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Daily News - Friday, 13 July 2007

Preval's visit: "Exceptional"
Haitian President Rene Preval emphasized that Haitian-Dominican relations must remain positive, during his nine-hour visit to the Presidential Palace yesterday. "We are going to try to see the world in a positive way. Destiny has it that Leonel and I govern in the same periods," he told the press during a lunch in his honor at the Presidential Palace. Preval highlighted the coincidence that himself and President Fernandez were meeting again in their second terms. This was Preval's third official visit to the DR since he took office. President Leonel Fernandez said that he considers Preval's visit a success and said that relations between the two nations are destined to be one of brothers regardless of the differences of the past. Fernandez described the visit as "exceptional" and a good start for forthcoming important initiatives that will strengthen the ties between both countries.
Fernandez said that the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Haitian writer and thinker Jacques Roumain was an opportunity to strengthen ties between the two nations. Fernandez described Roumain as the Juan Bosch of Haiti.

LMD now is mere advisor
Amidst insults and accusations of political boycotting, the Chamber of Deputies voted on legislation that will effectively change the role of the Dominican Municipal League (LMD), making it an almost unnecessary organization. The LMD is presided by Amable Aristy Castro, who is the presidential candidate of the PRSC. Aristy has been voted senator for La Altagracia on two opportunities and turned down the position to continue to manage the well-funded LMD that channels funds to municipalities nationwide.
The Chamber's vote now removes any control and supervision of municipal funds from the LMD's hands. The bill now assigns the LMD the role of a mere counselor to the municipal governments.
The bill establishes that the municipalities will now receive their funds directly from the National Treasury. The bill sets that municipalities allot 25% to wages, 40% to capital investments, and 31% to internal activities. President Leonel Fernandez still needs to sign the bill for it to be law.
Listin Diario writes that 111 of 126 Deputies voted in favor of the legislation. The vote wasn't accepted quietly. During the session yesterday PRSC member Sergio Cedeno made claims that deputies were bought and said that Acct 30003761-7 was opened at the government-owned BanReservas bank on their behalf. The accusation by Cedeno drew criticisms from the PLD block and was fully denied by PLD spokesman Elias Serrulle.
PRSC spokesman Ramon Rogelio Genao said the law would hurt the political parties. Lila Alburquerque exclaimed that the PLD can "eat" the LMD. Listin Diario reported that PRSC deputies voted in favor of the bill. Marino Collante of the PRSC, told Listin Diario that they voted in favor because they were confused.
During yesterday's voting session, the Chamber also passed new legislation that will reduce the taxes on cigarettes and alcohol, income tax and collection efficiency bill. Alcohol will now pay a 7.5% ad-valorem retail tax, while tobacco products will pay a 20% ITBIS tax. As for income tax, the bill reduces it from 29% to 25% as of 2007. The Chamber sent back to commission the bill that would grant fiscal amnesty to small businesses.

Advertising spree
Government spending in propaganda increased 58% during the first five months of the year, compared to 2005, in violation of Law 497-05 on austerity in the public sector, as reported in Clave Digital weekly newspaper. President Leonel Fernandez sent the bill to Congress together with the tax increase act and these were approved together at the end of 2006 for implementation in January 2007. The government had committed to reduce its spending RD$17.5 billion, while proposing to increase taxes for RD$17.5 billion. The law specifically established in its Art. 12 that during 2007 government spending in advertising would be reduced 25%, taking the spending level of 2005 as reference. Budget office figures indicate that the government spent RD$864.1 million in advertising, compared to RD$546.5 million in 2005, a 58% increase contrary to the 25% reduction established in the law. The increase in advertising coincided with the ruling party's presidential primary. In May alone, the government spent RD$332.2 million in advertising.
Rolando Reyes, deputy manager of the Central Bank explains that the bonanza enjoyed by the government comes from the successful application of the new NCF cross check invoicing system, windfall revenues from the high ferronickel and the sale of Verizon.

Inflation at 4.38%
Inflation for the month of July was 0.4% which brings the accumulated inflation for the first half of the year to 4.38%. A report from the Central Bank explains that the rise in the inflation rate is due the rise in gas prices in the international market, which affected the rate by 2.41%. Transport felt the inflation increase the most with its inflation rising 0.83%. Food inflation also increased, by .45% due to the increase in prices of foods like chicken, powdered milk, evaporated milk, onions, and beans.

China defends itself by dirtying the DR
China is trying to clean its image by using the DR and other nations as washcloths. Diario Libre writes that China has released a press report defending itself regarding the hazardous products that have recently entered the US by revealing that in the last year Dominican products have been denied entrance into the US more than 800 times because they contained illegal pesticides. The report continues by saying that more products from India, Denmark and Mexico have been detained at US Customs than Chinese products. Chinese toothpaste exports made headlines when it was known that it contained an ingredient that was lethal.

