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Daily News - Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Summit begins its meetings
With fifty foreign ministers in attendance the XIII Ministerial Meeting of the Rio Group and the European Union is getting under way in Santo Domingo. The EU-Rio Group is a key forum for political dialogue and one of the main platforms through which EU-Latin American relations are enhanced, and the direction of the relationship discussed. EU-Rio Group Ministerial Meetings take place every two years.
In this summit, the Dominican Republic will present the case for the immediate release of promised financial assistance to Haiti. According to El Caribe, the energy crisis will also be one of the main issues under discussion at the meeting. Foreign Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso pointed out that this is the first time that a meeting of this size has been held in the Western Hemisphere, a fact that he said was the result of the security offered by the Dominican Republic. A total of 2,000 participants and 500 journalists are attending the meeting. Since Haiti is not a member of the Rio Group, Morales will be the moderator during the presentation of the case. Over a billion dollars in assistance has been pledged to help Haiti in its recovery efforts, but so far disbursement has been negligible.
The Rio Group was created to facilitate the discussion of topics of common interest. Established in 1986 with an initial membership of six, it now comprises all of Latin America as well as representatives from the Caribbean countries. It is administered by a rotating and temporary secretariat. Today the members are Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM, represented by Guyana), Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Ecuador, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela.
On April 20th, EU Foreign Affairs Ministers are scheduled to meet with Ministers from the Rio Group. Their discussions will most probably focus on Haiti, environment and climate change, strengthening multilateralism (notably in the fields of human rights and drugs), on middle income countries and their fight against poverty, and dynamization of the EU-Rio Group relations.

Fixing things up
As the PLD internal election process heats up, it appears that President Leonel Fernandez is in a fixing mood. Newspaper reports of the deterioration of the new Juan Bosch Bridge over the Ozama River apparently moved the President to order repair works. At the same time, Public Works Minister Freddy Perez announced the repair of the Duarte Bridge and the completion of the Nunez de Caceres Tunnel. A visit from bachata singer Anthony Santos resulted in a presidential promise to fix the streets of the musician's hometown of Las Matas de Santa Cruz in Monte Cristi Province. El Caribe says that the popular singer's visit to the Presidential Palace caused a commotion among the employees, as everyone wanted to get their pictures taken with him. While Minister Perez did not say how much the street and highway repairs were going to cost, he did mention that RD$36 million would be spent on the bridge repairs.

RD$50 million for micro businesses
The government handed out checks for RD$50 million pesos to dozens of micro, small and medium-scale businesses in Santiago yesterday. This was the first disbursement of the RD$200 million that President Fernandez promised the people of Santiago in his 30 March speech. Juan Rodriguez Mendez, the executive director of the Program for Promoting and Supporting Micro, Small and Medium-scale Business (PROMIPYME), handed out the money. According to Santiago governor Jose Izquierdo, the money was split 50/50 between the commercial sector and the service and industry sector. According to Rodriguez Mendez, PROMIPYME has a RD$120 million loan portfolio with 1,500 clients in Santiago.

Millions mobilize to fight dengue
In an effort to reduce the dengue fever death toll by a significant percentage, the ministries of Health and Education have joined forces in a nationwide campaign against the disease. The National School Campaign Against Dengue involves three million school age children and will continue for two weeks. The campaign will emphasize the importance of prevention, and schoolchildren will try and teach people how to use chlorine to clean the insides of their water tanks at least twice a week. The mobilization of the school kids began with documentaries showing how the mosquito vector transmits the disease. All the major figures in the ministries attended the campaign launch. The authorities are starting a fumigation program tomorrow. All these efforts are designed to reduce the 2006 figures of 50 deaths and over 6,000 cases of dengue fever, generally focused in the low-lying barrios of Santo Domingo and other cities. An article in Hoy newspaper reveals that 80% of the dengue victims treated at the Robert Reid Children's Hospital were children from the metropolitan area.

Drivers bow to Diandino
Just a few hours after transport czar and Metro project mastermind Diandino Pena announced a clampdown on all drivers charging more than the agreed-upon fare for a "publico" ride, the Syndicated and Business Transport Council (CONSETRAN) told the national media that they would accept the government's order that only allows minivans and buses to increase their fares. Juan Hubieres, one of Consetran's leaders, told reporters that all their affiliates, including Antonio Marte of Conatra, Ramon Perez Figuereo of CNTU and Alfredo Pulinario Linares of Mochotran had decided to follow the government guidelines. According to Perez Figuereo, meetings would continue during the week.
Diario Libre editor Adriano Miguel Tejada, writing in today's A.M. page two editorial, comments that the threat made by Pena was just "poppycock" since OPRET does not have the capacity to arrest and fine drivers who charge above the legal fare. Tejada points out that many parts of the city are served almost exclusively by these shared taxis known as "conchos or publicos", and any repressive measures against their drivers would result in worse chaos that the situation OPRET is trying to solve. Another thing is that many people prefer the little cars to the buses, which cannot be controlled if the passengers understand that it will cost them the same to ride a bus or a car. However, Tejada says that the worst part is the fact that the OPRET measure is unjust, and, because of that, it can never be effective. The editor points out that because of economies of scale, bus fares should logically be lower than "concho" fares, but OPRET has only authorized an increase in bus fares, which is a contradiction. Furthermore, both the government and OPRET know that the little cars exist because there is a shortage of available bus seats in Santo Domingo, and they know that the number of people trying to make a living driving "conchos" has grown because of increased unemployment and the trend towards multiple employment as the lower middle class tries to make ends meet. According to Tejada, OPRET director Diandino Pena is not about to put this political issue on the government agenda right now, and this is why it is all 'poppycock'.

