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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, March 3, 2004, Vol. 4, No. 44
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Country tries to head off a wave of dengue
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nation begins a major effort today to cut down the number of mosquitoes that transmit dengue and malaria. 

Statistics released Tuesday by the Ministerio de Salud show that reported cases of both insect-born illnesses are twice the number as in 2003. The nation has 1,077 cases of dengue and 112 cases of malaria with the highest incidence being in the Caribbean coast from Talamanca to Limón to Guápiles. 

The campaign is being directed by the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social, which is the organization that also runs the hospitals. Eliseo Vargas Garcia, the agency’s executive president, said multiple fronts were being established against the mosquitoes.

Vargas likened the campaign kicking off today as being similar to the one in August. In 2003 nearly 20,000 persons suffered from dengue, and a few had the sometimes fatal hemorrhagic form.

Vargas also promoted the use of repellent and a special bracelet that will be distributed free to poorer areas in the most affected sections of the country. The bracelet is impregnated with a repellent and has proven effective in many parts of the world, according to Mario Vargas Vargas, a researcher at the University of Costa Rica. He is published extensively in the scientific literature and is a member of the American Society for the Control of Mosquitoes.

One target of the campaign will be used vehicle tires that when partly filled with water are attractive to the egg-laying female mosquito.  The firm EBI and Bridgestone Firestone are teaming up to provide pickup points for used tires.

The firm Durman y Esquivel will present a program March 20 in Calle Blancos to emphasize the need to clean rain gutters to eliminate breeding spots.

The rainy season will not be here for nearly two months, so officials are trying to get a head 

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Eliseo Vargas Garcia encourages the use of repellent spray and the impregnated cloth bracelet that will be distributed.

start to avoid what seems to be a growing epidemic.

The Municipalidad de San José will set up special collections of non-traditional trash to eliminate breeding spots and Riteve, the vehicle inspection company, will be distributing literature about eliminating the mosquito at the station lines.

Throughout the country there are a number of programs scheduled to help citizens clean up and to learn more about the ways to eliminate the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which carries the dengue virus. Officials will even try to slip in some announcements during the breaks in the major football games.


 
Opponents of corporal punishment for kids meeting today
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Efforts to ban corporal punishment of children will be outlined today at a meeting in San Rafael de Heredia.

The Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children will be represented by coordinator Peter Newell. The organization says that its main goal is to speed the end of corporal punishment of children across the world. 

The session at 3:30 p.m. in the Hotel La Condesa

has been promoted also by the Defensor de los Habitantes. According to the Web site of the Initiative, corporal punishment of children is permitted in the homes in Costa Rica but is forbidden in schools and in prisons. 

However, the discussion today is believed to focus on all Central America and not just here.

Expected to attend the strategy session will be representatives of Save the Children and the Defensoría de la Niñez de Centroamérica, said an announcement.

 
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Villalobos story ready
for Canadian television

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Canadian television company will be airing a show about the Villalobos Brothers and their failed high-interest borrowing operation Saturday night.

Creditors of the former mall San Pedro operation hope that publicity will help their case. A number of creditors talked to television workers when they visited Costa Rica before Christmas.

The show will be on Ontario-based W-Five, which some Canadians here have likened to the CBS "60 Minutes." The show is carried by CTV Inc, which owns a number of stations in Canada and boasts that it has signals covering 99 per cent of English-speaking Canadian households.

Jeff Silverstein, associate producer of W-Five confirmed via e-mail Tuesday that the show was scheduled.

CTV Inc. is owned by Bell Globemedia, which also owns The Globe and Mail, Canada’s prestigeous daily.

Following the show, the report can be seen on the network’s web site, www.ctv.ca, said Silverstein. 

Canada is where a legal team is attempting to build a case to draw Costa Rica into international arbitration over the failure of the Villalobos operation. The main claim is that Costa Rica failed to supervise the financial sector and allowed Luis Enrique and Oswaldo Villalobos Camacho to operate illegally for years.

Luis Enrique Villalobos has been a fugitive since Oct. 14, 2002. His brother is in jail awaiting the leveling of charges.

Quepos fish tourney
benefits cystic fibrosis 

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Costa Rica Classic International Billfish Tournament, scheduled March 19-21 in Quepos, has almost filled its available slots.

The tournament is put on by the Boomer Esiason Foundation to heighten awareness, education and funding efforts of cystic fibrosis research. The tournament, now in its second year, has more than doubled in size.

