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These stories were published Thursday, Sept. 19, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 186
Jo Stuart
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World coffee market on the brink of ruin
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LONDON — The international relief agency, Oxfam, says 25 million coffee farmers in 45 countries face economic ruin, as world coffee prices hit a 30-year low. The British-based charity is calling on governments and companies to destroy 300 million kilograms (660 million pounds) of surplus coffee stocks to bolster prices. 

The Oxfam report paints a gloomy picture of the world coffee market, where supply exceeds demand by 550 million kilograms (1.1 billion pounds) annually, and growers lose money on every coffee bean they sell.

According to Oxfam, farmers now receive 58 cents per kilogram ($1.28 per pound) of green coffee beans, while consumers pay $7.92 for a kilogram ($17.42 for a pound) of roasted coffee. The markup goes to the middlemen who purchase, transport, roast, and sell the coffee.

Oxfam says coffee revenues in Central America fell by 44 percent between the years 2000 and 2001. During the same period, coffee earnings fell 42 percent in Ethiopia, and 30 percent in Uganda.

Phil Bloomer, director of advocacy for Oxfam International, said, "We are seeing, throughout our programs now, hunger, families taking their children out of school, unable to buy the basic medicines they need to cure simple illnesses," he said. 

Bloomer says the world's four biggest coffee companies, Kraft, Nestle, Proctor and Gamble, and Sara Lee, are putting profits over people.

"They cannot preside over vast human misery at the bottom of their supply chain," Bloomer said. "They have to start acting, and acting now to make this market work for poor people as well as themselves."

The companies deny they are exploiting poor farmers, and spokesmen say they want to work with groups like Oxfam on solutions.

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Raw form of what most people can't do without every morning.

Richard Johnson, European corporate affairs director for Kraft Foods, International, said, “For many years we have had projects and programs in many coffee-growing countries where we provide education, technical assistance, investments, to improve coffee quality, to ensure the farmers understand how to get the best out of their commodity, and in many countries, to improve market access.”

Oxfam and the coffee companies agree on some steps to take. They would like to stimulate more demand to ease the oversupply of coffee. And they advocate programs to help coffee growers diversify into other crops.

The issues will be debated further when the London-based International Coffee Organization meets next week.

Eco-amendments commit state to defense
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The environmental amendments proposed for the Costa Rican Constitution obligate the state to guarantee, defend and preserve the right to a physical, biological, cultural, economic, social and humane environment.

Check out the amendments

In addition, the state will promote the use of technologically clean and sustainable forms of energy. And the state will be guided by “laws of science, experts and the public interest.”

Every citizen would have standing to challenge in court any perceived lapse of sound environmental policy.

These are some of the concepts that deputies in the Asemblea Nacional will wrestle with, in part, to figure out exactly what they mean.

President Abel Pacheco signed the draft Saturday and presented it to Rolando Laclé, president of the assembly, the same day.

The final draft is considerably more flexible than some environmentalists wanted. A draft pushed by environmentalists and released last June 25, said, among other things, that first-growth forests, the coral reefs, mangroves and wetlands would be areas of absolute environmental protection.

Still, the current draft is too much for some politicians, and the Partido Movimiento Libertario has said it will oppose the constitutional changes. Pacheco’s office claims the president has the support of 45 deputies, enough to pass the measure eventually.

The president has rejected mining and oil drilling as revenue producers in favor of a dramatic increase in tourism he believes will be the result of strong environmental protection. This is so-called eco-tourism.

The president’s council this week heard a tourism plan to boost international tourists in 

Costa Rica about 6 percent a year with the prediction of 2.6 million tourists visiting the country in the next decade.

About 100,000 tourists a year currently come to Costa Rica, and those numbers are padded significantly by alleged tourists from Nicaragua, Colombia and other trouble spots.

At the same time, the administration is ignoring and perhaps even planning a crackdown on sex tourism, which is a significant factor infrequently mentioned by politicians.
Delta Air Lines will fly 
into Guanacaste

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Delta Air Lines will be flying in and out of Liberia three times a week starting Dec. 1.

The decision is a boost to the current government’s efforts to ignite tourism via the Liberia airport, which has hosted mainly charter flights.

