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These stories were published Tuesday, July 20, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 142
Jo Stuart
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San José will be one site in major diabetes study
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

San José is one of five Central American cities that will play a role in a major study on diabetes.

The study stems from an agreement between The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Pan American Health Organization aimed at preventing the spread of diabetes in Latin America. The United States will contribute $125,000.

In addition to San José, the study will analyze the prevalence and risk factors of diabetes in Managua, Guatemala City, Tegucigalpa and San Salvador. Diabetes is said to be the principal cause of some 45,000 deaths each year in Latin America and the Caribbean, and the number of deaths related to diabetes may actually be up to six times higher.

The Pan American Health Organization said diabetes is one of the region's most common health problems, with about 20 million people suffering from the disease. The organization cited estimates that said the number of diabetes sufferers in the region will rise to 40 million by 2025 if preventative action is not taken.

"Because of specific problems of under-reporting, it is believed that diabetes may be causing much higher mortality than what is reported in the vital statistics," the organization said.

The study is intended to advance the Central America Diabetes Initiative, a project that aims, 

among other goals, to identify the prevalence of diabetes and risk factors for diabetes in the population.

The project also is designed to increase access to high-quality health care for people with diabetes, implement programs to improve the quality of diabetes health care, and provide an educational program for medical staff and diabetes patients.

"The prevalence of diabetes, impaired glucose tolerance, obesity, and other risk factors in the entire region of Central America is still unknown," the agreement says.

The Pan American Health Organization said diabetes is caused by an alteration in the metabolism of carbohydrates due to a deficiency in production of the hormone insulin by the pancreas. Insulin helps cells use sugar as a fuel. Diabetes increases the risk of premature death, particularly through cardiovascular complications.

To fight diabetes, the health organization, the International Diabetes Federation, private companies and other national and international diabetes-related organizations signed the Diabetes Declaration of the Americas in 1996. Its main goal is to promote better health for people affected by diabetes.

The U.S. government has also been helping to pay for the U.S.-Mexico Border Diabetes Project to determine the prevalence of diabetes along the U.S.-Mexico border and to develop diabetes prevention and control programs.

Anti-whaling ban seems on verge of crumbling
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

SORRENTO, Italy — The 57-nation International Whaling Commission is meeting here under pressure from a group of countries led by Japan, Norway, and Iceland to end the moratorium on commercial whaling. The number of countries in favor of lifting the ban is growing. 

Until now, anti-whaling nations led by the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Britain have been the majority of the members of the International Whaling Commission. They have managed to keep an 18-year moratorium on whale hunting in place, but support to end the ban has been growing.

In his opening statement to the International Whaling Commission's four-day meeting, Japan commissioner Minoru Morimoto said his country had come to the end of its patience on the matter of the moratorium, and threatened to pull out of the commission if a return to commercial whaling could not be achieved by next year.

The ban on whaling was imposed to prevent the extinction of a number of endangered species. But since its establishment in 1986, thousands of whales have continued to be killed. 

Norway has ignored the ban, while Japan and Iceland's whaling fleets have been allowed annual quotas of some species for "scientific" purposes. Opponents have said this amounts to nothing but commercial whaling in disguise.

During the past decade Japan, Norway, and Iceland have made significant efforts to convince other countries to back commercial whaling. Today the 57-member International Whaling Commission appears divided down the middle between countries opposed to a resumption of commercial whaling and those backing it.

A three-quarters majority is required to overturn the moratorium and pro-whaling nations have persuaded a host of smaller nations to join their voting block. Japan has been accused by environmental groups of channeling development aid to African and Caribbean members in return for votes on the commission. 

Japan, where whale meat is a favorite dish at restaurants, has also threatened to form a breakaway whaling organization if the moratorium remains.

Anti-whaling and animal welfare groups from around the world deployed a fleet of some 50 vessels off Sorrento on Sunday in a demonstration of solidarity with the world's whale population.

Organizations like Greenpeace, which led the sea demonstration, are fiercely opposed to whaling, saying it is inhumane and unnecessary. A new coalition of conservationist groups called Whalewatch will be appealing to the whaling nations to halt all killing, usually done by using exploding harpoons, on the grounds that it is too cruel.

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Tale-telling spider key figure in African festival
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Spider Anansi, a mythical African personage, and children will be the principal protagonists of The Festival of the Diaspora Africa this year.

Every year since 1999, the Diaspora Africa Festival has taken place in San José, bringing the color, the tastes, the smells and the sounds of Africa that were carried to America across the Atlantic to Jamaica and the rest of the continent since the conquest.

