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These stories were published Friday, April 12, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 72
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U.N. says area coffee crisis is the worst ever
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The collapse of coffee prices on the international market has plunged the coffee sectors in Central America and Colombia into their worst crisis ever, says the United Nations.

The U.N.'s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean says the coffee crisis is the result of excess world production, which has not been offset by increased consumption of this product. As a result, in the past few years, coffee stocks have increased significantly, depressing prices on world markets to the point of collapse, said the commission.

The commission has produced two new reports on the region's coffee crisis. The first report, entitled "Central America: The Impact of Falling Coffee Prices," said that in 2001 world coffee production outran global consumption, which rose just 1 percent. The over-supply of around 10 million sacks of coffee and record export volumes (88.7 million sacks) have pushed importing countries' inventories up to around 25.5 million sacks, almost three times the level compatible with good prices.

Similarly, the commission said, the "rather discouraging outlook" for the region's economy in 2001, characterized by weak external demand, particularly due to the economic slowdown in the United States, has not helped offset the coffee crisis. Low international prices caused significant losses in foreign-exchange earnings that affected countries' trade balances.

The report follows the recent announcement by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) that it will launch a new two-year, $6-million Special Coffee Program to help coffee growers in Central America 

recover from the crisis. The program was announced during an April 3 to 5 conference in Antigua, Guatemala, co-sponsored by USAID, to discuss the region's coffee crisis.

The commission said coffee growing accounts for significant amounts of the gross domestic product (GDP) in Central America ó 1.3 percent of the GDP in Costa Rica, 2.5 percent in El Salvador, 4.2 percent in Guatemala, 7.2 percent in Nicaragua, and 8.2 percent in Honduras. This means, the commission said, that the coffee crisis has had a significant impact on the economies in those countries and on a range of activities associated with coffee production.

But the most serious effect of the coffee crisis was felt in producing areas. The financial condition of almost 300,000 of the region's coffee producers deteriorated and their access to new loans became severely limited in some countries. To reduce costs, producers reduced wages. Many farms were abandoned or neglected. The U.N. commission estimated that in 2001 some 170,000 jobs were lost, involving $140 million in wages that were not received. Unemployment in the coffee sector, combined with lower wages, affected some 1.6 million people in the region.

The commission said that to overcome the region's coffee crisis, growers must produce specialty and alternative coffee products, or other crops.

A second ECLAC report focused on the coffee crisis in Colombia. The report said social conditions in that country are extremely worrisome since more than 500,000 families depend on coffee production for their livelihoods and have suffered continual impoverishment during the last decade.

The two reports are available in Spanish on the ECLAC web site at: www.eclac.org. 


 
A.M. Costa Rica photo
In a daze

A former travel store and the bar known as Happy Daze are meeting the wrecking crew on Calle 7 in the downtown. The Hotel Del 
Rey purchased much of the block. Hotel executives are clearing the area of substandard buildings, and demolition shows  how substandard these buildings were.


 
Jo says cowgirls arenít the only ones who get the  blues
Lately I have been thinking about book titles, not the contents of the books themselves, just their titles. Like, "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues." That has been going through my head for a couple of days. Then I thought about "War and Peace." Then up came the title, "The Woman Who Made Love to Men to Take the War out of Them." 

It was not until I discovered that I had assembled all of the ingredients for chocolate chip cookies on my kitchen counter that I realized that I was depressed. Even grown up ladies get the blues. Chocolate chip cookies, as well as spaghetti with garlicky tomato sauce are my usual defenses against the blues. 

As I beat the sugar and butter mixture, I thought about why I was feeling so down. The irritating wind that wonít quit wasnít helping. I canít hear it in most rooms of my apartment but I can in my "office." But mainly, I knew it was the news, the news from everywhere, including Costa Rica. 

In the local news was the sad information that the losing presidential candidate, Rolando Araya Monge, had been beaten up by a group of celebrators ó not disgruntled losers, but happy victors of the opposing party! At the same time I read that there was a drive-by shooting in Sabanilla, a suburb of San Jose. "Paradise Lost," I thought. The peaceful, nonviolent beauty spot of the world that was once Costa Rica is disappearing. 

The news from the U.S. is even worse. The war on terrorism looks like it is going to expand into a world war. The powers that be know that Americans are poor readers, yet CNN now adds a moving scroll of news items different from what is being discussed and pictured. So we are expected to read one thing and absorb it as we watch and listen to something else. Enough to depress anyone, especially since the news in the crawl space is seldom mentioned above and is often more important. 

Some days ago I read in that crawl space that the testing of nuclear bombs in the 50s has resulted in some 50,000 cancers in the United 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

States. I saw that item just once. Meanwhile, over and over I see information about all of our personal habits that can lead to cancer. More than once, moving across the bottom of the screen has seen the warning that women who gain more than 38 pounds during pregnancy are more prone to breast cancer. I think the government is just trying to shift the blame. One way or another the U.S. is becoming a "Cancer Ward." 

