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Daily News - Thursday, 28 June 2007

President meets "bodegueros"
President Leonel Fernandez hosted directors from the National Association of Supermarkets, a US-based group that brings together 400 Dominican businesses with yearly sales exceeding US$2 billion, at the Presidential Palace yesterday. The President spoke during the ceremony and then took some time out to reminisce about his first job at the age of 14, as a delivery boy at a supermarket between 95th and 96th street in New York City. The President congratulated the "bodegueros" and said that they are the DR's most positive representation. The business group is here to attend the government sponsored Farm Produce Fair, a trade show taking place at the Dominican Fiesta Hotel this weekend.

Agro fair begins
President Leonel Fernandez inaugurated the country's first 2007 Farm Produce Fair at Santo Domingo's Dominican Fiesta Hotel yesterday. More than 150 foreign buyers and 90 local producers are meeting to promote and sell products ranging from fruits to tobacco and alcohol. The fair, which runs until 30 June, is being sponsored by the Center for Export and Investment (CEI-RD), the Agriculture Ministry and the Dominican Agricultural Council (JAD). CEI-RD head Eddy Martinez says that the DR expects to export US$2 billion in agricultural goods in the coming year.

Jimenez staying put
Tourism Minister Felix Jimenez has announced that he will be staying in his post as Minister, satisfied with the support received from the president of the Hotels and Restaurants Association (ASONAHORES), Luis Lopez. Jimenez is quoted in Hoy as saying that he was not surprised at the support he received from the president of Asonahores. The Asonahores board never authorized the publication of a statement in his support, however. Jimenez says that he is not perfect enough for everyone to like him. Earlier this month he had threatened to resign if Asonahores did not support him. Jimenez has been accused of using his influence as Minister of Tourism to obtain benefits for his own business investments as a leading realtor and new hotel investor.

Harley Davidsons a complete waste
Critics of the controversial Harley Davidson purchase were right to argue that the large motorcycles weren't a good investment, but now the damage is done and the money spent. The program was launched by the Ministry of Interior and Police to fight crime primarily in slums. Unfortunately for many residents in the low income barrios of Santo Domingo, the motorcycles weren't suitable for their jobs so they were sent to patrol the nation's highways, constituting another worthless investment for the DR. The large and costly bikes were hardly able to navigate the small streets of the city's barrios. Diario Libre writes that after all the excitement about the expensive American motorbikes had died down, and once the motorbikes proved they were not well suited to do the job they were purchased for, they were sent to work on highway patrols. The Highway Reorganization Division (DOCA) was created, but that too has been wasteful considering that there should be at least one motorbike for every 20 kilometers. Currently, of the 52 Harley Davidsons purchased by the state, six are being repaired. The bikes were purchased at US$17,000 each (US$28.7 million), and the whole episode has been described as a fiasco and yet another example of public money down the drain. Juan Luis Corporan, director of the Social Studies Center, asks why dirt bikes weren't chosen instead of the cumbersome Harleys. Dirt bikes are more agile, efficient and good for maneuvering through the cramped barrio streets. Corporan says that the Harleys have little to contribute in the fight against crime and juvenile delinquency.

US military helps training
High Speed US Navy Vessel (HSV) 2 Swift has arrived in the DR and was met by Drew Oltyan of the US Embassy and Dominican Navy chief Major Ivan Pena Castillo. The boat and its crew are in the DR to help conduct training exercises to help combat drug trafficking, terrorism and maritime piracy. Captain Douglas C. Wed explained that the exercises are part of the 2007 Global Fleet Station sponsored by US Southern Command, which is overseen by the US Navy. Web explained that the goal is to provide permanent aid to the region, working with the US's allies to strengthen maritime security. The US unit, made up of 40 men, will help train 150 Dominican counterparts until 6 July. The unit then returns on 4 September, departing once again on 14 September.

