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Daily News - Wednesday, 14 March 2007

Fernandez and Preval meet for drug summit
Presidents Fernandez of the Dominican Republic and Rene Preval of Haiti are meeting today to discuss issues affecting the two nations that share the island of Hispaniola. The Dominican foreign ministry did not give details on the items to be discussed. It is reported that Preval will arrive on a private plane today and attend to some personal issues in Punta Cana. The official visit begins on Thursday when both presidents meet at the Presidential Palace in Santo Domingo. Members of their respective cabinets will attend the meetings. According to the report in Hoy, the most important issues are related to migration, security along the frontier and rules governing informal cross-border commerce. One of the main themes that will be touched upon will be the long dormant Bilateral Mixed Commission, which has not met in five years. Both Presidents will attend the Drug Summit in Santo Domingo where President Fernandez will address the assembly.

Re-election stirs more debate
Recent statements by prominent bishops who are critical of President Fernandez's re-election ambitions have stirred a debate and provoked harsh remarks from leading PLD members. Franklin Almeyda, currently the Minister of the Interior and Police, told Hoy reporters that the bishops' remarks were motivated by a political agenda. Higher Education Minister Ligia Amada Melo told reporters that Bishop Camilo was a habitual protestor, "so much so that if a golden cathedral was built for him, the next day he would ask for a highway next to it." Melo said that Camilo was a PRD party sympathizer, which is why he never objected to former President Hipolito Mejia's own re-election bid. The minister was quick to add that she did not think that Bishop Camilo's comments represented mainstream Catholic Church opinion. Last week both bishops made public statements saying that re-election attempts are negative as they lead to economic unrest and "a lot of money is diverted from the people to the campaigns."

Senate overrides veto
The Senate has overridden presidential observations on a legislative proposal aimed at creating a new municipal district for Sabana Iglesia, in the province of Santiago. President Fernandez had made a sort of "pocket veto" when he returned the proposal to the Senate with a note that said that he had not authorized the measure "because of the public outcry against this type of initiative." However, all three political parties supported the measure and it was passed unanimously. Sabana Iglesia is a rural area to the south of Santiago de los Caballeros, in the foothills of the Central Mountains.

Wage talks stall a bit
Although employers have raised their offer from a 9.30% increase for minimum wage earners to a 12% increase, talks are stalled for now. Yesterday's long and drawn out negotiating session between labor union leaders and employers' representatives was chaired by Monsignor Agripino Nunez Collado who served as moderator and mediator. The Minister of Labor and the Monsignor called the meeting a "get together" to discuss the controversial issues surrounding a wage increase. Business representatives presented their case but it was rejected by the unions on two issues: First, the offer only applied to workers who earn the minimum wage, not those earning up to RD$30,000 per month; and second, the offer was far below the 25% increase being sought by the labor representatives. As a result, Diario Libre reports that the business sector has asked for a few days to carry out some consultations with their membership, and the labor unions have suspended their calls for strikes and protests outside the "Torre Empresarial" (the Business Tower) for the time being. In addition, the paper reports that a National Salaries Commission meeting was suspended, although Labor Minister Jose Fadul pointed out that no decisions from the current meetings would be valid unless approved by the NSC.

Pluri-employment is the way to go
Journalist Desiree Martinez has analyzed the current status of some professionals and found that holding several jobs at once is a common way of making ends meet. According to the reporter, the decrease in the Dominican peso's purchasing power and the increases in the typical household's expenses have practically forced people to seek second and third jobs. Sales is one avenue that is exploited, with accessories, clothes, cosmetics and technological items leading the way. A general practitioner, Dr. Carlos Nunez, does catalogue sales along with his wife. Jose Luis Garcia is an accountant by day and a taxi driver by night. Bio-analyst Xiomara Santana also has a "mobile store" as she prefers to call it. Central Bank figures reveal that the average family's basic needs have risen from RD$7,540 in 2000 to RD$18,000 in 2006.
The additional income generated by outside employment helps some households to "get ahead" as Dr. Nunez and his wife can testify. Their catalogue sales generate an additional RD$60,000 for their household income. Driving a taxi allows Garcia to send both his children to a private school. It seems that multiple jobs is the wave of the future.

