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Daily News - 25 March 1999

Dialogue agrees JCE should expand, Morel Cerda resign
The participants in the political dialogue agreed in principle last night on a solution to the dispute over the composition of the Central Election Board (JCE). The official "moderator" (not mediator) and spokesman for the dialogue, Monsignor Agripino Núñez Collado, announced only that representatives of the three main political parties had met privately with President Leonel Fernández before the official start of the sixth dialogue session to discuss proposals on the JCE, and then the dialogue agreed in principle on the compromise reached, which now must be ratified by the directorates of the three parties. The three parties are the ruling Dominican Liberation Party (PLD), the Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD) and the Reformist-Social Christian Party (PRSC). The group that met privately with President Fernández before the formal dialogue session were PRD President Enmanuel Esquea Guerrero, PRSC leader Donald Reid Cabral and Danilo Medina, part of the PLD leadership and a strategic advisor to President Fernández.
Although Núñez Collado did not outline the details of the accord, reporters from all media quickly got the details leaked from participants. In a nutshell, the JCE’s membership would be expanded from five to seven and the current President, Dr. Manuel Ramón Morel Cerda, would be asked to resign. This agreement is quite close to the demands of the PRSC, which has long advocated an expansion of the Board to seven members and called for the resignation of all current members, which it considered to be PRD partisans. Despite their public insistence on all five resignations, PRSC leaders had long hinted that the real bottom line was Morel Cerda’s resignation.
Ratification of the agreement will be tricky, especially for the PRD, many of whose top leaders have repeatedly warned that they could not accept pressure on any of the current JCE members to resign. The current JCE members were all appointed in August 1998 by a PRD-dominated Senate without seeking prior consensus with the PLD and PRSC, as had been done in 1994. Further complicating matters is that Morel Cerda has said repeatedly and unequivocally that he will not resign and that there is "no constitutional way" to remove him from office.

New highway toll booths, higher tolls
The Public Works Ministry announced that the new, modern toll booths will finally be opened on Las Américas and Seis de Noviembre Highways tomorrow – just in time for the heavy Holy Week traffic. At the same time sharp hikes in the tolls charge will take effect, likely to bring howls of protest from regular users of the highways. The new facilities feature exact change lanes for those having the correct amount in one-peso or five-peso coins. The facilities also have reversible lanes, so that authorities can allot more booths to the direction in which traffic flow is heaviest. A special booth on the extreme right is provided for large vehicles such as semi trucks and large buses.
Tolls for "microbuses" and "minibuses" (which, in the view of Dominican authorities, includes mini-vans) will jump 233%, from RD$3 to $RD10, while motorcycles and passenger cars will more than double, from RD$2 to RD$5, and the toll for buses and two-axle trucks will increase 50%, from RD$10 to RD$15. Heavy vehicles of three or more axles will start paying RD$20. As if the impact of the higher tolls wasn’t enough, tolls will now start to be collected in both directions – entering as well as leaving Santo Domingo (previously vehicles only paid tolls when leaving the city). Charging both ways and hiking the tolls is expected to generate huge revenues, a fact not lost on the City of Santo Domingo, is challenging the national government’s Constitutional right to collect such tolls without sharing them with the city and to raise tolls without specific authorization from Congress (since it can be considered a tax rise).

Senate considers bill to allow cities to impose tolls
The Senate yesterday approved in first reading a bill that would allow many of the nation’s cities to impose tolls for entering city limits. Although drafted by the Santo Domingo’s municipal government, the measure was introduced by Senate President Ramón Alburquerque (PRD-Monte Plata). The bill now goes to committee for study before returning to the floor for amendments and final voting in a second reading. As now drafted, the bill would allow all Dominican cities with more than 350,000 inhabitants to impose tolls on traffic. Cities with 200,000-350,000 would be allowed to collect tolls only on Saturday and Sunday. The bill earmarks all proceeds from the tolls for road maintenance and repair and the maintenance of road signs and traffic signals. The nation’s Controller-General and the Chamber of Accounts (Cámara de Cuentas) would be charged with monitoring how city administrations collect and use the toll money. The bill is being promoted as a way to allow city administrations to maintain their own streets and roads, without having to wait for the Public Works Ministry to finance the work.

Narcisazo case suspects freed
A judge of the Third Penal Chamber of the National District (DN) granted a habeas corpus petition and released from jail two men held for questioning in the case involving the 1994 disappearance (and presumed murder) of law professor Narciso González ("Narcisazo"). Judge Ramón Horacio González Pérez ruled that the judge in charge of the Narcisazo investigation, Judge Eduardo Sánchez Ortiz, had not demonstrated sufficient grounds for the two men to be held in prison during their interrogation. He therefore released Air Force General Leonardo Antonio Reyes Bencosme and his former aide, Colonel Manuel C. Pérez Vólquez (Pérez Vólquez also was then-President Joaquín Balaguer’s pilot at the time of Narcisazo’s disappearance). A similar petition seeking the release of former Armed Forces Minister General Constantino Matos Villanueva was put off until April 6th. Narcisazo, a vocal critic of President 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 initially focused on FAD officials past and present. Recently it has branched out to other sectors of the Dominican security establishment.

