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Daily News - Wednesday, 04 April 2007

DR1 breaks for Easter
DR1 Daily News will not be updated on Thursday, 5 April nor Friday, 6 April on occasion of the Easter holiday. Holy Week is the peak domestic vacation period. Headline news over the religious holiday will be compiled for the Monday, 9 April edition. For breaking news and 24/7 commentary and messaging, see the DR1 Forums at http://www.dr1.com/forums

Santiago-Licey highway to get four lanes
One of the most dangerous stretches of road in the Dominican Republic, the old Duarte highway between Santiago and Licey al Medio, will be widened to four lanes as part of the government's program to create a "traffic distribution system" linked to the Cibao International Airport. This effort is part of the RD$5.57 billion in public works promised by President Fernandez during his visit to the city last Friday. According to Santiago governor Jose Izquierdo, the road will start getting its makeover this year, and work will be extended to Moca in 2008.

Ortega Tous sent to Colombia
President Fernandez has appointed economist Julio Ortega Tous, who was in charge of trade negotiations, to the post of Dominican ambassador to Colombia. He was also one of the leading negotiators of the foreign debt rescheduling that made way for the implementation of the stand-by arrangement with the International Monetary Fund. He is also a former ambassador to Canada.

DR to get ethanol assistance
The Dominican Republic, along with Haiti, St. Kitts & Nevis, and El Salvador will benefit from a pilot ethanol production project sponsored by the United States and Brazil. This technological assistance program comes as a result of Brazilian President Lula da Silva's meeting with US President George W. Bush last month. Since the two giant countries produce 76% of the world's ethanol, the transfer of this technological know-how will increase productivity in the countries that benefit from this start-up program. The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) announced a "green energy" program that will include investments of US$300 million in technical assistance for the production of ethanol from sugar cane. According to IDB head Luis Alberto Moreno, such investments will alleviate poverty in these countries by reducing petroleum dependency.

Metro keeps spending a lot
Investment in the Santo Domingo Metro System continues to eat up a huge chunk of money. According to Hoy, the Metro was allotted more money for constructions in February than the Ministry of Education, the Office of the Supervisor for Public Works, the National Housing Institute, the National Hydraulic Resources Institute, the Ministry of Agriculture, and the Santo Domingo Water Corporation combined. The metro received a total of RD$400 million. The only other government entity to receive more was the Ministry of Public Works, with RD$482 million.

ANJE: government still overspending
The president of the Young Entrepreneurs Association (ANJE), Joel Santos, told reporters that the government is not fulfilling its announced austerity program and is thus in violation of Law 497-06 on Austerity in the Public Sector. According to Santos, Law 497-06 is aimed at lowering government payrolls, propaganda, per diems and junkets, among other things. Santos cited data from the Ministry of Hacienda that indicates that current expenditure has actually increased by 25.6%, including foreign debt repayments. Even if interest payments are excluded, the overall increase is still 24.8%, and the increase in advertising spending was 100.4% for the period January-February. According to an article in Hoy, government income increased by 22% in the first two months of the year, "and this proves that the government could have covered its expenses if it had implemented an austerity program."

Exports up 64% in first quarter
Dominican exports increased by 64% during the first quarter of 2007, according to Eddy Martinez, the director of the Center for Exports and Investment. According to Martinez, preliminary reports show a gross increase of US$203 million over the same quarter last year. Mining and non-traditional exports were major contributors to this increase, which went to the United States, Belgium, South Korea and Japan. Exports to the US were up by 43% for the same period.

"Green tax" unleashes protests
Santo Domingo West (SDO) municipality's efforts to raise funds through a municipal sales tax have led to strong protests from the Industrial Association (AIRD), the Herrera Industrial Association (AEIH), and the National Competitiveness Council. The 1% sales tax is supposed to come from the large numbers of rum, beer, plastics, edible oil, propane distributors and petroleum businesses in the municipality, one of the most industrialized areas in Santo Domingo. The AIRD calls the sale tax "unconstitutional", since it appears to contravene Article 37 of the Constitution that says that only Congress can institute a general tax. Andres Van der Horst Jr., the head of the Competitiveness Council (CNC), told Listin Diario reporters that such a tax could well "kill the goose that lays the golden egg."

