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Daily News - Monday, 12 March 2007

Exporting education
The Central Bank expects foreign students studying in the Dominican Republic to have spent upwards of US$70 million in the DR last year. This would be up from US$66 million in 2005. A poll carried out by the Bank's research department in 2005 says these numbers almost equal the exports of coffee, cacao and tobacco products. Haitians make up the largest number of students, with 6,000. Haitians, nevertheless, are billed as Dominicans, and do not have to pay the premium charged foreigners. According to the Central Bank, there 29 foreign nationalities represented at Dominican universities. Most foreigners study medicine here, followed by engineering, languages, dentistry, and business.
For information on careers offered in the DR, see http://my-student-guide.com

A green airport for SPM
The Cave of Wonders Airport will use only renewable energy and ethanol fuels. The new facility being constructed in San Pedro de Macoris will cost between US$5 and US$6 million. Hoy newspaper says that Max Shauck, a US scientist and Alex Rood, the head of the Tecno Deah Consortium, reviewed the agreement signed between the Cave of Wonders Foundation and Baylor University to create a green airport by using ethanol for fueling aircraft, and solar and wind energy to supply the airport's electricity needs. Another Dominican group, headed by architect Omar Bros and joined by the Baylor Air Sciences Institute, will run a flight training program and an academic program at the airport site.
The green airport will have a landing strip of between 2,000 and 2,500 meters in length and will be able to handle between 20 and 30 flights a day. The facility is due to open for service early next year.
Both Shauck and Rood spoke during a workshop on "Renewable and sustainable energies: The present and future for fuels used in public transport" which was held at the Santo Domingo Technological Institute (INTEC).
The idea is to introduce ethanol as the primary fuel used for aircraft. In Brazil, nearly a thousand aircraft run on ethanol-consuming engines. Most are used in agricultural work, and research on the use of ethanol on commercial aircraft is ongoing.
In a related article, Brazilian ethanol expert Sergio Trindade told reporters that the Dominican Republic has great potential as an ethanol producer. Trindade is a former science and technology assistant to the Secretary General of the United Nations. One aspect of a renewed emphasis on ethanol production would be a reduction in rural-urban migration, according to Trindade. The economic aspects of ethanol use in Brazil were emphasized, especially in view of the fact that 40% of all gasoline use has been substituted by ethanol. Trindade calmed some fears about the effect of ethanol use in the Dominican Republic when he pointed out that ethanol use would not really affect the vast majority of vehicles.

Small business drowning under new taxes
Small businessmen are asking the tax authorities to collect VAT and other taxes on a quarterly basis rather than the monthly collections now in force. Recent changes in the tax regimen have forced small businesses to work wonders with limited economic resources. The greatest problem facing the small entrepreneur is the monthly VAT payment on merchandise sold on credit. The entire issue, according to the article in Diario Libre, appears to revolve around this monthly payment of sales, whether collected or not. Reporter Lisania Batista interviewed auto parts dealers, importers, pharmacists and clothing sellers. Everyone interviewed made the same point about the difficulty of meeting the monthly payments to the Internal Revenue office. The new NCF invoice form, now obligatory for all invoices has also caused added expenses to many small owners. In general, everyone interviewed shared the view that the government has to be more understanding about the problems facing small businesses and take steps to ensure that this sector is not stamped out by taxing it to death.

Nunez C. pushes for talks, not strikes
Monsignor Agripino Nunez Collado has issued a call for a negotiated settlement to the current crisis between the workforce and employers on the proposed increase in the minimum wage. The good Monsignor has been called in to mediate the impasse, and the hope is that some sort of a deal can now be worked out. Nunez Collado called on both sides to refrain from doing anything rash and to wait for the dialogue to begin. The National Council for Private Business (CONEP), the Ministry of Labor and the labor unions are set to meet this week to deal with the issues surrounding the workers' demands for a 25% wage increase. Monsignor Nunez said that he hoped to be able to reach a "fair and reasonable" solution. Meanwhile, union spokesperson Rafael Abreu said that labor leaders would be meeting at the National Center for Union Unity headquarters this morning to discuss the latest events. The workers are planning to march on Wednesday to reinforce their demands for a 25% wage increase for all workers who earn up to RD$30,000 per month.

Authorities can't control cable theft
The Electricity Distributor for the East (EdeEste) has issued a public complaint calling attention to the fact that the electricity cables along the Las Americas Expressway have been stolen to the extent that barely 2% of the highway is getting service. The Juan Bosch Bridge was left without much electricity after vandals stole over a kilometer of cables. This has also been the case on Duarte Bridge where thieves removed 29 of 36 newly installed lights. According to Hoy, the stolen cables will not be replaced until an alliance is formed with the civil and military authorities to put a stop to the thievery. The only stretch of the Las Americas Expressway that is still illuminated is precisely the area near the police station.

