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Daily News - 30 March 1999

Voices of doubt about the dialogue
Although President Leonel Fernández continues to express optimism about a positive outcome to the political dialogue he convened between the three major political parties, others are beginning to voice doubts. His party, the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD), officially echoes his optimism. The titular chief of the main rival, the Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD), Enmanuel Esquea Guerrero, continues to express his support for reaching accords in the dialogue. Yesterday, however, one of the contenders for his party’s presidential nomination, ex-Santo Domingo mayor Rafael ("Fello") Subverí Bonilla, said that the PRD should have pulled out of the dialogue when the PLD refused to have the talks televised. Without the talks being exposed to public scrutiny, the Dominican public can never see for themselves "who really says one thing and does another." The dialogue "doesn’t have future, nor a present," he declared. It is only a trap for his party.
Meanwhile, Reformist-Social Christian Party (PRSC) leader Antún Batlle said on television channel 11’s show "El Dia" that "the Dominican public is tired of talk about dialogue, and I feel the same way. The people want us to solve their problems, and we’re not talking that [in the dialogue]." After six sessions of the dialogue, he sees little sign of progress. The mistake in organizing the dialogue, he asserted, was to agree to putting the two difficult agenda items – the composition of the Central Election Board (JCE) and the Secretary-General (SG) of the Dominican Municipal League (LMD) – first. The dialogue should instead have focused on areas where the three parties could most readily reach agreements, building a foundation upon which tougher bargaining could occur on the trickier, touchier issues of the JCE and LMD.

President suspends new road tolls
President Fernández yesterday issued a decree, No. 115-99, suspending the collection of road tolls until next Monday. The new modern toll booths opened last Friday on major highways entering and leaving Santo Domingo had featured sharply higher tolls and new collection procedures. As a result, lines at the booths became so long that some drivers reportedly had to wait an hour or more to pay the toll. The President decided it was better to remove the source of the bottlenecks until the Holy Week vacation period is over.

ADOEXPO: CARICOM list unacceptable
The President of the Dominican Association of Exporters (ADOEXPO), Juan José Attías, said yesterday that no free trade agreement with the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) was preferable to one that featured a "negative list" as long as the one CARICOM members want. If CARICOM can accept a list about the size and type of the one negotiated in the Miami Protocol with Central America, he said, then it would be worth signing a protocol with CARICOM. He also complained that the CARICOM proposal features nearly every item in which the DR is competitive. Signing such a list, he declared, "would be a waste of time." ADOEXPO’s Executive Director, Horacio Alvarez, echoed these comments. He added that the CARICOM list is problematic because many of the items in the proposals are actually general product categories, and thus cover numerous individual products. As an example, he cited the proposed exclusion for "oils," which can include vegetable oils, animal oils, edible oils and mineral oils. Alvarez also asked the Dominican government to propose separating out from this protocol the questions of customs procedures and technical standards. Otherwise, he asserted, "you’re just asking to waste time."
The DR and CARICOM signed a framework free trade agreement last summer. The details of market access were to be left to a treaty protocol, which among other things would feature a list of products exempted from the treaty’s market access guarantees ("negative list"). Last November the DR broke protocol negotiations with CARICOM when the latter presented a draft negative list of 900 products, versus a Dominican proposal for 11. Recently CARICOM presented the DR with a "smaller" draft list of 120 products.

PRSC names choices for Senate seat
The head of the PRSC, ex-President Joaquín Balaguer, yesterday sent to the Senate his choices to replace Amable Aristy Castro as the Senator for Altagracia Province. Aristy Castro last month resigned as Senate in favor of being the LMD SG; the Dominican Constitution prohibits legislators from holding another public office. According to Article 91 of the Constitution, the PRSC had 30 days – i.e., until this week -- to name three party members from whom it would like the Senate to pick a substitute to take up the empty seat. Failing submission of such a list, the (PRD-controlled) Senate would be empowered to nominate a substitute. Balaguer submitted the names of Ricardo Sánchez (a Deputy), Juan Santana Castro and Hugo Alberto González.

JCE: 1,000’s of "irregular" cedulas issued in 1993-94
Yesterday JCE President Ramón Morel Cerda told reporters that the Board has found evidence that in 1993 and 1994 the then-CDE issued "thousands" of "irregular" voter identity cards ("cedulas") to Haitians, dead people and military men (members of the military are not allowed to vote while in service). The cedulas were obtained using false birth certificates issued by civil offices at the time, and were probably obtained in order to commit voting fraud in the 1994 elections. Morel Cerda said, however, the cards have been detected and are being seized when they are presented to the JCE to obtain the new cedula needed in order to vote in the year 2000 presidential elections.

