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Daily News - Friday, 20 April 2007

Rio Group meetings
After two days of ceremonies, bilateral and multilateral meetings and special events, the formal Rio Group meetings officially open today. President Leonel Fernandez is leading the opening ceremonies being held at the Ministry of Foreign Relations in Santo Domingo. Foreign Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso will officially introduce the issue of Haiti's development to the 50 participating foreign ministers as one of the Dominican Republic's main concerns. Yesterday Morales met with his Haitian counterpart Jean Renald Clerisme, in which they discussed a plan of action for the next few months working through a bilateral commission.
Also, during meetings held yesterday, the DR and Chile ratified a judicial cooperation agreement that has been in effect between the two nations since 2002. The agreement guarantees the exchange of information, proof, judgments and penal proceedings.
It was also announced that the European Union has promised to increase links with Mercosur (the South American free trade bloc). The EU also promised a 25% increase in its assistance to countries taking part in the San Jose Dialogue.

Danilovich visits for Millennium Challenge
Ambassador John Danilovich, chief executive officer for the Millennium Challenge Corporation, has urged President Leonel Fernandez to work more aggressively towards improving education and health policies, and to combat corruption, in order to access available funding. The Millennium Challenge Corporation is currently working with 11 countries to try to help reduce poverty through sustainable development. The funds are provided through the US Congress and uses 16 indicators to determine potential beneficiaries. The DR is already taking part, and Danilovich said that he was excited about the reforms the country is carrying out. The MCC has donated between US$150 million and US$400 million in Latin America alone.

World Bank report hails progress
According to Christina Malmberg Calvo, World Bank country manager for the Dominican Republic, around 1,600,000 people, about 7% of the population, who had fallen below the poverty line during the 2003-2004 economic crisis have managed to get themselves back on their feet due to the country's increased economic growth. Malmberg announced a World Bank donation of US$20 million to provide identification documentation to part of the Dominican population, aimed at enabling them to continue with their education. The project also aims to strengthen social protection systems, and to improve the focus of coverage in order to reduce poverty in the short run.

Investment brings peso appreciation
Bear Stearns reports that healthy levels of foreign investment and a significant contraction in the size of the Dominican Republic's monetary base have underpinned a 4.2% revaluation of the Dominican peso so far this year, with 3.7% of the strengthening taking place during the past six weeks alone. Franco Uccelli, who analyzes the DR for the brokerage firm says that this has caused concern among the country's monetary officials. He explains that the Central Bank has identified sizeable increases in foreign portfolio investments, which have been attracted by the country's improved macroeconomic environment and by its relatively high-yielding peso-denominated assets, as a key factor in the appreciation of the currency. "In response, the Central Bank has implemented new measures designed to limit foreign participation in its weekly auctions of short-term paper (maturities of up to one year). By barring foreign financial institutions from participating in its weekly auctions (participation in its more sporadic auctions of longer term paper is still allowed), the Central Bank is hoping to stem the flow of what it views as 'hot money' in search of a quick profit", he explains. "We believe that what the Central Bank has failed to recognize, however, is that for as long as its securities continue to afford relatively attractive yields, foreign investors will continue to invest in them, even if that means having to execute their purchases, which according to some estimates may have totaled as much as US$80 million in a single week, through a local intermediary, as the new regulations now require".

Congress passes FTZ incentives bill
The Chamber of Deputies has passed a bill that institutes zero tariffs on inputs and raw materials used in apparel and leather goods manufactured in the DR. The bill also creates a new regulatory regime for companies that manufacture these goods both inside and outside free trade zones. These companies will be exempt from paying ITBIS and other duties, maintaining privileges similar to those enjoyed by FTZ companies over the years. These benefits are due to end in 2008, as required by the World Trade Organization. The bill, which seeks to maintain the sector's competitiveness, had already passed in the Senate and now requires President Leonel Fernandez's signature to become law.

Scheduled power outages Saturday
EdeEste is announcing that on 21 April six different circuits in the National District will have their power cut off for essential repair work by the State Run Electric Companies (CDEEE). The outages will last from 7am to 6pm and will affect Gazcue, part of Duarte Avenue, part of Mexico Avenue, part of Pedro Henriquez Urena Avenue, the public office area around the Central Bank, the Listin Diario newspaper, Codetel at 30 de Marzo Street, Telemicro and Hotel Lina. Parts of Villa Consuelo, Rosa Duarte, Don Bosco, Miraflores, Avenue Leopoldo Navarro, UNIBE, parts of Francia Avenue, and parts of 27 de Febrero Avenue will also be affected.
The power situation in Santo Domingo has considerably improved in recent months.

Rosario mute on PLD campaign spending
The head of the Central Electoral Board's administrative chamber Roberto Rosario has refused Diario Libre's request to reveal the PLD pre-presidential candidates' expenses and budgets. Rosario suggested that the paper should ask for the information using the freedom of information act. Diario Libre writes that the PRSC and the PRD both revealed details of spending and budgets when they introduced their party's pre-presidential candidates. Rosario did say in defense that the electoral law doesn't limit spending, but only limits the amount of taxpayer money that can be used in campaigns. Rosario said that if anyone has evidence of any misuse of government funds, this should be presented to the JCE, which will act accordingly.

