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Daily News - Friday, 16 March 2007

Fernandez and Preval
President Leonel Fernandez has said that relations between Haiti and the Dominican Republic are entering a new phase and that in the future both nations would be united in working towards progress, prosperity and wellbeing, based on cooperation and solidarity. Speaking after their meeting in the Salon de Embajadores at the Presidential Palace yesterday, Fernandez also urged Haiti to make the most of the DR's recent entry into the DR-CAFTA agreement. In this regard Fernandez said that as the DR continues to strengthen its growth and guarantees its sustainable development, this would ensure growth, prosperity and progress for Haiti too. Haitian President Rene Preval assured that relations between both countries are good but told President Fernandez that they have to work hard to promote a radical change in the history of relations between both nations. The Presidents signed an agreement for technical cooperation, research and four separate agreements in the areas of technical and higher education during the course of the meeting. As part of the education agreements three Haitian Universities, five Dominican Universities and a Canadian University have agreed to work on research programs into social problems in each country. Aide et Action International, based in Paris, France is donating EUR1 million to fund the projects.

Drug summit today
The highly anticipated summit on Drugs, Security and Cooperation is taking place at the Diplomatic School located at the Foreign Ministry building. Prime Ministers from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Saint Vincent and Grenada will be attending the Summit, together with representatives from the United States, Spain, France, Holland, the European Union, Caricom and the United Nations. Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and Haitian President Rene Preval are also attending. Listin Diario explains that the summit has exceeded expectations and that interest is high. According to Listin, the authorities planned for the participation of 300 people but that over 800 have applied for credentials for the event. Eduardo Gamarra, from the Center for Latin American and Caribbean studies based in Miami, Florida, will also be attending the summit. In comments made to Hoy newspaper, Gamarra questioned drug policies implemented by the international community and called for their revision. Gamarra, a professor at Florida International University, says that too much emphasis has been put on intercepting drugs instead of creating an overall strategic plan to combat the drug trade. Gamarra will be addressing the summit this Friday.

Castanos considers leaks a problem
Central Electoral Board (JCE) head Julio Cesar Castanos Guzman considers it disloyal that information that is decided within the JCE is then "leaked" out to the media and continued by saying that this is not good for the board's image, while denying that any leaks have taken place. Castanos was referring to comments by JCE Judge Aura Celeste Fernandez about JCE Judge Roberto Rosario and the SOMO contracts investigation. In yesterday's Diario Libre Fernandez explained that on two occasions she voted for Judge Roberto Rosario to be excluded from the investigations into the Soluciones Modernas (SOMO) civil registry system contracts corruption scandal. Fernandez said in Diario Libre that she went public with her vote when proceedings at the Monday session where the matter was discussed were leaked to the media and she wanted other details of the meeting to be made public. JCE Judge Eddy Olivares expressed agreement with Castanos's concerns. Speaking in Listin Diario, Olivares said that it doesn't do the organization any good to reveal that type of information and said that the situation needs to be corrected.

Santiago historical buildings get facelift
A sum of RD$200 million is being invested in the rehabilitation and restoration of 1,700 cultural heritage sites in the historic center of Santiago. The work is being directed by the Development Council for the Historic Center of Santiago's Technical Commission with the cooperation of the city municipality, the Archbishop and the Culture Ministry. Among the sites that will receive a facelift are the Hotel Mercedes, the Santiago Apostol Cathedral and hundreds of older buildings. Reynaldo Peguero, Santiago Strategic Plan executive director and member of the rehabilitation commission said that more than 30% of the buildings have already been repaired. He explained that they have painted more than 400 buildings and hopes that more than 50% will be painted by 30 March.

