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Daily News - 22 April 1999

Dialogue discusses JCE candidates
The eighth session of the political dialogue started by President Leonel Fernández spent much of its time discussing who might be nominated to an expanded Central Elections Board (JCE). The three major political parties ­ the ruling Dominican Liberation Party (PLD), the Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD, which controls Congress) and the Reformist-Social Christian Party (PRSC) ­ have agreed that the JCE membership should be expanded from five to seven members, but have yet to agree on acceptable candidates to fill the new slots. Yesterday PLD suggested for consideration Aura Celeste Fernández, who served on the JCE that organized the 1996 national elections. The PRSC aired a long list of potential nominees, including Prim Pujals, Zoila Medina de Martínez, Julio César Castaños Guzmán, Ramón Pina Acevedo, Alejandro Asmar and Cirilo Collado Luna.
Last night's also discussed a proposal by President Fernández for a "peace pact" between the parties for smooth conduct of the year 2000 presidential elections. The pact would outline an ethics code for electioneering.
The next session of the dialogue, scheduled for next Wednesday, is expected to return to discussion of JCE candidates.

61% of upcoming public works destined for provinces
The Public Works Minister, Diandino Peña, told a luncheon with the Corripio Communications Group that 61% of the RD$8.5 billion priority public works program President Fernández has announced for the rest of his term of office is earmarked for programs benefiting provinces. [The Corripio Group includes the daily newspapers Hoy and El Nacional and the Teleantillas and Telesistema television channels.] Peña said that RD$2.4 billion will be directed at works within the National District (DN) and RD$1.6 billion for tourism infrastructure projects; the rest will go projects for "the interior" or those of "national coverage or jurisdiction." For the latter category, he cited East Highway (alone earmarked for RD$750 million), the beltway around Santiago, the rehabilitation of the docks at Puerto Plata, the widening of the Navarrete road, reconstruction of the Santiago-San José de las Matas highway, and repairs to all the bridges damaged by Hurricane Georges. Peña attributed the program to lofty motives such as contributing to sustained economic growth, raising the quality of life and love of country. Political commentators in the media, however, note that many of the projects are those demanded by strikers or are in areas where the ruling PLD faces low or sagging political support.

International Book Fair to open tonight
President Fernández will inaugurate the Second International Book Fair tonight at 7 pm on the grounds of the National Conservatory in Santo Domingo. This year's fair is dedicated to National Poet Pedro Mir and to Mexico as special guest country. Mir, 85 years old and sick with chronic respiratory troubles, will be unable to attend the inaugural ceremonies. The 11-day fair invited participation from 26 countries; participating will be 203 foreign publishers, including 81 from Mexico, 44 from Spain, 20 from Puerto Rico, 16 from Cuba, five from Argentina, and an enormous exhibition from the People's Republic of China. Ninety-three Dominican bookstores will participate, as will 38 authors, 26 governmental bodies, 15 cultural foundations and academies, eight publishers, and six multilateral organizations (such as the Pan American Health Organization).

Bill to eliminate textbook tariffs moves
The Chamber of Deputies yesterday gave preliminary approval to a bill that would set a zero tariff for all textbooks and books considered to be scientific in nature. Approved in first reading, the bill had been introduced by PRD Deputies Ivelisse Prats de Pérez and Hugo Tolentino Dipp, both representing the DN. It now goes to a special committee for review before returning to the Chamber floor for final vote. The Deputies say that they are pushing the bill because the cost of textbooks has skyrocketed in recent years, putting them beyond the buying power of some students.

Reformistas in government reject party suspension
The PRSC leaders sanctioned by their party on Monday for participating in the PLD-led government have unanimously refused to leave their posts and to recognize the suspension of their party functions. Alfredo Mota Ruiz, civil assistant to President Fernández, Arístides Fernández Zuco, governor of Las Américas International Airport, Vitelio Mejía, director of the Civil Aviation Board, Annie Felipe, director of Passports, and Gimmy García Saviñon, advisor to the President on sugar matters, all refused to recognize the statutory authority of the PRSC's Executive Committee to suspend them and called upon PRSC leader, ex-President Joaquín Balaguer, to clarify his own position about Reformistas serving in the PLD government.

New telecom regulatory body created
President Fernández yesterday formally created the new telecommunications regulatory body called for by the new General Telecommunications Law [No. 153-98, enacted in February 1998]. By issuing Decree 176-99, the President replaced the current Directorate-General of Telecommunications with the Dominican Telecommunications Institute (Instituto Dominicano de Telecomunicaciones ­ INDOTEL). He also appointed José Guillermo Sued, television commentator and producer and the former governor of Las Américas International Airport, for a four-year term as President of INDOTEL's management council. Other council members include Radhamés Cornielle, who will represent final providers of public telecom services, Juárez Víctor Castillo Semán, who will represent broadcasters, and Héctor Castillo Morel, who will represent user interests. The Technical Secretary of the Presidency (currently Temístocles Montás) serves as ex-officio member of the council.

