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Daily News - Wednesday, 19 December 2007

No way to change the budget
Minister of the Hacienda Vicente Bengoa told reporters that the budget for 2008 would have to be studied and passed just as it was sent from the National Development Council. The minister dismissed the possibility of any changes to the budget during discussions with the heads of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies who had requested additional funding. Bengoa said that there was no way of satisfying all the government departments and independent agencies' demands. The main argument was that anything over the RD$300 billion would provoke the wrath of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and affect the country's image on the international financial scene. Bengoa did hint however that there might be a possibility of "reformulating the budget" in June, in accordance with the law.

Morales on EPA
Foreign Relations Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso says the agreement signed on 16 December with the European Union is the most modern ever negotiated, and the most innovative, as it covers goods, services, investments and people mobility. The new agreement will enter into effect on 1 January 2008 for Dominican exports to Europe. The papers won't be signed until the European Union's regional summit in Barbados on 15 March.
The agreement will permit Dominican products such as bananas and tobacco to enter the EU without tariffs and quotas. Sugar, however, will be limited to 30,000 tons in 2008 and 2009. The Caribbean nations will begin to apply the agreement's protocols on 15 April. The accord also provides for "an alternate migration plan" whereby European companies can hire professional, technical or qualified personnel for up to six months of work. On the financial level, according to Morales, the agreement provides for financial guarantees for investments coming from the EU as long as Dominican investments receive the same treatment in the EU countries. Morales also revealed that the EU would be assisting the Dominican Republic with programs for competitiveness (EUR80/US$120 million) and development (US$169 million) over the 2008-2013 period.
Morales Troncoso stressed that this is the first agreement to completely liberalize trade. It enables Caribbean countries to exclude certain products, it allows for the use of inputs from any country for apparel manufacture, footwear or pharmaceuticals for export to Europe. It is also the first to prohibit and repress corruption and violation of labor and environmental laws by investors. Furthermore, it is the first to include rules on travel and is the first to put into practice the UNESCO convention for the promotion and protection of cultural diversity, through a cultural cooperation protocol. The agreement is also the first to require that Caribbean countries grant themselves what they have granted to Europe, making true Caribbean integration a reality. Morales pointed out that the agreement integrates Haiti in a free trade agreement with the Dominican Republic.
The agreement is also the first to provide for safeguards lasting up to eight years for product trade protection. It is also the first time that a group of developed countries liberalizes the movement of people, opening their markets, without quotas to doctors, nurses, lawyers, consultants and other trade providers from the Caribbean.
Signatory countries are Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad & Tobago and the Dominican Republic. Participating parties for the European Union are Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Greece, Spain, France, Ireland, Italy, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Hungary, Malta, Netherlands, Australia, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Slovakia, Finland, Sweden, the UK, Bulgaria and Romania.

Real estate boom
A significant real estate boom is under way in the Dominican Republic.
According to Wilson Gomez Ramirez, director of the land registry, real estate sales were at RD$71 billion in 2002. In 2003, they had increased to RD$93 billion, to RD$121 billion in 2005, and RD$175 billion in 2006.
Gomez forecasts a major leap this year, as he indicates that transactions as of September had already reached RD$140 billion.
A lot of the growth in new dwellings is in Santo Domingo. He said that the National Office of Statistics figures showed that 63.6% of the Dominican population lives in cities, compared to 30% in 1960. In the past 40 years, the city of Santo Domingo has grown from 500,000 inhabitants to approximately three million.

