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Daily News - Monday, 19 March 2007

Fernandez blames US for drug increase
President Leonel Fernandez says that the United States has shifted its attention from the war on drugs to homeland security and the issues in Iraq. In his opening remarks at the first summit on Drugs, Security and Cooperation held in Santo Domingo last week, President Fernandez said that as a result of 9-11 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the presence of US efforts in the Caribbean has diminished by 62%. The President cited a study by University of Miami professor Bruce Bagley that showed a decrease in the use of fast boats, helicopters and search aircraft used to look for illegal drug smuggling. Because of this decrease, according to the President, the Caribbean nations are seeing an increase in drug trafficking in the region.
The first Summit on Drugs, Security and Cooperation came to a close on Friday with a decision by the participants to diversify their avenues of cooperation in order to combat drug trafficking. Leaders from the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Colombia, and Trinidad and Tobago promised to allocate more resources towards the problem of demand for the drugs, and they issued a call to the international community for more technical and financial assistance. Finally, the declaration calls for further meetings of the group, but the time and place were not announced.
According to Diario Libre, reports from the United States say that the Venezuela- Haiti-Dominican Republic-United States route has become the most successful drug trafficking channel. Drugs shipped through the island of Hispaniola have quadrupled over the last three years, according to an article in the Miami Herald.

Chilean support for DR innovation
The government of Chile will be working together with the Inter-American Development Bank to support innovation in the Dominican Republic and Central American countries. President Michelle Bachelet of Chile and the president of the Inter-American Development Bank, Luis Alberto Moreno signed the agreement in Guatemala City yesterday.
The IDB promotes technology innovation involving both the public and private sectors. The fund will finance scholarships and internships and the dissemination of projects in the area of technology innovation, taking advantage of best practice in Chile. Beneficiary countries are Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama and the Dominican Republic.
The fund will also finance institutional capacity building to develop technology innovation; innovative projects to adopt and transfer technology; generation of development policies and strategies for innovation; and training of human resources in the area of technology innovation.
The IDB reports that Chile's rich experience in all these areas has helped turn it into the most competitive country in Latin America and the Caribbean. The new fund seeks to provide the beneficiary countries with access to these high level technology processes similar to those created in developed countries, but following successful models closer to their own realities.

JCE suggests changes
The Central Electoral Board has suggested a couple of changes to the current legislation that governs elections in the Dominican Republic. According to Listin Diario, JCE chief magistrate Julio Cesar Castanos Guzman has suggested that the upcoming constitutional reform should include the creation of a Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) that will take over all cases involving arguments about election results and settle internal political party disputes. This would free up the JCE to organize and carry out elections. According to the suggestion, both the JCE and the TSE would be composed of five members each. The JCE members would be selected by Congress and the TSE members would be selected by the National Council of Magistrates.

Sugar making headlines
It has been years since sugar was the nation's main foreign exchange generator and the start of the harvest would make front-page news. This year, sugar is back making headlines because several sugar mills will be producing cane for ethanol production.
State Sugar Council (CEA) director general Enrique Martinez announced the start of the 2007 harvest and that the Porvenir Sugar Mill was chosen as the first mill to begin processing cane. He announced that negotiations are well advanced for the leasing of the Santa Fe, Quisqueya and Consuelo mills for ethanol production. According to the CEA director, Porvenir has been reconditioned and is expected to process over 300,000 tons of cane and produce between 25,000 and 30,000 tons of sugar.
Sugar is also news regarding whether or not the DR will be allowed to sell sugar to Europe. In a related article in Hoy, Rafael Nunez reports that when the Dominican Republic voted to join the Lome IV Accords, the country withdrew from the Number Three Protocol regarding Sugar, which is today annexed to the Cotonou Accords. This was the required condition in order to gain access to European Union markets. What this apparently means is that the Dominican Republic will face stiff resistance as it attempts to gain access to the 120,000-ton shortfall of sugar for the European Union from the English-speaking Caribbean islands. According to the report, the Dominican proposal to provide the sugar Europe needs has been met with "you have withdrawn from the Sugar Protocol." There is some hope, however, since Article 7 of the Protocol does establish some mechanisms whereby if an ACP nation cannot supply its full quota, the Commission can cede the remainder to another nation, subject to it fulfilling a series of conditions.

