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These stories were published Thursday, June 5, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 110
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Palm oil bunches decorate a 3-year-old seedling from ASD de Costa Rica. Eventually the tree will grow taller, but scientists seek a shorter stock to make harvesting the oil-rich fruit easier.
U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization photo
Palm oil growers appeal is a good case study
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Cooking oils are not very sexy. They seldom stir the soul. Except for discussions about cholesterol, the sprawling oil seed industry is strictly low-profile.

However, the case of Costa Rica’s palm oil producers bears close inspection because the industry here represents a small-scale study of the agricultural impact of the proposed free trade treaty with the United States. The fears of the palm oil producers are reflected in many other areas of Tico society.

The Cámara Nacional de Productores de Palma, the industry group, took to the pages of La Nacion this week to ask the Costa Rican people to support its efforts to be left out of the free trade treaty.

Although the group did not phrase the argument exactly this way, producers want  Costa Ricans to pay more for palm oil to protect the local industry against an invasion of cooking oils from the United States.

Producers have about 41,000 hectares in production  in the tropical areas of the country. That’s a bit more than 100,000 acres.  The chamber says the industry employs about 6,000 persons, mostly in areas where a good job is hard to find.

According to the producers, the United States with its gigantic, subsidized agriculture represents a big menace. Although the United States is not a big palm oil producer, the vegetable oils it does produce, principally soybean, peanut and corn, can easily be substituted for Costa Rican palm oil.

The chamber’s paid advertisement was unusually candid. The United States has an efficient system of energy, transportation, communication and promotion of its exports. Central American nations, on the other hand, are deficient in cost, quality and service, said the producers. In other words, they cannot see a way to compete with Uncle Sam’s farmers.

In a short-sighted statement, the producers noted that they do not now pay any duties on palm oil imported to the United States, so they see no advantage to a free trade treaty.

Palm oil is not well known in the United States as a cooking ingredient. Brazil  and certain areas of Africa base much of their menu on it.. And Asian producers trumpet the fact that an acre of oil palms can produce five to 10 times the oil as an equivalent piece of land in any other oil seed.  Perhaps 40 percent of the cultivated land in Malaysia is planted to oil palms.

The oil comes from the pulp and seed of the palm fruit that grows in bunches sometimes numbering more than 1,000 individual units. The product is much valued for cosmetic uses, too, as well as certain margarines for its unique chemical composition. More importantly, the oil is free of cholesterol.

The oil palm is a relative newcomer to Costa Rica, arriving here in the 1920s under the auspices of banana growers. Ironically, the country now is a principal research and hybrid propagation center for the world. Palms in Africa can trace their lineage to Tico trees.

The industry is not without critics. Those who decry commercial agriculture see palm oil producers as despoilers of the environment, and sometimes the producers commit environmental crimes in the name of profit or expansion.

So with negotiations nearing the finish for a Central American free trade treaty, Costa Rican palm oil producers and politicians face a decision: Enter the unknown, highly competitive world generated by the treaty or retreat to stagnation.

Most agricultural groups have concerns similar to the palm oil growers. And these enterprises, too, are located in areas where the local economy depends on production, be it rice, bananas, coffee or fresh vegetables. Each would love the benefits of free trade without the competition.

And it is from the agricultural sector as well as the political left, where the biggest danger to treaty ratification comes. President Abel Pacheco supports a free trade treaty, but he has been weakened by recent labor strife.

It may be the isolationism as encapsulated in the palm oil producers demands that carries the day.

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ICE dodges outside inspection and ends its strike
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The striking communications monopoly reached agreement with the government Wednesday night to end its 21-day strike, subject to approval by union members.

The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad got everything it wanted and avoided agreeing to allow a panel of experts and auditors to inspect its internal financing.

The strike ostensibly was by union members of the institute, known as ICE, but the issues involved were far beyond the concern on employees.

The government agreed to support the institute in the issuance of $60 million in bonds on the international market. The bonds are to be issued by the Central Bank, an independent agency, so the government’s approval is merely a suggestion. The money from the bonds is to be used for capital projects.

Striking workers who engaged in another march in San José Wednesday were supposed to be back at work today. Much of the telephone, internet and electrical systems under the jurisdiction of the ICE monopoly continued to function during the strike. But labor intensive functions, such as operator assisted telephone calls, were not available.

