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These stories were published Monday, April 18, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 75
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Onions,
onions,
onions

Danielo Montoya prepares another braid of onions for hanging at the Expo Feria Turística de la Cebolla, which opened over the weekend in Santa Ana, west of San José. The event honors the 60 or so commercial producers who turn out 30,000 kilos of onions each year. Sunday, the last day of the fair, will see an attempt to get an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records with the biggest bowl of onion soup.

A.M. Costa Rica photo

 
International action urged on Web drug sales
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Serious national and international efforts are urgently needed to counter the illicit trade of pharmaceutical drugs through the Internet, according to presentations at an international meeting on the topic.

Costa Rica hosts calls centers, some of which are engaged in the cross-border  Internet marketing of drugs, mainly to the United States.

The Internet sales must be controlled to prevent an increasing risk of misuse by children and adolescents as well as to protect individual consumers and public health, experts warned.

Goods sold by illegal Internet pharmacies are either illegally manufactured or diverted from the legal distribution chain, and the pharmacies do not check the prescription or else provide one without questions, according to the experts gathered by the International Narcotics Control Board last week in Vienna, Austria.

In some cases drugs are distributed after they have been smuggled into a country in bulk.

The international board is the independent and quasi-judicial control organ for the implementation of U.N. drug conventions. Its 13 members serve in their personal capacity, but they are elected by the U.N. Economic and Social Council and their work is financed by the U.N.


The experts found that the illicit sale through the Internet relied on sophisticated networks which work together closely, such as owners of illegal Internet pharmacy websites and the suppliers of illicitly traded goods. They called for the creation of an international network of national agencies working together to counteract global and cross-border activities of illegal internet pharmacies.

In many countries, almost everybody has access to the Internet and is using it and this makes everybody a potential customer and a potential victim of Internet pharmacies, they warned. 

As the pharmacies will not verify information on name and age, vulnerable groups such as children and adolescents, as well as those involved in drug trafficking such as drug addicts and dealers, can obtain whatever they want with more ease than in the conventional illicit street market.

Attendees included representatives from international organizations and intergovernmental bodies, such as the World Health Organization, the Universal Postal Union, the international police organization INTERPOL, the Council of Europe, national authorities, professional associations and industries such as the International Federation of Pharmacists, major data-carrier and Internet service providers, and credit card companies.

 
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Central Valley spared
rains over weekend

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Rains are supposed to lessen on the Caribbean slope and the northern zone today after a weekend that saw heavy rains in some areas. 

The Central Valley was spared any serious rain, despite cloudy skies and some light showers.

Saturday and Sunday saw some strong easterly winds with gusts up to around 30 kph, about 20 mph. Winds are supposed to continue today but in general, the Central Valley will be warmer. 

Some showers are expected in Guanacaste and the southern Pacific today.

Seminar starting today
links water and trade

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Experts from Latin America, the United States, and Asia are meeting starting today in Turrialba to discuss how nations can respond to the challenges of water scarcity and hunger in a global economy. 

The three-day seminar, "Globalization and Trade: Implications for Water and Food Security," was organized by the International Food Policy Research Institute, the Third World Centre for Water Management, Mexico, and the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center, known as CATIE in Costa Rica. 

The event brings together leading researchers on water, food, globalization and trade with the aim of identifying the major risks and challenges regarding water and food security for developing countries from globalization and trade, developing policy recommendations based on the research presented, and proposing avenues for further action

The seminar will consider the effect of current trade negotiations, including the Doha Round of the World Trade Organization. 

"Far-reaching trade negotiations and shifts in global trade regimes have the potential to affect agricultural production patterns and, consequently, the use and availability of water," said Claudia Ringler, an International Food Policy research fellow.  Ms. Ringler coordinates the challenge program’s research on global and national food and water systems.

"International trade and investments — and the laws that govern them — can have a significant impact on water management. The sale of water across borders and foreign investments in water supply and sanitation services have created concerns about continued water availability for local users," said Asit Biswas, president of the Third World Centre for Water Management. 

Water quality and ecosystem services are also changing as a result of globalization. For example, trans-boundary water pollution is becoming increasingly prevalent in developing countries, as documented by the research of seminar participant Hilary Sigman, professor of economics at Rutgers University, New Brusnwick, N.J.

In the wake of globalization, internationally driven private investments in water supply and sanitation have become more prevalent in recent years, leading to controversy in many communities where privatization is being considered.

Globalization and trade can affect food security in other ways, as well. Trade can mitigate food shortages when water shortages reduce food production.  By trading in "virtual water," water-scarce countries can import high water-consuming crops, livestock, and fish products while producing more drought-tolerant crops at home, as studies by Charlotte de Fraiture, senior researcher at the International Water Management Institute, and colleagues have shown. 