The airline announced this as part of additional services planned for the Caribbean and Latin America for the U.S. winter season. However, Delta said the flights to Liberia would continue year round.

The trips will be non-stop from Delta’s hub in Atlanta to the Daniel Oduber Airport just west of Liberia. The airport is close to the northern Pacific beaches that are heavy tourist destinations.

Delta said it will begin Atlanta’s first scheduled year-round nonstop service to the Guanacaste region with three flights weekly on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. The flight leaves Atlanta in the morning and arrives in Liberia early in the afternoon. 

The 737 aircraft being used for the service then leaves later in the afternoon on its return journey, to arrive in Atlanta in the evening.

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Villalobos suggests that some good news is coming
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho was optimistic perhaps even bordering on the euphoric Wednesday afternoon.

But he also did not want to say why. He said his lawyers warned him against talking about his business.

The implication, supported by hints given to some of his investors, is that Villalobos is about to announced some positive news relating to his dispute with Costa Rica authorities.

Villalobos returned a telephone call Wednesday afternoon, and gave the impression that his situation was sensitive. "We are working hard," he said, and he and his legal team do not want to do anything or say anything, he said.

Villalobos is the key figure in a private high-interest lending operation that may have as many as 5,000 investors, mostly North Americans. The financial community was shocked when local police raided his offices in San Pedro Mall July 4. The raid also targeted Ofinter S.A., an adjacent money exchange house operated by Osvaldo Villalobo, a brother.

The raid came at the request of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police because several suspects arrested in Canada had ties to Costa Rica, and the presumed leader of the drug and money laundering ring, who

died here in March, maintained a condo in Jacó. 

Canadian authorities said at least $300,000 of the group's money moved through Costa Rica to Canada. Villalobos has denied having anything to do with the six persons arrested in Canada.

The big problem for Villalobos was that local authorities froze a number of his bank accounts. This presented a problem to him because he pays some of his investors monthly interest in cash. And the interest can approach 3 per cent per month.

In an interview July 18 he said he expected authorities to lift the bank freeze by July 26. But even many of his strongest supporters said privately that he was over-optimistic considering the speed with which justice moves in Costa Rica.

In the interim, Villalobos and several other similar businesses in San José are believed to be requiring more identification from potential investors, and they have stopped making interest payments in cash. Investors now have to take a check or accept a deposit in a bank account, they said.

Ofinter was closed for a few days, but its five money exchanging operations then continued to do business as usual, converting dollars to colons and colons to dollars.

Villalobos, who is known for being religious, was philosophical Wednesday. "We are the ones who fail," he said. "God never fails."

U.S. Americas policy broad-based, claims Reich
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

NEW YORK CITY, N.Y. — U.S. policy towards the Americas encompasses a wide range of political, economic and social issues, says Otto Reich, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs.

Speaking with reporters Monday at the Foreign Press Center here, Reich described the overall agenda of his recent meetings in the United Nations General Assembly with his counterparts from Latin American countries.

Reich said he spoke with these officials "about the effects of the [terrorist] attacks of Sept. 11," adding: "We also talked about counter narcotics efforts in the hemisphere, [and] emphasized the connection between ... the illicit narcotics trade [with] terrorism and other international crimes."

On the subject of persistent social problems throughout the hemisphere, Reich explained that he and his colleagues "talked about some of the underlying causes of poverty in the region," as well as "the response on the part of the United States to some of these conditions."

Within this context, he stressed the importance of the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas, which the Bush administration believes will serve as a spur to economic development.

In addition to the Free Trade Area of the Americas process, "we highlighted ... [the United States'] ongoing free-trade negotiations with Chile, [and] the [U.S.] initiative with Central America towards a free-trade agreement," Reich said. 

Furthermore, "we talked about reinvigorating the hemisphere's security architecture," he noted, "[and we are] looking forward to the Mexico-hosted conference in the year 2003 that will complement the [region's] existing security mechanisms.

Asked about the possible effects on Latin America of a U.S.-led military strike against Iraq, Reich said: "What impact a Middle Eastern conflict would have on the region is very hard to tell. 

"Frankly, it depends on how long it lasts, what amount of damage it does to the international economy, or perhaps it might even help the international economy in the long run by providing more oil. I don't know. That's strictly speculation."

