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Daily News - 24 February 1999

"Pool" of banks to help Barahona develop tourism
The General Administrator of the Banco de Reservas ("Banreservas"), Dr. Roberto Saladín Selin, says that Banreservas has pulled together a "pool" of banks to provide financing for developing the tourism potential of Barahona and surrounding areas. Joining Banreservas in the initiative are Banco Nacional de Crédito ("Bancrédito"), Banco Fiduciario, Banco Hipotecario Dominicano (BHD), Banco Global. Representatives of the banks met at Barahona’s Hotel Rivera last Friday, February 19th, at a conference organized by the Foundation to Aid the Southeast (FUNDASUR). The conference evaluated the tourism potential of the area and what types of projects the banks can support. Saladín pointed out that Banreservas is already financing the construction of the 105-room Hotel Brisas de Bahoruco, which he revealed will be managed by the American hotel chain Choice. Banreservas also is financing expansion of Hotel Oasis, and is interested in the 500-room hotel planned for Paraíso.

President pledges action on environment in tourism zones
Anonymous sources within the Association of Hotels and Restaurants (ASONAHORES) told the afternoon daily Ultima Hora that President Fernández pledged to an ASONAHORES delegation at last week’s visit in the National Palace that his Government will proceed with work on environmental health in tourism zones even before winning the anticipated World Bank loan toward that end. The DR is applying for World Bank money to improve trash collection, build and/or repair drainage and sewer systems, improve potable water delivery and other sanitation projects in the coastal tourism areas of the country. President Fernández reportedly guaranteed that his Government will initiate such work even ahead of Bank approval of the US$150 million loan proposal, and that the work will cover not only the North and East coasts, but the entire Southern coast as well. The President also reportedly was interested in hearing ASONAHORES’ plans to ensure "sustainable" tourism in the DR.

PRD replies to President on dialogue
The Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD) yesterday finally delivered its official reply to President Fernández’s letter of last week regarding the proposed political dialogue. In a letter to the President signed by PRD President Enmanuel Esquea Guerrero, the main opposition party said that it was open to discussing any issue of national interest with the notable exception of the Central Election Board (JCE). The JCE is "a closed case," asserted the letter, since it was appointed legally by the (PRD-controlled) Senate last August. The ruling Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) and the Reformist-Social Christian Party (PRSC) have always maintained that the JCE judges should have been appointed on the basis of prior consultations with them and a consensus on its members, as was done for the successful 1996 elections. The PRSC has even challenged in court the fitness of the present JCE, claiming that its members are PRD militants that cannot be impartial as the Constitution requires them to be.
The PRD letter suggested that President Fernández did not understand PRD’s proposal to put the Dominican Municipal League (LMD) under the direction of a group of eminent persons until a court case involving the League is decided (see separate story below). President Fernández had argued that it was not within his power to make such a move, and the courts should be left to decide the fate of the LMD. PRD says that it never meant to suggest that Fernández could order such a step, but that it nevertheless wants to see some formula worked out regarding the LMD.
The PRD letter also called on President Fernández to set a date to begin the dialogue (Fernández had asked the PRD to suggest a date).

Government Y2K checks underway
The Executive Director of the Government Commission for the Millennial Change, Domingo Tavárez, told reporters yesterday that technicians hope to have all electronic equipment in priority areas tested by July to verify that they are ready to handle the Y2K problem. For those who have somehow missed all the publicity about Y2K, experts warn that many computer systems may experience significant disruptions, and even possible shutdown, when the clock changes at midnight on December 31, 1999. Some hardware and software only uses two digits to denote the year, and can misinterpret "00" as 1900 instead of 2000.
One of the areas of possible vulnerability mentioned by all computer experts is electricity generation and distribution. Hence the Government Commission is trying to test all the Dominican Electricity Corporation’s (CDE) systems now in order to detect any problems that need correcting long before year-end. He said that technicians have already inspected systems at the Haina I and IV plants, Itabo I and II, and the Jigüey-Aguacate hydroelectric complex. He also noted that CDE is asking all its suppliers of electronic components to certify Y2K compliance.
Tavárez said that his Commission is also working with the authorities in charge of the nation’s airport and port facilities to ensure that they too will be Y2K compliant. Government offices undergoing testing include the Budget Office, the Directorate-General of Internal Revenue (DGII), Customs; Treasury; and the Attorney-General’s Office. For the project the Government has already received US$100,000 in aid from the World Bank, and may get another US$500,000 from the same source shortly. A major advantage of the Dominican government is that computerizing of government systems is of recent implementation.

