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(506) 223-1327        Published Thursday, April 20, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 78         E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Quick action unlikely on free trade agreement
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

With just six more meetings left of the lame-duck Asamblea Legislativa, chances for any agreement on the free trade treaty with the United States seem unlikely.

Supporters of the treaty say that Costa Rica is losing opportunities by not ratifying the document quickly.  One group, Por Costa Rica, said Wednesday that International Textile Group will invest $100 million in Nicaragua for construction of a plant to produce fabric for jeans, some 28 million yards a year.

The pro-treaty group estimated that the new fabric plant will employ 750 persons and generate some 8,000 jobs at plants that come to the country to make use of the fabric. The treaty, which provides certain trade benefits to fabric manufacturers, went into force in Nicaragua April 1.

"In Costa Rica we continue sitting and waiting while the world and the region advances more rapidly each day," said Por Costa Rica.

At the assembly Wednesday, deputies began saying good-bye to their staff members and there were some speeches of advice to the new group of deputies that take over the seats in the chamber May 1.

The free trade treaty is in a legislative committee for study. It is not unusual for a measure to be considered during two or more four-year legislative terms.

Those who support the agreement had their hopes lifted earlier this month when the assembly staff said that votes from only 29 lawmakers would be needed to ratify the treaty.
The party of president-elect Óscar Arias Sánchez could easily rally that many votes from its own ranks and from other deputies that support the agreement after they take office May 1.

However, the staff report came from the same group that said the $500 million fiscal plan could be passed by a similar number of votes. The Sala IV rejected that idea and sent the massive tax measure to the legislative trash heap.
The Costa Rican Constitution says in Article 7 that "Public treaties and international conventions which confer or transfer certain powers to a community legal order for the purpose of achieving common regional objectives shall require the approval of the Legislative Assembly by a vote of not less than two-thirds of its entire membership."

Another section, Article 121, also stipulates that "public treaties and international agreements referring to the territorial integrity or the political organization of the country shall require the approval of the Legislative Assembly by a vote of not less than three fourths of its total membership and the approval of two-thirds of the Members of a Constitutional Assembly called for the purpose."

There is no doubt that the free trade treaty limits certain aspects of Costa Rican sovereignty. So no matter what voting takes place, opponents certainly will carry the measure to the Sala IV constitutional court, perhaps more than once.

And then the court magistrates will have to decide what the sections of the Constitution really mean.

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Economic development
comes in many forms

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and the U.N. News Service

Good news for arid Guanacaste, particularly those areas that do not have a multimillion dollar strip of beach.

The United Nations is promoting camel milk, something researchers call a $10 billion opportunity. The idea was outlined in a new release cleverly entitled "By surmounting a few production humps, camel milk could bring in billions."

“The potential is massive. Milk is money,” said a U.N. dairy and meat expert, Anthony Bennett, in a review of camel milk potential. He said the agency is hoping donors and investors will come forward to develop the sector not only at the local level but helping it move into lucrative markets in the Middle East and the West.

The sun-bleached expanses of Guaancaste would seem to qualify for sprawling camel herds — at least until rainy season hit.

State-of-the art camel rearing is rudimentary, and much of the 5.4 million tons of milk currently produced every year by the world population of some 20 million camels is guzzled by young camels themselves, the U.N. said.

Jumping on the camel train, Vienna-based chocolatier Johann Georg Hochleitner intends to launch this autumn a low-fat, camel milk chocolate with funding from the Abu Dhabi royal family, making it in Austria from powdered milk produced at Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates, then shipping 50 tons back to the Gulf each month.

Undersea tuna ranch
raises local concerns

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The idea seems to be a weird one: Catch a bunch of young yellow fin tuna. Put them in an underwater feedlot and harvest them as the consumer demands.

That's the plan of Granjas Atuneras de Golfito S.A. And protests are starting to build over the location in Golfo Dulce in Costa Rica's southern Pacific coast.

The size of the project is staggering. The tuna firm wants to construct underwater holding cages 7.4 kms. (4.6 miles) long and 2.1 kms. (1.3 miles) wide. The cages would be down 22 meters into the water, some 70 feet.

The tuna farm would be about a kilometer (six-tenths of a mile) off the coast.

The Programa Restauración de Tortugas Marinas came out with questions about the project Wednesday and said that the board of directors of the Instituto Costarricense de Pesca y Acuicultura was going to vote Friday and whether it would back the project.