The strikers numbered about 10,000, but their public protests drew support from leftist groups and those aligned against President Abel Pacheco. 

He was not at the negotiations Wednesday night in the home of the bishop of San José, but his new minister of the Presidencia, Ricardo Toledo was his representative. Pablo Cob, executive president of the ICE board was there, as were presidents of eight ICE unions.

In a weekend deal brokered by Ottón Solís, the leader of the Partido Acción Ciudadana, ICE was to promise to let outside auditors and other officials inspect its internal finances. Somehow that stipulation got left off the accord signed Wednesday night.

A key criticism of ICE was that the financial documents it had provided to justify a massive international bond issue did not make sense and were inaccurate.

Negotiations met at the bishop’s home Wednesday because Casa Presidencial was in use. The teachers were there negotiating to end their strike. That issue has not yet been resolved. Teachers also put on a massive march Wednesday.

Teachers are fed up with inaccurate pay checks, however, they want more than the resignation of Astrid Fischel, the minister of Educación Pública who quit Monday.  Their concerns are more personal and include pension funding, payment for extra days of work that have been scheduled this year and several other work issues.

The strike by teachers probably will continue at least to the end of the week.

Striking teachers in Peru coming close to an accord
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LIMA, Peru — Striking teachers in Peru took to the streets again Wednesday in defiance of a 30-day state of emergency order aimed at curbing widespread anti-government protests. 

The demonstrations here, the southern coastal city of Ica and the Andean mountain city of Huarez follow protests across the country Tuesday. The teachers are holding out for a salary increase of $60 dollars a month, twice the amount being offered by the government of President Alejandro Toledo. The government and the teachers' representatives reached a tentative agreement following Tuesday's demonstrations, but the accord has yet to be finalized. 

Teachers' union head Nilver Lopez says progress is being made and that he believes the government understands that the teachers' demands for more money are justified. 

The protesting teachers were also joined by trade union members. The unions are demanding the suspension of the state of emergency order that put the armed forces in charge of maintaining order and quelling social unrest. 

In Ica, teachers swept the streets, symbolically asking that corruption be eliminated to provide more resources for the schools and in the city of Huaraz in the Andean mountains, a popular mountain climbers' destination, teachers marched, joined by retired teachers.


 
 
Another girl, 9,
reported pregnant

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican officials have another case of a pregnant 9-year-old. 

Fuerza Pública officers in Aserrí got a 911 call Tuesday night from a woman who sought to file a complaint against her husband.

Police took the man, Manuel Salvador Póstomes López, 24, into custody a short time later in Poás de Aserrí. He faces an allegation of having relations with his daughter.

Officials were quick to point out that the family was not Costa Rican but Nicaraguan, although they have lived in Costa Rica for three years.

The condition of the girl will not be known for sure until the results of a full physical examination are available. A judge ordered the man held for three months preventative detention Wednesday.

Such cases of pregnancies of young women younger than 14 occur about 600 times a year, said officials.

A girl, 9, in Turrialba became the center of attention in January when her pregnancy was revealed. A 20-year-old in that community was a suspect. But that case has been weakened because the parents took the girl to Nicaragua for an abortion and refused to provide blood samples to investigators.

Greenhouse gases
likely to rise

Special to A.M. Costa Rica 

NEW YORK, N.Y. — A new report says the developed world is likely to see its emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases rise by the end of the current decade, and calls for stronger emission-reduction policies aimed at businesses, local governments and citizens.

The United Nations report — basing its findings on projections provided by governments themselves — anticipates that the combined emissions of Europe, Japan, the United States and other highly industrialized countries could grow by 17 percent from 2000 to 2010 despite domestic measures currently in place to limit them.

The report, which is being considered at a meeting of the U.N. Climate Change Convention's 190 member governments in Bonn this week, also projects that the developed world as a whole will see its emissions increase by 10 percent from 2000 to 2010.

Developed countries saw their combined emissions actually fall by 3 percent during the 1990s, due to a 37-percent decline in the emissions of the so-called transition countries of Central and Eastern Europe. The report says, however, that the transition countries are starting to increase their emissions again as their economies recover from their early and mid-1990s nadir.

The report, whose projections can help governments plan their future climate change strategies, also finds that governments today are adopting a more comprehensive set of policies, such as emissions trading and carbon taxes, to address their emissions. The report says reporting governments underlined the importance of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol in shaping their domestic climate policy responses.

