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Daily News - Thursday, 22 February 2007

Fernandez to delay Constitution bill
President Leonel Fernandez may wait until the PLD convention is over before presenting his constitutional reform proposal. The proposal was due to have been presented on the opening day of the spring congressional sessions, on Independence Day, 27 February. Diario Libre explains that getting a consensus vote in the PLD is proving difficult now that Danilo Medina, the President's leading challenger for the PLD 2008 presidential nomination, has the support of many legislators. Moreover, the PLD alone does not have enough votes to modify the Constitution. Fernandez's proposal would still need support from opposition legislators. Senate leader Reinaldo Pared Perez highlighted the fact that the PLD needs a two-thirds majority vote. The PLD has this majority in the Senate but not in the Chamber of Deputies.

FTA with Canada on the table
Julio Ortega Tous, minister, chief negotiator and executive secretary of the National Trade Negotiations Commission, is quoted in Hoy as saying that trade negotiations with Canada are an immediate priority. He said that the DR could increase its trade with Canada 10 or 20 fold through negotiations and agreements.
Canada is also ready. Speaking during a luncheon hosted by the Dominican-Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Canadian ambassador to the DR Patricia Fortier highlighted that exploratory talks for the FTA with Canada were held on 11 January 2007. "Canada has confirmed it is interested in an FTA with the DR," she stated. "There has always been talk of the possibility of an FTA with the DR, but now we are nearer than ever to start the negotiations. In Canada we are well advanced," she pointed out.
A new arrival to the DR, Fortier stressed the DR's importance for Canada. She mentioned Canada sees it as a growing market, and there is an interest to increase trade ties.

Chevron and carriers resolve problem
The Ministry of Industry and Commerce has announced that the conflict over fuel transportation between the Dominican government and Chevron Caribbean has been resolved. Two resolutions issued by the Ministry of Industry and Commerce had put the implementation of DR-CAFTA on hold after the government's resolutions were contested by the US company. Minister Francisco Javier Garcia said that the resolution clears the way for the country's entry into DR-CAFTA. He explained that Chevron Caribbean has postponed their transport optimization program that calls for gradual use of their own vehicles to transport their fuel until 2008. Chevron also agreed to gradually introduce its own ships.
Garcia forecast that new investments would come with the implementation of DR-CAFTA. "The fact that a country has a FTA with the United States is a guarantee for any investor to come to that country where the rules of the game will be sufficiently clear and judicial security will be ensured," stated the minister.

Small business creates jobs
350,000 small businesses directly create more than 1.5 million jobs and indirectly create one million more jobs, Mayra Jimenez, of the governmental Micro, Small and Medium-Sized Program (Promipyme) told legislators yesterday. She was in Congress to lobby for the passing of the bill that establishes a legal framework to strengthen the sector, as reported in Hoy. Senate leader Reinaldo Pared Perez says that the government would fully support the initiative to help small businesses, fulfilling an electoral campaign promise once the sessions reopen in March. Jimenez said that last year Promipyme lent small business RD$100 million, while there is demand for three times the amount.

US helps DR control airspace
The US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has increased its watch over Dominican airspace in coordination with Dominican officials. This increased surveillance has lowered the amount of drug shipments delivered by airplanes to almost zero in the eastern region of the country and in small southern towns. Dominican airspace patrols could eventually include unmanned air surveillance by "Predator" planes. The US Department of Homeland Security is thinking of basing the planes in Puerto Rico. "Predators" can fly at an altitude of about 60,000 feet, they have cameras that can identify small objects, and can stay in the air for about 30 hours without refueling. The National Drug Department says that there have been just three attempts to drop off illegal drugs in the last three months, while in the past it was usual to have 30 to 40 monthly attempts.

Cuban engineers help look for oil
Aristides Fernandez Zucco, who heads the National Energy Commission (CNE), has announced that a group of Cuban engineers with experience of finding petroleum reserves in land and coastal waters are in the DR. Fernandez says that the engineers are looking in places that have similar geological properties to sites in Cuba where petroleum has been found. This is the second time that Cuban engineers visit in search of petroleum deposits, and the current Cuban delegation has been in the country for three weeks. Fernandez Zucco says that the next step in the exploration process is the financial side, and says that an investment of US$83 million is needed. According to Fernandez Zucco, the Cuban engineers say that a process that took them almost 30 years can now be done in three. Fernandez Zucco added that the country is currently in negotiations with Russian and French companies to take over the exploration process.

