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Daily News - Tuesday, 08 May 2007

President passes five laws
President Leonel Fernandez signed five laws and agreed to a loan for the technical reorganization of the Customs Department yesterday. The Customs loan is for US$23 million and was taken out from the Export-Import Bank of South Korea. The laws passed by the President are Law 56-07 that creates special status for the leather, textile and shoe industries at the free trade zones; Law 53-07 against hi-tech crimes, Law 51-07 that modifies Law 108-05 on Real Estate Registry; and Law 52-07 that incorporates a number of changes to the laws aimed at protecting children's rights.

Fernandez maintains 71% lead
With 94.13% of the PLD primary votes counted in time for the release of the third bulletin, President Fernandez received 385,396 votes (71.69%) versus the 152,198 votes (28.3%) cast for his former Secretary of the Presidency, Danilo Medina. 138 tables still remain to be counted. The PLD's presidential candidate for the 2008 elections will be officially proclaimed on 30 June.

Bear Stearns on Fernandez win
Franco Uccelli of Wall Street's Bear Stearns brokerage firm wrote yesterday that the PLD primary results would pave the way for Fernandez to start actively campaigning for re-election. "While not necessarily a shoo-in, we expect Fernandez to quickly become the race favorite and to consolidate his position as the candidate to beat," writes Uccelli. The analyst comments that he views "Fernandez's progress towards re-election and his ultimate victory next year (our base case scenario) as positive for the credit."

EU to give funds
The European Union is making funds available for the implementation of programs under the National Systemic Competitiveness Plan. The EUR32-million budget will cover a five-year period, between 2008 and 2013. The National Competitiveness Council will manage part of the funds, while another part will be used for technical assistance for the government and private businesses. Rodolfo Lazarich, economy and commerce specialist at the European Union Delegation assured that competitiveness is of the highest priority for the EU. Andres Van der Horst, head of the Dominican National Competitiveness Council (CNC) agreed that the funds should be donated once the country meets the requirements set by the EU.

JCE asks candidates to hold off campaign
The Central Electoral Board (JCE) is asking presidential hopefuls Miguel Vargas Maldonado (PRD) and Leonel Fernandez (PLD) to hold off on their presidential campaigns until 2008. Roberto Rosario, head of the JCE's Administrative Chamber, asked the candidates not to begin their campaigns earlier than the law allows.

Huchi waits; FINJUS reacts
Journalist Huchi Lora is still waiting for the government to hand over the documents he requested with details of the construction of the Santo Domingo metro. There has been a major delay in handing over any information. Diario Libre writes that once President Leonel Fernandez commented on the case and said that not all the information could be released to the public on the grounds of national security, Lora hasn't even received a phone call on the matter. Lora says that the worst thing about the situation is the lack of respect it shows for the court ruling. Lora plans to meet with lawyers to see what can be done in order to get the Executive Branch to comply with the ruling. Hoy writes that the Justice and Institutionalism Foundation (FINJUS) said that Transport Reorganization Office (OPRET) head Diandino Pena's decision not to hand over metro records and documents to journalist Huchi Lora could have legal ramifications. Servio Tulio Castanos of FINJUS has called on the OPRET head to comply with the court ruling. In case, OPRET chooses not to coply Castanos Guzman said the case would move on to the Supreme Court of Justice. Castanos said this would be "a great challenge" for the Supreme Court.

Tourism authorities increase entry fees
Listin Diario is reporting that from now on passengers who enter the Dominican Republic via airplane, charter or regular flights, will have to pay US$8 instead of the current fee of US$5. The US$3 increase will be used by the Ministry of Tourism to improve the tourism sector, as well as to tackle a range of pending issues and to enhance the infrastructure in the tourist areas. Decree 225-07 authorizing the 60% hike on 19 April explains that of the US$8 collected US$3 will be used to promote the country's image, US$1 will be used to promote the country's main tourist destinations and US$4 will be allotted to the Executing Committee of Infrastructure in Tourism Zones (Ceiztur), managed by the Ministry of Tourism. Since 2005 the "airport tax" has collected US$21.8 million. Several hotel groups believed it could lead to a decline in tourist numbers, but this hasn't been the case. In addition, the tax paid by the airlines per passenger has been increased from US$12.50 per passenger to US$13.75 per passenger. Of the US$13.75 paid by the airlines US$4.50 will be paid directly to the Dominican Institute of Civil Aviation, US$7 will be paid to Specialized Airport Security Corps, US$0.75 will be given to the Dominican Air Force, US$2.50 will be paid directly to the terminals for maintenance and US$1 will go to the private airports.

CDEEE reports deficit
The State-Run Electricity Companies (CDEEE) registered a deficit of RD$630,777,428 for the period of January-March. During this period revenues were registered at RD$2,750,198,630 but spending was for RD$3,380,976 January was the worst month with an accumulated deficit of RD$401,193,207 while in February the deficit was at RD$11,394,387.

Ministry of Environment foreign funds
Hoy writes that 60% of the funds for the Ministry of Environment's 11 projects scheduled for this year will come from foreign donors. The projects have a total cost of RD$435,2676,262 of which RD$272,829,529 will be of foreign origin. The Yaque del Norte river basin project will receive the bulk of funds with an investment of RD$214,021,511. The Ecotourism Strategic Plan will be receiving RD$52,500,000 and various ministry offices around the country will get RD$36,400,000. Other projects due for funds will be the Haitises National Park and the Bavaro Lagoon recovery project.