Maríñez denies Aristy’s charges of impropriety
Julio Maríñez Rosario (PRD) yesterday denied accusations of impropriety leveled against him by Senator Amable Aristy Castro (PRSC – Altagracia), his rival for the post of Secretary-General (SG) of the Dominican Municipal League (LMD). On Monday Aristy Castro told reporters that auditors have found an "administrative mess" and evidence of "real mischief" in the LMD retirement and pension plan during the prior administration of Maríñez, and that he would ask the authorities to prevent Maríñez from leaving the DR until a full corruption investigation could be conducted. In an interview yesterday with the afternoon daily Ultima Hora, Maríñez dismissed the charges as an attempt by Aristy Castro to discredit him and his lieutenants because the Senator fears he will lose the pending court case on the legality of Aristy Castro’s election to the SG post. Maríñez declared that Aristy Castro "can check with a magnifying glass" but he would not find anything illegal about the way the retirement and pension plan was handled under the prior administration.
In a related story, Interior and Police Minister Ramón Andrés Blanco Fernández announced yesterday that he has launched an investigation of Maríñez’s administration of LMD because evidence has surfaced that the League was paying several "advisors" who never did any work for their pay.
Two parallel municipal assemblies were held on January 26th which elected Aristy Castro and Maríñez Rosario as LMD SG, both after making dubious rule changes. [It should be noted that Minister Blanco Fernández presided over the assembly that elected Aristy Castro, and he swore the Senator in as the new SG.] A case now pending in the courts which decide which, if either, of the elections was legal and who should be SG. The LMD dispute is not only important as a source of constant friction between PRD and the PLD-led Government (which helped Aristy Castro get elected as LMD SG), but also because the LMD is the official conduit for the portion of the national budget earmarked for use by municipalities.

Spain & US to help DR combat child labor
Labor Minister Rafael Alburquerque said yesterday that Spain and the U.S. will help fund Dominican programs to combat child labor. His comments were occasioned, he said, by the announcement that the DR is accepting the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The treaty underpinning the Court includes a provision on the protection of minors. Alburquerque notes that official figures say that some 89,000 children between the ages of 10 and 14 work. He noted that his Ministry is currently undertaking a National Survey of Child Labor with the help of the International Program to Eradicate Child Labor of the Geneva-based International Labor Organization (ILO), the United Nations specialized agency in charge of labor and work safety issues. Spain and the U.S. have promised funding for programs emerging from the national survey. Alburquerque noted that his Ministry already has some programs underway in this area. In Constanza the Ministry and Pro-Joven Dominicano have a program to take 250 children away from high-risk agricultural jobs and put them in school. In Puerto Plata and Sosúa, the Ministry and Foro Social are working to take 200 children out of prostitution and put them into school. In Santo Domingo the Ministry and Pastoral Juvenil have started a program to take 200 kids out of street work in the city’s northern barrios.

Controversy over alleged identity card fraud
On Monday Migration Director-General Danilo Díaz stirred a hornet’s nest by declaring that his department had indications that large numbers of aliens are receiving Dominican (as opposed to resident alien) identity cards ("cedulas") from the JCE, and that most of these aliens are Haitian. Asked about the charge the same day, the Director of the National Department of Investigation (DNI), Vice Admiral Sigfredo Pared Pérez, declared that he would not be surprised because the new cards are easy to alter or counterfeit. A hue and cry immediately resulted on the radio and television talk show circuit, with some suggesting this was all a plot by PRD to illegally beef up the ranks of voters devoted to that party. Right away a JCE spokesman denied that any knowledge of such fraud, suggesting that if Haitians are receiving ID cards, it is only that of resident aliens like any other foreigner granted residency status by Migration. He said that the JCE would investigate the charges. Yesterday the entire Board met with the press to defend the new ID card and call on DNI to investigate Díaz’s claims. JCE President Manuel Ramón Morel Cerda said that the JCE under his administration has not given a Dominican citizen’s ID card to any Haitian. He said that he knew of only two cases where falsified cedulas were used to try to get new ones, and both were turned over to the National Police’s Fraud Department. For its part, the PRD leadership immediately said that it was not aware of such fraud, and yesterday it too called upon DNI to launch a full and thorough investigation.

