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Daily News - 12 February 1999

AA hopes to return flights to normalcy today
American Airlines hopes to have all its flights to the Dominican Republic back on normal footing today after a Dallas judge ruled yesterday that the pilots’ "sick out" was illegal. AA flights in the U.S. and throughout the Americas have been disrupted all week by large numbers of pilots calling in sick to force the airlines to negotiate with them regarding conditions for integration of Reno Air into AA. The DR flights have been particularly hard-hit, as AA has often shifted its DR route crews to cover other flights. Yesterday morning both the New York and Miami flights to Santo Domingo were canceled, but the afternoon flights from Santo Domingo to these two U.S. cities were realized.

President reviews tourism sector problems
President Fernández yesterday met at the National Palace with officials of the National Association of Hotels and Restaurants (ASONAHORES) to review the concerns of the tourism sector and government plans for the sector. ASONAHORES Executive President Rafael Blanco Canto and Executive Vice President Arturo Villanueva had been invited to meet with the President through an invitation communicated by Tourism Minister Felucho Jiménez. Both sides called the meeting "fruitful." ASONAHORES discussed its concerns about the need to improve infrastructure and public services in key tourism poles, and President Fernández briefed the executives on a loan for this purpose that the DR is seeking from the World Bank.

Judge gives both sides 2 days to document LMD case
First Circuit Judge Félix Brito Mata yesterday gave both sides in the Dominican Municipal League (LMD) case two working days to document their case as to why the municipal assembly held January 26 in San Pedro de Macorís (SPM) was legal or illegal. A hearing scheduled for next Thursday, February 18th, will be based on this documentation. The SPM assembly was convened by Interior and Police Minister Ramón Andrés Blanco Fernández, in the role of president ex officio of the League, and it elected Senator Amable Aristy Castro [Reform Party (PRSC) – Altagracia] as the new LMD Secretary-General (SG) after changing a League rule about SG candidates needing a college degree (Aristy Castro has none). The Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD) held its own municipal assembly in Santo Domingo on the same day and "re-elected" Julio Maríñez Rosario (PRD). It then challenged in court the legality of the SPM assembly and Aristy Castro’s election.

Struggle over international loans
Senate President Ramón Alburquerque (PRD-Monte Plata) made it official and crystal-clear yesterday: he will block any approval of the international loans for post-hurricane reconstruction until such time as the LMD is "given back" to the PRD. This despite public appeals for rapid approval issued within the past week from top officials of the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), including IDB President Enrique Iglesias. Alburquerque said yesterday that while he will ensure action on the Monetary and Financial Code before Congress’ extraordinary session is adjourned, he would hostage the US$216 million in reconstruction loans until the LMD case is resolved to his satisfaction. He is also taking the extraordinary step of appointing a "special committee" of Senators, headed by José Rafael Abinader (PRD-Santiago), who will travel to Washington to explain to IBD and World Bank officials why the loans are being blocked. He said the delegation will tell Bank officials that the Fernández Government "is making fun of the will of the people and disrespecting democracy" with its actions vis-à-vis the LMD.
Meanwhile, President Fernández met yesterday with 53 Members of Congress (4 Senators and 49 Deputies) from the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) to discuss strategies to "work with other blocs" within Congress to get the loans approved despite Alburquerque’s opposition.

Doctors want 50% pay hike
In the wake of their protest strike earlier this week, the Dominican Medical Association (AMD) has sent to the Public Health Ministry (SESPAS) a document outlining its pay demands. According to El Siglo, the document calls for a 50% hike in the base salary of all doctors except interns and residents. The AMD membership proposes smaller hikes for interns and residents depending on grade level. It also wants 25-50% "incentive pay" for "professional risks" and "service calls" for regular doctors. In the DR thousands of doctors nominally work for the state, and supplement their income through afternoon and evening work in private clinics. An estimate of the additional budget cost of meeting the AMD demands is RD$57,161,773 per month.

German donation to rescue North Yaqui river
Germany is providing US$10 million to clean up and save the North Yaqui River. Some ecologists and scientists fear that the river will disappear if its contamination is not addressed immediately; the donation is intended to address this issue squarely. Implementation of the program financed by the Germans is head by the Agriculture Ministry with the participation of the Superior Agriculture Institute (ISA), the Plan Cordillera and the Cibao Ecological Society.