US company building low-cost housing
The director of the Center for Exports and Investment (CEI-RD), Eddy Martinez, has announced the signing of an agreement to build 10,000 low-cost homes with Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC). Through the agreement the 10,000 homes will be constructed for a price of between US$10,000 and US$25,000. The total investment in the project is estimated to be around US$50 million. Hoy reports that OPIC has invested more than US$390 million in the DR over the years. The agreement was signed by Martinez and OPIC president Robert Mosbacher. Mosbacher said that the first houses should be ready within the next 12 to 24 months and will be located in the northern and eastern areas of the country with high levels of tourist and commercial activity. The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) was established as an agency of the US government in 1971. OPIC helps US businesses invest overseas, promotes economic development in new and emerging markets, complements the private sector in managing risks associated with foreign direct investment, and supports U.S. foreign policy.

Competitiveness improves; still not good enough
The Dominican Republic's world competitiveness ranking rose to 83 this year, eight points higher than in 2006, but it is still low in comparison to its main competitor countries. International trade expert Juan Luis Zunigas revealed the statistics in Hoy and said that the DR needs to continue increasing its competitiveness. Zunigas said that increased stability in the macroeconomic sector was what led to this year's better ranking. Zunigas pointed out however that the energy crisis is one of the factors that affect the country's competitiveness. The world rankings are decided by analyzing the quality of education, infrastructure, the investment climate, human rights and macroeconomic stability.

Exports estimate high
Exports for 2007 could reach US$6.5 billion of which US$4.9 billion would be from free trade zone and US$1.65 billion would come from exports from the different sectors of the economy. These estimates come from the Center for Exports and Investment (CEI-RD). CEI-RD head Eddy Martinez expects 2007 to be the year that free trade zones generate the highest amounts of exports. Martinez says that DR-CAFTA could dramatically change the export sector.

Unions meet on the down low
Diario Libre writes that transport union leaders and government officials met privately for over three hours yesterday and said that another meeting could take place today. Diario Libre points out that the government initiated the contact in hopes of re-starting the talks that collapsed earlier this month. The lack of dialogue has led to tension with the unions and earlier this week the situation boiled over during a strike when a homemade bomb was thrown into a bus, injuring seven people, including a pregnant woman. Diario Libre adds that even though the government is willing to work out a solution, Santo Domingo prosecutor Perfecto Acosta is not overlooking this week's bus bombing. Charges have been filed against three men in connection with the incident while the prosecutor for the First Court of Appeals of Santo Domingo, Leonel Sosa, wants to interview union leaders Juan Hubieres, Antonio Marte and Ramon Perez Figuereo. Hubieres said that the union heads would go to the prosecutor's office at 9am today even though they haven't been formally summoned. Hubieres continued his comments by saying that a mobilization plan is in the works for the beginning of next week and dismissed Office for the Reorganization of Transit (OPRET) head Diandino Pena's threats. Pena said that the government would impound all Plan Renove buses if drivers continued to strike, but Hubieres said that this would have little effect on what they were trying to do. He says that Plan Renove buses only transport about 1.5% of the total (57,000 users) and that he has more than 57,000 buses and 50,000 cars under his control that weren't bought through Plan Renove.
Not all is going well for Hubieres and the unions. Hoy explains that 30 drivers unions from the Cibao region have disassociated themselves from the Conatra and Fenatrano unions because of the way that their leaders have handled the negotiations.

Study reveals alarming statistics
The National Statistics Office (ONE) has presented the third version of its study, "EnHogar," revealing high levels of malnutrition in children. The study also showed that people have limited knowledge of methods for curing illness in women and an increasing trend among teenagers to engage in sexual activity. The study shows that 10% of the Dominican population uses wood for fire in order to cook food, that 20% of children born in the last five years have not been registered at the civil registries, and that 34% of women don't know how to prevent the transmission of HIV/AIDS. Also alarming is the fact that 11% of women get married before they are 15 years old and that more than 50% of children between the ages of 12 and 23 months don't have all the required immunizations. The study surveyed 10,950 households and questions were asked about the home, about women, and about children under 18. It also showed that one out of every 100 children is chronically malnourished and that 5% of all children display some form of malnutrition. The areas of Enriquillo and El Valle, as well as the provinces of Independencia, Barahona and Baoruco showed the highest level of malnutrition in children.