"We have teams for 25 boats now and are about sold out," said Rob Hodel, president of Tico Travel, in Ft. Lauderdale who is coordinating the tournament for the foundation.  "The response has been amazing with anglers coming from across the U.S. and Central America. We have a number of people already signing on for the 2005 event." 

Ready to defend their titles will be Richard Lebo and Denny Derringer, both of Quepos, said Hodel.  He added that most of the teams from the inaugural tournament are back as well. "Because of the response we’re bringing into the area some of the finest captains and their boats to add to the local Quepos fleet.

The idea for the tournament was spawned after Dave Rimington, the president of the foundation in New York City, N.Y., sponsored and participated in several celebrity fishing series events in the Florida Keys. 

The two-day, 17 hours-on-the-water event awards the team that tallies the most points during the tournament. Along with awards for the top teams, anglers will get a chance to enter the calcutta where a minimum of $10,000 in cash will be give away. The contestants will achieve points for catching, photographing and releasing sailfish and marlin. The anglers will also collect points for catches of roosterfish, dorado, tuna and dog tooth snapper. 

Among the celebrities fishing the event are Esiason, Rimington and Mark Cooper, all who had award-winning careers in the National Football league and college football.

The Costa Rica Classic has also been named by the International Game Fish Association as a qualifying event for the sixth annual Rolex/IGFA Offshore Championship, an international fishing competition taking place in May 2005.

The international fishing competition draws top teams from all corners of the earth.  The upcoming May 2004 championship will attract some 60 teams from 30 countries to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

As a qualifying event, the winning team of up to four anglers from the CR Classic will be invited to compete in the 2005 world championship and a one-year membership in the association.

More information on the Costa Rica Classic is available on the Web site at www.costaricaclassic.com or the foundation Web site at www.esiason.org 
 

Unlicensed taxi drivers
fail to reach any accord

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Unlicensed taxi drivres failed to reach agreement with government officials Tuesday night during a meeting at Casa Presidencial. The drivers have been staging protests and have blocked key streets to protest fines levied against them. The most recent protest, blocking Avenida 2 at 5 p.m. Monday, choked the city’s rush hour traffic.

Unlicensed drivers are seeking the right to transport individuals the way licensed taxis do now without facing police problems. The government has refused to grant that right and says the law mandates licensing.
 
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Andean anti-drug efforts will continue U.S. says
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Bush administration officials have told a congressional committee the United States is committed to fighting the production and trafficking of narcotics in and from Colombia and other countries in South America. Testimony on Capitol Hill coincided with the release of the administration's annual report on drug control. 

The administration has requested $731 million in the fiscal year beginning next October for what is called the Andean Counterdrug Initiative, a broad effort to support opium and coca eradication, interdiction and institution-building in seven South American countries and one Central American nation.

The program covers Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil, Venezuela and Panama. However the bulk of the money, about $463 million, goes to Colombia, where the government has made strides in eliminating opium cultivation, but faces challenges from "narco-terrorist" groups using cocaine and heroin profits to support their activities. 

John Walters, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, says an aggressive aerial spraying campaign began to show results in 2002, reducing the number of hectares devoted to coca and opium production. Results for 2003 are still being evaluated, but he says additional progress is expected. 

Walters credits Colombian President Alvaro Uribe for the progress, and he says the budget for 2005 reflects the administration's determination to support him. And he says any slowing of the effort would be risky: 

"We do not want to go to stasis because that will encourage a ballooning. It will encourage what we have seen before, if we let this cancer continue, it metastasizes into other areas, and establishes itself, so when we kill it in one place it simply moves around," he said. "Our goal is not to chase this around like mercury on the top of this desk. Our goal is to shrink it and crush it and crush it at various stages so it can't re-generate the supporting loop of production and consumption." 

Walters says so far, it appears there has not been a resurgence of coca production in Peru and Bolivia even as Colombian authorities with U.S. assistance make progress in that country. 

However, the chairman of the House subcommittee, Republican Congressman Mark Souder, is concerned about what he calls a 13 percent reduction in funds for the Andean initiative since 2003. 

Souder said Americans are impatient that more results aren't being seen in the form of reduced flows of cocaine and heroin into U.S. cities: 

"We have been spending a lot of money in the Andean region, and we all agree that [Colombian President] Uribe seems to be our best hope, that it appears that it hasn't spread as much as we had feared into the other countries," he said. 

