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Daily News - 05 May 1999

DR grew 5.5% in first quarter 1999
In a press conference called in Tuesday, Central Bank President Héctor Valdez Albizu announced that Bank figures show that the Dominican Republic grew 5.5% in the first quarter compared to a comparable period in 1998. As regards individual sectors, construction grew 27%, communications 14%, commerce 8%, hotels 4% and manufacturing 2%.
The news daily Hoy reports today that the team from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) visiting the DR this week projects the DR's overall growth rate for 1999 will be 7%.

Minister denies legislation violates TRIPs Agreement
Industry and Commerce Minister Luis Manuel Bonetti strongly denied to reporters that the intellectual property (IP) provisions of the draft Market Order Code now before Congress in any way violates or falls short of the World Trade Organization's (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property ("TRIPs Agreement"). Last Friday in its report on the Special 301 review of IP protection among U.S. trading partners, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) said that "as presently written, [the Code] will contravene several TRIPS provisions, such as those pertaining to compulsory licenses." Bonetti labeled such a possibility as "inconceivable," since the IP provisions were drafted with the help of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the Geneva-based United Nations in charge of supervising all existing IP treaties. Nonetheless, the DR has accepted a series of observations about the bill submitted through the U.S. Embassy, and has asked WIPO to determine if the proposed amendments to the Market Code bill merit being submitted to Congress. On Monday his fellow Cabinet member, Technical Secretary Temístocles Montás, said that such amendments would in fact be submitted to Congress shortly.

India to help build 2 "cyber-parks" in DR
The ink was hardly dry on Tuesday's memorandum to elevate diplomatic relations between the DR and India to full ambassador level before a technical agreement was signed between the two on informatics. Under the agreement, India will help the DR build two "state-of-the-art" industrial parks focused on informatics, being referred to by Dominican officials as "cyber-parks." The first of these, to be located in the Arroyo Hondo section of Santo Domingo, may become operational as early as the first quarter of next year. The second, to be known as "Millennium," will be built next to Las Américas International Airport. It will feature not only buildings for informatics industry, but also research centers, training and instruction centers and hotels. The DR is seeking to become the regional leader in informatics and the regional center for providing related services, explained Eddy Martínez, Director of the Office for Investment Promotion (OPI), who signed the pact for the DR. Martínez said that the Fernández government has already earmarked US$1 million in the budget for construction of the parks. Indian High Commissioner for Latin America Om Prakash Gupta, the Ambassador-designate to the DR, told reporters that he has already spoken to over 100 Indian firms about investing in the Dominican cyber-parks. India is a world leader in software design, one of the areas singled out for attention in the cyber-park project.

Customs slashes tariffs on music CDs
Customs has decided to slash tariffs on music compact discs (CDs) some 300%, not only to lower the cost of CDs to the consumer but also to discourage piracy. [Piracy often occurs when retailers seek cheap alternatives to legitimate distributors.] Prior to the action, CDs faced a stiff US$5 tariff; now they are assessed US$1.72. The change is possible by altering the way Customs assesses the tariff category CDs fit into.

Customs to auction off seized appliances
Customs Director Miguel Cocco announced this week that his organization will soon auction off 30 transport containers full of household appliances ("electro-domésticos") seized by Customs for import irregularities or failure to pay tariffs. The appliances will be auctioned off openly in an event at San Isidro Air Force Base. Cocco asserted that this step proves the Fernández Administration's dedication to transparency. In some past governments seized merchandise often ended up in public officials' homes or were sold quietly (and not competitively) to retailers.

Senator for Altagracia selected
On Tuesday night the Senate unanimously selected the former Deputy for Altagracia Province, Dr. Ricardo Sánchez de la Rosa (Reformist-Social Christian Party PRSC), to fill the empty seat left by Amable Aristy Castro (PRSC) when he became Secretary-General of the Dominican Municipal League (LMD). 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. Sánchez had headed the list submitted by PRSC leader Dr. Joaquín Balaguer. Dr. Sánchez was officially sworn in yesterday.
The Chamber of Deputies is expected to today decide who will fill Sánchez's seat in the lower house. Dr. Balaguer submitted a list of three headed by Germán Castro García and includes Ruddy Melanio Hidalgo and Etanislao Melo.

Senate approves IBD loan
Ending months of stalling in the wake of the LMD dispute, the Senate finally approved last night one of the many international loans and credit agreements gathering dust in its chambers. The upper house of Congress approved a US$48 million loan from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) intended to build and rehabilitate communal/neighborhood roads and streets. The Senate also started discussion of a US$60 million line of credit agreement with the Banco Español de Crédito, but did not vote on it because Senate President Ramón Alburquerque suspended the session. Alburquerque has blocked approval of the loans since he and other Senators were blocked from entering LMD headquarters at end-January and a Senator was shot by police in a related scuffle.

