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Daily News - 24 March 1999

Political dialogue resumes today
The sixth session of the political dialogue is due to be convened at the National Palace this afternoon. Talks will focus yet again on the two thorniest political issues on the agenda, the composition of the Central Election Board (JCE) and who should be the Secretary-General (SG) of the Dominican Municipal League (LMD). The dialogue was an initiative of President Fernández, who proposed that leaders of all three major parties – the ruling Dominican Liberation Party (PLD), the Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD, which currently controls Congress) and the Reformist-Social Christian Party (PRSC) – meet with him at the National Palace to resolve their differences in a "patriotic pact" to guarantee democratic stability and peaceful and fair presidential elections in the year 2000. In addition to the JCE and LMD questions, the dialogue has agreed to discuss (1) the election of the Chamber of Deputies directorate; (2) the selection of the Chamber of Accounts (Cámara de Cuentas); (3) President Fernández’s proposal to convene a Constituent Assembly in May 2001 to reform the Constitution.
In a related story, the directorate of the PRD known as the Presidium decided last night to ask again today that the dialogue be televised so that all Dominicans can see their leaders in action, understand who is taking what stance, and feel part of the process. Failing that, they suggested that "members of civil society" be allowed to observe the talks and discuss what they witnessed afterward.

Denounce corruption from the Internet
Encountered an example of corruption in the Dominican Government? Now you can spark an investigation into it by filing a complaint via the Internet. The Corruption Prevention Department (DPC) of the Attorney-General’s Office now solicits complaints by e-mail at [email protected] . The DPC also has created a new webpage -- http://www.procuraduria.gov.do/indice.htm -- that discusses the relevant Dominican laws, regulations and norms, explains what the DPC is and does as well as its current activities, and discusses the declaration of economic interests all DR officials (executive, legislative, judicial) are supposed to file.

Vega testifies for textile parity bill
The DR’s Ambassador to the U.S., Bernardo Vega, testified yesterday at a U.S. Congressional public hearing held in Washington on the textile parity bill. The hearing at the Ways and Means Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives featured numerous speakers in favor of the proposal, including officials from the Commerce and State Departments and a series of Ambassadors from countries slated to benefit from the bill. The Ways and Means Committee is where all trade and tax legislation must originate in the House. In his presentation to the Committee, Ambassador Vega got right to the point. It is in the economic interest of the U.S. to help the region. "The United States has had a trade surplus with the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) region for 12 years. This excess is the eighth largest in the world," he pointed out. He argued that bill would not only help several nations recover from Hurricanes Georges and Mitch, but should aid the economic position of Haiti, one of the poorest nations in the world. As for the DR, "Textile assembly is the third greatest source of exchange for the Dominican Republic and 93% of this assembly is done using North American components...140,000 Dominicans convert North American cloth into clothing." Giving Dominican textile goods the same market access conditions as Mexico now enjoys under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is critical to the economic stability of the DR.

Senate gives final approval to bond bill
The Senate yesterday unanimously approved in second reading the bill which allow the Government to issue debt bonds to cover RD$5 billion of its internal (i.e., domestic) debt, but not before making two important amendments. The bill now goes to the Chamber of Deputies. One amendment, offered by Finance Committee Chairman Darío Gómez (PRD-Santiago Rodríguez), specifies that the bonds will cover debt owed to suppliers and contractors up until 1998, whereas the original bill only covered debt through 1996. A second amendment earmarks at least RD$337 million of the debt repayment to sugar plantation owners. RD$500 million of the debt repayment is already earmarked to pay off account holders who lost money during the fall of several banks at the end of the 1980’s (individual account holders cannot get more than RD$100,000, no matter how much was in their account when the bank went under), while RD$2 billion is earmarked for public works contractors, RD$1.663 billion to owners of property taken by the government, and RD$500 million for suppliers of goods and services to the State. Under the bill, six-year bonds would be issued in denominations of RD$5,000. The bonds would offer 6% annual interest, paid quarterly.

Chamber considers anti-smoking bill
The Chamber of Deputies yesterday approved in first reading a bill that would prohibit smoking in public places, prohibit the sale of tobacco products to minors, and require cigarette packs to carry health warnings. The bill now goes to the Health Committee for study before returning to the floor for amendments and a final vote. Sponsored by National District (DN) Deputies Ernesto Fabré and Manuel Hazoury, the bill would prohibit smoking in public places, as defined by the bill. These would include government offices, airports, restaurants, commercial plazas, cinemas (most already prohibit smoking), discotecs, night clubs, supermarkets, and public passenger vehicles (buses, public cabs, etc.). The bill would ban the sale of tobacco products, no matter what type, to minors. It would also require packs to carry visible warnings that smoking is harmful to human health. The Public Health Ministry (SESPAS) and local fire departments would be responsible for enforcing the bill’s provisions, and can assess fines of no less than RD$500 and no more than RD$1,000. A healthy majority of Deputies present voted for the measure, and a dozen rose to speak in its favor. One Deputy, Dr. Rafael Kasse Acta (PLD-DN), said that he did not vote for the measure because its provisions are already included in Article 261 of the draft General Health Law pending before Congress. Another, Tony Rutinel Domínguez (PRD-DN), called the measure nonsensical if it is intended to stop people from smoking. "If it hurts health so much, then we should prohibit tobacco."

