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Daily News - 23 April 1999

Excess of room supply, affects hotel profitability
In an interview with the Listín Diario, entrepreneur Gabriel Barceló Oliver, speaking on behalf of the Barceló hotel group, stressed that one of the main reasons why occupancy and profitability is down among Dominicans hotels is that there has been a consistent increase in new hotel room. The Dominican hotel room inventory has increased about 10% a year and is now at about 45,000 rooms. He called for investors and the government to come to their senses and work from a plan that would envision a reasonable amount of rooms that can enter the market, keeping in line with the demand. He said that supply has far outpaced demand in the past two years. He said that it is a lose-lose situation, because hotels have to compete among themselves for the same travelers, which results in lower room rates, less profitability, less taxes paid to the government. He said that employment also suffers as hotels cut jobs as their profitability declines. He also alerted that the increase in hotel rooms places new demands on infrastructure, such as airport services, highways, aqueducts, and garbage collection, among others. The Barceló group operates some 2,500 hotels rooms located in the Barceló Bávaro hotels in the East Coast as well as the Capella Beach Resort in Juan Dolio.

Bolsa Turística del Caribe opens tonight
The III Caribbean Tourism Bourse opens today at the Dominican Fiesta Hotel in Santo Domingo. The event is sponsored by the Ministry of Tourism and the National Hotel & Restaurant Association, and is the most important travel trade event held annually in the country. The event this year is dedicated to Santo Domingo. The trade show will continue through Sunday, 25 April. A large selection of the leading Dominican tourism companies as well as exhibitors from foreign countries interested in the Dominican travel market are participating.

CDE administrator says days of blackouts are past
The general administrator of the Dominican Electricity Corporation, Radhames Segura said that the technical problems that affected the Smith-Enron and Dominican Power private generators have been resolved. These problems caused the companies to cut their generation, which resulted in a resurgence of the long blackouts that Dominicans had begun to forget about. Segura said that the ten-day crisis is over and the power should be restored, with a significant reduction in outages. He said that power demand has increased 10%, and that on line again are about 1,400 megawatts. Demand is approximately 1,500 megawatts.

Traffic detoured to give way to construction works
The Ministry of Public Works has reported that traffic will be detoured East-West along the 27 de Febrero to facilitate the avenue's expansion works. The government is about to initiate construction of the overpass from Leopoldo Navarro street to Duarte Bridge. Traffic is being detoured from Duarte Bridge to Teniente Amado García street starting Monday, 27 April.

Book Fair opens
President Leonel Fernández stressed the importance of education as the pillar for social and economic development in the DR upon inaugurating the II International Book Fair. The fair is dedicated to Dominican Poet, Pedro Mir and to Mexico. Rafael Lantigua, chief organizer of the fair, said that this year 466 exhibitors, including 203 foreign publishing houses from 26 countries, are participating. Some 93 bookstores, 38 individual authors, 28 governmental organizations, 15 cultural foundations, 12 universities, local publishing houses, professional associations, newspapers, magazines, painters, educational videos, computer and religious groups have booths.
This year there are 32% more exhibitors than last year. The book fair is the most important cultural event held in the DR every year. Almost half a million people are expected to visit.
The International Book Fair will last from 22 April to 2 May. It is again held on the grounds of the National Music Conservatory. The government is spending RD$10-12 million for the event that seeks to promote reading and culture in general.

Millennium conference
President Leonel Fernandez will give the keynote address at the "Caribbean Leadership, Partners for a New Millennium" workshop that is opening at the Hotel Jaragua today. One of the key speakers at the event is Howard Wiarda, of the University of Massachusetts' Political Sciences School, and who is considered an expert on Dominican affairs. He has carried out extensive research on Dominican migration to the US. Attending the seminar are leaders from Barbados, St. Lucia, Martinique, Trinidad & Tobago, Haiti, Bermudas, Belize, Barbudas Surinam, Grenada, Guyana, Dominica and the United States. The Program for Caribbean Leadership of the US Center of Strategic and International Studies sponsors the activity.

