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These stories were published Monday, Feb. 25, 2002
Jo Stuart
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Deficit called country's most serious problem
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica’s public financial deficit is the most serious problem facing the country, according to an economic analysis made public by the U.S. Embassy over the weekend.

Costa Rica is financing this deficit through internal and foreign borrowing that eats up a third of the government’s income, the analysis noted. And the government just borrowed $250 million for 10 years with an 8.11 interest rate last month, the fifth such bond deal since 1998, said the analysis. That puts Costa Rica in hock for $2.35 billion, according to the analysis.

The deficit is not news to Costa Rica, and its size and the way it is financed has figured in the presidential campaign, although there does not seem to be any clear way to reduce it under current economic conditions.

More bad news was the fact exports fell 14.4 percent, said the report that was prepared by the poitical and economic section of the embassy staff using mostly published reports and documents.

The drop in exports can be tied directly to much lower coffee prices and a slower world economy that resulted in slower sales of textiles and computer chips made in Costa Rica. Coffee exports were up nearly 9 percent but average prices were 40.9 percent lower compared to the prices the year before, the report said.

Total Costa Rican exports in 2001 were about $5 billion, said the report, down significantly from 2000. Some 52.9 percent went to the United States during the first 11 months of the year for which figures are available.

Bananas, another major crop, did better and showed a 6.1 percent increase  during the 

first 11 months of the year, said the embassy 
report. Banana exports, some 1.8 million tons, were sold at a price some 1.8 percent less than the year before.
Washington insiders expect
war with Iraq soon
See below

Despite a dip in imports following the Sept. 11 attack in the United States, total imports were up 2.8 percent, said the report. The national currency, the colon, lost about 7.3 percent of its value during 2001, said the embassy citing Central Bank figures.

The embassy report characterized the tourism industry as the most active part of the economy and said that tourism was up 4 percent over the previous year. The report quoted figures released earlier from the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo.  The analysis estimated that tourists spent $1.3 billion here in 2001.

The country’s growth rate was estimated at .7 percent, slightly higher than the predicted .6 percent, according to Central Bank extimates, the analysis said. That’s less than 1 percent. Unemployment, based on an annual estimate made each July was up slightly less than 1 percent to 6.1 percent. The rate for women was slightly higher than for men.

In all the embassy report seemed to agree with the Central Bank president, Eduardo Lizano, who has said that the Costa Rican economy fared better than anticipated after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Air traffic was shut down for five days following the attacks, and exports and imports were backed up with significant losses in perishable products.

Searchers come up empty in case of girl , 5
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The disappearance of a 5-year-old girl Wednesday has become a major mystery. No trace of the girl has been found even though police conducted extensive searches of the area around her home and of some of the dwellings near where she lives.

The girl is Jessica Valverde Pineda of Los Guidos de Desamparados. She walked less than 100 meters (about 325 feet) from her home Wednesday to a small store and was last seen outside the store. 

Not far from the grouping of homes is a field that runs up into the mountains. This was the area that was searched repeatedly by police and dogs without success.  Police also were joined by agents from the Judicial Investigating Organization, who began inventorying the persons who lived in the area and, in some cases, asked to inspect homes.

When they looked at one home Friday night, neighbors thought that the man who lived there was a suspect, and they gathered outside the home shouting threats. The man, who was not identified, had to be taken into 

protective custody. Police feared that the crowd that gathered would lynch him.

The Desamparados area has been the repeated scene of deaths of young women. The general belief among police officers is that a serial killer is abducting and killing young women,  However, the women who have been killed were at least teens, and there has been no indication that the killer or killers have an interest in younger girls.

A body found on a farm in Santa Barbara de Heredia last week turned out to be that of a missing woman, 18, who appears to have been abducted from Desamparados de Alajuela. However, investigators said that this case is probably the results of a personal dispute rather than the work of a serial killer.

Still, that case is strange. The dead women is Marcela Jiménez. Her mother returned home to find that the door and the porton were open but the girl was nowhere to be seen. A neighbor told police that she saw what she thought was a couple with the girl. The girl left the house shoeless and turned up on a finca carefully wrapped in a sheet. The medical examiner said she had been beaten around the head and strangled.

