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Daily News - Tuesday, 02 October 2007

First half strike
Leading privatized public transporters did not go to work on Tuesday, in support of the one-day strike called by the Alternative Social Forum. As a result, many workers were not able to get to work. City streets in Santo Domingo appeared as on a Sunday, with primarily private cars in circulation. Several schools chose to not open, contributing to the reduction in traffic, taking into account that their personnel would have trouble getting to work. Regardless, major stores such as Bravo, Plaza Lama, La Sirena, Hache, and others were open.

The strike is on
Even though President Leonel Fernandez had asked for today's general strike to be called off, the Alternative Social Forum has gone ahead with the protest and is condemning the government's attacks against the Forum's leadership. Last night Fernandez met with union leaders and transport sector representatives who decided not to support the general strike, and they accepted Fernandez's invitation to engage in dialogue aimed at reaching a solution. Fernandez also referred to opposition Presidential candidate Miguel Vargas Maldonado's support for the strike. Maldonado had come out in support of the strike, prompting Fernandez to comment that for the first time there is a presidential candidate who thinks he can win an election by having strikes. At the meeting last night were Antonio Marte (CONATRA) Ramon Perez Figuereo (CNTU) and Alfredo Pulinario (MOCHOTRAN). Juan Hubieres (FENATRANO) did not attend the meeting. These organizations have been major beneficiaries of government financial donations to their individually-owned transport fleets.

Brazilians makes contact
Luisa Fernandez Duran, executive director of the National Exportation Free Trade Zone Council (CNZFE), says that Brazilian investors are currently in the country to make contact with shoe manufacturers. Lisias Ransan CEO of the So Danca shoe company, from Brazil, has made contact with various free trade zone businesses. So Danca is a Brazilian shoe company that specializes in dance accessories like shoes and shirts. Ricardo Schmitt Muller, sales manage of Jairo Fabiano Blauth, is also in the country looking to make contacts.

Investment climate gets better
The director of the Center for Exports and Investments (CEI-RD) Eddy Martinez says that the investment climate in the DR is getting better. This is in part due to the current economic stability and the increase in foreign investment, which now surpasses US$1.2 billion. Martinez says that according to the World Bank's "Doing Business" index, the DR improved from being was tied for fifth place among the Central American countries to now being in third place. El Salvador had an index of 69, Nicaragua 93, Guatemala 114, Costa Rica 115 and Honduras 121.
The DR improved its ranking among the 178 polled, moving from 117th place last year to 99th this year. Countries are ranked by ease of: starting a business, dealing with licenses, employing workers, registering property, getting credit, protecting investors, paying taxes, trading across borders, enforcing contracts and closing a business.
According to Martinez, these are clear indicators that the country is progressing and moving forward. The indicators include the length of time it takes to set up a company, which in the DR is 73 days, and trademark registry that now takes five days. In the past this used to take 45 days.

Cacao exports increase
Agriculture Minister Salvador Jimenez explains that in the last three years the production and export of cacao has increased by 89%. The revenue from cacao exports has also increased by 101%, going from US$44.5 million to US$90 million annually. The DR is now the ninth largest cacao producer in the world and the third in the region. As far as exports are concerned, the DR is second in the Americas and sixth in the world. The government has been instrumental in this increase, giving producers US$39 million in funds and has supported rehabilitation projects and plantation renovation programs.

Customs gets tough
The Customs Department is increasing its anti-contraband measures and as a result has collected RD$5.4 billion in fines in the last three years. Offenses that are subject to fines include bringing merchandise and cash into the country illegally. People who enter the country with more than US$10,000 in cash must declare it, and failing to do so will result in them being stopped by Customs officials. Customs has seized US$799,000 in cash that was being brought into the country illegally, and in April Customs also seized a shipment of household appliances that were being brought into the country in an attempt to evade a payment of RD$106.1 million in taxes.

Medicine sales fall 50%
Medicine sales fell by 50% in September. The decrease in sales is partly attributed to the confusion brought on by the government's health plan, the SFS, and the single prescription form (receta unica), which only benefits 100 pharmacies out of the 3,100 that are registered in the country. Tony Rodriguez, president of the Association of Pharmacy Owners, explained that after the SFS came into effect there was a noticeable drop in the sale of medicines. He points to issues with the health risk administrators (ARS) and says that if a doctor suggests a medicine and the pharmacy isn't affiliated to the ARS, the patient cannot buy the medicine.

Attracting Chinese tourists
Dominican tourist officials are proposing the implementation of tourist packages to the DR using Mexico, Cuba or the US as departure points, with the aim of attracting Chinese tourists - a hitherto unexplored market - to the country. Tourism Deputy Minister Luis Simo made the proposal to Chinese representatives and explained that this type of offer could provide Chinese tourists with the same offer already existent for European travelers. Representatives from Chinese carrier Air China said that the flow of travelers from China to the DR could increase once Beijing-Mexico City flights begin. That route is currently being studied by Mexican and Chinese officials.

