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(506) 2223-1327               Published Friday, July 30, 2010,  in Vol. 10, No. 149       E-mail us
Jo Stuart
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Agents investigating two murders at Alajuela's La Reforma prison shook down the maximum security facility Thursday and turned up 23 handmade weapons.

See story HERE!

Weapons from La Reforma
Judicial Investigation Organization photo

Hiking pilgrims are facing a wet, windy weekend
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The million-plus multitude marching to Cartago this weekend face a baptism of heavy rains that will wash away about everything except sin.

The country is in the middle of two low pressure systems creating atmospheric instability. And a third is on the way.

Depending on the distance from Cartago's Basilica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles, the faithful could already be on the road. But most in the Central Valley will not begin the trek until Saturday or even Sunday. The object is to arrive in the church plaza Sunday evening for devotions and to await Monday's Mass.

Although some already have made their pilgrimage this year, more than a million will be doing so this weekend, and the skies may not be merciful.

One low pressure system sits due west of the Nicoya Peninsula. It is a disorganized system that probably will not develop into a tropical storm, but it was the author of heavy downpours Wednesday night and Thursday.

In the Atlantic, the 30th tropical wave of the season is moving west at 10 to 15 mph across the coast of Venezuela and the Windward Island. The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional expects this system to generate afternoon thundershowers. Tropical waves are troughs of low pressure that are generated by mountains in Africa. They sweep westward around the globe at tropical latitudes.

The second Atlantic system is further east but stronger, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Information Center.
Weekend weather
U.S. National Hurricane Center graphic
Two Atlantic systems are headed this way

The wet weather will complicate the work of the hundreds of police who are providing security for the pilgrimage. Roads will be closed Saturday and Sunday to expedite the hikers.

This is the 375th anniversary of the finding of the small, black carved rock that is venerated as a representation of the Blessed Virgin. Most pilgrims carry in their hearts a special wish for which they seek the Virgin to intercede with her son, Jesus.

In addition to routine petitions to God, basilica officials obtained permission from the Holy See to open up a special door that bestows an indulgence on the faithful who pass through it this year.

Agencies other than law enforcement also are involved in the pilgrimage. The Cruz Roja treats thousands of blistered, lame and otherwise wounded walkers each year. The Patronato Nacional de Infancia, the child protection agency, said Thursday that 10 children were lost on the pilgrimage last year and that its agents will be in the field specifically to keep an eye on youngsters under 18.

The pilgrimage is a social event, too. Otherwise strict parents have no trouble letting their daughters stay out overnight hiking to Cartago. But this year, municipal officials around the basilica have prohibited street sales of food and refreshments other than by those already licensed.

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 bailey bridge
Ministerio de Obras Pública y Transportes photo  
This is a bailey bridge in service in Esparza

Undermined roadway isolates
key Interamericana bridge

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country's bridges seem to be falling apart before the money arrives to fix them.

The latest incident is a serious blow to transportation. The Río Seco undermined the approach to a bridge over the Interamericana Norte.  The 66-year old bridge still is standing, but the roadway leading to it vanished into the river.

There is a 20-foot gap between the existing highway and the start of the steel, two-lane bridge. The Interamericana is the principal route through Costa Rica between Panamá and Nicaragua.

The Ministerio de Obras Pública y Transportes is suggesting a detour through San Carlos and Tilirán for motorists and truckers in the Central Valley headed north or those headed south.

That is a less-than-adequate route. And it adds hours to the trip.

Guanacaste residents and those seeking to go there are using the Puntarenas ferries that dock in Paquera and Naranjo. The wait to get on the three ferries is lengthy.

Residents in the Miramar area where the bridge mishap took place now have the benefit of a steel ramp that allows them to walk from land to the bridge. The ramp is big enough so that two persons can pass. That is sufficient for local foot traffic.

The ministry said that it will take three days to fix the bridge for motor traffic.

The bridge was scheduled to be replaced as part of an upgrade of the Interamericana. Some 29 bridges are scheduled to be replaced in the $33 million project that was just approved by the legislature.

