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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, July 15, 2004, Vol. 4, No. 139
Jo Stuart
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They issue call to U.S. Congress
Central American trade reps urge treaty OK
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Trade ministers from Central America and the Dominican Republic have called on the U.S. Congress to ratify a recently negotiated free-trade agreement between their region and the United States.

In a joint statement issued Tuesday following their meeting at the Washington headquarters of the Inter-American Development Bank, the trade ministers called for the "most rapid passage and implementation by the United States" of the U.S.-Central American Free Trade Agreement .

The trade ministers also said they will take steps to strengthen the enforcement of labor standards in their countries.

"We recognize that the labor dimension is critical to passing" the traty, said Guatemalan Trade Minister Marcio Cuevas, "and we are fully committed to taking now the actions necessary to strengthen our record of compliance and enforcement."

The ministers said that expanding trade and improving labor laws are mutually reinforcing goals, pointing out that the implementation of the treaty’s labor provisions would contribute to their countries' welfare.

"Putting in place the labor provisions under CAFTA will only serve to accelerate our own economic and social progress," said the trade ministers.

The trade ministers said they had agreed to establish a vice-ministerial working group that will draft recommendations on steps countries should take to improve compliance with and enforcement of labor laws. The working group will consult with employers and workers' organizations and other interested parties in the region on strengthening of labor standards in their countries, the trade ministers said.

The emphasis on labor standards appears to be in reponse to opposition from John Kerry, the presumed Democratic presidential candidate, who has said he opposes parts of the treaty and would seek to have it renegotiated. He cited labor and environmental concerns.

For his part, U.S. State Department official Roger Noriega said that President Geroge Bush is completely committed to securing U.S. congressional ratification of the treaty. The president, said Noriega, has stated that the pact will be beneficial to all parties.

"It is very important to establish this agreement to expand economic opportunity for our people in the United States" and in Central America and the Dominican Republic, said Noriega, who is assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs.

Noriega said the Bush administration hopes for bipartisan congressional approval of the trade treaty. After consultations with U.S. congressional leaders, it appears that securing support for the agreement will be more likely following Nov. 2 U.S. national elections.

Human trafficking linked to marriage brokering activities
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The potential of human trafficking into the United States through seemingly legitimate marriage brokers is real and serious, says John R. Miller, director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons at the U.S. Department of State.

At a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Miller applauded U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Democrat from the State of Washington, for introducing the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act and her efforts "to tighten oversight of marriage brokers operating in the United States in order to prevent the abuse of vulnerable women and children."

In his testimony, Miller said possible links between international marriage brokering and human trafficking are the vulnerability of 

victims, deception as a key tool of traffickers and systemic corruption.

"From rural villages in Asia to slums in major South American cities, women are deceived into leaving their homes and traveling across international borders in hopes of marrying men who can provide them better lives. This vulnerability of disadvantaged women is well known to traffickers."

According to Miller, the United States is "aggressively stepping up prosecution" and "taking strong action, in cooperation with other nations, to end human trafficking."

The U.S. government currently has 11 government agencies executing strategic anti-trafficking plans. It devoted more than $70 million in the last fiscal year to anti-trafficking programs abroad, and it issues comprehensive reports on human trafficking.

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Our readers write
Bad taste of beer
blamed on the cans

Dear A.M. Costa Rica: 

First off, I am a huge fan of Imperial. It is a fine brew and is especially good from the tap (cruda) when properly chilled. The Spanish restaurant Las Tapas in Plaza Itskazu also serves Bavaria on tap, and that is the best tasting pilsner I have ever had.

However, before Florida Ice & Farm starts playing with the big boys they had better improve their quality control. Of the many hundreds of cans of Imperial I have bought and drank, I would estimate that a full 5 percent tasted "off" and another 5 percent were downright "skunky." If any beer of this nature makes it to the U.S.A., that will be the end of their venture there. I might add that I have never had a bad bottle of Imperial.

I once worked for the quality assurance department of the Coors Container Co. in Golden, Colorado. We manufactured the aluminum cans used to package Coors beer. In almost all cases where the beer was "off," the problem could be traced to two causes:  A defective coating on the inside of the can that allowed the beer to come in contact with the bare aluminum or contamination that got into the cans after manufacture and survived the cleaning process at the brewery. 

Our very strict quality standards at the container plant practically eliminated any defective cans from reaching the brewery, but it did happen on rare occasions. . . . I understand that Florida Ice & Farm's cans are shipped in from Miami. That's a lot of handling and opportunity for contamination. So before they ship [bad] examples of what is otherwise a fine beer I suggest they take a hard look at their QA procedures. 

