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Daily News - Thursday, 13 March 2008

Getting ready for Holy Week
The Ministry of Public Health (SESPAS) has announced the "Semana Santa Reflexiva 2008" initiative to help prevent and deal with emergencies during the Holy Week holiday, 16-22 March. Extra medical supplies have been sent to public hospitals and health centers around the country. Deputy Minister Jose Rodriguez Aybar said that SESPAS, in conjunction with the National Emergency and Disaster Department would coordinate preventive initiatives as necessary. He announced that 60 ambulances would be patrolling the main highways especially during the holiday weekend.

Belt tightening
Economic, Planning and Development Minister Temistocles Montas says that the DR is "on the verge of a terrible situation" in the face of the increase in international oil prices, which will have to be countered by a "tightening of belts" by the government. Montas says that the current subsidy for the electricity sector is for US$650 million, but if the barrel of oil reaches US$120, which is a possibility, the electricity subsidy could be doubled. He added that although the government doesn't plan to raise electricity rates, if the authorities decide to freeze fuel prices, the country would fall into an unsustainable situation, which would be damaging for all Dominicans. Yesterday, the barrel of crude reached another all-time high of US$109. This continued increase in fuel prices could force the government to rethink the Energy Contingency Plan which was announced in 2007. Although the Plan was to be put into action immediately, it has lagged in its implementation.

PC call to withhold campaign funds
Civic group Participacion Ciudadana (PC) is asking the Central Electoral Board (JCE) to withhold the PLD's allocation of funds for political campaigning due from the JCE until the CB (Comite de Base) scandal can be investigated or until the PLD can provide an explanation on the matter. The CB scandal involves the payment of RD$3,000 and RD$4,000 monthly checks out of state funds to PLD ruling party members without JCE authorization or transparency.
Javier Cabreja, head of PC, is asking the PLD to return the funds paid by the CB program, saying that it is scandalous that government funds are being used to pay people who are not even government employees. Cabreja, quoted in Hoy, said that actions of this type give President Leonel Fernandez's re-election bid an unfair advantage. In related news, the JCE has given the PLD ten days to respond to the accusations and "proof" provided by the PRD party. PRD representatives said they would take this scandal to international organizations like the Carter Center, the Socialist International and other election monitoring organizations.

Bengoa tiptoes around CB issue
Hacienda Minister Vicente Bengoa has admitted to the existence of the CB program that is paying PLD members between RD$3,000 and RD$4,000 out of government funds each month, originally revealed by TV journalist Nuria Piera. The Minister explained that this particular program began at the onset of the current administration and had intensified as the need for personnel increased during Tropical Storms Noel and Olga. Bengoa, quoted in Listin Diario, added that this wasn't part of a re-election campaign and that the people who receive these funds would vote for Leonel Fernandez anyway because they are PLD members. He argued that if the program were political in nature they would have "hired" non-PLD members in order to guarantee that they vote for Fernandez. He added that neither the Treasury nor the Hacienda Ministry has anything to do with the way each individual government department handles its budget.

Arresting the Renove six?
Listin Diario is reporting that Plan Renove RD$1.8 billion public transport fleet renewal corruption scandal convicts are in the process of being re-arrested by the authorities. Fabio Ruiz is already in jail while Paulino Antonio Reynoso and William Mendez Montes de Oca said they would turn themselves in to the Corruption Prevention Department at 9am today. It is expected that the arrests of Antonio Marte, Blas Peralta and Amaro Guzman would take place today. Arrest warrants for the six Plan Renove defendants were issued yesterday. Gervasio Rosa has been given house arrest. Yesterday, the chief magistrate of the Supreme Court of the Dominican Republic warned the judges responsible for executing the arrest orders to follow the law.

Doctors' strike turns violent
What was supposed to be a non-violent demonstration turned into a clash between protestors and the police anti-riot unit. Yesterday, doctors, public transport drivers and social organizations assembled and marched towards the Presidential Palace, but were met by police wielding guns, bombs, water hoses and other equipment to keep the protestors at bay. National Police Chief Rafael Guillermo Guzman Fermin had promised that no protestor was going to get near the Presidential Palace. The march made its way from Luis Eduardo Aybar Hospital on to Federico Velasquez Avenue, Duarte Avenue and ended at the intersection of Mexico and Prudhomme avenues. Dominican Medical Association (CMD) president Waldo Ariel Suero and FENATRANO director Juan Hubieres criticized the police presence and said that the scheduled public hospital doctors' strike (26, 27 and 28 March) will go on as planned. This will be the third doctor's strike since February. In addition, the transport unions, who have joined the doctors in their campaign, have announced strikes form 9 April. In all 40 people were arrested, but were released the same day. No injuries were reported. The strike is just the latest attempt by doctors to get a decent living wage, although talks between government officials and medical representatives are in stalemate. The doctors are asking for RD$59,000 per month. They currently receive just RD$23,000. Health Minister Bautista Rojas Gomez has urged doctors who are also members of the PLD to defend their government and President in the wake of the march. He is quoted in Hoy as saying that it is always hoped that protests won't get to this stage, but that the doctors' attitude has made it difficult to engage in dialogue.

Bani teachers strike continues
Teachers in Bani are continuing their strike and have been on the picket lines for seven days, with no end in sight. The teachers in 76 of Bani's schools say that they have been teaching at the schools for the last year and have yet to be paid for their services. The teachers told Listin Diario that they have resorted to striking because officials have given them no choice in the matter and added that the Ministry of Education has broken all its rules by not paying the teachers for over 12 months. In all 10,000 students have been affected by the strike and those students are in jeopardy because of the strike's proximity to the national exams.