The Diaspora mean the dispersal of a people and culture of a country across the all world.  In this case the point of beginning is Africa, says Karol Britton, a festival organizer.

At the festival, organizers will try to give a closeup of the culture and  involve visitors in the food, music and history.

In Costa Rica, blacks have been here since the 19th century, coming from Spanish and British colonies, including Jamaica, to build the  Caribbean railway. 

This time organizers chose a character from children’s bedtales, the Spider Anansi. It is a mythological figure that is found in West African 
folktales.  Sometimes she transforms to Brother Anansi, who may be a human or a spider. He is 

known by his top hat and walking stick. 

The half human and half spider is a tale teller and is part of the African culture.

Beside Anansi, the children will be the other important characters of the festival, which will start Aug. 22 and run until Sept. 7.

The place will be the Museo Nacional, and this year one attraction will be a Caribbean Children’s Festival, Festival Infantil Caribeño. Visitors are invited to take part and bring their children. Workshops in literature and drawing will be held.

Also planned is a dance event under the management of Curumbande. The show is called "Children Dancing to Children."

Many International groups such as The Bahia Tropical Show will present the popular samba and the capoeira, an ancestral faith ritual in the Africa Culture brought to northeast Brazil and Bahia. 

Adding to all those will be The Big Band of U.S.A.,  The Calypso of Chakra,  Marfil and, of course, Reagge Rouf.

Another favorite part of the festival is the food. 

The festival will be 2,000 colons for adults and children are free.

Festival to Sunday
in Guanacaste town

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Today is the day of the artist in Nicoya, part of the week-long festival there leading up to the celebration of the annexation of Guanacaste Sunday.

The festival is in the heart of the community in the vicinity of Templo Colonial.

Organizers promise food and drink as well as folk dancing, poems, public dancing, various concerts as well as displays of various art forms. Of particular note are the bomba, the traditional Costa Rican epigrams in Spanish that can be witty, cutting or flattering.

The holiday Sunday commemorates the vote by Guanacaste officials to join Costa Rica.

North Americans 
among the rejected

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Immigration officials say they have prevented 78 U.S. citizens and 10 Canadians from entering the country at the two principal land border crossing, Peñas Blancas in the north and Paso Canoas in the south.

They were among the 27,349 persons that the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería says were barred from entering the country during the first six months of the year.

During the same period, two Canadians and three U.S. citizens were deported, said officials.

Kidnapped woman
found murdered

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 42-year-old woman was kidnapped from her home late Sunday. She was murdered and set on fire.

The woman was identified as Jeanette Gutiérrez Reyes, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

The body was found about 10 a.m. off the Autopista Braulio Carrillo, the highway that connects San José with Guápiles.

The woman, the mother of three, was shot twice in the head, investigators said. She lived in the settlement of Leon XIII.

Investigators said three masked men showed up at her home to snatch her away for as-yet-unknown reasons.

Venezuelans to vote here

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 541 Venezuelans living in Costa Rica are expected to vote in the country’s presidential recall election Aug. 15.

If the majority of voters choose to recall President Hugo Chavez, new elections must be held within 30 days. 

Venezuelan electoral authorities have tested new electronic voting machines. Officials say the tests were conducted at 4,000 voting centers nationwide Sunday and that no problems were found. 


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Trade officials praise NAFTA, now 10 years old
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The North American Free Trade Agreement has been a success since its entry into force in 1994, and North American trade officials are committed to building on this success and deepening regional economic integration, according to a NAFTA Free Trade Commission joint statement.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, Mexico's Secretary of Economy Fernando Canales and Canada's Minister of International Trade James Peterson released the joint statement, entitled "A Decade of Achievement," at the conclusion of a commission meeting in San Antonio, Texas.

"By any measure, NAFTA has been a success," the statement said. "The dismantling of barriers has led to increased trade and investment, growth in employment, and enhanced competitiveness."

The statement pointed to a more than 100 percent increase in three-way trade among the United States, Canada and Mexico, as well as a cumulative increase of foreign direct investment of over $1.7 trillion, as evidence of NAFTA's success. It also takes note of the success of the North American Agreement on Environmental Co-operation and the North American Agreement on Labor Co-operation.

The trade officials said that the NAFTA partners will not rest on these accomplishments, but are "committed to deepening economic integration in North America by building on the NAFTA to further benefit businesses, workers, and consumers."

