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These stories were published Wednesday, March 20, 2002
Jo Stuart
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Rainy season will be
earlier this year

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Those sprinkles that fell Monday and Tuesday in parts of the Central Valley do not herald the rainy season — yet. But the clouds generated great sunsets.

There is a normal amount of rain that falls even in March, one of the drier months. The average is about 5 centimeters or 1.97 inches, according to the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional de Costa Rica, the weather bureau.

The rainfall more than doubles in April to an average of 12.5 centimeters or nearly 5 inches. Then in May the skies open up with 37.5 centimeters or about 14.75 inches of rain, said statistics at the institute.

The bad news this year is that the rainy season will start a little earlier, said the meteorological service. Forecasters cited higher than normal surface temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean and also in the tropical Pacific. And then there is El Niño, which is building in the central Pacific. These three factors suggest that the rainy season will start a little bit earlier this year, said the official forecast.

But the good news, at least for beachgoers, is that the rainy season should be a little shorter and end earlier than the average, which in the Central Valley is a week or two before Christmas. That does not bode well for those in agriculture. The cyclical development of El Niño reduces rain that the crops need. The warm-water El Niño has profound effects all over the Pacific. It is a plume of warmer water spreading from the South American coast nearly to Asia. 

Forecasters say that the 2003 dry season will be longer than normal, in part because of what is going on in the pacific.

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Clouds and a great sunset brighten rush hour along Avenida 2 Tuesday night. 

Scientists are making daily measurements and predict El Niño will be a full-blown weather phenomenon in three to six months. Already it is affecting south American commercial fishing.

For today, forecasters say the rain will continue with variable intensity in the northern zone and on the Caribbean slope. In the Central Valley, the sprinkles will continue, particularly in areas of higher elevation.

In the central and south Pacific, usually more rainy than the Central Valley, the prediction is for afternoon downpours. In the northern Pacific, Guanacaste, the country’s driest section, predictions are for cloudy skies.

The weather bureau and its new Web site is in Spanish at:


Canada goes ahead with its free trade pacts
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Canada is continuing to negotiate its own free trade agreements with four Central American nations, and negotiators are unsure of the impact of a U.S.-Central American pact.

Canadian negotiators meet April 8 for the third round of substantive talks with representatives of Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, according to John Gartke, first secretary of the Canadian Embassy here.

Canada is doing what George Bush said in January the United States would do: set up a free trade relationship with Central America.

Meanwhile, in Costa Rica a free trade pact negotiated with Canada is in the National Assembly for a vote. The legislature must approve the agreement, and the fact that the treaty is held up is an embarrassment to the administration of Miguel Angel Rodríguez, which asked to start free trade talks with Canada in the first place in July 2000.

With the flurry of commercial treaties up in the air, no one is certain who will be affected by what.

Canada, for example, is a member of the North American Free Trade Agreement along with the United States and Mexico. George Bush opened the door to a free-trade agreement with Central America at the same time the United States and the rest of the Western Hemisphere is involved in hammering out a Free Trade Area of the Americas pact with a 2005 deadline.

Because most of these pacts still are in the 

talking stage, no one is certain which will take precedence.

The holdup with the Canadian-Costa Rican agreement is over potatoes. Producers here are unhappy with the access Canadian producers will have to local markets. Gartke has pointed out that local growers would be better off marketing local potatoes for use in Chips and let Canada import frozen french fries.

He said he anticipates a final vote after the April 7 presidential election.

Free trade takes hits

The whole concept of free trade has taken two big hits. George Bush imposed a 30 percent duty on Brazilian steel to protect U.S. domestic producers two weeks ago. The action upset even some members of his administration.

And in Costa Rica, rice producers seem to have won their battle against cheaper imported rice. Rice growers were upset that private firms had purchased more than 60,000 tons of rice on the world market. The price there is about $126 compared to a Costa Rican market price of $245 per metric ton.

A  boat is in Caldera harbor ready to unload 25,000 tons, but the government changed the import duty Monday to placate rice producers. To import rice, the duty now is between about 70 percent of the value and 90 percent of the value, depending on the type of rice.

Rice producers had threatened to march on the Casa Presidential.

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No wandering allowed here

This is the Rodalla ICE entertaining a crowd Tuesday at La Plaza de la Cultura downtown as part of the San José folkloric fair.

