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Daily News - Monday, 07 May 2007

Fernandez wins party primary
President Leonel Fernandez has won the right to run for the PLD party once again in the May 2008 presidential election. The second of three bulletins showed that Fernandez had received 71.46% of the vote, compared to his rival Danilo Medina's 28.54%. In all, 220,437 votes were counted, of which 3,534 were annulled. Fernandez received 154,991 votes and Medina 61,912.
As of the second bulletin, 855 (36.37%) of the 2,351 voting stations had been counted, according to Listin Diario. A third bulletin was promised for Monday, 7 May at 4pm. However, Medina conceded defeat three hours before the first results were released.

Meeting yields some results
The talks between the Superintendent of Workers Health and Injury programs (SISALRIL), the Dominican Medical Association (CMD), and the Association of Private Hospitals and Clinics made some important headway when they met last Friday. This meeting of minds could lead to an agreement being reached tomorrow on payments for the basic health plan. For many months, all parties involved in the government's efforts towards creating a nation-wide family health care program have been stalled by different issues revolving round payments for consults and primary care. According to SISALRIL director Fernando Caamano and Dr. Emilio Montas, the CMD president, the parties arrived at "a certain approach that could end in an agreement on Tuesday." Although details were not given to Hoy reporters, comments indicated that the requested figure of RD$400 per consult was nearly reached.

Government might use Verizon cash
According to Temistocles Montas, the Minister for Economy, Planning and Development (MEPD), the government has included US$20 million of the Verizon tax windfall in this year's budget. However, if it wants to use more of the money, it will need to specify, in a bill before the Congress, just what the money will be used for. The minister said that 50% of the remaining funds would be used next fiscal year. In December 2006, Verizon paid the Dominican government US$170 million in a settlement on its sale of its DR telephone assets to America Movil, the Mexican company headed by billionaire Carlos Slim Helu. Montas said the use of the Verizon funds had been cleared with the IMF. While nothing specific was said about the use that might be given to the additional US$65 million, Montas said that the funds were there if needed. The US$20 million are supposed to be allocated to housing projects in areas affected by the Santo Domingo metro project.

Record crowds for Book Fair
The X International Book Fair broke all kinds of attendance records last week, receiving approximately 2.5 million visitors. This information was provided by Book Fair spokesperson Jayri Santana. This year's fair was dedicated to Franklin Mieses Burgos and Colombia was the Honored Invitee. According to Diario Libre, the most popular book was "100 years of solitude" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. While parking remained a problem, although the AMET officers were wont to "look the other way," high prices were a frequent topic of conversation. Many thousands of people flocked to free concerts and other cultural events and used the occasion for a family outing.

Call centers grow, slowly
Forty-eight call centers are currently operating in the Dominican Republic, but the perception of corruption, the impact of political activities and the small number of Dominicans who speak English have combined to slow the growth of this "back office" industry. Added to these factors are the continual high cost of energy and commercial bank lending restrictions. This data is contained in a study ordered by the Center for Exports and Investment (CEI-RD) that also points out the lack of call center clusters that could reduce overall costs. The study was carried out by the Hewitt Company of India, and compared conditions in the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Costa Rica, Jamaica, El Salvador, Panama, the Philippines, the Czech Republic, South Africa and India. The DR came in seventh on the list. However, as a counter-balance to the cited deficiencies, the Dominican Republic does offer economic stability, a record of continued growth, excellent geographical location and an "excellent telecommunications infrastructure."

Renewable energy bill boosts wind projects
With the approval of the Renewable Energy Law by the Dominican Congress, a renewed sense of urgency has entered several wind generation projects in east and south of the Dominican Republic. According to Marta Fernandez, the manager of the Punta Cana-Macao Energy Consortium, the Bayahibe Electric Company will begin producing nine megawatts (MW) of energy in a pilot program, and a 100-150 MW project in Barahona will get started. According to Fernandez, the nine megawatts will go into the network run by SETEM, the company that has been supplying the tourist areas in the DR's eastern region with 24/7 electricity since 1992. Many public buildings, including schools, police stations and hospitals will get free electricity from the project.

Once more into the breach!
Once again the Dominican consumer is faced with higher fuel prices. Regular gasoline rose by RD$3.10 and diesel rose by nearly a peso. Propane gas (LPG) has hit an all-time high at RD$50.56 per gallon. The increases over the past two weeks surpass RD$5.00 per gallon. According to the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, violence in Nigeria, geopolitical worries and seasonally high prices have combined to force the increases. The Dominican Republic receives most of its petroleum products from Venezuela.

Why prices don't go down
Economist Arturo Martinez Moya, not a particular friend of the current administration, explains why prices have not gone down in spite of the country entering the DR-CAFTA agreement over two months ago. Martinez Moya points out that taxes have produced more than RD$20 billion in additional monies during the first four months of 2007 compared to 2006. For the economist, the blame falls on the Department of Taxes that, in his words "wants to do in one year what it took Spain and Chile five years to do." He also points out that the upper middle class contributed 24% more in 2006 than in 2003 and in indirect taxes, paid mostly by the middle and lower income groups, the increase was 66% over the same time frame. In his article in Saturday's Hoy, Martinez Moya furthermore says that the "invisible hand" of Adam Smith doesn't work in the Dominican Republic, since many sectors of the economy are virtual monopolies. Thus, decreases in taxes do not necessarily mean a reduction in prices for consumers.

