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These stories appared Thursday, April 4, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 66
Jo Stuart
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Humble grain of rice is big player in politics
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Rice, the staff of life here, has also become the staff of politics. Both major political parties are using rice as part of a strategy to gain the upper hand.

Rice farmers and processors exercise disproportionate power in Costa Rica, in part because they are prepared to block highways to make their point, as they did two weeks ago.

The Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadaría scheduled a press conference Wednesday to discuss a current import battle of rise grown in the United States. But then officials promptly canceled the session and said that any further discussion of the rice trade would have to come from the Casa Presidential because the issue is now totally political.

Later in the day the government repeated its promise that "excessive rice" would not be allowed to enter the country. Meanwhile, a boat with 26,000 tons of U.S. rice rides at anchor in the Caldera harbor. The ship was not able to unload its cargo because Costa Rica immediately decided to jack up the import duties on rice to 88 percent in some cases to protect the local farmers. The government "invited" the ship to leave, but it did not.

Observers suggest that the current government will keep a lid on the rice issue until after Sunday’s presidential election where Abel Pacheco is favored to win. He is the candidate of the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana, the same party to which the current president, Miguel Angel Rodríguez belongs. A poll published by La Nación Wednesday said that Pacheco had a 17 point lead over Araya with  nearly 59 percent of the voters preferring him.

The international rice markets and their specialized media have hardly noticed the 

Costa Rican flap. The authoritative Oryza Rice Market Review reported earlier this year that Costa Rica generally tries to restrict rice imports about this time of year when the national crop is getting ready to be harvested. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative also has noted high-handed treatment of U.S. rice by Costa Rica in a report issued this week on barriers to free trade worldwide.

Meanwhile, Rolando Araya, the presidential candidate of the Partido Liberación Nacional, is leveling a corruption charge against President Rodríguez. Araya said that Costa Rica paid more than $2 million too much on the world markets for 86,000 tons of rice. He said Costa Rica paid about $3 a ton too much. Top-quality Rice sells for about $130 a ton. Broken rice and unprocessed rice sells for much less.

A Liberation deputy, Oscar Campos, claimed two days ago that the government simply was bringing in 100,000 tons of rice too much.

No one in the Spanish media seems to have made the connection that a higher import duty on rice would trickle down to the average citizen who eats rice with beans at nearly every meal. 

On the world market front, a number of countries, including Cuba, are actively seeking more rice imports. And the specter of El Niño, the Pacific weather phenomenon, might cause less rain here next year and affect the rice  crop that requires much water.

Meanwhile, some diplomats from industrialized countries say the real significance of the rice debate is that Costa Rica acted precipitously to protect its rice farmers without giving much consideration to trade contracts and international agreements. They found that to be a bad precedent for a country that hopes to attract more international investment.

Man wants to share
his joy with Costa Rica

EDITOR’S NOTE: We print a lot of stories about rotten relationships, bad things that happen to tourists, and the usual betrayals and revenge. So it was refreshing to get this e-mail from Gregory Bianchi of Alexandria, Louisiana:

By Gregory Bianchi
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Here is a story on how I came to Costa Rica: 

I was working as a captain with research vessels off the coast of Nova Scotta, Canada. It was cold, and I wanted to plan a trip to where it was warm for my days off. I thought of Mexico and even made reservations. I had just wrapped up a very difficult divorce. I was in the mood to party. The night before I was to crew change, I said a prayer to change my life. I had made a mess of things over the past 34 years, and I wanted to start a new chapter. 

The next day I had to swing onto another boat for the long ride to port. 
When I got onto the other boat, the first thing I saw was a huge box marked COSTA RICA. I met the guy who owned the box, and he worked on another boat. He convinced me to change my plans and head to San José.

When I got to San José, the first thing I did was head to the Blue Marlin [bar]. Once there, I forgot all about my divorce. The next morning I awoke to a hangover from hell and trying to remember just what I did the night before. The phone started ringing. It was the guy from work. He wanted me to move into his house for the rest of my vacation. So off I went. I had no desires to find a wife, but destiny was fixing to enter my life. 

Once at the friend’s house, the party started all over again. At 3 a.m. the music suddenly went off, and a small, beautiful Tica entered the room. She informed us that we were making fools out of ourselves and that we needed to get some sleep. She ran off some 

Gregory, young Jessie and wife Beatriz

girl that we had met at a local bar and to whom my friend was trying to fix me up. She then tucked me into bed on the couch. 

The next day I asked who she was. She was the sister-in-law of my friend. She was 26. She had never been married, had no kids, and she was finishing college. I asked if she would go the the beach with us, and she said yes.

Two trips and six months later we were married. She came to the States with me two years ago this March. On the 15th of this month she gave birth to my first child, a beautiful boy. Things have not always been easy, but we have worked them out. We plan to move back to Costa Rica next year and buy a little farm. 

My life has changed for the better. I was an only child, and now I have a huge family: four brother-in-laws and two sister-in-laws, no more wild parties, a real wife who cannot only be a best friend but who can cook, sew and make a home, things that most American women my age care little about these days. 

