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Daily News - Monday, 30 July 2007

DR fulfills IMF goal
With the sole exception of the failure to collect on electricity bills, the Dominican government has exceeded the goals set by the International Monetary Fund in the current Stand By Arrangement. According to the Central Bank, the results of the government's policies reflect "a secure horizon for maintaining macro-economic security during the second half of 2007." An article in Hoy reflects on each of the goals, gleefully pointing out that the IMF had set a target of RD$7.6 billion in surplus and the government actually reached RD$13.653 billion. In most cases, according to the Central Bank, the government met or exceeded the IMF guidelines.
See http://www.bancentral.gov.do

IMF ready to sign new accord
The International Monetary Fund says it is ready and willing to enter into a new Stand-by arrangement with the Dominican government. The current agreement ends in January 2008. IMF country representative in the DR Erik Offerdahl told reporters from Listin Diario that "the ball is in the government's court". Whether or not there is a new accord, Offerdahl said that the IMF is willing to assist the government. The biggest pending issue is the beleaguered electricity sector.

Fernandez promises funds for JCE
President Leonel Fernandez has promised the members of the Central Electoral Board (JCE) sufficient funding for the successful celebration of the May 2008 presidential elections. Fernandez met with the entire JCE at the Presidential Palace last Friday. He received a detailed report from the judges of the government body in charge of civil registry and presidential, congressional and municipal elections as to what has been accomplished and what is still to be done. JCE chief magistrate Julio Cesar Castanos Guzman pointed out that Congress had only authorized 53% of the budget submitted for 2007, and President Fernandez promised to do all he could to secure the needed funds. According to El Caribe, all the magistrates said they were pleased with the outcome of the meeting that had been pending since their appointment by the Senate.

JCE will consult with parties
Before defining any new rules and regulations for the electoral process, the Central Electoral Board (JCE) will hold consultations with the country's political parties. According to JCE chief magistrate Julio Cesar Castanos Guzman, the board will not approve the new rules without consultation. He said that once the entire board approves the project that was created by the Administrative Chamber, the document will be placed on the JCE website for 25 days, followed by public hearings. Castanos said that the political parties had not yet been summoned because the board has yet to vote on the issue.

New prices for plates
The Tax Department (DGII) has announced that 33% of vehicles will pay an increase of between 36% and 150% for their new license plates. Another 55% will pay a 25% increase and the remaining 12% will pay more than 500% in new taxes, taxes, Alfredo Mirabal of the Motor Vehicle Department told El Caribe. Vehicles from 1997 to 2003 will be subject to a 33% increase in the price of new plates. Cars ten years old and older will be charged RD$300 more than last year, or RD$1,500. Newer cars will pay more, depending on their model year and the cost of the vehicle. Models of years 2006, 2007 and 2008 will pay 1% of their total value, including taxes and freight. Model years 2005 and 2004 will pay 0.75% of their total value. New license renewals begin on 14 August and will last for 90 days. Renewals can be made by Internet or telephone, or in person. Home delivery is available. All S&L offices in the country will provide the renewal service as well.

Smaller taxes removed
In two-page announcements in today's newspapers, the Department of Taxes (DGII) has removed 17 of the smaller and more bothersome taxes on the books. Several of these taxes, primarily the stamps required for government documents, cost more than they produced for the government. The DGII removed taxes on tickets to public events, documents, medical certificates, copies of divorces or other civil documents, as well as the stamps on liquor bottles. The move is a relief to real estate, vehicles and normal business procedures. The advertisements also list 23 DGII services that are free to the public.

It isn't working
Both the Central Electoral Board and the Ministry of Public Health accept shared responsibility for the inconveniences caused by the failure to put the new Foreigners' Register into operation. There have been several cases of foreign mothers who gave birth in the Dominican Republic but were not able to register their children, resulting in their babies being denied passports by their countries of origin. Both Julio Cesar Castanos Guzman and Dr. Bautista Rojas Gomez answered reporters' questions about the non-functioning of the register. According to Castanos Guzman, the only thing missing in the process is for the Public Health ministry to issue the pink birth certificate for non-resident mothers. The babies can then be registered at the Civil Registry Office nearest to their homes.

