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Daily News - 02 February 1999

Chávez meets with Fernández, Fidel Castro
Just hours before being inaugurated as Venezuela’s new President, Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías, met privately with Dominican President Leonel Fernández and Cuban President Fidel Castro at the Caracas hotel where the latter is staying. Although details of the discussion have not been released, it focused on Chávez’s foreign policy plans during his presidency. President Fernández did announce last night, however, that a Dominican technical mission will be going to Caracas within the next few weeks to negotiate an "amplification" of the San José Agreement under which Mexico and Venezuela provide special financing for purchases of their petroleum by Caribbean and Central American nations. No details about what "amplification" means was forthcoming last night. President Fernández is in Caracas, along with 15 other Latin American heads of state, to attend the inauguration.

U.S. diplomat causes stir with JCE visit
The diplomat in charge of representing U.S. interests in the absence of a confirmed Ambassador to the DR, Linda Watt, raised many eyebrows in Santo Domingo yesterday with a visit to Central Election Board (JCE) President Dr. Manuel Ramón Morel Cerda. Watt said that the U.S. "admired" the "laudable" work of the JCE and its importance in the strengthening of Dominican democracy. Every politician tried to put their own spin on the visit, while analysts puzzled over just what message the U.S. was trying to send. Dr. Morel Cerda, clearly pleased by the visit, did his best to portray it as a de facto endorsement of the present JCE membership. Reformista Party (PRSC) leaders suggested that Watts was simply underlining the importance of the JCE, and not necessarily endorsing its current membership. One Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) official, Norge Botello, suggested that the U.S. Embassy was better off staying out of internal Dominican affairs.
The current JCE has been the source of political battles ever since it was appointed last August by the Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD)-controlled Senate without prior consultation of PRSC and PLD about the appointees. Such consensus had been sought in appointing the prior board in order to ensure that it was one all parties could trust to be impartial. This consensus is considered by many to part of the reason the 1996 election results were not contested. After the August appointment, the PRSC filed a court case challenging the JCE membership, alleging that several members, including Morel Cerda, were PRD activists and thus incapable of being impartial. The PLD-controlled Executive Branch also began withholding or delaying delivery of budget moneys to the JCE, crippling its work.

PRD pre-candidates resume party posts
The party luminaries vying for the presidential nomination of the PRD yesterday decided to resume their official leadership posts and actively guide their Party’s political strategy. Meeting at the home of pre-candidate Hatuey Decamps, Senator Milagros Ortíz Bosch, ex-Santo Domingo Mayor Rafael ("Fello") Suberví Bonilla, Decamps and former Agriculture Minister Hipólito Mejía all agreed that they needed to resume a more active hand in guiding Party strategy. The sixth PRD pre-candidate, Senator José Rafael Abinader, did not attend because he was traveling abroad. He did, however, announce his support for the move. Several months ago the various pre-candidates had voluntarily left their posts within the PRD’s directive body, the Presidium, to avoid charges of using the privileges and powers of those posts to influence the race for the Party’s nomination for President in the year 2000 elections. Now Decamps returns to being PRD Secretary-General, while the rest will resume posts as PRD Vice Presidents. The idea for the six to return to actively guiding the Party was first proposed by Suberví in the wake of the Dominican Municipal League (LMD) fiasco.

Banks should be ready for Y2K
An engineer in charge of system and technology issues at the Superintendency of Banks, Felipe Llaugel, told reporters yesterday that the DR’s banks should be prepared to handle the Year 2000 ("Y2K") computer problem in time. He said that all the smaller Dominican firms already converted their computer systems by end-1998 as required by an Inter-Institutional Commission on the problem. The delay in Y2K proofing computer systems has been at three of the largest banks (not named), and they have been given until March 31 to comply. Then the Superintendency will conduct an audit to check what steps the banks have taken, with a view to certifying all Dominican banks as Y2K compliant by May 15, 1999.

Health Ministry backs frequent checks on doctors
Public Health Minister Dr. Altagracia Guzmán yesterday backed the suggestion that Dominican doctors’ should be tested every two years to ensure that they are staying up-to-date in their fields. The suggestion was made publicly by the National Association of Private Clinics (ANDECLIP), which suggests that checks be made every two years by a tripartite commission to verify that every doctor has had at least 100 hours of professional training in his field during each two-year period. Under the ANDECLIP proposal, the tripartite commission would be composed of the Health Ministry, ANDECLIP and the Dominican Medical Association (AMD). ANDECLIP is proposing that the idea be included in the General Health Law now before Congress. Dr. Guzmán agreed that more frequent testing would oblige doctors to study and stay on top of their specialties, resulting in better quality care for Dominican patients.

Businesses back tax amnesty idea
The National Union of Businessmen (UNE) and the Association of Industrial Firms of Herrera (AEIH) yesterday backed the tax amnesty idea recently espoused by famed businessman José Luis Corripio ("Pepin"). UNE’s President Andrés Dauhajre also backed Corripio’s call for simplification of the DR’s tax bureaucracy and paperwork, with all forms made easy-to-use and all rules clear, precise and easy to comprehend, apply, enforce and inspect. He warned, however, that such an amnesty should be a one-time affair, not to be repeated, and intended solely to allow individuals to address "distortions" in their accounting and tax declarations so that tax payment and collection can proceed more smoothly and accurately thereafter. AEIH’s President, Ignacio Méndez, urged that those seeking amnesty be required to provide full accounting of their ownership and tax liability and to pay all taxes due. It should be an amnesty only in the sense that taxpayers would not be back-charged or fined for taxes not paid in the past which are being brought up-to-date during the amnesty.
The head of the Internal Revenue Directorate-General (DGII), Juan Hernández, has said that the Fernández government would support a "conditional" amnesty as long as it was established by a law passed by Congress. He pointed out that the Administration’s first economic reform package submitted to Congress in 1997 included a type of amnesty where taxpayers would have paid a symbolic fraction of tax owed when they came clean in their reporting to DGII.

