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These stories were published Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 259
Jo Stuart
About us
New Year
to all 
Here's a traditional way to see in the year 2004
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In addition to the Spanish language, a second universal in the Latin world is an egg punch called rompope in Costa Rica.

Just like with the language, members of various nationalities quibble over the name, taste and proper ingredients.

New Year’s Eve is a great time to try the alcoholic beverage, if you don’t mind about 350 calories a glass. In Costa Rica, the drink has wider application than just the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. It is available year round in the dairy case. The drink comes in a one-liter container that runs about 4 percent alcohol. A quarter-liter version is booze-free.

Legend has it that a nun named Clarisas created the drink in the Santa Clara Convent in the City of Puebla, México, not long after the Spanish conquest.  Costa Rica has equal claim to the drink because this country, too, was part of the Spanish holdings in the new world.

Mexicans call their egg, milk and sugar drink rompope, too, but other Latin countries call it creme de vie (Cuba), ponche crema (Venezuela), biblia (Peru), coquito (Puerto Rico) and rompopo (Spain). The alcohol of choice in Central America is, of course, rum. Elsewhere, the drink is laced with cognac or even sherry.

A version first hit North America for the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair.

The traditions of this drink are so strong that when Latins take a swallow their eyes sometimes glaze over, a tear falls and they think of long-ago times at Grandmother’s. 

To consider the creamy fluid as just a drink is to sell it short. Hundreds of recipes abound, 

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We poured a glass for you!

including rompope’s use as a sauce for tres leches cake, for various kinds of fruit and for flan de coco. And rompope can be worked into ice cream and many other treats.

As una gran experiencia gastronómica rompope transcends the milk, eggs  sugar, nuts and other spices that are the ingredients. The drink is something more. A thick coating that stays on the tastebuds. The richness is such that one cannot swill the drink, and the chances of intoxication are slim to none.

A rompope hangover would be horrible to contemplate. But that does not mean the commercially available drink might not need a little boost in the rum department.

Dos Pinos is a principal manufacturer in Costa Rica. Home preparation is easy, and many recipes are available on the Internet, including HERE!

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Latin America's challenge for 2004
Populism strains international responsibilities
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

In Latin America, 2003 was a year of slow economic growth and signs that populist political leaders could be making a return. The economies of regional nations are expected to improve in the year ahead, but political conflicts could detain progress.

All politics are local, a U.S. politician once said, and that has held true for Latin American nations even though it is the process of economic globalization that shapes many of the issues confronting them. Political leaders in the region have had to walk a fine line between satisfying the demands of international financial institutions and the needs of their own people.

In Argentina, newly elected President Nestor Kirchner has gained huge popularity by defying the International Monetary Fund and putting economic recovery ahead of debt obligations. He says things are bad in Argentina, but that the time has come to restore the nation's self esteem and show everyone that the country still has some of the best industries in the world.

Argentina has been trying to recover from a financial crisis that began over a year ago when the nation defaulted on $132 billion in debt. Kirchner will continue in the year ahead to seek a balance between placating international financial institutions and the demands of his own people.

Meanwhile, in Brazil, the government of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a populist of long-standing, has spent his first months in office pushing for tax reform and other measures to boost the economy. The man who came to political prominence as a firebrand union leader and leftist politician has taken a cautious, moderate path as president.

Elsewhere, however, the clash between liberalization and the opposition to globalization increased in intensity.

In Bolivia in October, a massive strike led by indigenous groups led to the ouster of President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada. At issue was a natural gas pipeline that would have greatly benefited Bolivia's economy, but would have involved construction in some indigenous areas. Leaders of the protest described their movement as a continuation of the struggle of indigenous people against the European conquest that began nearly 500 years ago.

Such rhetoric finds an echo in Mexico, where the Zapatista rebels remain ensconced in the jungles of the southern state of Chiapas. The Zapatistas have provided a rallying point for many Mexicans who oppose liberal reforms and free trade policies.

