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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, April 23, 2002, Vol. 2, No. 79
Jo Stuart
About us
An analysis of the news
Rice deal will have some hidden consequences
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Protesting rice growers reached an accord with the government Monday night.

The government promised to give them money and not take action against the men for participating in the protest. About 14 protestors were arrested over the weekend in clashes with police near Puntarenas.

In exchange, the rice producers promised to go home.

In all, the month was a successful one for the producers, who got the National Assembly to set up what amounts to a rice monopoly.

That was after they caused an international incident by pressuring the government to jack up import duties on U.S. rice even after the ship carrying the rice had reached the Port of Caldera on the Pacific.

The U.S. government expressed concern that U.S. rice was being held hostage to placate the producers whose own rice cannot compete on the world market. The situation developed in the middle of the presidential runoff election campaign.

Rice producers have become the most aggressive element in Costa Rican politics, which is why the government appears to have caved in. They love to block roads.

The protests in Caldera over the weekend were designed to prevent the distribution of rice that was being taken off the ship that had languished in the harbor for nearly a month. Producers fear prices will be depressed by the entry of 26,000 tons of foreign rice in the local market..

The Caldera confrontation followed five days 
when the producers simply parked their big 18-wheeler rigs side by side in front of the National Assembly closing up westbound Avenida Principal and caused congestion in the downtown. That is the major westbound route. 

The producers did this so the deputies would pass their proposal for a national rice corporation. That organization will be the monopoly importer of rice into Costa Rica. And the board will be controlled by the rice producers. The proposal passed 47-2 and is being reviewed by the Sala IV constitutional court. It needs one more favorable vote to become law.

Given the proposed monopoly corporation, it would be hard not to predict higher rice prices for Costa Ricans who, on the average, eat about 150 pounds of rice each year.

But the real damage might be to Costa Rica’s image as a player in world trade. The rice conflict and several other trade disputes, mostly complex and hidden from public view, cause foreign trade officials to wonder if any deal struck with Costa Rican customers is binding.

If the government can step into a private rice transaction and derail it by doubling import duties, the government can do similar meddling with any other trade deal.

As one diplomat said, "What value are contracts if the government can just change them when they want?"

Such developments also would seem to undermine the country’s position and influence in any international negotiations for a free trade area in Central America.

All that you can do is cry for the little girl 
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The older man was molesting a young girl in broad daylight in the courtyard of the Teatro Nacional. She was climbing on a wall, and he was putting his fingers where he should not and rubbing where he should not.

The young man sitting next to me saw this take place, too. The time was about 1:30 p.m., and shoppers, office workers and police walked by just a few feet away.

The little girl was about 3 years old. She was happy, and she was playing on a wall. She did not realize what was taking place. The man could have been a father, an uncle or a grandfather. Clearly, the child trusted the man. His hands shook as he fondled the private parts of the child.

I was in shock. Here I was sitting drinking a little coffee in one of San José most popular locales, and a crime was taking place before my eyes. "Oh my God, I can’t believe it." I said, and the young man responded "What?"

I told him to watch the man and the girl playing on the wall. Soon he, too, realized that something not quite correct was taking place. "Yes, I see it, too," he said in Spanish.

A woman some distance away near the entrance to the theater appeared to be the mother of the child. She was about 30 years, good looking and well-dressed.

After much soul-searching, I excused myself and carefully walked over and introduced 

myself to the woman. She brushed me off at first, thinking I was a vendor. 

I caught up with her and said "Someone there is abusing your daughter."

She looked shocked and ran to the man and repeated to him what I had said. He was tall and now very angry.

He came at me in an aggressive way and said to the woman, "She’s probably crazy." To me he said, "I’m going to call the police."

"No, it is I who will call the police," I said. I began to shake and a cold sweat broke out. I only had the proof of my own eyes.

The man considered his situation. The child was in his arms. Suddenly he walked swiftly to the corner. The woman followed. They hailed a taxi, and, I thought, fled the scene, underscoring his guilt and her knowledge.

I returned nearly sick to my stomach to the young man on the bench. "There is nothing we can do," he told me. "This is just the sad reality of life."  He said he was a journalism student.

I am a journalist, too. I can’t arrest these people. I have no badge. I have no names. I only have the proof of my eyes. But I can do something.

I can write this. And I can cry.

