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Daily News - 15 June 1999

Dams nearing their limits due to heavy rains
The National Water Resources Institute (INDRHI) is warning communities in low-lying areas near the DR's many dams that most of these dams are reaching their limits because of recent heavy rains. The dams near their maximum capacity are Aguacate, Bao, Chaucey, Hatillo, Jigüey, Rincón, Rio Blanco, Sabana Yegua, Sabaneta, Tavera and Valdesoa. INDRHI recommended that residents near these dams, as well as those near rivers and streams, take precautions against possible flooding in coming days. Rains have caused several rivers to swell beyond their normal banks, particularly the Yaqui del Norte, Mao and Amina. Sixty rural communities in Santiago province have been isolated because of flooding and five bridges that link rural communities in Jarabacoa with the outside world have been made impassable by flooding. In a related story, the Agriculture Ministry reported yesterday that the heavy rains have already caused an estimated RD$11 million in crop damage, particularly hitting rice, yucca, sweet potato and plantain crops.

Senate & Executive seek deal on Energy Law
Senate leaders and a Fernández Administration delegation will meet today to try to hammer out compromises that will permit final passage of the long-suffering General Energy Law. The Senate delegation will be led by Senate President Ramón Alburquerque [Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD) ­ Monte Plata] and the Administration side by Technical Secretary Temístocles Montás. The draft law was originally submitted during the final months of the Balaguer Presidency. It has been approved before by both the Senate and Chamber of Deputies, but in different legislative sessions and in different versions, so it has never before made it to the desk of President Fernández for signature.

Alburquerque rejects call for constitutional reform now
Senate President Ramón Alburquerque (PRD-Monte Plata) yesterday rejected President Leonel Fernández's call for constitutional reforms before the May 2000 national elections. Alburquerque asserted that while he accepts the need for reforms to the Dominican Constitution, Members of Congress, and himself in particular, have consistently rejected any push for such reforms "under pressure" from upcoming national elections. Such changes should be undertaken in the spirit of concertation in the greater public interest, which is not the mood in the months just prior to a presidential election, he said. Better then, he argued, to wait until after the 2000 elections, when "the temperature lowers." He also rejected Fernández's call to return congressional and municipal elections back to the same schedule as those for the republic's president. Having the elections split as they currently are means that national candidates do not "push" local elections. The DR should wait and consider how well or poorly the current system works before rushing to change it, he argued.

"Kosovo" flu virus spreading; SESPAS blames it on trash
The so-called "Kosovo" flu virus has been spreading rapidly through parts of the DR. 17 deaths have been blamed on the flu bug: six in a retirement home in Puerto Plata, one in Los Tres Brazos sector of Santo Domingo, and the rest in Azua and Barahona provinces. At the emergency room at Salvador B. Gautier Hospital, doctors say that one of every four patients they treat is a virus case. In most cases the virus is beaten off by the body's defenses within 4-6 days of fever, body aches, chest congestion, vomiting and diarrhea. However, in some cases it is leading to respiratory complications such as bronchitis or pneumonia, and in virus victims not ingesting needed fluids, dehydration. Both problems are particularly dangerous to senior citizens. The Public Health Minister, Dr. Altagracia Guzmán, blamed the spread of the disease on the uncollected trash on Dominican streets and roads. She called upon municipalities to redouble efforts to collect and properly dispose of trash and to educate citizens about the health consequences of street dumping of trash. She promised that the Public Health Ministry (SESPAS) will release a full status report today on the Kosovo virus situation in the country.

Customs is deepening investigation of officials at AILA
The Directorate-General of Customs has announced that it is opening new investigations into irregular activity among its officials at the Las Americas International Airport (AILA). The announcement came as Customs fired one supervisor and three inspectors for allegedly permitting commercial merchandise to pass through AILA without paying tariffs or with substantial undervaluation (declarations of lower than real market value, meaning lower tariff paid). Many of the imports in question are medicines. The dismissals bring to 14 that Customs head Miguel Cocco Guerrero has ordered for "irregular activities."

France offers concessionary agro-industrial loans
Agriculture Minister Amílcar Romero reported that during his meeting yesterday with officials of the French Agency for Development that Agency is offering the DR loans for the agro-industrial sector on extremely generous terms. The French loans would have a term of 25 years, with a grace period (during which no repayment has to be made) of eight years, and an annual interest rate of 2.25%. The French appear to be particularly interested in financing the development of Dominican coffee production. For its part, the Fernández Government is trying to convince the Development Agency to provide similar generous terms for a loan to rehabilitate the Port of San Pedro de Macorís.

FTZ exports grew 8% January-April 1999
The Executive Director of the Dominican Free Zone Association (ADOZONA), José Manuel Torres, told reporters yesterday that exports from the DR's free trade zones (FTZs, known in the DR as "zonas francas") grew 7-8% during the first four months of 1999 when compared with a similar period of 1998. He expressed concern, however, that production orders are dropping and the prices being paid for Dominican goods are depressed. He blamed competition in the textile sector from Mexico, which benefits in the U.S. market from preferential tariff treatment under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). He noted that an AODZONA delegation, accompanied by Dominican government officials, is in Washington, D.C. to lobby for Congressional approval of the "textile parity" bill that would give Caribbean and Central American nations the same tariff treatment for textiles as Mexico enjoys under NAFTA.

Boat sunk off Bayahibe to serve as habitat & diving site
On Sunday the cargo ship Saint-George was sunk offshore in front of the Club Viva Dominicus and Club Viva Dominicus Palace. The purposeful sinking of the vessel is intended to create an artificial reef habitat for marine life in the area and to serve as an attraction of the Viva Diving scuba diving school at the resorts. The empty hulk had been towed to the spot from Sans Soucí (next to Santo Domingo port) by the Dominican Navy, which also oversaw the sinking of the ship.

1.3 million vehicles registered in DR
As part of the disclosures linked to the difficulties in renewing vehicle registrations, the Directorate-General of Internal Revenue (DGII) has released the latest figures on the number and types of vehicles registered in the DR. According to DGII, 1,331,739 vehicles are currently registered. Of these, 359,304 are private cars, 688,909 are motorcycles, 177,380 are cargo vehicles, 35,493 are "jeeps" (most of which are private vehicles too), 27,037 are private buses, 8,901 are heavy machines (earth movers, etc.), 8,283 are dump trucks, 6,702 are tow trucks, 5,566 are urban "publicos" (public peso taxis), 4,552 are public inter-city buses, 1,632 are private inter-city buses, 1,004 are tourist buses, 861 are tourist cars, 400 are ambulances, 128 are cargo cycles and 72 are hearses.

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