SD leery of new airport plans
The Santo Domingo city government has expressed strong reservations about the central government's plans to move the Herrera Airport to Higüero, northeast of the capital. Roberto Castillo Tío, Technical Director for the city, said yesterday that he believes it is far too risky to locate the new airport next to the city's waste dump, Duquesa. The city is also upset because they believe that they should have been notified and consulted about the plans. The city has sent a communication to the State Sugar Council (CEA) protesting the sale of its lands in the area for construction of the airport without notifying the city.

Journalist arrested in JCE letter flap
Journalist Frank Rosario was arrested yesterday by the National Department of Investigations (DNI) for allegedly perpetrating a hoax designed to smear the reputation of Central Election Board (JCE) President Manuel Ramón Morel Cerda. On Monday newspapers printed a letter faxed to them that was supposedly written by Morel Cerda. The letter criticized President Fernández and the Catholic Church for their part in the national political dialogue and rejected agreements reached there that would affect the JCE. Morel Cerda immediately called the letter a hoax. A quick investigation by DNI led to Rosario, who formerly was the Public Relations Director at the JCE. Rosario denies having anything to do with the letter; he claims he is being set up by a dirty tricks group with a political agenda.

Is there a Cuban defector in SD or not?
After a small circulation weekly published a report claiming that a member of Cuban leader Fidel Castro's security detail defected this last weekend during the Caribbean Summit, Santo Domingo has been abuzz with speculation about the possible repercussions for U.S.-Dominican and Cuban-Dominican relations. The weekly claimed that one of Fidel's security officers presented himself to the U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo seeking political asylum. Attempts by Dominican news media to confirm the story have been stonewalled by the American embassy, which refuses to either confirm or deny the story. Cuban diplomats claim to know of no such defection, and the Dominican Foreign Ministry says that it has not been notified of any such case. If the defector does indeed exist and is taking refuge within the American Embassy, it puts the Dominican Government in an awkward position. The DR would not wish to anger the U.S. by refusing safe passage for the defector out of the country, but nor would it wish to sour the steadily improving relations it has with Cuba.

DR government to officially commemorate 1965 war for first time
Although there have long been nongovernmental events and unofficial governmental observations of the anniversary of the 1965 war that eventually led to U.S. intervention, never before has the Dominican Government sponsored a series of official events to commemorate the anniversary. The move to do so this time caught many by surprise, and the schedule was only just released last night by a Presidential Commission on national events, with many details not yet provided. According to the sketchy official program released, tomorrow, Friday April 23rd, all schools will have talk sessions with the students on the general theme of "Content and Dimensions of the War of April 1965." Then at 8:00 pm, a guitar performance led by guitarist Manuel Jiménez, will be held at the Fine Arts Palace (Palacio de Bellas Artes) on the theme of the war. Saturday, April 24th, 300 copies of René Fortunado's documentary film, "Abril, la Trinchera del Honor," will be distributed 9-10:00 am at the Copello building in the Colonial Zone's El Conde sector. This building was where the government of Colonel Francisco Alberto Caamaño Deñó was set up during the conflict. At 10 am there will be a memorial mass presided over by Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús Rodríguez at the Catedral Primada de América for all those killed during the war.

Dominican exports to Caribbean nations rising
The Dominican Center for Export Promotion (CEDOPEX) released figures yesterday showing that Dominican exports to the member nations of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) rose 68.4% during the 1995-98 period, from US$44.9 million to US$75.6 million.

Nurses on strike
The nation's nurses began a 48-hour strike yesterday morning at 8 AM, affecting services in all the nation's public hospitals. The strike, due to end on Friday morning at 8 AM, was called by the National Union of Dominican Nursing Services (UNASED) to push for their salary raise demand and to force the government to implement an agreement it made with nurses in 1997. The strike does not affect emergency services, nor private clinics. Yesterday UNASED leaders met with Public Health Minister Altagracia Guzmán Marcelino to discuss their demands, but no progress was made. UNASED Secretary-General Minerva Magdaleno told reporters that the Minister did not offer any concrete proposals to address union demands.

Doctors & Public Health fail to agree on raise
A meeting yesterday failed to produce an agreement between the Dominican Medical Association (AMD) and Public Health Minister Altagracia Guzmán Marcelino concerning the doctors' demands for a substantial pay raise. AMD is demanding a raise of RD$15,000 per month for most doctors, and RD$25,000 more per month for service chiefs and specialists. Guzmán yesterday only offered raises between RD$1,500-2,000 per month, and that contingent on Congressional approval for new taxes to pay for the raise. AMD ridiculed the offer and said that its Executive Committee will meet today to plan a new round of protest actions, including strikes, to force the government to come to terms.

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