Cuban wins fourth leg of cycling race
Cuban cyclist Yosvani Gutiérrez won the fourth stage of the 20th National Independence Tour, the most important bicycle race of the year in the DR. Gutiérrez, part of a Cuban national team participating in this event, won the 139.5 kilometer segment from Santo Domingo to Baní via San Cristóbal with a time of 3:24:42. After yesterday’s segment, the individual in first place remains Venezuela’s Tommy Alcedo, with a time of 12:39:55, but an American from the Miami team, John Cipolla, has moved into a close second place with 12:41:13, with a paper-thin lead over Aro y Pedal’s Erico Poitschke at 12:41:30. In the team competition the team representing the Dominican Cycling Association of New York (Asodoci) retains the lead with a combined time of 38:04:43, the Cuban team holds second place at 38:09:00 and Selección Montecarlo has taken over third place with a combined time of 38:12:43. Today’s stage is considered the most difficult, since so much of it is uphill: the cyclists will ride from Santo Domingo to Bonao via Villa Altagracia and Piedra Blanca in the morning; in the afternoon they will ride from Bonao to La Vega, to Santo Cerro and then ascend to Jarabacoa.

Schedule of Carnival festivities
Brugal rum is sponsoring the following big band orchestras to play at the Avenida del Puerto in the Colonial City, starting at 9 pm:

Wednesday, 24 February: Manolé y La Banda del Truco
Thursday, 25 February: Banda X
Friday, 26 February: Parada Joven y Juan Manuel
Saturday, 27 February: Grupo Contagio y Diómedes y el Grupo Mío
Sunday, 28 February: K-Libre y La Banda Chula

Presidente beer is also sponsoring big band orchestras at the Avenida del Puerto. Bands to play as of 8 pm. Their schedule is:

Thursday, 25 February: Banda Chula
Friday, 26 February: Rokabanda
Saturday, 27 February: Sin Fronteras
Sunday, 28 February: Coco Band, Toño Rosario, Eddy Herrera.

Other planned carnival activities are:
Gran Gala Carnaval 99 at the Teatro La Fiesta, Hotel Jaragua on Friday, 26 February at 8 pm.
Grand Carnival Parade, Sunday, 28 February starting at 2 pm along the Malecón.
Casa de Teatro at Arz. Meriño Street in the Colonial City is exhibiting of works of art commemorative to Dominican carnival. Exhibiting are many well known Dominican painters, including Cándido Bidó, Jorge Pineda, Antonio Guadalupe, José Morillo, Fermín Ceballo, Paul Leonor, Limbert Vilorio, Polibio Díaz, Pascal Macariello, Daniel de los Santos, Marcos Lora, Marino Hernández, Domingo Batista, José Mercader, Paul Giudicelli, Dionisio Banco, Silvano Lora, Bismarck Victoria and Miguel Ramírez.

For those who are not aware, the best Dominican carnival takes place, not in Santo Domingo, but in the city of La Vega, about an hour's drive from Santo Domingo. EnviTravel Tours, a local travel agency is offering excursions to see the carnival parades of "diablos cojuelos" with tours departing 28 February from Santo Domingo. The excursion price of RD$325 includes round-trip transport, visit to the Santo Cerro Church and the old city of La Vega, open bar, lunch at the La Vega Country Club, tee shirts, and watching of the carnival parade in the afternoon. Departures are at 8:30 am, returning to Santo Domingo at 9:30 pm. Those taking the excursion should preferably wear two pairs slacks or jeans because the "diablos cojuelos" mischievously will bop their balloons against those watching. For more information, call 565-5558 or email [email protected]
Services Travel's excursion departs from the agency locale at Rómulo Betancourt 1567 on 28 February. Tel. 535-4290
This is a once-and-a-lifetime adventure, highly recommended to tourists and residents in the DR. Fun for the entire family. Just follow the crowds, put your wallet in a safe place, and stay out of the reach of the fearful Diablos Cojuelos.

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