"Rodalla" means a group of wandering street musicians. Although the downtown has plenty of wanderers, this group is a bit more formal and drew ovations from the crowd with guitar presentations that were heavily Spanish in origin.

ICE is the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, the power company.

A.M. Costa Rica photo
All sides being heard at Monterrey conference
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
and special reports

MONTERREY, Mexico — A special adviser to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan says business should do far more to promote development. 

The adviser, Jeffrey Sachs, a Harvard University professor, challenged the private sector to become more engaged in solving the problems of the poorest countries. He said the perception of business as being uninterested in underdeveloped countries fuels the anti-globalization movement, which will not go away unless business does more to help these nations.

Sachs said the problems of underdeveloped nations are quite different from the kinds of issues business is used to dealing with in emerging markets, where investment is concentrated.

Calling foreign direct investment "the lifeblood of development," he said that unless investors move more money to the poorest countries, FDI is unlikely to make any difference in "places that are not emerging yet."

Technology transfers could produce a quantum leap in development, Sachs said, but business has yet to figure out how to induce a flow of knowledge to the poorest countries. He proposed using excess Internet capacity and giving away computers to poor youth as a way of spreading information technology to the developing world and transferring other technologies through cooperative research and development projects with universities in Africa and South Asia.

Maria Cattaui, secretary general of the International Chamber of Commerce, rebutted Sachs' criticism. While admitting that business has a lot to learn about developing countries, she said she was wary of persons assigning business a role it cannot play.

Business philanthropy is important, Cattaui said, but the primary role of business in the developing world remains strengthening local entrepreneurship and creating new jobs through profitable projects and technology transfers.

Hundreds of delegates from around the world are gathered here to discuss financing development in poor nations. Also on hand in Monterrey are 

various  anti-globalization groups who see the 
U.N.-sponsored conference as an opportunity to draw attention to their cause. Authorities are trying to keep a balance between security and the right of free expression. 

Dozens of groups from Mexico and other nations are represented in Monterrey, and many of them are taking part in orderly discussions at parallel meetings in the city. 

Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda says everyone is welcome, as long as they remain peaceful. He says Mexican authorities are open to marches and demonstrations, and are confident that violence can be avoided. He says that the government of President Vicente Fox welcomes dissenting views and that anyone who wants to come to Monterrey to express such views may come. 

Most protest organizers say they have come to demonstrate peacefully against what they see as a sham conference. Hector de la Cueva, from Alianza Social (Social Alliance), says the rich nations represented at the conference are not offering enough. He says the amount of money being discussed at the U.N. conference amounts to nothing more than a few more crumbs for the poor. 

He is not alone in that critique. Leaders of various advocacy groups for the poor are complaining that the rich nations are taking part in a public relations event in Monterrey, not a serious attempt to fight poverty. 

U.S. billionaire George Soros is joining the chorus of dissent. He says that the amount of foreign aid being pledged by the Bush Administration, $5 billion over the next three years, amounts to only a little more than double what he, Soros, is donating to charity over the same period. 

But many representatives of international aid organizations are defending the conference for providing a mechanism through which rich nations are committing themselves to efforts to eradicate poverty. 

Defenders of the conference also note that the goal at this event is to direct financing towards results, rather than to pour money into programs that have not been effective. 

Classified ad placed
by suspect group.

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The leader of a group that advertised for international volunteers on the classified page of A.M. Costa Rica is in jail in California.

The leader is Mogens Amdi Petersen, 63, whom detractors say has been running what amounts to a cult. He is being held for extradition to his native Denmark to face charges relating to the financial operations of his organizations.

The one that advertised in the free classifieds in A.M. Costa Rica was Campus California Teachers Group (CCTG): P.O. Box 854, Etna, Calif. The group said that it wanted to fight AIDS in Africa and offers volunteers an 11-month experience going door-to-door in villages there. The ad, which was published for free, has been removed from the newspaper Web site.

The organization itself mantains a web site that contains photos and comments from, among others, Kofi Annan, secretary-general of the United Nations.

Petersen runs a number of organizations that are characterized as doing charitable work in nearly 50 countries, according to those who follow such groups. Some of the organizations collect used clothing at drop boxes in major U.S. cities.

European newspapers have outlined the extensive real estate holdings of Petersen, and some former associates have denounced the 30-year-old amalgamation of groups as cults that use mind control on recruits to tap their savings.