"By examining these issues in depth, we are hopeful that this seminar will provide new insights and options to improve policymaking, so that our governments can develop solutions to water scarcity and malnutrition in today’s global economy," said Pedro Ferreira, director general of CATIE.

Swamp work leads to trial

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Swiss citizen goes on trial today in the Tribunal de Juicio de San Carlos on a charge that he was draining a swamp.

The accused, identified by the last name of Krucker, owns a farm in San José de Upala, said officials. The charge stems from a visit by officers of the Fuerza Pública April 28, 2001.

Officers said they found Krucker working in wetlands that had great value for the ecosystem. He was constructing canals to drain the area, they said.

The charge alleges that this activity would cause the death of turtles, lizards and vultures.  The work was inspected by the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía, and representatives of that agency are expected to testify at the trial.

The area in question drains into the Río Caño Negro.

Woman kept prisoner

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man faces an allegation that he tied up, starved and kept his female companion a prisoner for a month until she managed to escape.

The man, identified by the last name of Miranda, had been the subject of a domestic violence complaint by the 22-year-old woman, identified by the last name of Juárez.

Officials said the man faces an allegation that he attacked the woman with a hammer, chained her up, taped her mouth shut and tied her hands. This took place in a dwelling in Bajo Tejares de San Ramón, officials said.

After a month of confinement the woman escaped Sept. 12 and was found to be in a state of severe malnutrition. She went to the police.

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A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.


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A saying tells us to keep our eye on what is important
El que se va para el Virilla pierde su silla

"One who goes to the Virilla (river) loses his/her seat." Probably many of you know of the Virilla River, but just in case you don’t, it is the river that separates San José from the town of Escazú. Before the autopista was built, there was just a two-lane road connecting Escazú with the capital, and the Anonos bridge over the Virilla was a very narrow, one-lane affair, which required traffic on one side to wait until on-coming vehicles had crossed before they could proceed over the river. 

The bridge was also very high above the river’s gorge, and proved to be a favorite place for those seeking to commit suicide to dash themselves to smithereens on the huge rocks far below. 

As kids, we used this dicho as an excuse to steal someone else’s chair. Our house had a wonderful front porch with rocking chairs. We used to sit there in the evening and share the events of the day with one another. Though we did have television even back then, we kids were not permitted to watch it more then two hours per day. So rather than being glued to the tube half the night, we’d sit on the porch, turn off the lights and talk until it was time to go to bed. 

Extinguishing the lights was an absolute necessity because we could see and hear the people that were passing by on the sidewalk, but they couldn’t see us. You wouldn’t believe some of the things we overheard! Each child in my family had his or her own rocking chair. But because my cousins, who lived near by, were always coming over to our house to spend time after supper, there were not always enough rockers to go around. So, if nature should suddenly happen to call, when you returned from the bathroom someone else quite possibly would have usurped your chair and would mock you with el que se va para el Virilla pierde su silla when you demanded they give you back your seat. 

This dicho also has to do with keeping an eye on your property and position because even if you have achieved great things in your life, you might suddenly lose everything in an inattentive moment.

We sometimes might apply this expression to the world of politics when people who obtain high office often
lose their comfortable seats at the tables of power

The
way we say it

By Daniel Soto

because they forget how they got there in the first place. One example is our own ex-president Miguel Ángel Rodriguez, who just a year ago was elected chairman of the Organization of American States. But, while Miguel Ángel was off in Washington, D.C., hob-nobbing with the rich and powerful, factions back home in Costa Rica were working his eventual political downfall. 

No matter what we may think of the politics surrounding Mr. Rodriguez’s particular situation, we cannot help but feel sorry that he lost the Organization of American States chair. It was a symbol of pride for our country, and it will probably be a very long time before another Costa Rican will have the opportunity to occupy that honored seat.

This dicho also applies to the story of a cousin of mine who went away to study in the United States. Every year he would come back to visit his girlfriend, but one of those times she met him at the airport and told him that she was seeing someone else, and they were planning to marry. My cousin was heartbroken, but in the end he understood that he had been away at the Virilla for too long. 

So, I guess the lesson that we should take away from all of this is that the comfortable seats in life have responsibilities that go along with them, and if we go off and neglect those responsibilities our chair may just not be waiting for us when we return. 


 
Anti-free trade statement clarifies the objections
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A declaration by opponents of a free trade treaty is a handy summary of the arguments against the pact.

The declaration came from a meeting of opponents that took place Friday in San José. The opinions on the free trade treaty with the United States come from two years of discussing, studying and evaluating the potential impact, said the declaration.