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War with Iraq seen as highly likely by mid-March
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A possible war with Iraq is under serious consideration in Washington. Chief supporters of an attack on Saddam Hussein are the so-called neo-conservatives, some of whom served in the Reagan Administration. They are opposed by other former U.S. policy makers and strategists who fear the costs and consequences of such a war. 

At a recent high-level party in Washington, veteran foreign correspondent Arnaud de Borchgrave said he could hardly hear the piano player for all the loud talk of the coming war with Iraq. There was no question about it, partygoers assured him. It was just a matter of when. "It is in the bag. It is the next target. Just wait for Vice President Cheney to come back from his tour of the Middle East in mid-March, and it is all systems go," he said. "This is the way they are talking, and I think that is far more motivated by domestic politics than it is by the realities on the ground." 

De Borchgrave, an editor at large for the Washington Times and United Press International, said he believes the realities on the ground are a formidable obstacle to a successful overthrow of Saddam Hussein. 

He said U.S. military leaders are decidedly unenthusiastic. Iraq is not Afghanistan. "It is a far more complex situation, and while the Iraqis are far weaker than they were when they invaded Kuwait, it will require a lot of boots on the ground. It cannot be done by remote control," he said. "It cannot be done by using the Iraqi National Congress to overthrow the Saddam regime. All of this, in my judgment, amounts to a huge pipedream." 

But that is the dream of conservative intellectuals, said de Borchgrave, with their exceptional influence in the Bush Administration. 

These are neo-conservatives, said TV talk show host Chris Matthews, distinguishing them from less interventionist-minded ones. They have hijacked U.S. foreign policy, he claimed. What began as a clear, comprehensible war on terrorism has broadened to an ill defined, ideological crusade against the "axis of evil" denounced in President Bush's state of the union address. 

Matthews said the neo-conservatives, spearheaded by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, are leading the United States to unending war, along with Israel, which they ardently support. 

Is it our influence or our argument? asked Tom Donnelly, executive director of the Project for the New American Century, which he calls a neo-conservative or Reaganite think tank involved

An analysis on the news

in defense and foreign policy issues. "We have been lucky in the sense that we have been persistent and consistent and stuck to our principles through the course of time," he said. "I think it is more a question of President Bush coming around to see the validity of our arguments than it is any back channel or secret handshake type influence." 

Donnelly said Iraq represents a clear danger to the world as Saddam Hussein develops his weapons of mass destruction. The sooner he goes, the better, whatever the consequences, including the possible break-up of Iraq. "A unitary Iraq is not necessarily a good thing in and of itself, especially if the unified government is under Saddam Hussein. It is hard to imagine Iraq being more dangerous than it is now," he said. 

"And it is probably likely that a more representative government there would be more likely to keep the country together than otherwise." 

Donnelly does not minimize the cost of such a war. As in Afghanistan, the United States would have to participate in assuring post-war stability. "As we are now discovering in Afghanistan, we cannot just poke our noses in there, dust off our hands and walk away from it, and the same would be true in Iraq, although in many ways, reconstructing Iraq might be easier than reconstructing Afghanistan," he said. 

Donnelly said he believes Iraq has more to build on: an educated people with a talent for commerce. Liberated from Saddam Hussein, he said, the country would flourish.

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Rolando, José and Vladimir, three youngsters from the Oratorio Don Bosco de Sor Maria Romero have a ball at the picnic Saturday of the Association of Residents of Costa Rica north of San Rafael de Heredia. Children from the school for former street children were the guests at the event which had a good turnout despite chilly weather.
GAO sues vice president
to get energy talk info

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The investigative arm of the U.S. Congress has taken the unprecedented step of suing Vice President Dick Cheney over his refusal to provide information about the Bush Administration's energy task force. 

The investigative arm of Congress is the General Accounting Office, the GAO. For several months now, the GAO has demanded a list of officials from private companies who met with Cheney in his capacity as chairman of the president's energy policy task force.

Among the company officials who met with the vice president are representatives from the now bankrupt Enron Corp., a firm that is the focus of several congressional investigations.

The General Accounting Office says it has a right under existing law to know who met with the vice president on energy matters and what was discussed. Cheney has firmly refused to provide the information, insisting that to do so would compromise the ability of the president and his aides to get the views of people in the private sector.