Doesn't anyone open a can and taste the beer?? I hereby humbly submit myself as an expert beer taster to help prevent the bad stuff from getting to the market.

Pete Todd 

U.S. seeks court action
in high-interest ponzi

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has asked for a judicial order to hold in contempt a man who collected $35 million by offering high interest rates to investors.

The man is Richard C. Harkless of Riverside, Calif.

The Security and Exchange Commission, the U.S. investment regulator, said that Harkless had not complied with an earlier court order to bring assets back to the United States. The agency said it has evidence that Harkless had transferred $264,000 from a bank account in Belize to one in Mexico.

Harkless is accused of helping run a ponzi scheme involving at least 247 investors in the United States and México. The company involved was Mx Factors, which promised investors guaranteed returns of 12 percent in 60 to 90 days.

The agency said that nearly $20 million of the $35 million collected was used to pay interest to early investors.

Mx Factors claimed that it would use the investor funds to provide its clients — construction contractors, wholesalers, and manufacturers — with accounts receivable financing, secured by the client's assignment of its accounts receivable.

Mechanic’s shop opened
early for burglary

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police busted up what they say was a burglar of a mechanic’s shop in the center of Santa Ana about 3 a.m. Wednesday.

Two men, identified by the last names of Angulo Samudio y Quintana Rojas, were detained.

The shop is called Las Ruedas and is operated by a man with the last names of Solórzano Gómez, said police.

Police said they confiscated automobile repair equipment from the car of the detained men.

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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.M. Costa Rica
Consultantes Río Colorado S.A.

James J. Brodell.........................editor
Saray Ramírez Vindas.... associate editor

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U.S. official claims beef is safer now due to policies
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. beef is safer than it was a year ago because since Dec. 30, 2003, high-risk materials from slaughtered cattle have been banned from entering the food system, says Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman.

Testifying Wednesday at a joint hearing of the House of Representatives Agriculture and Government Reform committees, Veneman said the World Organization for Animal Health has reported that banning the materials that could carry bovine spongiform encephalopathy  is "the single most important action to protect public health" the United States has put in place since a sole case of the disease — also known as "mad cow disease" — was found in Washington State a week earlier.

The prohibited materials include the brain, spinal cord and vertebrae, eyes and nerve tissue of cows 30 months or older and tonsils and small intestines of cows of all ages.

Veneman also said the country's mad cow testing system, which became fully operational June 1, is on track to test brain samples from 268,500 high-risk animals in 18 months or less. In addition, tests will be made of 20,000 animals that appear to be healthy.

Results of the 17,000 tests done so far have been "extremely encouraging," Veneman said.

Completed tests will form a baseline for possible further enhancements of the surveillance program, said Ron DeHaven, head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's  Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. DeHaven appeared with Veneman at the hearing.

Veneman noted that an international review panel she formed after the U.S. mad cow case in December 2003 said testing of all cattle slaughtered for 

human consumption is unjustified in terms of protecting human and animal health.

In addition to the panel's views, Veneman said the World Organization for Animal Health states that surveillance should focus on cattle over 30 months of age in high-risk categories. Those categories are non-walking animals, those that exhibit signs of central nervous system disorder, rabies or emaciation, and older cattle that die from unexplained causes.

The 30-month period was selected because the disease has an incubation period of four to seven years before clinical signs of the disease can be observed.

Japan, once a major importer of U.S. beef, is the only country asking that the United States test all of the cattle it slaughters for food, Veneman said. That request is a reaction to Japan's drop in domestic consumer confidence after the country experienced an outbreak of mad cow disease in September 2001 and is not based on science, she said.

Testing all cattle slaughtered in the U.S. is not practical, said Rep. Bob Goodlatte, Republican of Virginia, noting that U.S. cattle number more than 100 million animals with 35 million going to market annually. Goodlatte chairs the House Agriculture Committee.

The Agriculture Department’s method of sampling cattle for mad cow disease was criticized, however, by its own Office of Inspector General. Inspectors concluded that the sampling is not truly random because producers' and slaughterers' participation is voluntary and testing can be costly, discouraging producers from administering tests. Inspector General Phyllis Fong also submitted testimony to the committees.

Each test costs between $15 and $100, department Chief Economist Keith Collins told the committees.

Monitors will observe Bolivia's natural gas referendum Sunday
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Organization of American States is sending a 22-person team to observe a referendum in Bolivia regarding the country's natural gas resources. The vote is Sunday.

In a statement, the organization said the team will be sent to various parts of Bolivia, starting first in the capital city of La Paz. The  referendum poses five questions on Bolivia's gas reserves.

Bolivia's ambassador to the organization, Maria Tamayo, said that "an international presence is very important" for the voting. Tamayo said the referendum marks the first time in Bolivia's history that a referendum is being held to allow "full participation in a genuine democracy," such as Bolivia's.

