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Daily News - Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Max goes before Senate today
Environment Minister Max Puig will testify before the Dominican Senate today about his claim that a senator was involved in dismantling the National Park of the East in order to facilitate the construction of more hotels on protected area land. At 3pm the minister will answer questions about his claim that Hato Mayor's PLD Senator Ruben Cruz (Ruben Toyota) was behind the plan to change the boundaries of the protected areas. This Senate appearance by Puig, according to Diario Libre, could well be his most difficult moment since he took over the ministry in August 2004. At the same time, he will have an opportunity to present his evidence. Environmental campaigners also want the Senate to talk to Tourism Minister Felix Jimenez and other people in the industry.

Coalition calls for transparency
The Coalition for the Defense of the Protected Areas is lobbying for transparency and legality, while it favors changes be made to Sectorial Law 202-04 on protected areas. In an advertisement published today in the Listin Diario, the Coalition states: "In recent years the protected areas of the Dominican Republic have been systemically threatened by interests tied to all kinds of characters: real estate speculators, clientelistic senators and deputies, lobbyists of all kinds, government officers of high rank more concerned with their own businesses than with the national interest, irresponsible tourism entrepreneurs, corrupt judges, dishonest title registrars and mafias that are experts in forging property titles, among others," writes the organization that groups several of the most prominent environmental organizations in the country. The organization clarifies that the management and care of the parks is a function of the Ministry of Environment, and advocates for changes to make this more adequate to conserve Dominican biodiversity and provide the country with the necessary tools for their orderly and transparent management. The Coalition says that while it is the role of Congress to draft and modify laws, it "does not see with good eyes," the procedure the legislature has undertaken so far to modify the Law 202-04 and said that the claim by the Minister of Environment of lack of transparency in the actions taken by the legislature to modify the law is a responsible one.

Protected Areas should have '72 borders
According to an expert from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), Ricardo Sanchez, the Dominican state should preserve the boundaries of the 1972 laws that first established the protected areas. According to Sanchez, the protected areas are a treasure that should be preserved with all possible force so that future generations can enjoy their water, bio-diversity, scenery and culture. Sanchez pointed out that the Dominican Republic is an exceptional country because it is one of only four countries in all Latin American where the forest cover is actually increasing. The other three are Uruguay, Costa Rica and Cuba. The UN representative was also emphatic in pointing out that this is all the more dramatic because the Dominican Republic has one of the highest population densities in Latin America as well as having Haiti, a country with one of the planet's highest levels of environmental degradation as its neighbor. This makes the preservation of the Dominican eco-system all the more urgent, according to Hoy newspaper. The UN expert emphasized the possibilities of an ever-increasing eco-tourism boom in the Dominican Republic, if the country's protected areas are maintained or expanded.

Historic city center refurbished
RD$200 million has been spent on the first phase of beautifying the historic center of Santiago de los Caballeros, the Dominican Republic's second largest city. A total of 1,900 buildings, including the famous Hotel Mercedes and the Santiago cathedral, were cleaned up and painted. The restoration project included buildings along Del Sol, Restauracion, Beller, 30 de Marzo, 16 de Agosto, Sabana Larga, Espana, San Luis, Sanchez and Mella streets. The work was managed by the Santiago Historical Center Development Council's Technical Commission. The commission worked in conjunction with the local city council, the archbishop's office and the Ministry of Culture. The next phase of the project, according to Diario Libre, is to install Victorian style light fixtures and draw up a set of rules controlling the placement of political and commercial advertisements.

