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The articles on this page were published Monday, 27 August, 2001.
Big show at UCR

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Faculty of Economic Sciences was the setting for what amounted to a science fair by professors Friday, Saturday and Sunday. To say the least, the University of Costa Rica event was impressive.

Nearly every discipline was represented by one or 
more displays of university research efforts. The emphasis was on agricultural production and the 

prevention and mitigation of disasters in Costa Rica. The topic of development was not far from every mind. 

One project seeks to turn cow manure into useful organic compost. The trademark is Agrilom, and the idea is to keep milk producers from letting the manure run into streams and rivers. The project by the university's Atlantic site in Turrialba now produces a bagged, marketable product .

The people you do not want to meet professionally are those from the Instituto Clodomiro Picado where snakes are milked for venom that can be turned into serum to save lives.  The exhibit featured live examples of some of the deadliest snakes in the world, including water snakes from the Coco Beach area for which no anti-venom has been developed because the snakes are too tiny to milk.

Curiously, no fatalities have been reported from these deadly snakes in Costa Rica, according to an attendant. 

The center, part of the Pharmacology Faculty, produces venom not only for humans but for 

animals that suffer snakebite.  The center may be found at: http://www.icp.ucr.ac.cr/indice.shtml

An example of trying to avoid disaster is the university's continual monitoring of Costa Rican volcanoes. From the invisible gases produced each day, scientists hope to be able to make predictions of volcanic activity. A team of three researchers, Mario Fernández Arce, Carlos Ramírez Umaña and Raúl Mora Amador have been studying Poas Volcano. They found even in its current inactive stage the crater puts out 749 tons of carbon dioxide each day.

The volcano also produces daily 20 kgs. of mercury, 48 kgs. of hydrogen and 655 kgs. of methane. The mountain also has thousands of microquakes each month, they reported.

Other projects promoted at the expo included the production of disease-free seeds for major agricultural produce, flood plain studies, new methods to identify shigella, the bacteria that can produce diarrhea, marimba studies and new educational incentives.

Proposal in Colombia to legalize drugs draws fire
Special to A.M.  Costa Rica

A Colombian legislator last week introduced bills to legalize drugs and to halt the spraying of poppy and cocoa fields there.

The senator, Vivian Morales, is a Liberal Party member. But two Conservative Party members quickly said that they would introduce legislation that would curb aerial spraying.

The Conservative Party controls the government. The senators are Juan Manuel Ospina and Rafael Orduz. In addition to a spraying ban, their bill would also exonerate small-scale cultivators from criminal penalties, they said, however, their bill would not legalize drug sale or use.

The developments in Colombia were reported by Narco News Bulletin, an online newspaper that follows the U.s. war on drugs.  The report was based on translations of news stories from Colombia and Venezuela and by the Associated Press

The Morales bill received a sharp response. Colombian President Andres Pastrana warned that legalization cannot be undertaken unilaterally by Colombia.

Interior Minister Armando Estrada Villa said that the legislation to legalize the production, distribution and consumption of drugs, under a monopoly by the Colombia government, is not viable at this moment. "Legalization would pit us alone against the world," Estrada said in the Senate Wednesday, recalling that Colombia has signed international agreements to combat drug trafficking.

The U. S. Ambassador Anne Patterson  predictably rejected the proposals, according to the daily newspaper El País of Cali, Colombia, in a Friday story.

Patterson, in a visit to the city of Barranquilla, warned that if Colombia approves this legislation, it could have problems with the international community. "I believe that this could cause many problems with the international community," Patterson declared as she announced that her country will deliver, in the next six months, 14 airplanes for spraying illegal coca and poppy crops.

Ospina of the Conservative Party said that his bill doesn't seek legalization, but rather to solve the 

More Colombian drug news here

problem of the fumigations with glyphosate that affect the environment, health and food crops of the farmers. "Our bill only seeks to suspend the fumigations because they are crazy and have not
solved the problem of the growing of the crops," he added. Ospina said that it is also important to "decriminalize" the small coca growers.

Many complaints have come from Colombia about the U.S.-supported spraying program, and farmers and other rural residents claimed their health has been affected. But a U.S. undersecretary in Washington said last week that the United States cannot find any credible scientific evidence that the aerial drug-eradication spraying program represents a health hazard to humans. This was reported Thursday in A.M. Costa Rica. See the story.

Rand Beers,  the assistant secretary of state, said the United States will re-examine the Colombian government's spraying  program, which receives financial support from the United States, if damaging information can be found. But he rebutted newspaper reports that said an many illnesses were occurring  in southern Colombia from the aerial spraying campaign to stop illicit coca production. 

Also Thursday in Cartagena, in the Andean Assembly, the candidate of the Social and Political Front, Luis Eduardo Garzon, proposed that "the best way to end this problem and the war it has brought us is to legalize drugs."

On Friday the president of the National Conservative Board, Carlos Holguin Sardi, said the country should construct a "national agreement" to legalize drugs and that the initiative should be coordinated with other Andean nations and the European Union, although he said he recognized that "it is a very large task."