Heavy equipment is on the site trying to fill the gap caused by the raging river. The bridge approach is at a curve in the river where water attacks the rock, gravel and dirt on which the roadway sits.

The ministry said that workers need to dump in 5,000 cubic meters of fill.

The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad said that the mishap cut fiber optic communication cables. That stopped fixed and mobil telephone service and Internet. That line was repaired by Thursday afternoon, the company said.

Meanwhile, the ministry reported Thursday that it had invested 4.2 billion colons in portable bridges. That's more than $8.5 million.

The spans are named bailey bridges, and they are portable and expandable. The ministry said that 15 such bridges have been put into service already this year at various points where the existing bridge failed or appears to be about to fail.

The bridges can carry heavy traffic up to 40 tons, depending on the particular steel bridge, said the ministry.

Prison sweep turns up
23 homemade knives

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Judicial agents investigating the murders of two inmates at prison facilities in Alajuela swept the La Reforma section where the latest killing took place.

They discovered a wide assortment of handmade knives. There were 23 in all.

The latest victim was a man with the last name of Garcia. He came to the Hospital de Alajuela from prison Wednesday afternoon and died later of a profound stab wound in his chest. He was 22.

Wednesday a man with the last name of Segura died of three stab wounds sustained in a fight Tuesday with another inmate, said the Judicial Investigating Organization. He was 23.

Both victims were doing time for robberies.

Crime was in Ojochal

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A news story Thursday incorrectly identified the location of a home invasion.

The story said three men invaded a home in Quepos. In fact, the crime happened in Ojochal further down the central Pacific coast. The home occupant was not injured, according to an e-mail alert from a local chamber of commerce.

Mexican officials pleased
judge blocked Arizona law

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Mexico has welcomed a U.S. judge's decision to block key parts of Arizona's controversial immigration law from taking effect.

Mexican foreign minister Patricia Espinosa issued a statement Wednesday, describing the judge's decision as a step in the right direction. Mexico's government has said it is prepared to take measures aimed at protecting its citizens in Arizona.

Also Wednesday, dozens of people who had gathered outside the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City cheered when the judge's ruling was announced.

México has been critical of the legislation, which has become an irritant in U.S.-México relations.

Mexican President Felipe Calderón brought up the issue in May when he met with President Barack Obama at the White House for talks that covered the immigration issue as well as drug violence along the shared border.

Calderon's government previously has warned Mexicans they could face an adverse political environment if they travel to Arizona. However, Calderón said he and Obama will work together on immigration issues.

Obama said the United States must adopt a comprehensive approach to immigration that includes increasing security along U.S. borders, cracking down on businesses that hire illegal immigrants, and reforming the legal immigration system. He said fences and border patrols alone will not solve the problem, and that the U.S. should create a pathway for the estimated 11 million people in the U.S. illegally to earn their citizenship.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, July 30, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 149

Rapid Respose
Rock n roll

Accord reached to elevate right to water to Constitution
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The executive branch and all but one political party in the legislature have reached an agreement to elevate water to a constitutional matter.

The accord was announced Thursday after several weeks of discussion. Nearly all the players agreed on the general concept, but Thursday officials said they had arrived on the exact wording for the constitutional addition.

There has not been a lot of discussion on what the additions would do except in general protect the nation's water. One change says that potable water is a right.

The three additions to article 50 of the Costa Rican Constitution would read:

1. The human right to water is fundamental and not renounceable. All persons have the right to potable water and to its purification in accordance with the law.

2. It is the duty of the state and of all persons to defend, protect and restore water sources. The storage of water for the population is a priority.

3. The norms and national policies relating to water ought to guarantee the sustainable management of water and solidarity with future generations.
There also is an addition to article 121 that says:

Water is an asset of the public domain that belongs to the nation and cannot leave its domain. Its use and exploitation will be regulated by what the law establishes.

Another addition would protect the rights of those who already have water rights.

The constitutional change will get a priority spot on the legislative agenda that is set by the executive branch during what is called extraordinary sessions, according to Marco Vargas, minister of the Presidencia.