Unions threaten a 35% cargo hike
The National Transportation Federation (FENATRADO) has announced that as of today, their members will charge an additional 35% for hauling cargo in the Dominican Republic. During an interview with reporters from El Caribe, FENATRADO leader Blas Peralta said that his union had warned of a tariff increase two months ago and that the latest increases in diesel fuel prices had left them with no alternative. Over the last six weeks the price of diesel fuel has increased by RD$3.60 per gallon, and now stands at RD$103. Peralta said that all the union's clients had been advised of the situation. FENATRADO bases its transport fees on distance and weight. The new measure adds RD$350 to every RD$1,000 invoiced. According to Peralta, the continual price increases in fuel and spare parts are what forced the union to take this step.
Business sectors are demanding that cargo owners be allowed to transport their own cargo. Fenatrado has known to use violence to impede cargo owners to choose freight transporters that are not a member of their union.

Drivers begin actions today
Serious disruptions to public transport are expected today, particularly in San Juan de la Maguana and Elias Pina provinces, as well as in the eastern region. Some 8,000 vehicles are due to take part in the action. As reported in Hoy, FENATRANO and CONATRA union leaders Juan Hubieres and Antonio Marte made separate announcements about their action plans in demand of government attention to their complaints. Hubieres said that there was no formal strike call, but just a four-hour work stoppage, especially the San Juan - Elias Pina routes. Another action will be called for Santiago, this time for a five-hour stoppage. Antonio Marte told reporters that the entire eastern Dominican Republic would be paralyzed. This includes Boca Chica, San Pedro de Macoris, La Romana, Higuey, Hato Mayor, El Seybo and Miches. Some of the complaints center around student fare subsidies, and transportation for the police, military and elderly.

Breathalyzers, much ado about nothing?
AMET officers were putting their new toys to use over the weekend and personalities of all stripes were giving their views on the positive and negative aspects of the new policy. El Caribe reported that AMET officers, accompanied by Traffic Court prosecutors conducted a large number of tests on Friday night, detaining some and seizing a few vehicles. Diario Libre reported that there was confusion about the devices, and some bar and restaurant owners were asking for parameters as to how many drinks a person can consume before testing positive. According to William Brown, a former executive for one of the larger rum companies, just one small beer can produce a positive reading.
One volunteer took just one drink of vodka and tested in the red zone/no driving on the apparatus. Amidst all the furor over the use of the breathalyzers, only 7% of those tested got a positive reading. According to an article in today's Diario Libre, anyone who resists testing will get a summons and the vehicle will be confiscated. During the first night, 28 people were tested and only two tested positive. AMET spokesman Jose Jaquez said that the test is not obligatory, but anyone who refuses it will automatically be classified as positive. On a more aggressive note, El Caribe reports that Ramon Perez Figuereo, the head of the CNTU transport union, met with his membership yesterday and instructed them to resist both the testing and the pepper spray since he considered both to be illegal. He said that pepper spray should be turned on the AMET officers who use it.
Finally, El Caribe reports that the Dominican Ophthalmological Society has assured the public that the pepper spray in use by AMET will not produce permanent damage, and the effects should wear off within 48 hours. The information was released by Franklin Almeyda, the Minister of the Interior and Police.

Bishop links army to Haitian immigration
The Bishop of the Mao-Montecristi dioceses, Diomedes Espinal de Leon, complained over the weekend that the north west of the country was a forgotten area and that the army units in the frontier zone encourage the passage of undocumented Haitians, charging RD$50.00 for every illegal migrant who passes through their checkpoints. Espinal said that those responsible for human trafficking do not control the checkpoints and these have become virtual "tollbooths" for the military. Most of the trafficking occurs during the early evening and night. Bishop Espinal pointed out that the Haitians have to make as many as eight payments at the checkpoints on the route between the frontier town of Dajabon and Mao. The illegals are often returned to Haiti if they do not have enough money for the last "toll." A lot depends on the route chosen, according to the prelate. If they travel from Dajabon via Santiago Rodriguez to Mao, then there are five or six "toll stations", and if the migrants choose the route from Dajabon to Montecristi to Mao along the Duarte Highway, there are eight checkpoints. The bishop was also very vocal in his complaints about the illegal commercial traffic across the border, something that is well known, but about which little is done.

Whales are really a sight
The whale watching season in currently in full swing in Samana, and an estimated 30,000 visitors are expected this year. The Samana Whale Sanctuary is winter breeding and calving grounds for the seven to nine thousand humpback whales that visit the island each year. Of the approximately 150,000 humpbacks that used to live in the Atlantic, only about 10,000 are still alive. According to locally based marine biologist Kim Bedall, the whale- watching season is from 15 January to 15 April each year.
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