Only two holidays shift during 2008
The Ministry of Labor has announced the Official Calendar for 2008, and only two of the many holidays are being shifted during the year. There are thirteen holidays, according to Law 139-97, and the first one to be changed is International Labor Day, May 1st, which falls on a Thursday and will be shifted to 5 May. Constitution Day celebrations will be held on Monday, 10 November, since the 6th falls on a Thursday. Other holidays in the Official Calendar are as follows, according to an announcement in today's press.
Tuesday, 1 January, New Year's Day, no change.
Sunday, 6 January, Three Kings Day, no change.
Monday, 21 January, Our Lady of Highest Grace, Protector of the Dominican people, no change.
Saturday, 26 January, Duarte Day, no change.
Wednesday, 27 February, Independence Day, no change.
Friday, 21 March, Good Friday, no change.
Friday, 16 May, National Election Day, no change
Thursday, 22 May, Corpus Cristi, no change
Saturday, 16 August, Restoration Day, no change
Wednesday, 24 September, Our Lady of Mercy, no change
Thursday, 25 December, Christmas Day, no change
Also see http://dr1.com/travel/prepare/holidays.shtml

Three new ambassadors
The new ambassadors from the United States of America, Switzerland and Mexico presented their credentials in ceremonies at the Presidential Palace yesterday. The US ambassador, Robert Fannin, talked with Dominican President Leonel Fernandez for some 20 minutes, in spite of the time pressures normal in these ceremonies. The new Mexican ambassador, Enrique Manuel Loeza Tovar, a lawyer, was previously assigned to a post in Switzerland. The Swiss ambassador, Jacques Gremaud, has already served in the Dominican Republic as his country's Consul General.

ANJE rejects subsidies
The National Young Entrepreneurs Association (ANJE) has declared that the increase in government subsidies for propane gas (LPG) and electricity contained in the 2008 budget "goes against what should be an effort to reduce the subsidies." ANJE president Joel Santos told reporters from El Caribe that as well as the subsidy increases for LPG and electricity, there is another subsidy for diesel fuel and probably one for the Metro project. According to the ANJE spokesman, this trend shows the absence of a mid- and long-term austerity policy. Santos said, "the authorities are forgetting about the Austerity Law, which ends on 31 December of this year." In his observations on the budget submitted to Congress, Santos also pointed out issues of allocations to education and public health, stating that "this lack of compliance with the percentages assigned to these entities by law should give us pause for thought."

RD$1.5 billion relief bill
The Senate has passed the RD$1.5 billion peso relief package suggested by President Fernandez for recovery efforts needed to repair the damage caused by last week's Tropical Storm Olga. The bill was previously approved by the Chamber of Deputies and now goes to the President for his signature. The bill authorizes the President to transfer the money needed to cover the expenses resulting from TS Olga. The Public Spending Law requires legislative approval of all modifications to the original budget.

JAD: storm damage at RD$10.5 billion
The Agro-Business Board (JAD) has put a figure of RD$10.5 billion on the damage caused by Tropical Storms Noel and Olga. The figures were revealed during a press conference chaired by JAD president Francisco Dionis Fernandez who was assisted by fellow board members. According to the JAD, TS Noel caused damage to agriculture and related infrastructure amounting to RD$7.0 billion, while TS Olga was responsible for RD$3.5 billion in damage. The estimates include landslides, flooding and wind damage. The experts said that most of the damage was to the rice, banana, plantain and cattle sectors, including the loss of millions of liters of milk. Avocados, tomatoes, Chinese cabbage and greenhouse vegetables along with a long list of other crops suffered. It was estimated that the Dominican Republic lost 50% of the Chinese cabbage crop, 20% of vegetables for local consumption, 15% of its rice crop, 45% of the banana crop, 55% of the plantain crop, 35% of milk production, 40 % of the avocado crop and 50% of the yucca harvest.

Scholarships for study in the US
The United States Embassy has announced a scholarship program aimed at helping poor students currently attending Dominican universities to study at a US university for up to a year. Rex Moser, the cultural attache at the embassy and education specialist Francesca Hernandez made the announcement during an interview with Huchi Lora and Nuria Piera on CDN Radio. Second and third-year students, with the exception of medicine and dentistry, can apply for the scholarships. A GPA of 3.0 (or 80 for UASD students) is required. Candidates must be involved in the university community, speak fair English, although language training can be provided as part of the program, and offer proof of economic status. The scholarships will provide room and board, tuition and medical insurance as well as the language courses. The Franklin Center and the Global Program are sponsoring the scholarships. Applications can be obtained at the Franklin Center on Ave. Mexico #71, and applications must be submitted by 22 February 2008.
The Ministry of Superior Education also announced that RD$500 million will be available in 2008 for ongoing and new scholarships for university studies in the DR and abroad. The plan is to benefit 3,500 new students, including 1,000 for which scholarships would be available for studies abroad.