Senior citizens get help
The executive director of the Senior Citizen Council (CONAPE), Nathalie Maria, says that President Leonel Fernandez has allocated RD$70 million to that sector and that as of next year senior citizen centers will be converted into health service providers (PSS) under the control of CONAPE. Maria explained that 141,000 senior citizens are covered by the SFS, and 51,000 are affiliated to the solidarity welfare program. Maria added that older people would no longer have to sell their homes when they get sick because the government will have specific programs aimed at them. Maria quoted the President and Vice President, saying that no senior citizen will be left out of the health plan, even if the government has to cover the cost. Maria also explained that the value of pensions had increased by RD$3,000 for more than 70,000 people.

IMF studying Sun Land case
An IMF mission currently visiting the Dominican Republic to review the country's Stand-by arrangement says that it will study the available information it has received about the Sun Land Corporation loan scandal to see whether or not it has violated the terms of the agreement. Diario Libre writes that it contacted IMF public relations representative Conny Lotze who said that "earlier this year [the Dominican] authorities informed the IMF that this type of loan was not the responsibility of the public sector and that a private firm (Sun Land Corporation) was responsible for it."
The PRD denounced the government for the loan, saying the government acted in violation of the Constitution that requires borrowing to be authorized by Congress.
Spokesman for the government, minister without portfolio and re-election campaign manager for President Fernandez, Francisco Javier Garcia argued yesterday at a press conference that the PRD carried out similar transactions when in government. Javier Garcia politicized the issue saying that the government would reveal "immoral acts" carried out by rival presidential candidate Miguel Vargas Maldonado, during his tenure as minister of Public Works during the Mejia administration. Francisco Javier Garcia argues that the presentation of the US$130 million in promissory notes by the PRD is "political, irresponsible and demagogic."
He reaffirmed that the government does not have any commitment with Sun Land. He said that Sun Land has incurred loans with contractors that work for the state, carrying out public works, including at the UASD. He said that the funds for these works would be included in next year's budget.
The Sun Land transaction is indeed very confusing, and statements from government officers are making it even more confusing. Diario Libre reports that on the one hand the budget of the Office of Engineers and Supervisors of Public Works (OISOE) does not include funds from international loans. The newspaper reports that a letter dated 26 June 2006 that Felix Bautista, director of OISOE director sent to Sun Land Corporation RD, indicates that the payments of the promissory notes on behalf of the Dominican government would be made through the Department of Treasury of the Ministry of Hacienda. The letter indicates that the payment of the promissory notes would come from the OISOE budget, which means that, "there is no need for this to be mentioned in next year's budget." On the other hand, while Sun Land says that the funds are being used to pay for works at the UASD, Diario Libre points out that the funds assigned to the UASD works come to RD$200 million, much less than the US$130 million loan the director of OISOE signed with Sun Land, which acted as an intermediary to secure the loan with foreign banks.

SDN gets Barrio Seguro
Interior and Police Minister Franklyn Almeyda has announced that 17 new sectors in northern Santo Domingo have been included in the Barrio Seguro security plan. Almeyda explained that the Province of Santo Domingo has the highest crime rates in the entire country and that the rate is 20.9% in Santo Domingo North. Of all the robberies and crimes in the DR, 37% are committed in the Province of Santo Domingo, that incorporates areas of Santo Domingo outside of the central National District. Santo Domingo North has a population of 414,344 people. Almeyda explained that in the next few days other sectors in Santo Domingo East would be included in the Plan. Barrio Seguro now operates in 72 sectors in the DR.

Police get drug tested
All Dominican police officers will be tested for drugs as a way of preventing drug use by members of the force. Police Chief Rafael Guzman Fermin explained that the testing will carried out by the National Drug Council, and would begin immediately.

Get your passports!
As of yesterday all American citizens re-entering the US by air must present a valid passport. The new passport rule is part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) and is part of a wider national security program. The rule was originally due to enter into effect in January but the resulting huge number of passport applications clogged up the system, leading Congress to postpone the implementation of the rule until 1 October. Caribbean tourism officials have argued against the application of the passport requirement, claiming that it reduces the number of travelers to the Caribbean. Their reasoning is that most travelers to the Caribbean did so without passports.

Dominicans dominate in baseball
As another season of Major League Baseball comes to end, the Dominican presence in the sport has been consolidated even further. Pitcher Fausto Carmona of the Cleveland Indians is this year's front-runner for the AL Cy Young Award, and he was named pitcher of the month for September. Big Papi David Ortiz was named player of the month for September and Yankees star Alex Rodriguez is the odds-on favorite to win this years MVP award in the American League. Carlos Pena of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays broke club records this year in homeruns (46) RBI (121) and Walks (103). In the National League Alfonso Soriano led the Cubs drive into the post-season and although shortstop Jose Reyes was part of one of the biggest collapses in MLB history, his play consolidated his status as one of the game's best young stars. All of the eight Major League teams in this year's playoffs have at least two Dominicans on their rosters.

Junot Diaz on the big screen
Dominican-born writer Junot Diaz's first novel, "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao," is to be made into a film by Miramax, according to the Hollywood News. The movie rights to the book were bought by producer Scott Rudin. Junot's novel tells the story of a Dominican immigrant to the city of Patterson, New Jersey. Junot Diaz received international acclaim with his book of short stories, "Drown." No date for filming has been given.
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