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Daily News - Friday, 09 November 2007

Fernandez speaks
In last night's address to the nation, President Leonel Fernandez outlined an RD$8 billion National Recovery Plan for the damage caused by Tropical Storm Noel. Last week's storm mainly affected rural areas away from the main cities and tourist areas. The plan focuses on reconstruction of housing, roads, schools, bridges, irrigation channels, aqueducts and electricity networks affected by the storm.
Fernandez also announced an injection of RD$1.2 billion for the governmental Banco Agricola for refinancing farms affected by the floods, and outlined special conditions that the Tax Department (DGII) would provide for companies in affected areas.
Fernandez said that Noel "represents a true national catastrophe, in terms of loss of life, damage to production, property and infrastructure." Fernandez added that Dominicans have to work together to rebuild the country and return to face life's challenges with determination.
The President presented a dramatic panorama of areas that were affected by the storm. He reported that 19,688 homes were severely affected by Noel and said that the main priority at the moment is to repair and construct dwellings for people who were made homeless.
President Fernandez says that he has asked the Ministry of Environment to implement Article 109 of Environmental Law 64-00 that prohibits people from settling and building homes in river zones, flood prone areas, industrial zones, trash dumps, toxic waste dumps and other places considered dangerous for human habitation. He did not say whether the Ministry of Environment would receive additional budgetary allowances to cover the cost of supervising and policing these areas.

Reactions to Fernandez's speech
As is often the case, Fernandez's speech, and his plan, received a mixed response. Jorge Subero Isa, president of the Supreme Court felt that Fernandez's speech was positive and is quoted in Diario Libre as saying that he hoped that the promises would be fulfilled. These sentiments were echoed by Monsignor Ramon Benito Angeles, who said that the speech was very positive, and that it calls on all Dominicans to play their part. Lisandro Macarulla, president of the National Business Council (Conep), was also pleased with Fernandez's plan and said that the President had come through once again. For his part, PRD secretary general Orlando Jorge Mera said that Fernandez fell short of expectations with his offer to the public. He added that RD$8 billion was not enough to cover the costs. Adriano Sanchez, spokesperson for the PRSC senators, concurred, saying that the speech did not meet expectations. The A.M. column in Diario Libre added to the criticisms of Fernandez's speech by summing up the address as one made to maintain hope, and saying that from now on the President would be judged by his work.

Deputies approve bonds
The majority block of the ruling PLD in Congress and its allies have approved the emergency bill for the emission of RD$5 billion in bonds for use towards reconstruction in the wake of Tropical Storm Noel. The bonds issue was scheduled at the last minute. The PLD legislators passed the new loan in the absence of the opposition parties that had met the same morning. PRD party spokesman, Orlando Jorge Mera said that the opposition party legislators were caught by surprise by the rushed approval. Opposition parties later said that they rejected the approval of the bonds on the grounds that the country will have a revenue surplus at year's end that could be used for this purpose, making it unnecessary for the country to take on more debt. The bill was passed to the Senate, where the PLD also holds the majority, for approval today.

Low-cost dwelling proposal
The Construction and Housing Cluster, sponsored by the National Competitiveness Council, is proposing the construction of low-cost dwellings nationwide. The cluster wants to build 5,000 dwellings at a cost of RD$300,000-RD$400,000 in a record time period. These rapid building methods enable the construction of a four-story building in just 14 days. Engineer Fernando Abreu, president of the organization, says that the project has been adapted to the country's characteristics, needs and limitations, and that there are trained people and technology capable of accomplishing this goal. The proposal is for the construction of 42 and 51m2 apartments. Twenty-five companies participate in the cluster, which is proposing the construction of pilot programs in 14 communities nationwide. He said that they have already begun construction of 650 units in Puerto Plata, by engineer Rafael Octavio (Kuky) Silverio Galan who is also president of the Playa Dorada Hotel & Condominium Association.

US$1.5 million in US aid
The US is sending medical preparedness and training exercise teams to the DR. They are scheduled to arrive today to support Dominican government efforts helping flood victims in vulnerable areas, now that most people have been evacuated to safe ground. As of 8 November, the US government had provided US$1.4 million in immediate aid to the DR, and an additional US$100,000 for neighboring Haiti, through the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance.
See http://www.dr1.com/forums/living/... for photos and more details.