Where'd DR-CAFTA go?
It was highly touted and keenly anticipated, but one year after the introduction of the free trade agreement, the DR can show few benefits from DR-CAFTA. According to Hoy, the DR has a negative trade deficit with the US and other CAFTA countries (Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua). The only exception is Nicaragua with whom the DR registered a surplus in the balance of trade. According to Industry & Commerce Minister Melanio Paredes, the DR's exports to the US only increased by 6%, excluding production in the free trade zones (FTZs). During that same period US exports towards the DR increased by 18%. Paredes added that the necessary studies are being completed to determine what the actual balance of trade between the US and the DR should be. Andres Vanderhorst, director of the National Competitiveness Council explained that the signing of DR-CAFTA was inevitable. Nevertheless, he insisted that Dominican exports to the US market have to increase. Paredes says that for the DR to take advantage of the treaty, Dominican companies need to change the way in which they manage their business. He says that they must realize that the government will facilitate business opportunities and that business organizations are trying to strengthen the business climate in the DR. As for products that have not seen a reduction of price since the introduction of DR-CAFTA, Pablo Amaury Espinal, director of Foreign Trade at the Minister of Industry of Commerce, said that they are conducting research to determine why this has been the case so far.

Trade with Haiti worsening
The lack of an established free trade agreement between Haiti and the DR is leading Haiti to impose indiscriminate tariffs on Dominican goods, which is adversely affecting trade between the neighboring countries. Dominican Business Federation (FDC) president Ivan de Jesus Garcia pointed out the example of steel, which used to sell for US$600 per ton and is now on the market for US$1,100 per ton, due to the increasing tariffs. Garcia says that the high tariffs basically make it impossible to take Dominican steel into Haiti. De Jesus says that trade with Haiti has dropped by 80% because of the increased tariffs and new paperwork required. Garcia explained that the Haitian government paperwork requirements call for a two-month long procedure for importing a goods container.

Brugal pays big
The Brugal rum factory has paid the government RD$4 billion in capital gains on profits from the sale of the rum-producing company to Edrington International Brands Limited. The funds were handed over to the government during a special ceremony. The director of the Tax Department, (DGII) Juan Hernandez, received the funds on behalf of the government. Brugal executives say that the sale and the payment of capital gains on the sale were made in strict compliance with the law and with full transparency. Brugal is the largest rum manufacturer in the DR.

Keeping your number
The DR could be among the first countries in Latin America to offer phone number portability, which would allow cell phone users to keep the same phone number, even if they decide to change service providers. The information was provided by Gabriela Lago, Vice President of Telcordia, which is part of the Organization of American States (OAS). Listin Diario reports that INDOTEL has already approved the measure, which could go into effect as early as next year. This offer would be applied to home phones as well. Mexico has already approved the program and should begin its implementation some time in 2008. The DR and Brazil have plans to implement number portability in 2009 and Peru should have it in place by 2010.

Thursday sales
Ole supermarkets are advertising sweet potato for RD$9.99lb, carrots for RD$7.75lb, bugalu tomatoes for RD$7.75lb, plantains for RD$6.99ea, and other sales on fruits and vegetables.
Bravo is advertising octopus for RD$99.95lb, dorado fish for RD$79.95lb, crab meat for RD$159.95 and 20% off on select cuts of meat.
Jumbo is advertising squid rings for RD$59.95lb, Norwegian cod for RD$68.95, osobuco for RD$34.95, beef ribs for RD$31.95, among other sales in its seafood and meat departments.
Super Pola is advertising sales in its beef and seafood departments. Frozen chicken is RD$19.95lb.
La Sirena has sales in its baby department, especially with discounts on beds and carriages.
Nash Evoli in Acropolis and Megacentro is advertising 50% off all its clothing.
Carrefour, La Cadena and Plaza Lama are advertising Brahma beer six-packs for RD$119.95, and 12-pack cans for RD$249.95 through 31 March.
Conforama has furniture sales, with a sofa set selling for RD$29,995 and a bedroom set for RD$16,995.
Plaza Lama is advertising Xbox 360 box for RD$21,995, Wii for RD$14,995 and Playstation for RD$20,795, 10% off Art Cool air conditioning models, Kenmore washing machine Mod 26-27222 for RD$17,995, Frigidaire 30 inch stove for RD$14,999, and a Tecnomaster 2.5 liter rice pot for RD$1,099.
Todo Pieza is advertising 40% off on Toyo Japanese tires and 10% on ACDelco batteries.
Ferreteria Hache is advertising its 25% off 6-10pm sale, with 50% off one item purchased from 9-10pm for Friday.
Caremax has 50% off on tires, batteries. Goodyear & Dunlop brands. Av. John F. Kennedy almost corner Lope de Vega.
Grupo Cometa is advertising sales of tires for Easter Week travel. A 175/70R13 tire is going for RD$1,245 and there are many other kinds for sale. Isabel Aguiar No. 164, Herrera. 809 530-1014.
La Nacional furniture store has three days of sales (13-15 March) on furniture sets and items, kitchen appliances, upholstery material, lamps at its Home Gallery on Gustavo Mejia Ricart 10, Piantini.

Three Tall Women
This weekend, watch a Dominican production of "Three Tall Women," the Pulitzer-Prize winning play (1990-91) by Edward Albee at the Sala Ravelo, National Theater. It stars Maria Castillo, Karina Noble and Robmariel Olea and is directed by Maria Castillo. Performances are on Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8:30pm, and on Sunday at 6:30pm.
For more on events, see www.dr1.com/calendar
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