Lack of transparency stalls market
The president of the Santo Domingo Stock Market, Marino Ginebra, complained that the lack of a tradition of stock trading on the one hand and a lack of transparency in many businesses' financial statements continue to pose an obstacle to a free-moving stock exchange. According to Ginebra, the DR is in a position to create a stock market that can compete with any in Central America but these issues continue to plague stock sales. While acknowledging that there had been some progress over the last few years, Ginebra said that there were still issues to be tackled if the DR is to reach the status of Costa Rica, Panama or Guatemala. Sources indicate that the Santo Domingo Stock Market has appointed Darys Estrella, formerly with Goldman Sachs, to guide

Three down and two to go
The National Police say they have captured three of the five men suspected of murdering noted publicist and journalist Victor Gulias Vicioso. Contrary to initial police reports, the motive for the crime appears to have been robbery. Currently in police custody are Juan Manuel Ferrand de Paula (Geovanny), 29; Feliz Selmo (Ricarena) and Jovanny Arcangel Solano. The police have identified Gerardo Beltre Rosario (Ruddy) and another man known only as Juan Carlos, and are asking them to turn themselves in "in any manner they consider prudent." Today's Hoy newspaper carries mug shots of four of the five suspects. The police traced the men through a cell phone stolen from the victim.

Holy Week Radio Network
The government has set up a national network of radio stations that will be joined into a giant information and programming system during the four-day Holy Week holiday. The Government Information Center (CIG) reported that for the third consecutive year they will create a radio and television network that will control local broadcasting from Holy Thursday until Easter Sunday.

Holy Week exodus begins
With tens of thousands of Dominicans heading for the country's beaches and swimming holes, the cities are emptying out and the transportation system is swamped with passengers. All public and private schools were closed last Friday and most universities will finish classes today. Many businesses have arranged for an extended weekend and people in the state bureaucracy will have to work a half day tomorrow. According to Listin Diario, chaos reigned at bus stops leading away from Santo Domingo, and although many bus company owners say that business is not very profitable, they appear to manage to renew their fleets and stay in business.

Accident prevention during Holy Week
The head of the National Emergency Commission (COE), Luis Luna Paulino, has told reporters that the 2007 Operation for Life would involve 35,000 volunteers, 1,135 aid stations, 900 doctors and hundreds of paramedics. According to El Caribe, these efforts are aimed at providing assistance for the million and a half travelers who will be looking for fun and sun this long weekend. Every branch of the armed services and the National Police will join in the effort to save lives. A special emergency number has been set up (*462) for the public to communicate directly with the COE and report emergency situations, as well as for finding out which beaches and swimming spots have been closed for the holiday.

Most hotels fully booked
More than 25,000 hotel rooms in the eastern Dominican Republic (sometimes called the Independent Republic of the East) have been reserved for vacationers from all over the country, but mostly by foreigners. In Puerto Plata, 4,500 rooms have been reserved in 15 different hotel complexes. In Bani, the Hotel Salinas is reporting an 80% occupancy rate. In the high mountains of Constanza, Rancho Constanza is full. Over in the Bavaro area, sales are up by 3.5%, according to local spokespersons. While the east appears to be favored by foreigners, Dominicans appear to prefer the north coast, which offers many different options, from Ocean World to windsurfing in Cabarete.

Easter Week religious events
The Cathedral of Santo Domingo will be celebrating Mass at 9 am with the renovation of priests' vows on Thursday, 5 April, to continue with an 8 pm Mass. The Choir of the Cathedral, and musicians of the National Symphony Orchestra will be participating in the Good Friday Mass on 6 April at 8 pm. The choir will be singing Introito and Kyrie, In Paradisum of the Requiem by Gabriel Faure; Sanctus, of the Requiem by Guiseppe Verdi, Dies Irae, Lacrimosa, and Agnus Dei, of the Requiem by Mozart; and Amen, of the Strabat Mater oratory by Gioachio Rossini. Resurrection Mass on Easter Sunday is at 12 noon. For more on coming events, see http://www.dr1.com/calendar
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