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These stories were published Thursday, May 29, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 105
Jo Stuart
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Rich countries asked to shoulder coffee burden
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Rich countries should share the burden of the coffee crisis, which has resulted in the lowest prices to producers in years and diminished living standards for millions.

That was the opinion of a roundtable on the financial woes of producers decided last week.

The roundtable was organized by the International Coffee Organization  and the World Bank. The group urged the U.S. government to rejoin the international organization and demanded that rich countries reduce their internal agricultural subsidies and tariffs in order to allow potential diversification in those coffee-producing countries willing to move to other crops.

More than 250 delegates attended. These included producers from developing countries, government officials, experts from international organizations, advocacy groups and industry representatives to discuss alternatives such as diversification, quality, added value and market development.

Participants agreed that a long-term solution of the crisis needs to be part of an integral strategy for the agricultural and rural sector.

The coffee crisis is a result of overproduction and the entry into the world market of countries like Vietnam that have low labor costs and have not been coffee producers in the past.

"There is no simple solution, there is no silver bullet. There is a consensus that an integrated package which includes improvement in coffee quality, increase in consumption in non-traditional markets, strengthening of the bargaining and marketing powers of producing countries and support to diversification should be implemented", said Kevin Cleaver, director of the Agriculture and Rural Department of the World Bank.

Coffee prices reached their lowest levels in 30 years last year (and in 100 years in real terms), and have risen only slightly. The coffee organization’s composite indicator price was at 52.89 U.S. cents per pound on 16 May 2003. In almost all coffee producing countries, such 

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prices are unable to cover production costs and have led to serious social and economic problems, including increased poverty, indebtedness and abandonment of coffee farms.

In Costa Rica a number of growers have managed to survive by producing premium beans that bring a premium price. However, a number of hobby farmers, including North American retirees, have been feeling a serious pinch.

There are few cash crops that can generate significant income on lands used for coffee production.

The World Bank and the International Coffee Organization have been working together to analyze the problems arising from the present coffee crisis in line with the preoccupations of governments and civil society groups.

For more information on coffee: 

She gets a good deal, but two men get jail
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The crooks used the old car extortion trick, but investigators caught up with them.

For a long time, car thieves have known that the best customer for a stolen car was the poor victim who just lost the vehicle. This has led to a number of scams. In one case, crooks seek money but never plan on returning the car.

A Grecia woman faced that problem last Friday when someone took her car from the Polideportivo de Grecia. A few minutes later, the woman got a call in which the car thief offered to return the vehicle for 800,000 colons, about $2,000. The woman stalled and told the 

crook she only could come up with 550,000. He accepted the deal.

The crook suggested a meeting Monday in Alejuela and eventually settled on Barrio El Carmen there. The crook was an honest one. When the woman paid the money, he told her and her brother where the car could be located nearby.

Unfortunately for a man and an associate, investigators from the Judicial Investigating Organization had been in on the transaction from the start. They grabbed two men as they sat in a car engrossed in counting money. They were identified by the last names Segura, age 35, and Ceiton, age 28.

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Bad tourism numbers might lead to overbuilding
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

When President Abel Pacheco told the tourism industry Tuesday that a giant increase in visitors was likely by the year 2012, he was using a  highly optimistic scenario.

He predicted that 2.3 million international tourists would visit here in 2012. 

Analysis on the news

However, the general plan for tourist development, released last month, has a lot more wiggle room. The plan, contained in a slick, colorful 100-page book, estimated that there will be anywhere from 1.4 million to 5.3 million international tourists in 2012.

By contrast 1,113,359 international tourists came to Costa Rica in 2002 and only 471,383 tourists were from the United States and Canada.

The difference in the estimates is so large that no serious planning can be based on the numbers. And it appears from the plan that the numbers were generated mathematically and not from a 
detailed study of the tourism market.

The understanding that the numbers approach simple guesses is critical to the tourism industry because investments are being made on the strength of the predictions.