The battle will now be fought out in federal court, and officials on both sides indicate that a negotiated settlement appears unlikely. Presidential scholar Norman Ornstein at the American Enterprise Institute say the public may see Cheney’s  refusal as an effort to hide politically damaging revelations.

Police arrest Vancouver farmer in reign of deaths 
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

VANCOUVER, B.C. — Canadian police have arrested and charged one Vancouver area pig farm owner for murder as the search for dozens of missing women continued. Friday's arrest comes more than 18 years after the first disappearance.

Robert William Pickton, 52, is charged with two counts of first-degree murder. It is the first arrest in the investigation of 50 missing women. Police said the vast majority of victims were drug addicts and prostitutes in the economically depressed area known as Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

The authorities said over 80 investigators have been searching the suburban pig farm since Feb. 6. Mr.Pickton and his brother own the four-hectare (10 acre) property about 35 kms. (21 miles) east of downtown Vancouver.

The first woman disappeared in June of 1983 and the most recent was added to the list in November of 2001.

A special task force involving Vancouver city police and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police was not set-up until September of last year.

Ernie Crey is the brother of Dawn Theresa Crey, who was reported missing in November 2000. He said that the Vancouver police were neglecting the investigation until family members started to protest. Crey said this pressure forced different police agencies to cooperate and better examine the disappearances. 

"Well I would say that played a significant role in getting the police forces to finally decide that they needed to take this investigation seriously and devote the kind of resources necessary to do this investigation," he said.

Police say that this type of an investigation is slow, methodical and takes time. Constable Cate Galliford of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said these charges are not the end of the investigation. She told reporters at a late Friday news conference that there are several months of work to be done at the farm, adding: 

"We believe we now have answers regarding the disappearance of two of the missing women," she said. "But this is a case involving 50 missing women. There are a lot of questions still unanswered. We will not rest until those answers are found. And let me make this very clear to all of you. The investigation into the missing women is not over. The detailed, inch-by-inch search of the farm property will continue for many months to come."

For now, investigators refuse to identify which two of the missing women Pickton is alleged to have killed. They also will not disclose what evidence was found that led to the charges.

Some of the information will be made public today when Pickton will appear in court for these charges. He is already facing other charges on several weapons related offences. 

Ms. Galliford said thousands of tips have been called into police since the search began. She also said that the investigation is not limited to the pig farm and that there are other suspects. At the time of the early disappearances, the farm was originally three times the size, totalling nearly 12 hectares (30 acres). Houses and commercial developments now occupy that land.

Since the land is on a flood plain, none of the buildings involved excavation during construction. Instead, different materials were added to solidify the land. Police will not disclose if there are plans to search any of the original farmland.

Grant made to school
to transform Cuba

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Agency for International Development said it would make a $1 million grant for a study of the many issues surrounding Cuba's transition to democracy. The grant was given to the University of Miami's Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies.

According to an agency press release, "The Cuba Transition Project will focus on identifying and assessing the challenges to a democratic transition in a post-Castro Cuba. The [project] also will build a comprehensive database on Cuba's economy, demography and communications and physical infrastructure."

Three pesticides said
to be very hazardous

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

ROME, Italy  — Three widely-used pesticides and all asbestos should be subject to international trade controls, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization said.

The pesticides, monocrotophos, a combination of Granox TBC and Spinox T, and DNOC, are hazardous to farm workers, the FAO said Thursday. 

A committee has recommended the substances join a legally-binding list of chemicals considered hazardous and which can be banned by any of the governments that ratified a 1998 international agreement. A final decision to add the substances to the list will be made by an intergovernmental negotiating committee in September, the release said.

A decision would allow trade judgments to be made on the basis of how a pesticide is actually used instead of the manufacturer's instructions, the release said.

Senegal initiated the action against Granox TBC/Spinox T, according to the release. The DNOC action was initiated by the European Union (EU) and Peru, it said. Five remaining forms of asbestos banned by the EU and Chile are still being used in seals, gaskets and other equipment in some countries, the release said.

"This decision of the committee is another big step towards eliminating the risks associated with asbestos and its products," said committee Chairman Reiner Arndt of Germany.

