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These stories were published Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 169
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Deputies consider increase in tourist exit fee
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

National deputies are considering an increase of $9 in the exit fee for tourists who come to Costa Rica. The increase is part of a larger plan to simplify the exit process.

According to a proposal that has not yet been approved in the Asemblea Nacional, tourists who now pay $17 would pay $26 to leave the country. Costa Ricans, who now pay $42, would pay the same $26.

Vendors at Juan Santamaría Airport who sell exit stamps there would be replaced by a 

company who wins the right to handle exit permits via a bidding process.

Government officials have been complaining that the country loses $1 million a year because exit stamps are recycled by crooked stamp sellers. The vendors, on the other hand, say they purchase their stamps like anyone else could at the Banco Crédito Agricola.

Reporters have been mystified by the government claims because the exit stamps are turned in to immigration and airline officials at the airport and defaced, so any recycling must involve high-level complicity. 

It's like a crawfish: You just bite and suck
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The fruit is about as big as a golf ball, but a lot easier to nibble. It is the mamón chino, both red and yellow, that vendors sell from July through November.

Costa Rican agricultural officials are pushing the Asian fruit to replace citrus in the southern zone to avoid possible infestations of disease from Panamá.

The effort is by the Dirección de Protección Fitosanitaria of the Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadaría. Officials envision an increase in export, mainly to the United States.

The mamón chino is called rambutan in Asia. The Latin name is Nephelium lappaceum. At a fruit vendor’s stand in central San José a kilo (2.2 pounds) can be had for about 300 colons, less than $1. Then the fun begins.

The spiky, red or yellow fruit is held between the fingers and the top is bitten just enough to remove the hard outer shell. Inside is a sweet, pulpy mass surrounding a big seed.

The seed is edible but usually should be roasted first. It is the pulp that the casual nibbler seeks. Throughout the downtown and elsewhere in Costa Rica mamón chino-lovers can be seen walking along chomping at the fruit.

Purdue University reports that the roasted seeds are said to be narcotic. The fruit can be made into a syrup or canned, but most are eaten fresh.

Costa Rican officials are optimistic because the United States has eliminated barriers to the fruit. U.S. officials feared that the mamón chino would host the Oriental fruit fly that is a danger to crops there. But the fruit is approved for import to the United States next year, said agricultural officials here.

Alberto Montero, manager of the ministry’s 
non-traditional fruit programs, said he sees 

A.M. Costa Rica staff
These are the little, luscious, red mamón chinos, and there is enough here for a nice couple of hours in front of the television.

"good possibilities for the exportation of this fruit."

Costa Rican officials fear that the introduction of the citrus disease leprosis will cause great economic loss to the country. So they have established a line of control along the frontier of Panamá and seek to eradicate completely citrus trees inside this area adjacent to the border.

The mamón chino is one of the alternatives, the ministry said. The fruit can be grown from seed, but someone doing this runs the risk of lavishing effort on male trees that do not produce fruit. Montero recommends that farmers use cuttings and grafting to maintain a high quality of fruit.

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Heavy rains continue to bedevil most of Costa Rica
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Four days of heavy rain have blocked roads and triggered other damage all over Costa Rica. And more seems to be on the way.

Part of the reason seems to be El Niño.

Nearly three-quarters of an inch of rain fell in the Central Valley from 7 a.m. Monday. The rain was still falling last night, and the Instituto Meteorológico registered 19.4 millimeters. The weather station is located in Barrio Aranjuez in San José.

The prediction for today was for some sun during the morning all over Costa Rica but with heavy rains returning again in the afternoon.

There were reports Monday night of more flooding in Matina in Limón that was hit hard two weeks ago. Some problems also were reported in Turrialba, the scene of catastrophic flooding in May.

The weather institute’s prediction was pessimistic in saying that the rains will continue all week.

The forecast said that El Niño, the Pacific weather phenomenon, has established a pattern that favors 

the development of high clouds and heavy rains. The institute said that the heavy downpours indicate the beginnings of the second stage in the rainy season in the Pacific Coast and the Central Valley.