Huge investment in tourist sector
The Dominican Republic's leading tourist areas are due to get a huge injection of government sponsored projects aimed at improving the local infrastructure in the areas surrounding the most popular destinations. According to Listin Diario, more than US$250 million is to be invested. Projects include housing, churches, aqueducts, post offices, markets, sanitation systems and government offices. The money comes from the special tax (US$5.00) on tourists arriving by air. In its first year, the tax has raised over US$20 million for the Executive Committee on Infrastructure in the Tourist Zones (Ceiztur). According to Tourism Minister and realtor Felix Jimenez, the RD$8.37 billion investment will enable the country to maintain its status as a top tourist destination. Speaking at the most recent DATE 2007 convention, the president of the National Hotels and Restaurants Association (ASONAHORES) predicted a 90% increase in tourism over the next eight years.

Retroactive DR-CAFTA duty treatment
The Office of the US Trade Representative has issued notice that, effective April 17, the Dominican Republic is eligible for retroactive duty treatment as provided in Section 205 of the DR-CAFTA Implementation Act. Section 205 provides that US importers may claim retroactive duty treatment for imports of certain textile or apparel goods entered on or after 1 January 2004, and before the entry into force of DR-CAFTA from signatory countries that are willing to provide reciprocal retroactive duty treatment or an equivalent benefit for US textile and apparel goods. The USTR has determined that the Dominican Republic will provide an equivalent benefit.

Poll on government spending
The latest Hoy-Gallup Poll has found that most people (59%) think the government is not efficient in its spending. Men and young men and women in the north and east of the country were most critical of the government's spending habits. Twenty percent said that they felt the government was spending its money efficiently. When people were asked which areas they felt that the government should be spending money, most mentioned health, social services and education. In another area, seven out of every ten Dominicans felt that economic conditions were bad. Just 11% said that they were good and 17% said that they were okay. As far as personal finances went, the poll showed that just 15% of the people reported a good economic situation while 55% reported a bad or very bad situation. Politicians will note that 70% of those polled felt that the country was on the wrong road. A total of 27% said that they felt that at the end of this four-year term the country would be better than it is now; 24% said that it would be the same and 40% said that it would be worse off compared to now.

Basic items up a lot
A story in today's Diario Libre seems to put the government's claim of extremely low inflation to the test. The newspaper reports that a series of items, several of which are part of most Dominicans' daily diet, have increased by as much as 200% in the nearly two and a half years since the PLD took power in 2004. The price of milk has increased by 82%; beans by 102%; garlic by 103% and refined sugar went up by 86%. The lowly plantain from the Cibao has increased by 90% and the most common type of bread has gone up by 200%. Beer and rum prices have also increased, but that is logical considering the Selective Consumer Tax placed on alcoholic beverages during the latest tax correction. However, housewives are paying 110% more for their cooking gas (LPG), and even water has gone up by 52%. The cost of other items such as rice, cooking oil, pasta and meat has remained fairly stable. According to the Central Bank, the rising cost of fuel is the major factor in the DR's inflationary process.
The Central Bank reported that the rate of inflation was 0.79% in March. The Consumer Price Index showed accumulated inflation for the first three months of the year at 2.04%.

A cannon to kill a fly?
In Hoy newspaper's "Que se dice" page two editorial column, the writer is curious about the appointment of three generals to investigate the strange case where a Canadian driver, allegedly driving under the influence of alcohol, crashed his car into the fence surrounding the National Police HQ on Avenida Francia at the intersection with Avenida Leopoldo Navarro in Santo Domingo. Two other foreigners, said to be States citizens, were in the vehicle at the time of the accident. From the beginning this was defined as a simple traffic incident, but the Que se dice writer asks whether the police might have other ideas. Just who were these foreigners? These are two of the questions that people might like to ask as Generals Hector Garcia Cuevas, Juan Taveras Rodriguez and Manuel Castro Castillo who were assigned by police chief Bernardo Santana Paez to investigate the incident. They have to hand in a written report with opinions and recommendations they feel important.

Cibao protests get violent
An elderly man was killed and hundreds of people were arrested as a wave of protests swept across several cities and towns in the Cibao Valley. In San Francisco de Macoris, a man was killed by a homemade bomb during the first day of a 48-hour protest staged to demonstrate the urgency for several public works projects in the area. Some reports said that two other people threw the bomb at the victim, while others claimed that the victim had been carrying the device when it exploded. In Licey al Medio, all activity was halted as a result of protests demanding the promised completion of several public works projects. Navarrete also reported protests.

II Pan American Men's Volleyball Cup
Santo Domingo will host the II Pan-American Men's Volleyball Cup 2007 from 1-9 June. The Ministry of Sports and the Dominican Volleyball Federation are responsible for the organization of the event that is a qualifier for the NORCECA/CSV 2007 America's Cup. The event has the sponsorship of the North, Central American and Caribbean Volleyball Confederation (NORCECA) and the Federation Internationale de Volleyball (FIVB).
 
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