Pacheco, for example, told the inaugural crowd at Exportur Tuesday that he sees 18,000 new hotel rooms and 50,000 more employees in the tourism sector by 2012. However, if the less ambitious predictions prove to be true, the tourism industry will be heavily overbuilt.

The government’s plan, the "Plan General de Desarrollo Turística Sostenible," also will guide planners in making investments in infrastructure, such as water lines, clinics, landfills and similar.

The more optimistic predictions in the plan, that Costa Rica will host 5.3 million tourists in 2012, for example, seem to run counter to the increased competition in the tourism market. A number of sun and beach destinations are reaching the North American market with coordinated campaigns.

The possible opening of Cuba within the next 10 years could reduce the number of visitors here. Cuba, now off-limits to most U.S. citizens, is only a few miles from the U.S. mainland.

Metaphysical author
will lecture here

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

George Green, who wrote the book "Handbook for the New Paradigm," will host a seminar Saturday at 3 p.m. in Mike’s Private Dinner Club in Los Anonos, Escazú.

His visit is being sponsored by an informal group who arranges seminars on spiritual topics.

Said an announcement: "Green will speak about the current situation on the planet, who and what we are, what the world players are doing, and what is going on in the economic, political, and spiritual realms, including the part each person must play."

A Web site featuring the book says it is composed of  several volumes of messages telepathically received from an advanced other-dimensional race.

Green’s talk for which donations will be accepted will be followed by a prime rib dinner for which reservations are required and a 7,000 colon (about $18) fee will be charged. Reservations may be made with  Karen Butler at 289-6333/821-4708 or with Bonnie Dumas 282-7795/833-1366.

Mike's Private Dinner Club may be reached for directions at 289-6087.

Peru’s military goes
after striking protestors

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LIMA, Peru — The nation’s armed forces have cracked down on local protests after President Alejandro Toledo declared a state of emergency Tuesday to curb a wave of labor unrest. 

Soldiers Wednesday tore down barricades of rocks and burning tires that were blocking major highways. They also peacefully dispersed teachers who were protesting outside the Congress building in Lima. 

Toledo declared the 30-day nationwide state of emergency to curb a growing wave of protests against his government. The measure suspends civil rights such as the right to hold public meetings and to demonstrate. 

The protesters, made up of teachers, farmers and health workers, have vowed to continue their demonstrations to demand higher pay and lower taxes. 

Teachers went on strike almost three weeks ago, demanding salary increases. Farmers later staged a walkout calling for lower taxes on their crops and protection from imports. On Tuesday, they were joined by judicial employees and thousands of doctors, nurses and other health workers who walked off their jobs to demand higher wages. 

Amnesty bemoans
loss of human rights

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

In its annual report on human rights, Amnesty International says the war on terrorism in the Western Hemisphere has undermined civil liberties and human rights across the region. Tightening security has led to hundreds of unlawful detentions in Colombia and torture of prisoners in a dozen other countries. 

In its report on Colombia, Amnesty says security measures under the current president exacerbated the already appalling political violence. By Amnesty's count, more than 4,000 civilians were killed for political reasons in 2002, while more than 2,700 were kidnapped by guerrilla groups or paramilitary forces. 

Amnesty says torture and ill-treatment of prisoners and unlawful killings by security forces have been recorded in a score of countries, from Mexico to Patagonia. It accuses police in Jamaica of killing at least 133 people, and security forces in Argentina and Venezuela of shooting political demonstrators. 

Peru, according to the report, continues to hold a number of political dissenters in jail, while Cuba has recently imprisoned dozens more. Prison conditions in those countries, and a dozen others, the report says, are very poor. 

On the plus side, Amnesty said some countries, including Chile, Argentina and Uruguay, have made progress in investigating past human rights abuses and punishing violators.