Customs announces new cars will cost less
The Customs Department announced new regulations that reduce the taxes paid on new utility cars, making these more attractive to local consumers. The idea is for Dominicans to prefer new vehicles, rather second hand vehicles. Large numbers of used vehicles that have been imported in recent years have increased environmental contamination. Customs announced that it is cutting the tax on new cars valued up to US$16,000 by 20%. To compensate for lost revenues, it is raising taxes on luxury vehicles by 8 and 6 percent. Norm 2-99 also increases the depreciation of new vehicles, as part of measures to make buying new vehicles more attractive.
Giving examples, of what the tax changes will mean to consumers, Customs Director Cocco said that a 1998 Honda Civic that paid RD$66,566 will now pay RD$51,509 in taxes. A Toyota Camry that paid RD$131,933 in taxes will now pay RD$96,741. While a Toyota Lexus that paid RD$402,000 will now pay RD$457,000.

JCE wants RD$50 million to issue voting cards in time
The president of the Junta Central Electoral, Dr. Manuel Ramón Morel Cerda is requesting an additional RD$50 million from the central government to move ahead and surpass deficiencies of the provider of the new voting and identification cards. Datocentro, the informatics firm that won the bid to provide the cards, has experienced technical difficulties and is several months behind on its deadlines. The money would be used to purchase new equipment to set up additional in order to complete the cedula process in time to meet deadlines set for the 2000 presidential election. The proposed plan would permit the JCE to issue cards to an average of 22,000 persons per day. Some three million Dominicans have yet to get their cedulas. Only 1,200,000 have obtained these so far.

Fidel Castro security man requests asylum
Captain Lázaro Betancourt reportedly defected on Saturday evening, or early Sunday morning, and requested asylum at the US Embassy, according to press reports. Dominican intelligence sources reportedly confirmed the news to Hoy newspaper. It has been reported that he will be sent to Washington. DC. He arrived to the DR on Thursday as part of the security force contingent that came to prepare for the visit of President Fidel Castro. Castro visited to attend the Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Association of Caribbean States. The Ministry of Foreign Relations nor the US Embassy has commented on the request.

Aura Celeste Fernández not interested in post in JCE
Aura Celeste Fernandez, who El Siglo reported is the ruling Partido de la Liberación Dominicana's candidate to be their representative at the Junta Central Electoral, following political agreements, said she is not interested. The former judge of the very successful JCE board that organized the 1996 presidential elections, said in a letter to the director of El Siglo, that the only way to guarantee an undisputed electoral process is that the board be directed by persons that are not affiliated to political parties.

Warden and security officers fired at Victoria Jail
The chief of the National Police, Major General Pedro Jesus Candelier Tejada cancelled the entire staff of the La Victoria Jail for complicity with the inmates. He is charging several of the officers for granting privileges, such as alcoholic beverage consumption and use of cellulars, and permitting narcotics drugs sales within the jail. The Attorney General's office also cancelled the warden of the jail. Several of the officers will be sent to a war council by the Police authorities. The La Victoria Jail is the principal jail in the DR.

Traffic lights to be hurricane proof
The city government of Santo Domingo announced the installation of 150 new traffic lights. The Ayuntamiento says they have purchased Israeli-made lights that are resistant to the winds of hurricanes. Total cost is RD$56 million. Last year, Hurricane Georges damaged 90% of the city's traffic lights. The new traffic lights will be used on the most important intersections of the city of Santo Domingo.

US Army begins construction of eight schools
The US Army began the construction of eight two or three room schools in the province of Monte Plata. Some 3,500 US military will participate in the construction works. This is part of the US army training program. The construction has been named operation named Caribbean Castles and calls for a donation of US$10 million. Minister of Education Ligia Amada Melo and the president of the Senate, Ramón Alburquerque represented the Dominican government during the ceremony that marked the start of the construction. US Embassy charge d'affairs Linda Watt and Colonel Edward Sweeny, represented the donating party. Mrs. Melo highlighted how Hurricane Georges had damaged or totally destroyed 219 schools, and left another 300 schools without roofs. Members of the US armed forces will also offer medical and dental services to the communities where the schools will be built.

Dominicans boxers score big in Puerto Rico
The Dominican boxing team returned home yesterday after an excellent performance in the Pan American Games trials held in Puerto Rico. Eleven of 12 Dominican boxers qualified to participate in the boxing tournament of the Pan Am Games scheduled for Winnipeg, Canada, this coming 23 July. They competed against the best boxers from 12 nations in the Americas. Trainer Ruddy Zapata said the team did better than expected. He said they had hoped eight boxers would qualify.

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