But I cannot change this sad history that repeats every day for many children. And that makes me feel frustrated and impotent. 

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Joint effort targets growing violence in Americas
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Agency for International Development has joined a coalition of international agencies that are involved in helping countries prevent the growing waves of violence in the Americas.

The Inter-American Coalition for the Prevention of Violence was created in 2000 to deal with a problem that reportedly encompasses about 300,000 people, most of them young men, who die each year in the Americas due to homicides, suicide, and motor vehicle accidents.

USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios, who announced earlier this month that his agency was joining the coalition, argued that "socialization of young men is the key issue" in preventing violence, which he said has increased markedly since the end of the Cold War.

USAID joins the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the Organization of American States (OAS), the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in the coalition. The coalition said it has developed a "systematic plan" to prevent violence in the Americas by working to collect data, design new programs, and develop best practices.

A major problem related to violence in the region is said to be psychological and physical abuse of women at the hands of their domestic partners. Violence against children is also said to be prevalent, while juvenile gang violence has become a huge social problem in many countries throughout the Americas.

OAS Secretary General Cesar Gaviria said crime rates are as much as six times higher in the Americas than in other regions. He said that while the roots of the problem are complex, "the situation is quite critical and is visibly deteriorating." Most countries, he said, "lack a systematic effort to prevent violence and no one feels responsible. . . ."

The CDC estimates that 5,000 people around the world die each day from homicides, suicide, or war. "Violence is an unacceptable global public health problem that is preventable," the CDC added. The agency said that Latin America, the Caribbean and sub-Saharan Africa have the world's highest homicide rates.  PAHO said: "Violence is a serious problem in the Americas and the nature of the topic lends itself to a multi-agency approach. It is critical that we have some idea of the risk factors, and we need good data, especially on domestic violence and child abuse."

Violence, PAHO said, "is a learned behavior, but it can be unlearned through health and education approaches."

Seven died
in accidents
on Sunday
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Seven persons died in traffic accidents Sunday. 

Three persons perished when two motorcycles collided in La Virgen de Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí. Dead were Martín Quiros Díaz, 22, Daniel Picado Castro, 19, and Alex Calderón Calderón. A woman suffered injuries.

In Ciudad Colón, west of San José, a woman died when she tried to cross the highway after getting off a bus about 10:40 p.m.. She was Martina Aguilar Jimémez, 22, said investigators.

A man walking along the highway in La Fortuna de San Carlos, Juan Pablo Obando Figueroa, 40, died when he was hit by a car about 8 p.m. The town is near the Arenal Volcano.

In Calle Ancho de Alajuela, a woman named Marcela Bolaños Rosales, 40, died when she was run over by an ambulance.

A three-vehicle collision near Liberia took the life of Vocarro De La O Cortés and injured eight other persons.

The Judical Investigating Organization is looking into each death, as is customary.

Chavez or no Chavez, the situation is very critical
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — President Hugo Chavez is back in control of the government and expressing a willingness to discuss differences with his opponents. But, the deep division between the nation's rich minority and its poor majority's bodes ill for the future.

The depth of support for President Chavez can best be seen along Venezuela's Caribbean coast, within less than an hour's drive from Caracas. Parts of this area look like a ghost town. There are grotesque ruins of buildings and houses and piles of huge boulders where streets used to be. This area was devastated by a landslide caused by heavy rains in December 1999. 

President Chavez promised relief for the people who lost homes here and he had the support of international donations to restore the area. But it is evident that there has been little or no reconstruction. The United States sent two Navy ships from a base in Puerto Rico with heavy equipment and special teams to rebuild the road, but President Chavez refused the help, the ships turned back and the road remains as it was.

Yet most of the common people who live in this area strongly back President Chavez. Eduardo, a port worker who voted for Chavez, but is critical of some of his policies, says people here do not blame the president for the lack of recovery.

"People blame the state governor more than the president," Eduardo says. "They still identify strongly with Chavez because he has made frequent trips here to talk with the people in poor barrios [neighborhoods] and that, even though many of them see that little reconstruction has been done, they believe Chavez is still working on their behalf."

The loyalty many of this nation's poorest people 

have for Hugo Chavez is not always easy to understand. It is not based on what he has done for them, but what he represents for them. For one thing, he looks more like them than have past presidents. He, like most Venezuelans, is dark-skinned and of mixed blood. Chavez also provides a channel for resentments that have built up through decades of corrupt governments run by lighter-skinned, upper class figures who rarely paid attention to the poor.

