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Daily News - Monday, 13 August 2007

Leonel makes the most of trip
President Leonel Fernandez has made the most of his trip to Venezuela. He has strengthened his political position during an election year; he has firmed up his stance in bi-lateral relations with Venezuela and he opened up some possibilities for new ways to pay off the growing petroleum bills by using tourism as a medium of exchange. Currently, the DR is paying just 60% of the bills and delaying payment on the other 40% for up to 25 years at 1% interest. Fernandez also let the rest of the Caribbean know about the DR's plans to increase the area dedicated to sugar cane cultivation for ethanol production, to reduce dependency on imported oil. According to Listin Diario, Fernandez is also looking at a potential shift in US foreign policy with the possible changing of the guard in the White House. According to reporter Guarionex Rosa, President Fernandez came away from the Petrocaribe Conference with the best of both worlds: Chavez is still his friend, and he did not offend the United States.

Chavez offers gas refineries
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez offered the Dominican Republic to install two gas refineries for exports to the rest of the Caribbean. At the same time, Foreign Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso announced a 25,000-barrel increase in oil imports from Venezuela. Under the current Petrocaribe agreement, the DR is importing 25,000 barrels a day.
After President Chavez made his offer, President Fernandez said that he would call for a commission of local experts to study the situation. Local representatives of gas retailers, such as the National Association of LPG, the president of Credigas and others, consulted by the El Caribe, said that they favored the deal offered by Chavez.
The National Association of Gasoline Retailers (ANADEGAS) announced that they were continuing their efforts to prepare gasoline stations for the sale of compressed natural gas (CNG) for vehicles. Currently, there are 10 stations preparing to sell CNG, seven in Santo Domingo and three in Santiago.
Just recently, the Ministry of Industry and Commerce announced the creation of 200 workshops to convert 158,000 vehicles to CNG.

Industrialists for competitiveness
Industrialists from the Haina Industrial Association (AIEH) are urging the quick passage of the Industrial Innovation and Competitiveness Law. The Dominican Senate has passed the proposal but everything will have to start over with the new legislature on 16 August, since the Chamber of Deputies did not take action on the bill. Executives from AIEH met with reporters from Hoy newspaper to discuss the importance of the bill's passage. According to AIEH president Rafael Alvarez Crespo, the legislation was the product of a consensus effort headed by the National Competitiveness Council (CNC) and included input from both the public and private sectors. The industrial leaders told Hoy reporters that they felt that the government had not given sufficient priority to the issue, and they cited other proposals that were passed with surprising agility. One of the important points that the new bill offers is the postponement of VAT payments on raw materials and equipment used in production for export until the finished product leaves the country. The legislation is modeled on very similar laws already in existence in Central America.

Congress subordinate to President?
Of the 37 laws that were passed in both legislative chambers and signed by the President, nearly two-thirds were actually drafted by the Executive Branch. In fact, 21 of the 37 laws passed over the last year came from the Executive Branch. These laws included the DR-CAFTA bill, the law that punishes bribery, the creation of the new Ministry of the Treasury, the law that calls for austerity in the public sector, the refinancing of the Central Bank, and to one covering fiscal amnesty, among others. Legislators, among them Minou Tavarez Mirabal, Victor Bisono and Julio Cesar Valentin, were also active in producing legislative initiatives.

No more sand from rivers
In an unprecedented move, the Ministry of the Environment issued a total ban on the extraction of sand and gravel from the nation's river beds and river banks. The government gives the companies and persons currently engaged in this practice 90 days to close their extraction operations. Decree 16-2007 establishes that the mining for sand and gravel will have to be carried out at least 150 meters from the riverbanks. The decree argues that the Nizao River must be preserved at all costs due to its importance as a source of fresh water for the population. The decree reminds the companies that the Public Works Ministry authorized mining along the Nizao River in the 1980s, shielded by Law 123-71, under the pretext of establishing a deeper main stream.

Water usage changes needed
A major change in Dominican water use habits and practices is necessary if the country is to avoid having to resort to installing costly desalination plants in the future, as is the case in several Caribbean islands that suffer fresh water shortages. In a report in Hoy newspaper on Sunday, 12 August, environmental engineer Julio Santos-Cayado points out that the DR used 49% of its renewable water sources in 2006. He explains that the DR has the highest water use percentage in the Americas, with 49.35% or 9,573km3 of the total renewable total in 2006. Use is divided into 88% agriculture, 11% industry and 1% domestic. He indicates that in the Americas, the DR is the country with the third least available water, after Puerto Rico with 7.10 Km3 and Haiti with 14.03Km3. The high 49.35% water use percentage is higher than that in Spain that has 32.2%, Germany, 30.08, France, 17.49% and US at 15.65%. He points out that per capita use of water in the DR is triple the European rate. "Dominicans are in an unfortunate situation. We have a low volume of renewable water sources and we consume more than anyone else, with the exception of the United States," he warns. He says that control needs to be taken of the situation, primarily because of the climatic changes brought about by global warming.

Warning about building in the east
The director of the Department of Watersheds at the Ministry of the Environment, Luis Espinosa, told reporters that municipalities in the east of the country and the Ministry of Public Works should work together when they are going to authorize any new construction that might lead to salt water seeping into aquifers in the eastern Dominican Republic. He also called for stricter monitoring of local waters. Espinosa reminded Hoy reporters that salt water in local wells and drinking water was nothing new, but the increase in construction in the region was putting more pressure on water sources in the area. The environmental expert warned of continuing degradation of the water supply if things continue at the present rate.