"The world believes that repression is the better way to fight against this plague," he said, advising that the real policy would be to convert it into a problem of public health.

Meanwhile, the woman who kicked off the discussion with her bill, Sen. Morales, said "I don't know if this bill has support in Congress, but it is right because prohibition is the great ally of the narco-traffickers".

U.S. Embassy Photo
Anne Patterson

Big drug bust
draws praise

Colombia and the United States have hailed a joint anti-narcotics operation that netted some $35 million in cash, said to be one of the largest-ever seizures of drug money. 

U.S. Ambassador to Colombia Anne Patterson praised Colombian drug enforcement for the success of Friday's raid. She told reporters in the capital, Bogota, Saturday that U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and Colombian authorities collaborated to crack the money laundering ring. 

Colombia's police chief, General Ernesto Gilibert, said officers found the money hidden in the walls of two luxury apartments in Bogota. 

Two brothers, Victor Manuel Mejia and Miguel Angel Mejia, who are said to be among Colombia's most notorious money launderers are believed involved.

Breakdown in talks causes violence

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

In Colombia, the breakdown of peace talks with a left-wing rebel group appears to have set off a new terror campaign, as bombs explode in several cities and towns around the country, causing millions of dollars damage to homes and businesses, and injuring scores of people. 

It's been two days of mayhem in Colombia. A series of bomb attacks ripped apart hundreds of homes in two cities and a town. 

"We lost the whole front of our house, the garage, everything," said Cecilia Alvarez, a middle-aged resident of Medellin, the country's third largest city, where a 25 kilogram bomb exploded Thursday night. Miraculously it killed no one, but sent more than 40 people to hospital. Earlier in the day, a series of smaller bombs went off in front of businesses and banks. 

And in the nearby town of Marinella, a powerful explosion outside the police station, killed a woman in her 50s and injured 10 children from a neighboring school. 

Across the country, in the city of Cucuta, a car bomb ripped through the city center, Friday morning, injuring dozens. No one's claimed responsibility for any of the bombings. But police suspect they were carried out by the country's second largest guerrila group, the National Liberation Army or ELN. 

"Everything indicates it was the guerrillas that set off the latest bomb in Medellin," said General Jorge Castro, a senior police official. 

Colombian authorities believe the ELN launched the bombings in reaction to the government's decision two weeks ago to walk away from peace talks with the rebels. Government negotiators argued the ELN were so inflexible, the talks were going nowhere. But Medellin mayor Luis Perez now said the government made a big mistake. "These acts of anarchy could have been avoided," Perez told local media, "if the government had not broken off the talks." 

The ELN has been severely beaten down militarily by both army and right-wing paramilitary attacks. Their terrorist campaigns increasingly have a desperate edge. In fact, Thursday night, the ELN mistakenly blew up at least 15 of their own fighters, when a truck full of explosives they were driving across country ignited. 

Peace talks with the other major guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or FARC, have also ground to a virtual standstill. And now, military battles between the FARC and the army are heating up. 

The United States is providing the government of President Andres Pastrana with more than $1 billion in aid to battle drug trafficking. The country's leftist rebels use drug trafficking proceeds to finance their insurection against the Colombin government.

From A.M. Costa Rica wire services:

Brazil makes up with Iran

Brazil is resuming relations with Iraq, which were downgraded during the Gulf War. The Brazilian Government said it wants to promote closer commercial ties with Baghdad. 

In a Foreign Ministry communiqué issued late Friday, the Brazilian government announced it is re-activating its embassy in Baghdad. 

Brazil first established diplomatic relations with Iraq in 1967, but then downgraded them during the 1991 Gulf War, when Brazil supported the U.N. Security Council sanctions imposed against Iraq. 

Big winner in Kentucky

The winning numbers for the United States' Powerball lottery have been drawn, and officials are waiting to hand over top prizes totalling $295 million as soon as the winners come forward. 

A divorced father who had just been laid off from his job said in Kentucky he is one of four winners. "I was just stunned. I just praised God and Jesus," David Edwards, 46, told the Daily Independent of Ashland, Ky.,

Several hours after a random drawing produced the list of winning numbers, lottery officials announced Sunday there were four winning tickets, purchased in four different states - Delaware, Kentucky, Minnesota and New Hampshire. 

A torrent of last-minute ticket buying pushed the Powerball prize higher than expected, making the $295 million jackpot the third biggest lottery prize in U.S. history. 

The prize money will be reduced by at least 40 percent to cover taxes by the time it is paid out to the winners. The winning numbers drawn Saturday night were 8, 17, 22, 42 and 47, plus a sixth "powerball" number - 21 - which must be found in a specific location on a winning ticket. 

The Powerball lottery is a joint venture of 21 U.S. states, plus Washington, D.C.

Shark diet restricted to fish

Officials in Florida have closed a 1.6 km stretch of beach after sighting  dozens of sharks. 

Eight people suffered bites in the last week near the popular stretch of  New Smyrna Beach, and a helicopter survey of the area Friday spotted  sharks circling in shallow waters nearby. 

