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Daily News - 29 April 1999

Dialogue produces campaign pact
The main outcome of yesterday's installment of the national political dialogue between the three major political parties was the conclusion of a nine-point pact regarding the conduct of campaigning for the year 2000 presidential elections. Among other things, the three parties agreed that none of the candidates should use government resources ­ national or local, even of autonomous and decentralized institutions of the state ­ during the campaign. They also agreed not to employ "dirty tactics" and to base the campaign on public debates wherein candidates will demonstrate mutual respect for their rivals' ideas.
The dialogue was initiated by President Leonel Fernández, and is held at the National Palace with the President attending and two officials of the Catholic Church moderating (not mediating) the sessions. The three parties participating in the talks are the ruling Dominican Liberation Party (PLD), the Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD, which controls the Congress), and the Reformist-Social Christian Party (PRSC).
Last night's three-hour dialogue session also dealt with a complaint by PRD about the central government providing funds to the Dominican Municipal League (LMD) without passing it first by the LMD supervisory group created by the dialogue. The supervisory group is comprised of Monsignor Francisco José Arnáiz, Reverend Braulio Portes and Senator Bautista Rojas Gómez. President Fernández explained that the funds were urgently needed by many municipalities, and Arnáiz said that the outlay was not first presented to the supervisory group because it could not convene until Reverend Portes returned from travel abroad.
The dialogue also expanded the supervisory group overseeing implementation of dialogue agreements regarding the Central Election Board (JCE), adding José Joaquín Puello and José Miguel Bonetti to the team already comprised of Reverend Manuel Estrella and Monsignor Agripino Núñez Collado.

European foundation to donate US$100 million to Santiago
The Mayor of Santiago, Héctor Grullón Moronta, revealed yesterday that his city government will shortly receive US$100 million from the Federación Italiana Transnacional. Under agreement with the European group, the money must be spent on social works in the city and surrounding municipalities (such as Licey, Tamboril, Navarette) designed to improve the local quality of life. It is expected that much of the money will be earmarked for construction and reconstruction of homes and for projects to protect the environment.

SESPAS calls for closing Barahona Free Zone
The Sub-Secretary of the Public Health Ministry (SESPAS) responsible for the Southwest Region, Dr. Víctor Manuel Terreno Encarnación, is calling for the closure of the free trade zone (FTZ, or "zona franca" as they are known in the DR) in Batey Central, Barahona. Dr. Terreno Encarnación has asked the Industrial Promotion Corporation (Corporación de Fomento Industrial ­ CFI) to close the FTZ because its untreated industrial wastewater are causing serious environmental damage to the surrounding area and badly polluting the Caribbean Sea. [Since the FTZ in question is state-owned, CFI is the authority empowered by law to close it.] The effluents have killed most nearby fishing grounds. Dr. Terreno Encarnación said that the problem was raised last year with the Korean businessmen with operations in the Batey Central FTZ, and they had promised to construct a modern water treatment plant utilizing Japanese technology. This never occurred, he said. Instead, an inadequate facility was built that has improved the color of the effluents but not removed any of its harmful contaminants. Dr. Terreno Encarnación expressed regret that the FTZ must be closed, since it employs some 1,800 local women, but said he sees no alternative if the Korean companies do not agree to upgrade to a state-of-the-art treatment plant.

DR fights possible loss of UN agency
The Dominican Republic is fighting proposals to remove a United Nations agency, the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW), from its current location in Santo Domingo. INSTRAW, like much of the UN, is undergoing a financial crisis that threaten its continued functioning. One proposal floated within the UN to tackle the problem is to close INSTRAW's Santo Domingo offices and merge the Institute with the New York-based UN Fund for the Development of Women. The DR, however, is fighting to keep the privilege of hosting a UN agency. Foreign Minister Eduardo Latorre presented the DR's case to a meeting yesterday in New York of the "Group of 77" developing country voting bloc in the UN. Latorre pointed out that INSTRAW is only one of two UN bodies headquartered in a developing country (the other is the UN Environment Programme, located in Nairobi, Kenya). He questioned whether it would really save much money to relocate its functions to New York, and argued that merging INSTRAW with the Fund would run counter to the wishes of the many UN bodies and conferences that have underlined the importance of an independent INSTRAW.