SECTUR imposes Holy Week restrictions on beaches
The Tourism Ministry (SECTUR) yesterday imposed a number of restrictions on the use of most of the nation’s beaches during Holy Week, the busiest beach visit week in the year. SECTUR has outlawed the use of jet skis, launches and motor boats at beaches and bathing spots to avoid accidents during the high traffic period. Also banned are the use of horses or motorcycles in the proximity of the beaches at Bayahibe, Bávaro, Boca Chica, Cabarete, El Caletón, Catalina Island, Cayo Levantado, Guayacanes, Juan Dolio, Long Beach, Los Patos, Monerrío, Palenque, Palmar de Ocoa, Los Patos, Playa Caribe, Playa Dorada, Playa Grande, Punta Cana, Punta Rusia, Salinas, Samaná, Saona Island, Sosúa. The restrictions are in effect from March 27th until April 5th. Enforcement of these restrictions during Holy Week will be in the hands of Civil Defense and the National Police.

EU donates US$46 mn. to modernize DR state, health system
The chief of the European Union’s (EU) diplomatic delegation to the DR, Roger Leenders, said yesterday that the EU is donating 42 million European Currency Units (ECUs) – equivalent to about US$46 million or RD$736 million at current exchange rates – to help the DR modernize government administration and the nation’s health delivery system. The donation is part of the EU’s aid to the DR under the Lomé Convention.

Customs: stolen car "mafia" operating US-DR route
The Legal Adviser for the Directorate-General of Customs, Dr. Daniel Jerez Rivera, revealed yesterday that his department has detected the importation into the DR in the last two years of over 2,000 cars stolen in the U.S. Most of the vehicles are sports utility vehicles ("jeepetas") or cars of the BMW, Mercedes Benz, Lexus, Honda or Toyota brands. Most, he claimed, are subsequently sold in Haiti. He attributed the activity to an international contraband network as sophisticated as any drug trafficking mafia, aided by ties within both American and Dominican governments. He insisted, however, that Customs has been successfully cracking down on the stolen car traffickers and that the network is finding it increasingly difficult to function here. He noted that the DR and U.S. Customs have an agreement whereby the U.S. checks the chassis number of all vehicles entering the DR to see if the vehicles have been reported stolen.

CDE: No tariff hikes because of oil price rise
The Administrator of the Dominican Electricity Corporation (CDE), Radhamés Segura, assured Dominicans yesterday that CDE will not raise its tariffs because of the spike in international oil prices in recent days. While he acknowledged that higher world prices for crude will eventually affect CDE’s production costs, this will not be passed on to the Dominican consumer.

SIP: Dominican press is free
The Inter-American Press Society (SIP) released this week its latest report on freedom of the press in Latin America and the Caribbean. The section on the DR is very short, simply noting no complaints about limits on freedom of expression in the DR and no attacks or pressures on reporters. It does mention in passing the pending investigations into past events, namely the 1974 murder of reporter Orlando Martínez and the 1994 disappearance of columnist Narciso González (Narcisazo).

Strikes end in Licey, PP, SC, continues in Nagua, starts in Santiago
The turbulent strike in Licey del Medio was called off last night by its organizers after the intervention and mediation of Archbishop Juan Antonio Flores Santana. The National Police (PN) commander in the region agreed to release most of the people detained by police during the strike and to pull out the police cordon from the town. Furthermore, Santiago Governor Ramón Ventura Cemejo agreed to meet with community leaders on Friday to discuss further steps. In San Cristóbal, a two-day strike in the northern zone ended after the Public Works Ministry agreed to repair the SC-Villa Altagracia road within 30 days, a major demand of strikers.
In Puerto Plata the transport strike ended after the 24 hours called for by the National Central of United Transporters (CNTU), but not before demonstrations and tire burning in the street and confrontations with police that ended in shooting and tear gas. Tourists along the Puerto Plata-Río San Juan highway had to utilize "motorconchos" and other alternatives to get around. The PP strike was called by drivers to protest the bad conditions along the highway.
Meanwhile, in Nagua a strike called by populist organizations reportedly had a 95% observation rate yesterday, meaning most stores and schools were closed and transport not operating. The strike will continue, say its organizers, until populist leaders imprisoned on Monday are released. In Santiago, the Popular Organizations Collective and the CNTU have announced a 48-hour transport strike for that city and the surrounding Cibao region starting this morning. The two organizations say that they are calling the strike because the Fernández Government has not made good on past promises made to them on a variety of issues.

UCE explains closure of extension campuses
The rector of the Central University of the East (UCE), Senator José Hazim Frappier (PRSC-San Pedro de Macorís), offered reporters yesterday his explanations of why the UCE Board has decided to close its provincial extension campuses in Elías Piña, Las Matas de Farfán, Monte Plata and Dajabón. He attributed the move to (1) a lack of local support for the UCE programs in those locations; (2) low graduation rates for those campuses; (3) a request from the Education Ministry to return the facilities for it to use them for the Ministry’s own programs. He stressed, however, that the University is trying to help students continue their studies on one of the other extension campuses. He also said that UCE is strengthening its extension campuses in Barahona and San Cristóbal. For the Ministry’s part, Education Minister Ligia Amada Melo said that the Ministry had asked for the return of the properties because it needs them for training teachers. If UCE was a start-up organization, the situation might be different, she explained, because the Ministry tries to help new universities get on their feet. UCE, however, "is solvent and has the economic capacity to construct sites, not just to rent them."

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