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Daily News - 07 May 1999

Political dialogue resumes this evening
The eleventh session of the political dialogue between the three major political parties is due to convene late this evening at 5 pm at the National Palace. The principal focus of today's session is expected to be who should be nominated as candidates for new slots on the Central Election Board (JCE). On Wednesday the Chamber of Deputies approved the Senate bill to expand the JCE from five to seven.
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).

Government announces SD-Samaná highway link
The Public Works Ministry announced yesterday that it has issued the call for bids on a project to build a new highway link between Santo Domingo and Samaná. The 105.6 kilometer road is expected to cut the overland travel time between the two spots by as much as two hours, hopefully greatly increasing tourism for Samaná province in the process. The link would also facilitate access to Los Haitises National Park. Currently most travelers going from SD must go to the North Coast and travel down the coastline to Samaná. The project fulfills a campaign pledge made by President Fernández. The link will start at Las Américas Highway and link up to the Samaná-Nagua Highway near Rincón Molinillos, 12 kilometers west of Sánchez. The project will be offered in seven construction lots. Bids will be accepted until May 18th.

CAPEL experts begin audit of JCE's identity card issuance
Two Costa Rican experts associated with the Latin American Elections Advisory and Promotion Center (CAPEL) began auditing the JCE's process of processing and issuing the new identity cards ("cedulas"). The CAPEL audit was offered to, and accepted by, JCE as a way to restore confidence in its card processing program after a number of damaging accusations about cedula fraud. Roughly two-thirds of the cost of the independent audit is being shouldered by the Dominican civic group Participación Cuidadana, with the other third paid by JCE itself.

El Salvador has ratified FTA with DR
Industry and Commerce Minister Luis Manuel Bonetti yesterday publicized a letter from his Salvadorian counterpart that announces that El Salvador has ratified the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the five members of the Central American common market (Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua) and the Dominican Republic. Economy Minister Eduardo Zablah-Touché said in his letter to Bonetti, dated May 4th, that El Salvador's legislature unanimously approved ratification on April 29th. El Salvador becomes the second Central American nation to ratify the agreement; Costa Rica did so just days before El Salvador. Guatemala is expected to ratify shortly. 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 of the protocol, which so far the DR is refusing to do.

Regulation drafted for export revitalization law
The Dominican Center for Export Promotion (CEDOPEX) said that it sent yesterday to both the Executive Branch and Congress a first draft of the implementing regulation for the Export Revitalization Law now awaiting Congressional approval. Normally implementing regulations are drafted after a bill becomes law and its contents 100% certain. Normal practice is to have a law call for the Executive Branch to promulgate an implementing regulation within 45 days of a law's adoption. CEDOPEX said, however, that it is floating the draft regulation now so that comments can be received and acted upon and a final draft ready to be adopted the same time the law is signed by the President. CEDOPEX, noting recent drops in Dominican exports, said that time is of the essence and DR trade cannot afford the usual implementation delays. CEDOPEX also announced this week that it has begun test runs of the "Single Window" project, due to be implemented in June, which will allow exporters to take care of all their documentation needs quickly and efficiently at a single office.

Alburquerque: no taxes to pay doctors' raises
Senate President Ramón Alburquerque (PRD-Monte Plata) told reporters yesterday that he could not agree to any Administration proposal to raise taxes on motor vehicles as a means of funding pay hikes to the nation's doctors. He said that the Dominican public is fed up with taxes and would not support new ones, so he could not go along with the proposals being floated by the Finance and Public Health Ministries. Public Health Minister Altagracia Guzmán has consistently told the Dominican Medical Association (AMD) that the Fernández Administration cannot pay any salary raise to doctors without Congressional approval of new taxes to fund it. Doctors are demanding huge pay hikes and conducting strikes to pressure the government to meet their demands. The declaration by Alburquerque is significant because he has repeatedly demonstrated that he can block adoption of any bill proposed by the Administration if he so desires.

Chamber swears in new Deputy for Altagracia
The Chamber of Deputies yesterday picked and swore in the replacement for seat left vacant by the PRSC Deputy for Altagracia Province, Dr. Ricardo Sánchez de la Rosa. Sánchez became Altagracia's Senator on Tuesday, taking the Senate seat left vacant when Amable Aristy Castro resigned to become head of the Dominican Municipal League (LMD). The new Deputy, also a reformista, is Dr. Germán Castro García. Dr. Castro García is a dentist by profession, but has also studied law. He was hand-picked for the spot by the PRSC's leader, ex-President Dr. Joaquín Balaguer.