Bonao strike ends
The organizers of the two-day general strike in Bonao, the Dignity Bloc of Monseñor Nouel Province (Bonao is the provincial capital, located northwest of Santo Domingo along the highway to Santiago), late last night called an end to the strike. The Bloc ended the strike after reaching a series of agreements with government officials; government negotiators included province Governor Nicolás Restituyo and Federal Deputy Félix Nova (PLD). Among other things, it was agreed that (a) the governor will ensure that construction is completed on the UASD extension campus in Bonao (Centro Universitario Regional del Cibao Central ­ CURCE-UASD); (b) a committee will be formed, with citizen participation, to decide how to spend the RD$4 million check delivered yesterday to the province's Comisión ProDesarrollo ("Pro-Development Commission") by the Corporation of State Enterprises (CORDE) as a down-payment on the RD$125 million owed the province by the central government for shares sold in Falconbridge; (c) a committee will be formed to manage the repair of city streets left torn up by National Institute of Potable Water and Sewage (INAPA); (d) the governor and local PLD officials will ensure that stalled public works are actually completed; (e) the 300 people detained by police since the strike was called are released.

Top pick for empty Senate seat resigns Chamber post
As requested by the Senate on Tuesday, the top pick to take up Amable Aristy Castro's empty Senate seat representing Altagracia Province resigned his seat in the Chamber of Deputies. The Senate had notified the head of the PRSC, ex-President Dr. Joaquín Balaguer, that it would only consider his party's list of three candidates for the currently vacant Senate seat 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 (Altagracia), had to first resign his Chamber seat or else be taken off the list. The vacancy was created when 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 Hubo Alberto González.

72-hour nurses' strike announced for Monday
The National Union of Nursing Services (UNASE) and the National Union of Dominican Nursing Services (UNASED) announced yesterday that they will launch a 72-hour strike beginning Monday morning. The strike will affect all public hospitals and clinics, but not private clinics. The nurses are demanding a minimum monthly pay level of RD$12,000 for professional nurses and RD$8,000 per month for auxiliary nurses; currently the former receive RD$3,750 and the latter RD$3,082. Meanwhile, the Dominican Association of Graduate Nurses (ADEG) and the National Union of Nursing Workers (SINATRAE) have announced 3-hour demonstrations at public hospitals in the North and East today, and tomorrow in the South and National District (DN). The Public Health Minister, Dr. Altagracia Guzmán, has warned that any nurse participating in next week's strike will have that period deducted from their monthly paycheck. Dr. Guzmán has promised to do the same for the doctors that participated in yesterday's 24-hour nationwide doctors' strike. The doctors are also seeking hefty pay hikes.

Senate President calls for dismissal of 300 government subsecretaries
Senate President Ramón Alburquerque yesterday called on President Fernández to cancel 300 subsecretary posts in his government and use the resulting salary savings to pay for the pay hike sought by doctors. He said that the doctors perform a vital service to the Dominican public and deserve a raise, whereas the 300 functionaries he proposes canceling are receiving hefty salaries without providing any appreciable service to the country. He warned that Health Minister Guzmán's proposal to raise taxes to pay for the doctor's salary hike is unlikely to pass the Senate. The Senate is not interested in raising taxes more, he said, and in any case, if the Congress raised taxes to pay more one segment of government employees (doctors), other segments would demand similar treatment.

Abinader proposes changing national hymn
Senator and presidential candidate José Rafael Abinader (PRD-Santiago) submitted yesterday to the Senate a bill to change the sequence of stanzas in the national hymn. The hymn is protected by Article 97 of the Constitution, which declares it to be "unchangeable, unique and eternal." Abinader proposes not changing any of the hymn's wording, but rather moving stanza 12 to the stanza 4 position. Stanza 12 is the one that moves most Dominicans, with its last line "our fields of glory repeat 'Liberty, liberty, liberty!'" However, because of the hymn's length, the stanza is often cut out when the national hymn is played over the radio at noon.

Agriculture leaders howl over Bagrícola loan rate hike
On Tuesday the Administrator of the state-owned Agriculture Bank (Banco Agrícola ­ "Bagrícola") announced that starting May 1st the costs of its loans will rise sharply. Presently bearing a favorable 12% interest rate, Bagrícola loans also will start carrying a 6% charge for "closing costs." Many agricultural producers have protested not only the rise in loan costs, but its magnitude. Some have called on President Fernández to overrule Bagrícola and annul the decision. Bagrícola Administrator Carlos Segura Foster maintains that the rise is necessary, since at current "subsidized" levels the Bank is losing RD$7.2 million every month, or RD$84 million a year.

Book Fair continues
The International Book Fair continues in Santo Domingo through Sunday, 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. The Fair also has a small theater where free films are shown, including a series of Mexican films, Rene Fortunato's acclaimed documentary series about the Trujillo years and its legacy ("El Poder del Jefe"), and a documentary about the life of deceased PRD leader and presidential candidate Dr. José Francisco Peña Gómez.

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