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(506) 223-1327             Published Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 210                     E-mail us
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Dino Mencarini
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These folks want you to drink California wine!
By Elise Sonray
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

To ship 17 varieties of wine from northern California to San José without any complications, headaches, or broken bottles is not a simple process. The cases arrived safely Monday afternoon at the the Hotel Grano de Oro. Just hours later Chef Francis Canal was in the kitchen detailing plates of hors d'oeuvre to compliment each and every bottle of wine.

Today wine producers from around the world will try to find their market in Costa Rica. Part of this Expo Vino, are 11 U.S. wineries, all from Lodi, California. A private tasting was given Monday night at the hotel.

Chef Canal of who began formal training at age 14 in Belfort, France, admitted before the event that he hadn't tried any of the wines . He had received a finalized list of the wines Saturday. The night featured new combinations like coconut prawns with merlot to old standbys like powdered chocolate truffles with port.

Wine producers from Lodi range from owners like Dino Mencarini, an Italian-American whose vineyard started generations ago, to innovative growers like Russell and Joan Irish who officially got into the business just four years ago.

Today is the first major wine expo in Costa Rica, according to wine growers and the U.S. Embassy Office of Agriculture Affairs. 

Katherine Nishiura, an agricultural counselor for the embassy, said the producers from Lodi approached officials here in search of expanding their market.

But why Costa Rica? Speakers representing the wine industry mentioned last night that Costa Rica has a large upper and middle class. Frank Gayaldo Jr., international wine broker, said the main targets are fine hotels and restaurants and the finest grocery store, which he diplomatically did not name. Bottles, since they are from exclusive
chef makes it work
A.M. Costa Rica photos/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Chef Francis Canal prepares coconut shrimp

wine boutiques, said Gayaldo, will probably be around $60 to $75 each once they reach Costa Rica.

Gayaldo compared the wine growers to coffee growers in Costa Rica. “We are both affected by the same outside problems.”

He mentioned that growers, including his father, lost money. Growers need to take a commodity and add value to our product, much the same as the growers of coffee here, he said.

The free trade agreement will benefit the market taking off a 15 percent duty, said embassy aide Ms. Nishiura. Since Chile already has a free trade agreement with Costa Rica, the new treaty will help the United States be competitive in the region, she said.  In the end it is up to the consumer to decide taking price and quality into consideration.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 210

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Arias in  China
Casa Presidencial photo
Oscar Arias Sánchez and a Chinese guide tour the interior plaza of China's Forbidden City in the president's first full day in the Asian country. He is there for a week inaugurating the Costa Rican Embassy and pushing for exports and Chinese investments here.

Weather improves somewhat,
but shelter drama continues

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The national emergency commission said it best in its daily report released Monday: "The drama continues for 3,134 persons."

That's the number of persons still in public shelters after  nearly three weeks of continual downpours.

But the good news is that the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional said that the threatening low pressure systems have diminished and the weather is reverting to normality. For October that means rain but not the terrible downpours that drove rivers out of their banks and cut off a number of communities in the central Pacific and later in Guanacaste.

There was sun in Guanacaste Monday with Old Sol peeking through gray clouds. The emergency commission was trying to re-establish contact with communities that had been cut off for nearly a week in some cases.

But the shelters were not just in Guanacaste. San José, Cartago, Alajuela and the western reaches of the province of Limón also had experienced flooding and rivers running out of their banks.

At Casa Presidencial Monday acting President Laura Chinchilla headed a meeting where the cost of the emergency was being considered. She substituted for Óscar Arias Sánchez, who is on an official visit to China. At the same time a letter arrived from mayors of Pooch, Guácimo and Siquirres asking when they were going to get the aid that was promised in July after a similar series of floods.

Cell phone tower plundered
for expensive copper scrap

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers grabbed two Desamparados men over the weekend while they were carrying some 50 meters (about 162 feet) of special copper cable in their battered pickup.

Police suspect the men snatched the cable from a cell telephone tower operated by the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad. They said the cable was worth new about $6,000. The men were suspected of hauling the cable to a scrap dealer along with some other metal items.

The pair were identified by the last names of Rodríguez Calvo, the driver, and Mora Díaz, the passenger.

