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Daily News - Tuesday, 03 April 2007

Political parties take a break
As a mark of respect for the Easter Week celebrations, the country's three major political parties (the PLD, PRD and PRSC) have announced that they will be taking a break from campaigning and other political activities over the vacation period. The PRSC has also said that legislators, unionists and their supporters will take part in the Red Cross rescue and emergency prevention activities during the vacation. In contrast, supporters of Leonel Fernandez's re-election bid will only be taking a partial break from campaigning as they will be out in force handing out first aid kits to travelers on the highway and holding up banners at tollbooths.

Political parties get funds
Diario Libre reports that in the first three months of the year the 21 registered political parties have received RD$74 million in funds. This is the equivalent of almost RD$1 million daily. The PRD, PLD and PRSC received the bulk of the funds with RD$6 million each.

Pie-Pierre calls investigations vengeance
Activist Sonia Pierre describes the government's investigations into her nationality status as "revenge for her work for Haitian-Dominicans in the Dominican Republic". Pierre referred to her work on the case of children Yean and Boisco at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Pierre continued by saying that it is retaliation and that it isn't the first time she has been a victim of such accusations and attacks by the government. She said that the humiliation has been great and explained that her photo, which featured in an exhibition at the Independence Park called "100 Greatest Dominican Women" was taken down and even trampled on. Although it was replaced, the photo was defaced three times. She also described the Dominican Constitution as "apartheid-laced" because Haitians are mentioned in 12 different articles.

Opinions on the Pie-Pierre case
Rafael Luciano Pichardo, vice president of the Supreme Court, was quoted in Listin Diario as saying that the Central Electoral Board (JCE) does not have the power to take away Sonia Pierre's nationality, regardless of the way it was acquired. Luciano added that taking away her citizenship would do more harm than good and that she has been a citizen for 40 years so it would be impossible to try to take it away from her at this stage. Father Regino Martinez of Santiago, as well as Susi Pola and Manuela Vargas, who both lead women's organizations in Santiago, have come out in support for Pierre by calling the investigations into her nationality "racist" and "fueled by ulterior motives".
In contrast, FNP deputy Pelegrin Castillo is quoted in Listin Diario as saying that the investigation into Pierre isn't an individual migration or nationality issue, but a matter of principle, and of whether or not the Dominican government can carry out the mandates of its Constitution and Supreme Court on migration issues. "Two and a half a years ago Congress passed a Migration Law that defines the concept of transit and set up a registry for children born to non-resident foreigners in the country. This was later ratified by the Supreme Court, but has never been able to be implemented because of external threats that have not been duly rejected by the national authorities," said deputy Castillo.

OPRET and transporters reach deal
After a four-hour meeting, the Transport Reorganization Office (OPRET) and the transport unions have announced a preliminary agreement. After 27 failed meetings and one partial bus strike that led to a bus bombing which injured seven people, both sides have agreed to establish new bus fares. Hoy writes that the new fares will be announced within the next week at the latest. Juan Hubieres, Antonio Marte, Ramon Perez Figuereo and Alfredo Linares took part in negotiations with OPRET head Diandino Pena. Journalists Juan Bolivar Diaz and Luisin Mejia Oviedo acted as mediators in the talks. Pena explained that President Leonel Fernandez would have to decide whether the government will subsidize the fare hike or if passengers will have to absorb the cost. As a result of the meetings, both sides agreed to set up a training school for drivers and fare collectors as well as including the drivers in the state social security system.

Adjusting for the DR-CAFTA
President Leonel Fernandez has submitted 10 bills to Congress that aim to strengthen the country's macro-economic stability in the short and long term. Among the bills are ones that seek to recapitalize the Central Bank and a modification to the Monetary and Finance Law. Listin Diario writes that the government will take on the losses accumulated by the Central Bank, which is currently operating on a RD$160 billion quasi-fiscal deficit. The bill package also included an Industrial Competitiveness and Innovation bill, which seeks to change the name of the Industrial Promotion Corporation, the Corporacion de Fomento Industrial (CFI) to the Centro de Desarrollo y Competitividad Industrial (PROINDUSTRIA), the Development and Competitiveness Center.
In addition, a bill that recognizes the importance of the cruise ship industry was introduced to Congress along with bills for the building of public works and services, as well as a bill regulating rules commercial practices for the benefit of small and medium sized businesses.

Negative trade balance after one month
The Dominican Republic registered a negative trade balance at the end of the first month since the country entered the DR-CAFTA agreement. From 1 March to 30 March the DR imported US$311.8 million in goods while it exported US$188.9 million in goods, a difference of US$122.8 million. Customs technical sub-director Eduardo Rodriguez says he doesn't consider the figures to be alarming. Rodriguez says that the effects of DR-CAFTA should be evaluated after two or three years, which would provide a better reflection of the country's trade balance. Rodriguez also pointed out that the trade imbalance has been increasing since 2005 when China entered the US market free of textile quotas. There is also an imbalance in terms of investment, but Rodriguez says that it is only a matter of time before increased US investments make up for this.

