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Daily News - 09 February 1999

Doctor, teacher, driver strikes puzzle, annoy Dominicans
Yesterday saw the start of two-day strikes called by three different organizations representing doctors, teachers and transport drivers. The tableau left many Dominicans scratching their heads and questioning the motives of the strikers. Tourists and most DR1 readers were for the most part not affected by the strike activities.
The teachers’ strike, called by the Dominican Teachers’ Association (ADP), left classrooms empty in public schools nationwide. Private schools were not affected. The ADP strike has puzzled many a parent and citizen. It was originally called to protest deductions made to teachers’ paychecks, the delay in providing teachers with promised financial incentives, and the Education Ministry’s delay in issuing regulations to give effect to the new General Education Law. But before the strike was convened, the Ministry agreed to rectify the mistake that resulted in the pay deductions and to talk about incentives. Only the regulations delay was left as a strike excuse. National Superior Education Council (CONES) President Alejandrina Germán asked ADP to explain to parents why this merited disrupting tests currently being given to students for their grades.
The doctors’ strike was called by the Dominican Medical Association (AMD) and affected facilities in the Northeast and the national maternity center Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia. The doctors are demanding income increases for their services rendered to public hospitals and clinics. Yesterday Public Health Minister Altagracia Guzmán Marcelino expressed puzzlement at the motivation for the strike. Speaking to reporters at the inauguration of a new family health center in Santo Domingo’s El Tamarindo sector, Dr. Guzmán Marcelino said there was no reason for the strike, and that the AMD had not tried to win its demands through normal channels first. She said that the Fernández Government agrees that doctors need to be paid better, and this issue should have been breached first by AMD in the committee it shares with the Ministry, the government’s Planning Director and the Directorate-General of Hospitals.
The transport strike lasted only for a few hours yesterday and was concentrated in the Eastern portion of Santo Domingo across the Ozama River. Called by the transport union Fenatrano, the strike seeks a cut in gasoline prices and the supposed RD$400 million owed by the government due to a RD$2,000-per taxi subsidy the government started paying drivers back when it first raised gasoline prices. Fenatrano also says it is protesting what it says is government stalling in transferring ownership of new buses on major routes to private operators, although the Director of the Metropolitan Transit Authority (AMET), Hamlet Hermann, says that the process is proceeding apace with no foot-dragging whatever on AMET’s part. The Fenatrano strike primarily inconvenienced employees trying to get work across the river during the morning rush hour, leaving many a worker angry and frustrated. Only the OMSA public buses and private taxis were seen operating along the strike route. Fenatrano has called for more partial-day stoppages today, most again situated in Ozama.

Poll: independents believe government can improve DR
The news daily Listin Diario continues to trickle out the results of the wide-ranging poll it recently conducted with Sigma Dos of Dominicans claiming no affiliation to any political party. This group of Dominican voters are known to often determine the outcome of presidential elections in the DR.
In the latest results released, 42% of the independents polled believe that the Fernández Government will improve the political situation in 1999, while 22% believe the political situation will remain about the same and 28% feel it will worsen. Asked about the economic outlook for 1999, 46% of the independents said they felt it would improve, 20% said it would remain the same, and 26% said it would worsen.
In the broader poll of Dominicans of all political stripes, 72.9% gave priority to "competence" when asked what the Government needed in order to solve the nation’s problems, 59.1% to "clear ideas and well-defined programs" and 55.8% to the backing of the business sector. Interestingly enough, 66.7% said that the support of opposition parties was not necessary, and 62.7% said that the trust of a majority of citizens was not needed either.
Asked what the Government’s priorities should be to improve the DR’s socioeconomic situation, 53% called for repairing and improving streets and highways, 46.4% for fighting crime, 37.5% supplying electricity, 34.8% collecting trash and cleaning streets, 32.5% supplying potable water, 27% improving education, 16.7% improving public health, 13.5% building sewers, 12.9% traffic management, and 8.3% modernizing transport.
Asked about their major socioeconomic concerns, 64.5% replied the high cost of basic goods, 49.4% said unemployment, 43.7% said crime, 28.9% the electricity problem, 19.4% official corruption and 17.7% provision of potable water.

