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Daily News - Monday, 26 March 2007

Fernandez for President
President Leonel Fernandez announced on Sunday his intention to seek the PLD presidential candidacy in the 2008 election. At an event held at the Palacio de los Deportes, President Fernandez said that it is not yet time for him to hand in the torch he received from late political caudillos Juan Bosch and Joaquin Balaguer, in the alliance on June 1996, prior to his first presidency.
Meanwhile, over the weekend his main contender for the candidacy, Danilo Medina challenged the President to move up the date of the PLD primaries to 12 April, right after Easter, instead of 6 May as scheduled.

US$81.3 million loan for dam
The Executive Branch sent a US$81.3 million loan bill to Congress. The money would be used to finance a hydroelectric power plant at the Palomino dam located in Bohechio, San Juan de la Maguana, in the southwest. The dam will utilize the waters of the Yaque del Sur and Blanco rivers. A 22 hectare reservoir will be built, with capacity to store 3.3 cubic meters of water. Construction is scheduled to take four years. Financing has been secured with the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES), the Brazilian export financing entity. The project is estimated to cost US$225 million. Brazilian construction company Norberto Odebrecht, S.A. has been chosen for the construction.

Congress has to pass guarantee'
The government has sent Congress a bill for a a US$40 million letter of credit for the companies that are to construct the two coal-fired generation stations in the Dominican Republic. One station is would be built built in Azua in the Southwest and the other one in Manzanillo, in the Northwest. The letter of credit was requested by the CDEEE to the Minister of the Hacienda and the Banco de Reservas. According to the Diario Libre the money is a Dominican government guarantee for the purchase of energy that the Sichuan Heavy Machinery Company will use as part of its efforts to garner the financing for its 600 megawatt plant in Manzanillo. According to Radhames Segura, the head of the CDEEE, said that once the letter of credit goes through construction would start on the US$800 million project.

Singular honor for Castanos
Pope Benedict XVI has invited the chief magistrate of the Central Electoral Board (JCE), Julio Cesar Castanos Guzman to attend the V General Episcopal Conference of Latin American and Caribbean Bishops. The conference will be celebrated in Apreciada, Brazil in May. The invitation comes from the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, and points out that the Apreciada Conference will be an important event for the church in Latin America. The letter also indicated that Castanos' participation in the conference would be coordinated by Bishop Andres Stavnonik, the secretary general of the Episcopal Conference of Latin America (CELAM). Magistrate Castanos is the only Dominican lay person to be invited to the conference and is just one of 16 lay persons from all of Latin America to receive invitations. The reasons why Castanos was chosen have not been revealed.

Minister favors change in curfew
Minister of the Interior and of the Police, Franklin Almeyda, told reporters in Puerto Plata that he favored a "loosening" of the curfew laws that govern the hours of serving alcoholic beverages in the Dominican Republic. He made the comment having in mind the tourist areas of Sosua and Cabarete in Puerto Plata where bar and restaurant owners that have requested later closing hours and shared ideas on how to guarantee public safety. The minister said that the approval of the Ministry of Tourism was also needed in order to vary the curfew hours. According to Almeyda, once the proprietors, and the ministries of Tourism and Interior reach an agreement, "with pleasure, we will modify the curfew."

Management position sparks debate
During the current wage talks, the employers' position has been that any wage increases will go to minimum wage earners. The labor representatives have been insisting on a wage increase for all salaried workers earning up to RD$30,000 per month. Last week, business sector representatives offered a sliding scale of wage increases, which was rejected by the unions. According to Diario Libre, Maribel Gasso, the president of the management confederation (Confederacion Patronal) ratified the offer and said that anything above this scale of increases would be the at the discretion of each individual employer. As a result, it seems that the wage talks now have little hope of success, given the hard stance by the labor leaders. Vice-President Rafael Alburquerque has now taken a seat at the discussion table, alongside Monsignor Agripino Nunez Collado and Labor Minister Ramon Fadul. Monsignor Nunez Collado announced that new talks will begin today, Monday, and they would be held separately. Union representatives will meet with the negotiators at 9:00 in the morning and the management team will meet them at 1:00 in the afternoon. Complicating matters somewhat is the fact that the National Council for Union Solidarity (CNUS) has rejected the suggestion made by CONEP, that management should increase salaries as they see fit, according to their own, individual situations.

Consumer confidence down
The National Association of Young Entrepreneurs (ANJE) has revealed that their latest survey of business opinions shows decreasing confidence in the Dominican Republic. The study shows that confidence rates have gone from 112% in August of 2006 to 89% in March of 2007. Regarding the current situation, the study showed a drop of 24% from last August when it hit 120% approval. ANJE spokespersons told Diario Libre reporters that the negative aspects of the latest tax "correction", the loss of jobs in the free zones and problems in the transportation sector were the main causes for the fall in the indicators. The ANJE study points out a lack of specific government planning, as well as a failure to successfully prosecute corrupt officials.

Cigar exports are up
For years the Dominican cigar has been earning an increasingly outstanding reputation for excellence, and recent figures show that this reputation is well deserved. A US$100 million increase in exports from 2005 to 2006 was announced by the director of the National Tobacco Institute (INTABACO), Adalberto Rosa. Rosa revealed that 85% of the cigars were sent to the United States. The latest issue of Intabaco Informa also reveals that 73% of the total number of cigars sold are machine made and short filler, as opposed to the more costly premium cigars with a long filler.