The turtle organization said that the project had not been discussed enough and that local fishermen think that the undersea project will affect their own harvests. The company plans to purchase young yellow fin tuna from local fishermen.

Concerns also have been raised over the wastes generated by the caged fish and particles of the sardines they will be fed.

However, an agency of the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía already has approved the plan.

The turtle organization is involved because it has operated a conservation project in the area for 10 years.

Honduras and El Salvador
ratify boundary accord

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The presidents of Honduras and El Salvador have formally put an end to a boundary dispute dating back to a short, but bloody conflict between their countries in 1969 that left thousands dead.

Honduran President Manuel Zelaya and his Salvadoran counterpart, Elias Antonio Saca, met Tuesday at the tiny border town of El Poy to ratify their 375-km. (233-mile) border. A representative from the Organization of American States, along with diplomats, also attended the ceremony along the border.

The border had been in dispute since the brief conflict, which grew in part out of Honduran resentment of Salvadoran migrants. Although a peace accord was later signed in 1980, the case went before the International Court of Justice, which in 1992 set out a boundary giving Honduras 69 percent of the disputed territory in the border area.

With Tuesday's development, both leaders say they plan joint infrastructure projects including a hydroelectric dam.

Large pot haul uncovered

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Publica officers and coast guardsmen uncovered two tons of marijuana in the Reserva Cur de Paquera in Punta Blanca on the east shore of the Nicoya Peninsula. A park ranger at the private reserve made the initial discovery. The marijuana was in 1,212 packs placed in 49 bags, police said.
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, April 20, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 78


U.S. asks China about its intentions in Latin America
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

China is building stronger ties with Latin America, in part to satisfy its need for raw materials to fuel industrial growth, and in part to strengthen its worldwide diplomatic reach. This has drawn the attention of the United States, which last week dispatched its top diplomat for Latin American affairs to Beijing.

Analysts say the visit by Thomas Shannon, the assistant secretary of state for western hemisphere affairs, highlighted Washington's concerns that China is increasing its influence in a region where the U.S. has traditionally been dominant.

Shannon met for two days in Beijing with Chinese officials in what he said were the United States' first consultations with China on Latin America. He said the Chinese gave him assurances that their intentions remain more economic and less political. Shannon said the Chinese acknowledged that their growing relationship with Latin America has a military component.

"They told us, a kind of primary thrust of their engagement with the region [and] their engagement in the region is economic and is focused on trade and investment," said Shannon.

The commander of U.S. forces in Latin America, Gen. Bantz Craddock, last month told U.S. senators that China's military presence in the region is — in his words — "widespread and growing every day." He said China is sending increasing numbers of personnel for training, as well as what he described as more non-lethal equipment to the region.

Craddock said more Latin American nations have turned to China for military training because of a U.S. law that bans sending American military training personnel to countries that are signatories to the new International Criminal Court. That includes Brazil and at least 10 others in Latin America. The Bush administration wants U.S. troops excluded from the court's jurisdiction.

Political science Professor June Teufel Dreyer, a China scholar at the University of Miami in the U.S., says China has made its political intentions clear for a long time, and says Beijing's reaching into Latin America fits well with its plan.

"The Chinese government has been worried since the fall of the Soviet Union that the world has become uni-polar. They have been saying for well over a decade now that what they would like is to see the emergence of a multi-polar world," said Dreyer. "So,
as they establish these political and economic ties with Latin American countries, this helps China in its goal of establishing a multi-polar world."

It has been relatively easy for China to build close ties with nations with leftist governments — Cuba, Venezuela and more recently Bolivia. Their leaders have ideological reasons to embrace China, which they see as a symbol of remaining Communist influence the world.

But for Latin American countries with freer economies, such as Chile, the reason for wanting closer relations with China is trade. In November, China signed a free trade agreement with Chile, Beijing's first with a Latin American country, and discussions are under way with others.

Latin America is rich in the natural resources China needs to fuel its economic growth. The region's exports range from seafood to timber to oil and metals.

China's trade with Latin America has doubled since 2000, to $50 billion a year. Although the figure is much smaller than the $800 billion that the U.S. does in business with Latin America each year, it is growing rapidly. Beijing aims to raise the figure to $100 billion by 2010.

