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Daily News - Monday, 03 September 2007

Start up woes for SFS
The President officially announced the start of the Family Health Program (SFS) on a nationwide basis last Friday evening. On Saturday, as many predicted, there were serious hiccups throughout the system. According to El Caribe, there were displacements, illegal charges, a lack of the proper paperwork and confusion at several centers visited by its reporter, the UCE Medical Center in Santo Domingo, at the Gomez Patino Clinic and the Gynecological and Obstetric Center (where the President's daughter was hospitalized). One patient said that the clinic wanted RD$3,000 pesos to accept her sick son, despite the fact that the woman has been paying health insurance premiums for three years. Such a request is in violation of the Social Security laws that stipulate a patient must be hospitalized and covered 100% under the SFS program. Another patient said that the doctor charged her the usual RD$300 difference between what her plan paid him and his fee. She said that this was the normal charge. However, the SFS plan stipulates only a RD$100 fee for consultations. In addition, it was apparent that the SFS data bank was not at all perfect, since several people consulted said that they appeared to be affiliated to a different health service provider (ARS) than the one they belonged to in reality. And, according to Public Health Minister Bautista Rojas Gomez, the patients have to insist that their doctors use the Unified Prescription form in order to access ARS funds for medicines. Diario Libre reports that the Superintendent of Health and Work-related Injuries (SISALRIL) is trying to plug the hole created by a lack of carnets that identify patients within the SFS system. After just two days of operation, some of the issues faced by patients have led to doubts as to whether the system will work at all. In the face of these problems the SISALRIL has issued Resolution 133-07 that guarantees service to all those in the database of the system that may have been displaced from their true ARS and who have begun to appeal their cases. Most people consulted by the newspaper said that they had just gone about their medical needs as usual, and their prescriptions were written on the normal forms, not the Unified Prescription forms demanded by the new law. Still pending are negotiations between the SFS and the clinical laboratories.

President's daughter recovers
President Leonel Fernandez's 22-year old daughter has been released from the Gynecological and Obstetrics Center where she had been receiving treatment since last week. After an ovarian cyst was removed, the doctors found symptoms of pneumonia and the young woman was moved into the ICU where the condition was stabilized. Upon her discharge on Sunday, the doctors told reporters that Nicole Fernandez would have to follow a course of treatment lasting eight or ten days to combat the infection, which, according to the medical staff, was complicated by anemia.

US Navy trains counterparts
Members of the United States Navy are currently training more than 100 of their Dominican counterparts on the use of "swift boats" to combat terrorism, drug trafficking and illegal migration. The Navy personnel are part of the crew of the HSV-2 Swift, a very high-speed vessel with a triple hull. The ship is docked at the Don Diego port facilities in Santo Domingo. The two-week training session is the use of high-speed boats is part of the Lasting Friendship Program according to Donald Bullen, the Charge d'Affaires at the United States Embassy. Next Thursday, the Dominican Navy will receive two fast boats to reinforce patrols along the country's coastal waters. Recently appointed Navy Chief of Staff, Admiral Julio Cesar Ventura Bayonet praised the training and the arrival of the new ships. He said that the new equipment would help in the fight against drug trafficking and narco-terrorism.

A balance of payments alert
The preliminary study from the Central Bank on the performance of the Dominican economy during the first half of 2007 reveals the existence of an important deficit in the balance of payments accounts. These are the accounts that track exports and imports as well as interests, dividends and remittances, among other things. According to an article by well known economist Gustavo Volmar in Diario Libre, the first half of each of the past four years has shown the following behavior: A surplus of US$804 million in 2004, a surplus of US$76 million in 2005, a surplus of US$11.9 million in 2006, and a deficit of US$802 million in 2007. Looking at the entire year shows 2004 with a surplus of US$1.04 billion; 2005 with a deficit of US$477 million and 2006 had a deficit of US$786 million. The report says that although these deficits have been covered by investments and loans from overseas, which have even allowed for an increase in hard currency reserves, the deficit's increasing trend, combined with some aspects of the government's economic policies and the stability of income, make it necessary to closely watch the behavior of the balance of payments. The report outlines aspects of economic policy, the government's handicaps in the face of such a deficit and other issues such as foreign investments and foreign debts.
See http://www.bancentral.gov.do/publicaciones_economicas/...