DR competitive disadvantages
Businessman Celso Marranzini and the Dominican Association of Industry (AIRD) say that the DR's competitive weaknesses and delays in the gradual reduction of tariffs on a series of products have impeded the country from taking advantage of the free trade agreements that have been in effect with Caribbean Common Market (Caricom) and Central America. Cirse Almanzar, executive director of AIRD, says discussion of the tariffs is pending. Hoy writes that Caricom countries fear losing income from the tariffs, as their economies depend on Customs revenues. Caricom is exporting US$275 million to the DR while the DR exports around RD$20 million to Caricom. The bulk of the exports, nevertheless, comes from natural gas imported from Trinidad.

AIDS programs shutting down
Rosario Ramirez, president of the NGO-SIDA Coalition, says that the closing down of a USAID-sponsored project, Conecta, is affecting 20,000 people affected by HIV/AIDS. Accordingly, 23 HIV/AIDS NGOs are affected when the funds were discontinued. Rosario calls for the Presidential AIDS Council (COPRESIDA) and USAID to find a way to continue supporting the organizations. Rosario said that Conecta provided US$80,000 in yearly funds to each NGO.

CNN on drug trafficking problem
A CNN news reports focuses on the use of the DR as a jump off point in the international drug traffic game. The report indicates that the DR has 800 miles of coastline that are used for snorkeling by tourists and smuggling packaged cocaine from South America. The report, according to CNN, says that traffickers love the DR's rocky coastal cliffs because it makes it difficult for authorities to find and stop drug shipments.

Customs finds more money
The Customs Department (DGA) has caught another person trying to enter the DR with a large sum of undeclared money. Authorities detained Julio Torres Rodriguez, who was traveling on board the ferry arriving from Puerto Rico, and confiscated US$60,638 (RD$2.1 million), from Torres. This is the second time this week that the DGA confiscates a large sum of undeclared money. Earlier this week officials detained a woman who was carrying US$738,585. This brings the total amount of money confiscated this week to US$799,223.

Six billion spent on "macuteo"
In 2006 Dominicans spent RD$6 billion in "macuteos" or small bribes, according to findings in the National Study on the Cost of Corruption for Dominican Households carried out by Gallup and financed by USAID. The services that required the most "grease" was to assist those seeking documentation to travel abroad, for which Dominicans paid RD$2 billion. Getting someone out of jail or avoiding jail time cost Dominicans RD$842 million and obtaining birth and death certificates cost RD$341 million in small bribes. The study also highlighted payments that were made to obtain drinking water, check the electricity meter, get a cedula, a good conduct certificate, acquire a passport or get a loan at the bank. The study also indicated that 2.1% of a household's monthly salary is allotted to those macuteos, or RD$2,856 per month for services that are supposedly free. The poll was taken from 1 March 2007 and 28 March 2007 and the study has a 2.37% margin of error. The study was conducted nationwide.

Program helps cancer patients
Over the past five months, 154 cancer patients, 97 women and 57 men, in 5 hospitals, were treated for a variety of cancers, under the Special Program Against Cancer (Pescca). Of those nine patients died, as reported in Diario Libre. Leukemia, lymphoma, Willis tumors, breast cancer and cervical cancer were among the most commonly treated. Oncologist Raisa Nieves Paulino told the press that every year about 150 cancer cases are reported. The data was released during the review for the Special Program Against Cancer (PESCA). Since the program was begun, in November 2006, RD$5 million has been invested in treatments for the poor.

14 years for Plutarco Gonzalez
Plutarco Gonzalez Cedeno, charged with the murder of comedian Milton Pelaez, was sentenced to 14 years in jail and was ordered to pay RD$2 million in damages. Listin Diario writes that judges couldn't determine a motive for the murder, whether it was voluntary or involuntary, and used scientific evidence to determine it as voluntary homicide.

Peter Pan at the National Theater
Amaury Sanchez who brought us the Spanish version of "Beauty & the Beast," announced the staging of "Peter Pan" at the National Theater starting 17 August. Sanchez's Beauty & the Beast is on a Latin American tour, and Peter Pan is forecast to be another major successful musical. Sanchez says he has already secured the permits from the Hospital Great Ormond Street of England for presentations throughout Latin America, as reported in the Listin Diario. Starring in Peter Pan are Giovanna Bonnelly (Peter Pan), Carlos Alfredo (Captain Hook), Jatna Tavarez (Mrs. Darling), Ana Karina Cuello, Ana Rosina Troncoso and Zeny Leiva (Wendy), Steven and Christian Zabo (Darling boys). Jose Lora, Antonio Melenciano, Irving Alberit, Sergio Carlo, Kenny Grullon and Luis Jose German will be the pirates. Sanchez says the Spanish version is slightly different from the original. ZFX Flying Illusions of Kentucky is assisting with the special effects.
For more on upcoming calendar events, see http://www.dr1.com/calendar
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