In his reply to a question about whether U.S. military action in Iraq might undermine U.S. aid for anti-narcotics and anti-terrorism efforts in Colombia, he insisted that the United States will continue to strongly support Colombian authorities in their campaign to restore the rule of law within the country's borders. 

"Our efforts with Colombia have been pretty consistent," Reich said. "So our strategy towards Colombia is independent of our strategy in the Middle East."

Returning to the theme of economic growth, Reich said that he and other officials discussed the need for "redoubled efforts to combat corruption, which we believe is one of the principal obstacles to economic development in the region." 

Also, some Latin American countries "have not properly implemented" free-market policies, he argued.

"There has been too much [state] intervention" in various sectors, "too much cronyism in some cases, too much corruption in many cases," he pointed out. 

"And this is one of the reasons why ... the Bush administration is making such a prominent — and, we hope, broad-based and effective — attack on corruption" in the Western Hemisphere and elsewhere. 

U.S. received terrorist 
tips before Sept. 11

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Congress has released a report revealing that U.S. intelligence agencies received many tips about possible terrorist threats against the United States prior to the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington. The report was released Wednesday at the first public hearing of a joint Congressional committee probing intelligence lapses before last year's attacks. 

A key congressional staffer says intelligence agencies had far more reports of terrorist plots using planes as weapons before last year's hijacking attacks than U.S. officials have previously acknowledged. 

But Eleanor Hill, staff director for the joint House and Senate Intelligence Committee, said agencies never looked closely at the potential threat of hijacked planes flying into buildings. 

"From 1994 to as late as August 2001, the intelligence community had received information indicating that international terrorists had seriously considered the use of airplanes as a means of carrying out terrorist attacks," he said. "While this method of attack had clearly been discussed in terrorist circles, there apparently was little effort by intelligence community analysts to produce any strategic assessment of terrorists using aircraft as weapons." 

Hill outlined multiple examples of intelligence information on the possible use by terrorists of airplanes as weapons. But she said none of the reports included any specific information on where, when or how an attack might occur. 

Lawmakers were quick to express their concern. 

Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama is the Senate Intelligence Committee's top Republican. "We now know that our inability to detect and prevent the Sept. 11 attacks was an intelligence failure of unprecedented magnitude," he said.

Committee chairman Sen. Bob Graham, a Florida Democrat, said the findings are meant to help the panel in its probe. 

"These public hearings are part of our search for the truth, not to point fingers of blame, but with the goal of identifying and correcting whatever systemic problems may have prevented our government from detecting and disrupting Al-Qaida's plot," he said. 

But those comments brought little comfort to Stephen Push, whose wife was aboard the hijacked plane that crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11. 

"While I eagerly await the final report of your inquiry, one thing is already clear to me from the news reports about the intelligence failures that led to the attacks: If the intelligence community had been doing its job, my wife, Lisa Raines, would be alive today," he said. 

The joint committee, which has held closed hearings into the Sept. 11 attacks since June, has reviewed more than 400,000 pages of documents and conducted some 400 interviews.

Western nations ‘agree
on reforms for Cuba’

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Because Fidel Castro's government in Cuba is "bankrupt, dictatorial and anachronistic," there is broad agreement among the nations of the Western Hemisphere on the need for democratic reforms within Cuba, said a senior U.S. administration official.

Speaking Tuesday before the National Summit on Cuba, Daniel Fisk, deputy assistant secretary of state, discussed President George Bush's "Initiative for a New Cuba," which aims to facilitate a transition to democracy in the island nation.

Announced in May, the initiative challenges the Castro government to implement political and economic reforms, including the holding off of free and fair elections for the National Assembly and the introduction of measures to open Cuba's state-controlled economy.

The president has pledged to work with the U.S. Congress to ease the U.S. trade embargo and travel restrictions between the United States and Cuba if concrete reforms are undertaken.

Fisk dismissed arguments favoring the alteration of U.S. policy toward Cuba. He noted that advocates of "constructive engagement" overlook the fact that commerce with Canada and the European Union has not changed Castro's behavior. 

