesses called in the case, former President Joaquín Balaguer, to return to the country after his medical treatment in the U.S. It might also allow prosecutors a chance to clarify the status of their expedition request to the U.S. to return the alleged trigger man, ex-Air Force sergeant Mariano Durán. Durán is under arrest in New York pending a U.S. court’s decision on the DR’s extradition request. Judge Jiménez Martínez had originally postponed proceedings last December until yesterday in the hopes that Durán would be processed and extradited in the interim in order to attend the trial. However, it was revealed on Wednesday 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.
The trial concerns the 1975 murder of journalist Orlando Martínez Howley. Martínez had been critical of the government of then-President 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 bank 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: in addition to Chinino, retired generals Joaquín Antonio Pou Castro and José Isidoro Martínez, plus former military men 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.

Another FAD officer arrested in Narcisazo case
The judge in charge of the investigation into the 1994 disappearance (and presumed murder) of Professor Narciso González ("Narcisazo") yesterday ordered the arrest of a second Dominican Air Force (FAD) officer. Judge Eduardo Sánchez Ortíz ordered Lt. Colonel Manuel C. Pérez Vólquez jailed on suspicion of complicity in kidnapping Narcisazo. In 1994 Pérez Vólquez was an aide to General Rafael Reyes Bencosme, the first FAD officer put under arrest by Judge Sánchez Ortíz. Narcisazo, a vocal critic of then-President Joaquín Balaguer, was rumored to have been picked up by agents of FAD’s A-2 Intelligence group just before his disappearance, so the investigation has focused on FAD officials past and present.

EU will finance environmental programs for Dominican firms
The 15-nation European Union (EU) will finance a technical program to help Dominican firms lessen their adverse environmental impacts and set up environmental management systems. The program was announced yesterday by the National Coordinator for the Lome IV Convention, Max Puig. Lome IV is the pact the EU has with former colonies in Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific ("ACP nations") to help their socioeconomic development through favorable trade terms, special loans, aid and technical assistance. The new environmental assistance program will be funded through Lome IV, but run via the ACP-EU Center for the Development of Industry (CDI) and implemented on the technical side by the German Technical Cooperation Agency (GTZ). GTZ is well-known for its substantial technical advisory services in the environmental field in Latin America. Puig explained that under the program technical studies and expert assistance will be paid for by CDI, but the implementation of the recommendations therefrom will be the sole responsibility of the Dominican firms involved. The Belgian expert in charge of the project, Eveline Branders, explained that in addition to such direct assistance, the program will seek to train local experts to provide similar services and to offer general programs to make Dominican industry more aware of their responsibility to the environment and the competitive advantages good environmental stewardship can bring in the global marketplace.

DR & Cuba sign health cooperation pact
Public Health Minister Altagracia Guzmán Marcelino has signed 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, salvage of medical equipment and in technology transfer. The pact was signed against the backdrop of a meeting of Health Ministers from Central America, Cuba and the DR being held yesterday and today at Boca Chica’s Hamaca Hotel. Sponsored by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the two-day meeting is intended to foster exchange of experience, information and ideas among ministers about the management of health care delivery in their nations

Guzmán and IDSS favor national medical exams
Public Health Minister Dr. Altagracia Guzmán Marcelino and the Dominican Social Security Institute (IDSS) said yesterday that they favor a proposal to require recent medical school grads to take national medical exams to prove that they are fit to practice. The national exam proposal was made earlier this week by a well-known doctor, Hugo Mendoza, in an interview with the news daily El Siglo. Mendoza echoed the oft-cited concern that not every graduate of the DR’s many medical schools is adequately prepared to start practicing and that educational standards between the schools varies widely.

150 students sickened by bad milk
150 students participating in the school breakfast program in San Francisco de Macorís were sickened yesterday by contaminated milk. Dozens were hospitalized with severe dehydration due to vomiting and diarrhea before health officials traced the common thread between the cases. Officials are now trying to determine the source of the milk and how it may have become contaminated.

Gloria sparks Cassandra dilemma
International recording star Gloria Estefan is ruffling many feathers among the organizers and the sponsor of the Cassandra Awards, the DR’s equivalent of the Grammy Awards for musical acts. The awards, named for legendary Dominican performer Cassandra Damirón, are given each year by the DR’s Asociación de Cronistas de Arte (Association of Art Reporters -- Arcoarte), in a televised ceremony at the National Theater sponsored by Dominican National Brewery (CND), makers of Presidente beer. Estefan was invited to the 1998 ceremony to receive a special "International Cassandra," but could not attend. She has repeatedly promised ever since to attend the 1999 ceremony, scheduled for Monday night, February 8th. Arcoarte was so confident of her attendance that it had already prepared a ceremony segment paying homage to the famed Cuban-American singer, featuring performances of some of her more famous songs by singers Linette Caba, Audrey Campos and Katherine Rose. However, it emerged yesterday that Estefan has made a conflicting commitment for a movie shooting with film star Meryl Streep in New York on the same day, and is asking Arcoarte to postpone the ceremonies until February 9th so that she can attend. The request has caused consternation at Arcoarte and CND, who want the international press attention Estefan’s attendance would bring but know that a postponement may preclude the attendance of other invited international stars and many of the over 50 Dominican stars expected to attend. Many international stars run a tight schedule that allows them to attend only the evening of the ceremony. Many major Dominican stars tend to plan their international tours to start the day after the Cassandra awards ceremony.

PanAm Games Commission reports to President
A special commission designated to start the preparation process for the 2003 Pan American (PanAm) Games delivered their initial report to President Fernández at the National Palace yesterday. A delegation from the special commission formed by the Dominican Olympic Committee (COD) was led by COD President Dr. José Joaquín Puello and COD Secretary-General Luisín Mejía Oviedo and was accompanied by the Sports Minister, baseball legend Juan Marichal, and Public Works Minister Diandino Peña. The report covered not only the commitments made by the DR in the course of winning the bid to host the Games, but the tasks that lie ahead in getting preparations underway.
Among the issues the Commission discussed with the President were the composition of the official Organizing Committee for the 2003 Games, and more specifically, who should head the Organizing Committee. Rumors have been circulating in the Dominican press that businessman José León Asensio would be named President of the Organizing Committee, but yesterday he officially declined the honor in a letter to the COD. León Asensio said that the preparations his firm, E. León Jimenes, is undertaking to celebrate its 100th anniversary in the year 2003 would preclude his devoting attention to the PanAm Games. Sports Minister Marichal told reporters after the meeting that the membership of the Organizing Committee, including its President, will likely be officially announced at a media event tentatively slated for February 21st.
The COD officials and Minister Marichal also reportedly discussed plans for the DR’s participation in this July’s PanAm Games in Winnipeg, Canada; preparations for the National Games in La Romana this year, and repairs needed at the Juan Pablo Duarte Olympic Center in Santo Domingo after the damage wrought by Hurricane Georges.

Baseball series goes to the wire
The Licey Tigers won Game Eight of the Winter Professional Baseball Tournament’s Final Series, making tonight’s match the one that determines the champion. Licey beat the Escogido Lions 4-2 after coming from behind to tie the Lions in the seventh inning, and then sealing Escogido’s fate with two runs in the eighth. The last game will be played tonight at 8 pm at Santo Domingo’s Quisqueya Stadium; seats are guaranteed to be sold out for the showdown between these fierce rivals. The Tournament winner will represent the DR at the Caribbean Series next week in San Juan, Puerto Rico, February 2-7.

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