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These stories were published Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 229
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Central American sex workers at high risk, report says
World Bank fears HIV/AIDS epidemic coming
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and wire reports

Sexually transmitted HIV and AIDS are threatening to run out of control in Central America where four of the six Latin American countries with the highest rate of infection are located, according to the World Bank.

To stem the likely epidemic more investment is required in prevention programs, the World Bank said.

Infection in Central America comes from heterosexual liaisons, particularly with high-risk groups, such as prostitutes, said the World Bank. In general the countries here have been spared the full-blown epidemics of African nationals and of the Caribbean islands.

The World Bank released a study that says that Belize, Honduras, Panamá, and Guatemala are four of the six countries with the highest HIV prevalence in all of Latin America as of end-2001. 


HIV transmission in Central America is primarily due to heterosexual sex. . . . 

"The HIV/AIDS epidemic in Central America is increasingly serious, and although the epidemic continues to be concentrated in high risk populations, it is becoming generalized in some countries," said Jane Armitage, the World Bank's director for Central America. "Fortunately, we are still on time. Prevention is the key."

According to the document titled "HIV/AIDS in Central America: An Overview of the Epidemic and Priorities for Prevention," HIV adult prevalence seems to be highest in Belize (2 percent), followed by Honduras (1.6 percent), Panama (1.5 percent), Guatemala (1 percent), El Salvador (0.6 percent), Costa Rica (0.6 percent), and Nicaragua (0.2 percent), based on U.N. estimates.

HIV transmission in Central America is primarily due to heterosexual sex, which is more similar to the Caribbean than the South American pattern, and although there are more men than women with AIDS in Central America, the gender gap is closing, according to the report.

The epidemic is generally concentrated in high-risk populations such as men who have sex with men, commercial sex workers, prisoners, the Garifuna (an Afro-Caribbean population group) in the case of Honduras, street children and the security forces, the report said. However, the World Bank makes it clear that there are significant exceptions: the disease is becoming generalized in some areas of Belize.

As for El Salvador, Guatemala and Panama, the projections indicate that if the current pattern continues the epidemic could reach adult prevalence levels of close to 2 percent in those countries in seven years.

"Some countries have active policies to combat and prevent the disease, such as free condom distribution to high-risk groups," said Helena Ribe, the World Bank's sector leader for human development in Central America. "But these initiatives must be improved and expanded, 

and government spending needs to focus more on prevention activities."

A substantial impact on the epidemic can be achieved even with limited resources, provided these are channeled to the most cost-effective interventions, the World Bank said. 


Infection rates of men who have sex with other men were as high as 17.7 per cent 
in El Salvador . . . .

"In order to prevent between 10 percent and 20 percent of new infections, countries must invest at least U.S. $1 million each year in highly cost-effective prevention activities," said Helen Saxenian, the World Bank's lead economist for health in Latin America and the Caribbean.

In Central America this minimum prevention package should include free condom distribution to high-risk groups, condom social marketing, information, education and communication for high-risk groups, and counseling and access to rapid testing, said the report.

In 2000, total public and private financing allocated to public health and HIV prevention activities was $6 million in Honduras, $800,000 in Panama and $2.8 million in Guatemala.

According to the study, the prevalence of HIV among Latin American 15-to-49-year-olds is at 0.5 percent throughout the region. Some 130,000 adults and children were newly infected with HIV during 2001, and 80,000 died. But under-reporting is so common that researchers calculate that Latin America is likely to have 30 percent more cases of AIDS and 40 percent more cases of HIV than existing statistics show. 

A public health study of prostitutes in Central America showed a HIV rate of 10.4 percent in Honduras followed by four other Central American nations. A study of sex workers in Costa Rica has not yet been completed.