The free trade treaty is an instrument to cause greater concentration of wealth that will benefit a small business sector, said the statement, adding that the pact will violate the national territorial sovereignty, annihilate the nation’s institutions, and strike a blow at small and medium agricultural producers. 

The pact, the statement said, also will deliver to the voracious appetites of transnational companies the three emblematic institutions of the country: The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, the Instituto Nacional de Seguros and the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social, the telecommunications, insurance and medical structures.

The statement represents the views of some 500 organizations and was not the product of lack of knowledge, ignorance or fear of change as some in the media have said, it said.

Some objections are philosophical. The opponents object that the treaty will be like a second constitution for Costa Rica but in the United States the treaty is second to existing laws. And there is no mechanism to modify the treaty after it takes force, they said.

Here are some of the other objections, taken from the declaration:

The treaty will promote the dismantling of public institutions here. In addition it will impact negatively small and medium producers of meat, milk and basic grains or fruits and vegetables by eliminating the customs duties on these products. Local firms could not compete because the United States subsidizes and gives other aid worth millions of dollars to its producers to let them send products here at lower prices.

The accord would wreck the fiscal integrity of the country by eliminating customs duties on a number of products, leading to an increase in sales or consumption tax that will hurt the pocketbooks of the most poor.

The treaty does not guarantee the quality, rights and the protection of the worker, leaving these matters to the laws of each country. It does not incorporate the worker rights to a Christmas bonus (aguinaldo), vacations, pensions, pay for being fired, work contract and social security. The treaty maintains discrimination in the hiring, pay and promotion of women.

The treaty allows total liberty of foreign investment 
which allows the transnational capital to exploit workers and to take advantage of natural resources. The treaty blocks the possibility that the government could maintain a national development strategy by defining priorities and directing investments.

The treaty would consolidate the control of transnational pharmaceutical companies in the production and commercialization of drugs and have a major impact on the finances of the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social, which runs the hospitals.

The result also would be reinforcing the trend toward private health services.

The treaty also would break her national industry of generic products by enforcing patent protection and other forms of intellectual property controls, including agricultural seeds, and agrochemicals.  The treaty also would cause the loss of national sovereignty by permitting the patenting of various life forms including plants and microorganism.

The treaty also would allow international companies to bring economic complaints to private tribunals of international character outside the Costa Rican legal system.

The declaration also said opponents were upset because the agreement was negotiated in secret.

Said the declaration:

"We are facing a million-dollar campaign of misinformation and lies, orchestrated by the traditional political coalition of Liberación Nacional and Unidad Social Cristiana directed by Oscar Arias, Miguel Ángel Rodríguez and Rafael Ángel Calderón with the aid of the ultraright represented by Movimiento Libertario and backed by the principal communications media obviously with the anti-patriotic complicity of the Unión de Cámeras, which are only interested in their businesses. Arias, Rodríguez and Calderón are ex-presidents, and Arias is a candidate in the 2006 elections.

The declaration paid particular attention to the textile industry. One argument in favor of the treaty is that Costa Rican textile producers will have an advantage in entering the U.S. market. But the declaration said that the textile industry is jeopardized anyway by the entry into the market of Chinese goods, which are produced cheaper. Defending the textile industry should be done in ways other than by signing the free trade treaty, it said.

The group called upon President Abel Pacheco to refrain from sending the treaty to the Asamblea Nacional for ratification, and it called upon legislators to vote against the measure if the treaty did arrive there.


 
In case you missed it:
A.M. Costa Rica, April 5, 2005
Our readership more than doubles in one year
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A.M. Costa Rica set another readership record in March when the newspaper registered 2.16 million hits. That was a 22.9 percent increase over February and a 106 percent increase over March 2004, the first month the newspaper exceeded a million hits.

Other statistics had similar increases.

Some 397,368 individual pages were viewed by 99,351 readers. And 45,435 of those readers were registered as unique, which means they were only counted once regardless of how many times they visited the pages in a single day. 

The statistics are maintained by the Internet service provider in the United States where A.M. Costa Rica is hosted. The hosting company keeps track of visits independent of A.M. Costa Rica.

The statistical programs screen out hits and visits by mechanical means, other computers and automated Web crawlers.

The statistics show that the average viewer sees about four pages at every visit to the paper. 

Said Jay Brodell, editor:

"Our dramatic increase in readership over the last three and a half years is no surprise to our advertisers who are getting more and more business from the wave of retirees and would-be retirees who are looking at Costa Rica as a new home and need solid, daily information.

"It’s a new world, and our progressive advertisers recognize that."

A.M. Costa Rica statistics are available on a page that is updated every month HERE!


