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Daily News - Friday, 23 February 2007

President Fernandez's meets Slim
President Leonel Fernandez met with Mexican businessman Carlos Slim Helu yesterday at the Presidential Palace. Slim is the new owner of the Verizon Dominicana holdings in the country, now known as Claro Codetel. Slim, accompanied by Claro Codetel president Oscar Pena Chacon and American Movil president Daniel Haas, praised the investment climate in the country and the potential for doing business here, specifically mentioning telecommunications and tourism sectors. The two met for about an hour and Slim described the encounter as excellent. The Presidency reported that during the meeting, Slim explained the investment plans he has for the company.

Fernandez leads flag celebration
President Leonel Fernandez attended the Dominican flag celebrations yesterday at the Plaza de la Bandera. During the ceremonies Fernandez announced plans to establish stricter rules for the public use of national and patriotic symbols. Fernandez was accompanied by his wife, Margarita Cedeno de Fernandez and Vice President Rafael Alburquerque. The chiefs of staff of the Navy, Air Force, Army and Police were present, too, looking over thousands of students waving flags. National Flag Day is celebrated every 22 February. This is the 163rd anniversary of the Dominican flag.

DR-CAFTA coming soon
US ambassador to the DR, Hans H. Hertell says that the date for the start of the DR-CAFTA free trade agreement could be announced soon. Yesterday Chevron Caribbean and the Dominican government resolved the conflict that has been holding up the implementation process. Chevron Caribbean has postponed using their own vehicles to transport their fuel until 2008. Chevron also agreed to gradually introduce transport of their fuel on their own ships.

No decision regarding wage increase
Discussions reached a standstill yesterday as business and labor representatives failed to reach an agreement on the percentage of salary increases of workers. The labor spokesmen said if an agreement they would consider a general strike and could align themselves with transport unions. Meanwhile, business spokesmen called for a meeting with the National Salaries Commission, and that they are open to further talks. Labor spokesman Jacobo Ramos said the sector would hold to its demand for a 30% wage increase for all those making up to RD$30,000. The business sector has offered a 9.30% increase of the minimum wage.

JCE postpones incentive decision
The Central Electoral Board announced it was postponing to 5 March the internal discussions regarding the incentives that were instituted to compensate for income tax payments of the judges. Some judges have suggested that the incentive be added to the wages, and then taxed.

Road work
The Public Works Ministry has pledged RD$100 million to help fix the roads in the Santo Domingo and the National District. Public Works Minister Freddy Perez made the announcement. Perez says that in March potholes will be covered.

Exporters might be exempt from tax
Vice-president of the Dominican Association of Exporters (Adoexpo) Kai Schoenhal announced that she is working on an agreement that would make exporters exempt from paying the ITBIS tax when they buy from their suppliers. Schoenhal is quoted in Hoy as saying that this initiative is similar to one that is applied to the tourism sector. Schoenhal says that the supplier would have to be registered with the Tax Department (DGII) to be exempt from the ITBIS tax. She is optimistic that the agreement could come into effect as early as next month.

Van Der Horst on tourism
Andres Van Der Horst Alvarez, director of the National Competitiveness Council (CNC) says that the country needs to diversify its tourism products, and promote a tourism product that fluctuates between luxury and authenticity. Van Der Horst spoke at the Union of Iberoamerican Capital Cities event, organized by the Santo Domingo city government. He says that the DR has many advantages it hasn't fully exploited. He mentioned the natural reserves, caves, historic sites, 17 national parks, 13 nature reserves, 20 forests, 300 species of birds, and 350 species of orchids as tourist offerings that could be better exploited. Van Der Horst announced President Fernandez would launch the country brand program at the end of the spring. He said all citizens need to embrace this as a national identity, beyond a slogan, rather a collection of values.

Wind park doesn't have permission
Tourism Minister Felix Jimenez says that the building of the wind park in Punta Cana-Macao is moving slowly. Jimenez says that the project is currently suspended because it doesn't fulfill all the requirements set forth by that ministry. Jimenez, speaking in Diario Libre, said that the Consorcio Energetico Punta Cana-Macao has the right to build on its property, but not within the 60 meters marine strip on property that does not belong to that company and affects the users of the beach. He said that Decree 595-06 that authorized the wind park specifies the construction would take place on property owned by the Consorcio. The wind towers would have a height equivalent to a tower of 34 floors. Jimenez says that his department opposes the project because it will alter the visual aspect of the area, as well as the height limit in tourist zones, and will increase the noise levels.