AA pilots’ protest continues affecting passengers
American Airlines (AA) passengers seeking passage to the Dominican Republic continue facing re-routing and delays due to the AA pilot "sick out." AA flights 587, 588, 735 and 1728 on the SD-JFK route have all been canceled. AA has been rerouting passengers via Lacsa, Copa, Aeromar and Iberia airlines to Miami for a SD connection there, or to San Juan, where they are flown to SD on AA’s American Eagle. Some passengers are also being sent to Queen Air, the Dominican airline, on the JFK-SD route that started up last year. The AA pilots are demanding better contracts for the pilots flying Reno Air routes. Reno Air was acquired by AA last year.

DR taking leadership role in Lome Convention talks
In contrast to its past behavior in this forum, the Dominican Republic is taking a lead role in the talks being conducted this week in Dakar, Senegal regarding the new Lome Convention. The Lome Convention is the pact between the Brussels-based European Union (EU) and its former colonies – known in EU parlance as the ACP (Africa, Caribbean, Pacific) nations – regarding social and economic aid, including trade benefits and foreign aid. The Dakar talks are to set up a committee to negotiate on behalf of the 71 ACP nations and to give it a mandate – a set of instructions and demands to push in talks with Brussels. In the past the DR has taken a low profile in ACP activities, sometimes not even sending a full delegation. In contrast, the DR sent a large delegation to Dakar headed by Foreign Minister Eduardo Latorre and Lome Coordinator Max Puig. The DR has even been named the official spokesman for the nations of Caribforum, which brings together the members of the English-speaking Caribbean Common Market (CARICOM) with the DR and Haiti. The Foreign Ministry feels that Increased attention to Lome Convention work will bring substantial benefits to the DR. Last year the DR received only US$27 million in EU cooperation projects, but in the first trimester of 1999 alone some US$119 million is expected.

DR expands its negative list in CARICOM talks
The interagency National Trade Negotiations Committee (CNNC) has announced that the DR will demand more products be exempted from trade liberalization measures when trade talks resume with the Caribbean Common Market (CARICOM) next month. CNNC spokesman Frederic Emám-Zadé said that the DR will expand its draft "negative list" of products to, among other things, bring it in line with the Technical Rectification the DR made to its Uruguay Round world trade treaty commitments [the Technical Rectification, which came into effect last month, is an amendment of the DR’s agricultural trade commitments, allowing it to derogate from treaty rules to impose higher tariffs on eight categories when imports reach a certain quota level]. The DR signed a broad free trade agreement with CARICOM last August, leaving the details of implementing the free trade commitment to technical protocols to be negotiated later. Among these is a "negative list" of items not to receive some or all of the market access or tariff-cutting benefits of the treaty. When negotiators sat down last November to exchange drafts of the negative list, CARICOM demanded inclusion of 900 items while the DR was only seeking 15. Dominican negotiators suspended talks, saying both sides should reconsider their lists to seek a better balance in commitments. Last month it was agreed that the revised lists would be presented to a March meeting of CARICOM Prime Ministers in Suriname, who would then issue new negotiating instructions to the CARICOM team.
In a related story, the news daily El Siglo reports that a reliable CNNC source says that there is little sympathy within the CNNC for Dominican industry demands for special sectoral protection under the treaty with CARICOM. In recent months the Dominican Metallurgical Complex (METALDOM), makers of glass beverage bottles, and producers of beans, corn, meats, milk, rice and sugar have all called for sweeping sectoral protections under the treaty protocols. Without such protections, they all argue, Dominican producers in these sectors will go bankrupt from CARICOM competition. El Siglo’s CNNC source noted that in each sector involved there is not a united stance among Dominican producers. If these sectors can produce a consensus proposal, then CNNC might entertain it. Absent that, CNNC will negotiate with CARICOM "whatever favors the Dominican consumer."