I guess prayers do come true. 

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A.M. Costa Rica photo
Honest, there really is a top to the Arenal Volcano. Lots of tourists do not believe this statement because the clouds have a way of shrouding the peak — and sometimes the whole volcano. Even when cloudy, the volcano spews lava frequently visible from points north and west of the town of La Fortune shown here.
FTC, Canada
Internet fraud

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Federal Trade Commission, state law enforcement groups and Canadian counterparts are pursuing legal action to stop fraud and deception on the Internet. 

According to an April 2 announcement from the FTC, the agencies have also sent out more than 500 warnings that deceptive spam — mass electronic mailing — is illegal.

"The Internet creates some major new challenges for consumer protection organizations," says Washington state Atty. Gen. Christine Gregoire, whose state was a partner with the federal agency in the operation. 

"That's why it's so important that those of us who enforce state, provincial and national consumer protection laws work together to meet these new challenges," she said.

The multi-governmental legal action will attempt to shut down sites where investigators say fraudulent auctions were being conducted, bogus cancer cures were for sale and other deceptive or illegal schemes were under way.

Dominican Republic has a high rate of HIV/AIDS
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Dominican Republic is a major source of HIV/AIDS, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The island nation is one of the reasons that the Caribbean has the highest incidents of the disease outside of sub-Saharan Africa, said the agency.

Dominican Republic has 2.5 percent adult infection rate, compared to the 0.7 percent rate among the adult population in the United States. Haiti, which shares the island of Hispanola with the Dominican Republic, has an infection rate of 5.17 percent of the adult population.

The issue is of importance to Costa Rica because a high percentage of woman who work as prostitutes here come from the Dominican Republic. 

Financial prospects are grim because of grinding poverty there.

The HIV/AIDS  situation is so bad that the United States is organizing a regional meeting on the issue April 20 in Guyana. The Bush Administration says the nations of the Caribbean, "our often overlooked third border," are important partners on such issues as trade, health and education, and regional democracy. 

President Bush says his administration is committed to deepening its cooperation with the Western Hemisphere in fighting the spread of HIV/AIDS and in responding to natural disasters. These goals, he said in 2001, lie at the heart of the administration's "Third Border" initiative with the countries of the Caribbean. Under that initiative, the administration
is providing $20 million in HIV/AIDS funding for the region in fiscal year 2002.

Latest virus hits
you where it hurts

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The latest virus hitting Costa Ricans and tourists alike is a stomach disorder that frequently results in diarrhea. Particularly hard-hit are toddlers and infants, although some adults have claimed that their condition incapacitated them for four weeks.

The virus spreads with human contact, so good personal hygiene is important. Some sufferers have blamed food and water for their illness, although such claims lack consistency. 

Because the condition appears to be a virus, little success can be achieved with antibiotic treatments. 

BMW stolen in murder
found in Limón 

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators have found the luxury car of a U.S. citizen who was the victim of robbers last Wednesday. The man’s Dominican girlfriend was murdered in the incident at the Los Arcos subdivision.

The car, a BMW, was found in Limón, said the Judicial Investigating organization. The three persons who invaded the home, killed the girlfriend and waited for the U.S. citizen, Eldridge Suggs, left in his automobile.

The two men involved then drove the car to Limón. A woman, the former girlfriend of Suggs, also is a suspect in the murder, said agents.

The vehicle was found parked near a restaurant in Limón with no discernable damage, said agents. They said they found the car by interrogating the suspects, a man named Barboza, 22, and a 17-year-old. They and the woman named Salazar, 37, remain in custody.

The water taps
might be a little dry

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

If today is Thursday, there might not be water in the tap. Acueductos y Alcantarillados, the water company, has put a rationing plan into effect. 

Each Tuesday and Thursday from midnight to 6 a.m., water will be shut off in certain sectors of the metropolitan area. Montes de Oca and Curridabat are two such areas, as are parts of La Unión, Moravia, Cornonado and Goicoechea.

In addition, water will be cut during the day Saturday in the vicinity of the water plant in La Uruca so a new valve can be installed. 

Colombia defends project
to destroy drug plants

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — Colombia insists that progress is being made in persuading farmers to voluntarily destroy their drug crops in the country's southern coca-producing regions. 

Colombia is defending its crop substitution program in response to a new U.S. government study that concludes the U.S.-backed project to eliminate drug crops through crop substitution may be a failure. 

The Colombian official in charge of the project, Gonzalo de Francisco, says he realizes efforts to eradicate crops such as coca, used to produce cocaine, have been difficult and slow. 

Funded by the U.S. State Department, the study questions whether U.S. aid has been wasted trying to convince farmers to find substitute crops. The study says Colombian farmers are reluctant to abandon their coca crops because few plants other than coca can grow in the region's thin soil. 

Bogota currently receives more than $1 billion in U.S. aid for anti-narcotics efforts.

Meanwhile, Colombia is urging Venezuela to help it investigate reports that leftist Colombian rebels have set up bases inside Venezuela. The rebels are major supplies of narcotics to raise funds for their cause.