DR to become a AA hub?
American Airlines is planning to use DR as an international hub. This conversion, which will begin next June, is part of an AA expansion in the country. Eduardo del Pozo, director for AA in the DR, announced that AA has requested permission from the Civil Aviation Department for two flights from Santo Domingo to Port-au-Prince, one flight from Santo Domingo to Curacao, and one flight from Santo Domingo to Caracas. AA transported more than one million passengers in 7,000 flights between the DR and USA last year. This is the second year in a row that AA reaches hits the million passengers transported on Dominican routes. Cargo traffic on AA flights has also increased. In 2005 50.2 million pounds were shipped, increasing to 57.9 million in 2006. AA manages an average of 30 flights a day from the DR and has been in service in the country for 32 years. Del Pozo was critical, nevertheless, of the US$70 tax per fare, saying that it makes the DR more expensive than Jamaica and Mexico, affecting its competitiveness.

A break in the Vimenca robbery case
Eight years after the robbery of a Vimenca exchange house values transport vehicle, the Police has announced that they found a rifle that was used to rob that company. Police presented a Colt AR-15 with numeration 159388. The robbery had taken place on 14 September 1999, but investigation results were not announced at the time. Police Chief Bernardo Santana Paez says that the rifle, which was stolen in New York and was illegaly entered into the country, was the same used in a robbery of an Asociacion Popular savings and loans bank on Charles de Gaulle Avenue on 26 November 2006. The rifle was found in Eladio Gabino's possession. He is under arrest and is believed to be involved in both heists. In the 1999 Vimenca robbery, thieves killed 3 guards and US$72,292 and stole RD$1.9 million.

Mazarrasa speaks
Spanish ambassador to the DR, Almudena Mazarrasa has tried to clarify her statements regarding the judicial security in the DR and says that her comments were taken out of context. Mazarrasa caused controversy last week when she questioned the judicial security in the country as well as the levels of corruption and lack of public safety. In a letter printed in Listin Diario, Mazarrasa says that she is worried and surprised by the reaction to her comments, which she says were incorrectly interpreted. The diplomat went on to say that all to the contrary, she has worked to strengthen relations.
"Since I arrived to the DR I have worked intensely to strengthen the bilateral relations, as is evident by the recent visit of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Spain, we have advanced considerably in the construction of a space of confidence and cooperation amongst both governments," she wrote to the newspaper.
In response to her published comments foreign Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso said he would use diplomatic channels to respond to Mazarrasa.

Costa Rica will help DR with energy
Costa Rican ambassador to the DR Marta Eugenia says that Costa Rican and Dominican officials are working on a bilateral agreement for cooperation in the area of energy. Eugenia says that in Costa Rica a house with heat and a pool is billed about US$130 per month in energy bills, but that everyone pays the bills. She says that in the poorer communities everyone receives energy at lower costs, without subsidies. The ambassador also pointed out that 96% of the energy consumed in Costa Rica is clean energy generated by wind and dams.

Diario Libre editorial today focuses on the size of government today. One of the greater concerns on the national agenda, a priority public matter, should be the size and cost of the state that has become a heavy burden on Dominican society, writes the editorialist. Mentioned is the concern for wages, but the large number of employees that grows with every election, and their efficiency. "This state costs a lot, but does not teach, heal or protect," says the newspaper. It also points out that the state is not an example either of probity or transparency, rather is a paternalist state that serves to feed all whose political patronage is needed and to make rich the unscrupulous few.

And the winners are...
Long distance swimmer Marcos Diaz and Sur Futuro president of the Sur Futuro Melba Segura de Grullon were selected as Diario Libre's Man and Woman of the Year 2006. Marcos Diaz accomplished the feat of crossing the English Channel, and Melba Segura, wife of the president of the Banco Popular Group, has lead a successful foundation to reduce poverty in provinces on the border with Haiti. First Lady Margarita Cedeno de Fernandez handed the winners their trophies at a ceremony held at the National Theater.

Naif paintings at the CCE
The Spanish Embassy's Centro Cultural de Espana is sponsoring an exhibition of naif paintings from Spain, Portugal, Haiti, Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic. See these works from 10 am to 9 pm Tuesday to Sunday. Centro Cultural de Espana, Arzobispo Merino corner Arzobispo Portes streets, Colonial City. For more events, see http://www.dr1.com/calendar
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