A catastrophe in the making
Deforestation in Haiti is at a critical point concluded specialists that participated in the Second International Conference on the Future of Dominican-Haitian Relations held in Cote de Arcadeins, Haiti. As reported in the Listin Diario, Wirner Jean Baptiste, in charge of Dominican affairs at the Haitian Ministry of Foreign Relations said that a collective suicide is happening now in Haiti and only the awareness of the population will be able to avert an environmental and social catastrophe. He urged that agencies be set up in Haiti to protect the environment before it is too late. Haitian Minister of Environmental, Jean Marie Germain said that 70% of the energy needs of his country come from coal, "the reason why the forests are consumed in smoke." With most of the forests in Haiti wiped out, that there is intense illegal trafficking of fuelwood from the Dominican Republic. The Listin Diario says that known clandestine but very lucrative businesses have been set up for the preparation of the coal in Las 39, Las 40, Tierra Nueva and Boca de Cachon, in the border province of Independencia.
Forest cover in Haiti is down to 1%, and with the forest cover gone, floods ravage the country at each rainfall. Topsoil washes into the sea. The DR suffered a major tragedy from deforestation in Haiti, when on 24 May flooding waters rushed east and destroyed the entire town of Jimani.
The conference was organized by the Dominican Churches Social Service, Dominican-Haitian Dialogue, with the sponsorship of the Ministry of Foreign Relations of Norway, The Natural Conservancy and the United Nations Population Fund.
The event ended with a commitment for the governments of Haiti and the DR to begin massive tree planting along the border rivers, as well as the construction of roads for the transport of farming goods. The Dominican Christian churches committed to a US$3 million fund to sponsor small and medium-sized companies along the border.

Heliport change of plan
Santo Domingo Mayor Roberto Salcedo has announced, according to Hoy newspaper, that the controversial Santo Domingo heliport will not be constructed at the Plaza Omar Torrijos but on a strip of land in front of the metal works factory, Metaldom. He clarified that the whole area is being rehabilitated. Salcedo said that he understands that the plan to build the heliport needed to be discussed by the public because he said it's a public matter. Salcedo said that the heliport's construction is part of a strategic development plan for Santo Domingo, and added that work would begin in three months.

Congress gets back to work
After a short break due to the PLD primary, the National Congress will resume its duties today. The Senate has set a meeting time for 2pm, while the Chamber of Deputies has not yet gone back to work.

Dominican Fiesta says it follows rules
The Dominican Fiesta hotel says it has been working closely with Ministry of Environment officials to deal with complaints from neighbors and find a solution to the air and noise pollution from the hotel's electricity generator. According to hotel spokesman George Perez, the hotel has done everything to be in line with the Ministry's requirements, which led the hotel to spend US$1 million in trying to solve the problem. Diario Libre writes that an April 2006 report described the noise and air pollution by the hotel as "low", but the Dominican Academy of Sciences challenged this claim, saying that their research found that noise could be heard at 69 and 71 decibels at a 40-meter distance from the generator. Manuel Vazquez, head of the Environmental Protection Department said that officials would visit the Dominican Fiesta during the week to carry out a general inspection and to establish whether the hotel is authorized to run its generator 24 hours a day.

Dominican textiles in FTZ take a fall
Listin Diario writes that the exports of apparel produced within the country's free trade zones (FTZ) have registered a major drop off, the largest decrease among DR-CAFTA signatory countries. Over the last two years, it is estimated that the DR has lost about 50,000 jobs in the textile industry. According to the Major Shippers Report, for the first two months of the year the DR experienced a decrease of 23.63% in the volume of apparel exports and an 18.45% decrease in value. This decrease pushes the DR to the 14th position among countries that export apparel to the US and 12th in terms of value. The value of the country's exports in the first two months of 2006 was US$207.14 million but during the same period for 2007 the value dropped to US$168.93 million. Part of the reason for the decrease in the value of DR exports is the higher labor and electricity costs, plus a perceived overvalued peso, as well as competition from China and lower-cost production centers in Central America.
See http://otexa.ita.doc.gov/prelimadmin/msrcty/a2470.htm

Killer cops on the run
Three cops, who were under arrest for murdering three young men in the Duquesa dump, have escaped from jail. The murders of Juan Carlos Jimenez, Adelso Jesus Soriano and Rafael Medina Marte took place on 1 May, allegedly by officers Roberto Zabala Espinosa, Luis Alfredo Mateo Mota, and Wellington Rodriguez Jimenez. Chief of Police Bernardo Santana Paez ordered all intelligence and police agencies to help capture the officers. According to police there were reports that a stolen truck was at the dump and that thieves were preparing to dismantle the truck when the officers arrived and found the three young men. Police have not said whether there had been an exchange of gunfire or if the officers had used excessive force.

Charlie Villanueva to play in DR
Speaking at a press conference at Santo Domingo's Clarion Hotel, NBA star Charlie Villanueva announced that he would like to represent the Dominican Republic in international competitions. Villanueva also announced that the team Dominican Power, made up of Dominicans residing in New York would play an exhibition game in the DR in August. DP will be playing against members of the Dominican Basketball League. DP is made up of Villanueva, Francisco Garcia, Ricky Greer, Sammy Mejia, Edgar Sosa, Felipe Lopez, Dominick Mejia, Jeff Greer and Luis Flores.
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