Armed Forces on border surveillance
The Armed Forces are working on the installation of an advanced surveillance system on the Dominican-Haitian border. The 24-hour system will include checkpoints at the Pedernales, Jimani, Elias Pina and Dajabon crossing points. Armed Forces Minister Lieutenant General Ramon Aquino Garcia explained that the system is part of the Specialized Border Security Group (CESFRONT), which begins operations next month.

Hanesbrands closing shop
Clothing manufacturer Hanesbrands has announced that it will close its manufacturing plant in the DR by the end of this year. 2,460 jobs will be lost with the closing, according to Listin Diario. The company is also closing factories in Puerto Rico, the US, Canada and Mexico. The closing down of the plants is part of an international restructuring program under way by the company, which is consolidating its operations in Central America and Asia.

Natural gas vs. propane
Don't rush to switch from natural gas to propane gas, was the point pressed during a debate held at the Global Foundation for Democracy and Development yesterday. Suppliers of natural gas and propane were debating the pros and cons of each option.
George Mallen, technical advisor to Propagas, a leading propane gas distributor, stressed that propane is easier to transport. Lawrence Osgood of the World Liquid Petroleum Gas Association that promotes the use of propane gas throughout the world, was the key speaker. He said that natural gas is the most complex and costly alternative fuel to use in vehicle transport. He said that it is only recommended for home use where pipelines are installed, and that Santo Domingo is yet for the most part a horizontal city, where there are still advantages for Dominicans to continue using propane gas. These advantages, he says, are the lower cost of the alternative fuel, superior yield at distances, excellent distribution and availability, environmental advantages per cost, safety, good stable supply, the fact that it is available now and that it is also a sustainable alternative fuel. Ricardo Canalda, chief executive of Linea Clave, the new natural gas distributor to the Dominican market, pointed out that natural gas is 50% cheaper than other fuels. Canalda also stresses that natural gas is safer, produces low levels of environmental pollution, and is a cost effective alternative to petroleum products. Linea Clave will be offering attractive packages for converters so that vehicles can run on the fuel. He also pointed out that the abundant worldwide reserves of the fuel guarantee the supply.

Ex Shell exec doesn't show
Former Shell Company executive Jan Willem Frederick Lugtmejeir has sent a letter legally excusing him from meeting with members of the Corruption Prevention Department (DEPRECO). He was scheduled to meet with DEPRECO officials in order to be questioned about allegations that Shell altered invoices. DEPRECO sub-director Otoniel Bonilla said that the meeting has been rescheduled for 9am today, and said that if Lugtmejeir didn't attend, DEPRECO would take steps to ensure he shows up.

Celebrating choice
As part of gay pride celebrations around the world, the Dominican gay, lesbian and transsexual community is asking the government to start the process of creating anti-discrimination policies to protect the rights of people with alternative lifestyles. Activists are also asking for article 27 of the youth law, which grants non-discrimination on the grounds of sexuality, to be implemented. Activists are also asking for open-mindedness when it comes to freedom of sexual orientation in the country and reminds the public that unfair treatment of people with alternative lifestyles is in violation of the International Human Rights Declaration.

UNFPA: 60% live in cities
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) reports that 60% of Dominicans now live in cities. It estimates the country's current population at 9.1 million people. UNPFA Representative Gilka Melendez forecast that by 2050, the DR's population would reach 12.7 million. She highlighted the need for cities to react to the challenges future growth bring and to learn to exploit the potential benefits of urbanization that the study found far outweight the disadvantages. Melendez was referring to findings included in a new report, "Unleashing the Potential of Urban Growth" that shows that urban growth explosion is not exclusive to the DR. Worldwide, report findings showed that in 2008, the world will reach an invisible but momentous milestone: For the first time in history, more than half its human population, 3.3 billion people, will be living in urban areas. As far as the DR is concerned, the report says that life expectancy is 72.1 years for women and 65.2 years for men.
During a presentation at the Melia Santo Domingo Hotel, Joaquin Geronimo from the National Council on Urban Issues (CONAU) explained that in the last 40 years the population of Santo Domingo (including municipalities in the National District and Santo Domingo Province) has grown six-fold, from 500,000 to three million.
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