Homosexual behavior accounts for a significant amount of HIV transmission and is particularly important in Costa Rica, said the report. Infection rates of men who have sex with other men were as high as 17.7 per cent in El Salvador, said the study, noting:

"Sex Workers are at high risk of acquiring and transmitting HIV. Their clients frequently do not use condoms, and sex workers often do not insist on their use, either because they underestimate the risk of infection, do not have access to condoms, or earn more money by providing unprotected sex. Clients of commercial sex workers act as a bridge between high-risk groups and the general population."

HIV means infection with the human immunodeficiency virus. AIDS means an individual has contracted acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

Surinam and Guyana are the two other countries ranked in the top six with the highest HIV prevalence in all of Latin America as of end-2001. 

 
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Property to change
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By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There will be a major shift in property ownership Saturday when property records that contain so-called annotations become invalid.

The annotations are computer notes of irregularities in the ownership records of real estate, vehicles, mortgages and business corporations.

At one point this year, some 250,000 ownership records were defective. Now that number is believed to have been reduced to under 150,000.

A law gave citizens until Nov. 22, Saturday, to make the corrections. Otherwise the whole ownership record will be thrown out. That means any real estate would revert to the previous owner.

In many cases the notations point out errors made by lawyers and notaries.

Concern over the number of properties that might be affected reached as high as the Asamblea this week, and an effort was made to extend the deadline for corrections. But that effort failed Tuesday.

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Redondo pushes plan
for more new taxes

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The president of the Asamblea Nacional met with executives of the communications media to push the proposed fiscal law that would introduce new taxes and adjust others.

The president, Mario Redondo, is trying to build support for the law, which faces some trouble in getting out of committee by the deadline of Saturday.  A release from the legislature said that the meeting was held so that the communications executives as well as the citizenry would have direct, exact and accurate information about the contents of the proposal even though the bill has been in the legislature since July.

Redondo reminded the executives that for 14 years the nation has been living beyond its means. Outgo has exceeded income  during that period. Interest on the loans that were taken to meet the expenditures now represents 52 percent of the national budget, he said, according to a legislative report.

Expenses this year still are 101.3 percent of what the government takes in.

Redondo told the executives that the proposed law wold create a Comisión Nacional de Evaluación to study expenses. The measure also would create a Dirección Nacional de Tributos to collect taxes. Now that is done by the Tributación Directa, an element of the Ministerio de Hacienda. The new entity would be separate.

A revised tax schedule and the creation of a value-added tax are two other key aspects of the proposed law on which executives were briefed. The value-added tax would replace the current sales tax.

The communications executives had mixed opinions after the session, said the release from the legislature.

The fact that Redondo has waited so long to push the measure with the public might suggest a perception that the bill is in trouble.  Government sources say that planning already is underway within the Pacheco administration to take steps in the event the permanent tax plan is not approved. A temporary plan enacted last year expires Jan. 1.

Day of Philosophy
brings a seminar

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Tomorrow is the Day of Philosophy in Costa Rica, and the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization will join with the Ministerio de Cultura, Juventud y Deportes to, well, philosophize.

The object of the day will be to examine the social, political and cultural changes that have taken place and to analyze them in relation to the current human rights situation, said a release from the ministry.

A 7 p.m. discussion on intercultural dialogue and philosophy will be head at the Centro Nacional de Cultura, the ministry building in Barrio Amon.

General gets boot
in slush fund case

By the A.M. Costa Ricas wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — President Alvaro Uribe has fired an army general accused of misusing state funds. A presidential statement says Gen. Jorge Pineda Carvajal misused a secret state fund in 2001, when he was head of army intelligence. It did not provide details. 

Carvajal's dismissal follows the resignations last week of Colombia's armed forces commander, the defense minister, and the police commander. 

Marta Lucia Ramírez, Colombia's first female defense minister, quit her job on Nov. 9 amid pressure from top generals irritated at her management style and efforts to control corruption-prone military contracts. 

Recent corruption scandals, particularly in the police force, have embarrassed President Uribe, whose government has received more than $2 billion in U.S. military aid in recent years to fight leftist rebels and the drug trade. 

