A.M. Costa Rica
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Jo Stuart
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These stories were published Thursday, Aug. 30, 2001
U.S. approves more veggies
from here

El Salvador gets the worst 
from drought

Colombian troops go on offensive
against FARC

All of these stories
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New Columnist 
A.M. Costa Rica

Jo Stuart, a perceptive reporter of the Costa Rican scene, begins a weekly column tomorrow in this pubication.

See story
click here

Jo Stuart
The roads here
are not too hot

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

If you think Costa Rican roads are a bit undermaintained and full of potholes or "huecos," you are not alone. The U.S. government rated the roads again this year as part of its annual review of the country.

Compared to some other countries, Costa Rica did not fare too well. The county was ranked "fair" in safety of public transportation. But the country got a "fair to poor" rating in three other categories related to transportation.

Costa Rica had a lower rating than French Guiana, which was rated at the same time. The categories where Costa Rica scored low  were:

Yahaira M. Mairena checks out a 'hueco.'
• the condition/maintenance of urban roads, 
• the condition/maintenance of rural roads, 
• the availability of roadside assistance.

French Guiana got a "good" ranking in the condition and maintenance of urban roads and "fair" in the other three categories.

Among other recently released U.S. government evaluations, even Panama ranked better in some categories than Costa Rica. Urban road conditions and maintenance there are "good," the U.S. said. Rural roads and maintenance are "poor" but the availability of roadside assistance ranked "fair."

Conditions were worse in Cuba, but not by much. The U.S. said the safety of public transportation was "good," but urban and rural road conditions and maintenance were "poor," a notch below Costa Rica. But roadside assistance in Cuba is "fair," said the government, a notch better than in Costa Rica.

The ratings were contained in a comprehensive description of the country that a U.S. Embassy spokesman said is revised about once a year. There was no clear indication of what measurement the government used to insure uniformity.

The full consular information sheet may be found in this issue of A.M. Costa Rica(Click Here)

The government writers addressed the full range of dangers confronting foreigners here. Crime, the murder of U.S. citizens and a rape of a U.S. citizen by a taxi driver were mentioned, as were car thefts and sneak thieves. Credit card fraud is growing, the consular report said, adding, "Local law  enforcement agencies have limited capabilities and are not up to U.S. standards, especially outside of San Jose."

The State Department sheet specifically warned tourists that their cars might be ransacked if they stop on the bridge over the Tarcoles River on the road to Jacó. That's where tourists stop to see crocodiles and leave their cars unattended.

The report also noted that there had been air crashes in 2000 that claimed 17 lives, including those of eight U.S. citizens. "Private air taxi services have been involved in a disproportionate number of the crashes," the report said.

The consular sheet also warned U.S. citizens of being sexual tourism and said Costa Rica was becoming vigorous in prosecuting the solicitation of minors. The report also warned U.S. citizens against the irregular land registration procedures that might result in the loss of a real estate investment. Also targeted for a warning were unregulated adventure tourism businesses.

Here's what the U.S. government said of transportation in Costa Rica:

Safety of Public Transportation: Fair 
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Fair to Poor 
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Fair to Poor 
Availability of Roadside Assistance:  Fair to Poor 

Traffic laws and speed limits are often ignored; turns across one or two lanes of traffic are common, and pedestrians generally are not  given the right of way.  Although improving, roads are often in poor condition, and large potholes with the potential to cause significant  damage to vehicles are common. 

Traffic signs, even on major highways, are often inadequate. All of the above, in addition to poor visibility because of heavy fog or rain, makes driving at night especially treacherous. 

In rainy season, landslides are common, especially on the highway  between San Jose and the Caribbean city of Limón.  All types of motor 

vehicles are appropriate for the main highways and principal roads in the major cities.  However, some roads to beaches and other rural locations are
not paved, and some out-of-the-way destinations are accessible only with high clearance, rugged suspension 4-wheel drive vehicles. 

In the past year, however, the Costa Rican government has made marked progress in upgrading roads to major tourist beaches and other attractions, and travelers are advised to call ahead to their hotels to ask about the current status of access roads. 

By comparison, here's what the U.S. government says of French Guiana in a report also released Wednesday. That country is on the northeast coast of South America.