These sessions are in months that the Constitution does not specify that the legislature is to meet. The executive branch uses its authority to call lawmakers to session and has the right to set the agenda. August is such a month.

The constitutional changes would seem to remove water as a possession of landowners. The state is the owner of the water.

What this would mean to landowners who have water sources on their property is left for future laws to define.

Water is regulated now. Persons who seek to drill wells must obtain permission. Diverting rivers and streams also requires approval.

Not just the trash on the streets needs to be handled firmly
It’s the Green Season and that means ice cream cone mornings and umbrella afternoons downtown.  The other day I was seduced by all of those delicious looking stacked sugar cones.  I chose a one-scoop mint ice cream cone and sat down on a low wall in the Plaza de la Cultura to watch the passing parade of people and the children in the plaza chasing the birds (I must confess I thought of singer and satirist Tom Lehrer’s song “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park.“  I’m not a big fan of pigeons.)
The city continues to please and energize me.  People still take time to be thoughtful and helpful — even to strangers.  If I have any complaints, it is the continued trash in the streets.  A new law is supposed to help take care of that, but like most new laws, it will be slow in being enforced. It would help if the city put more trash cans on more streets.

I enjoy walking in a light spritzer rain (pelo de gato - or cat’s hair).  But in the afternoons we’re having serious tropical torrential rains better to be viewed from indoors. 

All of this is pretty boring isn’t it? 

I believe it was Lawrence Durrell who  wrote, “History began with man’s first misfortune.”  I think language began with man’s first complaint. 

Adam:  “Ouch! A limb just fell on my head; who did that?!”

Eve:  “I don‘t know, but look at all the pretty fruit on it.!” 

Let’s face it:  hardships and challenges, evil and accidents, crimes and danger — even tragedies are a lot more interesting than “Everything was lovely and clean and enjoyable.”  As Tolstoy said, “All happy families are alike . . . .”  It is the unhappy families we like to hear about.  That’s what makes interesting reading, movies, and tales to bring home.  Sometimes just so that we can feel that our lot is not so bad.

On the other hand, when most of us go on vacation or choose a place to retire, we expect to get away from the daily grind and worries we had at home — the nitty gritty of every day life and news stories of horrible crimes that
Butterfly in the City
. . .  Musings from San José

By Jo Stuart

Jo Stuart

range from domestic violence to mass murderers and wham, we discover our rental car broken into and our luggage stolen. Or our home is raided by some thugs. “What kind of a paradise is this?” we ask.

I don’t mean to treat the subject lightly.  Like most long-time residents, when I first came to Costa Rica there was very little crime and few police on the street —  none in uniforms. (I was told that people didn’t want them to begin thinking they were an army.)  Since then, I have been the victim of crimes ranging from stolen purses to the burglary of my apartment.  I have not been physically harmed.  That, I think, would affect my attitude.
I was happy to read the letter to the editor from Tessa and Martin in Wednesday’s A.M. Costa Rica. It was a reality check on the crime and conditions in Costa Rica compared to other tourist and expat destinations in the world.  It is not just the good part of commerce and information that travels between countries today.

Trash (of all kinds) gets around the world, too. Costa Rica has been slow to get up to speed in dealing with what is a global problem.

In some ways it is like the trash we see in our streets. The government plans to do something about it, but until then it’s a good idea to get together with our neighbors (probably most of us know our Facebook contacts better than we do our neighbors) and do something to keep our streets free of trash.

But of course, as Hara Wayne Maderich pointed out, it would be so much better if we started early and gave children the tools to learn that they don’t have to trash the world to make their way in it. Meanwhile  I continue to be an optimist and see the fruit as well as the limb that just conked me on the head.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, July 30, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 149

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Crime still is the main topic for A.M. Costa Rica readers

Expat group has other goals
in addition to halting crime

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I would like to comment on your recent article on crime in Costa Rica, the community organizations that are trying to address it and the B&B owner’s response.