Movement on trash dumping bill
The Chamber of Deputies yesterday discussed the trash dumping bill sponsored by Miguel Sanz Jiminián, and while approving the greatly amended version, sent it back for more discussion by a special committee before giving a final plenary vote. The bill would make all property owners responsible for keeping public passageways in front of their property clear of trash and debris. Trash would only be allowed to be put curbside at set trash collection times. Vehicles would not be banning from dumping their trash on public streets, as often happens in Santo Domingo. Industrial waste containing lead, such as lead acid batteries used in vehicles and for inverter arrays, would be required to be collected in special containers. Construction projects, both public and private, would be required to keep their debris in special large on-site containers (not on sidewalks and streets, as often done in the DR). Part of the reason the bill was submitted for more discussion despite a favorable report from the committee reviewing it is that it was pointed out that many cities are not equipped with the types of containers specified by the bill and in some cases City Hall would be the biggest violator of the bill's provisions.

Company promises to clean up Haina lead contamination
Industrias Zi, a lead recycler, says that it is responsible for the lead contamination found in a recent study of a Haina community, and it promises to clean up the contaminated soil in line with recommendations of technical experts. Juan Arturo Biaggi, Administrator of Industrias Zi, said that it was his firm, not Baterías Metereo as originally reported by the daily El Siglo, that contaminated the soil in Paraíso de Dios. Baterías Metereo was simply one of Zi's clients, and bears no blame for the mess, Biaggi said. The contamination occurred despite the fact that Industrias Zi tried to avoid through the use of special filters. The filters proved inadequate to the task. On Wednesday the Chemical Institute of the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo (UASD) found alarming levels of lead contamination in Paraíso de Dios. The study found lead levels in the blood of inhabitants of 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.
Yesterday members of the Chamber of Deputies' Health Committee called on the Public Health Ministry to immediately move the 3,000 affected inhabitants out of the contaminated zone.

Workers stage stoppage at 3 of 4 sugar mills
Three of the four sugar mills owned by the State Sugar Council (CEA) have been paralyzed for the last three days. Workers at the Consuelo, Porvenir and Río Haina mills had refused to work until the government made good on its repeated promises to deliver their back-pay. CEA delivered RD$27 million in owed salary to workers at the Consuelo and Porvenir mills, but neither one has resumed operations because sugar growers are now refusing to deliver cane to these mills because of unpaid government debt to them for their product. Currently only the Barahona mill is operating, making it ever more likely that the DR will not fulfill its 1999 quota for refined sugar exports to the U.S. market.

Opera "Carmen" comes to SD in June
The famous opera "Carmen" will be performed at the National Theater June 23, 25 and 27. The National Symphony Orchestra will play the opera's music under the direction of maestro Carlos Piantini. The starring roles will be played by American mezzo soprano Angela Horn and Mexican tenor Armando Mora. Tickets for opening night on Wednesday the 23rd go for RD1,000-1,500 and RD$750 for the balcony. Entrance for Friday the 25th and Sunday the 27th will be RD$300-500 and RD$200 for the balcony.

Centro-Basket: Men lose to Cuba, women whip Mexico
The DR women whipped Mexico but the DR men fell to a tough Cuban team in yesterday's play in the Sixteenth Central American and Caribbean Basketball Tournament ("Centro-basket 1999"). The Tournament is being held in La Havana, Cuba. The Dominican women's national selection team beat Mexico 65-51 on the basis of a very strong second half, led in scoring by center María Celestino with 13 points. The women must play Puerto Rico today at 5 pm. They must beat PR in order to win a medal in Centro-Basket and get an automatic pass into this year's PanAm Games in Winnipeg. The Dominican team is optimistic about getting a victory over PR because the Mexicans routed PR on Monday by 20 points.
The Cuban 70-66 victory over the DR's male national selection team came in the last moments. The Cubans had dominated the first half, but the Dominicans closed the gap and temporarily took the lead in the second. After that it was neck-and-neck until four free-throws late in the game clinched the victory for the Cubans. The shooting star for the DR last night was Jaime Peterson with 22 points. The Dominicans, No.2 in Group A, now face PR, No. 1 in Group B, in the semi-finals on Saturday night. The winner plays in the final game on Sunday, whose victor gets an automatic pass to the PanAm Games in Winnipeg. [The DR men have already qualified for the Pre-Olympic Tournament to be held in San Juan. In July.]

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