Energy Week 2008
The Pontifical Catholic University Madre y Maestra is hosting one of the workshops during the International Energy Week sponsored by the National Energy Commission. Energy Week is being held from 14-18 January 2008. The workshop at the PUCMM will feature as many as four lectures on alternative energy and a press conference. The announcement of the university's participation in the event was made by Aristides Fernandez Zucco, the president of the National Energy Commission and university rector Monsignor Agripino Nunez Collado.

Parts of Tamboril are sinking
In the Carlos Diaz area of Tamboril the earth is giving way and sinking. More than 50 homes have been seriously damaged or destroyed, forcing many residents to seek shelter in schools and at the homes of relatives or friends. The sinking earth is to be found along a three-kilometer stretch of highway in Carlos Diaz and people have reported hearing "explosions from deep in the earth." At the Maestro Alfonso Foundation, 30 children who attend classes had to leave the building after large cracks appeared in the walls and floor. Houses in a nearby community, Arroyo del Toro, are also experiencing similar damage, and, according to the local mayor Roselio Llano, the damage occurred after the recent quakes and Tropical Storms Noel and Olga. According to geologist Orlando Franco, the saturated soil is the main reason behind the phenomenon, and Carlos Diaz happens to sit astride a fault line that crosses the Northern Mountain range.

Pelaez killer loses appeal
Plutarco Ernesto Gonzalez, the convicted murderer of noted humorist and songwriter Milton Pelaez, lost his appeal as the judges confirmed Gonzalez's 14-year sentence for homicide. The court also confirmed the RD$4.0 million payment due to the Pelaez family. While lawyers for the Pelaez family argued for a 20-year sentence because the evidence indicated premeditated homicide, the court, comprised of magistrates Miriam German Brito, Manuel Hernandez and Francisco Ortega, decided to confirm the lower court's decision of 14 years. While rejecting the arguments of the defendant's lawyers, the court accepted the ballistic evidence that the killing was no accident since "ballistics confirmed that the shot that killed (Pelaez) was from very close range since the victim's skin contained powder."

Baseball update
The Leones del Escogido climbed into a fourth place tie with the Estrellas Orientales as they defeated the Estrellas 10-2 at the Tetelo Vargas Stadium in San Pedro de Macoris. Vince Sinisi was the star for Escogido with his four hits in four at-bats. Meanwhile in Santo Domingo, the Tigres del Licey continued to beat up on the apparently hapless Aguilas Cibaenas, 8-1, and thereby guaranteed their place in the Round Robin portion of the tournament. Jose Bautista hit a two-run home run to cap a three-run rally against starting pitcher Julian Tavarez. Over in San Francisco de Macoris, the league-leading Gigantes del Cibao sent the Toros del Este to the bottom of the standings with a 4-3 victory. After leading 4-0, the Gigantes had to fend off strong attempts by the Toros to come back. A run in the seventh and a two-run rally in the ninth fell just short, as reliever Dario Veras kept the tying run at third and picked up his eleventh save of the tournament.
Current Standings
Team Win Lost Percent Games Behind
Gigantes 27 16 .643 --
Licey 26 17 .605 1.5
Aguilas 21 22 .488 6.5
Escogido 19 25 .432 9.0
Estrellas 19 25 .432 9.0
Azucareros 18 26 .409 10.0
Tonight's games
Estadio Quisqueya, Santo Domingo - Gigantes del Cibao vs Tigres del Licey 7:35pm
Estadio Cibao, Santiago de los Caballeros - Estrellas Orientales vs Aguilas Cibaenas 8pm
Estadio Francisco Micheli, La Romana - Leones del Escogido vs Toros del Este 7:35pm
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