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Daily News - 30 April 1999

Port Authority announces port clean-up effort
Meeting yesterday with the representatives of various cruise lines that serve the Dominican Republic, the Executive Director of the Dominican Port Authority (APORDOM), Francisco Javier Gracía, announced the immediate launch of a program to clean up the dock facilities in Santo Domingo and an environmental clean-up of the Ozama and Isabela Rivers emptying into the port area. In fact, clean up teams began deploying yesterday. The DR was stung by the recent announcement that one of the cruise lines will soon stop making visits to Santo Domingo ­ the cruise line said it was doing so in large part due to poor sanitation in the port area and the adjoining Colonial Zone.

President: I ordered Herrera Airport move
During his visit to the Santiago area yesterday, President Leonel Fernández told reporters that he himself issued the order to the move the airport facilities at Herrera to a new one in Higüero, north of Santo Domingo near the city dump Duquesa. As such, he said, it is an irreversible decision.
Yesterday a session of the Chamber of Deputies had to be suspended when rancorous debate erupted over a draft resolution proposed by two Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD) Deputies calling on the Fernández government to suspend work on the Higüero site. One of the sponsors, Deputy Andrés Mato, said he offered the bill because no plans existed for the new airport, the existing site had never been as dangerous as some now wished to portray it, and the cost of the project would actually be four times that claimed by the government (i.e., RD$800 million) and thus insupportable under the existing national budget. He tried to get the resolution voted on by the plenary without first having to be submitted to a committee for study, but that motion was narrowly defeated.
Also yesterday two contenders for the PRD nomination for president in the year 2000 elections, Hipólito Mejía and Hatuey Decamps, called on the government to halt work on the Higüero site until a consensus supporting the airport move could be worked out between all interested parties.

A revival of Dominicana de Aviación?
A press release by the Presidency this week reads that the Fernández Administration is working to revive the moribund state-owned airline, Dominicana de Aviación (CDA), with an eye having it running flights again before year-end. Eduardo Selman, Executive Director of the Dominican Corporation of State Enterprises (CORDE), which holds CDA's assets, said that his organization is working with the Commission for the Reform of Public Enterprise (CREP), the body charged with managing the privatization process, to get CDA operating flights again "before the year 2000." He said that "the possibility exists" that the airline would be operated with participation by international investors, and claimed that there are several American, European and Latin American firms interested in buying CDA shares. Some, he said, would even be willing to help provide aircraft [the few planes CDA has in its inventory are not in working order].

National, foreign chains interested in building hotels in Pedernales
During a meeting yesterday with the executives and editorial staff of the news daily El Siglo, Tourism Minister (and presidential candidate) Félix ("Felucho") Jiménez revealed that several national and international chains have formally indicated to the Fernández Administration their interest in building 1,000 hotel room facilities in Cabo Rojo zone of Pedernales. He mentioned by name only two: the Italian firm Viaggi di Ventaglio, which just built the Gran Dominicus complex in Bayahibe, and Frank Rainieri, who heads the Grupo Punta Cana. Several leading hoteliers have said that one of the problems affecting occupancy in the DR is that the rate of growth of the supply of rooms far outpaces the rate of growth of the demand.

Exports income fell in Jan.-Feb.
According to a report released by the Dominican Center for Export Promotion (CEDOPEX), Dominican export income dropped more than 50% in January-February 1999 when compared to the same period in 1998. Dominican exports were US$68.5 million in the first two months of 1999, versus US$139.2 million in the same period of 1998. The total value of exports only decreased 1.94%, from US$496.0 million to US$486.3 million. The exports from free trade zones (FTZs, or "zonas francas" as they are known in the DR), actually rose 17.12%, from US$356.7 million in Jan.-Feb. 1998 compared to US$417.8 million in Jan.-Feb. 1999. The biggest fall came in crude sugar, down to US$323,000 versus US$11.7 million, a 97.25% drop.

SESPAS might close Baní salt works
The Environmental Health Department of the Public Health Ministry (SESPAS) may close the Sal Dominicana works in the Las Calderas sector of Baní. SESPAS has given the company until 5 May to address a series of environmental contamination problems identified by the Ministry or else face closure. SESPAS' principal concerns are that the company is (1) incorrectly utilizing an irrigation canal in its salt processing operations, in the process endangering consumers of the company's salt; (2) harming the local environment, including the famous Baní dunes, by discharging wastes waters without first treating them. On the former, SESPAS spokesman Alexis Agramonte explained that the irrigation canal contains many contaminants from agricultural use which may not be properly eliminated in the salt sold to consumers. On the latter, he noted that not only wastewater, but petroleum wastes have been discharged by the firm, harming local flora and fauna.