Canada FTA talks set for October
Juan Guiliani, deputy minister in charge of trade negotiations at the Ministry of Foreign Relations, has told Diario Libre that negotiations leading to a free trade agreement with Canada are due to begin this coming October. The talks could continue through May or June 2008. The first round, which is set to start in Santo Domingo on 22 October, will continue through 26 October. A second round is planned for Ottawa, from 10-14 December. A third meeting is planned for the third week of February 2008 in Santo Domingo. Dates have not been fixed for the fourth and expected final round. This could take place between April and June, said Guiliani. Canada-DR trade is at US$600 million per year, and Canadian investments in the DR are worth an estimated US$1.8 billion.

Patronage blamed for the "petty cash boxes"
Patronage, a pervasive part of Dominican politics, has been blamed for the creation of the controversial "petty cash boxes" - large sums of money given to each Congress member for their discretional use. Constituents besiege legislators with requests for help with problems of every possible type: from burial expenses to new schools or water supplies. According to the Diario Libre newspaper, the situation got worse since the introduction of the preferential voting system, which increased the cost of winning an election. The newspaper says that the Constitution grants senators and deputies the role of legislation, not buying medicines, donating baby gift baskets, coffins, foodstuffs or pushing for the construction of some public work or other in their community. The report goes on to remind readers about the senators' salaries (RD$125,000 per month) and their per diem expense account. The senator from Santo Domingo gets RD$1,432,000 in his "petty cash box" for social assistance funds, while the senator from Pedernales gets RD$416,800. The sums are based on the number of voters in each province. Some senators feel that this money is not enough and are beginning to push for more funding. However, Senate president Reinaldo Pared Perez has warned that the Austerity Decree will prohibit any of this funding.

Haitians can go to school
No longer will exceptions to the rules in the books be needed for children of undocumented Haitians to be able to register at public and private schools in the north of the Dominican Republic, according to Pedro Diep, the regional director for the Ministry of Education. Education officials told reporters from the Spanish news agency "EFE" that it was a mistake to deny these children the right to an education, since that would affect the Dominican Republic in the long run. Diep said that "if we deny these children an education we will be training dangerous criminals for the future, and this is not what we want. Because they lack birth certificates, thousands of children of Haitian parentage have been denied access to school each year. Back during the Mejia administration, the President ordered these children to be accepted into schools, but a flood of dire warnings about the "loss of Dominican identity" held up the process. It is estimated that close to a million Haitians, many of them illegal immigrants, live and work in the Dominican Republic.

Many meds nixed by FDA
At least 39 types of medicines on the shelves of Dominican pharmacies have either been discontinued or otherwise noted by the FDA because of changed formulas or other issues. The long list is on the front page of today's Listin Diario. The Drugstore Owners Association says that the Public Health Ministry is responsible for all drug imports. Part of the problem is that the FDA website is warning patients to be aware of the side effects caused by some medications. Some of these drugs are manufactured by renowned pharmaceutical companies. While their sales are discontinued in the US, apparently they are still available for export.

Street vendors doing well
The informal business sector, mostly made up of street vendors, is doing so well that many workers are leaving salaried positions to venture out into the streets. Low income earning Dominicans and Haitians are leaving construction sites and sugar fields to set up shop in the street. According to a report in today's Listin Diario, some of the vendors report monthly incomes ranging from RD$13,000 to as much as RD$60,000, and this working for what is essentially half a day and resting on the holidays. For example, Tiburcio Brazoban Severino sells fruit at the corner of Arzobispo Merino Street and Mercedes Street, in the Colonial Zone. He earns between RD$500 and RD$700 per day. He has been there for 10 years, and started his career as a street vendor on one of those ubiquitous tricycles seen all over Santo Domingo. Another case is that of marketing student Enmanuel Gonzalez, who sells fried "empanadas" in the San Carlos area of Santo Domingo. He told the reporters that he invests about RD$400 each day and has sales of over RD$1,500 during the week and as much as RD$2,000 on Saturdays. The newspaper reports that some of the vendors are able to maintain their clientele for decades.