My cookies were in the oven by now. I wondered if perhaps as I bit into one (like half the world I eat several while they are still warm), it would jog my memory of happier times, like the little madeleine cake did for Marcel Proust. Hmm, thatís why I was thinking of "Remembrance of Things Past." Then immediately came to mind, "Nostalgia Isnít What it Used to Be," and I realized that living in bygone days doesnít work. We only have the present ó "Be Here Now," as the title says. 

I took my cookies out of the oven, and as soon as I could handle one, took it with me out onto my balcony and looked out over the city I love that is increasingly getting more and more polluted, then at my pitiful plants. I must do something about them, I told myself for the 50th time. Then I thought of "Candide" and did think of the message there. Perhaps the answer to my blues over the woes of the world about which I seem to be able to do so little is to cultivate my own garden. 

Meanwhile I will go back into the kitchen (that is really my garden) and make a pot of beautiful red, spicy tomato sauce. It canít hurt. 

More of Jo Stuart HERE!

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Investigators say laws don't forbid oblique threats
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Judicial investigators say their hands are tied when someone obliquely threatens a U.S. citizen.

The question arose when someone told a Ciudad Colon couple that they had information that their children soon would be kidnapped. The questioner said that for a fee they would provide the information on the kidnapper.

The Judical Investigation Organization said that no crime had been committed because the questioner did not threaten but only offered to sell information.

That was not the opinion of Sheila McCann-Morrison who filed a denuncia about four weeks ago with the Judicial Investigation Organization, the national police agency said. She is known to the English-speaking community because she appeared in "The Vagina Monologue," a production of the Little Theatre Group.

Mrs. Morris is believed to have returned to the United States with her two children, students at the Country Day School.

The Morrison family could not be contacted for 

this news article. But friends said that the contact was made with the Internet. The individual who made the contact said that they had information that a third party was about to threaten the safety of the family. The individual proposed a payment for the information. 

However, a payment drop monitored by police failed to produce a suspect, said investigators. Even if someone had turned up, Costa Rica law would not support a charge, said agents.

A friend of the family said that the possible threat was made more real because some individual followed Mrs. Morrison.

The best way to handle such a threat is not to pay the money that is requested, said a spokesman for the Judicial investigating Organization.

But that is hard to do for foreign residents who are vulnerable to attacks. Even well protected Costa Ricans are kidnapped. In one such case, a son of a leading family is still missing after eight weeks.

Nevertheless, investigators say that the person who made the threat and sought the money is protected under Costa Rican law because the kind of activity is not specified as a crime.


 
Army appears to have ousted Venezuela's Chavez
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

CARACAS, Venezuela ó The military appears to have ousted President Hugo Chavez and installed his current foe as head of a temporary government.

The ouster followed a bloody day of protests and counterprotests in the downtown here. Snipers believed to be supporters of Chavez killed at least 12 persons from their rooftop positions and wounded at least 90.

By 2 a.m. Caracas time this morning jubilant citizens had lined their cars up on the route from the downtown to La Carlota Airport, the usual departure point for ousted Venezuelan presidents. They were waving flags and cheering.

Earlier in the day, Chavez barricaded himself in the Miraflores presidential mansion behind nearly 1,000 loyal troops. 

The man named to head the provisional government is Army Gen. Guaicaipuro Lameda, who was fired in February by Chavez from his job as head of Petroleos de Venezuela, the national oil company. 

The firing led to protests by executives of the state-run firm, and other foes of Chavez and the two largest labor unions joined the protest to set up a national general strike that has tied up the country for three days.

It was into the crowds supporting the strikes that riflemen fired Thursday afternoon. Among those shot was Jorge Tortoza, 45, a photographer for the newspaper Dario 2001, who suffered a critical head wound when he was shot in the face by a man dressed in civilian clothes.

The key action was late Thursday when the head of the army, Gen. Efrain Vasquez Velasco, went on television to demand the president's resignation. 
Later a local Caracas television station reported that the president had resigned, prompting the public celebration.

La Carlota was the same place that the last deposed Venezuelan leader went to get a plane out of the country. That was Gen. Marco Perez Jiménez in January 1958. Jimémez was a classic Latin dictator, but Chavez has accumulated more and more power and projected authoritarian attitudes.

After he fired Lameda, Chavez named leftist economist Gaston Parra as the petroleum company president and five other loyalists as board members. The oil company executives and staff members  walked off the job last week to protest the appointments. 

The workers say those appointments  were politically motivated. The president refused to replace his appointees to the board. 

Meanwhile, several high-ranking military officers  began demanding Chavez step down from office,  saying they no longer recognize his authority. The officers late Thursday accuse the president of violating the  country's constitution by ordering snipers to fire on  the protesters. 

Earlier they expressed concern that Chavez had allowed rebels from neighboring Colombia to have enter and conduct activities in the western border area.

Venezuela is one of the top exporters of oil in the world and a member of the powerful international oil cartel, OPEC. It is a major supplier to the United States. The South American country relies heavily on revenues from oil exports to finance its national budget.

Oil analysts said that the situation in Venezuela could have a more profound effect on oil supplies in North America than the was in the Mideast.