International meeting on ship pollution
The London-based International Maritime Organization (IMO), the United Nations affiliate charged with all maritime shipping and pollution issues, will hold in Santo Domingo next week a regional conference concerning marine pollution caused by ships. Slated to start Monday at the Jaragua Hotel, the meeting will feature top environment and shipping officials from throughout the Greater Caribbean area. They are due to agree on a common strategy to combat pollution from ships and the region’s request for special financial and technical assistance to help all the region’s nations ratify and implement several key IMO treaties, particularly the 1990 International Convention on Oil Pollution, Preparedness, Response and Cooperation ("OPRC").

AMET’s Central Corridor routes open Sunday
Successful negotiations with transport unions yesterday afternoon paved the way for the formal inauguration this Sunday of the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s (AMET) so-called Central Corridor public bus routes to run along Avenida Máximo Gómez. The 3½-hour closed-door negotiations between AMET, the Metropolitan Bus Service Office (OMSA) and a collection of organizations representing bus owners and drivers were mediated by Monsignor Agripino Núñez Collado, rector of the Pontifica Universidad Católica Madre y Maestra (PUCMM). The main outcome of the meeting was agreement on giving ownership of the new buses that will operate the route to the operators themselves. The Central Corridor will be officially launched on Sunday by President Fernández.

More details on tramway plans
In an interview with Hoy newspaper, the head of the tramway project has provided some more details of the project up for bids next month. Etienne Lhomet, representative of Semaly, the French transport consulting company overseeing the project, explained that the first stage of the tramway will consist of the eleven kilometers running along Avenida John F. Kennedy. This segment is estimated to cost between US$145 million and US$170 million (depending on the winning bid, of course). The second segment, hoped to be started before President Fernández leaves office in August 2000, will 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
The tramway will consist of 30-meter cars, each with a maximum capacity of 300. The plan is to run the trains such that they pass through each station every thirteen minutes, providing reliable and fast transport along this corridor. Semaly expects an initial capacity of 6,000 passengers per hour, increasing progressively until it reaches 12,000. As designed, the system could go up to 18,000 persons per hour by running two-car trains. He also revealed that plans are for the original line to eventually extend across the river to terminate in Ozama at a bus transfer station. Also envisioned is a second tramway route, which would run North-South along Avenida Máximo Gómez. The tramway project was announced during President Fernández’s recent European trip, when French financing was secured for the project.
Those interested in learning more about the project can see an interview with Lhomet in this Sunday’s installment of the television program "Siglo XXI" on channel 11.

Attorney-General to scrutinize public works
Attorney-General Mariano Germán said yesterday that as of yesterday his office would step up scrutiny of all public works to ensure no corruption in such construction projects goes unpunished. In a press conference at his office with Justo Pedro Castellanos, Director of the Department of Corruption Prevention, at his side, Germán announced strict vigilance of public projects and the help in this vein of the Commission for Neighborhood Development. He called on all citizens that suspected or witnessed suspicious activities in public works projects to report them to his office. In answer to questions from reporters, he confirmed that his office is already investigating three projects: the construction of Avenida Jacobo Majluta north of Santo Domingo, which is falling apart prematurely after only 1½ years in service; the Paris Street Overpass built under the administration of ex-Santo Domingo Mayor Rafael Suberví Bonilla but which Public Works Ministry studies says is "plagued with irregularities"; and the Altagracia Maternity Center, about which the Dominican Medical Association (AMD) has filed several complaints.

Ex-Armed Forces head questioned in Narcisazo case
The judge in charge of the investigation into the 1994 disappearance (and presumed murder) of Professor Narciso González ("Narcisazo") yesterday interrogated for eight hours a former Armed Forces chief, retired General Juan Bautista Rojas Tabar, about what he knows concerning the case. Judge Eduardo Sánchez Ortíz indicated that he will call the retired general back for more questioning, but did not specify when. Narcisazo, a vocal critic of then-President Joaquín Balaguer, was rumored to have been picked up by agents of Air Force’s (FAD) A-2 Intelligence group just before his disappearance, so the investigation has focused on FAD officials past and present. So far Judge Sánchez Ortíz has imprisoned General Rafael Reyes Bencosme and his former aide, Lt. Colonel Manuel C. Pérez Vólquez, on suspicion of complicity in kidnapping Narcisazo. Since the investigation resumed in earnest at the end of 1998 and long before it was indicated that he would be interrogated, Rojas Tabar has repeatedly told the press that he knows nothing regarding the Narcisazo case and that the investigation was simply a ruse to attack the reputation of the Armed Forces and him. Yesterday he arrived at the Justice Palace with a phalanx of bodyguards and vocal supporters, many of whom physically attacked reporters trying to talk to the retired general.

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