Arms inventory causes stir
The Ministry of the Interior and Police announcement that it would carry out a national inventory of the weapons at all the country's arms dealerships has certainly caused a wave of reactions. Father Luis Rosario accused the government of being an accomplice in the business. But the gun dealers say that most crimes are committed with unregistered weapons. Jenny de la Rocha, a spokesperson for the gun dealers, told El Caribe reporters that it would be good to know whether a weapon used in a crime is legal or not. Minister of the Interior and Police Franklin Almeyda assures the public that the black market in guns has been reduced, but there are no figures to back up his claims. There are 54 authorized gun stores in the country.

Forum announces another strike
The Alternative Social Forum (FSA) has approved a strike call for September as part of their demands that the government change their economic and social policies, increase wages, modify the hydrocarbon law, and lower the cost of food. The proposal for a strike call was unanimously approved by hundreds of delegates from social, political, union, and civic organizations. The delegates voted to allow the FSA leaders to set the strike date, as long as it is in September.

A look into AIDS "cure"
The obvious stir caused by the announcement of a cure for AIDS has led the prosecutor for Santo Domingo to open an investigation aimed at ascertaining whether or not Dr. Ramon Baez Acosta has been using toxic or dangerous drugs in his treatment. Apparently, the prosecutor's office has received a complaint from one of the doctor's female patients who says that the treatment did her more harm than good. Hoy newspaper reports that the National Council of Bioethics in Health (CONABIOS) has removed permission for Dr. Baez Acosta or any other person to test drugs on human beings. The process must first comply with requisites and sanitation protocols.

Recycling plants at Rafey
A RD$30 million investment has brought two recycling plants to the Rafey Refuse Dump outside Santiago. One of the plants, which was installed by a Chinese company 10 months ago, is now processing as much as 20 tons of plastic per day. They have sold RD$20 million so far. Another facility was installed by a Colombian company, Forem's, with the capacity to pack as much as 13 tons of recycled material per day. More than 50 people work in both companies. The recycled material is sold to the United States, Canada and Hong Kong as well as to one facility in Manoguayabo, Santo Domingo. Each exported ton is worth about US$50 and each ton sold in the country is worth about RD$1,000. Forem's exports as much as 100 tons of material each week, and since their installation, both plants have exported recycled materials worth US$500,000. As a result of the interest in recycled plastics, the number of informal "divers" earning a living at the garbage site has increased significantly. Before the recyclers were installed, there were 150 searchers, but now there are at least 400. The Cibao Ecological Society (SOECI) told reporters that it approves of the initiative.

Historic US migration ruling
Last Thursday, a Pennsylvania federal judge ruled that the laws passed in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, which penalized undocumented immigrants and their employers for hiring them, were unconstitutional. This is the first case in United States where a local immigration law was challenged and went to a full trial, ending in favor of the undocumented immigrants. According to the Dominican American National Roundtable (DANR), many of the plaintiffs in the case against the City of Hazleton were Dominican, including Manuel Saldana of Casa Dominicana of Hazleton and Rudy Espinal, president of the Hazleton Hispanic Business Association. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Puerto Rican Legal Defense & Education Fund (PRLDEF) challenged the Hazleton law in court. Cesar Perales, who is the president and general counsel of PRLDEF is both Puerto Rican and Dominican. The Pennsylvania judge ruled that the City of Hazleton could not regulate immigration laws, as that is the role of the federal government. Hazleton, Pennsylvania is located approximately 125 miles west of New York City and about 97 miles north of Philadelphia. According to the US Census, it has about 23,000 residents, but over the last five years the population is estimated to have grown to 30,000-33,000, mostly due to the growth of the Latino population.
See http://www.danr.org/ip.asp?op=news

Final days of Rio 2007
The Dominican Republic has finished up in ninth place at the Rio 2007 Pan American Games, with a very respectable 29 medals of every color. Lin Ju won gold in Table Tennis and Heidy Rodriguez won gold in karate. Overall, cycling and bowling added their names to medal-winning sports for the DR at the Pan Am Games. Predictions, always conservative, called for 18 medals in these games, in which over 35 nations take part, and the 29-medal total is quite an achievement. Cyclist Wendy Cruz provided what was perhaps the biggest surprise on the positive side and Felix Sanchez's failure to win even a medal in his event was the biggest disappointment. Of course, the baseball team's disastrous performance will provide food for thought over the next four years. Sanchez regained some of his former splendor when he just narrowly missed getting the silver medal in the 4 x 400 relay.
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