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Daily News - Monday, 12 November 2007

Tax break for Noel
The Dominican government will not collect RD$300 million pesos in taxes due to the decision by President Fernandez to forfeit the pre-payments on earnings for businesses located in the areas affected by Tropical Storm Noel. Juan Hernandez, the head of the Tax Department, said that his inspectors would visit the industries and businesses to verify the damages.
Hernandez also reminded reporters from El Caribe that more than 60,000 vehicle owners have still not renewed their license plates. After 15 November, renewals pay a penalty.

Free zones jobs
According to Luisa Fernandez, spokesperson for the National Council for Free Zones (CNZF), 24 new businesses have been approved for operations. This is an investment of over US$4.5 billion representing 7,000 new jobs, according to the article in Diario Libre. These businesses, including call centers, textile manufacturing, agro-industry, jewelry and shoes, were approved during a meeting of the CNZF board and are expected to begin operations in January 2008. Fernandez also told reporters that 40 Spanish footwear company representatives are going to visit the Dominican Republic on the 24 November. Fernandez reminded reporters that since the sector lost 54,000 jobs due to the influx of Chinese textiles into the US market, the free zones have recovered about 29,000 jobs and are maintaining a further 63,000 with the Special Fund created by President Fernandez.

School shelters halt classes
Thousands of school children cannot attend classes because their schools are still housing evacuees from Tropical Storm Noel. Forty schools in Santo Domingo, San Cristobal, Ocoa, Bani, Azua, Bahouco, Barahona, Monsignor Nouel and Duarte provinces are still occupied by over 10,000 displaced people. There is not much hope that lessons will resume any time soon since the Center for Emergency Operations (COE) has issued a Red Alert for most of these same provinces. According to the COE, 87 shelters are open, housing 10,837 people.

Southern Command helps in Bani
Members of the US Army's Southern Command have launched a medical relief program for the province of Peravia (Bani), starting in Paya, one of the towns cut off from the rest of the province when bridges were destroyed by flooding from TS Noel. Over 150 people were treated during yesterday's work. On Saturday over 500 people received treatment. The relief team, led by Colonel Ricardo Riera, brought 35,000 units of vaccine to prevent an outbreak of typhoid fever, which can occur after floods. They also brought 5000 units of pediatric vaccines for inoculating small children.
Air Force 1st Lt. Damian Garza, a physician's assistant with the team that went to Paya, said most of the patients they saw had minor medical issues, such as skin and respiratory problems. "There has been a lot of scabies, coughs and colds," he said. "There hasn't been anything too critical. I saw one patient with diabetes, but that's about it." The lieutenant said the patients covered the complete age spectrum, from infants to geriatrics. He added they all received multivitamins and most were given deworming medications.

Senate passed Noel bond issue
The majority PLD enabled the Dominican Senate to pass the law that authorizes the Ministry of the Treasury to issue bonds for RD$5 billion to help with the recovery efforts after TS Noel. The legislation was passed by the Chamber of Deputies last week, again assisted by the majority that the PLD holds in the lower house. PRD senators objected to the measure, and used the same arguments as their colleagues in the lower house: The Executive Branch already has enough resources to carry out relief efforts without resorting to new levels of debt. However, the PLD majority prevailed and the bill will now go to the President for his signature.

Red/yellow alert for most of DR
The Emergency Operations Center (COE) has kept the highest alert (red) level in place for eleven Dominican provinces and issued a Yellow Alert for a further 15 provinces. These warnings come in response to frontal systems that have led to rains in Santo Domingo and other parts of the country, as well as an area of low pressure in the southeastern Caribbean. The Red Alert is for the provinces of San Cristobal, San Jose de Ocoa, Azua, Peravia, Barahona, Monsignor Nouel, La Vega, Sanchez Ramirez, Maria Trinidad Sanchez, Monte Cristi and Duarte (especially the Lower Yuna River Basin). The Yellow Alert is for the National District, Santo Domingo province, Pedernales, Independencia, Santiago, Espaillat, Salcedo, Monte Plata, Santiago Rodriguez, San Juan de la Maguana, Dajabon, Valverde and Bahoruco. The alert comes two weeks after Tropical Storm Noel flooded large areas of the Dominican Republic, causing widespread loss of life and much destruction. Thousands are still homeless. At 7pm on Sunday the meteorological office reported over three inches of rain in Bonao, and two inches in Loma de Cabrera.

Noel damage shuts down refinery
Damage as a result of Tropical Storm Noel has led the Dominican National Refinery to shut down its operations. Several of the fuel pipes leading to the installation were damaged when the Nizao and Haina rivers flooded. The president of the board of directors, Ruben Montas, told reporters from Hoy that the work stoppage would not affect local consumers because the refinery has a twelve-day supply in its tanks. The refinery will acquire processed petroleum products on the international market as a stopgap measure until the fuel pipelines are repaired.

Premium gasoline shortage
Premium gasoline was in exceedingly short supply over the weekend, with just five of the 490 gasoline stations affiliated to the National Association of Gasoline Retailers (ANADEGAS) reporting small quantities in their tanks. The refinery does not have any of the gasoline in reserve. However, Ruben Montas, the CEO at the refinery, said that the fuel had run out due to weather conditions that delayed a tanker traveling to the DR from Mexico with fresh supplies. The tanker is due to dock today. Montas reaffirmed his earlier statements that there will be no fuel shortages because the refinery is purchasing fuels on the spot market and more tankers are expected this week. Montas also said that repairs on the damaged fuel pipelines would take about two weeks.

