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As expected, the Free Trade Treaty between Costa Rica and Canada won approval Monday night in the Asemblea Nacional by a lopsided 53 to 1 vote.
There was little doubt that the treaty would be accepted. President Abel Pacheco ranks free trade and such agreements high in his priorities, and government officials reached an accord with Costa Rican potato growers last week.
The growers were the primary source of opposition and got plenty of mileage from their point of view during presidential elections.
Free trade got yet another boost Tuesday when the other 14 nations of the Caribbean Community asked that the provisions hammered out between Costa Rica and Trinidad and Tobago be extended to them.
Robert Tovar, minister of Relaciones Exteriores y Cultos, and Alberto Trejos, minister of Comercio Exterior, said that negotiations should be wrapped up with the nations by Sept. 30 because the existing treaty would be the model.
Costa Rica imports petroleum from the Caribbean countries, and the countries import mostly agricultural produce from here.
Agricultural products, specifically potatoes, caused a bump in the road for approval of the treaty with Canada. Pacheco’s opponent in the presidential elections, Rolando Araya Monge of the Partido Liberación Nacional, adopted the potato growers’ cause.
A lot of Canadians and Costa Ricans were surprised because the potato imports from Canada mostly are frozen french fries, something Costa Rica does not produce in bulk. Costa Ricans pay 41 per cent import duties on frozen french fries.
Potato growers won several commitments from the Costa Rican government, including a 770-million-colon (about $2.1 million) investment in certified seeds. Under terms of the agreement
|about 5 percent a year will be peeled
off the potato import duty.
Costa Rica and Canada already had signed the trade accord, and the Canadian Parliament has passed the measure.
The heavy hand of politics can be seen in the treaty. Dairy, poultry, egg and beef products were exempted from tariff reduction, according to a Canadian summary prepared by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. In addition, Costa Rica will exclude from tariff reduction a number of import sensitive agri-food products, including table potatoes and some fresh and frozen vegetable products, according to the Canadian department.
Still Some 86 percent of Costa Rican goods will be tariff free. Only 65 percent of Canadian products will be free of duty. In addition, a 1 percent customs administrative charge on everything imported will be eliminated.
The agreement with Canada was seen as a test case for free trade here. The United States is encouraging the negotiation of a Central American free trade pact, and the Free Trade Area of the Americas is scheduled to go into effect in 2005.
Proponents of such agreements note that Costa Rica, a small country, gets access to giant markets of consumers. Opponents lump free trade in with other globalization trends and claim that such treaties represent economic exploitation of the Third World. The United States, México and Canada are bound together with the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Approval of such international agreements will cause major shifts in Costa Rican society because frequently the pacts give access to many types of foreign businesses and require equal treatment for foreign companies.
Costa Rica uses customs duties as a revenue-generating method, so as import duties on frozen french fries are reduced, the country must find some other area to pick up the slack.
Friends of whales, dolphins and other sea creatures are concerned about the effects of the noise pollution in the world’s oceans.
The Navy won approval July 15 to deploy two ships that use controversial low-frequency sonar to detect faraway submarines, despite continuing questions about whether the system's loud blasts will injure whales and other ocean mammals.
The ruling by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration grants the Navy an exemption from federal rules that guard marine mammals from incidental injury. The agency concluded that protective measures required of the Navy ensure that the effects of the sonar will be "negligible" and will not undermine the long-term health of whales and other ocean mammals.
Environmentalists fear that growing noise pollution in the oceans will harm whales, dolphins, porpoises
|and other sea creatures that have
been at the center of global preservation efforts. However, the ruling
was welcomed by those worried about how environmental and endangered-species
laws have been affecting military preparedness.
A petition addressed to the secretary of the navy to halt the deployment of the system is being circulated by Sierra Sequeira, owner of Delfin Amor Eco Lodge and Marine Education Center in Drake Bay. For more information contact Ms. Sequiera at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All this controversy coincides with the humpback whales migrations as they pass by Costa Rica. Some of the southern humpbacks in the Oso Penisula area now, have come all the way from Antartica, the longest migration known to man, she said.