Deputies break for politics
PLD deputies have announced that they will be taking time off for campaigning in the run-up to the party's 6 May primary election. It is reported that most deputies are supporting former Presidency minister Danilo Medina, who is challenging President Fernandez for the PLD presidential nomination. The last Congress session will be held on Tuesday, 24 April. Deputies are among the highest earning public officials and Dominicans in general.

Workers union have new offer
Workers union leaders are now proposing a 15% wage increase instead of the 25% they have been asking for, and now wish to discuss a 5% across-the-board increase for workers earning more than the minimum wage, according to Gabriel del Rio, president of the Autonomous Union Confederation (CASC). Del Rio said that Office for the Reorganization of Transit (OPRET) head Diandino Pena will help with the negotiations. Maribel Gasso of the Dominican Employers' Confederation (Copardom) said that the private sector is open to further discussions.

More criticism for heliport
Mayor Robert Salcedo's plan to build a heliport on Santo Domingo's Malecon seafront avenue is gradually becoming the target of more opposition. Yesterday PRD opposition party members sided with environmentalists who say that the location chosen (Abraham Lincoln and the Malecon) violates protected areas laws and should be built elsewhere. Others say, the category of protected area enables the construction. PRD secretary general Orlando Jorge Mera said that the party would use all legitimate means to stop the project, which he considers damaging to the city. Salcedo argues the heliport would rescue a slumized area of the park.
The heliport would serve businessmen and tourists traveling to Santo Domingo.

Judge gives ten days
Judge Jose Alejandro Vargas has given National District prosecutors ten days to bring charges against Margarita Maria Liranzo Urena who is accused of killing Lt. Colonel Hector Salvador Duran Polanco, emasculating him and placing the severed parts in his mouth. Doctors say that she may well have been motivated by incest allegedly committed by the victim. According to Diario Libre, the woman declared under interrogation that Duran had had sex with her daughter and that both were infected with HIV as a result. Liranzo Urena was arrested on Tuesday 26 December.

UASD turns into war zone
In angry response to the higher bus fares, some citizens took to the streets in the area around Santo Domingo's UASD University and demonstrated their displeasure. Protests reached the point where Dominican Students Federation (FED) president John Garcia, was injured in the head by a rock. Listin Diario writes that his vehicle was set on fire, that an OMSA bus was taken over by protesters and that two other people were hurt. Dean Alejandro Pichardo suspended classes until today in response to events. Listin Diario photographer Adriano del Rosario was also injured during the incident and is still in hospital. Once police were informed of the disturbance at the university they acted quickly, closing off the perimeter and stopping traffic from passing through the area.
Although there were troubles at the UASD, Diario Libre writes that in general there were few protests by passengers, who now have to pay RD$20 instead of RD$15 for traveling on certain routes. "Concho" fares have so far stayed the same. Most conchos use lower costing propane fuel.

The Mirador del Sur Park bandits
Police Chief Bernardo Santana has announced that his force is on the trail of the gang known as the "painted faces", believed to be responsible for a series of violent robberies in Mirador del Sur Park. One mother, Ingrid Zapata, went public with the story in yesterday's Listin Diario after the 13-member gang robbed her family and friends (10 women, six men and seven children) after celebrating a birthday party early on Saturday evening. The victim said that what bothered her most was the police officers' indifferent attitude when she reported the incident. While she waited in the police station, other cases filed in with the same description of the assailants. She complained that the officers just acknowledged it was a gang known as the Km. 8 Gang, after the cave where they meet. Santana said that the police officers stationed in the park had been negligent.
But to make matters worse, the Listin Diario says that members of the so-called "Banda del 8" had just recently been absolved by state prosecutors after a recent arrest by the police. Santo Domingo Mayor Roberto Salcedo also reacted by announcing that he would be working in coordination with the Police to ensure public safety in the city's main park.

"Hurricane chasers" visit
The Dominican government has agreed to allow the US planes known as "cazahuracanes" (hurricane chasers) to travel freely in Dominican airspace during hurricane season in order to collect better information about the nature of hurricanes and different meteorological conditions. Preliminary reports indicate that at least 17 tropical depressions will develop during this year's Atlantic hurricane season, of which nine could turn into full-blown hurricanes. Gloria Ceballos of the National Weather Service (ONAMET) says that the measure was passed by President Leonel Fernandez last March and explained that it will reduce the time period for these planes to obtain permission to fly over Dominican airspace. She says that when a storm nears, the protocol will now only be about 30 minutes. The WC-130J was in the DR yesterday, the third time it has visited. Its previous visits to the country took place in 1999 and 2002.

Dominicans in sports
Alex Rodriguez can't be stopped. Rodriguez blasted his 10th homerun of the season yesterday and led the New York Yankees in a come from behind victory over the Cleveland Indians. The Indians led 6-5 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth until Rodriguez sent a fastball into center field at Yankee stadium.
Sammy Sosa also had a big day as he hit his fourth homerun of the season. It was also Sosa's 592 career dinger. He is now eight away from the coveted 600-homerun mark, which would place him in elite company and could almost guarantee him a spot in Cooperstown.
Manny Ramirez was not to be outdone as the Red Sox slugger hit his first homerun of the season. It's been a slow start for Ramirez, who has a habit of starting slow and getting hot quickly.
Boxer Joan Guzman has agreed to fight Michael Katsidis on 26 May at the Convention Center in Anaheim, California. Guzman, (27-0 17 K.O.) will be defending his WBO title and looks to remain undefeated against his Australian counterpart who is also undefeated.
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