Chavez has given himself a solid political base by making the poor his primary focus. The poor represent up to 80 percent of the nation's 24 million people and because of Mr. Chavez, a large percentage of them now go to the polls. Many middle class opponents of the Chavez government admit that they did not bother to vote when he first appeared on the scene. The middle-class remains small and is shrinking. 

Thousands of educated Venezuelans have left the country since Chavez took office, seeking opportunity elsewhere. Meanwhile, poverty is a growth industry. Each year 300,000 people enter the workforce and there is full-time employment for only about 12 percent of them. 

Economic and political analysts see a disaster brewing in Venezuela unless something changes. The recent conciliatory talk by President Chavez could be the beginning and at least some people are hopeful that a national dialogue will reduce tensions. 

But it is likely that the wealthier and better-educated Venezuelans who have bitterly opposed Chavez in recent months will remain obsessed with ending his rule. What they know now, however, is that it is far easier to remove the president from office than it is to bridge the gap between the two societies that exist side by side in this troubled country. 

More kidnappings take place in ailing Colombia
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — Colombian leftist rebels have kidnapped a state governor, priest and former defense minister during a peace march through rebel-held territory. 

Authorities say Antioquia Gov. Guillermo Gaviria, chaplain Carlos Yepes and former Defense Minister Gilberto Echeverri were kidnapped Sunday as they walked alongside hundreds of marchers toward the village of Caicedo. 

Officials say rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia seized the men after stopping the peace walk to question the marchers about their intentions. 

Colombian President Andres Pastrana has condemned the abductions, but also criticized Gov. Gaviria for ignoring military warnings that the route was unsafe. President Pastrana Monday said no amount of security helps if people fail to obey the military recommendations. 

The FARC has been kidnapping politicians and officials in hopes of exchanging them for captured insurgents. Earlier this month, the insurgents kidnapped 12 lawmakers during a raid on the legislature in the city of Cali.

The rebels also seized presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt at a roadblock in late February, after Pastrana ended peace talks with the rebels. 

Colombia is in the midst of a civil war that involves the FARC and a smaller rebel group (the National Liberation Army), along with the government and right-wing paramilitary forces. The 38-year-old conflict has left at least 40,000 people dead in the past decade alone. 

Meanwhile, in Washington, several thousand demonstrators marched early Monday to protest U.S. military aid to Colombia.

Officials say more than a dozen protesters were arrested during the mostly peaceful march from the Washington Monument to the U.S. Capitol building. Police in riot gear escorted the marchers, who did not have a permit to hold their rally, in an effort to keep rush-hour traffic moving.

This is the third day of demonstrations surrounding meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, which ended Sunday. Thousands of activists have gathered in Washington to denounce globalization and to voice concern over the ongoing crisis between Israel and the Palestinians.

During protests at the World Bank/IMF meeting in Washington two years ago, police made more than 1,000 arrests.

Embassy in Yemen
awaits terrorism 

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

SANAA, Yemen — The U.S. embassy here is closed today after authorities received word of a possible terrorist attack against U.S. interests. 

The embassy said an attack could come Monday or sometime very soon. It gave no other details but said embassy personnel are taking additional security measures.  Embassy officials have asked Americans in Yemen to avoid large crowds and demonstrations and be extra vigilant while walking or driving. Anti-U.S. sentiment has surged in Yemen in recent months because of U.S. support for Israel. 

A previously unknown group calling itself "Sympathizers of the al-Qaida Organization" has threatened to carry out suicide bombings in Yemen. The group claims responsibility for a bombing earlier this month near intelligence headquarters in Sanaa and two other attempted bombings of the homes of intelligence officials. 

Last month, a man police describe as mentally disturbed tossed a grenade at the U.S. embassy in Sanaa, causing little damage.  U.S. officials believe followers of wanted terrorist Osama bin Laden are hiding out in Yemen. U.S. troops have also reportedly begun training Yemeni soldiers to pursue al-Qaida fugitives. 

U.S. officials blame Osama bin Laden for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the 2000 suicide attack on the U.S. navy destroyer, the USS Cole, in the port of Aden that killed 17 U.S. sailors.

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