Powell said pleased
by Guatemalan effort

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Secretary of State Colin Powell appreciates the counter-terrorism measures being undertaken by the Guatemalan government, as well as Guatemalan efforts to fight corruption, and for the progress being made to reduce tensions on Guatemala's border with Belize, said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.

In a statement released after a meeting between Powell and Guatemalan President Alfonso Portillo, Boucher said Powell also was "gratified" by the Guatemalan's enthusiasm for President Bush's proposal to explore a free-trade area with Central America.

Spanish, Russian skiers
lose their gold medals

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — The International Olympic Committee says triple-gold medalist Johann Muehlegg of Spain and gold medal-winner Larissa Lazutina of Russia have tested positive for use of the performance-enhancing drug, darbepoetin. 

Both cross-county skiers at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics have been expelled from the games, and each have been stripped of one gold medal. Russian cross-country skier Olga Danilova has also been expelled for using the same drug. 

Darbepoetin increases the cardio-vascular endurance of an athlete's performance by stimulating the production of red blood cells that carry oxygen to muscles under stress. 

Muehlegg will lose his gold medal from the 50-km. (30-mile) classic race, but will keep gold medals from two previous races. Lazutina will lose her gold medal from the 30 km. classic race that took place Sunday, but will keep two silver medals. Gabriella Paruzzi of Italy, who finished second in the 30 km. race, will take the gold medal. 

In the only other competition Sunday, Canada claimed the last gold medal of the 19th Winter games, beating the United States 5-2 in the men's hockey final. Joe Sakic scored twice for Canada. 

In competition, Germany leads the way with a record 12 gold medals after earning two more on Saturday, and leads overall with 35 medals. Norway is in second place in the gold column, with 11 medals, ahead of the host United States, which has 10. In overall standings, the United States has earned 33 medals, 19 more than its previous best at a winter games. 

New video targets
human trafficking

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

VIENNA, Austria — The U. N. Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention is releasing a new video campaign to heighten awareness about human trafficking, according to a release from the Vienna-based agency.

The video announcements available in nine languages are intended "to provide a stark warning to millions of potential victims" about this form of modern day slavery.

U.S. and international surveys have concluded that human trafficking is the fastest growing form of organized crime as men, women and children are forced into factory work, field work, domestic servitude and prostitution. An estimated 700,000 people are trafficked each year, the agency said.

This latest effort follows on a 2001 campaign about trafficking of women for sexual exploitation that was broadcast on national networks in more than 35 countries and on international networks such as CNN and MTV.

The anti-trafficking videos can be viewed at http://www.undcp.org/trafficking_tv_

Candidate kidnapped
by Colombian rebels

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — A presidential candidate and a severe critic of the leftist guerilla group FARC is being held hostage by the rebels after being seized. The candidate was traveling overland Saturday to reach the main town in the former rebel zone despite government warnings that the trip was too dangerous. 

The spokeswoman for candidate Ingrid Betancourt said that the former senator is being held hostage by FARC guerrillas. Spokesman Diana Rodriguez said Ms. Betancourt's campaign manager, Clara Rojas, also is being held by the rebels. 

Ms. Betancourt, 40, who was traveling with several people, set off from the southern city of Florencia Saturday for San Vicente del Caguan, the main town in the former FARC enclave. She was warned by the Colombian military and government authorities that the trip was too dangerous. 

Interior Minister Armando Estrada Villa told Colombia's RCN radio Sunday that even her security detail refused to go, but she insisted and left in a private car with several companions. 

He said she was then reported missing when she did not arrive in San Vicente. Estrada Villa spoke to the radio station before the reports surfaced confirming that Ms. Betancourt and her campaign manager had been kidnapped. The rebels released the other members of the group. 

San Vicente was reoccupied by government troops early Saturday as part of a massive military deployment to retake the zone after President Andres Pastrana Wednesday dissolved the rebel enclave and broke off peace talks. Pastrana created the demilitarized zone in late 1998 as a pre-condition for opening negotiations with the FARC to end the decades-long conflict. 