Uribe also suffered a political set-back in last month's defeat of a cost-cutting referendum. 

Fugitive in Canada
finally arrested

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A fugitive who faces allegations of misusing state funds has been detained in Canada.

Roberto Tovar, the foreign minister, confirmed the detention Monday. The fugitive is Jorge Martínez, who was involved in a massive scandal with the Programa Nacional de Compensación Social. He fled to Canada in December 1999 when his case was in the courts.

Costa Rica has been seeking his extradition since 2000. Tovar said that the government had managed the situation prudently so the outcome would not be affected. Martínez had filed a number of court actions to avoid being returned to Costa Rica. He was finally taken into custody Sunday and will be returned to San José soon, although Tovar would not say exactly when.

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'Father of Archaeology' at 86 comes out with a book
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Carlos Humberto Aguilar Piedra, the respected "father of Costa Rican archaeology," is marking his 86th year by coming out with a book that covers a subject that has been a lifelong interest:

What is the role that jade has had in the ancient cultures of Costa Rica? That  is the major theme of his new book "El Jade y el Chamán."

Aguilar has a problem because most of the objects that are called jade here have not been found where the ancient cultures left them. Instead, they are provided by pot hunters and others who do not take scientific precautions to log their finds. They also jealously guard the source of the objects.

Aguilar’s work seeks to sidestep this problem by categorizing the jade objects by their form and use. The book, which is in Spanish, is illustrated by the author and painstakingly treats the various artistic traditions that enable the researcher to group them. For example, jade objects that contain a ring are grouped together, as are those that appear to be a figure of a bat.

Jade, of course, may not be the technically correct term because real jade was scare and came from Guatemala. Other types of hard stones were substituted by the Indian artisans, and these are known collectively as "jade."

The bulk of what Aguilar studied came from Guanacaste, which he called the province of jade. That area was in closer contact with the Valley of Mexico and the advanced cultures there.

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Carlos Aguilar reviews the story of his life that was composed as a tribute by admirers at the Museo Nacional

A shaman sings in a cave in order to bring rain. From ‘El Mundo Olmeca,’ Editorial Porrua, S.A., Mexico 1968, and republished by Carlos Aguilar.

Many of the jade pieces represent shamen, the Indian priest, according to Aguilar, and he sees them in their many shapes because in indigenous tradition a shaman could transform himself into other creatures. So be the pieces bats, birds or human-like figures, they are to Aguilar’s eyes important religious objects used to relate the Indians to their gods via the shaman intermediary.

Aguilar has some strong technical evidence to support this view, such as certain markings on the head of figurines. Of one spectacular piece there can be little doubt  A shaman figure is seem chanting in a cave seeking to bring rain, and clouds outside oblige him.

Aguilar, a Cartago native, worked for a time at the Museo Nacional before becoming a professor at the University of Costa Rica in 1962. He is the first Costa Rica to be professionally trained as an archaeologist. 

Aguilar presented his major themes and showed the similarities of the jade pieces via his drawings in an event set up by the museum Tuesday night. More than 50 persons, many of them his students, showed up. 

His book is published by Editorial Tecnológica de Costa Rica.


 
Mexicans in U.S. sent home $14.5 billion already
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Mexico has become the world's No. 1 country for receiving money sent home by migrants in the United States, according to a new study released by the Inter-American Development Bank.

So far in 2003, Mexicans living in the United States have sent home $14.5 billion in money transfers, commonly known as remittances, the development bank said.

The remittances sent to Mexico in 2003 surpassed tourism revenue and foreign investment, becoming the second-largest source of foreign currency after oil exports from the country, the bank’s report added. The remittances sent home from the United States will benefit about a quarter of the Mexican population, It said.

The development bank said the remittances are 
reaching "all levels of Mexican society," with a 

substantial increase in the number of middle-class emigrants sending home remittances. 