AG to investigate firebomb attack
The Attorney General of the Dominican Republic, Radhames Jimenez Pena, has confirmed that he instructed the District Attorney of Santo Domingo province to investigate the transport unions that promoted the strike that resulted in the firebombing of a bus and injuries to seven women. According to Hoy, Jimenez said, "responsibilities will be established and the individuals responsible for the acts will be punished." The Attorney General has asked for complete cooperation from the police. Several of the burn victims will be scarred for life, according to reports in Listin Diario and El Caribe. Minister of the Interior and Police, Franklin Almeyda told reporters that the Program to Protect Victims of Violence would cover the seven burn victims' medical expenses.

Centennial sold to Trilogy
The Dominican Telecommunications Institute (INDOTEL) has authorized the sale of Centennial, formerly All America Cable & Radio, Inc., Dominican Republic, to Trilogy Dominican Republic, LLC. The operation is expected to increase competition between phone and wireless service providers. Recently, America Movil, a Mexican company, purchased Verizon Dominicana. The resolution authorizing the transaction allows for a 60-day period for finalizing the sale.

Marchanta Plaza opens in Santiago
The "marchantas" are one of the most familiar sights in the city of Santiago de los Caballeros. In fact, when the city hosted the XV Central American and Caribbean Games in 1986, the marchanta was used as the symbol for the event. Marchantas are the women who arrive from the countryside, usually on donkeys or horses and sell their wares on the city streets. They hawk their merchandise with typical street vendor cries that identify each of their products. Visitors to the Centro Leon can hear recordings of some of these picturesque and hardworking folks. Yesterday the city honored these women with the inauguration of a shopping center. The Plaza de las Marchantas is located on Juan Pablo Duarte Avenue and includes a sculpture of a marchanta on her burro by Dionisio Peralta. According to Santiago's mayor, Jose Enrique Sued, none of the political parties objected when the idea was proposed. Listin Diario reports that dozens of the marchantas themselves attended the inauguration.

Ferries del Caribe reject new port
The company that operates the ferries from Mayaguez, Puerto Rico to Santo Domingo has rejected President Fernandez's announcement that San Pedro de Macoris would be the new homeport for the service. Juan Ortega Martinez, the president of Ferries del Caribe, told reporters from Hoy that the company has spent over two years negotiating for permits that would allow the company to construct a ferry terminal in Santo Domingo. He said that the President's statement "was not an option for us." However, he said that at the President's request, the company would make a formal presentation of their own project to the Chief Executive. During a visit to San Juan, Puerto Rico last week, President Fernandez announced that he was ordering the re-construction of the wharf at San Pedro de Macoris so that it could be used by the ferry service. He called the ferry that moves vehicles and people as well as cargo, a "key element within the framework of DR-CAFTA". Ortega said that he had met briefly with President Fernandez to show him the plans for the new terminal, and received an invitation to make a formal presentation.

Car insurance up 30%
The unhappy news that automobile insurance is up by 30% is the result of the changes brought about by the government's latest "tax correction". The change of the tax on insurance from VAT to Selective Consumer Tax has forced insurers to increase their premiums by this amount. One cause is that Selective Consumer Taxes cannot be deducted from the taxes. Another is the high rate of accident claims. Apparently, the local auto insurance industry has lost RD$800 million over recent years. However, according to Hoy, the implementation of Law 146-02 will provide a boost for insurers.

Thief lynched in Bonao
One of two men who stole a motorcycle from a 'motoconcho' driver was killed yesterday as an angry mob attacked them both with sticks, stones and gunfire in the community of Loma Mala in Maimon. The police have confirmed, according to Hoy, that the two men had taken the motorcycle at gunpoint, but the other motoconcho drivers sounded the alarm and the thieves were chased by the mob. The dead man was not carrying identification, and the police found a 9mm caliber firearm on his body.
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