Safety of Public Transportation:            Fair 
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance:    Good 
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance:      Fair 
Availability of Roadside Assistance:       Fair

Primary roads in French Guiana are well paved and well maintained. Emergency call boxes are available at regular intervals on the main highways.  Roads in rural areas are less developed; those leading to more remote regions in the interior are often improved dirt roads. 

French Guiana has a relatively moderate to high volume of traffic, and police enforce traffic safety.  Night driving can be dangerous, especially in the remote interior regions or on less-developed rural roads.  Public transportation in the form of taxis and vans is relatively safe. 

Here's what the U.S. government says about Panama:

Safety of Public Transportation:           Fair 
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance:   Good 
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance:    Poor 
Availability of Roadside Assistance:     Fair

Panama's roads, traffic and transportation systems are generally safe, but traffic lights often do not exist, even at busy intersections.  Driving is often hazardous and demanding due to dense traffic, undisciplined driving habits, poorly maintained streets, and a lack of effective signs and traffic signals. 

On roads where poor lighting and driving conditions prevail, night driving is difficult, and should be approached with caution.   Buses and taxis are not always maintained in safe operating condition due to lack of regulatory enforcement. Auto insurance is not mandatory and many drivers are uninsured. 

Here's what the U.S. government said of Cuba:

Safety of Public Transportation:    Good 
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance:   Poor 
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance:   Poor 
Availability of Roadside Assistance:   Fair

Driving is on the right-hand side of the road; speed limits are normally posted and generally respected.  In the past two years the number and variety of motor vehicles on Cuban roads has increased significantly.  The higher traffic volume has been accompanied by a marked increase in the rate of accidents, and reports suggest that accidents involving motor vehicles are now the leading cause of accidental death in Cuba. 

Passengers in automobiles are not required to wear seatbelts and motorcyclists are not required to wear helmets, as these are not generally available on the local market.  Many accidents involve motorists striking pedestrians or bicyclists. 

Drivers found to bear responsibility in accidents resulting in serious injury or death are subject to prison terms of up to 10 years, and Cuban authorities may prohibit drivers of rental cars who are involved in accidents from leaving the country until all claims associated with an accident are settled. 

Jo Stuart to join
as columnist
Jo Stuart, a well-known and respected newspaper writer, will begin a weekly column in this publication, starting tomorrow. 

The column will be "Living in Costa Rica" with the subtitle: "Where the living is good."

"Jo has the talent of finding an interesting account 

Copyright: 2001 - © WFP/Roberto Koltun
Juan Valdes stands among his parched crops. Like most farmers in Reitoca, central Honduras, he has lost his entire corn and bean crop to drought. 
where others would not," said editor Jay Brodell. "These perceptive accounts seem to jump into her head as she is shopping, walking along a San José street or just waiting for the rain to end under some
downtown overhang."
Drought seems the worst
in areas of El Salvador

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

El Salvador's worst drought in two decades has wiped out farmers' entire crops in the hardest-hit areas and left an estimated 200,000 people in urgent need of food aid, according to a special report.

The survey, which the U.N. World Food Programme conducted from July 25 to 27 with the government and non-profit groups to determine the impact of El Salvador's three-month drought, confirmed fears that 80 percent of the maize crop has been lost in the four departments of San Miguel, Morazan, La Union and Usulutan.

"We will be facing a difficult situation over the coming months since the study shows losses reached 100 percent in some areas," confirmed Guy Gauvreau, the programme's representative 

In a part of El Salvador where most farmers living off two to four hectares of rented land (5.2 to 10.4 acres), a total of four days rain since the end of the first planting season has had a devastating impact on food security.

A.M. Costa Rica would like to hear from
organizations, churches and non-profits
about what they are doing to help stem
the most serious effects of the drought

Contact the Editor

 "At the most, farmers have just 10 days to two weeks worth of corn left, all that remains from last year's harvest," said Jordan Dey, the programme's spokesman for Latin America.

"They are using corn to make tortillas. Others are eating eggs from the few chickens they haven't sold to pay for more food," added Dey, who has just returned from a field trip to the town of Nueva Esparta in the worst-hit department of La Union. 

