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Daily News - Thursday, 20 December 2007

Fernandez to ratify PetroCaribe
President Leonel Fernandez's main objective as he heads to the PetroCaribe summit in Cienfuegos, Cuba is to ratify the PetroCaribe agreement with Venezuela. He is traveling to Cuba today, to attend the 15-nation PetroCaribe summit.
The ratification of the agreement would prevent what Fernandez called "the other storm," referring to the skyrocketing prices of petroleum on the international market. Fernandez added that PetroCaribe's offer to the DR was generous, and said that if the price of a barrel of oil reached US$100 the DR would pay 50% as part of the PetroCaribe agreement and the remaining 50% would be deferred for 25 years. Fernandez also explained that the agreement would allow the DR to receive a total of 50,000 barrels of crude per day. Quoted in Hoy, Fernandez said, "The good thing about PetroCaribe is that the oil is being sold at market prices, although it allows the Dominican market to finance it with a two-year grace period and very low interest rates, as if it was on consignment, and with the option of paying over a period of 25 years."

New homes for Bonao
President Leonel Fernandez made the ceremonial shoveling gesture, officially starting the construction of 330 new homes for families affected by Tropical Storms Olga and Noel in Bonao. Of the 330 homes, 202 will be built in Bonao while 80 will be built in Piedra Blanca and 50 in Maimon. Fernandez said that the government would also be covering the cost of renting homes while the new houses were being constructed. The President also visited La Vega and Santiago and promised that these towns affected by the storms would soon recover with government help. Fernandez handed the Marte-Quiroz family, which lost two children, a check for RD$400,000 to help cover the cost of the damage they suffered during the storm. Quoted in Hoy, Fernandez says that the province is in a phase of quick recovery after being hit by two strong storms. Fernandez added that most of the homes should be ready by March 2008.

Education minister argues in vain
Education Minister Alejandrina German is not optimistic that her budget allocation will be increased. She is lobbying for a total of RD$33 billion. Hacienda Minister Vicente Bengoa is blaming the International Monetary Fund for the education budget restrictions. The Ministry of Education was allocated RD$31.5 billion in the 2008 budget, up from its 2007 budget of RD$26 billion.
Maria Teresa Cabrera, president of the Dominican Teachers Association (ADP) said the cuts would hinder the execution of many planned projects.
In related news, the European Commission announced that it would be injecting EUR20 million into the Dominican budget to improve the quality of education. This amount is part of a total package of EUR48.2 million which the EU will donate between 2007 and 2010.
In order to qualify for the funds for education, the European Union requests that the country: 1) comply with technical and structural management in agreement with the IMF; 2) increase political dialogue between the government and the donating entity; 3) increase the eight grade completion rate; 4) hire teachers through certification/standardization or contests; 5) create a computer system for resources in line with the National accounts; 6) provide education for public employees at the central, district and regional level in the area of budget development; and 7) create a new organizational structure at the Ministry of Education level.

FTA with Canada
The first round of trade negotiations with Canada took place with officials discussing an increase in cooperation between both countries and the increase in Canadian aid in the area of private sector development. As reported in Listin Diario, Foreign Relations Minster Carlos Morales Troncoso and chief negotiator Juan Guiliani Cury explained that the FTA would attract foreign investments and agro-industrial companies. The first of the five rounds of negotiations took place between 10 and 14 December in Ottawa. The DR is looking for Canada to open up to Dominican free trade zones and officials feel that this would boost investment as well as increasing exports of agricultural products like tropical fruit and organic products. Guiliani says that Canada offers great opportunities for all Dominican fruit exporters and rum producers.

Cash-strapped JCE in RD$23m gift handout
The Central Electoral Board (JCE) has ordered the preparation of 5,200 Christmas gift baskets at a cost of RD$23 million, according to a report in Diario Libre. At the same time, the JCE is requesting that the government increase its budgetary allocation. The JCE chose three companies for the preparation of the baskets that usually include Christmas fruits, delicacies and alcoholic beverages, but did not hold a tender to secure the better prices, reports the newspaper. Four thousand of the baskets will be given to JCE employees, while others will be distributed to the media.

Major tourism breakthrough
Foreigners holding up-to-date passports and visas issued by the United States, Canada, European Union or the United Kingdom will now be able to enter the DR with the purchase of a tourist card and not a visa as previously required, according to Decree 690-07 issued this week by President Leonel Fernandez. The measure comes at a time when tourism to the Caribbean is on the decline, and acknowledges the importance of tourism and foreign investors for the Dominican economy. With a modern travel vision, it recognizes that those countries have better systems to screen unwanted visitors than the DR.
Complementary Decree 691-07 derogates the visa requirement for tourists from Andorra, Bahrain, Belize, Botswana, Brunei, Cyprus, United Arab Emirates, Estonia, Fiji, Grenada, Guyana, Iceland, the North Marianas Islands, Marshall Islands, Solomon Islands, Kazakhstan, Kiribati, Kuwait, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Micronesia, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritius, Namibia, Nauru, Qatar, South Africa, Romania, Samoa, Seychelles, Singapore, Thailand, Tonga, Turkey, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. These will now also be able to enter with the purchase of a tourist card.
Dominican Ambassador to India Hans Dannenberg stressed that the decree is a major step towards achieving regional connectivity with Asia and Africa. Both Dannenberg and Dominican ambassador in Qatar, Hugo Guiliani are lobbying for direct air link from the Middle East to the DR so that travelers no longer have to make stopovers in Europe or the US to travel to the DR.
The decrees opens doors for visits from tourists and investors from several affluent countries, such as the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Brunei, Kuwait, Qatar and South Africa as countries from where investors and tourists could be attracted.
He also mentioned that the elimination of visa requirement for Singapore, Malaysia, Mauritius and Seychelles is part of a reciprocal visa treatment, following these countries' elimination of the requirement for Dominican citizens.
He also commented that the visa requirement follows diplomatic efforts for increased integration through European Union-sponsored ACP meetings, at the United Nations and other international forums.