DR-CAFTA treatment to Europe imports
Hector Guilliani Cury, head of the Ministry of Foreign Relations' Intelligence Unit, proposes that the DR should grant the same preferential treatment to Europe that the USA receives under the DR-CAFTA agreement.
Motor vehicles, electronic appliances and all products manufactured in Europe, while not in the DR, would then receive duty-free and quota-free access, entering the country with no Customs taxes, explained economist Guilliani today in Hoy newspaper. By enacting this proposal, the existing monopoly of duty preferences (zero taxes) enjoyed by US exports in items like cars, household equipment, wine, whiskies, etc., would be dismantled by the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).
Once granted to the European Union within the EPA, an agreement that is scheduled to be concluded and signed by 15 October 2007, this "free trade preference" to all the products not manufactured in the Caribbean region will also be extended to Canada and Mexico, countries with which official negotiations are also due to begin in the last quarter of this year. Guilliani explained that if the government adopts "CAFTA parity" as a general principle (granting the same CAFTA treatment to other major trade partners) it would send a clear signal to the private sector.
The DR would be ready to support the market access proposal made by the EU excluding 15% of trade from liberalization in the region. The Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery presented a proposal in that sense which, according to Hector Guilliani, the DR is ready to support. He concluded that the Caribbean countries should grant each other the same market access treatment granted to Europe, while stating that the EPA should be signed this year by the countries that are ready, and afterwards by the ones that are not can adhere.

Trade with Central America
Economist Roberto Despradel, private sector trade representative for trade negotiations, writes in today's El Caribe about the way in which the DR has been the big loser in the FTA signed between five Central American countries and the DR that went into effect in 2000.
Despradel attributes the lame exporting activity to the contrast between the DR exporting capacity primarily in free zones and that of Central America where non-free zone industries and free zone industries were integrated. "There is a contradiction in the maintenance of a marked duality between companies inside and outside free zones when seen from the perspective of open markets, via free trade agreements," he writes. He explains that Central America, while maintaining a duality between both regimes, has maneuvered so that the differences are less pronounced, and even allows the same company to operate under both duty free and non duty free legislations.
The results are showing, and the DR should be concerned. In 2000 we had a US$70 million trade deficit with Central America. Six years later, this had increased to US$212 million. We export barely US$48 million to Central America, while we imported US$260 million, and maintain a trade deficit with each one of the five countries - Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. "It is no surprise that in recent months there has been an avalanche of companies seeking the special free zones category, so that their exports are not penalized, and they can compete in neighboring markets, such as Central America," he comments.
Nevertheless, in his opinion this is not the solution to the problem, because it only increases the distortions in the market created by the two systems.
Despradel proposes that instead a legal framework needs to be created that promotes investment in industries and the instruments so that Dominican companies can compete. He mentions that the Executive Branch sent a Law of Competitiveness and Industrial Innovation to Congress that is awaiting approval. He also suggests creating a government entity that promotes exports, and thirdly, says that exporters need to be highly valued, a matter that this society has yet to accomplish.

Center studies Dominican courts
The Justice Studies Center of the Americas (JSCA) has issued its report on the Dominican court system for 2006-2007, according to Diario Libre. Justice Studies Center of the Americas/Centro de Estudios de Justicia de las Americas, Santiago, is a Chile-based agency funded through the Organization of American States and focused on issues of justice-system reform in Latin America. The report says that in relation to the number of judges in 2004, the courts only increased their numbers by 2%. However, the number of people working in the courts increased by 12%, and the number of people working in support of the courts increased by 59%. The report also gives salary information for the different levels of courts, as well as the number of cases solved during the timeframe and the percentage of cases by category. Business, family and civil actions make up 42% of the caseload. One of the keynotes of the study is the decreasing number of cases, both criminal and civil. In the case of civil suits, the number fell from 130,000 cases in 2003 to 39,000 by the end of 2006. With regard to criminal cases, the number of cases handled by the courts fell from 78,000 in 2003 to 2,190 in 2006.
For the report, see the English section of http://www.cejamericas.org/

Thousands of new businesses
From 2005 until 31 July 2007, 11,255 new small businesses were opened. During the same period 2, 673 small businesses closed down. This news comes from the Yellow Pages' Economic Index (IEPA) but the reasons for the closures are not given. Pharmacies were, by far, the category where the largest number of new businesses opened, closely followed by automobile dealers and parts suppliers. The fewest new business openings were in commercial banking and photocopier sales and services. According to Listin Diario, although the report does not specify the causes of the closures, reporter Jairon Severino says that the three tax "reforms" and the new controls put into place by the Tax Office (DGII) with the NCF numbers are possible causes. The article says that nearly 500 call centers have closed down.