More water issues: 1.5 million affected
A report circulating in Santo Domingo reveals the fact that 1.5 million Dominicans do not have good drinking water, and 400,000 do not have modern sanitation facilities. In order to remedy this deficiency by the year 2015, the country will have to spend US$3.2 billion. The report was prepared by the Ministry of the Environment, the United Nations and the German Cooperation Office (GTZ). The report gets even more serious when it states that 70% of the urban population ends up putting used water into the ground. The report, called "Dominican Republic, Millennium Development Goal #7", also points out the problems associated with the lack of water in the large population centers that surround the country's main cities. The provinces with the highest levels of deficient water supplies are: Barahona, Bahoruco, Independencia, Pedernales, Elias Pina, San Juan de la Maguana, Dajabon, Monte Cristi and Santiago Rodriguez.

Rains prove Guajimia rebuild working
The recent rains seem to have proved that the rebuilding and rerouting of the Guajimia Creek are serving their purpose. This time nobody was flooded out, according to Listin Diario, and the Civil Defense was not needed to rescue people from flooding buildings. The Dessau-Soprim Company, responsible for the clean-up of the creek bed and the shoring up of the banks is still at work on both the Guajimia and El Indio creeks, but just a few months ago a similar rainstorm would have had rescuers hard at work. Local residents seemed pleased with the results, according to Listin reporter Bethania Apolinar. Santo Domingo Water and Sewer Authority (CAASD) director Richard Martinez told reporters that huge new steel tubing was being placed in El Indio Creek to control the waters and that work was scheduled to finish in 2009.

Plastic reigns
A report in the Listin Diario today highlights how plastic is quickly replacing cash and checks in the DR. There are an estimated 1,100,000 credit card users, up from 906,686 in 2005 and 723,228 in 2004.
The reporter mentions the downside is that consumers that do not pay on time are penalized with high interest rates. Likewise, frequently, those paying with the cards lose out on discounts and sales that may be available only to those paying cash. Credit card users pay banks RD$400 for standard cards, to RD$800 for the gold card and RD$1,200 for the platinum.
In addition to credit cards, debit cards are becoming increasingly popular with Dominican consumers.

Footbridges need maintenance
The footbridges along Maximo Gomez and 27 de Febrero and John F. Kennedy as well as the one in front of the Dario Contreras Hospital on the Las Americas Highway need maintenance, since they are showing high levels of disrepair and seem to collect more than their share of garbage. According to the Listin Diario, there is a lot of rust showing along the walkways of the relatively new pedestrian bridges. People that use these structures are demanding their repair and maintenance. The walkways are only three years old or less, with the one on Maximo Gomez and 27 de Febrero dating only to July 2004. Nonetheless, there is plenty of evidence of rusting and a general lack of maintenance has not detoured the deteriorating of the footbridges. According to the paper, the worst case is the walkway over the Las Americas Highway in front of the Dario Contreras Hospital where garbage is strewn about.

Highrises present challenges
The fast-paced vertical growth of the city of Santo Domingo, with several buildings over 20 floors under construction, is giving urban planners and the city council food for thought. How the city will deal with emergencies, sanitary services and environmental issues are being discussed. Officials in charge of supervising all of this construction are being put to the test, as is the local fire department that currently does not have equipment to fight fires at more than 10 stories.
Water is another issue. According to a study by Conau and PNUMA, the United Nations Environmental Agency, only 27% of the population residing in the National District is supplied with good sewers and only 40% of all houses have proper sewage lines. As a result, Adolfo Cedeno, an expert from the Dominican Board of Engineers (CODIA), told El Caribe reporters that the government will have to spend "huge amounts of money" to better the sewer and water systems.

Going underground in Santiago
The historical center of Santiago de los Caballeros will soon see the rat's nest of overhead wires disappear. The idea is to give a better overall appearance to the historical center, with its newly refurbished houses and its 1900 new lights. Governor Jose Izquierdo, the Council for the Rescue of the Historical Center and the executive director of the Strategic Plan for Santiago met and agreed to install the wires underground along Del Sol, 16 de Agosto, Vicente Estrella and other downtown streets. Delays in the installation of the new street lamps could mean the works at the Santiago Monument will not be ready in time for the 16 August anniversary.

Caetano Veloso at Altos de Chavon
With summer winding up and the kids about to return to school, Casa de Campo brings Brazilian legend Caetano Veloso to perform at its 5,000 seat Altos de Chavon amphitheater on Friday, 17 August at 8 pm. Veloso has been called the Bob Dylan of Brazil and the Brazilian troubadour. The New York Times described him as "Brazil's unofficial poet laureate."
He recently released Ce, with rock tunes, produced together with his son.
General admission to the Altos de Chavon concert is RD$1,000, preferred center seating RD$2,500 and VIP tickets RD$4,000.
For information on other upcoming events, see www.dr1.com/calendar.

Tropical Depression 4
The time is right for people living in the DR to have a final look at their hurricane preparedness plans as the island enters the busiest part of the hurricane season in the Caribbean - end of August and September. Tropical Depression 4 has entered the Caribbean Sea, and models at this very early stage put it becoming a tropical cyclone towards next week. To follow the storm as it develops, see
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