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Daily News - Monday, 27 August 2007

DR to follow in Panama's footsteps?
President Leonel Fernandez resent a bill to Congress that sets the legal framework for the creation of international finance zones in the DR seeking to lure major banking deposits from foreigners. The bill establishes best practices and creates a Unit for Finance Intelligence to prevent and identify money laundering and criminal financial activities, as well as activities that could finance terrorism, according to international standards. The bill had expired in Congress. The framework would authorize the establishment of the financial zones in specific geographic areas of Santo Domingo. The new international financial zones would operate outside of the national banking and finance system and would be ruled by special laws, as reported in the Listin Diario.

Trade deficit, capital surplus
For the first time in three years, since 2004, the trade balance of the DR is showing a trade deficit. Hoy newspaper analyzes that at the end of the Hipolito Mejia administration (January-June 2004), the country enjoyed a trade surplus of US$807.9 million. A year later, in 2005, the trade surplus had declined to US$76.8 million and by 2006 to US$11.9 million for the same period. As for January-June 2007, the country is reporting a US$802.3 million trade deficit.
Central Bank Governor Hector Valdez Albizu explained that capital inflows cover the deficit and thus it does not affect macroeconomic stability. He said that during the first half of the year, the country had a surplus in the overall balance of payments of US$441 million. The DR posted net international reserves of US$1.46 billion, up from US$646 million in June 2006.
In the Sunday economic review in Hoy newspaper, Valdez Albizu says that the authorities have designed a 10-year scheme to resolve the quasi-fiscal debt. He said that the real estate sector crisis in the US would not affect the quasi-fiscal debt. He said it is not true that the Central Bank has received deposits in foreign currency from foreign investors that could pull out at any time. On the contrary, he said that at present the Central Bank has to constantly buoy the exchange rate given the large flow of foreign capitals that are entering the market.

Difficult times for exporters
The president of the Dominican Association of Free Zones, Fernando Capellan alerted that the DR has become a very expensive country and has taken the wrong path, as reported in Hoy. He favors that the exchange rate be adjusted to reflect the costs of the country. Capellan said that the high production costs do not only affect production in free zone industries, but rather all Dominican exporters, including food and tourism venues. He spoke of the difficulties Dominicans have to compete with Central American competitors. He described the present situation affecting exporters as "unsustainable."

Educator warns on priorities
Father Jorge Cela, S.J., a noted educator and anthropologist, warned that all the talk about academic excellence is worthless if the government is the right investments are not made in education. He said that with poor school buildings, poorly paid teachers responsible for as many as 70 students in a classroom. "You cannot just talk about excellence," he said in a TV interview yesterday on the Orlando Jorge Mera Channel 9 program. He called upon all of society to work for better education and for a national pact that would unite the political parties and the government with the private sector and the educational institutions and churches. The goal would be better quality of education for all. Cela pointed out that although the GDP has grown steadily, the investment in education has not increased. According to Hoy newspaper, Cela pointed out that the so-called "Asian Tigers" achieved their astonishing economic progress by investing heavily to educate the people, while the average investment in education in Latin America is around 4% of the GDP, in the Dominican Republic it was less than 2% in 2006 and barely 2.5% in 2007. As a student of human behavior, Cela pointed out that those persons with a good education will find themselves living in a nation that is "badly educated" and will end up leaving the country for greener pastures.

A second or third chance
The Ministry of Education has decided to allow students that failed the recent National Exams to retake the tests. The ministry's Resolution 2985-2007 will allow students that did not earn a passing grade in the previous examination to have one more chance, and, at the same time, it will allow students that were registered for the latest series of tests but for some reason or another failed to take the tests to finally take the tests. These tests are for eighth and twelfth graders. The new tests will be given on 5 and 6 September in the morning for the eighth graders and in the afternoon for the twelfth graders.

Poll reveals levels of inequality
A recent poll carried out by the Gallup for Hoy newspaper revealed that just 58% of the households in the Dominican Republic are able to meet their monthly expenses. The poll showed that 18% of the households cover their expenses rather comfortably, and that 40% manage to cover expenses either barely or using creativity. The remaining 42% of households just cannot meet expenses. After reading the Gallup-Hoy poll, the Juan Montalvo Center said that the data contained in the poll reflects the blatant inequality existent in the country. Octavio Figueroa, the assistant director for the center, told Hoy newspaper reporter Odalis Mejia that there is a structural problem, and the numbers just reflect the differences between what the government says is happening and the reality of the everyday citizen. Figueroa said that more resources needed to be directed towards education, health and social security in order to correct the situation.