Pensioners from overseas get tax breaks
Yesterday, the Senate gave its approval to a bill that is designed to attract pensioners from overseas. The bill, which was drafted by Deputy Victor Bisono Haza, will allow retirees who come from overseas to obtain Permanent Residency within 45 days. At the same time, they will receive the same benefits and tax exemptions as foreign investors and Dominican citizens who reside outside the country. The law approved by the Senate modifies Article 271 of the Tax Code, and establishes that the amounts declared as income in order to qualify for the special treatment are not subject to Income Tax. Also, household goods are exempted from duties, as are motor vehicles, although only up to a point. The bill seeks to better position the DR to attract baby boomers of retiring age that are seeking to purchase property in warm destinations abroad. Several Central American countries offer similar tax conditions to attract the retirees.
As reported in El Dia newspaper, the bill that had been previously approved by the Chamber of Deputies, exempts foreigners from paying property transfer tax on the first property they acquire in the DR. These will also receive 50% tax deductions on mortgages, real estate property tax and capital gains tax, when the foreigner is the majority shareholder in the company that would be subject to this tax and the company carries out commercial or industrial activities. The retirees that apply for the program will also be exempt from paying taxes on interest generated by their savings in the country or abroad. The bill now moves to the Presidency for final approval.

Senate approves tax modifications
The Dominican Senate approved a first reading to the change to the tax code that will reduce the taxes on beer and cigarettes. The approval of the project, which came from the Executive Branch, came after just one review by the Chamber. The Senate also approved a fiscal amnesty law and a US$150 million loan to shore up the government's social projects. The tax modifications will reduce income taxes by 4% on net taxable income, and lower the taxes on beer and cigarettes.

Textile mill for the Cibao
One of the announced results of the Presidential junket to Brazil will be the construction of a textile mill. The announcement carried in today's Hoy newspaper says that 8,000 jobs will be created as a result. The textile mill will produce millions of yards of material for jeans. Josue Gomes, spokesman for Coteminas, an industry that sells more than US$2.5 billion worth of merchandise, made the announcement during a breakfast meeting with President Fernandez at the Gran Hyatt Sao Paulo. According to Luisa Fernandez from the National Council of Free Zones, possible locations under discussion include the Esperanza and Montecristi areas, but nothing has been decided, yet. The exact location depends of the quality of the water. According to Luisa Fernandez, the project may well involve Haiti, with the textiles being produced in the Dominican Republic, then being sent to Haiti for assembly, and then returning to the DR for re-export to the USA under the DR-CAFTA agreement. One of the key elements in the deal, according to Luisa Fernandez, is the fact that Brazilian textiles are taxed at a 25%-27% rate, versus a 0% for Dominican produced articles.
During his visit to Brazil, the President also advocated for a strategic trade alliance with Brazil. The DR imported US$366 million from Brazil last year, and exported US$5 million.

Boca Chica switches to ethanol
Continuing on the announcements from Brazil, Hoy newspaper says that the Boca Chica Sugar Mill will be converted to produce ethanol for export to the United States. President Leonel Fernandez met with representatives from the major Brazilian ethanol companies, and one of them announced an initial US$18 million investment to convert the old Boca Chica Sugar Mill to the more modern fuel. Sergio Thompson Flores, head of Bioetanol Boca Chica, SA, said that the project seeks to process the cane produced on 30,000 hectares in the area of Boca Chica, Guerra and Bayaguana into ethanol.

Too many eggs in the basket
Dominican egg producers are fighting on two fronts. One is the fact that there is a surplus of five million eggs each month. The other is from new investors who are accusing the National Egg Producers Association of monopolistic practices and of violating DR-CAFTA rules. According to Listin Diario, the president of the Dominican Agro-Business Board, Francisco Leoni Fernandez, has said that if new investors are interested in the industry, it must be because it is profitable. The government called for a meeting of the egg producers, and listened to what ASOHUEVOS had to say. Minister Salvador Jimenez urged the producers to seek some sort of solution, and appointed Leoni Fernandez to head a special commission responsible for seeking a solution to the problems. The new investors accused the association of trying to establish a monopoly by assigning production quotas and favoring certain producers. The accusation mentioned several businesses as being the principal opponents to new actors in the egg production market. At the same time, the producers are not accusing the government of anything, which is strange in itself, but they are asking the government to refuse import permits for the new investors.