Under the protocol, developed countries are to reduce their average emissions by 5 percent by the period 2008-2012. Australia and the United States have withdrawn from the agreement, citing concerns over economic impacts.

Montesinos gets jail
for his fourth time

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LIMA, Peru — A court has convicted jailed former spy chief Vladimiro Montesinos on influence-peddling charges and sentenced him to another five years in prison. The decision, which included $143,000 in fines, was handed down Tuesday.

Montesinos was found guilty of offering to help a television station owner with legal problems if the station would, in turn, fire a journalist critical of former President Alberto Fujimori. 

This was the fourth time the court has convicted Montesinos. Last week, the former spy chief was found guilty of charges he gave a 1998 mayoral candidate a campaign contribution of more than $25,000 in public funds. He was sentenced to eight years in prison in that case. 

Montesinos faces a total of 70 trials that include corruption, arms smuggling and homicide. A corruption scandal involving him triggered the collapse of the Fujimori government in 2000. 
 

Bishop faces probe
for links to rebels

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia - A retired Catholic bishop who helped secure the release of rebel kidnap victims has again denied allegations he collaborated with leftist guerrillas. 

Monsignor Jose Luis Serna told reporters Tuesday that people knew he would have contact with the insurgents. The monsignor also says his actions have been transparent and that his intervention has won the liberation of 54 hostages over the years. 

The clergyman's remarks come four days after the office of Attorney-General Luis Camilo Osorio said it would investigate him. 

Officials say they hope to learn whether the monsignor aided the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia in the central Tolima province. Monsignor Serna is the first Roman Catholic bishop to come under investigation by judicial authorities for alleged links to rebels. 

The insurgents known as the FARC kidnap hundreds of people each year for ransom to fund their 39-year-old war against the government. 

Two captains leave
Venezuela for exile

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — Two army captains implicated in last year's brief coup against President Hugo Chavez have left for exile in the Dominican Republic. 

The attorney representing brothers Alfredo and Ricardo Salazar says his clients left here Tuesday for the Dominican capital, Santo Domingo. 

The Salazars sought refuge at the Dominican Embassy six weeks ago, saying they feared for their lives. The brothers were accused of helping to take President Chavez into custody during the two-day coup in April of last year. 

Store owner shoots
and kills one bandit

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The owner of a small food store pulled a gun on robbers Tuesday night, fatally wounded one and pistol-whipped another.

The encounter took place at the Pulperíia Argentina in Quesada Durán, a section of Zapote in southeast San José.

The owner, identified by the last names of Alcoser Miranda, was at work when robbers entered and threatened him, said police. The bandits displayed at least one .38-caliber pistol, but the store owner pulled a .25 caliber weapon of his own and began shooting.

Then he whacked one man over the head. The man collapsed and was there when police arrived about 6 p.m. He was identified by the last names of Núñez Mucio. The store owner told police two other men fled in a vehicle, which he described.

A half hour later, a worker for the Cruz Roja in Zapote contacted police to say that a man suffering from a bullet wound in the chest had been found at the local ambulance garage. The man, identified later as Jorge Mauricio Álvarez Jinesto, went to Hospital San Juan de Dios where he died a short time later.

Meanwhile, police on the lookout for a blue Hyundai Elantra with a certain plate number saw the vehicle on Avenida 10 near Calle 22 west of downtown San José about 7:20 p.m. Police gave chase when the driver fled. But the man, later identified by the last names of Ruiz Morales, quickly crashed into a taxi and was captured.

Venezuelan slide kills
at least one near Mérida

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — At least one person is dead and 43 others are missing after torrential rains triggered mudslides in the western part of the country, said officials here. 

Rescue workers began searching for victims Wednesday in the mountainous western state of Merida. Authorities evacuated more than 400 people from the area.  News reports say Merida Gov. Florencio Porras has declared a state of emergency and appealed for drinking water, food and other aid.
 
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Deputy Defense chief denies he fudged Iraqi data
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
and special reports

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A senior Defense Department official has rejected suggestions the Pentagon manipulated intelligence about Iraq's weapons programs and its links to terrorism to justify a war. 

Douglas Feith, the undersecretary of Defense for policy, was blunt in explaining why he called an unusual news conference at the Pentagon Wednesday morning.

