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these stories were published Thursday, April 18, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 76
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Long drive
to aid forests

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica has an image problem. Foreigners think it is an island, and they can’t find it on a map.

But consider the plight of Little Slovenia. Who? 

Well, Costa Rica will be hearing a lot about Slovenia, the peaceful part of the former Yugoslavia, because environmentalists there are going to drive here.

Yes, drive, as in motor vehicle.

The Slovene Association for the Protection of the Environment is a new non-profit organization based there. The organization seeks to make the world an ecologically safe place to live by promoting awareness at both the local and global levels about environmental and resource management, according to the group’s Web site.

Two or three members of the organization will be driving here with the goal of purchasing and preserving forest land in Costa Rica. They will leave from Maribor, Slovenia, and travel via Siberia on an expedition called "The Drive for the Forests." Proceeds from this drive go exclusively towards protecting and maintaining endangered forests, said the group. As the members travel, they will be pausing to direct specific attention at the forests they pass, they said.

The route for the trip reads like an airline schedule: Maribor, Slovenia/Vienna/Berlin/
Minsk/ Moscow/Northern Siberia/Bering
Strait/Nome, Alaska/San Francisco/Phoenix/
Chicago/New York/Philadelphia/Washington/
Miami/Houston/Mexico City/Veracruz/

Where it's at

Merida/Guatemala City/SanSalvador/
Tegucigalpa, Honduras/Managua/San Jose.

The ecological motorists plan a journey of about four months and 25,000 miles (about 41,000 kms.) or even more from start to finish. Only about 60 to 100 miles (100 to 166 kms.) will be done on a boat when the travelers cross the Bering Strait.  A spokesman said that the group still is negotiating with the Russian government for assistance in routing across Siberia and the Strait. 

Karl Jaeger will be one of the drivers. He is a frequent visitor to Costa Rica and San José. He has been involved in cultural exchanges and business activities in Latin American and in Slovenia.

Departure date is around July 10, the spokesman said. The motorists need to take advantage of the summer season to pass through the harsh climates of Siberia and Alaska.

The vehicle has not been chosen, but the likely candidate will be a standard automobile, perhaps one provided by a sponsor. Sponsorships will be sought for the trip, and the group which characterizes itself as "definitely not radical," will be seeking corporate help. Several organizations already have signed on, the group said.

Additional information is available at http://safe.slo.net, or via e-mail at safeorg_info@yahoo.co.uk

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U.S. rice interests pesimistic on Costa Rican imports
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An important trade organization is pessimistic that U.S. rice exporters would benefit from additional free trade areas involving Costa Rica.  The organization cited a recent experience where a ship filled with rice was virtually held hostage in the Port of Caldera.

The organization is USA Rice, a group that promotes trade in the product.

Meanwhile, Costa Rican rice growers got what they were fighting for, a rice corporation that would control the importation of rice into the country and establish prices. 

The National Assembly approved La Corporación Arrocera Nacional Tuesday night while growers continued to blocked the streets outside with 18-wheelers carrying tractors. The blockade continued Wednesday.

The proposal passed overwhelmingly, 45-2. Only Otto Guevara, the Partido Libertario leader, opposed the measure. He is expected to carry the issue to the Sala IV, the constitutional court.  He said no deputy was concerned with the consumers who will be paying more for rice, a primary food here.

The production cost of Costa Rican rice is greater than the world market price, yet rice growers represent a strong political group who do not hesitate to block streets and highways for long periods, as they did around the country in March.

The corporation becomes a monopoly in the importation of rice, and since the directors of the organization will be rice growers, the emphasis will be on maintaining the domestic price of rice and not in stimulating imports.

Protecting the domestic rice industry was the stated goal of most of the lawmakers.

The U.S. rice organization said that the ship at the Port of Caldera was being unloaded, but it blamed Costa Rican presidential politics for changes in rules that "caused widespread confusions among the import trade and U.S. rice exporters and, ultimately, trade disruption." Costa Rica doubled the import tax on rice.