Predicted are the downpours, called "aguaceros" in Spanish, accompanied by electric storms that can cause flooding, heavy material damage including loss of human life, said the institute.

Reports of some landslides and flooding have been trickling in all weekend. A slide closed the Interamerican Highway in the southern zone Monday, and workers said it would remain closed through the night.

A landslide was being blamed as the apparent cause of a bus crash about 9 p.m. Sunday night on the carretera Bernardo Soto when a San José-Grecia bus swerved and collided with another bus. The crash took place on a bridge over the Río Poás in Alajuela, said officials. Some 40 persons went to area hospitals, some in serious condition. 

El Niño is a weather phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean where water temperatures are higher than normal. The slight change has major effects on fish distribution, weather patterns and rainfall all over the Western Hemisphere.


 
A.M. Costa Rica photo
Political 
trash

Branches languished on the sidwalk outside Casa Liberaciónista so long that the leaves dried up and fell off. The scene is in Sabana Oeste where pedestrians have to walk in the street.

The building is the headquarters of the Partido Liberación Nacional.
 


HOGS on parade
as charity event

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Ever wonder who's behind those loud motorcycles and leather jackets? 

The Harley Davidson Owners Group (HOG) is having a "bike night" to show off their Harley Davidson motorcycles and help a local charity. The evening is an opportunity to view some of the finest motorcycles in Costa Rica and meet their riders. 

The HOG's will meet at the Tex-Mex Restaurant in Santa Ana Centro Saturday night to show off their bikes. "Bike Night" representatives will donate a portion of the Tex-Mex proceeds to the Santa Ana Red Cross.

Bike Night starts at 6 p.m. and ends at 10 p.m. Information and directions: dick@intertica.com
 

U.S. Customs increases
cargo container security

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — As 90 percent of the world’s cargo moves by container and 46 percent of all goods entering the United States arrives by ocean-going cargo containers, the securing of this "most critical link" in the U.S. and global trading system is at the forefront of the Bush administration's homeland security strategy, says Customs Commissioner Robert C. Bonner.

In a presentation before the Center for Strategic and International Studies Monday, Bonner outlined the importance of the U.S. Customs Service's Container Security Initiative and the progress in implementing it. 

The customs chief described the program as a "revolutionary initiative" and pre-emptive strike against the smuggling of a weapon of mass destruction in one of the approximately 6 million containers entering U.S. ports annually.

The detonation of such a device in a U.S. port facility is "truly the sum of all fears," Bonner said. Such an event, he added, would not only have a devastating human cost, but could potentially cripple the global economy.

In an effort to more effectively screen these containers, the United States is entering into partnerships with foreign governments to implement the Customs Service's Container Security Initiative, Bonner noted.

Among the core elements of the Customs Service's Container Security Initiative is the identification of high-risk containers. Under the initiative, U.S. customs officials work with their counterparts in foreign ports to identify high-risk containers and search these containers before they are shipped to U.S. ports.

The Customs Service's Container Security Initiative also incorporates the use of x-ray and gamma-ray technology to pre-screen high-risk containers, and promotes the use of more secure containers.

The initial goal of the U.S. Customs Service is to sign up the top 20 ports that account for 68 percent of the containers entering the United States annually. To date, Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Singapore have agreed to participate in the Center for Strategic and International Studies, effectively enrolling six of the 20 ports.

Once the top-20 targeted foreign ports have been enrolled in the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Bonner said that the customs service will begin to broaden its outreach to incorporate other nations with important ports into the Center for Strategic and International Studies, including those in Latin America.

Ecuador to host meeting
on mountain populations

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

QUITO, Ecuador — This city is hosting a World Meeting of Mountain Populations Sept. 20 to 24 focusing on the problems facing people who live in the higher regions of the earth's ecosystem.

The meeting is part of the United Nations-designated International Year of Mountains, which is being observed in the United States and elsewhere. The Quito conference is examining, in particular, what mountain advocates say is their lack of political power compared to those living in low-lying regions.

Advocates say that the populations in mountain areas tend to migrate to lower lands. Consequently, mountain areas lose economic, social and demographic importance, causing their inhabitants to be marginalized.