Since 1962, the Organization of American States has sent multinational observation missions to oversee elections in its member states on more than 100 occasions. The organization also works to strengthen 

national and local government and electoral agencies, to promote democratic practices and values, and to help countries detect and defuse official corruption.

Bolivian President Carlos Mesa has said the referendum will allow Bolivians to vote on the strategic use of its natural gas reserves. Among the questions for Bolivians to decide, Mesa said, are whether the Bolivian government should regain control over the gas sector, which was opened up to private investors in the mid-1990s, and whether natural gas should be exported.

The U.S. State Department issued a statement July 2 warning of the potential for protests and demonstrations in the days leading up to and following the referendum. The State Department said Bolivia's Altiplano region around La Paz is the focus of most activity and that previous protests have resulted in road blockades.

Travelers in Bolivia should not attempt to pass through or around roadblocks, "even if they appear to be unattended," the State Department said.

Perú struggles through a one-day general strike over Toledo
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LIMA, Perú — Thousands of Peruvians have blocked roads, marched and held rallies nationwide as part of a 24-hour general strike to protest President Alejandro Toledo's policies.

The country's largest labor union called Wednesday's strike. The union is arguing for higher wages and protesting the president's free market policies it says are hurting the poor. 

As the work stoppage took place, the government deployed some 93,000 police officers to maintain order and guard key public installations. Authorities say at least nine people were arrested in street disturbances and several others were injured.

The strike comes as Peru hosts the Copa America football tournament. The government had appealed to workers to delay any action until after the tournament ended, but union leaders refused. 

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Natural disasters more frequent, U. N. aide reports
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A U.N. official says natural disasters, such as the recent deadly earthquakes in Iran and Algeria, are occuring with greater frequency than in past. The U.N. humanitarian chief, Jan Egeland, says natural disasters affect up to10 times more people per year than war and global conflict. 

Egeland says the world has seen an increasing number of severe natural disasters in recent years. Climate change and population shifts, according to the report, are to blame for the more frequent occurence of natural disasters. 

Egeland says at least two kinds of these disasters, floods and earthquakes, tend to strike fast and can be more deadly than the bloodiest wars. To emphasize his point, Egeland gave the death tolls for the recent earthquakes in Algeria and the Bam region of Iran.

"The Bam earthquake and the Algerian earthquake killed 30,000 people in seconds," said Jan Egeland. "That is more than most wars cost in a decade." 

According to Egeland's research, 700 natural disasters last year killed some 70,000 people. He says the disasters affected 600 million people and cost $65 billion in material damage. 

Egeland says natural disasters have an especially devastating impact on the poorest regions of the world because more low-income people tend to live in disaster-prone areas. Too often, he says, the international community ignores the problem until it is too late. 

"What we hope is that the world will invest more in disaster prevention," he said. "Donors are waking up to this, but it is much easier to get, unfortunately, assistance the day after an earthquake, than to fund some preventive work to prevent a disaster from happening."

A new U.N. report, called "Living With Risk," details some preventive measures that communities can take, such as constructing safer buildings and creating early warning systems.  A world conference on disaster reduction is scheduled for early next year in Japan.

Canada pulls ambassador from Iran in dispute over murder trial
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

OTTAWA, Canada — The government has recalled its ambassador to Iran in a dispute over the trial in Tehran of an Iranian security official accused of killing a Canadian-Iranian journalist.

Canadian Foreign Minister Bill Graham said the ambassador was being recalled to protest Iran's refusal to allow Canadian observers at the trial.

A spokesman for Iran's foreign ministry, Hamid Reza Asefi said the observer request was unacceptable because the trial is a domestic matter.

A court in Tehran is scheduled on Saturday to begin the trial of Iranian intelligence ministry employee Reza Ahmadi, for inflicting blows to the head of photographer Zahra Kazemi that caused her death in July 2003. She had been detained for taking photographs outside Tehran's Evin prison.

Brazil's army will join fight against illegal use of rainforest
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Brazilian Army will soon be joining forces with the country's environmental ministry to fight illegal deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. 

Environment Minister Marina Silva says an agreement was signed Tuesday between her department and the Defense Ministry that will allow the army to help enforce deforestation laws. 

Over 100 soldiers and nearly 20 helicopters will be 

used to transport environmental agents throughout the region. Roadblocks and checkpoints will also be implemented. 

Ms. Silva says the rainforest is hard to protect because of its size almost four million square kilometers, and the difficulties in traveling around the area. 

The agreement will also allow environmental protection agents access to military bases in the Amazon.

Jo Stuart
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