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Daily News - Monday, 15 October 2007

Fernandez to Miami
President Leonel Fernandez has plans to visit Southwest Florida on 12 November according to a release from the Fort Myers-based Southwest Florida Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Leonardo Garcia, executive director of the chamber said that details of the trip to discuss business opportunities are still being worked out.
In his comments on the trip, Garcia said, "This would be the first time we have had a sitting president from Latin America visit this area, to my knowledge," Garcia said.??
Fernandez is due to arrive in Southwest Florida around 7 pm 12 November.

DR goes after UN seat
The Dominican Republic is launching its final push for a seat on the UN Security Council as a non-permanent member. The fight for votes is against Costa Rica, which seems to have the backing of China, a permanent member of the Security Council. Dominican foreign minister Carlos Morales Troncoso is currently hard at work campaigning for votes for the DR, which despite being one of the original signatories of the UN Charter, has never actually sat on the Security Council. Costa Rica has occupied the seat on two previous occasions.

Public Health looks at water bottlers
The Ministry of Public Health has closed two water-bottling plants and is looking at another thirty in Santo Domingo province alone. The ministry is carrying out an inspection program designed to weed out bottlers that are not truly fulfilling their requirements. The health watch started in Santo Domingo but it will include 300 bottlers that are registered with the ministry. The first plant to be shut down was Agua Yaque, which was supposedly operating in a clandestine fashion. The environmental cops are looking at infrastructure, monitoring systems, microbiological testing and provisions against contamination of the sites used to bottle water.

Working hours might change
As part of the government's efforts to reduce fuel consumption, planners are proposing some interesting suggestions for saving energy and fuel. Melanio Paredes, the recently appointed Minister of Industry and Commerce said that he would be meeting with President Fernandez to discuss the short, medium and long-term targets for the program. As one option, Paredes said that it might be possible to prevent "rush hour" traffic congestion by varying office hours. This change in working hours could affect schools, government offices and private companies in Santo Domingo and Santiago. Salvador Rivas, the director of the Non-Conventional Energy Department under Paredes, told reporters that his teams were looking for clusters of schools that could vary their schedules by perhaps half an hour to avoid "everybody leaving home at the same time." He also suggested that the supermarkets stay open a bit later so as to avoid the after-work rush to shop. Medium and long-term measures were more far-reaching, such as the switch to natural gas for public transportation and the promotion of non-fossil fuels and electricity based on alternatives to petroleum.

Gas prices up again
With oil prices reaching unprecedented levels, the Dominican Republic instantly feels the pinch. This weekend fuel prices reached historic levels for propane gas, which went up RD$2.08 per gallon. Premium and regular fuels also rose by a peso or more. Although LPG for household consumption is assisted by a RD$17 peso subsidy, the government recoups up to RD$9.27 in ITBIS taxes on each gallon.
Premium gasoline now sells for RD$156.40/gallon, regular gasoline is RD$146.80; diesel is RD$120.60 and propane is RD$56.30 subsidized and RD$78.06 non-subsidized.
Apparently, a reported lowering of the fuel reserves in the United States led to the most recent jump in the price of a barrel of oil.

Cement can be imported
The Dominican Republic Industrial Association (AIRD) has told reporters that there is no ban on the import of cement into the Dominican Republic. There is a tariff in place, according to the note in Listin Diario, but this has been reduced over the past years. According to the AIRD, if a trader thinks that there is business to be done with cement, it can be imported, as long as the duties are paid, for to do otherwise would constitute unfair competition. In another article, the Hardware Association (ASODEFE) announced that they were of the opinion that the higher prices being charged for locally manufactured cement was just price gouging, and showed how prices have gone from RD$80 a bag in 2005 up to RD$220 this year. Inside the DR cement costs US$195 dollars a ton, but overseas, there are quotes of US$65 to US$95 per ton. The hardware sector representatives told Listin Diario that if cement was imported, it could lead to a 40% drop in prices. Importers are concerned producers would dump prices once they have imported the cement, to discourage the importing.

Metro leads in spending
The first eight months of spending this year on the Santo Domingo metro construction project, the biggest ever undertaken in the Dominican Republic, have seen the most funding ever. The project has received RD$3.25 billion so far, more than seven other ministries combined. And we are not talking of the smaller ministries, but ministries that in previous administrations were considered the choicest plums. These are Education, Public Works, Armed Forces, Sports, Agriculture, Planning and Higher Education, Science and Technology. The first line of the metro is due for completion in February 2008, as promised by President Fernandez, at a cost now said to be RD$25.0 billion, just slightly over the initial RD$900 million budget when the project was first announced.

Perhaps this is why
Geological engineer Orsiris de Leon, a fierce opponent of the manner in which the metro is being constructed, has announced that the Dominican government is paying as much as double the price for the subway cars it is purchasing from the French Alston company. De Leon told television interviewer Guillermo Gomez that China was buying 246 subway cars for the Shanghai metro at a price of EUR110 million, and he questioned whether the EUR92.4 million was the real price for the 57 cars being purchased by the Dominican government. De Leon also questioned the start-up date set for February, and likened the situation to that of Majorca, Spain, where the subway was inaugurated without being quite ready and suffered serious flooding that caused serious damage to the system. De Leon pointed out construction problems in several sections of the route, including cracks in apartment buildings nears the tunnels.