Jury convicts Ochoa
of cocaine trafficking

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MIAMI, Fla. — Colombian drug lord Fabio Ochoa has been convicted here on charges of trafficking cocaine to the United States in the late 1990s. 

Jurors reached their verdict Wednesday after spending several hours deliberating the fate of Ochoa, a former leader of the now-defunct Medellin cocaine cartel. 

Ochoa is the most prominent drug figure to be brought to justice on U.S. soil since Colombia and the United States adopted a new extradition agreement in 1997.  Ochoa has been jailed in Miami since he was extradited from Colombia in September 2001. 

Prosecutors say Ochoa returned to the illegal drug trade after he was released from prison in his homeland in 1996. They also say he conspired to ship up to 30 tons of cocaine per month to the U.S. market from 1997 until 1999. 

Ochoa denies the allegations and is expected to appeal the verdict. Ochoa faces possible life imprisonment when he is sentenced Aug. 19. Key evidence in the case included conversations secretly recorded by Colombian police, who spent several months monitoring the office of another accused cartel member, Alejandro Bernal.


Guatemalan twins
are making progress

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — Doctors have said the Guatemalan twins who were born joined at the head are making progress after being flown to the United States for medical treatment.  The medical staff at a hospital here say 22-month-old Maria de Jesus Quiej Alvarez is in good health after recent convulsions. 

Doctors say her sister, Maria Teresa, is in stable condition and will have surgery Thursday to place a new valve in her brain to drain fluids. She contracted E-coli meningitis last month. 

Doctors in California separated the twins last year. The girls returned to Guatemala in January, but were flown back to Los Angeles last week after becoming ill.

Chile and U.S. ready
to sign trade accord

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Bush administration officials say the United States and Chile will sign a free trade agreement at a ceremony in Miami June 6. 

Officials said Tuesday that U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick and Chilean Foreign Minister Soledad Alvear will sign the accord. The two countries completed negotiations on the agreement in December. 

The trade pact is the first of its kind between the United States and a South American country. The accord will lift or lower tariffs on as much as 85 percent of goods from both countries.  The agreement must still be approved by the U.S. Congress before it can take effect. 
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Transport leaders to take all steps against terror
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Western Hemisphere transportation ministers have pledged to work together to combat all forms of terrorism, adding that they condemn, "in the strongest terms, the misuse of any part of a country's transport system or its infrastructure for acts of terrorism."

In a joint statement released following their meeting in Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, Mexico, the ministers said they resolved "to take all necessary measures within our respective authorities to prevent a reoccurrence" of terrorist attacks similar to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks against the United States.

The ministers added that in "recognizing the challenges" facing the region's transportation systems, and in recognizing also the importance of awareness and preparedness, "we reiterate our commitment to work together to improve transportation safety and security" through the Western Hemisphere Transportation Initiative. In making that commitment, the ministers said they will continue to "pay particular attention to the needs of small, island, and developing states."

The initiative is a product of the Summit of the Americas process, which provides the United States and its hemispheric partners a way to address common political, economic, and social issues. Brazil is the current chair of the initiative, with co-chairs United States and Costa Rica.

Representing the United States at the recent Mexico conference was Deputy Secretary of Transportation Michael Jackson.  During the conference, Jackson held talks on transportation issues with his colleagues from Brazil, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Mexico.

Besides the transportation ministers from the countries of the hemisphere, conference participants included the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the Organization of American States.

In their statement, the ministers said that a transportation network that is "efficient and integrated, free of avoidable safety and security risks, and sensitive to the environment" is "essential" for improving trade and providing for basic services, "and thus to [regional] prosperity and economic development."

The ministers also acknowledged that the environmental effects of transportation can have serious implications on public health and quality of life, as well as for trade opportunities. In particular, they said that since emissions from motor vehicles "are one of the principal sources of air pollution, we encourage the development and application of environment-friendly technologies in road transport, and express our commitment to adopt and adhere to the highest practicable vehicle emissions standards."

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