SANTA DOMINGO - Businesses To Stop Paying Electric Bills : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

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Story Filed: Friday, June 09, 2000 5:03 PM EST

Santo Domingo, Jun 09, 2000 (EFE via COMTEX) -- The largest wholesale businesses in northern and northeastern Dominican Republic have collectively decided to withhold payment of their electric bills, beginning this month, in protest against daily blackouts lasting more than 20 hours, the local press reported Friday.

The decision follows an announcement by retailers' associations Thursday to call a general strike to protest frequent interruptions in electric service.

The wholesale businesses agreed to discontinue payments as long as the power companies fail to take steps to remedy the crisis and continue charging abusive rates for the poor service they offer, the newspaper La Informacion, published in the northern city of Santiago, reported.

Cardinal Nicolas de Jesus Lopez Rodriguez warned the government of impending protests and possible social unrest in response to the power outages that have plagued the country for 30 years and multiplied in recent weeks.

The electricity issue has also sparked a confrontation between the Dominican government and the U.S. Embassy, after the former accused Smith & Enron, a U.S. power company that failed to deliver on its promise to generate at least 175 megawatts a day, of outright fraud.

After the government threatened to cancel its contract with the company, the U.S. Embassy called for "respect" for the business.

In August, the administration transferred the production, sale and distribution of electric energy over to the private sector, promising that the frequent outages would be eliminated and electric rates would come down.

Nevertheless, 10 months after privatization, outages are more frequent than ever, the voltage in power lines is lower than in most other countries, and rates have become exorbitant.

President Leonel Fernandez, whose term ends Aug. 16, promised that in the year 2000 blackouts would be a thing of the past, but the power situation has only worsened, as both the industrial and commercial sectors are complaining of losses because of the need to maintain private generators.

All the tourist centers have their own generators and tourists refrain from going out at night because most other areas are prone to frequent, unpredictable power failures.

Spokesmen for the electric companies have said it will take at least "three or four years" to solve the problem.

Frequently over the last 30 years, Dominican authorities have promised to solve the power distribution problem, but have never been able to keep their word.

Most recently, the government blamed the blackouts on the union at the state-run Dominican Electricity Corporation (CDE), and went on to torpedo the organization, firing its leaders and dozens of technicians.

The workers in turn accused the government of sabotaging the union in order to facilitate the CDE's privatization.

In subsequent bidding for the CDE, the United States' AES Dominicana and Spain's Union Fenosa were successful in acquiring the company, and are now the targets of attacks from every quarter. EFE



-- (, June 09, 2000

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