 The survey also showed that:

 • Half the peasants interviewed had lost their entire maize crop.

 • The average loss in beans was 93 percent.

 • Average sorghum loss reached 75 percent. 

The World Food Programme has launched an international plea for 4,500 tons of food aid for El Salvador, part of the agency's regional response to a drought that has forced over one million Central American farmers to watch their major subsistence crops wither and die.

The agency, whose food stocks are also dwindling in Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala, calculates that it needs at least 16,500 tons of food aid at a value of US $7.5 million to feed the most vulnerable over the next three months.

The agency's representatives in Honduras estimate a total food shortfall for 2000/2001 of 488,000 metric tons of maize and 59,000 tons of beans. This follows a joint field assessment undertaken by U.S. Department of Agriculture and the agriculture ministry

The assessment concluded that southern Honduras has suffered a 100 percent loss of basic grains; central areas of El Paraiso will only yield 10 percent of their normal harvest and half of the agricultural-rich Valle Jamastran has been hit by the drought

Nicaragua has been hit by a drought in the north and northwestern regions and floods along Atlantic coast. There is an unfolding coffee crisis. 

More than 107,700 drought victims need food aid, although these figures do not include landless persons, the agency said.

A fall in coffee prices has left thousands of plantation workers unemployed. Some 8,102 families in El Tuma-La Dalia and San Ramon districts have little food.

When asked to describe her time in Costa Rica, the new columnist had this to say under the title: "Jo Stuart: Getting to Where I am."

I was working as director of the San Jose State University International House when I made my first trip to Costa Rica in 1989.   When I told people where I was going, some asked, "Aren’t you afraid of the guerilla warfare?" No, that’s El Salvador.   Others wondered, "Won’t the Communists give you a hard time?" No, that’s Nicaragua. Still others said, "Oh, yes, the island in the Caribbean."

No, that’s Puerto Rico.

When I returned to the I-House after my first visit, I told the students how charmed I had been with Costa Rica and its  inhabitants. I had found myself walking around with a smile on my face. Peace seemed to be a value held by all — not just world peace, but a peaceful way of dealing with everyone. Just a little country of less than three million people whose power to influence the world did not come from its riches or ability to threaten, but simply from its ability and desire to be a model for peace. When I left the I-House in 1992, I moved to Costa Rica.

When friends asked me why Costa Rica, at first I said that I was drawn to the country because it had no army and instead of spending for possible war, used the money for the education and health of its citizens. 

Then I began to embellish. I said I moved to Costa Rica because it is the law here that every commercial building must have a public bathroom. I assured them I did not have a problem, rather I was in Northern California when a member of the San Francisco City Council tried to get the city to install public toilets on the streets ala Paris and the outcry and ridicule was amazing. 

San Franciscans, it seemed, thought the idea either hilarious or outrageous. All except the street people. Such a law here shows a very humane society.   Sometimes I declared that I chose Costa Rica because their national bird is the yiguirro. The yiguirro is very similar to the U.S. robin, but smaller and plainer. It is not a bird of prey nor is it a rare, endangered species. It is a common little dun-colored bird, an "everybird" you might say. A country has to be pretty self-assured to chose the yiguirro as its national bird. 

Now when people ask me why Costa Rica, I just reply, "It is my home, I have made so many friends here, and I am content."   Besides, I can do the three things I love most doing — writing, cooking and acting. I began doing all three when I was 8.   (Interestingly, the first play I wrote, directed and starred in was called "Stone Soup.") 

For over two years I wrote a more or less biweekly column for The Tico Times, which was great fun while it lasted. I am overjoyed now to have a weekly column with A.M. Costa Rica, and expect to have even more fun. I was very touched by and appreciated the response of readers when my column was discontinued. Now I am back, and I hope all of you will find me at this website. I am proud to be a member of the staff of A.M. Costa Rica.
Joe Stuart in a favored activity

Government troops go on the offensive in Colombia
A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Colombian government has stepped up a major military offensive against leftist rebels as a high-level U.S. delegation visits the Andean nation for talks on its anti-drug efforts.

The French news agency says U.S.-made military helicopters, along with fighter aircraft and fresh Colombian troops went into action Wednesday in southern Colombia near a rebel stronghold. 