DR attracts commercial aviation
The executive director of the Airports Authority, Andres Vanderhorst, is pointing out that the Dominican Republic is attracting attention from the commercial aviation world due to the improvement of its navigation systems, as well as the increase in air traffic and tourism. The country's eight international airports receive 150 different international airlines. Vanderhorst spoke during the presentation of the new Gulfstream G150 private jet, which is making a tour of Latin America. The spokesperson for Gulfstream pointed out that high-end tourists, visitors who pilot their own planes or fly in their own planes go where they are most welcomed, such as the program currently in place in the Bahamas. Oh yes, the latest Gulfstream can be yours for just about US$14 million.

Bill to lower interest on plastic
The Chamber of Deputies is currently looking at a legislative proposal that seeks to limit the amount of interest institutions can charge on credit cards. The proposal is trying to establish a 2.5% monthly interest on the unpaid balance as the maximum allowed. The proposal would also disallow any additional charges (surcharges) when the billing is paid in full before the due date.

Destruction in Haiti after rains
The recent week-long rains have led to scenes of desolation and ruin in neighboring Haiti where slash and burn agriculture has all but destroyed the country's forest cover. According to Hoy newspaper, floods and mudslides have displaced tens of thousands of people. Fishermen in the sea found one victim tangled in their nets, swept out to sea by the mudslides. In the Dominican Republic, the National Meteorological Service has issued a warning for the Cibao Valley and other low-lying areas. More rains are forecast and some flooding is expected.

Forum announces plans
The Alternative Social Forum, a loosely tied group of leftist, liberal and civic groups that organized a nationwide strike earlier this month, has announced its plans for the near future. Keeping to its doctrine of increased salaries, a modification of the Hydrocarbon Law and lower food prices, the Forum has announced a visit to the Supreme Court today to hand in a writ of unconstitutionality involving the Sun Land IOUs. Next Thursday, the Forum plans to visit the Congress. Other activities are planned for San Pedro de Macoris, San Juan de la Maguana, Santiago and the National District.

Playa Dorada toll stirs debate
A decision by the Playa Dorada Hotel Association to charge a special toll on buses bringing tourists into the 13-hotel complex has stirred up some heated debate. The transport unions have announced that they will leave the tourists at the main entrance of the complex rather than pay the RD$50 toll on buses and trucks or the RD$30 peso charge for smaller minibuses and pickup trucks. The association created a special gateway for these vehicles, and told reporters that the funds generated by the tolls would be used to improve the area's roadways and the complex's public areas. Tamara Simo, president of the Tour Operator Association (Opretur) that gathers companies offering excursions disputes the toll saying that their services are beneficial to the hotels because they lower their costs by taking their guests away from the hotel for the day. Most Playa Dorada hotels operate on an all-included scheme.

Cops on the take are moved out
Police personnel at several stations in the National District and Santo Domingo Province have been removed from their posts and replaced by new officers. Some of the officers were arrested and some were sent to new posts. The moves affected the police in the city of Boca Chica, in the municipal district of Andres-La Caleta and in VillaFaro. In the National District, the police in Villa Consuelo were removed and two officers and nine patrolmen were held for investigation after a drug lab was discovered on the second floor of the same building as the police station. Around the central headquarters, the word was that the men would certainly be punished and quite possibly discharged from service, given the seriousness of the case. In the case of the Boca Chica and Andres precincts, the murder of two Italians and the wounding of a third were considered proof of poor attention to duty.

Court orders DNA test for proof
The Children and Youth Court of Appeals of the National District has ruled on a new process towards recognition of biological parents, and ruled against the right to refuse a DNA test to verify paternity. The court based its opinion on the more important of several constitutional guarantees: the pre-eminent right of identity; the right of proof and the higher interests of the child. The three-judge panel ordered that a child's alleged father must take the DNA test in order to prove or disprove paternity. The alleged father had refused to take the test on the grounds that it violated his constitutional right to privacy of identity.

Cops nab two in BC murders
The National Police have announced the arrest of two of the three suspects in the murder of two Italians last week in Boca Chica. The two charged with the murder of Mauricio Banci last Monday are Omar Santana Perdomo (a.k.a. Yunior), 18, and Pedro Luis Perdomo, 22. The latter is also charged with the murder of Marino Manam. A third suspect, David Manuel Espinosa, is currently at large, and the police are urging that he turn himself in in order to "avoid unfortunate events." The two arrested were said to have planned and executed the assault on Banci, who was killed in a hail of bullets. Later on, they were said to have also killed Manam. The pair are being held for hearings on their bail or incarceration pending trial.

We lost Father Quinn
His funeral will be a historic event in San Jose de Ocoa. Father Luis Quinn, who served the community for more than 40 years, passed away as he underwent openheart surgery over the weekend. Quinn, born in England and raised in Toronto, Canada, was close to 80 years old. A receiver of "privileged Dominican citizenship", Quinn was recognized by international institutions from the United States, Germany, England, Canada and others, for his efforts in boosting the development of the region around San Jose de Ocoa. He founded many groups, perhaps the most famous being the San Jose de Ocoa Development Association, which he directed up until his death. Rural aqueducts were some of his pet projects, and there was nothing he enjoyed more than to see the community attaining its goals. Quinn was also honored by a number of local universities and institutions. Canada gave Quinn its highest civilian award, the Order of Canada in 1995. His funeral has been announced for Thursday in San Jose de Ocoa.
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