Fuel up 7 weeks in a row
Despite lower oil prices on the world markets, the local price of a gallon of fuel or cooking gas has increased for the seventh week in a row. A barrel of oil cost US$2.94 less this week, but the price of a gallon of regular gasoline climbed RD$0.60 and a gallon of premium rose by RD$1.40. Diesel prices fell slightly, but propane gas (LPG) went up by RD$0.59 a gallon. With the latest increases, gasoline, both premium and regular, has increased by as much as RD$15.80 over the last seven weeks. Apparently, the government has been gradually adding to the price of fuel the increases approved as part of the January 2007 fiscal reform.

Sustainable development for Miches
As part of its commitment to meet the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, the Dominican government, in conjunction with Columbia University has announced a pioneering, large-scale sustainable development project for the municipality of Miches, in the eastern province of El Seibo.
Miches, with a population of just 20,000, is a relatively untouched area of remarkable natural beauty and ecological diversity, and the project aims to develop the area in an environmentally sustainable way, with the full involvement of local communities.
Initiatives include reforestation and a micro-hydro power generation system using the existing waterfall network, which energy experts believe could potentially generate more electricity than the local population needs, and thus feed the national power grid with the surplus. The project also aims to clean up local lagoons, rivers and coastline where pollution has depleted fish stocks and contaminated drinking water sources.
All this will be combined with a social component, improving health and education facilities in the municipality, where according to the project staff, almost 100% of the population lives below the poverty line. This scenic part of the country with virgin beaches, verdant slopes, waterfalls and lagoons is ripe for discovery by tourism developers, so a key element of the project is to ensure that any tourism developments in the Miches area are environmentally sustainable and include the local community.
Several government entities are involved in the project's planning and implementation, including the Presidential Commission for Millennium Goals and Sustainable Development led by John Gagain, the Ministry of Economy, Planning and Development, the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Education, the Municipality of Miches and the First Lady's Office.
A video about the Miches project, narrated by Don Melnick of Columbia University was presented last week during a seminar at Punta Cana Resort and Club sponsored by the New York Times Institute on the Environment, and organized and hosted by the Center for Environment, Economy and Society (CEES) at Columbia University (New York), the Puntacana Ecological Foundation and Theodore W. Kheel.
Sixteen journalists from the United States, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic attended the seminar, mostly environmental correspondents and business journalists representing a range of media, from ABC News to the Miami Herald, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Seattle Times. Dominican weekly publication Clave and dr1.com were also represented at the event.
Speakers at the week long seminar included climate change expert Drew Shindell (NASA and Goddard Institute), eminent authority on international water resource issues Upmanu Lal from Columbia University, leading fisheries expert Ellen Pikitch from the Pew Institute of Ocean Science, environmental biologist Don Melnick from Columbia University, Mary Pearl from the Wildlife Trust and economists Brian Murray from Duke University and Ramanan Laxminarayan from Resources for the Future. Jocelyn Zuckerman from Conde Nast Publications led a series of workshops with the journalists, focused on reporting scientific and environmental issues in the media.

Merchants say sales are down
The National Federation of Merchants and Businessmen (FENACODERD) say that business is down by 45% in the first two months of the year, and that this trend has continued into the beginning of March. According to the federation, the yearly fall in sales is going to be around 35% if things continue at their current pace. The traders attribute the fall in sales to the bottleneck in the distribution process created by the new tax measures that require tax forms for sales between large and small businesses. According to the organization, in the central part of the country, sales were off 45%, and in the north and northeastern part of the country, sales were reportedly off by 50%. In this region, part of the drop in sales was attributed to the closure of many free zone factories. The federation said that poor internal organization in accounting practices had created fears among smaller merchants, forcing them to reduce their normal purchases.

Smith Enron has new name and owners
The 180 MW Smith Enron Cogeneration power plant located in Puerto Plata is now owned and operated by British firm Ashmore International Energy (AEI), announced Otto Gonzalez, the company's spokesman in the DR. The power plant will from now on be called Generadora San Felipe.
With the acquisition of the remaining shares in late February, Ashmore International Energy now owns 100% equity interest in both Generadora San Felipe and the plant operator, Operadora San Felipe.
AEI owns and operates essential energy infrastructure in emerging markets. AEI manages interests in a group of 19 energy assets with operations in 14 countries and more than US$2 billion in revenues and 9,800 employees. The company serves approximately eight million customers worldwide by operating through three business segments: natural gas distribution, transportation and services; power distribution; and power generation with approximately 37,000 km of gas and liquids pipelines, 120,000 km of power transmission and distribution lines, and a gross installed capacity of 1,675 MW. You can visit the AEI website at www.ashmoreenergy.com