Colombian officials made the request on Wednesday after Venezuela claimed that Bogota lied about the rebels finding refuge in Venezuela. 

Tuesday, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez disputed specific claims by a Colombian army general that rebels are staging cross-border attacks from a base inside Venezuela. 

The general, Martin Orlando Carreno, said that last month rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia attacked his soldiers along the border with Venezuela. The clash killed at least 38 soldiers and rebels. 

The Colombian government says it is standing by the general's report. President Chavez has repeatedly denied accusations his government sympathizes with, or has collaborated with, the Colombian rebels. 

Colombia is mired in a 38-year-old war that pits rebel groups against the army and right-wing paramilitary forces. The conflict has left at least 40,000 people dead in the past decade alone.
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Money sent home
excellent foreign aid

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Economists estimate immigrants working in the United States are wiring $23 billion a year to their families in Latin America, most in increments of less than $200 a month. Mexico estimates such remittances are the nation's third largest source of income, after oil and tourism. 

Trinity University Economics Professor Jorge Gonzalez says these immigrant remittances exceed the international development assistance available to Latin American countries. 

And ironically, Mr. Gonzalez thinks, in some ways, this haphazard form of financial aid may be even more effective than government-to-government assistance. 

"If you send development assistance to Guatemala, or to Nicaragua or to El Salvador, you are going to have a lot of people running these agencies, and every single one of them — the secretaries and everyone else — is going to be making money," he said. "So, the money that ends up getting into the hands of the poorest of the poor people, who need it the most, is going to be restricted." 

Penn State anthropology professor Jeffrey Cohen, who works with several rural communities in Mexico, agrees the effects of the immigrant remittances are generally beneficial. However, in his opinion, they can change the nature of a local economy. In previously cashless communities, which had only traded goods, he says, the sudden arrival of dollars can disadvantage residents who do not have relatives working in the United States. 

"One of the outcomes of migration is the increasing involvement of these communities in Western market systems, based around cash, based around wage labor," said Cohen. "And, if you don't have the cash, and you don't have the jobs, that can really change your position." 

Fortunately, he adds, many Latin American immigrant workers in the United States are not only sending money to their families, but are also uniting to fund community-wide projects. "In countries like El Salvador and Guatemala and Mexico," said Cohen, 

In fact, for economist Jorge Gonzalez, immigrant remittances to Latin America are giving governments there a free welfare system. He explains: "If this money is satisfying the basic needs of these people, then the governments in Latin America don't have to satisfy those needs any more, and they can provide infrastructure that is needed, the education that is needed, the health care that is needed." 

Their capability to do so should increase in the future, since, economists say, U.S. immigrant remittances to the region have been rising at the rate of 11 percent a year. 

Russian news editor
found dead near home

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MOSCOW, Russia — The body of a Russian newspaper editor, missing since Dec. 14, has been found in the forest near his home in Smolensk in western Russia. 

Sergei Kalinovsky, 27, was the senior editor of the Smolensk edition of Moskovsky Komsomolets. He also appeared regularly on radio and television and was well known for his investigative reporting of crime and corruption. 

In March 2001, Kalinovsky's apartment was destroyed by a fire, which he suspected was in retaliation for some of his reports. However, no one was ever arrested in that case. His colleagues say Kalinovsky might have been killed for his reporting. An investigation into his death has been opened by local authorities. 

Sunday, the body of another Russian journalist, was found in his Moscow apartment with stab wounds and signs of strangulation. 33-year-old military correspondent for Moskovskiye Novosti, Valery Batuyev, specialized in covering troubled zones, such as Chechnya and Pankisi Gorge in Georgia, where al-Qaida-linked terrorists are allegedly taking refuge. 

Ex-economy minister
will face charges

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — The former economy minister, Domingo Cavallo, has been arrested as a suspect in an arms-smuggling case. 

Cavallo was economy minister under former president Carlos Menem in the 1990's. Menem was arrested last year, but then released over the arms smuggling scandal. The former minister is being held at a jail here on smuggling charges that carry a penalty of four to 12 years in prison. 

Judge Julio Speroni has 10 days to decide whether to bring criminal charges against Mr. Cavallo.  The former president and Cavallo have denied any connection to the case, which involved smuggling weapons to Croatia and Ecuador at a time when both countries were under an international arms embargo. 

In December, an Argentine federal judge issued an order preventing Cavallo from leaving the country. The judge acted hours after Cavallo resigned amid widespread violent protests triggered by a controversial government austerity program. 

Under Cavallo's direction, the Menem Administration pegged the Argentine peso to the U.S. dollar, a policy that lasted 11 years.

Rudeness a growing concern

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

79 percent of Americans responding to an independent survey on rudeness said lack of respect and courtesy has become a serious problem, and 61 percent said things have gotten worse in recent years. 

Nearly six in 10 respondents said they often encounter aggressive drivers. Other problems cited include the use of foul language in public, loud cell phone conversations in public settings, nasty e-mails and trash on the streets.

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