However, the talks made little progress and the FARC used the 42,000- square kilometer enclave to build up its forces and launch attacks elsewhere in Colombia. The guerrillas also held kidnap victims in the zone and allowed drug cultivation and trafficking to flourish. The peace talks almost broke down on several occasions over the past three years, including in January when the government was on the verge of dissolving the zone. However, at the last minute the FARC agreed to open talks on a truce, but then stepped up attacks throughout the country. 

On Wednesday, a FARC contingent hijacked a plane and kidnapped a Colombian senator, an action which prompted President Pastrana to break off the negotiations and retake the demilitarized zone. 

Pastrana paid a brief visit to San Vicente Saturday, where he again blamed the guerrillas for sabotaging the peace talks. For its part, the FARC has said it is willing to reopen negotiations with a future government. But in the meantime, guerrillas have been carrying out attacks against electrical towers and other Colombian infrastructure throughout the country. Presidential elections will be held in May and Pastrana will step down in August. 

Kidnapped Presidential candidate Betancourt is a former senator and a critic of the FARC but is running far behind some of the candidates in opinion polls. However, she was one of several candidates who visited the rebel zone earlier this month to meet with the FARC and urge quicker progress in the peace talks.

Colombia is in the midst of a 38-year civil war. The conflict involves FARC, a smaller rebel force, the National Liberation Army, the government and anti-guerrilla paramilitary groups.  The fighting has killed 40,000 people in the past decade.

Bugs Bunny’s dad
dies in California

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Chuck Jones, the film-maker who helped bring Bugs Bunny and many other cartoon characters to life on theater screens and on television, has died at the age of 89.

Besides Bugs Bunny, Mr. Jones' most popular characters included Daffy Duck, Porky Pig and Wile E. Coyote. He made more than 300 animated films, beginning in the 1930s, and won three of Hollywood's Oscars for his work. Mr. Jones died Friday at his home in southern California.

Biotechnology praised
as big breakthrough

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C.— Agricultural biotechnology is one of the most important opportunities of this century, a top State Department official says.

Speaking Thursday to the Agricultural Outlook Forum 2002, Under Secretary for Economic, Business and Agricultural Affairs Alan Larson said that biotechnology is part of the solution to world hunger.

Larson said that to gain acceptance of bioengineered food products around the world the United States should disseminate more information about their benefits, which include lower pesticide and insecticide needs, reduced spoilage, greater nutritional value and other health benefits. He noted that a new strain of "golden rice" enriched with Vitamin A could prevent blindness in children in developing countries.

The under secretary said that the United States is working with other countries to make biotechnology accessible and consistent with the needs of farmers in developing countries. He noted that U.S. companies are introducing varieties of crops, such as cassava and cotton, for use by small farmers.

He said the U.S. should move quickly to help developing countries adopt biotechnology. The administration has requested an increase in the U.S. Agency for International Development  budget for that purpose, he said.

Speaking to the same meeting, the undersecretary for farm and foreign agriculture services J.B. Penn said that international agricultural trade is increasingly important to the United States, with one in three acres planted for export. "The trade policy landscape for agriculture will be significantly different in the next few years," he said.

Penn said the United States has an "ambitious" trade agenda on three fronts -- globally through the World Trade Organization, regionally through the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas  and the recently proposed Central American Free Trade Area, and bilaterally through agreements with Chile and Singapore and potentially other countries including Australia and New Zealand.

. . . But scientist have
several concerns

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A report by the National Academy of Sciences says genetically engineered crops should be more rigorously reviewed for potential environmental effects before being approved for commercial use and the public should be more involved in the review process.

The new report by a committee of the academy's National Research Council also said that the U.S. Department of Agriculture needs to do a better job of monitoring genetically engineered crops after they are approved for commercial use.

"USDA has substantially improved its regulation of transgenic plants, but the process could be improved further by soliciting greater public input, enhancing scientific peer review, and more clearly presenting the data and methods behind regulatory decisions," the committee said.

The committee said there is no evidence that genetically engineered crops have harmed the environment. It added, however, that some transgenic crops are engineered to produce a pesticide that could potentially harm or kill non-target insects or other animals, or allow targeted pests to develop immunity to the pesticide. The committee found that USDA's treatment of these two issues in its environmental assessments is generally superficial.

"The agency should either increase the rigor of its analysis of pest resistance and impacts on non-target species, or completely defer to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which also assesses these risks," it said.