The beach is considered one of Florida's prime surfing spots, but it is also  popular with sharks because of an abundance of bait fish for them to feed  on. Officials say the bites are usually cases of mistaken identity, with  sharks chasing after fish and getting people instead. 

U.S. media have been paying more attention to shark attacks since an  8-year-old boy last month had his arm ripped by a shark in western  Florida. Doctors later reattached the arm.

DNA frees man after 17 years

Authorities in the western U.S. state of Idaho have released a man who spent more than 17-years on death row after new DNA evidence proved his innocence. 

Charles Fain, who became a devout Christian while in prison, says he doesn't hold a grudge against those who wrongly convicted him of the rape and murder of a 9-year-old girl. 

A judge set aside Fain's conviction earlier this year when DNA tests proved hairs found on the victim were not his. The hair had served as principle evidence during his trial. 

At least 96 people have been released from death row since 1973 because of exculpatory evidence, 11 of those were freed due to DNA tests. Death penalty opponents have cited the cases in their campaign to ban capital punishment.

Free Taiwan called key 

"A free Taiwan is the key to the possibility of genuinely close relations between the U.S. and China and a guarantee that China's growing impact on the international system will be a positive one," Rep. Henry Hyde said Friday in a speech in Taipei, Taiwan.

"It may even hold the key to China's destiny," the chairman of the House International Relations Committee suggested. He is a Republican from Illinois.

"Taiwan's mere existence as a prosperous and stable Chinese democracy is a challenge to the regime in Beijing because it is proof that its propaganda about the impossibility of democracy in China is false," Hyde told members of the Chinese National Association of Industry and Commerce. 

U.S. pressures Europe
on modified foods

The Washington Post newspaper said senior U.S. officials are  pressuring the European Union to abandon restrictions on foods containing genetically modified organisms. 

The report quotes Undersecretary of State Alan Larson as saying the EU  food labeling rules, unveiled last month, are trade disruptive and  discriminatory. U.S. officials say the restrictions could cost U.S. companies $4 billion a  year. 

The EU Commission's decision to require the labeling of genetically  engineered products reflects widespread European concerns about food  safety.

Lawyer says Condict stays

The lawyer for U.S. Rep. Gary Condit says the lawmaker has no intention of resigning over the case of missing government intern Chandra Levy.

In an interview with the NBC television network Sunday, lawyer Abbe Lowell said Condit believes he can effectively represent his constituents in California and is not considering resigning.

Lowell also said he thinks the Democratic lawmaker should not be forced from his membership on the House Intelligence Committee - despite his reported extramarital affair with Ms. Levy.

In a widely-anticipated television interview Thursday, Condit said he had a close relationship with Ms. Levy, but sidestepped questions about its nature. Condit also said he had nothing to do with Ms. Levy's disappearance April 30.

After Condit broke his silence about the case, there were increasing calls for him to resign or not run for re-election next year.

Washington police sources have said Mr. Condit has admitted a romantic relationship with Ms. Levy, but police say he is not a suspect in her disappearance.

Cubans want Castro indicted

Some Cuban exile groups are urging the U.S. government to indict Cuban President Fidel Castro for murder in the 1996 shootdown of two planes flown by exiles. 

Florida-based Brothers to the Rescue and other Cuban exile organizations said they have collected more than 100,000 signatures on a petition urging the Bush Administration to take action against Castro. The petition has no legal weight. 

The exiles say President Castro gave the order for Cuban fighter jets to shoot down the planes on Feb. 24, 1996. Four Cuban exiles from Brothers to the Rescue were killed in the incident. The incident worsened already hostile relations between Washington and Havana. 

Brothers to the Rescue says it is basing its request on the June conviction in Miami of Gerardo Hernandez, one of five Cuban men charged with spying for Havana. Hernandez has been convicted of conspiracy to murder in connection with the downing of the planes by the Cuban jet fighters. 

The Reuters news agency says demands from the anti-Castro exiles have largely gone unheeded by the Bush Administration. 

Last month, President Bush waived for another six months a provision in U.S. law that penalizes foreign firms using confiscated U.S. property in Cuba.  President Bush suspended the Title Three provision in the Helms-Burton Act that then-President Clinton signed into law in 1996 in response to Cuba's downing of the two small planes. The clause has been suspended every since months since the Helms-Burton Act became law.

Bush issues warning to U.N.

President Bush said Friday that the United States will not participate in a coming U.N. conference on racism if the conference organizers insist on saying that Zionism is a form of racism.

"We have made it very clear, through [Secretary of State] Colin Powell's office, that we will have no representative there so long as they pick on Israel, so long as they continue to say Zionism is racism," Bush said in a news conference in Crawford, Texas, Aug. 24.

The President added that Powell is working hard to resolve the issue. The conference is scheduled to open in Durban, South Africa, at the end of August.

Concerning the conflict in the Middle East, Bush said the first thing that must happen in order for peace talks to be arranged is that "both parties must resolve to stop violence."

He called on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat "to urge the terrorists, the Palestinian terrorists, to stop the suicide bombings, to stop the incursions, to stop the threats."

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