Police became aware of the theft thanks to an alarm activated at the cell phone tower. Witnesses said they saw the vehicle enroute to Ciudad Colón where a police patrol spotted the suspects. They led police on a chase to Brazil de Santa Ana where they were detained.

The cable theft caused problems with cell phones in the Puriscal area.

Meeting to weigh challenges

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

What are the 10 biggest challenges facing the region?

That's what a three-day meeting in Alajuela is trying to figure out. The event is called the Consulta de San José.

The gathering is sponsored by the Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo and the Copehenhagen Consensus Center. The experts will report on their findings Wednesday.

Also attending are 50 young men and women from Latin America.

The hypothetical question posed to the group is what would the Latin countries do if an investment of $10 billion were made in the next five years. They will try to come up with solutions that will return the most on each dollar invested, according to Casa Presidencial.

Quakes rattle Quepos

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Quepos area felt two earthquakes Monday that seemed to be related. They originated at the same place.  One came about 1:30 p.m. The other was about 3:30 p.m. Both had magnitudes in the 4-point range. There were no reports of damage.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 210

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Bush proposes massive policing plan for México, isthmus
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
and staff reports

President George Bush Monday asked Congress to approve $550 million in aid to Mexico and Central American states to help them deal with cross-border crime, drug-trafficking and terrorism. The request is part of the administration's nearly $200 billion supplemental funding request for U.S. operations in Iraq and the broader war on terrorism.

The money being sought for Mexico and Central America is only a small fraction of the administration budget request.

But it would be a major increase in U.S. security aid to the region and it is the subject of some controversy in Mexico, which has been traditionally sensitive about security relations with its northern neighbor.

The vast majority of the funding, $500 million, would go to Mexico and is aimed at bolstering what U.S. officials say have been promising efforts by Mexican President Felipe Calderon's government to disrupt drug trafficking gangs and organized crime.

The remaining $50 million would be devoted to similar regional efforts by Central American states. And most of that probably would be directed to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras where the international gang problem is the most serious. The initiative includes all the Central American states and Panamá.

In a telephone conference call with reporters, Thomas Shannon, assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs, said he hopes Monday's request will only be a down payment on a three-year U.S. aid effort of nearly $1.5 billion.

Shannon said the United States would provide México with helicopters and surveillance aircraft to support drug interdiction and rapid-response operations by Mexican law enforcement agencies, as well as advanced drug detection and communications equipment.

But questioned about Mexican political concerns, Shannon said the aid package would not involve any U.S. military presence in that country and would not require any change in agreements limiting the number of U.S. law enforcement officials currently involved in liaison work in México.

The aid package, under discussion by the two governments since President Bush met President Calderón in Mexico last
March, has been described as Plan México in Mexican press accounts — a reference to the multi-billion-dollar U.S.
anti-insurgency aid program for the Bogota government known as Plan Colombia begun in 1999.

However, Shannon dismissed the comparison, stressing that the Mexican government does not face the multiple insurgencies that confronted Colombia at the time, and that the title of the new program has always been the Merida Initiative, named for the site of this year's Bush-Calderón meeting.

Shannon said the proposed U.S. aid effort is small in comparison to the $3 billion committed in recent months by the Calderón government itself.

Mexico has deployed some 20,000 troops and federal police to combat drug cartels, which have been battling among themselves for dominance in gangland violence that has killed hundreds of people this year.

The State Department said that the program is to provide:

• Non-intrusive inspection equipment, ion scanners, canine units for Mexican customs, for the new federal police and for the military to interdict trafficked drugs, arms, cash and persons.

• Technologies to improve and secure communications systems to support collecting information as well as ensuring that vital information is accessible for criminal law enforcement.

• Technical advice and training to strengthen the institutions of justice vetting for the new police force, case management software to track investigations through the system to trial, new offices of citizen complaints and professional responsibility, and establishing witness protection programs.

• Helicopters and surveillance aircraft to support interdiction activities and rapid operational response of law enforcement agencies in Mexico.

• Initial funding for security cooperation with Central America that responds directly to Central American leaders’ concerns over gangs, drugs, and arms articulated during a July security strategies meeting.

• Includes equipment and assets to support counterpart security agencies inspecting and interdicting drugs, trafficked goods, people and other contraband as well as equipment, training and community action programs in Central American countries to implement anti-gang measures and expand the reach of these measures.

