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Daily News - 02 March 1999

Major bills reintroduced in Congress
As promised, the many major pieces of legislation that did not receive final action in the last session of Congress were reintroduced yesterday amid promises from the leadership that all will be passed this year. Reintroduced were: the draft Monetary and Financial Code; the bill to create a General Health Law; the Export Promotion bill; the draft Market Regulation Code (which includes provisions on consumer protection, intellectual property, unfair competition and restrictive business practices); the Forestry Code; the tariff and tax reform bill; the bill to authorize the government to emit debt bonds; and a bill to create the National Rice Institute. The only two major bills not yet reintroduced are the draft Electricity Law and the Social Security reform bill.

Alburquerque: No constitutional reform before 2000 elections
In interviews with the news dailies El Siglo and Listin Diario, Senate President Ramón Alburquerque [Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD) – Monte Plata] rejected President Fernández’s call in his State of the Union address for work to begin on constitutional reform. He suggested that the nation had too many other things to work on at the moment, and that constitutional reform was best left to the government to be elected in May 2000. He also rejected the idea of establishing a Constituent Assembly to reform the Constitution, saying it made no sense and that Congress was capable of undertaking the task when the time came. He did welcome, however, Fernández’s call to include new provisions in the Constitution for referendums and plebiscites on major questions, but cautioned the formulation of such options needs to be studied and debated in depth first.

Business groups call for approval of reconstruction loans
Three major business groups urged the Senate to stop delaying approval of international loans intended to help the country reconstruct after Hurricane Georges. Celso Marranzini of the National Council of Private Enterprise (CONEP), Andrés Dauhajre of the National Union of Employers (UNE) and Ignacio Méndez of the Association of Companies and Industries of Herrera (AEIH) issued the call. Acknowledging the concern voiced by some members of Congress that past loans may have not been implemented as they were supposed to, Dauhajre and Méndez suggested the creation of a new body to investigate the charges to see if they have any merit.

New computer tariffs enter into effect
Customs put into effect as of yesterday the new lower tariffs on personal computers and related products. The changes were originally approved under Law 345-98 adopted last August, but did not take effect until now under General Norm 1-99. Under the measure, personal computers imported into the DR have had their tariffs dropped to 1.5% (from 30% and 10%) and are no longer subject to the Transfer Tax on Industrialized Goods and Services (ITBIS). Imports of computer components, replacement parts, optical and magnetic readers, videophones, programs and other accessories (such as printer cartridges) have had their tariffs dropped from 30% to 10%. Their imports are also exempted from ITBIS. The Directorate-General for Internal Revenue (DGII) says that these changes will mean a loss of RD$60 million per year in tax and tariff revenue.

Poll: LMD fight damaged public’s faith in all political actors
A new poll conducted in late February by the news daily Listin Diario and the Spanish polling firm Sigma Dos shows that the political battle over controlling the Dominican Municipal League (LMD) has hurt the credibility of all the political actors involved. Asked who acted correctly during the LMD crisis, 1,200 Dominicans polled neither the Government nor the Congress nor the political opposition acted correctly. 58.2% said Congress acted incorrectly, 61.4% said the same for the opposition and 59.6% for the Government. Asked if the LMD has damaged the credibility of the political parties involved, a resounding 84.5% replied in the affirmative. Asked if the LMD had also harmed democratic stability, 82.5% agreed.
Two parallel municipal assemblies were held on January 26, 1999, to elect a Secretary-General (SG) for the LMD: one held by the PRD "re-elected" prior SG Julio Maríñez Rosario; the other, convened by the Interior and Police Minister and attended by delegates from the ruling Dominican Liberation Party (PRD) and from the Reformist-Social Christian Party (PRSC), elected PRSC Senator Amable Aristy Castro. During the week surrounding the event, police and troops cordoned off the LMD headquarters and refused entry to PRD politicians. In one scuffle, police shot a Senator and several journalists. Dominicans also watched on TV as Senate President Alburquerque held a shouting match with Police Chief Sanz Jiminián.

Poll: faith in unions also low
The new Listin/Sigma Dos poll also shows little faith in trade unions. Asked if the many recent strikes called by the doctors, teachers and drivers’ unions have been "legitimate," only a slim 51% majority replied yes (to put it into perspective, the poll has a 2.8% margin of error), while 45.2% said no. Asked about the motivations behind the strikes, 48.5% replied labor grievances, while an equal number said that the strikes were politically motivated. [All major unions currently have leaderships elected on a PRD slate.] Asked directly about the credibility of current union leadership, 44.6% said they have "no credibility," 33.6% replied "little credibility," 12.6% said "enough credibility" and only 4.3% declared that they had "total credibility."

Cable TV firms closed for piracy
In the scramble to prove that the DR is getting tough on intellectual property piracy and thereby avoid U.S. trade sanctions, authorities yesterday closed two cable TV companies in La Vega – Cable Real and Visaldom – on charges that they were pirating satellite American and European TV signals. The Directorate-General of Telecommunications (DGT) is due to meet today with all Dominican broadcasters to discuss steps DGT plans to take to curb TV piracy in the DR. These steps are being taken as the DR’s government becomes increasingly worried that it will end up on the United States’ "Priority Watch List" under the so-called "Special 301" trade law. Under the law, countries placed on the Priority Watch List by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) can be subjected to trade sanctions if they do not take steps to combat intellectual property rights (IPR) problems identified by USTR. This could mean, for example, that the DR would lose its free entry or preferential-tariff treatment under the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) and the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), a step that would devastate the Dominican textile industry. USTR has for years warned the DR that U.S. officials regularly receive complaints from U.S. broadcasters that Dominican companies are pirating their satellite signals, tapping programs without paying royalties for the privilege as called for under international law. USTR officials have also complained several times that Dominican authorities are not doing enough to curb the practice.