Many of the people who marched in protest against the World Trade Organization at its meeting in the resort city of Cancun in September carried Zapatista banners. The collapse of the organization's meeting amid protests underscored 

the tensions and disagreements the free trade movement has spawned.

A far different view of this conflict can be seen in the two northernmost nations of South America, 
File photo
Colombian President Uribe waves during a San José visit.
Venezuela and Colombia. One is beset by a political crisis brought on by populist policies and the other is crippled by a civil war that continues to take lives and dampen economic progress.

In Venezuela, opponents of President Hugo Chavez recently succeeded in collecting more than three million signatures on a petition aimed at removing him from office. Chavez, who survived a coup d'etat in April 2002, and a nationwide strike a year ago, has remained defiant.

He continues to call his opponents "golpistas," 

which is roughly translated from Spanish as "coup mongers." He says his populist government is 
supported by Venezuela's vast population of poor people and that his opponents represent the rich oligarchy. Opponents, however, say he is anti-democratic and they accuse him of trying to establish a Cuban-style Communist system in Venezuela.

The past year has been relatively quiet in Venezuela, but the prospect of a special election next year is likely to produce more strife. 

Meanwhile, next door in Colombia, President Alvaro Uribe continues his efforts to move his country forward in spite of violent conflict. In a recent address to the United Nations General Assembly, President Uribe defended a new law that would allow insurgents to re-enter society without facing prosecution if they lay down their arms. Some right-wing paramilitary groups have already responded to this offer. 

This, and a recent offer to hold peace talks with one rebel group, represents a flexible approach by a president who came to office a little more than a year ago by promising a tough approach with Colombia's various guerrilla groups. 

In spite of the conflict, President Uribe can boast of progress on the economic front. The nation's economic output grew by 4.7 percent in the most recent quarter, more than double what it was a year earlier. Although Colombia has an $80 billion economy, much of the country and its economy remain outside government control. Leftist rebels, in particular, continue to thrive on profits from the illicit drug trade, which combined U.S. and Colombian government efforts have failed to stop. 

Yule sweep targets
professional robbers

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Each business day about 1.4 million persons come into and leave the central San José business district. Among these are about 52 persons who are professional robbers, officials report.

Law enforcement officials said Tuesday that they had arrested 22 of these professionals through Dec. 24 as part of the Christmas sweep. The arrests were made by the Fuerza Pública and the Policía Metropolitana.

Robberies and assaults on persons have declined 16 percent during the first two weeks of December because of strong police action, according to Rogelio Ramos, minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

Among those arrested was a man identified by police as Geovanny Argüello Berrocal. They said he had 41 prior arrests for street robberies and that he was considered highly dangerous.

Ramos also said that surveillance cameras recently located at key points around the downtown would contribute to the police effort and allow police to arrive quickly to the scene of a crime.

Crime statistics in Costa Rica or anywhere are only as good as the reporting system in place. The decrease in street crime is based on reports for the same period in 2002 compiled by the Judicial Investigating Organization.  If anything, the decline was greater because in 2002 a gang of robbers was working the downtown targeting tourists. Most of those robberies never were reported and only came to the attention of reporters through unofficial means.

The Christmas season usually is a time of high activity for criminals. The annual payment of aguinaldos or Christmas bonuses increases the amount of money on the streets.

Of the 65 robberies reported in the first two weeks of this December, 12 involved the use of firearms, 20 involved the use of a knife and 13 were muggings in which the attacker used a choke hold, said police. 

In all, police arrested 136 persons from Dec. 1 to Dec. 15 in the central district.

Girl carried drug
on ferry, police say

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A drug dealer on the Nicoya Peninsula used a 13-year-old girl to carry crack cocaine on the Puntarenas-Paquera ferry, said police. Officials detained the girl and arrested a man they said was her contact Tuesday morning.

The ferry left Puntarenas at 6:30 a.m., and two police officers on the ferry said they noticed that the girl was nervous. When the ferry arrived at the Paquera dock, the girl delivered what police said were drugs to a man later identified by the last names of González González, who lives in the area.