Election tribunal certifies OK of free trade treaty referendum
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones officially declared Monday that the referendum question on the free trade treaty with the United States has been approved.

The tribunal said that final figures show that the yes side got 805,658 votes and the no side got 756,814. That is 48,844 votes out of 1,572,684. The numbers do not add up because there were slightly more than 10,000 blank votes and voided ballots. This is about the same result announced informally the night of the election.

The tribunal also declared the referendum valid because 59.2 percent of those registered voted. The law says that 40 percent must vote to have a valid referendum.

The treaty passed in San José, Cartago, Heredia and Limón. More people voted no in Alajuela, Guanacaste and Puntarenas, said the tribunal.

Despite the 3.1 percent victory by the yes side, a treaty opponent has filed a protest with the election tribunal in which he alleged that treaty proponents violated the law. The man is José Miguel Corrales, who started the push for a referendum. He said he wants a new vote.

Corrales told a friendly Internet source that he wants the tribunal to investigate the news media, President Óscar Arias Sánchez, other members of the government and private firms for their actions in the few days before the Oct. 7 vote.

Corrales, himself, gave a news conference the afternoon of the vote in which he predicted that the treaty would be 
defeated by 10 percent.  Corrales, in his petition to the tribunal, listed nearly all the national news media and said that they violated and threatened the popular will with their publications.

Costa Rican law generally forbids political advertising for the three days before an election, but Corrales is talking about news stories.

Treaty opponents were particularly upset by the statement in Washington, D.C., of Susan C. Schwab, the U.S. trade representative. She said Oct. 4 that a re-negotiation of the
trade treaty was unlikely. She also said "The fact is, the United States has never faced a situation where one of our trading partners rejects a reciprocal trade agreement with the United States, but continues to seek unilateral trade preferences.”

Ottón Solís, president of the Partido Acción Ciudadana and a treaty opponent, had said for months that the treaty needed to be re-negotiated with more benefit to Costa Rica. He never really gave specifics.

Treaty opponents hurried and put out their own statements noting that the Bush administration would not be in office in less than three years. But the statement was damaging to the efforts of the opponents even though most U.S. politicians had been saying the same thing for years.

Also damaging was statements from the United States about the fragility of the Caribbean Basin Initiative, a unilateral agreement in which Costa Rica and many other countries can send their products duty free into the United States. The trade treaty was designed to continue the preferences of the initiative.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 210

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Free trade
talking zone

Central American and European Union negotiators face off during their first formal session Monday in San José. The goal is a trade treaty. But the negotiators better get used to their seats because discussions are likely to last more than a year.

trade treaty negotiations
Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto photo

Genetically modified seed dispute ends in shooting of two persons in Brazil
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Brazilian authorities say two people have been shot dead in a confrontation involving landless peasants at a Swiss-owned farm in the southern state of Parana.

Officials said Monday that a peasant leader and a security guard were killed after the farm owned by the Syngenta company was occupied by activists from Brazil's landless rural workers movement and the peasant rights group, Via Campesina.

The demonstrators had invaded the farm to protest its use of genetically modified seeds. At least three guards and
three activists also were reported injured.

Local officials say the confrontation also involved armed men who had shown up to retake the property from the activists. Syngenta says its contract with its security company requires its guards to be unarmed.

Last year, protesters camped out at the farm, alleging the company is illegally experimenting with research into genetically modified crops.

The landless workers movement has occupied numerous farms over the years to pressure the Brazilian government into speeding up the expropriation of unproductive land.

Bombers and firebombers target Cuban and Venzuelan targets in Bolivia
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Bolivian authorities say unknown assailants have launched attacks targeting Venezuelan and Cuban interests in the eastern city of Santa Cruz.

Officials say assailants threw sticks of dynamite at the Venezuelan consulate in Santa Cruz early Monday. In the second attack, gasoline bombs were hurled at a residence housing Cuban doctors. No injuries were reported.
The Santa Cruz region is a center of opposition to Bolivian President Evo Morales, who has aligned himself with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and Cuban President Fidel Castro. Santa Cruz also is pushing for greater local autonomy.

Last week, some international flights out of the city's Viru Viru airport — Bolivia's busiest — were delayed in a dispute between local authorities and the Morales government over landing fees.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 210

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