Plutonium may be detoured
The Dominican government is aware of the environmental risks posed by a ship carrying plutonium, and this is why the government will not allow a ship carrying 9,500 kilos of plutonium to pass through Dominican waters. Aristides Fernandez Zucco, who heads the National Energy Commission (CNE) has said that a report on the matter is being prepared and will be given to President Leonel Fernandez so he can make the final decision. Fernandez Zucco says that a government has a right to protect its waters and its environment and that a ship carrying nuclear waste is a real threat to a country's nature and tourism sector. Fernandez Zucco says that usually these types of boats pass along a country's coastline to save time and money, but Dominican authorities would contact the embassies of the countries involved to let them know that in this case that procedure will not be acceptable.

Playing cat and mouse
Once again union and business heads will meet tomorrow to discuss the proposed increase in employees' salaries, but Diario Libre explains that union heads have agreed that if the business sector keeps insisting on a 9.30% wage increase they will stop the negotiation process and make moves to create an alliance with the transport unions. Business representatives say that they do not feel the need to increase wages by more than 9.30%, a figure they say is based on the Consumer Price Index. The unions initially demanded a 60% wage increase, and now have lowered their request to 25%.
Meanwhile, Casa de Campo tourist conglomerate and La Romana labor union heads made known that they had agreed on a new wage increase. The agreement calls for a 24% wage increase, which is to be phased in over the next three years. In the first year, workers will receive an immediate increase of 10% (retroactive to 1 November 2006), with an 8% increase in 2007 and a 6% increase in 2008. The contract also includes increase in worker benefits, a 40%-60% increase in worker aid and other benefits.

PR could tax remittances to DR
Puerto Rican politician Antonio Silva is pushing the idea of taxing remittances that Dominicans in Puerto Rico send to their relatives in the DR. This could discourage Dominicans from using transfer services to send their remittances. Saul Perez from the Dominican Human Rights Committee pointed out that if Silva's proposal becomes reality Dominicans will revert back to the old, informal but trusted system of using "messengers" to send their money. As well as affecting Dominicans, the move would also affect Puerto Ricans who have children and family in the Dominican Republic, said Perez.

La Cabra finally caught
Wanted fugitive Luis Alfredo Nunez, aka Alfredito La Cabra, was caught by the National Police yesterday. Nunez is accused of the murders of Francisco Guzman and Alexis Santana Tineo in 2005. Nunez is also accused of shooting 11 people between 2005 and 2007.

Police fire 650
National Police Chief Bernardo Santana Paez has announced that 650 members of the National Police have been removed from their posts because they had committed crimes. He said that some police officers were involved in such crimes as murder, drug taking, extortion and other crimes. Santana says that all officers are being watched, regardless of rank

Runaway children tell their story
The five children who made the trip from Santo Domingo to La Otra Banda in Higuey explained that they made their trip as a promise to the Virgin of Altagracia. The children however refused to explain the nature of their promise because according to them, promises can't be told. Siblings Christian, Edward and Franchely Guzman Sanchez and Marilyn Rosely and Jobanka Ramirez Caminero also pawned a ring that belonged to their parents for RD$1,000 in order to make their trip. The children left for Higuey on Saturday afternoon. Rosely explained that once they made it to Higuey they went to the Basilica, lit candles and prayed before wandering about aimlessly. Rosely said that they hitched a ride on a motoconcho and eventually met up with someone named Jayson, who provided them with food and shelter for several days. The children said they weren't scared but were concerned because they knew they were being looked for. Their mother, Marilyn Caminero, said that they would all return to fulfill another promise, this time barefoot.

Children will receive treatment
About 55,000 children between the ages of 2 and 10 will receive treatment for parasites and will be given vitamins through a joint program run by the Public Health Ministry and funded by BRA Dominicana (Batey Relief Alliance). The program has a RD$9 million budget and will be mainly focused in the provinces of Santo Domingo, Monte Plata and La Romana. The program is aimed at reducing the risk and severity of anemia, mental retardation, infection, goiter, blindness and malnutrition. The program also seeks to improve children's health. The Minister of Health, Bautista Rojas Gomez, nutrition sub-minister Matilde Vasquez and BRA's executive sub-director Maria Virtudes Berroa signed the agreement, which will last three years. The program will treat children for parasites twice yearly.

Dominican Pop Art
The Museum of Modern Art is launching an exhibition of Dominican Pop Art from 1960-2000. Some 20 works, including paintings, sculpture and graphic arts will be on display from February 28. Danilo de los Santos and Laura Gil are the exhibition curators. Participating artists include Giovanni Ferrua, Antonio Toribio, Dario Suro, Frank Almanzar, Carlos Sangiovanni and Jorge Severino. The MAM is located in Santo Domingo's Plaza de la Cultura, off Maximo Gomez Avenue.
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