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Daily News - 26 March 1999

PRD: dialogue did NOT agree on Morel Cerda’s resignation
Spin management, backpedaling, dispelling false rumors or just an honest difference of interpretation? Dominicans are left wondering after the round of pronouncements made yesterday by Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD) leaders about the Central Election Board (JCE) and its President, Dr. Manuel Ramón Morel Cerda. On Wednesday evening the political dialogue between the three main political parties – PRD, the ruling Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) and the Reformist-Social Christian Party (PRSC) – agreed in principle on a solution to their differences of opinion over the composition of the JCE. Although the participants refused to comment officially on the accord until it could be considered and approved by the directorates of their parties, off-the-record talks with reporters resulted in Thursday morning headlines proclaiming that the participants agreed to expand the Board from five to seven members and to request the resignation of its President, Morel Cerda. Yesterday several PRD leaders, including PRD President Enmanuel Esquea Guerrero, the head of the PRD delegation to the dialogue, denied that Morel Cerda’s resignation was part of the agreed package. "The PRD has a very clear position," he told reporters. "The resignation of the Central Election Board judges is not possible." He said that whatever accord is finally implemented regarding the JCE, "it must be constitutional." In recent weeks Dr. Morel Cerda has said repeatedly that there was "no constitutional way" to force him out of office, and he had no intention of resigning voluntarily. Yesterday the combative Senate President, Ramón Alburquerque (PRD-Monte Plata) declared that the Senate could never go along with forcing out of office any of the current Board it appointed last August, because that would be unconstitutional. "Torture and prison" are the only way they can be forced to resign against their will, he asserted.

19 heads of state confirmed to attend April summit
Foreign Minister Eduardo Latorre confirmed yesterday that 19 regional heads of state will attend the second summit of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS), to be held in Santo Domingo April 16-18. Among those attending will be Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, Colombian President Andrés Pastrana, and Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Latorre said that the only heads of state that have not yet confirmed their attendance are those of Barbados, the Bahamas, Grenada, St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. In addition to attending the summit, President Zedillo will conduct an official state visit. Yesterday the National Council of Private Enterprise (CONEP) announced that it will hold a gala luncheon in honor of the Mexican President.

DR’s forest cover greater than previously thought
A new study to be published next week finds that the DR’s forest cover is much greater than previously thought. Until now, it was thought that the nation’s forests only covered 11% of its territory. In a study to be published next week in the National Botanical Garden’s scientific magazine "Moscosoa," the Agriculture Ministry’s Natural Resources Subsecretariat (SURENA) finds a cover of 27.5%. Conifers occupy 3,000 km2 (6.27% of national territory), broadleaf trees 6,306 km2 (13.08%), and "dry forest" 3,677 km2 (7.63%).

A Mirador Park for the Haina River?
The designer of the new boulevard on 27 de Febrero Avenue, architect Danny Pérez, plans to summit to the Public Works Ministry and the Technical Secretariat of the Presidency plans and designs for an idea he has to save the Haina River from environmental degradation: the creation of a "Haina Ecological Mirador Park." The concept is to declare a strip on both sides of the Haina as a "green belt," untouchable by housing and commercial development. The strip, which Pérez conceives as running from the Santo Domingo-San Cristóbal Highway until Manoguayabo, would be developed as an "ecological park" for citizens and tourists to enjoy boating, open spaces, perhaps some sculptures and mini-theaters for folkloric presentations, etc. Pérez is proposing the concept, he says, so that the DR can avoid with the Haina what has happened to the Ozama River on the other side of Santo Domingo: uncontrolled growth on its banks, with rapid environmental deterioration of the river and its environs.

DR’s teledensity rising fast
According to information provided by the Geneva-based International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the United Nations specialized agency that handles all telecommunications issues, the DR already has a "teledensity" (number of phone lines per 100 inhabitants) of 9.4, up from 4.2 just nine years before. During that period some 400,000 new phone lines were brought into service in the DR, a majority of them cellular. The DR’s teledensity is projected by ITU to go as high as 15 by the year 2003. The DR’s 1996 teledensity of 8.2 was higher than the Latin American median of 7.8. As a point of comparison, teledensity in Bolivia is 5.3, Norway 5.7, Mexico 9.2, Brazil 9.3, Canada 62.7 and in the U.S. 64.2.