Cabral: REFIDOMSA is transparent
Yesterday Pedro Pablo Cabral responded to last week’s calls from Texaco and Esso executives for the Dominican Petroleum Refinery (REFIDOMSA) to become more transparent so that the other companies can engage in true competition in the DR market. The REFIDOMSA Vice President and the local representative of Shell (the private sector partner in REFIDOMSA), declared that the refinery’s operations already are transparent and that Texaco and Esso know full well how REFIDOMSA arrives at its prices. Interviewed by El Siglo during a break in the monthly American Chamber of Commerce (Amcham) meeting, Cabral said that the reason REFIDOMSA’s prices do not appear to reflect changes in the world crude oil price is because the Dominican Government absorbs whatever cushion there is in the form of the so-called "differential tax" used to pay foreign debt and fund government projects. He rejected all calls for REFIDOMSA to open its books and reveal details of its operating profits, asserting that since legally speaking REFIDOMSA is a privately-held firm, it is under no obligation to reveal such data to anyone other than its two shareholders, Shell and the Dominican Government.

Tobacco growers urge no concessions to Central America
The Association of Blond Tobacco Producers has written Foreign Minister Eduardo Latorre urging the Fernández Government not to yield to pressure from the Central American governments to re-negotiate the "negative list" agreed in the Miami Protocol with those countries. They argue that if they are exposed to full competition from Central American producers their industry will be severely affected. They cite lower-cost drying methods employed there, plus government subsidies given to their Central American competitors. They also point to the precedent of Costa Rica, whose blond tobacco producers were effectively wiped out when import tariffs were eliminated on tobacco from Guatemala and Honduras under the Central American Community’s (CCA) own common market treaty. Do the same here, they warn, and Dominican cigarette producers will start sourcing from Guatemala and Honduras instead of locally. A similar letter was sent to the Governor of Santiago Rodríguez Province, where much of the blond tobacco is grown.
The Miami Protocol is the addition to the DR-CCA free trade treaty signed in spring 1998; the Protocol details how the treaty’s general trade provisions are to be interpreted and implemented. The Protocol features restrictions on market access for a number of agricultural and fishery goods, including a "negative list" of products excluded from the trade liberalization measures of the Treaty, such as beef, beer, chicken, cigarettes, milk and shrimp. Honduras and Nicaragua have yet to sign the Miami Protocol, at first blaming the delay on damage to their economies by Hurricane Mitch and later saying that they wanted better market access terms from the Dominican Republic for their products.

SESPAS working to prevent dengue in 1999
The Public Health Ministry has announced plans for an aggressive dengue prevention campaign for 1999 in order to avoid the types of case numbers the DR has had in recent years. In 1998, reports SESPAS, there were 3,932 cases reported, 36 of which resulted in death having not received proper medical attention. There are two types of dengue fever: classic, which involves constant fever, headaches and body aches for nearly a week but is surmountable with rest and regular precautions; hemorrhagic dengue, which originated in South East Asia, and can cause the victim to literally bleed to death in its most extreme form. There is currently no known cure (drug, vaccine) for dengue fever, so preventive measures are best. SESPAS plans an intensive campaign for July and August, about when dengue cases traditionally peak. Dominicans will be instructed in measures to take with their handling of water to prevent breeding of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the carrier of the disease.

Opening of Teleférico delayed
The opening of the repaired "Teleférico," the cable car that goes up Isabel de Torres Mountain to a park at the top offering a beautiful panorama of Puerto Plata, has been postponed. The opening was originally envisioned for today, in time for the traditionally heavy influx of tourists into PP. Its Administrator, Danilo Hiraldo, blamed the delay on the Public Works and Tourism Ministries, which are in charge of fixing the cable car and renovations to the park. He said that renovations have not been finished and have actually been suspended in recent weeks. The cable car itself has been ready to operate since October 1998. The car went out of service in August 1996 when a fire destroyed its controls. No new opening date has been set yet.

Santiago strike called off, Nagua strikes gets ugly
The transport strike in Santiago originally called for today and tomorrow has been called off in favor of talks with Santiago’s mayor, Héctor Grullón Moronta. Meanwhile, the strike in Nagua got ugly, leaving at least 20 people hurt (three of them police) and dozens arrested after confrontations between strike advocates and police. By all accounts, the strike still has all schools and most businesses closed and public transport halted in that city. Strike leaders continue to insist that no matter what the pressure on them from police, the strike will continue until populist leaders imprisoned on Monday are released. The Senator for that region, Jesús Vázquez, has denounced police actions in Nagua and called upon PN chief Pedro de Jesús Candelier to honor a verbal promise to release the imprisoned strike leaders.
In a related story, President Fernández yesterday ordered the Public Works Ministry to begin immediate fixing and repaving of the Puerto Plata-Río San Juan Highway, especially the stretch involving Sosúa and Cabarete. The measure was taken to satisfy a key demand of organizers of a strike there held earlier this week, and thereby avoid any further disturbances in that tourism zone.

German jailed for Internet promotion of gay hotel
The PN reported yesterday that a German man, Driedrich Dieter Ofkar-August Svttenlin, has been arrested for promoting a Cabarete hotel on the Internet as a hotel for homosexuals. Not only was he arrested, but his computer and discs were confiscated. The German Embassy has indicated that it will request his extradition to go to Germany, where he faces other charges.

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