Dominican children of Haitians denied cedulas
A group of 14 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) has filed a formal petition with the JCE asking it to take action to stop discrimination against children born in the DR whose father or mother is Haitian. The groups allege that JCE offices are refusing to give these children cedulas, even when presented with an official Dominican birth certificate. Sometimes, Solange Pierre of the Dominican-Haitian Women’s Movement (MUDHA) told reporters, this has occurred even when the mother is second or third-generation Dominican. Pierre alleged that the situation is due to a purposeful policy adopted by the JCE. Without the cedula, the children cannot attend public schools or receive public health services, among other citizen’s rights. The NGOs say some 60-70% of these children are not attending school now for this reason. One famous case cited was 16-year Claubian Yan Yaque, who shortly after being nationally recognized as one of the DR’s best students was forced to leave school because he cannot get his cedula. The situation recently has gotten worse, say the NGOs, because Dominican hospitals have started denying a hospital birth certificate for children born in the DR of a Haitian parent. Without the hospital certificate, an official state certificate cannot be obtained, and without that, no cedula. The NGOs say that the JCE actions, as well as that of other state institutions, violates Article 11 of the Dominican Constitution (all those born in the DR have a right to Dominican citizenship), Law 659 on the issuance of birth certificates, and Article 1 of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

AMET forcibly removes buses from Duarte Highway
Armed agents of the Metropolitan Transit Authority (AMET) and tow trucks yesterday descended in the early morning hours upon dozens of private buses parked on the side of the road at Kilometer 9 of the Duarte Highway and hauled away the buses. The action was resisted by drivers and others at the scene, resulting in some injuries. The buses have long used the area – drivers say 20 years -- as a de facto parking lot and boarding area and did not heed warnings to stop the practice. Drivers unions are threatening to paralyze public transport in the Northern regions in protest of the action. Most of the buses served northern destinations.

In 1998 DR’s non-FTZ exports dropped
According to figures released yesterday by the Dominican Export Center (CEDOPEX), exports from Dominican free trade zones (FTZs, known in the DR as "zonas francas") rose over 27%, while non-FTZ exports fell 14.18%. The DR exported US$3,823.8 million in 1998, US$3,059 million of it from FTZs (80%) and US$764.5 million from so-called "national exports" (exports from FTZs are considered outside a country’s customs territory). Within the FTZ export category there was a notable drop in non-processed agricultural goods exported, down from US$319.3 million in 1997 to US$25.8 million in 1998, a 92% drop. Handicraft exports from FTZs also dropped 18%. Export of agro-industrial goods from FTZs rose 21.5%, however, from US$225.3 million in 1997 to US$273.8 million in 1998. As for mineral exports, CEDOPEX reports that in 1998 gold and silver exports fell 46.45%, (US$27.3 million to US$14.6 million), ferro-nickel exports fell 42%, and bauxite exports stopped altogether.

Pay in FTZs RD$6 billion per year
Industry and Commerce Minister Luis Manuel Bonetti said yesterday that the FTZs generate about RD$6 billion paid in salaries per year to some 195,000 employees. FTZs generate more than US$825 million a year. In the 1996-98 period (i.e., since President Fernández took office), the FTZs have grown 14%, with 60 new companies and 30,000 new employees. These figures explain, he said, why the government supports and promotes investment in the FTZs. He said that if the U.S. adopts the so-called textile parity legislation, it will mean 20% growth for the Dominican FTZs in the first year alone, generating another 25,000 jobs. Under the bill, the other nations of the Caribbean Basin would be given the same U.S. market access for textiles as Mexico now enjoys under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

CODETEL: stop taxing telecoms more than others
In a lunch with economics reporters, officials of the Dominican Telephone Company (CODETEL) warned that extraordinarily high rate tax burden of the nation’s telecommunications sector may retard the DR’s growth rate. They urged that telecom services have a tax burden similar to that of other industries, and not be required to bear more than its share of supplying the national treasury. In 1998 taxes on the telecom sector supplied RD$2.074 billion to the national treasury, and CODETEL projects that in 1999 that sum will be RD$2.4 billion (based on the fact that RD$601 million was paid in the first quarter of 1999). Reviewing the tax burden should be one of the first tasks of the new regulator, the Dominican Telecommunications Institute (INDOTEL), when it becomes operational. The tax that bothers the industry the most, say CODETEL executives, is the one they dub "the canon": the 10% taken from their gross (not net) income. Other taxes include the 8% Industrial Goods and Service Transfer Tax (ITBIS), the 2% on all invoices earmarked for the Telecommunications Development Fund (CDT), special taxes imposed on rentals, honorariums, title transfers and complementary repayments (at rates of 20%, 10%, 2% and 25%, respectively), the 25% paid on honorariums paid to retain the right to provide international services, the 25% tax withholding on salaries, and tariffs of between 5% and 30% on imports of telecom equipment. Last year CODETEL paid RD$768.2 million for "the canon," RD$535.6 million for ITBIS, RD$381.5 million in import tariffs, RD$153.6 million in taxes on long distance taxes (this tax was eliminated in August 1998), RD$127.9 million in salary withholdings, RD$ 44.7million for the CDT, and RD$51.5 million for retention of international services. The CODETEL figures suggest this one firm alone provided around 10% of the nation’s total internal tax revenues for 1998.

Sailors arrested for "toll" incident
The entire compliment of Navy personnel stationed at Nagua, including its commander, have been placed under arrest and moved to 27 de Febrero Naval Base pending an investigation into the so-called "toll" incident. Rear Admiral Juan Tomás Díaz Polanco has been put in charge of a commission of inquiry to investigate the facts of the incident. Daily newspapers carried over the weekend the story of the death of a traveler and injuries of eight others on an illegal boat trip from Nagua on the Northeast Coast to Puerto Rico. Some 100-120 persons would have made the trip. News stories said that two Navy men, stationed in Nagua, shot at the boat people when they chose to leave without paying an alleged RD$71,000 "toll" to the Navy personnel. Reportedly, they paid the Navy staff RD$14,000, but refused to pay the additional sum.

Sammy Sosa elected Athlete of the Year
Sammy Sosa was elected Athlete of the Year by the Santo Domingo Association of Sports Reporters (ACD).

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