FDC: merchants must ally to confront foreign chains
The Dominican Federation of Merchants (FDC) has proposed that all local merchants create a "grand strategic alliance" to confront competition from international distribution chains establishing beachheads in the DR. FDC President Iván de Jesús García warned that without such a pooling or resources and mutual support, the small Dominican neighborhood merchant now common would disappear. He claimed the large supermarket firms are already trying to create chains of neighborhood mini-supermarkets that will "sweep away our colmados." He pointed to the recent announcement that a Costa Rican emporium will soon enter the Dominican market as evidence of the danger. The firm controls 60% of retailing in Costa Rica, he claimed, and Dominican merchants need to make common cause to meet such market power "with a response of the same caliber."

Dozens arrested, 2 cops wounded in Salcedo strike
Two police officers received gunshot wounds and more than 30 people were arrested as a result of Salcedo’s 24-hour strike organized by groups claiming to represent common Dominicans. One of the officers received his wound from an unspecified source during a confrontation with strikers; the other literally shot himself in the foot accidentally with his own firearm. The strike, called by the so-called Collective of Popular Organizations and the Broad Front of the Popular Struggle (FALPO), commenced yesterday at 6:00 am and ended this morning at the same hour. It basically paralyzed Salcedo, a city with a population of 99,000, located about three hours northeast of Santo Domingo. Most commercial establishments, schools and local transportation came to a halt. The strikers are demanding, among other things, that a public hospital not be privatized as now planned, the Salcedo-Villa Tapia y Jayabo highway be completed, neighborhood streets be constructed, a sports complex be finished, and electric transformers be installed in El Cementerio neighborhood. Salcedo’s economy is primarily based on farming.

Chinino back to jail
Retired General Salvador Lluberes Montás ("Chinino") was returned to a cell at the Armed Forces Ministry yesterday after refusing a court-ordered medical check-up. Last week the retired General did not attend court hearings in the Orlando Martínez case pleading poor health. Presiding Judge Katia Miguelina Jiménez Martínez ordered that a physical be done on Chinino by a doctor nominated by the District Attorney within five days to determine if he indeed was physically unable to attend and should be kept in a clinic rather than a jail cell. When the appointed doctor tried to examine the general last weekend at the Centro Medico Yunén, his family blocked him, saying that Chinino’s lawyers were challenging his appointment. The refusal put Chinino back in jail and forces the judge to decide this week on the merits of the challenge and order a new physical so that the results can be known before the full trial resumes on February 10th. 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. Chinino has been accused of being the mastermind behind the Orlando murder. Dr. Balaguer has been called as a witness in the case, but had repeatedly declined to attend court proceedings, pleading ill health.

10 implicated in Alegría escape
The DR’s Attorney General, Mariano Germán Mejía, told reporters yesterday that ten members of the National Drug Control Directorate (DNCD) were implicated in the escape of Víctor Alegría ("Niño el Grande") from DNCD custody. Six of the men were fired, one retired and three arrested. Alegría is wanted in New York City for allegedly murdering a 12-year old Dominican boy. He was arrested by Interpol agents in December and put under DNCD custody pending extradition to the U.S. In early January he escaped the DNCD jail under suspicious circumstances, leading to immediate charges from many quarters that DNCD officers had been bribed to let him escape.

National Games postponed
President Fernández announced yesterday a decision long expected but repeatedly denied by Sports Minister Juan Marichal: the National Games ("La Romana ‘99") will be postponed. Speaking at a mini-press conference honoring the DR’s baseball champions, the Licey Tigers, the President told reporters that the games will be held in February 2000, and that his government would ensure that all the necessary repairs and public works would be done in time to meet that deadline. The postponement was rumored after Hurricane Georges devastated the sports facilities at La Romana. Recently, however, Marichal insisted that no such presidential decision had been made or proposed and that the Games would in fact be held in La Romana during 1999. This flew in the face of studies by engineers suggesting it would require many months of intensive work before La Romana would be ready to host the Olympic-style Games.

DR vs. Venezuela opens Caribbean Series
The Caribbean Baseball Series begins in San Juan, Puerto Rico today at 4 pm with the Dominican Republic facing off against Venezuela in Hiram Bithorn Stadium. Representing the DR will be the Licey Tigers, who won the DR’s Winter Professional Baseball Final Series last weekend. In ceremonies at the National Palace yesterday, President Fernández met the team and congratulated them on their victory. He urged them to "return unconquered." Licey has gone to the Caribbean Series eleven times and has returned victorious seven. The Series schedule is as follows:
  • Tuesday, February 2nd: DR v. Venezuela, 4:00 pm; Mexico v. PR, 8:00 pm
  • Wednesday, Feb. 3rd: DR v. Mexico, 4:00 pm; PR v. Venezuela, 8:00 pm
  • Thursday, Feb. 4th: Venezuela v. Mexico, 4:00 pm; PR v. DR, 8:00 pm
  • Friday, Feb. 5th: Venezuela v. DR, 4:00 pm; PR v. Mexico, 8:00 pm
  • Saturday, Feb. 6th: Mexico v. DR, 2:00 pm; Venezuela v. PR, 6:00 pm
  • Sunday, Feb. 7th: Mexico v. Venezuela, 2:00 pm; DR v. PR, 6:00 pm

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