Ms. Sequiera said humpbacks were all over the Drake Bay area and that she issued a hydrophone to listen to the whales conversing. She also is president of Fundación Delfin de Costa Rica.
may be busted
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
Investigators raided a house in Paso Ancho Tuesday morning and found a warehouse for what is believed to be stolen motorcycles.
As a result of the raid, investigators said they had busted up one of the most dangerous bands of motorcycle robbers in the San José area.
One man, identified by the last name of Herrera, age 30, went to jail for investigation, said police.
Agents said they had been following the members of the band for several weeks. They said they were able to determine that motorcycles robbed in the metropolitan area were being taken to the house, where some were disassembled.
The gang members picked out their victims based on the type of motorcycle they drove. These were motorcycles with a value of at least 1 million colons or about $2,750. They would follow their target until they arrived in an isolated location where they would force the driver from the motorcycle and steal the vehicle.
Agents today found four cycles at the house and about 14 disassembled cycles in an adjacent lot.
Investigators did not say if the gang was responsible for the early morning shooting three weeks ago of two men in Desamparados. The driver suffered three serious wounds to the back.
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
Even though the law requires the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía to evaluate environmental impact statements in 45 days, frequently the period is about 700 days, according to the agency.
So Tuesday Carlos Manuel Rodríguez, minister, made changes in the Secretaría Técnica Nacional Ambiental (SETENA). This is the part of the ministry that makes the evaluations.
SETENA has a crush of some 1,000 applications to evaluate, the minister said. Such studies are required by law for any number of projects that might have an impact on the environment.
Sept. 27 is Tourism Day in Costa Rica. Rubén Pacheco Lutz, the minister of the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo, announced this Tuesday.
U.S., Canada planning
By A.M. Costa Rica wire services
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States and Canada have announced that they will set up five new joint border policing units in Ontario and Quebec to improve security in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The joint units, known as Integrated Border Enforcement Teams, are composed of police, immigration and customs officials from the two countries. First developed in 1996 as a way to address cross-border crimes along international land and marine borders between Washington State in the United States and Canada's British Colombia, the five new border patrols will be set up in the Canadian provinces of Quebec and Ontario.
The Canadian government says the new teams will bring to 10 the number of teams created to date. A total of 14 such teams is planned.
The border policing unit’s goal is to help protect Canada and the United States from potential threats of terrorism, and to impede smuggling of drugs, humans, contraband cigarettes, or other illegal substances. Cross-border smuggling can take place by land, air, or water.
By A.M. Costa Rica wire services
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Customs Service announced Tuesday it is using specially-equipped trucks to detect so-called dirty bombs hidden inside shipping containers.
Officials say 24 such devices are now in use at U.S. border crossings, two U.S. military posts and three major American ports, Boston, Long Beach, California and West Palm Beach, Florida.
The manufacturer of the trucks, American Science and Engineering, says it has sent another 24 devices to overseas ports, including those in Britain, Egypt, Mexico and Saudi Arabia.
The trucks are built to detect even tiny amounts of radioactive material stashed inside shipping containers that arrive on cargo ships or by land. A giant radiation-detection arm moves across and up and down the sides of the container while it also takes x-ray images of the contents.
More than 16 million shipping containers arrive in the United States every year. U.S. customs officials have said they fear terrorists may use containers to store such weapons as dirty bombs, a conventional explosive packed with radioactive material. Authorities had stepped up their efforts to detect such materials in the wake of last September's terrorist attacks.
By A.M. Costa Rica wire services
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A jury here has found two retired Salvadoran generals liable for atrocities committed during their country's civil war.
The West Palm Beach jury rendered its decision Tuesday, ordering Gens. Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova and Jose Guillermo Garcia to pay $54.6 million in damages.
Jurors were asked to determine whether the generals knew their troops were torturing or murdering civilians but failed to try to stop it or punish those responsible.
The generals were sued by three Salvadorans who said they fled their homeland after being brutalized by Salvadoran soldiers during the conflict.
