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Daily News - 28 April 1999

Dialogue resumes tonight
The ninth session of the political dialogue between the three major political parties ­ the ruling Dominican Liberation Party (PLD), the Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD, which controls the Congress), and the Reformist-Social Christian Party (PRSC) ­ is due to convene late this afternoon at the National Palace. The principal focus of today's session is expected to be who would be suitable candidates for new slots on the Central Election Board (JCE) when it is expanded from five to seven members. Last week PLD suggested for consideration Aura Celeste Fernández, who served on the JCE that organized the 1996 national elections. She has since then publicly stated that she will not accept any such nomination. For its part, the PRSC last week 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.
Tonight's session will also probably discuss a proposal made last week 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.

Senate approves JCE expansion bill
The Senate yesterday approved in second reading a bill that would expand the JCE's membership from five to seven members. The measure now awaits approval by the Chamber of Deputies.

President asks Senate approval of 5 "high priority" loans
In a letter addressed to Senate President Ramón Alburquerque (PRD-Monte Plata), President Fernández formally requests Senate approval of five international loans he characterizes as "high priority" for the nation. Although dated April 22nd, the existence of the letter was not revealed until it was read aloud yesterday in the Senate. The five loans singled out by the President are (1) a US$105 million Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) loan for reconstruction after Hurricane Georges; (2) a US$111.1 million World Bank loan for post-hurricane reconstruction; (3) a US$48 million IBD loan for maintenance of neighborhood roads and streets; (4) a US$10.3 million IBD loan to develop a financing program for the government; (5) a US$12 million loan from the Rome-based International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) to help agriculture in the DR's southwest. Alburquerque has blocked Senate approval of any international loans to protest Administration actions during confrontations over the Dominican Municipal League (LMD) elections. During that period the Congress was surrounded by a police cordon, one Senator was shot in a scuffle with police and several other Senators, including Alburquerque, were physically prevented from visiting LMD headquarters.

Senate delays selection of Aristy Castro replacement
The Senate yesterday officially notified the head of the PRSC, ex-President Dr. Joaquín Balaguer, that it will only consider his party's list of three candidates for the currently vacant Altagracia Province seat in the Senate when the list is no longer headed by a sitting Federal Deputy. That is to say, the PRSC's top choice, Deputy Ramón Ricardo Sánchez de la Rosa, must first resign his Chamber seat or else be taken off the list. The vacancy was created when Amable Aristy Castro resigned because of his new position as LMD Secretary-General (the Dominican Constitution does not allow sitting legislators to hold other public office). As is the tradition, the party that had won the vacant seat in the previous elections can nominate three of its members from which the Senate can choose a successor. In addition to Dr. Sánchez de la Rosa, the PRSC had nominated Juan Santana Castro and Hugo Alberto González.

Costa Rica ratifies free trade agreement with DR
On Monday evening Costa Rica became the first nation to ratify the free trade agreement (FTA) between the Dominican Republic and the five member countries of the Central American common market (Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua). Yesterday a Foreign Ministry spokesman, Frederic Emán Zadé, revealed that Nicaragua recently informally notified the DR that it will drop its efforts to renegotiate the terms of the FTA's market access protocol ("Miami Protocol") and submit the treaty package as-is for ratification by its National Assembly. That would leave only Honduras as demanding a renegotiation, making it less likely that the DR would agree to go back to the bargaining table.

DR meets with other nations interested in FTAs with DR
The Foreign Ministry yesterday opened a formal two-day meeting with the ambassadors of the six countries (Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Mexico, Venezuela) which have indicated an interest in negotiating FTAs with the Dominican Republic. The meeting is being at the Central Bank and is presided over by Maribel Gassó, the President's chief trade advisor. Yesterday morning Chile presented outlined its case for a FTA with the DR, as did Cuba yesterday afternoon. Ecuador makes its presentation this morning and Venezuela this afternoon. Colombia and Mexico have decided not to make formal proposals yet. So far the greatest interest appears to be in an FTA with Chile. Chile says that it is willing to negotiate a treaty as comprehensive and as liberal as the DR thinks it can tolerate.
Asked why the DR would start pursuing new FTAs before its existing one with Central America is even ratified by Congress, Ministry spokesman Frederic Emán Zadé pointed out that if the DR wishes to conclude any FTA at all within the next three years, it must start laying the groundwork now.

Then again, maybe Higüero airport decision isn't final
Just 24 hours after his colleague was declaring that there "no turning back" on the decision to move the airport at Herrera to Higüero, the President of the Airport Commission, Rafael Serrano, yesterday said that arrangements to locate the airport in Higüero actually have not been finalized yet. Monday the Executive Director of the Airport Department, Melanio Paredes, made the decision sound like a fait accompli and criticized parties hoping to reverse it. In his discussions yesterday with reporters, Serrano sounded more cautious about the finality of the move. He noted that the State Sugar Council (CEA) has yet to formalize the transfer of its lands in Higüero next to the city dump at Duquesa. He also pointed out that the Public Works Ministry is still in the process of conducting the necessary studies to determine if the site is suitable for an airport. And of course there is the as-yet unanswered question of how the government will fund the estimated RD$200 million investment estimated as needed to build the new facility. Nonetheless, Serrano argued that the Higüero option is the best one, and that there is no way Herrera can remain open and still comply with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) guidelines.