Bill expanding JCE to seven to become law
The Chamber of Deputies yesterday approved a bill to expand the membership of the Central Election Board (JCE) from five to seven. The measure, sent over last week by the Senate as part of an effort to put into law an agreement reached by the tripartite political dialogue, is expected to become law almost immediately as President Fernández will sign it as soon as it lands on his desk.

Boca Chica to host Red Cross regional conference
Cruz Roja Dominicana will host the Red Cross' Sixteenth Inter-American Conference at Boca Chica's Coral Hamaca Resort June 1-4. The event brings together the 35 national societies in the Western Hemisphere, plus the International Red Cross directors and representatives of Red Cross societies in Belgium, France, Holland and Spain.

Mejía remains front-runner in polls of PRD faithful
In the just released results of the Listin Diario-Sigma Dos poll in April of Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD) faithful, former Agriculture Minister Hipólito Mejía is still showing a commanding lead of 67.9% among the five pre-candidates. Next is Suberví, whose margin has increased from his slump of 15.5% in February to 20.4%. Santo Domingo's Senator, Milagros Ortíz Bosch, has seen her support drop nearly the same amount that Suberví's rose, from 8% in February to 3.7% in April. Telling, however, is a separate question asked peredistas: if your favored candidate dropped out of the running, who would you support? The clear favorite in such a scenario was Ortíz Bosch with 57.4% overall.

A PLD-PRSC election ticket in 2000?
Danilo Medina, a leading pre-candidate for the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) nomination in the year 2000 presidential elections, caused a stir in Santo Domingo over the weekend by saying that if he were to win his party's nomination, he would be open to the idea of accepting a member of the PRSC as his running mate (i.e., candidate for Vice President). After the expected dust-kicking from several PLD and PRSC quarters, Medina defended his original statement, saying that the option should be kept open, as long as the reformista in question is fully qualified and "an independent-minded man" (i.e., does simply take orders from PRSC leader, ex-President Dr. Joaquín Balaguer). He subsequently opined that former Vice President Jacinto Peynado fit this description. Peynado issued an almost immediate denial of interest. "If I did not attend the signing ceremony for the Patriotic Front, why would I agree to be [their] Vice President?" The Patriotic Front was the alliance formed between PLD and PRSC during the second round of the 1996 presidential elections, and it is credited with giving the PLD the presidency.

Allegro Resorts & Air Aruba sign agreement
Allegro Resorts, the owner of several resorts in the DR, and Aserca Airlines/Air Aruba, have signed an agreement to bring charter flights of Brazilians to Dominican vacations at Allegro hotels four times a week. The flights will leave Sao Paulo Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at 2:30 pm, stopover in Caracas, and then delivered Brazilian tourists to Santo Domingo, Puerto Plata and Punta Cana.

More voices for closure of La Rosario
On Tuesday three key legislators added their voices to that of Senate President Ramón Alburquerque (PRD-Monte Plata), who Monday called for the closure of the state mining firm Rosario Dominicana. Senator Vicente Sánchez Baret, representing Sánchez Ramírez, the province where La Rosario operates, and the PRD spokesman in the Senate, said that the closure was long overdue because of the environmental contamination the mining firm is causing, and recalled that he had already submitted a resolution calling for its closure. Senator Francisco Jiménez Reyes (PRD-Bahoruco), and Deputy Ramón Rogelio Genao Durán (PRSC-La Vega), the chairmen of the Senate and Chamber of Deputies' Environment Committees, also supported the closure of La Rosario until a foreign investor can be found and its environmental problems rectified.
Yesterday Rosario's Executive Vice President, Héctor Cuevas, denied to the news daily El Siglo that the massive pollution seen in nearby rivers has been caused by Rosario's Pueblo Viejo, Cotuí mine. He claimed that the pollution comes from the interaction of rain water and rivers with the sulfuric rocks that abound in the area. The executive's claim flies in the face of a declaration last week by experts from the National Environmental Protection Institute (INPRA). He did admit, however, that the site does not have a working water treatment facility. The treatment facility has been inoperative since December 1992, but is being fixed and should come back on-line this month.

Study finds alarming lead levels in Haina community
A technical study just released by the Chemical Institute of Autonomous University of Santo Domingo (UASD) found alarming levels of lead contamination in the Haina community of Paraíso de Dios. The study found lead levels in inhabitants over 100 parts per million (ppm), whereas "normal" levels in children are considered to be 10 ppm and for adults 20 ppm. The study found birth deformities, eye damage, learning and personality disorders, and in some cases, death from lead poisoning. The study puts the blame for the lead levels squarely on the contamination caused by the past industrial operations of the nearby Baterías Meteoro battery plant. Although the company has moved to a new site, the contamination remains. The study called the situation "a Dominican Chernobyl." Institute Director Conrado Depratt, called on the Public Health Ministry to take urgent action to clean up the contamination and immediately move its 3,000 victims from the area.