The military has been searching for hundreds of rebels believed wounded in recent fighting. The rebels are members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. 

The rebels have been staging attacks from their southern stronghold. President Andres Pastrana set up the safe zone for rebels in 1998 as part of his plan to negotiate peace. The current military action coincides with preparations for a new round of 

peace talks between the Pastrana government and 
the FARC insurgents who form Colombia's largest rebel force. 

Meanwhile, an inter-agency delegation headed by U.S. Under Secretary of State Marc Grossman was in Bogota to review U.S. policy for Colombia with President Pastrana. The United States is providing Colombia $1.3 billion to fund its efforts to eliminate illegal production of cocaine and other narcotics. 

The project known as "Plan Colombia" calls for the fumigation of thousands of hectares of coca and poppy fields, the main ingredients of cocaine and heroin. Rebels protect the drug traffickers in exchange for money to fund their war against the government. 

Colombia is in the midst of a 37-year civil war that pits leftist rebels against the army and rightwing- paramilitaries. The conflict has left at least 40,000 people dead in the past decade.

U.S. expands veggie list
benefiting Costa Rica

The United States Wednesday expanded the list of fruits and vegetables that could be imported and included some crops from Costa Rica. 

The final rule printed in the U.S. Federal Register amends the import requirements for: 

peppers from New Zealand; apples, apricots, carambola, grapefruits, mangoes, oranges,  peaches, persimmons, pomegranates, tangerines, from areas free of fruit flies in Mexico; artichoke, kiwi, oregano, and marjoram from Argentina; cole and mustard crops from Costa Rica and Honduras; marjoram from Peru; eggplant, lettuce, watermelon, and kiwi from Spain; passion fruit from Chile; kiwi and papaya from Belize; papaya  from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama; and ya pears from China.

Cole and mustard crops are of the Brassica species and include mustard greens, broccoli and cauliflower, according to a local grower.  The U.S. importation policies are designed to keep out dangerous insects and to protect U.S. growers.

The United States produced 1.37 million tons of Brassica species in 1997 and exported 46,212 tons and imported 40,604 tons in 1999, according to the U.S.  Department of Agriculture. 

Any likely imports of Brassica from Costa Rica would be only a small fraction of domestic production and have a negligible economic effect on domestic producers and consumers, the U.S. said in the rule-making announcement. 

Honduras produced 259 tons of cole crops in 1998 and exported 171 tons to other Central American countries. Honduras could potentially expand production and export up to 330 tons to the United States if there is sufficient market demand, the U.S. said.

Local growers can check out the new rule for themselves at:


Great Latin music
going to Hall of Fame

Some of the greatest Latin music recordings are being recognized for the first time, as the Latin Recording Academy inaugurates a Hall of Fame. 

A total of 17 recordings, including performances by Santana, Joao Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim, are the first to be inducted into the U.S.-based Hall of Fame. The selections to be inducted include Jobim's classic single, "The Girl from Ipanema"  and a 1970 Carlos Santana remake of a Tito Puente classic, Oye Como Va. 

Other recordings selected are Joao Gilberto's 1959 album Chega de Saudade that helped establish the birth of bossa nova, and Don Azpiazu's  version of "The Peanut Vendor," (El Manisero), which was the first Cuban hit in the United States. 

The Latin Recording Academy established the Hall of Fame this year to recognize singles or full-length albums released more than 25 years ago that have historical significance. 

Auto workers continue strike

The Volkswagen plant in Puebla has served as a model for Mexican industry. It is the only plant in the world that produces the popular new Volkswagen Beetle, which is sold in 80 countries.

Mexico-based economic analyst David Shields says that while this strike is harmful to the Mexican economy, there is still time for a negotiated settlement. "It is normal to expect this kind of initial give and take and a lot of pressure of one side on the other," he says. 

"I think, however, the workers will finally have to accept a competitive figure, which in the Mexican market recently has been something like 8 to 10 percent, probably closer to 9 percent for a major industry such as the car industry," he said.

This is the second strike in two years at the Puebla plant and Volkswagen company directors in Germany have threatened to move their operations to another country. 

From A.M. Costa Rica wire services
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