"It's perplexing to try to almost figure out why if our interdiction is up and our eradication is up, that we haven't moved the price and supply up. We're all trying to figure out whether there are stockpiles or whatever. 

"And it's a great goal to have democratization that is in our region, stability in Colombia, we have been putting a lot into their legal system, but ultimately the reason the American taxpayers have supported this is to see some reduction in the United States." 

Another official says the link between terrorism and drug money is incontrovertible. Robert Charles, Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, describes what he calls an "end game" that will require full support from Congress to achieve. 

"The end game is a hemisphere free of drug-funded terrorism, free from drug-funded corruption in young and old democracies, subject to less drug violence, and increasingly free from the scourge of drug abuse," he said. "That end game, or goal, applies as plainly to [U.S. city] Baltimore as to Bogota." 

Charles said the battle against narcotics trafficking and terrorist groups it supports is a "steep climb." 


 
Noreiga lists the hemisphere's major trouble spots
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. —  While a number of positive developments are occurring in the Western Hemisphere, the region also faces many challenges in such countries as Haiti, Colombia, Venezuela, and Cuba, said Roger Noriega, the State Department's assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs.

In testimony Tuesday before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Noriega offered an analysis of the most important events affecting the nations of the hemisphere.

Noriega said U.S. objectives in the region are to strengthen democratic institutions, improve conditions for broad-based economic growth, provide for basic human needs in the most urgent situations, and protect people from both internal and external threats. Countries achieving these objectives will help both themselves and the United States, said Noriega.

In his country-by-country breakdown of the region, the State Department official began with Haiti. That nation's former president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, "voluntarily resigned" from office Sunday "when he realized that he could no longer depend on armed gangs to maintain him in power," said Noriega. "And in the end, those were the only elements of possible support left to him."

Aristide's government "failed its people in every way," added Noriega. "Now we can make a new beginning in helping Haiti to build a democracy that respects the rule of law and protects the human rights of its citizens."

The United States and its partners, said Noriega, will work "intensively with Haiti's interim government to restore order and democracy." Restoring order in Haiti will require "lots of work for us and the international community, but we are committed to that task," said Noriega.

The United States sent troops to Haiti in September 1994 to restore the exiled Aristide to power.

Meanwhile, in Colombia, Noriega said the Andean nation continues to present the "most urgent case for law enforcement and other assistance in the region."

Counternarcotics remains at the center of U.S. 

relations with Colombia, which supplies 90 percent of the cocaine consumed in the United States, said Noriega.

He said U.S. assistance for Colombia includes funds for narcotics interdiction and eradication, and for alternative development and institution-building programs in such areas as emergency and longer-term assistance to vulnerable groups and displaced persons, and for programs promoting the rule of law, local governance, and human rights.

Noriega said Venezuela remains a "cause for considerable concern," citing the "crisis of governance" caused by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's "increasingly anti-democratic actions and the strong opposition of the traditional elites."

The United States has a major interest in preserving and regenerating democracy in Venezuela and bringing about a peaceful, constitutional solution to the nation's ongoing political crisis, Noriega said.

He explained that foreign assistance resources in Venezuela will be used towards improving the functioning of institutions that underpin democracy, in particular, stronger, more democratic political parties and democracy-related non-government organizations.

"The absence of such dependable actors has greatly increased the distance between Chavez and his detractors and prolonged the crisis" in Venezuela, Noriega said.

For communist Cuba, Noriega said U.S. policy is to encourage a rapid, peaceful transition to democracy characterized by strong support for human rights and an open-market economy.

The United States will support Cuba's "embattled civil society and increase our efforts to break the information blockade" imposed on the island by the regime of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, said Noriega. In addition, he said the United States will provide a "voice to Cuba's independent journalists and human rights activists."

In this way, Noriega said, "we will help Cuba's strongly motivated civil society to work for freedom in political, economic, and other fields. We intend to help create the conditions that will bring to an end the hemisphere's only totalitarian government and reintegrate the Cuban people as members of the community of the Americas."


 
Violence on the increase in divided Venezuela
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — Protesters have clashed with police in several Venezuelan cities after election officials announced not enough valid signatures have been submitted to force a recall referendum of President Hugo Chavez. 

The National Election Commission in Caracas said Tuesday that a preliminary verification showed the opposition submitted only 1.8 million valid signatures, short of the 2.4 million needed to force a recall vote. The opposition says it has collected 3.4 million names. 