Local industry textile opposes clothing proposal
One of the largest local producers of textiles and clothing for the local market, Ernesto Vilalta, yesterday declared unwavering opposition to a government draft proposal to allow more local sales of clothing produced in the nation’s free trade zones (FTZs, or "zonas francas" as they are known in the DR). Speaking to Hoy newspaper, Vilalta declared that he would fight a legislative proposal being drafted by the National FTZ Council. The Council wants to lower the local content requirement for clothing made within FTZs that is intended for sale in the Dominican market. Vilalta said that he supports "parity" for the DR to compete with Mexican textiles in the U.S. market, but opposes allowing greater FTZ-based competition for local market share with strictly local producers. Such competition would be unfair, he pointed out, since FTZ-based producers do not pay taxes or municipal fees, and their input costs are lower because of special tariff breaks granted to FTZ-based businesses.

Diplomacy School being built
The Public Works Ministry has begun construction on the Diplomacy School on the grounds of the Foreign Ministry, located on the Malecón near Ave. Lincoln. The 3,900 cubic meter structure will house a school for training diplomats as part of the Fernández Government’s efforts to create a professional career foreign service for the DR. The structure will include a 300-person capacity auditorium to be used for negotiations and international meetings. The school is being built and its programs set up and launched with the help of Brazil, France, Mexico, Spain and Venezuela.

Even the government must pay its electric bills
Yesterday the Dominican Electricity Corporation demonstrated that it was serious when it recently announced that it would start treating state institutions like any other account behind in its payments: it cut off the electricity. In the Santo Domingo area CDE cut off electricity for the Directorate-General of Internal Revenue (DGII) and the Airport Commission, but soon re-established power for these two entities once they made down payments on their debt. In Santiago CDE cut off electricity to several state institutions because of their payment arrears, plunging the Santiago Aqueduct and Sewer Corporation (CORAASAN), the Palace of Justice and the national government offices, "El Huacalito," into darkness. CDE Public Relations Manager Domingo Páez said that power will remain cut off state institutions in arrears until they make payment arrangements and at least a down payment on their considerable debt to CDE, just like any private sector client. This will apply to military offices as well. The sole exceptions will be hospitals and public schools. In Santiago, Engineer Félix Tavárez, CDE Administrator for the Northern Region, told reporters that government institutions located in CDE’s Northern Region consume RD$50 million worth of power every month, yet most "do not pay a cent" of their electric bill. CORAASAN alone owes RD$433 million. Tavárez said that the only state institutions in his Region that pay their bills regularly are the Agriculture Bank, the Tobacco Institute and the state-owned firms Compañía Anónima Tabacalera and Molinos del Norte.

Casandra Awards tonight
Do not miss tonight’s television 8:30 pm broadcast of the Casandra Awards, the Dominican equivalent of the Grammy and Emmy Awards named for legendary Dominican performer Casandra Damirón. The Casandra awards are given to 47 categories of show business 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. The awards ceremony normally is held on a Monday night, but this year was changed to Tuesday so that international singing star Gloria Estefan could attend and receive a special tribute and award. Other international stars expected to attend are Venezuela’s José Luís Rodríguez ("El Puma"), Puerto Rico’s new pop sensation Chayanne (who starred in the recent film "Dance with Me" with Vanessa Williams), PR’s Elvis Crespo (a merengue singer nominated this year for a Grammy for his hit "Suavemente"). Voting for the awards was conducted by Arcoarte last Sunday.

DR wins Caribbean Series
The Dominican Republic’s Licey Tigers defeated Puerto Rico’s Mayagüez Indians 6-5 last night to win the 29th Caribbean Baseball Series. Last night’s game at San Juan’s Hiram Bithorn Stadium was an extra to break a Series tie between the two teams. It ended in thrilling fashion, going into twelve innings because of a 4-4 tie at the end of the ninth. Hearts skipped a beat in the DR when Puerto Rico’s Ferdinand Rodríguez knocked a home run in the 12th, pulling PR ahead 5-4. However, when the DR’s turn at bat game David Ortíz Arias batted one into left field with bases loaded, bringing in tow runs and clinching the game.
The win is the twelfth for the DR in the Caribbean Series and the third in a row: the Cibao Eagles won it at Hermosillo, Mexico in 1997, and again at Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela in 1998. It is the eighth Caribbean title for Licey.
The Series’ Most Valuable Player (MVP) award was given to the DR’s Neifi Pérez, the first player ever to receive the Caribbean Series MVP award two years in a row.

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