First of all, many of the people who are members of these community groups, both expats and Ticos, and also signed the petition own or have an interest in tourist related businesses and even real estate development. But instead of portraying Costa Rica as a carefree paradise, it is important that we are honest with our clients (whether they are visiting or living here) so they can enjoy the treasures of this beautiful country safely and responsibly. 

After living here for nearly four years, I have seen many people seriously disillusioned, disappointed and down right unhappy after moving here because they were sold the “idea” of Costa Rica without a spattering of reality.  The result is often they go back to their native countries completely disillusioned, often never to return, or they stay and feel completely powerless and bitter about the situation.

Secondly, I cannot stress enough that the organization I am involved with, the Community Action Alliance of Costa Rica, was formed to address various challenges for both expats and Ticos living here in Costa Rica. Although extremely important and topical, security is only one of those issues. The ultimate goal of this organization is to help Costa Rica be the “perfect” paradise that it perhaps once was and can be again; ultimately creating a stronger economy, a better life for ALL residents and a richer experience for visitors.

Thirdly, anyone who has ever been in business knows that word of mouth is the best and most effective advertising. If your clients (or guests) come here ignorant of potential danger (whether it is crime or fraud) and it happens to them, I can guarantee you they’ll be a lot more upset at not having been warned of this potential. In turn, they will tell everyone they know about their traumatic experience, angry not only at the perpetrators, but bitter at the splashy brochures and the smiling business owner who happily took their money without a word of caution or thought of their safety. 

Lastly, of course, one must always be vigilant when traveling, but to compare cities like Toronto to small beach communities is ludicrous. Perhaps they should compare San José crime stats with those of Toronto. (And don’t even get me started with the traffic in and around San José!)  I, too, was in an accident here in Costa Rica. Many Ticos and the police were amazingly friendly and helpful. Shortly thereafter the Tico motorcyclist who ran into me sued me for $120,000. It took three years to settle and the stress and cost were considerable. However, the judge did finally dismiss the suit.

Even with all its challenges and adventures, Costa Rica is a truly beautiful and wondrous country. Let’s all do what we can to make it safe and secure so its reputation can shine along with the scenery, sun and friendly people.

Jacki Styiles
San Ramón

Higher real estate tax
would aid infrastructure

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Jim Day, had some very legitimate complaints regarding taxes and safety and more.  I would like to point out something he is over looking and something his wealthy community could do to solve one of their problems.

He discusses that his Guanacaste development and the golf course development and others have spent millions of dollars building these projects.  He is very disappointed that the government hasn't done what they promised and put in paved roads.  Maybe  Jim could get all of these millions of dollar projects to build their own paved road, if it is killing all of their businesses.  Just a suggestion.

He complains about "the level of taxes imposed on vehicles, appliances, and almost all imported goods dramatically increases the cost of living and makes Panamá, Mexico, and Nicaragua  much more affordable destinations for business or retirement."
I would have to agree with that, but he doesn't mention how many thousands upon thousands of dollars he is saving not having to pay justified property taxes on his development, and I am sure all the other developments in the area.  He mentions "With the level of taxation in Costa Rica there should be no problem with keeping commitments to get roads paved."  You would think that, but maybe with the millions they could collect from equitable property taxes those roads would be in already.

I won't tell you this isn't the U.S.A., but I will say it is Costa Rica and the problems mentioned aren't going to change any time soon.  Actually when I first moved here, there were zero paved roads in the Guanacaste area and Nicoya Peninsula.  So somethings do get better over time.

Henry Kantrowitz
Punta Leona

People have had enough
and are coming together

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I have to admit that I’m disheartened to actually see reader’s responses in which the victims of crime are being blamed instead of where the real problems really lay. I’m also amazed that people think they can continue to hide the dirty secret of crime as to not hurt their own individual real estate sales, rentals, tourism businesses and the like.

Newsflash folks: Crime is growing rapidly and trending quickly from petty to violent. The days of hiding the problem and downplaying it are long gone, and if unabated, this wave will continue to grow and have a much more serious economic effect than perhaps losing a sale or two or a night booking in your B&B.