Protests were reported in nearly a dozen cities with anti-government demonstrators setting up flaming barricades to block highways. National Guard troops in armored personnel carriers fired 

tear-gas to disperse the crowds. At least five people have been killed since Friday. 

Election officials said the opposition would have a chance to reconfirm more than one million disputed signatures. Opposition leaders say that such a monumental task, involving hundreds of thousands of citizens, could postpone or derail the recall. 

Venezuela's constitution calls for new elections within 30-days if Mr. Chavez is ousted in a recall before mid-August. If he is ousted in a recall after August 19, Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel would take over until Mr. Chavez's term expires. 

Opposition leaders have said that scenario is unacceptable, as Chavez would simply rule from behind the scenes. 


 
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U.S. reaches free trade agreement with Morocco
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. —  A newly concluded U.S.-Moroccan Free Trade Agreement will serve as a model for further trade accords in the Middle East and North Africa and contribute to a tremendous increase in commerce between the two countries, according to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick and Moroccan Minister Delegate Taib Fassi-Fihri.

The two men announced the successful conclusion of negotiations on the agreement at a press conference in Washington Tuesday.

"It builds a very strong relationship with a longtime partner and friend, the Kingdom of Morocco," said Zoellick, "but it also serves a larger aim because together, the United States and Morocco can show many others throughout the Middle East the power of free trade to try to support democracy and promote prosperity and build a more tolerant, stable and peaceful world."

Fassi-Fihri added, "The conclusion of this accord confirms the strong will of the two countries to promote their strategic partnership and to carry their contribution to the development of the global economy, particularly within the Middle East and North Africa region."

The Moroccan minister delegate said, "My country finds in this agreement a statement of confidence in our economic system and in its maturity."

He said Moroccan textiles and agro-alimentary products are industrial niche sectors of the economy that will likely benefit from the free trade pact.

The agreement provides interesting opportunities to U.S. producers "not only in [Morocco's] relatively narrow market but because there are also real, concrete and effective possibilities to use Morocco as a platform for the European and African markets," the mininster said.

U.S. Trade Representative Zoellick highlighted the particular opportunities which the agreement creates for U.S. agricultural producers.

"This agreement covers all agricultural products and will open Morocco's market to U.S. farm products. Poultry, beef and wheat will benefit from greater access under tariff rate quotas, and frankly this will help U.S. farmers and ranchers to get a new tool to compete against Canada and the E.U. in Morocco's markets," he said.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman welcomed the agreement saying, "Continuing liberalization of Morocco's economy and trade are leading to rising demand for consistent, high-quality products. This growth along with 

newly competitive pricing will present great opportunities for U.S. agricultural exporters."

Tariffs on agricultural products were a particularly sensitive issue in the negotiations given the importance of the Moroccan agricultural sector.

"We tried to deal sensitively with Morocco's special needs with its small farmers, because we believe that we can protect the social stability that is important for Morocco at the same time we expand markets for American products," Zoellick said.

Fassi-Fihri confirmed this point. "Each time that the interests of one party coincided with sensitivities of the other party, we set out to find imaginative solutions for compromise that served the interests of both parties," he said.

Zoellick added that under the agreement, benefits would also accrue to Morocco's agricultural sector, pointing out for example, the availability of cheaper inputs such as animal feed.

"More than 95 percent of U.S. consumer and industrial good product trade will enter Morocco duty free on day one of this agreement, and that is the best market opening package of any U.S. free trade agreement with any developing country," Zoellick said.

He added that U.S. industrial exports currently face tariffs of about 20 percent upon entry into Morocco compared to a trade-weighted average of less than two percent for Moroccan goods entering the United States.

The U.S. trade representative identified other sectors that might benefit from this agreement as telecommunications, computer related services, tourism, energy, transport, financial services, insurance and entertainment.

Prior to the enactment of the Free Trade Agreement, President Bush must indicate his intention to sign the accord, and the U.S. Trade Representative will have a 90-day period to discuss the document with interested congressional committees. Congress will then take up discussions on whether to ratify the agreement.

Zoellick said that while his office is faced with a tight window of opportunity to move the agreement through Congress in this election year, he believes that there is tremendous Congressional interest in seeing it pass.

Referring to the Bush administration's broader goal of establishing a Middle East Free Trade Area by 2013, Zoellick said, "It's very important to see our agreement with Morocco not just as a single announcement but as a vital step towards creating a mosaic of U.S. free trade agreements across the Middle East and North Africa."

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