DPC investigates OMSA
The Corruption Prevention Department (DPC) of the Attorney-General’s Office yesterday opened an investigation into the initial purchase last year of 300 buses by the Metropolitan Office of Bus Services (OMSA). The investigation was initiated due to a complaint filed by the union group National Transport Federation – The New Option (FENATRANO). FENATRANO claims that information it has shows that the buses were purposefully overvalued by between US$8,000 and US$13,000 apiece, which implies, if true, that the Dominican state was defrauded to the tune of some US$300 million. FENATRANO says that the buses were originally contracted for between US$70,000-75,000 apiece, but when they were finally acquired, the Dominican government actually paid US$83,333. The investigation began yesterday with an interview by DPC head Justo Pedro Castellanos Khoury with FENATRANO President Juan Hubieres. Hubieres claims to have copies of checks made out to people involved in the purchase who did nothing recorded to earn the money. He also said he has evidence that before it made the purchase, the Government received offers from other sources for quality buses whose costs would have saved the Dominican treasury between US$20,000-30,000 per bus, but OMSA ignored them.

Health Minister & AMD work out agreements
After weeks of trading rhetorical jabs at each other through the media and a series of selective strikes by doctors in public hospitals, the Public Health Minister and the directorate of the Dominican Medical Association (AMD) finally negotiated face-to-face again yesterday. Minister Altagracia Guzmán Marcelino paid a surprise visit to AMD’s offices to try to get the interchange between the Ministry (SESPAS) and AMD going again. The two sides discussed five points of contention: (1) sanctions used by SESPAS against doctors; (2) SESPAS’ demand for a written service contract with doctors serving in public hospitals; (3) the payment of the government’s debt to the doctors’ medical insurance fund; (4) AMD’s demand for SESPAS to rehire doctors recently fired by the latter; (5) AMD’s demand for a large salary hike. After much discussion, it was agreed that SESPAS would (1) pay immediately RD$2 million of the RD$8 million the government owes to the doctors’ health insurance plan; (2) deliver severance checks to those doctors recently let go from public hospitals; (3) rehire five doctors fired in Montecristi. No agreement was reached on the contract and raise questions, but it was agreed to discuss them again in a meeting to be held Monday, April 5th, after the Holy Week holidays. AMD in turn agreed to halt its program of protests and work stoppages until after the April 5th meeting.

Nagua strike ends
It took a phone call from President Fernández, but in any case the week-long strike in Nagua was finally ended yesterday. The President called the Governor of María Trinidad Sánchez Province, Arístides Victoria José, and asked him to take steps to defuse the situation. In return, President Fernández will meet with provincial leaders on Monday at the National Palace. The provincial representatives will indicate the four most important public projects needed by the province, and the President will order them to be taken care of immediately. Shortly after the call, the local district attorney, acting on "orders from above," released populists leaders detained since the beginning of the week, along with some 70 others detained during the week’s confrontations with police. Strikers had vowed to continue the strike until the prisoners were released.

80% of malaria cases are in border zone
The Director of the National Malaria Elimination Service (SNEM), Guillermo González, reported yesterday that the DR had 2,006 cases of malaria detected in 1998, a tiny fraction of the 1,070,000 cases reported in the Americas every year. He said that traditionally the DR registers between 1,400 and 1,800 cases a year, so last year was an exceptional year. About 80% of the cases are from the border provinces of Dajabón, Jimaní, Mao Valverde, Montecristi and Pedernales, with the remainder divided between Santiago and Santo Domingo. With the help of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the European Union’s (EU) Lomé Convention health program, the DR and Haiti are cooperating to try to tackle the problem in the frontier region.

Over 200 houses of prostitution closed by police
The new National Police (PN) chief, Major General Pedro de Jesús Candelier, yesterday told reporters that in the one month he has been in office the PN has closed more than 200 houses of prostitution. He asserted that in the process the PN has "rescued" a large quantity of minors being served alcoholic beverages and being encouraged to prostitute themselves. The sites closed have been in La Romana, Puerto Plata, San Pedro de Macorís, Santiago and Santo Domingo. In most cases the owners of the establishments have been arrested for exploiting minors and selling alcoholic beverages to minors.

Music at Altos de Chavón
The "Heineken Live" concert will be held tomorrow night at the amphitheater at Altos de Chavón outside La Romana. Originally conceived as a jazz festival, the concert now features a variety of music styles, including jazz, Latin jazz, pop rock and "Caribbean fusion." Scheduled to appear are the group "Milenium," Eddy Palmieri, the Latin pop group "No Mercy," "Bacachá Tropical Jazz" and American pop rocker Taylor Dayne. "Milenium" is a group of well-known Latin jazz artists, including Johnny Pacheco, Hilton Ruíz, Giovanny Hidalgo, Juan Pablo Torres and Charlie Sepúlveda. Tickets for the concert can still be bought at Esso filing stations and Pizzarelli restaurants.

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