Investors want IMF
The Association for Foreign Business Investment (ASIEX) and the American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM) are in favor of the country maintaining its Stand-by arrangement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). ASIEX says that the IMF has helped the private and public sector restore stability in the Dominican economy and this is why the country should keep the agreement in place. Pablo Linares, executive director of ASIEX said that there is still a need for multilateral institutions to help with the application of coherent and healthy policies. Linares added that its important to continue with the IMF in order to create a favorable climate for foreign investment in the DR. William Malamud, vice president of AMCHAM, seconded Linares' assertions. The IMF agreement runs until 31 January 2008, after which the Dominican government must decide whether or not to renew the agreement.

Orlando's killer gets 30 years
The Supreme Court of Justice has added another 10 years to retired General Joaquin Antonio Pou's jail sentence after finding him guilty of complicity in the 17 May 1975 murder of journalist Orlando Martinez Howley. The Supreme Court revoked the sentence handed down last May by the Penal Chamber of the Court of Appeals at the San Pedro de Macoris Judicial Department, which had reduced the original 20-year sentence to 12 years. The Supreme Court, headed by Dr. Jorge Subero Isa, said that Pou was guilty of violating articles 295, 296, 297, 298, 302 and 304 of the penal code.

Popular Christmas bread more expensive
The traditional Dominican Christmas bread named "telera" has experienced an RD$10 to RD$20 price hike attributed to the rise in international wheat prices, the rise of local flour prices and the overall increase of petroleum prices on the international market. Officials said that there is no bread shortage but that this holiday season the bread will be sold for between RD$60 and RD$80. Last year a 1.5 pound loaf sold for between RD$50 and RD$60.

Dominicans in NY save abandoned baby
Two young Dominicans and two Ecuadorians have saved the life of an abandoned newborn baby who has been named Christina Noel. The baby was found in the New York borough of Queens, and doctors say that the baby's umbilical cord was still intact. The baby was saved by Dominicans Luis Cordero Boya, 19 and Gabriel Mercedes, 16, and Ecuadorians Christopher and Brian Moncada, 15 and 13. Listin Diario writes that Boya, a barber, heard the sound of a crying baby coming from a garbage can. When he went to investigate, he noticed a brown paper bag moving and found the baby wrapped inside two blankets. Boya and his friends looked after the baby until police arrived.

Dominican volleyball women shine
The Dominican women's volleyball team has finished undefeated at the women's pre-Olympic tournament being held in Monterrey, Mexico. The team's winning streak will guarantee them a final first place in Group B of the tournament. The DR is considered the only team strong enough to beat out the Cuban team for the last remaining spot in the 2008 Olympic games in Beijing.

Polanco honored
Dominican ball player Placido Polanco was named Defensive Player of the Year for the Major Leagues by more than nine million fans. Polanco, who plays with the Detroit Tigers, didn't commit a single error during the 2007 season and established a new record with 888 attempts without an error. His last error was recorded on 1 July 2006. This is Polanco's second post-season award as he won a Gold glove for his 2007 play.

Baseball updates
Escogido are making it interesting while making their final push for a playoff spot. Santo Domingo's second team notched another victory last night after beating the Azucareros 5-1. The Leones rode the victory behind the bat of Juan Melo who drove in three runs. In other baseball news, the Estrellas kept their playoff dreams alive as they also won. The Estrellas beat the Aguilas in a close 2-0 match. Pitcher Daniel Cabrera was sensational, pitching five innings and only giving up one single. The Estrellas are still tied for the fourth place spot with Escogido. This race could come down to the season's final game. Finally, Ronnie Belliard continued to be the anchor on Licey's possible playoff ship as the clutch hitter hit another game-winning hit for the Tigres. Belliard's game-winning hit came in the tenth inning to give his team a 4-3 victory over the Gigantes. The victory made the race for the top even tighter with Licey now only 1.2 games behind the Gigantes.
Current Standings
Team Win Lost Percent Games Behind
Gigantes 27 17 .627 --
Licey 27 17 .627 0.5
Aguilas 21 23 .477 6.5
Escogido 20 25 .444 8.0
Estrellas 20 25 .444 8.0
Azucareros 18 27 .400 10.0
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