"The reason that we were interested in meeting with you this morning is to help lay to rest some stories that have been circulating about the Defense Department that are not true and are beginning to achieve the status of urban legends," he said. 

Key among the issues Feith sought to address were the judgments made by a special Pentagon intelligence analysis unit regarding Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. The Bush administration cited Iraq's possession of such weapons as a principal reason for the recent war. Yet no chemical or biological weapons have been found since the government of Saddam Hussein was ousted from power.

Feith denied the Pentagon pressured the Central Intelligence Agency and other intelligence organizations to tailor their findings to conform with the administration's portrait of Iraq as a threat.

"This suggestion that we said to them, 'This is what we're looking for. Go find it,' is precisely the inaccuracy that we are here to rebut," Feith said. 

Feith's statement follows an earlier defense of the intelligence-gathering and analysis process regarding Iraq by the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, George Tenet. He said in a statement that integrity and objectivity are what he termed the hallmarks of the intelligence profession. 

In his appearance at the Pentagon, Feith also sought to deny what he said were two other misconceptions about U.S. policy. He rejected suggestions the Defense Department is now allegedly intent on toppling the government of Iran.

He also denied the Pentagon wants to ally with the Iraqi-based Iranian opposition group called the Mujahedeen Khalq to help oust religious leaders in Tehran. He said the Pentagon views the group, known as the MEK, as a terrorist organization. 

Feith said that a small group functioning within his office from October 2001 to August 2002 did find some connections between the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein, the terrorist group al-Qaida and weapons of mass destruction. But the information was used to help Pentagon planners develop a more effective strategy for fighting a global war on terrorism and not to make a case for waging war in Iraq, he said.

Feith said the team he formed focused on international terrorist networks and how they related to states sponsoring terrorism, which included Saddam Hussein's regime.

"It showed that we cannot simply assume that the only cooperation that existed in the world among terrorist groups and their sponsors was on some kind of pure ideological or philosophical lines," he said.

The team was not designed to replace or supersede the work of the Central Intelligence Agency, nor issue its own intelligence judgments regarding Iraq's weapons of mass distruction, Feith said. When the team had finished its work and had found some linkages between Iraq and al-Qaida, it met with CIA Director Tenet in August 2002 and shared its observations, he said.

"These were simply observations of this team based on the intelligence that the intelligence community had given to us," he said. After the meeting with Tenet, the team ended its work, he said.


 
 
New OAS envoy praises Bush's hemispheric policies
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Bush's policies in the Western Hemisphere "are grounded in basic American ideals and values" such as "promoting democracy and  human rights, and strengthening democratic institutions to make them more credible and relevant" to the people of the Americas, says  Ambassador John Maisto, the nominee for U.S. permanent representative to the Organization of American States.

At his confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on  Foreign Relations Tuesday, Maisto also outlined other key U.S. objectives in the region, including the advancement of "trade and investment as engines for economic growth," the reduction of poverty "through  strengthening education, health [care] and other basic services," and the protection of citizens "from international and home-grown  terrorists, from drug traffickers and drug-money launderers, and from  international crime organizations, particularly those that traffic in  humans."

Moreover, he told lawmakers, U.S. objectives can be significantly enhanced by working within the Organization of American States framework. Maisto described the organization as a strong vehicle for multilateral diplomacy, one which  "provides us a unique opportunity to complement and advance all these foreign policy goals." 

"The OAS has been designated as the secretariat by the hemisphere's residents and charged with implementing" many of the mandates stemming from the Summit of the Americas process initiated in Miami in  1994 and expanded at Quebec in 2001, he recalled. He praised the Inter-American Democratic Charter, approved by member states in  2001, as "a compass for those who seek to strengthen democracy anywhere in the world." The charter, Maisto said, prescribes "a  gradual, measured response to political crisis, with an emphasis on preventing rather than merely reacting to" disruptions of democratic rule in the Americas.

"Since its adoption, the Democratic Charter has been formally invoked in dealing with the alteration of constitutional order in Venezuela  that occurred in April 2002," the ambassador noted.

Initiatives to bolster democracy are being pursued in Haiti, as well. In response to Haiti's flawed elections of May 2000, "the OAS sought to broker a political accord" between the government of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and members of the opposition, Maisto  said. 

Maisto, a former ambassador to Venezuela, will take over the U.S. post at the organization of American States from Roger Noriega, who has been named undersecretary of State for Western Hemispheric affairs.

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