Chavez, himself a military officer, tried to pull off a coup against former President Carlos Andres Perez and was jailed briefly. He won his job in a democratic election and then supervised the writing of a new constitution that establised him as the undisputed leader.

French are worried
by foreign gangs

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

NICE, France ó French authorities have expressed concern over money laundering operations conducted by Russian and Italian organized crime syndicates operating on the French Riviera. 

A French parliamentary report released Thursday says criminal groups have taken advantage of lapses in the French judicial and monitoring networks to facilitate the illegal money transfers. 

Specific concerns were raised about the large amount of Russian property investment in the French Riviera region, where criminals take advantage of financial institutions that usually allow anonymous transactions. 

The report also criticized the French government's reliance on banks and financial institutions to monitor illegal monetary activity, stressing that insufficient state resources were being committed to curb money laundering operations. 

Socialist members of the French parliament, who drafted the report, have previously criticized a number of European countries, including Britain, for their lax enforcement of financial regulations. They contend that this encourages criminal investment and illegal money transfers. 

Car bomb kills wife
of Bolivian publisher

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The wife of the owner of one of Bolivia's main newspapers, El Diario, has been killed in a car bomb explosion. Police say Teresa Guzman de Carrasco died Wednesday night when a bomb detonated inside her car. 

She died instantly, while her chauffeur was seriously injured. News reports say the victim's husband has been involved in a prolonged fight with members of his family over the ownership of the newspaper. 
 

Mexicans play trick
to arrest suspects

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Mexican federal agents and soldiers have arrested more than 100 police officers in an apparent sweep against authorities suspected of protecting drug smugglers. 

The Baja California governor's office says the suspects were tricked into attending a meeting at the state police academy on Wednesday. Once they were inside, soldiers and federal agents moved in and made arrests. 

Mexican officials have not said what charges are being brought. They say the suspects mostly belonged to local police forces in Tijuana, Enseñada and Mexicali. The head of Tijuana's municipal police force was among those arrested. 

Those taken into custody were quickly loaded onto airplanes and flown to Mexico City. The arrests follow several earlier blows to the Tijuana drug cartel. One of its top leaders, Benjamin Arellano Felix, was captured in March. A month earlier, his brother, Ramon, who was on the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation's 10-most wanted list, was killed by police in a shoot-out in February. 
 
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Kidnap victim says
to end the search

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia ó A kidnapped lawmaker has pleaded with police to end their search for him and 11 other officials abducted by rebels, saying the search threatens their safety. 

Juan Carlos Narvaez, the legislative assembly speaker for the city of Cali, made the plea Thursday during a phone call to a radio station. 

Local reports say he was speaking from a rebel hideout and reading a prepared statement. Narvaez said the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, was responsible for Thursday's kidnappings. 

It was carried out by armed men dressed in military garb and accompanied by dogs who burst into a legislative assembly and ordered the building evacuated, claiming a bomb was inside. They took their captives to vehicles waiting outside. One police officer was killed. 

Five legislators were later rescued when government security forces pursued the vehicles to the outskirts of Cali. Authorities say the rebels are holding hundreds of people hostage, including several other lawmakers and a presidential candidate. 

President Andres Pastrana broke off peace talks with the FARC in late February after the rebels hijacked an airliner and kidnapped a lawmaker onboard.  Since the talks' collapse, the rebel group has intensified attacks on the country. 

Authorities have blamed the rebels for several recent bomb attacks, including two incidents on Sunday in Villavicencio that killed 12 people. The kidnapping comes one week before President Pastrana is set to meet with President Bush in Washington for talks expected to focus on terrorism and drug trafficking. 

Colombia has been mired in civil war for 38 years. The unrest involves the FARC, a second rebel group, right-wing paramilitaries and government forces. The conflict has killed at least 40,000 people in the last 10 years alone.

Cuba rejects visit
by rights monitor

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

HAVANA, Cuba ó The government here is rejecting the idea of allowing a United Nations human rights monitor to visit the island.

Speaking at a news conference Thursday, Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque accused the United States of pressuring Uruguay to propose a resolution calling for the rights monitor.

Perez Roque said "they are dreaming in vain" if they think Cuba would allow an inspector into the country. The United States has denied it was responsible for the resolution introduced at the annual U.N. Human Rights Commission meeting in Geneva.

Perez Roque claims the U.S. government needed the resolution to maintain its more than four-decade-old trade embargo against Cuba. 

The mildly worded document, however, avoids condemnation or expressions of concern about alleged human rights abuses in the communist-ruled island.

Judiciary Committee
votes to split INS

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. ó By a 32-2 vote, the House Judiciary Committee voted Wednesday night to divide the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service into two separate bureaus, one for enforcement and another for citizenship services.

After being criticized for years for weak enforcement and long delays in processing applications, the INS came under intense scrutiny in March when it mistakenly sent to a Florida flight school student visa approvals for two of the hijackers who died Sept. 11.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner. a Republican of Wisconsin, advocated the INS split to pull the service out of "a deep quagmire." The bureaus would remain a part of the Justice Department.


 
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