No more gravel from rivers
The Ministry of Environment has announced that as of tomorrow the extraction of gravel and sand from the country's rivers will be illegal. Hoy writes that companies that extract gravel from rivers have until 10 February 2008 to remove their equipment from the rivers. Companies that extract gravel include Grupo Modetso, Ernesto Lora, Agregados Consolidados Servicorte, Sucesion Guzman, Cantera del Tropico, Agregados Nizao, Grancera Mon Braca and Roberto Guzman. The resolution to stop gravel extraction was passed on 10 August 2007. The original Ministry of Environment stipulation ordered the equipment to be removed prior to the expiry of the extraction ban.

DR tourism model expanded
Hoy is reporting that the DR is developing an expanded tourism model that seeks to attract non-traditional markets and bring high-yield tourists to the country, complementing the present mass market tourism all-inclusive resorts model. Isabel Vasquez, director of the promotion department at the Tourism Ministry, said that the ministry is working closely with the private sector. The new local trends will be highlighted during the country's participation in forthcoming international tourism fairs in major source markets.

Explaining Sun Land deal to IMF
Dominican officials say that the International Monetary Fund mission currently in the DR is here to review the eighth and final revision of the stand-by arrangement. Treasury Minister Vicente Bengoa said that the government had also provided access to documentation on the Sun Land Corporation financial deals with the government, as requested by the IMF mission. Bengoa advanced the appropriation of billions in the 2008 budget for the recovery and reconstruction costs for the damage caused by Tropical Storm Noel.

Teen mothers could get cedulas
The Central Electoral Board (JCE) favors submitting a bill to Congress that would allow girls aged 16 years or younger to obtain a cedula identity card during their pregnancies or after they give birth. Jose Angel Aquino, who drafted the bill, explained that this would reduce the number of undocumented children, since in the DR a mother without a cedula cannot register her child at birth. Law 659 on Civil State Acts requires a parent to show a "cedula" identification card when registering the child. The bill stipulates that young mothers would obtain the cedula by presenting their birth certificate at the JCE registry office.

Parties on premature campaigning
The DR's main political parties are rejecting the Central Electoral Board (JCE) request that political parties suspend all presidential campaigning in the media on the grounds that the 2008 presidential election campaign has not officially started.
The JCE judges voted to instruct the PLD to remove the television spot featuring an actor who was also on the Armed Forces payroll. The spot, which has been running for several weeks, was contested on the grounds that the Constitution bans members of the military from taking part in political campaigning.
When they reviewed the spot, the JCE judges voted 7-2 in favor of a move requesting the suspension of all presidential campaign propaganda. Judges Olivares and Mariano Rodriguez, who voted against the measure, explained that they voted against the suspension because the agenda only included the PLD spot and not any other form of political campaigning. The PRSC voiced one of the stronger objections to the JCE's decision, saying it was unacceptable for the JCE to suspend the spot. The PRD has come out and questioned the JCE's credibility and a spokesperson for Eduardo Estrella says that the JCE hasn't handled the situation well because the JCE should have suspended political campaigning a long time ago. The JCE, in its ruling, reminded the political parties that the official campaign period has not yet started, so all presidential campaign advertising should cease.

Pro DR-CAFTA program
Last night USAID director Richard Goughnour announced the launch of a Pro DR-CAFTA US$5 million implementation assistance program for September 2007-September 2010. Chemonics International will be the consulting firm in charge of the project, which will be directed by John Nittler and Ruben Nunez. The program comes on the heels of the successful conclusion of the Competitiveness and Policies program that very effectively introduced the cluster concept to the Dominican Republic. The focus of the program is to develop economic policies and foreign trade capacities, and to enhance private sector competitiveness. Participating partners are USAID, the Dominican government, the Ministry of Industry & Commerce (and DICOEX), business organizations, and private sector and civil society organizations.

US Consulate appointments
The US Consulate is announcing that anyone who had an appointment to get or renew a tourist visa for the week between 29 October and 2 November will be able to reschedule their interview for 16 November. Applicants must get a new PIN number at any branch of Banco Popular or call the visa information center in order to schedule a new interview. The only day for this is 16 November and it will only be for people whose original interviews were scheduled for that week.

Ex-consul dies
Ex consul and minister without portfolio Belarminio Javier Gonzalez died of a heart attack yesterday at Baptist Hospital in Miami, Florida. He was considered one of Leonel Fernandez's closest confidants. He leaves a wife and two kids. Fernandez expressed regret at Gonzalez's death and said that he had been a great friend.

Juan Luis Guerra wins
Dominican artist Juan Luis Guerra went home with four Grammy's last night. Guerra was rewarded with Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Tropical Song of the Year and Merengue Album of the Year. Guerra, who earlier in the night had been honored as person of the year by the Latin Academy of Recording Artists, thanked his wife and said that he writes all his songs for her.
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