Fears that software piracy may bring sanctions
Dominican industry and officials are also worried that widespread illegal copying of computer programs in the DR may bring Special 301 trade sanctions from the U.S. The National Office for Author’s Rights (ONDA), the body charged with enforcing copyright protection for software in the DR, has announced that it has seized thousands of illegal software copies and initiated legal action against more than 20 businesses for software piracy. The President of the National Association of Informatics Companies (Aneinfo), Héctor Mota, has also declared that the Dominican situation has improved significantly in recent years and that more and more people are buying original, licensed copies of software as they should. The Business Software Alliance (BSA), however, says that despite any improvements made, some 90% of the computer programs circulating in the DR at present are illegal (unlicensed) copies. BSA says it has received repeated promises from ONDA, the Attorney-General’s office and others that they would crack down on such cases, but it has yet to see actions to match the promises.

DNCD: DR will NOT become a drug trafficking bridge
The head of the National Drug Control Directorate (DNCD), Rear Admiral Luis Alberto Humeau Hidalgo, said yesterday that he has precise instructions from President Fernández to do whatever it takes to ensure that the DR does not become a "bridge" for narcotics trafficking between South and North America.

New PN Chief: No more patrols seeking bribes
Shortly after being sworn into office by President Fernández, the new National Police (PN) Chief, Major General Pedro de Jesús Candelier Tejada, declared that he was "fed up" with reports of PN patrols that seek money from drivers and he would take drastic steps to get rid of the practice. "We are fed up with seeing a patrolman, a police officer with the Highway Patrol, taking money. This stops as of now." He said that all members of the PN’s Highway and Road Patrol Department passing through the Police Academy would undergo psychological evaluations to see if he or she was suitable for such work. While generally welcoming the declaration of intent, most Dominicans are adopting a "wait and see" attitude. Candelier Tejada’s immediate predecessor, Sanz Jiminián, also declared war on this practice when he took office. Although all credit him with greatly improving the situation, the practice was not eliminated. The new police chief, even before sitting down on his new desk, suspended all present patrol officers, sending them to the Police Academy in Hatillo for evaluations.

Government orders investigation of Marchena's death
The District Attorney's office has ordered an investigation to determine causes of the death of Moises Fernando Marchena Arredondo. Marchena was in jail for alleged fraud and expropriation of the much publicized case of the Bahia de las Aguilas park reserve lands, in coordination with former congressmen and Balaguer administration officers. His request to be released on bail had been recently again rejected by the judiciary. While early press reports speculated he had been assassinated, a Listin Diario newspaper interview with fellow jail inmates and a Hoy newspaper story said that he is more likely to have died from natural causes. He was taken to the medical dispensary of La Victoria suffering from strong abdominal pains. The doctor on service certified that he died from an internal digestive hemorrhage. Marchena had been in jail for 14 months and seven days and was said to be depressed. Reports said he could have died from cirrhosis or from an ulcer.

Major arts exhibition opens in Santo Domingo
The XXI Bienal Nacional de Artes Visuales, the major national arts contest that is held every two years, opened on 27 February at the Museum of Modern Art in Plaza de la Cultura. Other new museums to visit are the Museo Candido Bidó in Bonao (less than one hour from Santo Domingo on the way to La Vega, Santiago or Puerto Plata.) Bidó is well known for his colorful works of art, several of which are now on exhibition there. Also opening in February was the Museo Bellapart in Santo Domingo, that houses an outstanding private exhibition of Dominican painting masters now open to the general public. Another outstanding art museums that is scheduled to open this year is the Centro Cultural E León Jimenes in Santiago.

Cuba foursome wins the Vuelta Independencia
Cuba's national cycling team won the Vuelta Ciclística Independencia Nacional, a more than 1,000 circuit around the Dominican Republic, that ended on Saturday 27 February with a closed circuit around Avenida Charles de Gaulle in Santo Domingo. Tomy Alcedo, from Venezuela, was the most outstanding individual cyclist. The Cubans completed the final round with three minutes difference over the Venezuelan team. Third place went to the Dominican Montecarlo team.

Dominican World Boxing Association champ visits
Dominican boxer Julio Cesar Green returned to the DR a hero after recapturing the World Boxing Association medium weight crown on 20 February 1999. He defeated Australian Darren Obah in the ninth round. Other Dominicans who have won world titles are Teo Cruz, Juan Guzmán, Leo Cruz, Eleoncio Mercedes, Francisco Quiroz, Cesar Polanco, and Julio Gervacio, Rafael Torres, Hector Acero Sánchez and Luis Santana. Julio Cesar Green had lost the crown on 31 January 1998 in Tampa to William Joppy. He is the second Dominican to win the title by knock out, and the first to reconquer the title.

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