INPRA proposes "Rescue Council" for Ozama River
The Director of the National Environmental Protection Institute (INPRA), has proposed that a special "rescue council" be created to clean up the increasingly contaminated Ozama River. Zoila González suggested that the council include INPRA, the Santo Domingo government, the National Council for Municipal Affairs (CONAU) and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that work in the areas surrounding the River. A cooperative effort is needed between local officials and the national authorities, explained González, because by law municipal authorities are responsible for basic sanitation while the national government handles contamination of waters, air and soil. In the case of the Ozama basin, all aspects are interconnected. She said that INPRA is interested in formulating and implementing a rescue plan similar to that successfully used by Cuban authorities, working with United Nations aid and experts, to clean up Havana Bay.

Bonao strike observed 100% but generally peaceful
The general strike begun yesterday in Bonao met with 100% observance by businesses, schools, transport, etc., but was remarkably peaceful, with most residents remaining in their homes. There were few confrontations with the hundreds of police patrolling the streets as has happened with some general strikes held in other cities. The police attribute the relative calm to its series of checkpoints and its arrest of some 140 people. The strike is organized by a community group calling itself the Dignity Bloc of Monseñor Nouel Province (Bonao is the provincial capital, located northwest of Santo Domingo along the highway to Santiago). Among their demands are the completion of some 60 public works paralyzed due to central government nonpayment to contractors, the completion of construction of the UASD extension campus in Bonao (Centro Universitario Regional del Cibao Central ­ CURCE-UASD), and the delivery to the province of the RD$125 million it was supposed to get when shares were acquired in Falconbridge Dominicana by the Balaguer Administration in 1994. On this last point, the Corporation of State Enterprises (CORDE), which holds the Falconbridge shares, yesterday delivered a RD$4 million check to the province's Comisión ProDesarrollo ("Pro-Development Commission") and said that it has instructed Falconbridge to automatically deliver dividend checks to the Commission every time it declares dividends.

More government charges of Mundogas contract violations
The news daily Listin Diario reports that a government document it has acquired shows a longer list of government charges of contract violations against Mundogas than has been previously aired. According to Listin, the government document lists several violations, including: (1) noncompliance with Law 520 requiring liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) being marketed to have a chemical composition of over 70% butane; (2) noncompliance since June 1996 with contract provisions calling for proper maintenance and function of LPG installations; (3) noncompliance with contract requirements that Mundogas supply the gas tanks for kitchen stoves it supplies; (4) nonpayment of outstanding debt; (5) noncompliance with a contractual obligation to maintain a "strategic reserve" to tap during LPG supply shortages. Previously the Industry and Commerce Ministry has principally complained that Mundogas was not meeting its 40% LPG market quota and it lacked the necessary financial liquidity to maintain smooth operations.

Ex-LMD official denies Maríñez administration took cars
Miguel Valenzuela, sub-Secretary-General and finance chief of the prior LMD administration headed by Julio Maríñez Rosario (PRD), yesterday roundly denied that any motor vehicles were illegally appropriated from the LMD pool during his Administration. Yesterday the Republic's Controller-General announced that an audit conducted by his office found 20 vehicles procured during the Maríñez administration missing from the vehicle pool. Valenzuela pointed out that the Controller-General audited the LMD on January 11, during the last days of the prior administration, and at that time reported no vehicles missing. If 20 are missing now, he suggested, then it must be because the current administration of Amable Aristy Castro (PRSC) has taken them.

Book Fair continues
The International Book Fair continues in Santo Domingo through 2 May. The event, described as the most important cultural event of the year, is held on the grounds of the National Music Conservatory, at Alma Mater and Cesar Nicolas Penson streets. The fair is dedicated to Dominican national poet, Pedro Mir and to Mexico. 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.

National Symphony Season resumes
The National Symphony Orchestra will be presenting this evening at the National Theater the second concert of the second part of the National Symphony Season. Felix Carrasco will be conducting the National Symphony and Matthew Scheffelman, corno, is the invited performer. They will perform "Revueltas" by Sensemayá, Mozart's Concerto No. 4 for corno and orchestra and Mussorgsky"s "Cuadros de una Exposición." The season continues on Wednesday, 5 May with Carlos Piantini directing the orchestra. Mark Drobinsky, a cellist, will be the invited artist. They will perform Schumann's Concerto for for cello and orchestra and Shostakovich's "Symphony No. 1". On Wednesday, 12 May, the program will be Alvaro Manzano, director, with solos by violinist Pavle Vujcic. They will perform Prokofiev's Concert No. 2 for violin and orchestra and Tchaikovsky's "Symphony No. 6". The season ends with the 19 May performance directed by Julio de Windt, with special performances by trumpet player Victor Mitrov and pianist Sergei Babayan. They will perform "Amanecer" and "Scherzo de Luz" by Marchena, Arutunian's "Concerto for trumpet and orchestra," and Rachmaninoff's Concerto No. 2 for piano and orchestra.

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