The payments are "flowing to every part" of Mexico, a fact which the bank said "contrasts with the usual perception that remittances are exclusively aimed at the poorest social stratum," and "shatters the stereotype of the emigrant as an unskilled worker from [Mexico's] central high plateau, a region traditionally vulnerable to patterns of emigration."

The study, conducted by Bendixen Associates of Miami, Fla., and the Pew Hispanic Center of Washington, concludes that "remittances are no longer a safety valve; today, they're a fuel pump," alluding to the significance of emigrant remittances for the Mexican economy.

The Bush Administration has said it recognizes the importance of remittances to Latin America and has supported the efforts of the development bank and other groups to improve money transfers.


 
Zoellick plans trade talks with four Latin nations
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MIAMI, Fla. — U.S. officials at the hemispheric free trade talks here unveiled a series of new trade initiatives Tuesday, proposing bilateral trade accords with several countries in Latin America. Officials say the bilateral accords will not undermine the Free Trade Area of the Americas which is supposed to take effect next year. 

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick says the United States will seek free trade agreements with Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia as part of a strategy to speed up free trade talks in the hemisphere. The U.S. will begin talks with Peru and Colombia and then follow up with their Andean neighbors, Ecuador and Bolivia. 

Late Tuesday, Zoellick also announced the U.S. will seek a free trade pact with Panama. 

Zoellick says the bilateral talks with Andean countries and Panama are not meant to undermine any eventual agreement to create a Free Trade Area of the Americas, but are simply a recognition that some countries are more ready than others in the region to move towards free trade. 

"Now, you might say why the two tracks? First off, some countries are willing to move more quickly and we want to try and achieve that end. In addition, the types of free trade agreements we have done, either NAFTA, or with Chile, or we hope with Central America or with these countries [Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia] also seek to have

a higher level of ambition," he said. "The level of obligation that all parties cover makes these state of the art trade agreements." 

Zoellick also says a free trade pact between other Central American nations besides Panama and the United States could be reached within months. 

So far discussions at the Miami talks have focused on disagreements between the United States and Brazil. Brazilian officials have objected to price supports for U.S. agricultural crops such as sugar and citrus, and the U.S. position that agricultural trade issues be decided by the World Trade Organization. U.S. officials say they want to see Brazil reform its intellectual property laws. 

A reported compromise between the two countries to agree to follow a general set of free trade guidelines but opt out of specific trade rules they deem unfavorable, has angered other countries at the talks, who say if the proposal is approved any future Free Trade Area of the Americas would be ineffective. 

The tense atmosphere inside the talks can be felt outside the conference hall where hundreds of police have erected high barricades blocking most streets in downtown Miami. Demonstrations by labor unions, environmentalists and anti-globalization activists are scheduled to start on Wednesday and police say the heavy security presence is to prevent any violence of the sort that has disrupted other trade talks over the past few years. 


 
Central American mininsters meet on their pact
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

MIAMI, Fla. — As a sidelight to the Free Trade Area of the Americas meetings being held here,  U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick met with five Central American trade ministers Tuesday "to advance the final round of negotiations for the U.S.-Central American Free Trade Agreement  in December in Washington, D.C.," according to a press release issued by his office.

Zoellick described the Central American pact as "an ambitious and cutting-edge agreement that keeps pace with the modern globalized economy" and 
that "adds momentum for hemispheric free trade."

Zoellick and the Central American trade ministers, 

 from Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, discussed outstanding issues that negotiators must resolve in order to conclude negotiations in December, as planned.

The United States and Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua began negotiations in January 2003 and have held eight rounds of talks, one in each Central American country, as well as in Cincinnati, New Orleans, and Houston. 

Individual negotiating groups are meeting between rounds to pave the way for a final agreement. Chief negotiators met for two days last week in Washington, D.C., where the ninth and final round is scheduled to begin Dec. 8.

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