Babies being registered
By noon yesterday 18 newborns had received their birth certificates and identification numbers once they were registered at the country's first civil registry to be based inside a maternity ward, Santo Domingo's Nuestra Senora de la Altagracia. New parents applauded the efficiency of the process and said that it was a relief not to have to wait in long lines. The birth certificates are free and all that parents have to do is present their own "cedula" identity card and the proof of birth they are given at the hospital.

Chaos in obtaining good conduct document
Chaos seems to be the only word to describe the situation at the Palacio de la Justicia in Ciudad Nueva. Citizens who go to that office to get a certification of good conduct have been met with increase in prices, long lines, disorganization and few results. The document costs RD$250, a 200% increase, and is needed in order to get a job or a license, among other things. Diario Libre writes that the situation reached the point that people began pushing and police officers had to intervene to restore order. According to Hoy, in the past an average of 30 people would be in line to get their documents but now, judges and workers at the Palacio have to weave through the crowds in order to get to their offices. There was no comment from officials about the reasons for the delay or about how they plan to deal with the situation.

Tourism rates decrease
Although tourist arrivals by air increased by 3.45% in the first two months of the year, Hoy reports that this is a significant decline compared to the same period last year. In January-February 2006 the arrival of non-resident tourists on planes increased by 8.17% and increased by 6.50% for the same period in 2005. The Central Bank Report points out that the decrease in non-resident tourists, especially from Puerto Rico and the US, could be due to new US government regulations that require US citizens to have a valid passport to enter the United States. The turbulent weather in the northeastern part of the United States caused the cancellation of many flights, which also led to a decrease in the number of non-resident tourists. For the first two months of this year 664,523 non-resident tourists arrived on planes compared to 641,335 who arrived in the country for the same period in 2006. The Central Bank Report also indicates that a total of 819,006 (resident and non-resident) tourists arrived in the country, which is an increase of 30,058 tourists compared to 2006. This is an increase of 3.81%.
As far as tourism by country of origin Canada came first with the arrival of 193,047 visitors. This represents 29.05% of total arrivals. The United States came in second with 25.83% of total arrivals. Punta Cana received most arrivals with 345,420 - the equivalent of 51.98% of the total. Puerto Plata's Gregorio Luperon airport came in second with 125,373 passengers, for 18.87% of the total. Only 14.57% of arrivals came through Las Americas Airport. Samana's new airport at El Catey, which has been open for just four months, registered 16,133 arrivals.

Subero taken to Miami
Businessman and engineer Jose Miguel Subero was taken to a hospital in Miami, Florida yesterday morning and was checked into Cedar Medical Center. Doctors say that Subero's condition is stable and he is in Miami to receive more medical supervision. Diario Libre writes that Dr. Johnny Aquino says that Subero is well and that the decision to take him to Miami was made by the family. Subero is recovering from two bullet wounds he suffered when he was robbed, shot and left for dead near his villa at Casa de Campo on Tuesday. Police informed that the whole incident was planned and carried out by his driver, who had provided the accomplices with access to Subero's villa. Driver Rafael Alexander Alejo Diaz had access to the Casa de Campo compound and to Subero's private villa in particular. Police have announced that they have taken three other persons who are believed to be involved with the case into custody. A total of nine people are in custody.

Sosa and Sosa
Thirty-eight-year old slugger Sammy Sosa continued his monstrous spring training yesterday by belting his third homerun in the Cactus league and stretching his hit streak to 10 consecutive games. Sosa, who is in the middle of a career resurgence, is batting .452 this spring and has seven total runs batted in (RBI). His continued success this spring has landed the aging outfielder a spot in the Texas Rangers lineup, according to Hoy.
Meanwhile, in his first NCAA post-season, Edgar Sosa from the University of Louisville, helped the Cardinals advance to the second round in the tournament known as March Madness. In 25 minutes of play the 6-2 guard from New York City went 6-12 from the field (3-6 from the 3 point line) and dished out 1 assist. Louisville faces Texas A&M in their second round game.
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