The word is spreading and it’s not just the readers of A.M. Costa Rica who are hearing about it. Surprisingly, friends and relatives of mine in the U.S. in addition to strangers routinely ask me “So, how bad is that crime epidemic in Costa Rica that I’ve been hearing about” when the topic comes up of where I live. The fact they even mention the words "crime" and "Costa Rica" in the same sentence early in a conversation before mentioning rain forests, monkeys, insects and snakes really says something.

Well, here’s what’s happening now. People all across Costa Rica have had enough and are coming together as one voice to put a stop to crime. Instead of hiding the problem to keep up sales, realtors and brokers in the Southern Pacific Zone have all become part of CAP’s Realtors Initiative Program where they donate money from every sale to help with crime prevention and awareness.

Similarly, land and home developers in the region have now begun matching the realtors and brokers with donations of their own to the Developer Initiative Program and equally impressive and not to be outdone, many lawyers involved with these deals are now stepping up to the plate to donate money as well.  Forcing a category to be created for them aptly named (you guessed it) the Lawyers Initiative Program.

Why would all the realtors, developers and lawyers (and a growing number of tourism businesses) publicly get behind and financially support an organization that basically exposes and admits there’s a problem when it could potentially hurt business, tourism and sales? Because, they are becoming part of the solution! They, too, are saying enough is enough and what they have effectively done is stopped sweeping a problem under the rug and stepped up to do something about it. There’s a lot to be said about the credibility of those who are not afraid to admit a problem and furthermore do something about it.

They realize that crime is damaging the economy and will continue to do so until people band together and say enough is enough. Blaming the victims and hiding the issue is nothing more than a self-serving course of action and the people who call Costa Rica home are starting to realize that burying their heads in the sand is not a viable solution. Thankfully, what we are now seeing is an unprecedented growth of both Costa Ricans and expats from all over the world coming together side by side to  unite under one banner and one voice calling for action. Hopefully someone will listen!
Tim Ferguson
Personal example is key
to molding child's life

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Don’t tell our youth how to live an honorable life.  Don’t do it!

Don’t tell them that a handshake is more than a gesture of friendship, that it is a bond of honor for ONLY that which is pure and just;

Don’t tell them that they should respect their environment even in minor ways, such as throwing trash from a car window onto the road;

Don’t tell them that a lie is inexcusable to avoid responsibility; that it is a flaw in character;

Don’t tell them to respect their body and to use their sexuality in a responsible manner (set aside cultural norms which seem to condone “fatherless” pregnancies, promiscuity spreads STD’s; abnormalities of mind and body can result over time from inbreeding when you’re unsure of your ancestry);

Don’t tell them to be considerate of others even in small ways (as one of my personal gripes, and this may be treading on cultural norms:  there is no turn-on to see a male urinating in public.  There are just some “cultural” practices where preservation is questionable.  What do you say to a mother with a 4-year old in tow who laughs as she allows her charge to relieve himself on a vendor’s newspaper stand on a downtown street—aim better next time?);

Don’t tell them that it is wrong to steal (in any amount—for thievery is an absolute, in line with being a little bit pregnant) or that they should respect life and show respect to others;

Don’t tell them that an honest day’s work is a noble ethic — that work is not ONLY about the money;

Don’t tell them that illicit drug use is unacceptable.

If we are our brother’s keeper, don’t tell our youth these things—UNLESS you are willing to set a good example.

If we see a child running into the road on a collision course with a car, it is not enough to tell him.  We must act.   And in that action we must set an example.   If we falter as these “teachers” of our youth in matters of values, we must admit our error and apologize to THEM for setting a bad example.  We must also teach consequences of bad behavior.  It is never a favor to excuse in a “probrecito” manner.  A misbehaving, uncorrected child will tend to become a delinquent teen, who will tend to become a criminal adult.  We can only start with our children for they are the future of any country. They are our hope for a better society.

Regarding the growing crime problem, we cannot continue a catch-and-release program for the adults as it sends the wrong message to our children and does nothing to reinforce consequence for actions (responsibility for self).  What message are we “teaching” by excusing bad behavior?  Socio-economic class notwithstanding — basic values apply across the board.