Light beer catches on
Dominican "light" beer is gaining favor among local consumers. Since Presidente launched its light version, Dominicans have been ordering more and more. An interview in Listin Diario with Martin Buompadre, marketing director for AmBev Dominicana, explains that the Dominican light beer is actually not light for other markets. While in other parts of the world the alcohol content of light beer is 2.5%, in the DR it is 4.3%. He explained that today almost 40% of beer sales are in the light category. "We are living a time when consumer tastes have changed radically. For example, 40 to 50 years ago when someone wanted a sweet, they wanted the sweetest of sweets. Today, sweet products are questioned. Same thing has happened with beer. I think people wanted diversity, to have new sensations," commented Boumpadre.

An aging population
Although the Dominican population is growing every year, there has been a marked reduction in the birthrate, and this will be reflected in the fact that between the years 2000 and 2015 the median age of the population will climb from 22.8 years of age to 25.4 years of age. This news comes from the National Statistical Office (ONE). In 1950 the average couple had 7.5 children and by the year 2050, the average will be just two children per family. The current figures place the average number of children per family at 2.83, and that number is expected to continue to fall throughout the XXI century.
Another interesting bit of information coming from the ONE publication quoted in El Caribe is the fact that by 2010 there will be 5.08 million men and just 4.98 million women in the Dominican Republic. In 2050 the median age is expected to reach 34.7 years. Total population figures for the upcoming years are pegged at 10.9 million in 2015, 13.4 million in 2030 and 16 million in 2050. The ONE also reported that the use of contraceptives is reported by 61% of the population. The average life span has also shown considerable change over the past 57 years. In 1950, the average expected life span was placed at 44 for men and 47 for women born in the Dominican Republic. In 1980, the figures rose to 62/66 and currently they are at 69/75 for men and women born in the country. For 2015 the ONE estimates that life expectancy will have improved to 70/76.

Parties reject any coup
The nation's major political parties have rejected the idea of any sort of military coup d'etat because the necessary conditions do not exist at this time. The Armed Forces intelligence unit, J-2, told Listin Diario that the complaint made by former guerilla leader Claudio Caamano was based on the warnings a group of former generals made concerning possible government-backed fraud in next year's presidential elections. The Secretary General of the PRD party, Orlando Jorge Mera, said that anyone with some brains would know that such a change in the constitutional order of things would fail. Victor Gomez Casanova of the PRSC party told reporters that despite popular feelings of discontent, there are insufficient conditions for a coup.

1,386 betting parlors move RD$6 billion
It all started in the first half of the 1980s, when sports betting parlors eyed Major League Baseball and NBA basketball and offered television for viewing and a sports book for betting. Since then 1,386 betting parlors have sprung up around the country allowing sports fans to place bets on everything from the Super Bowl to the number of strikeouts by Pedro Martinez on any given day. One company, Naco Sport, even has a card that allows a client to place a bet from his or her place of work or home. The cards are sold in denominations of RD$100 to RD$1,000 pesos. Each year these betting parlors handle more than RD$6 billion, and allow sports fans to enjoy games such as hockey and NFL football. It is an amazing thing for someone from the United States to enter one of these posh sites and hear Dominicans, who have never seen a real football game, discussing the merits of the West Coast Offense or the defensive shortcomings of the Carolina Panthers. According to Listin Diario, in the beginning only bets on the winning team or teams were accepted, but nowadays bets are placed on halftime scores, the over-under line and the minutiae of baseball such as hits or strikeouts.

Chinese toothpaste in motels
More than 100,000 tubes of the recently banned Chinese toothpaste were found in several Chinese-owned motels in Santo Domingo. The brands Mr. Cool, Excell, Maxan, and Hei are reported to contain toxic chemicals that can seriously harm users. Among the chemicals is diethyl glycol which is used in anti freeze. The packaging contains instructions in Mandarin, and lacks the proper health code identification numbers, which are sufficient reasons for the health authorities to pull them from shelves and warehouses.

Sadistic couple get 30 years
The couple that used the "House of Horrors" for multiple murders and torture were convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison, as was one of their accomplices, Vicente Pablo Valdez Valdez. A former policeman, Wilson Castillo German was sentenced to 20 years for his part in the horrendous murders of several people in the house in the Mendoza section of Santo Domingo. Several bodies were found buried in the back yard of the house occupied by Joel Antonio Rodriguez and Jossi Roxanna de Leon last year, and newspaper reports of the grisly scenes inside the house created a wave of disgust seldom seen in the media.