Fisk added that lifting current restrictions would "benefit the Castro regime at the expense of the Cuban people and the long-term American interests in a free and democratic Cuba."

He also addressed the subject of repression of the most basic freedoms in Cuba by the Castro regime, and said that in addition to the Cuban government's continued hostility toward the United States, "Mr. Castro and his government are actually impeding our efforts to defeat the threat of terrorism."

Beyond its lack of cooperation, "the Castro regime has actively and intentionally worked, through human or electronic means, to distract attention and resources from our ongoing counter-terrorist efforts," Fisk contended. He said the Cuban government has done this in part by intentionally providing false leads on potential terrorist attacks against the United States.

U.S. policymakers must take into account the repressive nature of the Castro regime and the futility of economic engagement under current circumstances, as well as Cuba's continued hostility toward the United States and Castro's efforts to impede the war on terrorism, said Fisk. 

ICE workers unhappy
at proposed budget cuts

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Several hundred employees of the Groupo ICE were supposed to take to the streets today to protest cuts mandated by the president.

The protest will be at Casa Presidencial in Zapote. The employees are from the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, which is facing an order to cut nearly 10 billion colons from its annual budget. That’s about $27 million.

The workers claim that the cuts will cause layoffs, poor service and slowdowns in the major construction project, such as the Boruca hydro generator and dam in southern Costa Rica.

President Abel Pacheco seemed to back off his demand Wednesday, and said that there should be about a week cooling-off period to determine exactly what ICE should do.

Politics may cost
Spaniards their visas

By A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — The government said it will deport three Spaniards accused of taking part in political activities while in the country on tourist visas. 

Colombian officials made the announcement Tuesday, one day after the Spaniards were taken into custody. 

Authorities say the three individuals will be expelled because they took part in national protests on Monday against the government's economic austerity program. Authorities say one of the Spaniards will be banned from Colombia for the next five years. 

Spanish officials told international news sources that although they respect Colombia's decision, the three citizens in question do not have criminal records. 

The decision coincides with a military buildup and increased restrictions on the movement of civilians in parts of Colombia. 

Shortly after taking office last month, President Alvaro Uribe declared a state of emergency that allows authorities to restrict the movements of citizens, impose curfews and make arrests without warrants. 

The Uribe government is trying to crack down on leftist rebels and right-wing paramilitaries fighting in the country's 38-year civil war. The conflict claims thousands of lives each year.

Tropical storm 
heading for Cuba

By A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MIAMI, Fla. — A tropical storm that has dumped heavy rains on Jamaica, is expected to head toward western Cuba, where a hurricane watch is in effect. Meteorologists are expected to upgrade Tropical Storm Isidore to hurricane status within 24 hours.

At last report, Isidore was centered 149 miles east of Grand Cayman, moving in a northwesterly direction at 9 mph. Isidore had maximum sustained winds of 59 mph. Tropical storm warnings have been posted for the Cayman Islands and Jamaica. 

The National Hurricane Center here said the rains that have been pelting Jamaica are expected to continue Thursday and could cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides. Emergency workers there are bracing for flash floods. 

Forecasters also say another tropical storm, Josephine, poses little threat from its position more than 806 miles northeast of Bermuda.

The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June to November.

Cathedral under siege
in protest at Aleman

By A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MANAGUA, Nicaragua — Youths are occupying the national cathedral here on the eve of a vote in congress to determine whether Arnoldo Aleman, former president, will stand trial on corruption charges. 

The unidentified protesters began their takeover Tuesday. They are reportedly demanding that the Roman Catholic Church take a stand on the allegations facing the former president. 

Meanwhile, supporters and opponents of Aleman are preparing for rival protests Thursday amid calls for his ousting from the National Assembly. Aleman is currently president of the legislature. 

Some of his opponents have called for two days of round-the-clock demonstrations to pressure a special congressional panel to strip Aleman of his immunity. Aleman denies wrongdoing during his five-year term, which ended in January. 

Prosecutors have filed arrest warrants against 11 associates and relatives of Aleman. 
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Tourists get robbed by 'flat tire' trap
By Johanna Bresnan
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

We had a couple stay at our inn the other night with a hair-raising experience (in chronological order so that you can see the errors they made and avoid making them yourself):

Their plane arrived three hours late, well after dark. The crowd of airport "vultures" included a lowlife that asked where they were going and, foolishly, they said the name of the inn they were staying.