Nurses' strike extended until weekend
What started as a 48-hour strike on Monday and Tuesday has now been extended until the weekend. Two nurses' unions the National Service Union of Dominican Nurses (UNASED) and the National Unions of Nursing Service (UNASE) has been extended to include the rest of the workweek. The nurses are demanding pay hikes. The strike affects public hospitals and clinics, not private clinics nor military hospitals.
Yesterday the public hospital bio-analysts laboratory workers who do many of the tests required by doctors launched their own 48-hour strike in search of higher pay.

"Hall of Fame" pension law approved by Senate
Yesterday the Senate unanimously approved the bill that would grant a state pension to retired Dominican sports stars. The bill now goes to the Chamber of Deputies, where it is expected to be approved as well. President Fernández has promised to sign the bill as soon as it lands on his desk. Originally proposed to Congress by the President in January, the bill would create a system of state pensions for Dominican sports stars "who have given the Dominican Republic a good name." Stars that have been elected to the Dominican Sports Hall of Fame would receive RD$8,000 monthly from the state (the original draft offered RD$6,000); those not yet in the Hall of Fame but which have brought honor to the Dominican Republic, would receive RD$4,000 per month (the Administration's draft offered RD$3,000). Sports Minister Juan Marichal, himself a Hall of Fame name, proposed the bill to the President after numerous news stories over the past year about how many Hall of Fame members and other well-regarded sports stars of the past live now in dire economic straits.

DR men whip Costa Rica, DR women destroy Bahamas at Centro-Basket
The Dominican Republic's national selection men's team soundly defeated Costa Rica's 84-53 in the first round of play in the Sixteenth Central American and Caribbean Basketball Tournament ("Centro-basket 1999"). The Tournament is being held in La Havana, Cuba. The Dominican offense was led by Franklin Western and Ricky Greer with 20 and 15 points, respectively. Tonight at 9:30 pm the DR plays the always tough Cuban team for the first place spot among the Group A countries.
Meanwhile the Dominican women's national selection team bounced back from their Tuesday embarrassing loss to Cuba by destroying the Bahamian national team 74-44. Today the DR women face the always tough Mexican team (Mexico routed Puerto Rico yesterday). If they do not win today, they will not go on to the qualifying tournament for the year 2000 Olympic Games.

DR men's basketball qualifies for Pre-Olympic Tournament
With its victory yesterday over Costa Rica, the Dominican men's national selection team clinched a slot in the Pre-Olympic Basketball Tournament to be held July in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The Pre-Olympic Tournament determines which teams from the region will go to the year 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. The President of the Dominican Basketball Federation (FEDOMBAL), Julio Subero, announced yesterday that Luis Felipe López, the Dominican now playing for the Vancouver Grizzlies in the NBA professional league, will be playing for the Dominican national team at the Pre-Olympic Tournament.

Presidente Music Festival set
The 15 artists who will perform at the Third Annual Presidente Music Festival have now been confirmed. Performing on Thursday, June 3rd will be: Dominican merengue artist Toño Rosario; Latin rock group Tribu del Sol; salsa star Victor Manuelle (Puerto Rico); Puerto Rican pop star (and novela actor) Carlos Ponce; and Colombian Latin rock sensation Shakira. On Friday, June 4th, the groups will be: Dominican merengue king Fernando Villalona ("El Mayimbe"); Puerto Rican salsa star Tito Rojas ("El Gallo"); Italian pop rock singer Nek (best known for his Spanish-language hit "Laura se fue"); Puerto Rican merengue sensation Elvis Crespo, whose "Suavemente" was nominated for a Grammy; and Puerto Rican pop star Chayanne. On Saturday, June 5th, the presentations will be by: Bachata star Raulín Rodríguez; Dominican merengue staple Los Toros Band; Dominican-American pop stars IIegales; Puerto Rican salsa sensation Marc Anthony; and pop ballad star Enrique Iglesias. Contrary to earlier reports the Latin rock Group Maná will not be returning this year (they were one of the highlights of the 1998 Festival). As was the case last year, the Festival will be held at Juan Pablo Duarte Olympic Center. Presenters will be Zoila Luna and Jochy Santos. Tickets start as low as RD$175 for simple entrance, with RD$250 required for entrance to the grassy areas in front of the stage.

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