With virtually all tariffs and quotas on North American trade eliminated, the statement said, trade officials will look for additional ways to enhance trade and investment by lowering transaction costs and other administrative burdens. The officials will also explore ways to further integrate the North American economies through trade and to boost competitiveness, the statement noted.

"We want to ensure that NAFTA provides our countries with a competitive advantage in a world of global sourcing," the statement added.

To this end, the trade officials reached a tentative agreement in San Antonio to liberalize the rules of origin for a broad range of foods and consumer and industrial products — changes that will affect $20 billion in trade. Trade officials will work to implement these changes while also pursuing further liberalization of rules of origin, the statement said.

In the joint statement, the trade officials also reiterated the NAFTA partners' commitment to transparency and the effective operation of the agreement's Dispute Settlement provisions.

The trade officials discussed the future prospects for the North American textile and apparel industries in San Antonio and encouraged the industries to come together and identify areas where private-sector cooperation could contribute to the development of the sectors, according to the statement.

The trade officials also reaffirmed their commitment to achieving meaningful progress in 2004 in World Trade Organization (WTO) talks, noting that in agriculture talks, "we are on the verge of an historic agreement" that will, during this round, "eliminate export subsidies and discipline other forms of export competition in a parallel manner; substantially reduce and discipline trade-distorting domestic supports far in excess of what was achieved in previous negotiations; and substantially improve market access for all agricultural products, especially for developing countries."

The trade officials said they are committed to completing the WTO frameworks for future talks on key issues before the end of July, and also reiterated their commitment to the Free Trade Area of the Americas process.

International agencies ready to dig deeply for Haiti
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — International donors Tuesday are set to promise several hundred million dollars in development assistance to Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. A donors conference for Haiti got underway Monday here.

The World Bank's senior economist for the Caribbean, Auguste Kouame, told several dozen Haitian officials and aid specialists that Haiti must prove that it can make good use of international assistance. He said the lesson of 10 years ago should not be lost. And that is when donors see a strong commitment to reform they are willing to provide financial support.

"We saw it happen in the mid-[19]90s when the emergency economic reform program donors were very keen on supporting the reform process," he said. "And we saw the reverse when the reforms slowed down and donors reduced their financing."

During the mid-1990s Haiti received $2.5 billion of aid. However, analysts agree much of that money was wasted and the aid projects failed to boost living standards. The current aid program is more modest, some $900 million.

In addition to officials from the World Bank, the Haiti donors conference also attracted representatives from the United Nations, and other international agencies.

A top official of the International Monetary Fund, Przemek Gajdeczka, told Haitian officials they should explain to the public at large what each department of government is trying to achieve.

"That means everybody knows what the ministry of finance does, what the various agencies do, what is the scope of their responsibilities, how they function, their objectives, and what the central bank does," he said.

This transparency in government operations, he said, will help to combat the theft and corruption that is so pervasive in Haiti.

Many of the donors say they are relatively optimistic. They believe that with a Brazilian-led force successfully keeping the peace in Haiti and a transitional government of technocrats in place, Haiti has a fresh chance at economic development in advance of parliamentary and presidential elections in 2005 and 2006.

Meanwhile, former Haitian Prime Minister Yvon Neptune has been questioned by a judge about an attack on students last year by supporters of ousted Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Neptune, who turned himself in last month on murder charges, was asked Friday about the December, 2003, incident at the National University of Haiti. Reports at the time said police did not prevent Aristide supporters from storming the school after confronting student protesters.

Neptune is already being held on charges he ordered the Feb. 11 killing of government opponents in the village of La Syrie before the uprising that forced Aristide from power.

The former Haitian prime minister says he is innocent and that the charges against him are politically motivated.

Bolivian president appears to be a winner in vote over gas policies
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LA PAZ, Bolivia — Initial returns indicate that Bolivians have voted "yes" in a referendum to tighten state control over the country's huge natural gas reserves. 

Figures on the Bolivian election commission's Web site support President Carlos Mesa's claim that Bolivians approved all five measures on Sunday's ballot, including whether they want the country to export the gas abroad. 

The Web site says about 12 percent of the votes have been counted. Exit polls also show voters approving the measures. 

Labor groups and Andean Indians want Bolivia to nationalize the natural-gas industry and keep its supplies for domestic use. 

Former President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada was forced to step down last year in a revolt against his plan to export gas through Chile, which controls Bolivia's access to the sea. 

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Scientists zap mosquito larva with cinnamon oil
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Cinnamon oil shows promise as a great-smelling, environmentally friendly pesticide, with the ability to kill mosquito larvae, according to a new study published in the July 14 issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Chemical Society.