They go to the rental car agency and get their car and head up the highway without calling the inn to reconfirm that they were en route. The hotel had long given up on them, since it was well after 11 p.m. and they hadn’t confirmed their reservations.

They passed the highway turnoff, so they had to make a turnaround.  By this time they have the beginnings of a flat tire but somehow didn't notice it (perhaps it was punctured leaving rental car agency). 

They arrived just 100 meters before the gate of the hotel entrance and realized that they've been followed and a second car's behind that one and passed their car and pinned them in.  At this point, they realized they are about to be robbed and it was at gunpoint.

This couple is from the United States, but one of them is originally from Spain and they both speak Spanish. The muggers included an English-speaking woman who admonished them to cooperate.

The woman started to scream and received a blow to the head from the butt of a gun and the purse with passports, credit cards, and jewelry was wrenched from her hand. 

The neighbors and the guard from the hotel arrived at this point and the thieves made a hasty retreat with only one bag. 

Back to Page 2

This was a well-organized criminal activity, and the actual assault took less than a minute so be aware of what you'd do if followed, or pinned in by two cars. The couple realized only after, that their tire was punctured and they figured it happened at the point of departure from the car rental.

They had little desire to stay in Costa Rica after this experience and were debating whether or not to return home. Nor did they have much confidence in getting anything back for their time with the police. It didn’t seem like it was worth the time taken from their short vacation.

Is Costa Rica losing any sleep over the lost tourist dollars because this scam — which has been running for more than 5 years now? What does it take to do a sting and nab these crooks? How are the rental car agencies protecting their clients?

I think the sign they put up in their office isn't enough. Do you think they’d not have a guard pool to patrol their business fronts? Do I have to tell you who these most often hit agencies are?  We hear of the "flat tire trick" at least once a month and we’re just one small inn. 

I've never been involved in law enforcement but I can think of several preventative measures to keep this from happening and I can think of a sting-type of action that would catch these guys fast.

I'm an innkeeper that wants to assist our guests so that they’d have a nice vacation and I'm frustrated that this same scam keeps on going like the “ever ready battery bunny”.

Costa Rica is killing the golden-egg-laying goose by lack of action. Hello!  Wake up! Smell the coffee, Costa Rica!

Johanna Bresnan is owner of Vista Del Valle Plantation Inn located in the Central Valley.

Here are the eco-amendments
Here are the proposals that the Asemblea Nacional is considering now. A committee likely will be appointed to hear testimony.

Article 75:
The state guarantees, defends and preserves the right to a physical, biological, cultural, economic, social and humane environment to assure a better quality of life for all the inhabitants of the nation.

Article 76:
The state guarantees, defends, preserves and maintains a public interest over the air, the water, the subsoil, the soil, the biological diversity and their components, as well as over hydrocarbons, minerals, energy resources, the marine coasts, the country’s ocean, the maritime zone of economic exclusion and the protected areas of the nation. By means of the law, the state will regulate its use and public and private use so that it is in conformity with the laws of science, experts and the public interest. The state will promote the use of technologically clean and sustainable forms of energy. The use of the environment and of the sources of energy will be permitted in conformity with the principles established here.

Article 77:
All persons have the right to an ecologically sustainable physical, biological, cultural, economic, social and humane environment. In respect to the environment and the adequate use of the natural resources, these are the duties of all inhabitants. 

Article 78:
All the public or private activities that affect the biochemical and genetic patrimony of the country will be obligated to comply with the rules and principles of effective environmental management with the end of guaranteeing an ecologically sustainable development.

Article 79: 
The state will foster the collective ethics in environmental matters through education.

Article 80:
A scientific institution will bring the state the criteria that are required for the establishment of the environmental policies for socially and economically sustainable environmental development.

Article 81:
All persons are authorized to report those acts that place in danger the rights and guarantees established in this title and to claim reparations of the damage caused. Actions to avoid and correct situations of a deteriorating environment are public.

The law will determine the responsibility of the natural persons and judicial persons [corporations] in environmental matters, including the criteria of doubt being in favor of the environment.

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