The U.N. Environment Program says more than 3 billion people rely on mountain watersheds for their supply of fresh water. In addition, mountains have become a magnet for tourism, which is the most rapidly growing industry in the world, the U.N. Environment Program said. 

13 million Africans
at risk of starvation

By A.M. Costa Rica wire services

ROME, Italy — The U. N. Food and Agriculture Organization has issued a warning that close to 13 million people in southern Africa face imminent starvation unless donor countries come through with food aid and financial support immediately.

In a report released on the opening day of the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg Monday, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization said that a variety of misfortunes, including "civil strife, drought, excessive rain, flooding, and population displacement," have caused 21 countries in sub-Saharan Africa to face food emergencies, up from 19 in April of this year.

Against United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s estimated requirements of $25 million, in mid-August "pledges covered only 26 percent of the amount needed," the report stated.

Brazil to create world’s
largest national park

By A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BRASILIA, Brazil — President Fernando Henrique Cardoso has signed a bill here creating the world's largest tropical forest park in the northern Amazon state of Amapa. 

Cardoso signed the decree Thursday, creating the National Park of Tumucumaque Mountains. The area set aside for the park surpasses the Salonga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo as the world's biggest protected tropical reserve. 

The Tumucumaque Park protects close to 1 percent of the Amazon rainforest by creating a buffer zone in which logging and industry are banned. Development has already consumed some 15 percent of the Amazon rainforest. 

An estimated 3.8 million hectares (9.4 million acres) of rainforest will be set aside for the Tumucumaque Park, which is slightly larger than Belgium. The picturesque Amazon area contains numerous waterfalls and rivers that until now have been virtually untouched by civilization.

Cheney justifies
attack on Iraq

By A.M Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney has delivered a forceful speech, laying out the White House case for pre-emptive action against Iraq. 

Citing mortal danger to the United States, Cheney told a gathering of war veterans on Monday that there is no doubt Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is developing weapons of mass destruction. 

And Cheney said there is great risk those weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists. 

"We simply will not look away, hope for the best and leave the matter for some future administration to resolve," he said. Cheney said the arguments for delay are deeply flawed. He said the more time President Saddam is given, the more dangerous he becomes.

Also Monday, White House lawyers argued that President Bush does not need the approval of Congress before attacking Iraq. 

Ari Fleischer, White House spokesman, said President Bush will not take action against Iraq without consulting with Congress and with allies. But Fleischer stopped short of saying the president would seek congressional approval. 

The New York Times, meanwhile, reports that Baghdad is preparing for conflict by constructing military fortifications in urban areas. In the 1991 Gulf War, U.S.-led forces easily defeated Iraqi forces while suffering relatively few casualties.

But that conflict was conducted largely in the desert, and the U.S. policy of minimizing casualties would be challenged if street-to-street urban warfare were needed.

Earth Summit
progress continues 

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

JOHANNESBURG, Africa — Delegates at the Earth Summit are set to begin a second day of meetings in South Africa on protecting the environment and boosting the living standards of the world's poor. 

During Monday's opening session in Johannesburg, delegates to the summit called for concrete action to implement environmental reform and economic development. 

Over the next few days, the delegates will also address the world's most pressing needs, sustainable energy and agriculture, biodiversity, clean water, and health care. 

Key issues being discussed at the U.N. World Summit for Sustainable Development include the dangers posed by industrialized, polluting nations, as well environmental threats posed by people in poor nations who must drain surrounding resources just to sustain themselves.

Next week, more than 100 heads of state will discuss the timetable for solving the problems. President Bush is not attending, but U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell will deliver a speech Sept. 3.
 

INS announces rule 
for commuter students

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service has announced a new rule to allow Mexican and Canadian commuter students to study on a part-time basis at schools in the United States that are within 75 miles of the U.S. border with Mexico and Canada.

INS officials said in a press release Monday that the purpose of the rule is "to accommodate the special relationship between the United States and its neighbors and to legitimize such study by border commuter students, while placing it within a regulated, controlled process."
 
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