In the case of Mexico, which has a closely interlocked relationship with the United States, there has been resistance to China from some in the manufacturing sector, which is threatened by cheaper Chinese labor costs. However, many Mexican exporters are starting to look for expanded ties with China.

At a ceremony in Beijing marking Mexico's biggest ever cultural exposition in China, Mexican Ambassador Sergio Ley says Mexican exporters are looking to expand beyond their traditional U.S. markets. He says China is a natural choice.

"Simply put, it is the fact that China last year imported $700 billion worth of foreign goods, making it a major buyer. Then, our businesses are looking for niches in this great, great market that is China," said Ley. "We want to take advantage of the opportunities and if Mexican exporters could capture at least a little piece of those 700 billion dollars, we would be very happy."

Ley says there is another reason that exporters in his country, who have traditionally depended on the U.S. market, now look to diversify. He says businesses need to protect themselves from fluctuations in the U.S. economy, which have historically reverberated south of the U.S. border.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, April 20, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 78

Canadian convicted in strange case of Paquera fraud
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Canadian who promised residents of Paquera vast sums for development now stands convicted of fraud.

Also convicted is his associate and two members of the Asociación de Desarrollo Integral de Paquera.

The decision came Wednesday afternoon in the Tribunal de Juicio de Puntarenas.

The Canadian is Francesco Pecora, who came to Paquera on the Nicoya Peninsula in late 2003. He promised the development association $57.8 million in gold to construct a new port, an airport, a hospital, hotels, a university and casinos and other public service projects, according to a summary by the press office of the Poder Judicial.

Testimony said that he also wanted the interest payments on the generous loans paid up front.  Later it became clear that he did not have substantial sums of money.
The decision by the three-judge panel Wednesday is subject to appeal and review by the Sala III high criminal court.

The judges gave Pecora eight years and a similar term to Ileana Romero Bermúdez, his associate.

The trial heard 22 witnesses. They said that Pecora gained control of the books and checkbooks of the association. The development association paid him 5.1 million colons (about $12,000) in commissions or interest and 164,540 colons ($411) for food and lodging.

Pecora approached the development association when it was in financial difficulties, particularly with operating the ferry service that links the peninsula to Puntarenas.

Albin Jiménez Jiménez and Hernán Sánchez Araya of the development association each got five years in prison. The trial was held in February. Both Pecora and his associate were in presentence detention.

It's 1928
all over again

Students of the Taller Nacional de Teatro model 20s garb as part of their presentation at the inauguration of the restored facade of the Teatro Popular Melico Salazar Wednesday night. The theater was built in 1927 and 1928, remodeled in 1960 and suffered a devastating fire in 1967. It reopened as a government building in 1981.

Actors are María Jesús Castillo, Wilbert Carvajal, Andrea Monge, Marielos Rocha and Lucía Vasquéz.

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas

Training on commercial sexual exploitation draws Italian expert
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 80 persons turned out Wednesday to address the problem of commercial sexual exploitation.

The keynoter was Italian expert Vincenzo Castelli, and the seminar was presented by the Asociación Construyendo Esperanzas or building hope.

In addition to attendees from various private and public agencies, officials of the Dirección de Investigación Especializada also attended what amounted to training. This is the unit in the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública that has been arresting fugitives from sex crime convictions.

The association believes in an integrated treatment program for minor, drug victims and those being exploited sexually. The group promotes improving the state and quality of health and reinsertion to society.

The director of the specialized investigation unit,

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Paul Chávez, head of a special investigative unit, explains the role of his ministry.

Paul Chávez Cambronero, said the training strengthens the professional formation of agents in his charge. Also at the session was Rosalía Gil, executive president of the Patronato Nacional de Infancia, the government child welfare agency.

Second man dies from head wound received in Guadalupe ambush
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 19-year-old man died early Wednesday, the second victim of what appears to have been an ambush in Purral de Guadalupe. The shooting took place about 1:30 a.m. Tuesday when three men approached a vehicle in which three other men were riding. The men on foot pulled guns and fired into the car.
Dead at the scene was  Rodolfo Auxilio Araya Mora, 42, who suffered a chest wound.  Marco Andrés Chacón Quesada, the 19-year-old, suffered a head wound and went to Hospital Calderón Guardia where he died Wednesday.

A third man in the car escaped harm, according to agents for the Judicial Investigating Organization.

Jo Stuart
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