"At our behest," said USA Rice, "the chief agriculture negotiator in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative met with Costa Rica's ambassador to the United States, and the U.S. ambassador in Costa Rica met with the Costa Rican trade minister."

"While the rice trade appears to be returning to normal in Costa Rica, the disruption was political in nature," said USA Rice, "and is reminiscent of disruptions in the previous two years. 

"We will continue to bring this to the administration's attention, especially since President Bush has announced his interest in negotiating a free trade area for Central America and negotiations remain ongoing for a larger free trade area of the Americas. It is unclear how U.S. rice exporters would benefit from additional free trade areas involving Costa Rica given our recent experience."

Deputies in debate Tuesday night seemed to say that Costa Rica is self-sufficient in rice. However, the U.S. rice trade group said this is not so. During 2001 Costa Rica imported 56,000 metric tons of U.S. rice valued at $8.5 million, the organization said, adding that Costa Rica per capita consumption of rice is estimated at 137 pounds per year, one of the highest in the world. 

Two more U.S. denials on involvement with coup
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two Bush Administration officials said the United States had no special knowledge of a coup attempt in Venezuela last week.

Lino Gutierrez is principal deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. He denied Wednesday that the Bush Administration encouraged the coup attempt that saw businessman Pedro Carmona serve as president for one day.

"Let me now say, categorically: The United States did not participate in, inspire, encourage, foment, wink at, nod at, close its eyes to, or in any way leave the impression that it would support a coup of any kind in Venezuela," Gutierrez said at a forum in Washington.

Another high administration official, interviewed on Air Force One Wednesday as President Bush flew to Lexington, Va., said the United States had not special knowledge about the coup attempt against elected President Hugo Chavez Frias beforehand.

"Everybody could see that there was a lot roiling around in Venezuela. Everybody could see there were splits in the military. Everyone could see there were problems with the oil workers and in the business community. It wasn't hard to see that something was brewing, but we had no special knowledge of it," said the senior official who spoke to reporters on the condition that he or she not be identified.

The administration statements followed one Tuesday by White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, 

who said the U.S. administration said it would not support a coup.

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department says that after Chavez was ousted temporarily last Friday, U.S. Ambassador Charles Shapiro telephoned the interim leader. Reuters news agency quotes department spokesman Phil Reeker saying Shapiro, the U.S. ambassador in Caracas, spoke with Carmona.

Perceptions that the United States tried to get rid of Chavez, a friend of Cuba’s Fidel Castro and of other leaders who oppose the United States, has hurt U.S. credibility in Latin America. Chavez holds the job because he was elected democratically.

The ouster of President Chavez followed a general strike in support of dissident workers at Venezuela's state-run oil company. The workers walked off the job to demand the resignation of board members Chavez appointed in February.

Snipers fired on strikers Thursday leading some military officials to take Chavez into custody and to say that he had resigned. Over the weekend, Chavez supporters marched into downtown Caracas and took over several ministries. Chavez flew back early Sunday from a Caribbean island where he had been held.

Venezuela is the world's fourth leading oil exporter, pumping more than two-point-four-million barrels daily. The country ships nearly one-million barrels to the United States each day. Government officials say Carmona, who briefly claimed the presidency, will face charges of rebellion. He is now under house arrest. 


 
Greenspan worried
about energy costs

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. central bank Chairman Alan Greenspan is expressing uncertainty over the strength of the recovery in the world's largest economy.

In testimony Wednesday before the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress, the head of the U.S. Federal Reserve said the economy continues to recover and inflation is not a serious problem, so interest rates may not have to be raised any time soon.

Greenspan said the U.S. economy has displayed a remarkable resilience over the past six months in the face of some very significant adverse shocks. But the Fed chief added that the strength of the U.S. economic expansion that is under way remains to be clarified, and he warned that a lasting rise in energy prices could have what he termed "far-reaching consequences."

Greenspan said business inventories have been reduced, a sign that businesses may soon join the consumer and spend money. Government reports Tuesday indicated the U.S. economy is staging a strong recovery with little inflation, despite sharply higher costs for gasoline and other energy products.