Like the defendants, the plaintiffs now live in the United States and filed suit under laws that allow U.S. courts to assess damages against perpetrators of human rights abuses committed abroad.
El Salvador's civil war spanned more than 12 years and involved the military government as well as leftist and right-wing guerrillas. The conflict, which claimed about 75,000 lives, ended in 1992 when peace accords between the government and guerrillas were signed.
|The lady vanishes
with some $400,000
Special to A.M. Costa Rica
CARACAS, Venezuela — Three police detective branch narcotics division officers are under suspicion for the alleged forced disappearance of a Colombian citizen, Maria Duarte de Fabogal, and the loss of $400,000 in cash, according to V-Headline News here. The victim had apparently recently brought the large sum of money to Venezuela from Costa Rica, the electronic news organization said.
Chief Inspector Jesus Fun Leon and detectives, Jairo Alexander Burgos and Jose Gregorio Salcedo, are the main suspects because they supposedly tried to dispose of a video showing them interrogating the victim when she arrived at the Simon Bolivar International Airport in Caracas, according to Raul Yepez, the sub-director of the judicial police, the news service said.
Mrs. Duarte de Fabrogal’s $400,000 is what triggered official suspicions, said the news service. It has since been learned that two more detectives responsible for shooting the video are also being interrogated.
Special to A.M. Costa Rica
GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala — The country’s faithful are anxiously awaiting the upcoming visit of Pope John Paul II, his third here, but considered a very special one. On Tuesday, the pope will canonize Brother Pedro de Betancur, a 17th century missionary who will be Central America's first saint.
A priest gives mass to a standing-room-only crowd in the San Francisco Church in the colonial city of Antigua, Guatemala. In the weeks leading up to the pope's visit, the church, which houses the tomb of Brother Pedro de Betancur, has been flooded with visitors. Friar Edwin Alvarado is in charge of the canonization activities here.
Due to the overwhelming crowds, the church has started giving five masses on Sunday. Even then the church was so packed, church workers had to add benches and pull-up plastic chairs to accommodate the crowds.
After arriving here in the mid-17th century as a missionary, Brother Pedro founded the first free hospital in Guatemala, the first free school and became the nation's first literacy instructor. He is known here as a man who provided healthcare to the poor and performed miracles by curing people of sickness even after his death.
Many of Guatemala's faithful come to the tomb of Brother Pedro before operations to ask for him to protect them and keep them alive. In a museum in the back of the church the walls are adorned with crutches, photos, plaques and letters of thanks from thousands of faithful who attribute miracles to Brother Pedro.
A thousand worshippers from a Guatemala City parish shout long live the pope during a pilgrimage through Antigua's cobblestone streets. Many here hope that Brother Pedro will give strength to the frail pope on what is expected to be an exhausting trip. Church officials, like Friar Alvarado, also hope that the canonization will serve to breathe new life into the legacy of Brother Pedro's work in healthcare and education.
He says the celebration of the canonization of Brother Pedro will be complete if his message is renewed, taken seriously and practiced in Guatemala.
Guatemala's illiteracy rate is one of the highest in Latin America,
second only to Haiti, and it is one of the countries in the region with
the lowest combined public and private spending in healthcare.
By A.M. Costa Rica wire services
MEDELLIN, Columbia — A bomb has exploded in front of a cafeteria here, killing two people, including a former legislator. At least 13 people, two of them journalists, were injured.
Police say former lawmaker Hildebrando Giraldo died Tuesday when the device exploded at the busy cafeteria frequented by journalists and politicians. Authorities also say the bomb had been thrown from a passing vehicle.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but investigators said they suspect leftist rebels.
The attack came five days after a powerful bomb exploded in Cartagena, killing at least four people and wounding 23 others.
Last week's blast happened at a home in a poor section of the city. Police are investigating whether the device was being stored for a later attack linked to the ongoing civil war.
In February, President Andres Pastrana's government ended peace talks with rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the country's largest insurgency.
Since then, the rebels have stepped up their attacks nationwide. The
terror group also has launched a campaign against town and municipal mayors
and other local officials, demanding they resign or be killed.
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