 
Honduran cardinal is a strong champion for the poor
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga is Honduras' first Catholic cardinal and one of the country's most highly respected public figures. He is also one of the cardinals frequently named as a possible successor to Pope John Paul II. 

Faithful and grief-stricken Catholics recently packed into Tegucigalpa's cathedral for a special Mass for John Paul II. The Polish pope was greatly admired here, but Hondurans are also excited by the possibility that the cardinal from this small poverty-stricken nation, Oscar Andres Rodríguez Maradiaga, may succeed him. 

Of course, that is by no means a certainty. The cardinals who will name the next pope begin their meeting in the Vatican today. And speculation as to who will be the next pope is not limited to Honduras. Many other cardinals from different regions of the world are seen as possible successors to John Paul. 

But the fact that Cardinal Rodríguez is even being mentioned as a credible candidate appeared to delight many Hondurans at the Mass for John Paul, including Argentina de Chavez. 

"The idea that he could attain that post makes us happy and gives us hope," she said, adding that Honduras is most often known internationally for negative things like corruption, graft and AIDS and that this would be something positive. 

The 62-year-old Rodríguez has led the Honduran Catholic Church for the past 11 years. In that time, he has become a key actor in national affairs and gained a reputation as a staunch defender of the poor. 

The charismatic prelate, who became a cardinal in 2001, is known for his push for the reform of the nation's police force, helping to rebuild the country after Hurricane Mitch leveled it in 1998, and directing a national commission to fight the nation's notorious corruption problem. His spokesperson, the Rev. José Jésus Mora, believes that it's these actions that endear him to so many Hondurans.

Despite the fact that Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodríguez 

is a religious figure, he says, he will be remembered in Honduras for his contributions to democracy in the country.

But even though he is often called the most popular person in Honduras, not everyone here approves of his involvement in politics. 

Victor Meza is a political analyst who runs a research institution in Tegucigalpa. By law there is a separation of church and state here, he says, adding that the Catholic Church would do better to keep a distance from the earthly concerns of the state.

Rodrguez flies airplanes, speaks eight languages and plays 10 instruments. But despite his many and varied talents, his sister Maria Hortensia Rodríguez says his destiny as a man of the cloth might have been cast when he was born two months premature and given only a slim chance for survival. 

She says that her mother prayed to the Virgin Mary, saying that if she let him live, she would give him over to her. As a child, she says, her brother would baptize her dolls and celebrate play Masses, using newspapers to make the vestments of a priest. 

Like John Paul, Cardinal Rodriguez follows traditional Vatican teaching on matters of faith and morals. He is opposed to abortion and birth control and women priests. On social issues, he is considered a strong advocate of the poor. 

He played a key role in Pope John Paul's effort to persuade rich countries to ease the debt of developing countries. And as the Rev. German Calix, who runs the Catholic Church's social programs in Honduras explains, the cardinal also speaks internationally about the plight of Third World nations. He has become a voice for all these countries, he says, adding that he has talked often about the need to reform international financial systems and the world economy so that commerce can be more fair and humane. 

At the Mass, the congregation prays for the soul of the late pope and for his successor. While many people here say that they pray for Cardinal Rodríguez to be that successor, they also say they would miss him dearly.


 
Parasitic disease found only in Americas is topic of strategy meeting 
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — This Argentine city will host an international meeting today on Chagas disease, which exists only in the Americas and infects annually some 16-18 million people in the region.

In a statement, the Pan American Health Association, which is co-hosting the meeting, said it has been working with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other agencies around the world to control transmission of the disease.

Chagas disease, caused by a parasite, owes its name to the Brazilian physician Carlos Chagas who discovered the causative agent of the illness in 1909 and described how it spreads in humans.

The parasite reproduces in the internal tissues and causes problems in the heart, esophagus, colon and the nervous system.

The Pan American Health Organization said the objective of the Buenos Aires meeting is to identify priority areas of research on Chagas disease.

Chagas disease can go undetected for years, said a statement. About 80 percent of all cases are transmitted by the vinchuca bug, which lives in cracks and holes in dirt walls and bites people, often near the mouth, while they sleep.

The parasite enters the body when people who are bitten scratch their skin or rub their eyes. The disease can also be transmitted through blood transfusions, organ transplants and from mother to child at birth.

The risk of contracting the infection is directly tied to socioeconomic factors, and is highest in rural areas where houses with dirt, mud or straw walls are common. 

Fumigating these houses and improving housing are effective preventive measures, said the health organization.

Chief symptoms of Chagas disease include constipation, malaise or a feeling of always being tired, the inability to swallow, fever, and varying degrees of discomfort and/or abdominal pain. An estimated 50,000 people die each year from Chagas disease.


 
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