Vandalism leaves 1000s with no water
Vandals have ruined 75% of the capacity of the aqueduct serving eastern Santo Domingo. The theft of cables and the wanton destruction of the operating controls of the Brujuelas and Casui well fields was reported by Richard Martinez, the head of the Santo Domingo Water Authority (CAASD). Ten wells in the Brujuelas-Casui field were destroyed by vandals last weekend, and all the electric cables were stolen. The CAASD executive said that damages amounted to more than RD$15 million and would take more than a week to fix. There are no suspects in the case. The DR does not produce copper, a main component of electrical wires, but nevertheless exported nearly US$1 million last year of the item, with the complacency of the authorities that are aware a large part of the copper exported has been stolen locally. There has been a move to get the authorities to ban copper exports, but nothing has happened and the exports continue to be an incentive to theft.

Guajimia residents will pitch in and help
Residents along the Guajimia Creek have told the contractor in charge of cleaning up the area that they were willing to help with the task. The cleanup operation starts today and the company has told residents and companies along the creek that they have two weeks to stop the dumping of garbage and waste products. Residents told El Caribe reporter Felvia Mejia that they had not received any notifications about waste disposal from the CAASD or the Canadian firm Desau-Soprin. The mayor of western Santo Domingo called on the National District municipal council to pick up the garbage in the part of the Guajimia area that comes under their jurisdiction. Neighborhood representatives said that they would like to meet with company executives and CAASD officials to discuss ways in which the community could contribute to the cleanup operation.

Cargo holdups need to be stopped
The continuing spate of armed robberies on cargo trucks needs to be halted, according to the Federation of Industrial Associations, the Free Zone Association and the National Dominican Transport Federation. These groups are asking the government to increase highway security to prevent the theft of loaded trucks. Recently, a police captain and sergeant were given a dishonorable discharge after being caught protecting a loaded truck of stolen whiskey. The Police announced that they had been following the two former members of the force for several months and linked them to several other cargo robberies. FENATRADO transport union spokesperson Blas Peralta pointed out the most dangerous spots along the nation's highways. He said that Villa Altagracia, from kilometer 28 to the ports (Santo Domingo and Haina), and kilometer 61 of the Duarte Highway were the most dangerous, comparing trips through these areas to "putting your head in the wolf's mouth." According to Peralta, the La Vega and San Francisco de Macoris intersections are two other dangerous points. Referring to the southern highways, he said that the entire route was dangerous since there was hardly any traffic and a very limited police presence.

Dengue campaign ready to roll
The Minister of Public Health, Bautista Rojas Gomez, has announced that 157 municipalities would be joining forces with brigades of public health workers to teach people how to prevent mosquitoes that serve as vectors for the dengue fever from breeding. According to the minister, five million home guides, three million broadsheets and other reminders will be used in the campaign. More than two hundred thousand volunteers will go from house to house teaching people about dengue fever. As of 15 June, 2,686 cases of the disease were recorded, mostly in Santiago and Santo Domingo. The 23 and 24 June will see the "Great Patriotic Campaign to Eliminate Breeding Places".

AMET announces 38% fall in tickets
Major General Jose Sigfrido Fernandez Fadul has announced a 38% decrease in traffic citations as a result of the campaign that hit hard at drivers who run red lights. According to the General, part of the reason for this decline was an increase in the fine for red light violations, from RD$50 to RD$844. Although the official did not give out any numbers, he referred to the short period of time that the program has been in effect.

Dominicans on All-Star lists
Dominican baseball players continue to be top vote getters for the Major League All-Star Game. Vladimir Guerrero, batting .329 with 12 homeruns and 62 RBIs is passing the million-vote count, along with David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox, a near shoo-in for the first base slot. Manny Ramirez, another Red Sox is also a top vote getter. Third baseman Alex Rodriguez is the leading vote getter with over 1.9 million votes. Second base will almost certainly go to Placido Polanco of Detroit.
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