Parents can set examples of how to live responsibly; schoolteachers can reinforce a value system creatively by using life examples (not a “do-as-I say; not-as-I-do”); police are important as preventors of crime and not turning a blind eye to misdeeds because he’s only a child. Lawmakers must set practical, logical laws to be enforced and the courts are responsible for enforcing, as a consequence.  In all these levels, teachers of faith (church) must interact.  Failure in any one step cannot be an option.

Then, we may get a handle on controlling crime.

Mary Jay

If we fail to act now
tourism will not grow

Dear A.M. Costa Rica;

I am writing in response to “ More Positive Reporting will let Costa Rica Shine.”  We all enjoy reading another perspective, but we must look in detail what was really said in their perspective as offered. My response is not a personal attack on them, but on the attitude they displayed. 

It is obvious that as tourist-related business persons they do not want negative press on Costa Rica whatsoever, which is no surprise to anyone. Unless articles are written that reflect what is really of concern to many and what’s really happening in the streets many of our governments in any country would fail to act as they seem only to respond to hot issues that get the press, and or endanger their tax revenue streams, or their reelections.

It is this very danger to the “tourism business” and the  “Costa Rican life” that increased crime represents that should have us all to reflect and want to assist teams made up of community groups and local law enforcement to prevent Costa Rica from becoming another Toronto, London, Madrid and/or New York. We all have been to areas far worse than Costa Rica. Most of us were drawn here to Costa Rica in the first place because it was not like our original home, and how our previous homes have become with high crime, and poor attitudes of many especially from the youth today? I, for one, would prefer not to have my head in the sand and ignore the problems as they develop, and then only to complain about them when things are really bad and my business is suffering or I have been a victim in my own home. I'm tired of hearing” it’s not as bad as back home so there´s no problem here.”

We have traveled around the world often and lived in a few European countries and can understand easily how one could view Costa Rica as being ahead of many others in many ways. It was the “safe and polite feeling” that made us want to finish raising our kids here for the balance of their challenging teenage lives! Our local government now faces an influx of crime gangs which will affect more than just tourism, it will affect many of us in our own homes without “being careless and irresponsible.” They are attracted to attacking Costa Rica due to ineffective policing and lack of detention when caught. Really the lack of accountability is the route of the problem of why their attracted here.  We are easy low risk targets in our own homes to these gangs.

While resident in Spain for almost eight years we witnessed same influx of crime gangs from poorer Eastern bloc countries, this being very similar to Costa Rica facing influx from its poor neighbors. It continued in Spain until local police organized and were supported and faced them head on and caught them and held them accountable and were sent to jail. Once these gangs had the real danger of actually getting caught and serving time after getting caught, they stop coming to Spain! Go figure.

Think how nice it would be to read an article which reviewed these negative stories but could point to positive government reaction and support from Gringo/Tico community groups which lead to a safer Costa Rica for residents and tourist alike! What would tourism and or retiring persons think of such positive actions by all? I shudder to think what the lack of reporting and facing the truth would due to tourism and quality of our lives here in Costa Rica if we failed to act!

We need to help our local police receive more funding from government sources, more help from the community and all of us being watchful in our own neighborhoods to stop this all before it cannot be turned around easily. If we fail to act and support these problems facing Costa Rica, will tourism continue to grow, will quality of life improve, will pensioners find it attractive place to retire and invest, I think not.

Tony McCreath
San Ramón

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, July 30, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 149

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Rice farmers want approval
for more trade wth Cuba

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. agricultural organizations, state farm bureaus and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have joined forces in support of a bill that would ease the current U.S. embargo against Cuba, allowing food to be exported to the Communist-ruled Caribbean island nation. The bill, which was approved by the House Agriculture Committee earlier this month, is opposed by many Cuban-American groups who fear the opening would bolster Communist rule.

For third-generation Texas rice farmer Ray Stoesser, Cuba is a promising market and he does not want politics to get in the way. "It is just time to make friends and feed them," he said. "I think that America needs to use the products that they have, like food, and make friends with the world."