Abortion debates
Congress has retaken discussions on abortion in the DR, and heated debates continue to take place. The reopening of the discussions happened after President Leonel Fernandez vetoed the bill that modified the Penal Code.
As reported in the Listin Diario, those who favor removing penalties from abortion in the case a woman has been a victim of rape or incest, or when it is proven that the fetus is defective, or the mother's life in danger, as previously was the rule in the DR.
Scherezada (Chiqui) Vicioso, in charge of women's affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Relations, said that the ban on abortion included in the Penal Code only affects those who cannot afford travel abroad to carry out an abortion. Furthermore, lawyer Eduardo Jorge Prats spoke up in favor of reinstating the abortion clauses, saying that the Church cannot expect the laws to impose what religious has not achieved with their followers.
In Latin America, only four countries (Chile, Haiti, Nicaragua and the DR) penalize abortion when the mother's health is at risk, said Lourdes Contreras, coordinator of the Center for Gender Studies at INTEC university.
Those in favor of maintaining the absolute ban on abortion, primarily religious groups, emphasize that life begins at conception. Jose Alberto Ortiz, director of the Christian lawyer network ([email protected] or 809 532-2576), says that if the government again permitted an abortion to be carried out on grounds that the mother's life was at risk, would pave the way for the legalization of abortion in general.
A coalition of groups has been established to promote changes in the Penal Code. Abortion discussions are just one of several that are happening as women's and children's rights are being debated. Lourdes Contreras of the Center for Gender Studies at INTEC university says that the coalition seeks to integrate relative legal advances in intra-family violence and protection of children that came with Law 24-97, and add new gains to it now that 10 years have passed. The coalition can be reached by contacting Fatima Lorenzo at [email protected] (Tel 809 221 8261).

What did he say?
The "En otro tono" (in another voice) column in the El Caribe reports an interesting change of pace by the newly placed Chief of Police. On Saturday, the newspapers reported that the chief said that the police do not need to have military units assisting them in their duty to patrol the streets of Santo Domingo. He was then quoted saying "... as we advance with regards to the efficiency of police patrols, there should be fewer soldiers on the streets, so that we (the police) can maintain the safety of the citizenry without using assistance from members of the armed forces; and they should go back to their barracks and we should take control of the streets." This was on Friday.
However, on Sunday, the chief, Major General Rafael Guillermo Guzman Fermin, speaking at a ceremony in the Luperon barrio, said that he favored the assistance of 3,500 members of the military branches supplied by Armed Forces Minister Lieutenant General Ramon Aquino Garcia.

Thousands flock to Monument
After its re-opening, the Monument to the Heroes of the Restoration in Santiago de los Caballeros has become a tourist attraction. On Sunday, alone, the ticket office took in over RD$23,000. Tickets are just RD$20 for locals and RD$80 for tourists. There are five levels to explore, aside from the newly redesigned gardens and their statuary. The fifth level, called the Santiago Lookout, is by far the most popular with its views of the entire city. Local folks from as far away as San Juan de la Maguana have traveled to Santiago to see the "new" Monument. The site provides guided tours in several languages for the tourists, and locals can explore the areas without any guides.

New electric plans will cut off 16
The Dominican Corporation of State Electric Enterprises (CDEEE) is planning to eliminate 16 power stations from its networks as soon as the new hydroelectric and coal fired plants are on line. According to the Listin Diario, there are 410 megawatts coming online from the various dams and there is planned another 1200 megawatts from the coal-fired installations in Azua and Manzanillo. The 16 units are the least efficient power producers in the DR and the government is promising that the cost of electricity will drop drastically with the connection of the new units.
Meanwhile, business consultant Federico Martinez says that a solution to the impasse regarding the contracting of the coal-fired generators for Azua and Manzanillo would be for the government to hold another tender offering the changed conditions it has not made available to the runner-up companies chosen to build the two new coal-fired units.

Eight tons of drugs confiscated
The National Department of Drug Control (DNCD) says that so far this year they have confiscated eight tons of drugs and arrested 15,600 for suspected drug trafficking or consumption. Among those detained are 10 minors that were being used as mules, said Major General Rafael Radhames Ramirez Ferreira, as reported in Hoy. He said that 80% of those arrested are under 30 years.

Archbishop gets lucky
Archbishop Ramon Benito de la Rosa y Carpio, president of the Dominican Council of Bishops, was lucky to walk away from a tragic accident on the Duarte Highway last Friday. The driver of a small pick-up smashed into the archbishop's SUV near Bonao. The driver of the pick-up was killed in the accident. According to Hoy, the accident occurred at 3:15 in the afternoon when the pick-up sideswiped the SUV, practically destroying both vehicles.

Dominican mountain climbers
Four Dominicans are climbing some of the world's highest mountains. Ruben Torres, Luis Manuel Gonzalez, Ivan Gomez and Federico Jovine are on the third trek of their mountain climbing agenda, with a Crowning Europe 2007 expedition. In 2005 the hikers climbed Monte Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya in Africa, in 2006 they climbed Cerro Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the Americas, located in Argentina. This year, they will climb the 6,000 meters of the Mont Elbrus in Russia. At the top, the hikers will place the Dominican flag.
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