DR sued for US$680 million
A group of international businesses have joined in a lawsuit against the Dominican government, the CDEEE and specific government officials. The suit has been filed in the International Court of Arbitration at the United Nations in New York City. The filers are the Trust Capital of the West (TCW), the AES Corporation and the alleged new owners of 50% of AES, the French company Societe Generales. The total amount of the suit varies between US$535 million and US$680 million, sums that resulted from a loss of cash flow or from a reduction of capital. CDEEE vice-president Radhames Segura told Listin Diario reporters that the situation is "very delicate" and the details very complicated. Among the officials named in the lawsuit are President Leonel Fernandez, the President's legal advisor Cesar Pina Toribio, electricity superintendent Francisco Mendez, foreign trade director Vilma Arbaje, National Energy Commission president Aristides Fernandez Zucco, the Dominican ambassador in Washington, Flavio Dario Espinal, and the Dominican ambassador in Paris, Guillermo Pina Contreras.

Calvo cites "big mistakes"
Former Central Bank vice-governor Felix Calvo said yesterday that former President Hipolito Mejia's economic team had committed "serious mistakes" that reflected in a negative manner on the country's macro-economic situation, eventually leading to the President's political defeat. Calvo said that some members of the economic team spent most of their time trying to undermine the efforts of colleagues who were trying to do their jobs. He said "there were 10 members, 20 enemies and 30 people doing things on their own, while others undermined the ones who were attempting to carry out sane policies." Among the main mistakes, Calvo cited the increase in foreign debt carried out without consultation with the International Monetary fund (IMF) and the purchase of Union Fenosa power consortium shares. He pointed out that talks with the IMF were broken off twice as a result of these and similar actions, not as a result of the Central Bank's monetary policies.

Police question transport leaders
The police have questioned the leaders of the three major transport unions about the firebombing of a private bus that was carrying factory employees to work last week. Showing just how fragile the transport sector is in Santo Domingo, a sympathy strike by union members plunged the capital city into chaos, as drivers expressed their support for their leaders. According to Diario Libre, District Attorney Perfecto Acosta interrogated union leaders Antonio Marte, Ramon Perez Figuereo and Alfredo Pulinario for more than seven hours about the firebomb attack. Questioning will continue today, according to the official. The police have arrested four people in connection with the attack.

No transport strike for now
The main transport unions have backed off from their policy of surprise transport strikes and mass meetings at the insistence of Monsignor Agripino Nunez Collado who volunteered to mediate between them and Diandino Pena, the transport reorganization czar at OPRET. Juan Hubieres, Ramon Perez Figuereo and other transport leaders said that they would go back to the bargaining table with Pena and the other government officials, "even though 7 out of every 10 Dominicans support our fight."

Police capture four assailants
The National Police have announced the apprehension of the four individuals who took part in the kidnapping and assault on Jose Miguel Subero in his house in Casa de Campo. The four were identified by Rafael Alejandro Alejo Diaz, the alleged mastermind of the plot. After police interrogations, the four admitted their role in the crime that left the young engineer with two gunshot wounds, and left him for dead in a cane field near La Romana. The accused also identified Luis Rafael Ramirez de Castro as the one who fired the shots. Subero is said to recovering well in a Miami hospital, according to family members.

Yet another bishop
This time it was the Bishop of San Pedro de Macoris Francisco Ozoria Acosta who is saying that presidential re-election should be removed from the Constitution because it has been unlucky for the Dominican Republic. According to Hoy, the Bishop said that by continuing in power, politicians take advantage of their positions to line their own pockets. The Bishop was clear when he said that he was against re-election as a matter of principle, whether it was in reference to Joaquin Balaguer, Hipolito Mejia or "whoever." Ozoria pointed out that many who are currently defending the re-election process used to be firmly opposed to such a policy. Ozorio said that depending who is in power appears to influence people's stance for or against re-election, and that the reaction against the statements made by the bishops of La Vega and Mao-Montecristi was the result of partisan self-interest.

"Tornado" hits parts of Santiago
A potent thunderstorm with tornado-like winds lashed Santiago on Saturday afternoon. Trees were torn up and power lines damaged in the upper part of the city. Trees, signs and electricity poles were ripped up and torn down by the very strong winds in the historic city center. According to Francisco Arias, the local Civil Defense director, a very large tree was knocked down in front of the Cabral y Baez Hospital. Another tree fell over on Sol Street, cutting the power lines and leaving most of the city without electricity for several hours. Roof sheeting was also blown off by the high winds. In the lower part of the city the torrential rains caused momentary flooding along the beltway in the Baracoa riverbank area. Teams from EdeNorte worked into the night to re-establish the power supply, while the fire brigade removed fallen trees from the main roadways.
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