The USDA sponsored the study, and it can be found at the following Web site: http://www.nap.edu

Foreign service deadline
is March 4 in Costa Rica

The next U.S. foreign service exam will be given here April 13, and there still is time to register. The written examination is the primary step in launching a career as a foreign service officer with the U.S. Department of State and other agencies, a U.S. embassy spokesperson said in a release.

Registration material is available on the Department of State Website: www.careers.state.gov. Applicants may register electronically directly on the Internet. The exam will be given at the embassy, according to the spokesperson.

The deadline for completed applications to be received by the exam contractor will be March 4 for foreign test sites, and March 11 for test sites in the United States, the spokesperson said.

Study guide order forms for the 2002 Study Guide are located at the end of the registration booklet, or can be downloaded off of the Department of State website.  The guide may be ordered by phone from American Collegiate Testing at (319) 337-1429 or Fax (319) 337-1578.  The guide will not be available through the government.

Potential exam takers are encouraged to go to the State Department website to download a suggested bibliography, which can be used to prepare for the 2002 exam, the spokesperson said.

Specific information concerning administration of the examination will be provided closer to the date of the exam.

Ex-president returns
to face murder count

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

ASUNCION, Paraguay —  Former President Raul Cubas surrendered Friday to authorities to face murder charges in connection with the assassination of his vice president and running mate three years ago.

Cubas surrendered at a judge's office in the capital, Asuncion. He was immediately placed under arrest at a military barracks. The former president resigned in March 1999 and fled to Brazil amid accussations he had arranged for the murder of his political rival, Vice President Luis Maria Argana. 

Former Army chief Lino Oviedo, who fled to Brazil as well, is also wanted in connection with the killing, but Paraguay has been unable to extradite him. If found guilty, Cubas faces up to 25 years in prison.

Bank seeking help
from Argentina

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — The Banco de Galicia y Buenos Aires is discussing a rescue plan with the Central Bank, becoming the first bank to seek government support in the country's economic crisis. 

Under the plan, Argentina's Central Bank would buy back around $1 billion worth of its debt to Galicia in exchange for a 50 percent equity stake in Galicia. 

Banco de Galicia y Buenos Aires is the largest privately-owned bank in Argentina that is not controlled by a foreign bank. This made it vulnerable in the eyes of depositors, who feared the bank would collapse without foreign financial backing. As the crisis unfolded, depositors rapidly withdrew their money, draining the bank's funds. 

Galicia also has suffered from the government's default on its debt, as more than a third of its assets were in the form of government bonds.

Cathollic Church reports
more abuse of kids

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. The Roman Catholic Church in the United States has been rattled by another scandal of child sexual abuse by priests, this time in this "the City of Brotherly Love." 

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia says it has dismissed several priests during the past two weeks among a list of 35 priests who have faced what it calls "credible" allegations of sex abuse over the past 50 years. 

Reports say up to six priests were dismissed. The archdiocese says the others on the list are no longer priests or have died. 

The Archdiocese of Boston is facing its own scandal, having recently released to authorities the names of 80 priests who abused children in recent decades. 

A former Boston area priest was sentenced Thursday to nine to 10 years in jail for groping a boy in a swimming pool. Another Boston priest was dismissed last week because of allegations he sexually abused a minor more than 20 years ago.

Clinton off to Africa
as problem solver

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton will chair an international mission in charge of proposing solutions to Africa's most pressing problems, ranging from HIV/AIDS to debt. 

The announcement came Saturday at the end of the Progressive Summit, a two-day meeting of center-left national leaders in Stockholm, Sweden. In a statement, the participants said the Clinton commission will try to identify the steps needed to help promote development, education and health in Africa. 

Those present included South African President Thabo Mbeki and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Former President Clinton did not attend the Stockholm meeting.

Venezuela's currency
takes another beating

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — The national currency, the bolivar, dipped Friday, amid increasing political uncertainty, after a fourth military officer asked President Hugo Chavez to step down. The bolivar, which dipped as low as 1,021 to the dollar, is now more than 20 percent lower than last week, when it was first allowed to float freely.

The decision to float came after investors pulled more than $2 billion from the country, draining its foreign reserves, due to concerns  the military may be planing a coup. 

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