DR-CAFTA changes customs
Ivan de Jesus Garcia, president of the Dominican Traders Federation (FDC) explained that the first thing that importers do when products arrive at the country's ports is to ask for the product's certificate of origin. De Jesus Garcia explained that this had never been an issue in the past, but a product's origin will now determine whether it is subject to taxes. He continued by saying that it is no secret that US businesses use products that are made in countries like China, but highlighted the fact that if at least 35% of the components are US-made, then the product will be allowed into the DR tax-free.
De Jesus Garcia finished by explaining that the public "was full of false expectations about the prices of basic family goods". He explained that many of these products are protected under the terms of DR-CAFTA and that products such as rice, milk, chicken, sugar, eggs, potatoes and onions will not go down in price for the next 15 to 20 years.

Businesses begin increasing salaries
Companies have begun to increase the salaries of their employees according to each company's individual discretion. They have begun to do this despite the absence of an agreement with the workers unions. Maribel Gasso, of the Employers Confederation (COPARDOM) said that neither the Vice President nor the unions have asked the business sector to continue negotiations. She expressed regret at the decision to cancel last week's National Salary Committee meeting (CNS).

Drug assets seized
The National Drug Control Department (DNCD) and the Santo Domingo Attorney General's office have seized RD$300 million in assets from Dominican drug smuggler Alejandro Guzman after a New York court found him guilty of conspiracy, money laundering, and distribution of heroin. The DNCD said that they have taken over the Motel Carolina High Class, Rent Car AM, La Guira gas station, bank accounts and other business assets associated with Guzman in San Francisco de Macoris yesterday.

Santo Domingo west levies "green" tax
The city hall of West Santo Domingo has decided to levy a new tax on sales by certain businesses to compensate for the damage that these businesses do to the environment, the roads and the general public. Listin Diario writes that a 1% tax will be paid by beer, rum, plastic, cement, chemical, cigar, gas and gasoline producers, oils and lubricant companies. Arguments against the tax, written in Hoy, question whether or not the municipal authority has the power to levy such a tax, which is considered harsh by some. Opponents consider the tax to be discriminatory because not all businesses in western Santo Domingo will be taxed and they also fear that those businesses will move to other districts that don't impose this tax. The controversial tax still would need to be approved by Congress to be legitimate.

Hospitals get RD$30 million for Holy Week
The government is designating RD$30 million for the country's hospitals during Holy Week. These funds will be used for projects run by the Public Health ministry, the Center for Emergency Operations (COE) and the Metropolitan Transport Authorities (AMET). The Minister of Public Health, Bautista Rojas, said that the funds would be used to buy medicines, gasoline, food, and funds for hospital personnel.

Another cell phone tragedy
Another young man has fallen victim to violence and all for a mere cell phone. Nineteen-year old Manuel Enrique Perez Pena, a student at Santiago's UTESA University, was shot and killed yesterday by two men who escaped with his cell phone. Perez's friend, a 17-year old woman, was not injured. Her identity is being withheld for legal reasons. The young woman told police that Perez's last words were, "why are you doing this to me if I know you?" Osvaldo Antonio Estevez Nunez, 32 has been detained for questioning in connection with the incident. Recently, 28-year old Jose Mercado Guzman was shot and killed for a cell phone and in 2006 the death of Vanessa Ramirez Fanas stirred national outrage after she was shot and killed for her cell phone.

Suspected Gulias killer caught
The suspected murderer of Dominican Municipal League public relations head Victor Gulias Vicioso was being interrogated by Police yesterday. The suspect, whose name was not released, is reported to be a driver for a private bus company who was arrested around 10am, according to Fabian Melo from the National Police's Homicide Department. Gulias was found stabbed to death in his Santo Domingo apartment last Thursday. Diario Libre writes that the motive for the robbery was robbery and not a crime of passion, as was initially reported.

Horford makes the difference
For the second straight year the University of Florida Gators are college basketball National Champions and last night's victory against the Ohio State Buckeyes was largely thanks to the performance of star power forward Al Horford. Horford scored 18 points, snatched 12 rebounds, had 3 assists and provided a much-needed spark as the Gators repeated as National Champs, a feat last achieved by the 1991-1992 Duke Blue Devils. On hand to watch Horford was his father, former NBA player Tito Horford and Dominican Sports Minister Felix Payano. During post-game celebrations and interviews Horford was seen proudly waving a Dominican flag in honor of his heritage. This is the second time that a Dominican has played an important role in a national championship. Charlie Villanueva helped the UConn Huskies win the national championships in 2004.
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