Stoesser says half of the rice produced in the U.S. is exported to other countries, mainly México, and that farmers could produce more if the market were to expand to Cuba. "Here in southeast Texas, just like south Louisiana, we enjoy a climate that is conducive to grow rice. It is hot and humid, longer growing season," he explained. "We can produce one crop and harvest that, turn around and water the stubble and have a second crop."

Stoesser says the overall price of rice is determined by the export market. If that price is too low, he says, it will not adequately cover the expense of fuel, fertilizer, herbicides and equipment.

Rice is a staple food in Cuba and the country consumes more than 700,000 tons of rice a year. But Cuba is not capable of producing more than a fraction of that amount in its own fields.

In the year 2000, the United States did ease the agricultural export ban to Cuba, but a later tightening of policy, to require advance cash payments, choked off Cuban purchases of U.S. grain.  Cuba still imports some food from the United States, but the country is short on cash for a number of reasons including the damage done by hurricanes and a drop in tourism revenue.

Dwight Roberts is president and chief executive officer of the Houston-based U.S. Rice Producers Association. He says allowing U.S. rice exports to Cuba would benefit both nations. "They import about 600,000 tons per year, some years a little more. Most of that is coming from Vietnam. The highest year that the U.S. shipped rice, over these last 10 years, was in 2004. The U.S. shipped 160,000 tons of rice, valued at about $65 million," he said.

Since 2008 the United States has not sold a single grain of rice to Cuba.

Many Cuban Americans say money should not be a factor in regard to the embargo as long as the Cuban government represses freedom and aggressively opposes U.S. policies.

Roberts says Cuba is not alone in that regard. "We trade with a lot of countries around the world who are not necessarily overly friendly to U.S. politics," he says, "but we have always felt that food and agriculture should be outside of the political arena."

Roberts says U.S. farmers in general support the bill before Congress that would open the way for the export of rice and other food commodities to Cuba.

The bill would also ease travel restrictions to Cuba, which, U.S. farmers believe, would increase the demand for US food products, including beef and pork.

But the bill to open such trade still faces heavy opposition in Congress and probably will not be debated until after the legislative body's August break.
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U.N. experts deplore firing
of three Honduran jurists

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The recent dismissal of three judges and a magistrate in Honduras, apparently because they spoke out during the political crisis that engulfed the country last year, sends a disturbing message to other jurists in the Central American country, three independent United Nations human rights experts warned Thursday.

The experts said the dismissal last month of the judges Guillermo López Lone, Luis Chávez and Ramón Enrique Barrios and the magistrate Tirza Flores could have the effect of intimidating other members of the judiciary “to refrain from expressing views different from those expressed by the authorities” in Honduras.

“None of the decisions that led to the dismissal of the judges and the magistrate contains legal grounds that justify why the conduct that was the object of the disciplinary proceedings was considered to be grave,” the experts said in a statement issued from Geneva.

The Supreme Court notified the four jurists that they had been dismissed for “non-compliance or serious breaches of their duties,” but the experts said the sackings seem to be connected to the jurists’ public remarks during last year’s crisis, when there was a coup d’état in Honduras, and their involvement in several acts of protest.

“Judges can be dismissed only on serious grounds of misconduct or incompetence, in accordance with fair procedures that guarantee objectivity and impartiality. Accepting an invitation to give a lecture, write an article, present an application for habeas corpus in favor of the dismissed president or participate in public demonstrations does not seem to meet these criteria.”

The dismissed judges and magistrate have appealed the decision to the Judicial Career Council of Honduras, and a ruling is expected soon.

The experts stressed in their statement that it is important to resolve the matter “in accordance with international standards in this area” and for Honduras to consolidate the independence of the judiciary and guarantee both democracy and the rule of law.

The three experts are: Gabriela Knaul, the special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers; Frank La Rue, the special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression; and Margaret Sekaggya, the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. They each serve in an independent and unpaid capacity and report to the U.N. Human Rights Council.

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