The researchers also expect that cinnamon oil could be a good mosquito repellant, though they have not yet tested it against adult mosquitoes.

Besides being a summer nuisance, mosquitoes pose some major public health problems, carrying such deadly agents as dengue, malaria, yellow fever and West Nile virus. While conventional pesticide application is often effective in controlling mosquito larvae before they hatch, repeated use of these agents has raised serious environmental concerns.

"These problems have highlighted the need for new strategies for mosquito larval control," says Peter Shang-Tzen Chang, a professor in the School of Forestry and Resource Conservation at National Taiwan University and lead author. Scientists are increasingly turning to more benign natural chemicals to ward off mosquitoes and other pests.

Chang and his coworkers tested eleven compounds in cinnamon leaf oil for their ability to kill emerging larvae of the yellow fever mosquito, Aedes aegypti. "Four compounds — cinnamaldehyde, cinnamyl acetate, eugenol and anethole — exhibited the strongest activity against A. aegypti in 24 hours of testing," Chang says.

Other common essential oils, such as catnip, have shown similar promise in fighting off mosquitoes, but this is the first time researchers have demonstrated cinnamon’s potential as a safe and effective pesticide, according to Chang.

Cinnamaldehyde is the main constituent in cinnamon leaf oil and is used worldwide as a food additive and flavoring agent. A formulation using the compound could be sprayed just like a pesticide, but without the potential for adverse health effects — plus the added bonus of a pleasant smell.

Bark oil from the Cinnamomum cassia tree is the most common source of cinnamaldehyde, but the tree used in this study — indigenous cinnamon, or Cinnamomum osmophloeum — has been of interest to researchers because the constituents of its leaf oil are similar to those of C. cassia bark oil. The leaves of C. osmophloeum, which grows in Taiwan’s natural hardwood forests, could be a more economical and sustainable source of cinnamon oil than isolating it from bark, Chang says.

Though the team only tested the oil against the yellow fever mosquito, cinnamon oil should prove similarly lethal to the larvae of other mosquito species, the researchers say. In further studies they plan to test cinnamon oil against other types of mosquitoes as well as different commercial pesticides.

"We think that cinnamon oil might also affect adult mosquitoes by acting as a repellant," Chang says. The researchers haven’t yet tested this theory, but they plan to find out in the near future.

Study accidentally finds most 'red snapper' is not
By the University of North Carolina 
News Service

CHAPEL HILL, N.C.  — While learning in a course how to extract, amplify and sequence the genetic material known as DNA, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill graduate students got a big surprise. So did their marine science professors.

In violation of federal law, more than 75 percent of fish tested and sold as tasty red snapper in stores in eight states were other species. How much of the mislabeling was unintentional or fraud is unknown, said Dr. Peter B. Marko, assistant professor of marine sciences at UNC’s College of Arts and Sciences.

"Red snapper is the most sought-after snapper species and has the highest prices, and many people, including me, believe it tastes best," Marko said. "Mislabeling to this extent not only defrauds consumers, but also risks adversely affecting estimates of stock size for this species if it influences the reporting of catch data used in fisheries management. The potential for this kind of bias in fisheries data depends on at what point in the commercial industry fish are mislabeled, which is something that we currently know little about."

A report on his group’s research appears in the July 15 issue of the journal Nature. 

The red snapper, or Lutjanus campechanus, is found in offshore waters around coral reefs and rocky outcroppings and is one of the most economically 

important fish in the Gulf of Mexico, with greater total catches than any other snapper species, Marko and colleagues wrote. "In 1996, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council and the U.S. Department of Commerce declared that L. campechanus was grossly overfished and called for strict management measures to restore stocks.

"Such restrictions create an economic incentive for seafood substitution, where less valuable species are mislabeled and sold under the names of more expensive ones. Substitutions among closely related fish are difficult to detect, because most distinguishing features are lost during processing."

The team conducted molecular analyses of 22 fish bought from nine vendors in Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina and Wisconsin. They found 17, or 77 percent, of the samples sold as red snapper were other species.

Among those sold as red snapper were lane snapper and vermilion snapper, two other species from the western Atlantic Ocean. Also surprising was that more than half the DNA sequences came either from fish from other regions of the world such as the western Pacific or from rare species about which little is known, he said.

"The remarkable extent of product mislabeling of red snapper threatens to distort the status of fish stocks in the eyes of consumers, contributing to a false impression that the supply of marine species is keeping up with demand," Marko said.

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