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Daily News - Tuesday, 20 March 2007

Competitiveness Plan launching
President Leonel Fernandez is launching the National Competitiveness Plan aimed at helping the country improve its competition in an increasingly globalized economy. Andres Van der Horst Alvarez, director of the National Competitiveness Council, made the announcement and said that the DR, compared to other DR-CAFTA nations, has the most complete plan to help develop competitiveness. Van der Horst said that Fernandez would be giving more details about the plan tomorrow and added that the private sector will propel the DR's growth.

US big chains coming to DR
Listin Diario writes that by the end of this year or within the first three months of 2008 at least two US supermarket chains will open stores in the Dominican Republic. The announcement was made by Eddy Martinez, head of the Center for Exports and Investment (CEI-RD). Martinez did not name the supermarket chains for technical reasons. Listin Diario writes that Wal-Mart, Home Depot, JC Penny, Sears and Target are among the US companies that are looking to take up opportunities provided by DR-CAFTA in the next few years. Martinez says that the new chains would increase competitiveness, product demand, job opportunities, product choice, and would generate increased revenues. He also said that an increase in opportunities in the DR would create demand in other sectors. Martinez continued by saying that the entry of DR-CAFTA has led to increased international interest in various sectors, especially tourism. Martinez said that the government recently received three offers worth US$520 million from Puerto Rican companies that are interested in building tourist complexes in the south, the east, and investing in maritime transport for the Caribbean.

Haiti and DR sign telecom agreement
A telecommunications agreement was signed between Dominican Telecommunications Institute (INDOTEL) and the National Telecommunications Council of Haiti (CONATEL) yesterday. Jose Rafael Vargas, head of INDOTEL, and Montaigne Marcelin, director general of CONATEL, signed the agreement on behalf of both countries. The agreement will create mechanisms that will help develop telecommunications in the DR and Haiti under each country's laws and regulations. Vargas says that the agreement will help develop a strategy for both countries and continued by saying that any experience that INDOTEL has gained is now at Haiti's disposal. Vargas also said that the agreement was more than just a declaration and that it would be implemented at once.

DR fights terrorism
Interior and Police Minister Franklin Almeyda has announced that the DR, together with 14 other Caribbean countries, is preparing a common judicial framework for fighting terrorism, drug trafficking and money laundering. Almeyda made his comments during the Ministers' Conference against Terrorism and Crime, which is being held at Santo Domingo's Hotel InterContinental V Centenario and ends on Thursday. Ministers from Barbados, the Bahamas, Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Dominica, Haiti, Jamaica, Guyana, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Surinam, and Trinidad and Tobago are taking part in the conference. INTERPOL representatives are also present as well as representatives from the US, Canada and UN security experts. Almeyda said that during last week's Drug Summit the participating nations proposed an agreement of this sort so that the region doesn't become a haven for international criminals. Almeyda, quoted in Hoy, says that the DR lacks laws for trying terrorist suspects. United Nations official Mauro Miedico said that the world has seen an increase in terrorism in the last 10 years and that this highlights the importance of UN resolutions 1267 and 1373. These resolutions state that any act of terrorism is a threat to international peace and security.

Judge sentences transport leaders
After nearly four hours of deliberation, Judge Franklin E. Concepcion Acosta delivered his sentence against union leaders Juan Hubieres, Antonio Marte, Alfredo Pulinario Linares (Cambita) and Ramon Perez Figuereo early this morning, pronouncing them responsible for last week's bus bombing in which seven people were injured, including a pregnant woman. The judge ordered bail be set at RD$1 million for each leader, exit restrictions to prevent them from leaving the country, and said that each union leader must report to the prosecutor's office once a month. According to Hoy, early this morning all four union leaders were in custody at the Santo Doming province prosecutor's office although they are expected to be released from jail later today. Union head Juan Hubieres says that the sentence is just a way of discrediting the unions and described it as "retaliation". The union leader declared that he was ready to go to Najayo or La Victoria jail. Perez Figuereo denounced the fact that the government had tried to bribe union leaders with a RD$150 million deal, while Santo Domingo province prosecutor Perfecto Acosta revealed that he had sought the maximum sentence for the union leaders, which would have been one year of preventive custody.

Geologist calls for metro works halt
Geologist Osiris de Leon says that the best thing that the Office for the Reorganization of Transit (OPRET) could do right now would be to stop the metro construction work on Aristides Fiallo Cabral Street until the proper geotechnical studies are completed. De Leon says that there has been a problem at these work sites because the proper geotechnical studies were not conducted before the metro construction began. De Leon says that a decision on how to proceed could only be made once these studies have been completed. Diario Libre reports that many residents in the area are fearful of a ground collapse even after OPRET filled in many of the holes in the area. De Leon's comments come as Listin Diario is reporting that the tunnel digging on Maximo Gomez Avenue was concluded yesterday. Listin writes that workers cheered as drilling through the last wall was finished. De Leon has been alerting for months now that the ground of Santo Domingo is not uniform and that the improvisations and lack of appropriate studies would considerably increase the cost of the construction.