Water shortage exasperates
With long lines of 55 gallon drums, buckets, or anything that can hold water, the scene in Pedro Brand, Los Alcarrizos and the northern part of Santo Domingo is one of exasperation. There is very little or no drinking water in the area since Tropical Storm Noel affected the country two weeks ago. People in Pedro Brand are complaining that the government is no longer providing water and that private companies are selling water at inflated prices. The crisis extends throughout areas in the northeast affected by the flooding of the Yuna River. The cities and towns in this region are also experiencing a lack of potable water. In the northeast, Jose Anibal Garcia, who heads the Regional Development Council, said that while Tropical Storm Noel is the excuse for the lack of safe water at the moment, the area suffers from an almost permanent drinking water shortage. Garcia said that the situation is complicated by the fact that there are not enough sewage systems in the region. He pointed out the fact that the water treatment plant has not been in operation for years in San Francisco de Macoris, the largest urban center in the region. In some places, according to Garcia, people have to use water from irrigation canals for their everyday needs.

JCE says it will stand firm
The Central Electoral Board has told reporters that it will not back down from the resolution that called for a halt to political campaigning on radio and television as well as other media. According to Julio Cesar Castanos Guzman, the ban is on political advertising promoting candidates for office. The parties can place ads for their political institutions. Parties and candidates have cried foul in response to the resolution, with the opposition parties making the loudest protests. Both the PRD and the PRSC parties have filed motions to review the measure before the JCE. PRD candidate Miguel Vargas Maldonado asked the JCE to rescind the measure. Castanos Guzman rejected the idea that the resolution is not applicable, and he told reporters from Hoy that any violation of the resolution would be punished according to the law.

Parties keep TV spots on air
Despite the Electoral Board's resolution, the country's political parties have gone ahead with their television and radio spots, as well as their print media propaganda. Amable Aristy Castro's ads were still being aired on television, as were the ads promoting Miguel Vargas Maldonado's presidential bid. Spots by the ruling PLD party, including the controversial ad that featured an active military officer, were also much in evidence. Speaking to reporters from Diario Libre, both the JCE chief magistrate Julio Cesar Castanos Guzman as well as the head of the Contentious Chamber admitted that they did not have any way of forcing the parties to stop running their ads. Castanos Guzman said that the board could not even impose fines on the parties, even though the JCE controls hundreds of millions of pesos in election funding. All the electoral board can do is point out that they are in violation of a resolution and operating illegally.

Dell is ordered to cease and desist
The Dell Corporation has been ordered by the magistrate at the Civil and Commercial Chamber of the First Instance for the province of Santo Domingo to cease its operations in the Dominican Republic. This decision means that Xolusat, S.A. will maintain its exclusive rights for sales and service of Dell products in the country. The magistrate's decree allows Xolusat to continue operations and represents a guarantee of the rights granted under Law 173 that covers representatives and distributors of merchandise and products. Xolusat had sued Dell because Dell had unilaterally violated the agreement that granted Xolusat exclusive rights for the sale and service of Dell products in the DR. The court sided with Xolusat, which has been representing Dell in the country since 1997. Dell did not offered any compensation to Xolusat. Although Xolusat had asked for RD$300 million in damages, the court awarded the company less than half that amount, RD$116.5 million.

Banreservas good grades
Fitch Ratings have given the Dominican Republic's Banco de Reservas a short-term risk rating of F-1, which reflects the highest capacity of on-time payments of financial obligations. And for long term payments the rating was A+ for it low credit risk. Both ratings are based on the recent improvements in earnings indicators over a broad portion of the markets served by the institution, as well as the stability of its deposits, even at stressful moments. Fitch Ratings is one of the largest risk assessment companies operating in Latin America. Fitch points out that the Banco de Reservas is now subject to the same controls as the rest of the banking sector. Fitch also praised the cost controls the bank has been able to install in spite of recent expansion of its branches around the country.

12 honored for reforestation
The First Gastronomic Macadamia Festival has honored twelve Dominican companies and institutions for their support for macadamia production, which also helps the country's reforestation. Banco Popular, Supermercados Nacional, Bravo and La Cadena, Mercatodo, Rancho Baiguate, Reposteria Miguelina, La Cuchara de Madera, Melia Santo Domingo and Melia Paradisus hotels, the Dominican Agro-Industrial Council (JAD) and the Progressio Foundation received awards. The macadamia crop helps stabilize mountainous soils, helping the reforestation of large areas, and providing jobs in depressed rural areas. Businessman and civic leader Manuel Arsenio Urena was awarded a plaque that extolled his role as the first businessman to promote and create new forests in the Dominican Republic using the macadamia tree.

Juan Luis is biggest winner
All told, Juan Luis Guerra accounted for seven - count them - seven awards at the Latin Grammys. Guerra was awarded the Person of the Year award, and won six Grammys, according to Diario Libre. Guerra's "La llave de mi corazon" (The key to my heart) won Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Recording of the Year, Best Merengue Album of the Year, and Best Tropical Song of the Year. That is five, and this was widely reported. However, many people failed to notice the sixth Grammy that the album won: Best Sound Engineering for an Album that was presented to Allen Leschorn, Luis Mansilla and Ronnie Torres for "La llave de mi corazon".
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