Spain increases aid by EUR8 million
According to the Spanish Cooperation Agency, Spain plans to increase its aid to the Dominican Republic by EUR8 million for the 2007-2008 period, reaching a total of EUR30 million. The resources will be channeled towards local towns, the penal system and training of prison personnel. Among the projects are the renovation of the Santa Barbara area in Santo Domingo's Colonial Zone, the conversion of the municipality of Enriquillo into a model of efficient town management, and the training of personnel in the southwestern region to deal with ecological and tourism issues. Modernization of local political parties, strengthening Santiago's municipal government and potable water projects are the other components of the program.

Internet growth is steady
The Dominican Telecommunications Institute has 195,000 registered Internet users and the number is on the increase. During the first quarter of this year, there was a 6% growth in users. Over the last 12 years, Internet access has grown from 5,800 in 1995 to 195,000 today. There are approximately 125,000 home users and 60,000 commercial users of the service. Dial-up is still the most popular connection for users. However, only 3.1% of the population has access to the Internet, and just 0.9% of rural dwellings have the service. A bright spot seems to be the fact that the report in El Caribe says that 70% of Internet users are looking for information for academic purposes. E-mail is the second most popular use.

El negrito del batey
Former Central Bank assistant governor and economist, Felix Calvo, takes a look at Dominican society in general and the start-up of the Family Health Program announced by the government in particular. Years ago, a popular merengue song called "El negrito del batey" by Johnny Ventura looked at the old Spanish custom of disdaining manual labor. Long ago, in Spain, any sort of manual labor was not for the noble or anyone who had pretensions of nobility. As a result, the state was forced to provide for this parasitic group. The famous merengue symbolizes the person up from the batey (cane cutter settlement) with high hopes for living well but without having to work ("...God created work, as a punishment..."). As a social criticism, the economist says that perhaps it could be argued that the man was fed up with being exploited in the cane fields, or his determination was fed by the fact that he saw others (possibly whites) who lived well without working. The second hypothesis does not include the fact that the white man had studied and worked with his mind and not his hands. The economist says that this merengue came to mind now that the government is trying to implement changes in the public health system. Funding for the new system comes from an obligatory deduction from every worker's pay. If we are talking about a family, where both the man and the woman work, Calvo says both have to pay the tax although one salary earner is enough for the family to receive the benefits of the health plan. He says that when both partners work there is a double tax with the additional one going into a "solidarity fund". If a person has two jobs, both paychecks are docked for the health plan. Again, the second one goes into the fund for the public sector. The public sector, the Government, with its income should pay for the sectors that are excluded from the program's services. The government's income comes almost exclusively from tax deduction on payrolls, inheritance, business earnings and VAT monies. Therefore, the worker pays several taxes - both direct and indirect - to the government. Nonetheless, the worker, according to Calvo, now has to pay more taxes, and illegal ones at that. He is referring to the super-workers and the couples who pay twice, since the tax is backed by an administrative decree and not a law. He ends his editorial by saying that the more you try to get ahead, working two jobs or having your spouse work, the more you become a victim of the health program, since you are deprived of a significant proportion of your earnings that will go to someone who, of course, doesn't have much interest in working. This is how the Dominican Republic promotes the idea that work was made by God to punish us.

"Que se dice" What's being said
Today's page two column touches on how foreigners have not been spared from the trend of victims of persons known to the victims. The writer points out that these violent events, many of which take place on the north coast, are frequently committed by people who have managed to earn their way into the victim's confidence. They appear to be honest and trustworthy. The editorialist describes one of these cases, which happened in the Puerto Plata area, when German citizen Fisher Irmsried Helmar, who fell in love with the Dominican Republic and was preparing to invest and settle here, was brutally murdered. The police are accusing his "two best friends" of committing the crime. The popular columnist says that crime against foreigners is on the rise from Samana to Montecristi, and suggests that the authorities place stands at airports containing information such as statistics and criminal profiles for newcomers. This would allow visitors who might be thinking of staying to temper their friendliness with tact and caution. The writer calls for an end to the murders of foreigners who are planning on staying here.

Automatic weapons used in killing
Three young men found dead inside a stolen truck were killed with automatic weapons, according to the forensic report. Hoy newspaper says that Dr. Santo Jimenez, the director of the forensics lab, told reporters that two of the bodies have six wounds and a third had seven bullet wounds. All the wounds were caused by automatic weapons. The police have been reluctant to provide more details about their investigation and speculations vary in journalistic reports.

The best of America's dancers
American Ballet Theater's principal dancer, Jose Manuel Carreno, will perform at the National Theater this coming Wednesday, 30 May as part of the Gala of World Ballet Stars. Others coming are Gleidson Vasconcelos, Brazil; Isaac Hernandez, and Hernan Piquin, Argentina. Others on the program are Isanusi Garcia, Miami City Ballet; Elizabeth Long, Cuban Classical Ballet; Adyaris Almeida, Cincinnatti Ballet; Misa Kuranaga, Boston Ballet; Joseph Gatti, Cincinatti Ballet and Michelle Jimenez, of the Holland Ballet for the DR. This is a production of Monika Despradel. On the program are: The Black Swan, Arelniadade pas de duex; Llamas de Paris pas de deux, Don Quijote pas de deux; Piazola Tango; Paquita pas de deux, Corsario pas de deux, among others.
The event is a benefit for the Foundation El Bien (www.elbien.com) that works with children with special needs.
For more on upcoming events, see http://www.dr1.com/calendar
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