Intelligence analyst
admits she was spy

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A senior U.S. intelligence analyst has admitted being a Cuban spy for 16 years while working at the Defense Intelligence Agency in Washington. 

The analyst, Ana Belen Montes, pleaded guilty Tuesday to espionage. Under an agreement with federal prosecutors she faces up to 25 years in prison. 

Montes was arrested at the agency headquarters last September and charged with conspiracy to deliver U.S. national defense information to Cuba. Prosecutors say Montes spied for Cuba from the time she started working for the agency in 1985 until her arrest. They also say she had specialized in Cuban matters for the agency since 1992. 

Investigators allege Montes communicated with her Cuban contacts using coded pager messages and shortwave radio. 

They say the 45-year-old former analyst also exchanged computer disks containing encrypted messages with the Cubans. U.S. investigators found messages from Cuban intelligence sources on her home computer. 

U.S. House gets
anti-stoning call

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Rep. Betty McCollum. a Democrat from Minnesota, wants the U.S. House to condemn the practice of stoning as a form of execution for crimes, her office said Monday.

The resolution she submitted would require that President Bush "formally communicate" to governments that impose the sentence of stoning that this form of punishment is a gross violation of human rights.

The resolution also calls on the president to urge Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo to "immediately suspend the sentence of death by stoning imposed on Safiya Hussaini and take steps to ensure that Nigeria acts in accordance with international human rights standards."

The proposed resolution notes that the Nigerian woman, Safiya Hussaini, "stands convicted of adultery and has been sentenced to death by stoning in the State of Sokoto, Nigeria, based solely on the evidence that she was divorced and pregnant, despite her claim that she was a victim of rape, and the fact that she has since given birth to the child."

White House aide calls
Colombians terrorists

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The White House says Colombian rebels are known terrorists who undermine democratic institutions and are a significant problem for the region. 

Tuesday's comment by White House spokesman Ari Fleischer follows Monday's U.S. indictment of three rebels for smuggling cocaine into the United States. He referred to three members of the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC. 

Fleischer also said again that the Bush Administration wants Congress to give it specific legal authority to help Colombia wage a unified campaign against drug traffickers, terrorists and rebels. 

More than $1.3 billion in current U.S. aid to Colombia is restricted to counternarcotics efforts. Some lawmakers fear that a policy shift on how the aid is spent could lead to U.S. involvement in Colombia's 38-year civil war. Top Bush administration and military officials have been urging Congress to give the United States more flexibility in helping Colombia. 

Lost city found
near Machu Picchu

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LIMA, Peru — British and Peruvian explorers say they have discovered a hidden Inca city in southern Peru. 

The ancient city Corihuayrachina, located on a narrow ridge of the Andes Mountains, includes a mysterious gathering of religious platforms, funeral towers, food storehouses and an 8-km.-long irrigation channel. 

British scholar and guide Peter Frost, who led an expedition to the area last year, says the site may reveal a record of Inca civilization from the very beginning to the very end, undisturbed by European contact. He said the site could have been occupied by the Incas to hide from the Spanish after their conquest.

The Incas ruled Peru from the 15th century until the arrival of the Spaniards in 1532. The settlement is about 40 kilometers southwest of Machu Picchu, Peru's most famous Inca ruins and its top tourist destination. Machu Picchu was discovered in 1911 by U.S. explorer Hiram Bingham.

U.S. bank rate stays
at historic lowpoint

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The policy-setting group of the U.S. Federal Reserve left interest rates unchanged Tuesday.

The Federal Open Market Committee said in a statement released after its meeting that its members voted 10-0 to keep the benchmark federal funds rate, the rate on overnight loans among banks, at 1.75 percent, a 40-year low. At the same time, the committee departed from its earlier bias reflecting concern about the economy to a more neutral stance.

Available data indicate that the U.S. economy is expanding at a "significant pace" although the strengthening of final demand in the coming months is still "uncertain," the committee said.

Zoellick urges
fast track OK

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick is pressing Congress again to pass trade promotion authority, otherwise known as "fast track," for President Bush to negotiate trade agreements in the World Trade Organization and elsewhere.

In the 2001 Annual Report and 2002 Trade Agenda released Tuesday, Zoellick pledged to use fast track to open markets multilaterally, regionally and bilaterally in a way that promotes higher environmental and labor standards in foreign countries.

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