In another sign of a rebound, the Commerce Department said Wednesday the U.S. trade deficit widened (to $31.5 billion) in February, as Americans' appetite for foreign-made goods like TVs and cars increased. The deficit with Mexico and Japan widened, but narrowed with China and Canada.

Meanwhile, International Monetary Fund Managing Director Horst Koehler says the U.S. economic rebound is boosting the world economy. The IMF has raised its estimate for world economic growth this year to 2.8 percent, up from the 2.4 percent prediction made in December. At the same time, the Fund says it is concerned about the Japanese economy, the rising price of energy and the violence in the Middle East. 

Spanish judge seeks
talk with Kissinger

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MADRID, Spain — A Spanish judge has asked British authorities for permission to question former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger as part of an investigation into former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.

A lawyer involved in the case says Judge Baltasar Garzon, who has led efforts to prosecute Gen. Pinochet for alleged human rights abuses, hopes to meet with Kissinger April 24. Kissinger is scheduled to visit London for a business conference.

Judge Garzon ordered the 1998 arrest of Gen. Pinochet in London in an attempt to have him extradited to Spain for trial on charges against humanity. But the British government refused to order the extradition and released the former Chilean leader after 17 months because of his poor health. 

Judge Garzon hopes to question Kissinger about Operation Condor, a joint campaign by several Latin American military dictatorships in the 1970s and 1980s to prosecute their opponents.
 
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Fujimori charged
again in Peru

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LIMA, Peru — The Peruvian government has filed corruption charges against former President Alberto Fujimori for allegedly using government funds to bribe members of congress to join his political party. 

Attorney General Nelly Calderon accused Fujimori of paying-off lawmakers to secure a majority for his party in congress. This is the fourth set of charges alleging corruption or human rights abuses against Fujimori, whose government collapsed amid a corruption scandal in 2000. He has denied any wrongdoing. 

Fujimori lives in self-imposed exile in Japan. Tokyo and Lima have no formal extradition treaty. Congress removed Mr. Fujimori from office in November 2000 on the grounds he was morally unfit to be president. 

He was granted Japanese citizenship because his parents were born in Japan before migrating to Peru. Fujimori says he does not believe he would receive a fair trial in Peru and has no plans to return.

Netherlands Antilles
tax treaty signed

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States values its close and cooperative relationship with the Netherlands Antilles on law enforcement matters "particularly now as we work to ensure that no safe haven exists anywhere in the world for the funds associated with illicit activities, including terrorism, money laundering, and tax evasion," U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill said here Wednesday.

O'Neill spoke after signing a new agreement with the Kingdom of the Netherlands that will allow for the exchange of information on tax matters between the United States and the Netherlands Antilles. He was joined by Netherlands Antilles Prime Minister Miguel Pourier.
 

IMF urges reforms
again in Argentina

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — The International Monetary Fund has wrapped up its latest mission to Argentina with another call for that country to implement the reforms necessary to qualify for new financial aid. 

The IMF issued a statement Wednesday in Buenos Aires, saying there should be no doubt about its commitment to help Argentina. The lending agency, however, said renewed assistance will depend on how well Argentina enacts policies aimed at helping its economy rebound. 

Argentina has been seeking upwards of $20 billion in foreign aid to help it recover from a four-year recession. In December, the IMF withheld more than $1 billion in financial aid to Argentina, saying the government failed to control spending. 

 Argentina is in default on $141 billion in public debt and struggling with 20 percent unemployment as well. 

Cell phone wait
will be much longer

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad has suspended indefinitely the assignment of new cellular telephone lines. More than 100,000 requests are in the hopper of the government monopoly that also handled telecommunications.

The company has been assigning numbers for customers to get cellular phones. The current requests are numbered over 500,000. The company stopped distribution of lines at about number 330,000.

Celluar lines still are available for rent through private vendors who already obtained the lines from ICE. 


 
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