Wastes in Yaque del Norte River threatening health of Santiago barrios
A new study just released by the Technical University of Santiago (UTESA) says that contamination of the Yaque del Norte River is directly affecting the health of the inhabitants of 30 southern and western barrios of Santiago, and that most of the contamination is traceable to only 10 firms. The UTESA says that the river passing through Santiago is heavily contaminated with solid wastes, chemical wastes and untreated industrial wastewater, and that this mix is harming the health of barrios surrounding the river. The most affected sectors, it warns, are Nibaje, Bella Vista, La Canela, Hato del Yaque, La Joya, Bermúdez, Rafey, La Otra Banda and La Tabacalera. The main polluters of the river, says the report, are the Santiago zona franca, the Bermúdez plant, Productos Checo, Ochoa Hermanos, Hoyo de Lima Industrial, and Baltimore Dominicana (BALDOM). It blames much of the pollution on government authorities' lack of enforcement of existing rules and regulations regarding wastes and industrial emissions.

DR is Latin America's 2nd best insurance market
Speaking at a luncheon yesterday of the Dominican Association of Insurance Brokers (ADOCOSE), Superintendent of Insurance Euclides Gutiérrez Félix said that the DR has become Latin America's second best insurance market. The premium per capita in the DR was US$32.29 in 1998, up from US$13.23 in 1990 and putting the DR behind only Panama. However, the DR market grew faster during the 1990-98 than did that of Panama ­ 177% versus 103% -- despite the fact that the DR has only one-fifth the number of brokers (324 versus Panama's 1773). Hence, he predicted, the DR will soon take first place. He pointed out that insurance sector's share of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is only 1.6%, under the 1.7% average for Latin America.

Last foreign firm interested in La Rosario leaves
The last of 17 foreign mining enterprises that had expressed interest in participating in the privatization ("capitalization") of the state-owned La Rosario Dominicana mining firm has left the DR, tired of waiting for a government decision on how best to privatize the firm. The firm, Genel, announced its departure this week after investing some US$14 million in exploration and research. The government was not happy with the first offers for shareholdings in the firm, and has contemplated changing the terms of the privatization in order to attract better offers and suitors. One of the ideas floated would be to allow private sector participation to go up to 80% of La Rosario's capital, something rarely done in the DR (by law, the government stake in privatized firms is not to go under 50%, except in very limited circumstances). The government has spent months debating La Rosario's fate internally without coming to a decision. Yesterday the Executive Director of the Association of Foreign-Owned Companies (ASIEX), Pablo Linares, noted the departure of Genel and called on the government to get moving on the La Rosario case, preferably by agreeing to up the potential private sector stake to 80%. Without doing so, he argued, few firms will be interested in investing the large amounts of capital, equipment and technology estimated as necessary to make La Rosario competitive.

AMD calls 48-hour nationwide strike
The Dominican Medical Association (AMD) yesterday issued a call for a 48-hour nationwide doctors' strike beginning next Tuesday, May 4th. The strike will affect all regular services in public hospitals and clinics. It does not affect private clinics and hospitals and emergency services will still be offered in public hospitals. The strike is to press the AMD's demand for a major pay hike. Yesterday Public Health Minister Altagracia Guzmán telephoned AMD leadership and asked them to reconsider the strike. She characterized the step as "taking the AMD down a dead-end street," since they already know that the government does not have the budgetary resources to meet their pay demands. Dr. Guzmán has consistently maintained that the only the government can afford even a fraction of the raise demanded by the doctors would be to raise new taxes.
The timing of the AMD strike is worrisome, since the major nurses unions have called their own 48-hour nationwide strike to start on Monday. This means that neither doctors nor nurses will be attending patients in public hospitals and clinics on Tuesday.
Yesterday AMD President Waldo Ariel Suero also announced that AMD is seeking to form a common front with the nurses' unions, as well as organizations representing laboratory workers and dentists.

Book Fair closes on Sunday
The highly successful International Book Fair Santo Domingo ends this 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.

DR & PR tie exhibition basketball series
The national selection basketball teams of the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico have each won one game in a three-game exhibition series being held at the Sports Palace in San Pedro de Macorís. On Wednesday PR beat the DR handily 82-57. Last night, in a game that was close throughout, the DR defeated PR 61-58. The tie-breaker will be played tonight at 9 pm. This exhibition series is billed as a "warm-up" to the Central American/Caribbean Basketball Tournament ("Centro-Basket") that starts next Tuesday in Havana, Cuba. Cuba and PR are the two teams presently favored to be in the finals of Centro-Basket, so a DR victory over PR now would bring it more attention in Havana.

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