Today marks 77th Anniversary of San Zenon
Barely two weeks after Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina was "elected" president, the city of Santo Domingo was destroyed by a very strong hurricane, named for the saint's day: San Zenon. The death and destruction caused by the hurricane, magnified by the fact that the eye passed over the city, leading thousands of people to take refuge elsewhere, only to be swept up in the storm. While San Zenon was not as large a storm as David (1979) or Georges (1998), the losses were phenomenal for the times. Santo Domingo was a city of wooden buildings with tin roofs, and if photographs of the era tell the truth, none survived the storm. Estimates put the death toll at 4,000 and the injured at 19,000, in a city of just 50,000. Because of the chaos and his swift actions, President Trujillo was able to rebuild Santo Domingo, gain enormous prestige and earned the title of "Father of the New Fatherland" as he rebuilt Santo Domingo. Historian Frank Moya Pons emphasized the role that the storm played in Trujillo's ascent towards his 30-year dictatorship during a recent lecture called "Hurricane San Zenon and the New Fatherland." With the special powers granted to Trujillo by Congress, the President created working committees, distributed foodstuffs, order a freeze on prices and salaries, and ordered the immediate construction of buildings, schools and hospitals.
For historic data on hurricanes in the DR, see http://www.dr1.com/weather/hurricanes.shtml

Dominican is World Sunfish Champ
20-year old INTEC engineering student Sebastian Mera Cabral took the 2007 Sunfish World Championship last week at the Brant Beach Yacht Club in New Jersey. Mera defeated Malcolm Smith, a three-time world champion, in the 100-boat regatta.
This is the first time the DR wins the World Sunfish Championship.
Mera finished with just 26 points, compared to Smith's 60 in the ten-race series, while Paul-Jon Patin, of the US, finished third with 63 points. The race was marked by light rain, winds in the 12-15 mph range, and record setting low temperatures in the upper 50s (about 14C).
Mera won the championship for his consistency. In four of the 10 races, he placed first, in three he placed second and in one he was seventh and in two he came eighth.
As reported in the New Jersey press, Mera competes in about five big races a year. In 2007, he's been to Curacao, Brazil and twice to the Eastern seaboard of the US. But his real hope is to be in London for the 2012 Olympics. "I'm trying to start in Laser. That's another boat," Mera said. "Sunfish is my strongest point. But since Laser is an Olympic class, I'm going to shine in that." For now, he's the sparring partner for Raul Aguayo, who won the bronze medal in the Pan American Olympic Games in 2003.

Agatha Ruiz at Dominicana Moda
Twenty-two leading Dominican fashion designers, and a colorful spectacular by Spain's Agatha Ruiz de la Prada make up the Dominicana Moda 2007, a festival of fashion taking place this week at the Hotel Embajador. The shows are benefits for multiple causes and tickets cost RD$500 (Tel 809 540-2536, 809 566-1114). Opening tonight, Monday, 3 September, the event continues through 8 September. There will be five daily fashion shows starting at 12:30 noon through 10pm, showcasing established and emerging Dominican fashion designer talent. This year, the participating designers are:
Tuesday, 4 Sept: Jenny Polanco (4pm), Giannina Azar (6pm), Roberto Flores (8 pm) and Jorge Diep (10 pm).
Wednesday, 5 Sept: Cynthia Avelino and Vivianna Rodriguez (12:30pm), Camila Casual (4pm), Ana Montan (6 pm), Cenia Paredes (8pm) and Arcadio Diaz (10pm).
Thursday, 6 Sept: Carla Carbonell, Luisa Cuevas, Laura Guerrero (12:30pm), Leonisa (4pm), Marisol Henriquez (6pm), Martin Polanco (8pm) and Luis Menieur (10pm).
Friday, 7 Sept: Jacqueline Then, Moises Quesada, Adela Dore (12:30pm), Magaly Tiburcio (4 pm), Belkola (6pm), Hipolito Pena (8pm) and Gutierrez-Marcano (10pm).
Saturday, 8 Sept: Carlos de Moya, Larissa Salcedo, Solange Sagredo (12:30pm) and Agatha Ruiz de la Prada (8pm).
A selection of fashion items will be for sale after each show.
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