New bill to boost sector
Industrialists are trying to push for legislation aimed at providing the sector with a big competitiveness boost. Called Industrial Innovation and Competition, the initiative would appoint the Customs Office as the sole arbiter for expediting raw materials, machinery and capital goods coming into the Dominican Republic for use by certain specific companies. These companies would have to be classified in advance by the Center for Industrial Development and Competition (Proindustria). According to Listin Diario, the Customs Department (DGA) would be the only one to receive, control, verify and dispatch merchandise for participating companies. Only when flagrant misconduct, legitimate suspicions or issues of national security are involved, could the DGA call in any other state security units to look at merchandise either destined for or coming from the Dominican Republic. The legislation also lays out tax payment deadlines, and provides for equal treatment for raw materials or supplies coming from within the Dominican Republic if they are available under the same special conditions from overseas.

He got caught, tried and convicted
In one of the first cases of this type ever to reach a final verdict, importer Juan Carlos Genao was convicted of contraband and tax evasion to the tune of RD$84 million. Magistrate Alexis Gomez sentenced Genao to six months jail time in La Victoria prison, payment of RD$40 million in fines, and the court and lawyer costs. While the defense lawyers argued that the search and seizure had been illegal, lawyers for the Customs Department welcomed the sentence because, after all, the new legislation that will criminalize contraband has not yet passed through Congress.

Nice try!
Taxi drivers of the famous or infamous yellow vans, called "pollitos" (little chicks) by most people, attempted to combine political expediency with a sly move to get more special treatment from the government. In what one paper is describing as "discriminatory treatment", drivers of the yellow vans were allowed to park near the Presidential Palace and picket, theoretically, in favor of Leonel Fernandez's re-election bid. However, in their brief talks with Vice-President Rafael Alburquerque, it appears that what the drivers really wanted was to be released from their very lenient payment plan for the vehicles. Slightly over six years ago, the government handed the vehicles over to the party faithful on an interest-free basis, with the sole condition of making 90 payments of RD$1,950 per month, reaching a total of RD$185,000. Nevertheless, according to German Pena Guadalupe, the director of the Land Transport Office (OTTT), most of the drivers have paid less than 30 quotas over the last six years, and were facing confiscation of their vehicles. The drivers appealed to the Vice President to stop their vehicles from being seized.

Cid Wilson turns to politics
Cid Wilson, the former President of the Dominican American National Roundtable (DANR) and founding board member of Dominicans On Wall Street (DOWS) held a kick-off rally yesterday in Hackensack, New Jersey where he announced that he was running for New Jersey State Assembly. His announcement came following a Democratic convention on March 22, in which he was chosen by the municipal delegate to run under the official Democratic slate of candidates. If elected, Wilson would be the first Dominican elected to the State Legislature in New Jersey history. Wilson, who is from Leonia, NJ will be running with Ken Zisa of Hackensack, NJ for the two Assembly seats and Englewood Mayor Michael Wildes for State Senate in Legislative District 37. Additionally, Carlos Aguasvivas of Bergenfield, New Jersey is expected to announce that he will be running for Bergenfield City Council. Both Wilson and Aguasvivas are being endorsed by the Democratic Party in Bergen County, NJ and both will have to run in a Democratic primary on Tuesday, June 5, 2007. It is estimated that 250,000 Dominicans live in New Jersey, making it the state with the second largest population of Dominicans in the US. New Jersey currently has seven Dominican elected officials at the level of council and higher, which is the highest number for any state in the US.

Police have two killers
The Police have the two accused killers of a student, yet another case of murder for a cell phone. Officials of the Catholic Church handed over Victor Manuel Tavarez (El Pollo) to the authorities in Esperanza, Valverde. Tavarez and Fernando Devora Batista, a brother in law, were formally accused of the murder of student Juan Manuel Mercado Castillo in order to steal his cell phone. When news of the arrest of Tavarez reached the town of Esperanza, a mob formed outside of the police headquarters, and they asked for the prisoner to be given to them for lynching. Young Mercado Castillo was soon to graduate from the UASD campus in Santiago with a degree in Communication. Ironically, the Vanessa Foundation was inaugurated the same day that the latest murder-for-a-cell-phone was committed. The Vanessa Foundation works to stop violence and criminality. Vanessa Ramirez was shot and killed for her cell phone a year ago. Public indignation was at a high pitch because of the efforts young Mercado Castillo had made to reach his professional degree.

Coke on the beach
In a joint operation, the Navy and the US Coast Guard confiscated 81 kilos of cocaine. Of these, six kilos were confiscated at 3 am after a search of the 22 foot speedboat named Pro-Sport, with registry PR-3306-C at the beach of Bayahibe, near La Romana. Puerto Ricans Juan Rosario and Angel Leonardo Rodriguez were arrested in the operation. The intelligence division of the Navy (M2) had received reports that a group of Cubans would be illegally transported on the boat. When the boat was searched, the drugs were found.
Another 75 kilos were picked up at sea by two US Coastguard ships.

Rains forecast to continue
The Weather Department forecast that weathers will continue today and tomorrow as a rain front moves west from Haiti. The scattered showers have caused major flooding in the Cibao central region. The rains came after months of drought.
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