Segura says lawsuit has no foundation
Quoted in Diario Libre, State-Run Electricity Companies (CDEEE) head Radhames Segura explained that the Trust Company of the West (TCW) is alleging violations of four contracts with energy distributor EdeEste in order to support their lawsuit, but says that he has found no basis for their claim. Segura says that the TCW lawsuit is in response to the supposed violations of the subscription of assets, concessions, energy sale and purchase and the agreement made with AES for the capitalization of EdeEste, which began in 1999. Listin Diario writes that the government has hired Roger W. Thomas, from the Cleary Gottlieb law firm to represent the DR in the case. It was reported yesterday that 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 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.

Calling for a strike
The National Union Unity Council (CNUS) has decided that if their demand for a 25% wage increase for all workers who make up to RD$30,000 isn't met by the business sector they would call a nationwide general strike. The decision was made during a meeting of CNUS officials yesterday afternoon. Eugenio Perez, CNUS president, said that if the business sector agrees to the proposal it would bring peace to the country, the workers and the business sector. The meeting between the business sector and the union is scheduled for 10am today at PUCMM University and Monsignor Agripino Nunez Collado and Labor Minister Jose Ramon Fadul will be present to help mediate the proceedings. The business sector maintains that a 25% increase would be impossible, although it is willing to grant a 12% wage increase for workers who earn the minimum wage.

DR could lose banana export market
Diario Libre writes that the Dominican Republic could cease being the number one exporter of bananas to the European Union if the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) nations don't sign an Economic Partnership Agreement with the EU by 31 December this year. Caribbean nations currently export US$1.4 billion worth of products to the EU through a special dispensation program allowed by the World Trade Organization (WTO). This special dispensation will only be valid until 31 December of this year after which the EU would place tariffs on at least US$1 billion worth of products that are currently exempt. Diario Libre explains that the African and Pacific nations are extremely behind in their negotiations and this is why the Trade Negotiation Commission is urging the country to make the most of the next round of negotiations, scheduled for the end of April, and proposing that Caribbean nations sign a separate agreement from African and Pacific nations. However, the EU wants to negotiate collectively with ACP nations, not individually.

Tampa Energy will invest
US company Tampa Energy and partners is planning to invest US$50 million in the installation of an ethanol dehydration plant in the Dominican Republic. The ethanol will be processed from sugar cane and officials say that the plant would be in operation in time for the 2008-2009 harvest. As reported in Diario Libre, Tampa Energy chief executive Arthur McDonnell said that the ethanol fuel produced in the DR would then be shipped to the US and mixed with gasoline. McDonnell made the announcement at a Brazil sugar and ethanol conference on Thursday, 15 March. Initially, some 50 million gallons would be produced but the eventual plan is to double this quantity. It was not stated whether a local company is involved in the investment, although Ethanol Dominicana, the Vicini Group and the Central Romana Group have all expressed an interest in producing ethanol.

March Madness continues
It was an exciting and heartbreaking weekend for college basketball. Louisville star guard Edgar Sosa scored 32 points and hit every free throw he took except the final two in his team's second round loss to Texas A&M. The young guard put Louisville on his back and carried the team throughout the game but he was unable to hit two crucial free throws in the final minutes, or a desperation shot at the end of regulation. Sosa ended his first tournament experience as the sixth leading scorer in the whole tournament with 23.5 points per game and has secured his place as one of NCAA basketball's rising talents. Al Horford, power forward for the University of Florida, is continuing his powerful play in the post season tournament. Horford is ranked as the leading rebounder in the tournament, with 25 total rebounds in 3 games, and his 17 point 9 rebound performance against Purdue secured Florida a spot in the Sweet Sixteen. Horford looks to continue his dominant ways against Butler on Friday.

Havana Nights in DR
The television series "Havana Nights" will be filmed at various locations around the DR for the next eight months following an agreement between the Dominican and Canadian Ministries of Culture. Canadian actor Dean Hamilton met with Culture Minister Jose Rafael Lantigua in order to finalize details of the agreement and to explain the details of the projects. Currently Dean is in pre-production for "Havana" the feature film and is with the principal photography shot in 2007 in the Caribbean and Canada. "Havana Nights" the TV series is scheduled to begin production Fall 2007.
The DR is frequently used for scenes that would have been filmed in Cuba. Last year, Miami Vice, the movie, was shot in Santo Domingo. And in 1990, Robert Redford starred in "Havana" that was also filmed in Santo Domingo.
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