Officers said the girl carried five boxes of crack cocaine with about 50 rocks in each.

Man’s body found
as result of fire

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A fire in the central business district early Tuesday appears to have taken the life of a man living on the premises.

The Judicial Investigating Organization said the fire was in a beauty salon and that firemen found a body in the bathroom as they extinguished the blaze.

The Fuerza Pública said the fire was on Avenida 14 between Calles 10 and 12. That is Barrio Los Angeles. The dead man was identified as Adolfo Mora, 67. The death is under investigation.

Final election results
show that Berger won

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala — Former Guatemala City Mayor Oscar Berger has won Guatemala's presidential run-off election. In a final tally, Berger won about 54 percent of the vote, compared to about 46 percent for his opponent, engineer and businessman Alvaro Colom. 

Berger called on his rival to join him in moving the nation forward.

The United States said it looks forward to working with Berger. State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli made the comment from Washington in congratulating the winning candidate on his victory.

Sunday's run-off followed an inconclusive November presidential election in which none of the 11 candidates received more than 50 percent of the vote. Berger came in first, followed by Colom. Former dictator Efrain Rios Montt, the ruling party candidate, accused of atrocities during his military rule in the early 1980s, came in a distant third. 

Election officials reported a low turnout for Sunday's balloting. They said there were no irregularities or incidents reported during the voting.

Berger will succeed outgoing President Alfonso Portillo, whose government has been plagued by corruption allegations and a rise in crime.  This was Guatemala's second presidential election since peace accords ended a 36-year civil war in 1996.

And there’s a sale 
on denture cream

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

VIENNA, Austria — A European grocery chain is 
taking a new look at an older market — shoppers 
over 50. 

The Adeg Active Market in Austria is the first 
supermarket specifically designed for Europe's 
aging population. 

The store provides bigger food labels, wider aisles, 
nonskid floors, special lighting and lots of places to 
sit down. 

Europe's falling birth rate and longer life 
expectancy means that in the next 50 years the 
average age on the continent will be 52. So looking 
ahead, a German company decided to give baby 
boomers a few extra perks when they do their 
weekly run to the shops. 

The project manager Kurt Erlacher said that the 
company also employs workers over the age of 50. 
He said the middle aged employees are more highly motivated than their younger counterparts and have a higher regard for the merchandise. 

U.S. Embassy closed today

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The U.S. Embassy is closed today and tomorrow. The embassy and the consulate will be open Friday, a spokesperson there said.


Barring unexpected news developments, A.M. Costa Rica will not be published tomorrow, New Year’s Day. We’ll be back Friday to start our fourth annual edition.
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Free trade seen as threat to economic well-being
By Stocker Brown*
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The so-called Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) has recently hit regional headlines amid claims of "prosperity for all" from its supporters (mostly multinational corporations), and widespread protests from farmers, environmentalists and consumer, labor and religious groups.  The perils of CAFTA far outweigh the benefits, as demonstrated by the devastation that its sister treaty, NAFTA, has wrought upon Mexico's economy, agriculture and environment.

To begin with, CAFTA is really a misnomer. It isn't a free trade agreement at all, but, instead, is a free investment agreement.  Its main tenets provide foreign investors with unprecedented new rights and exemptions, such as easy relocation of operations and jobs abroad and the privitization and deregulation of basic public services, such as water, electricity, health care and telecommunications.

Reader commentary

We're all aware of the massive energy shortages and price-gouging that brought California to its knees two years ago, thanks to an ill-advised deregulation of the electricity industry.  Under NAFTA and CAFTA, more such disasters can be expected.

Before NAFTA, free trade agreements involved the reduction of tariffs and import quotas between countries.  But now, NAFTA and CAFTA impose limits on inspection of meat sold in supermarkets, provide new patent rules that have raised medicine prices, and trump local governments' zoning authority, essentially preventing them from regulating urban sprawl and toxic-spewing plants.

CAFTA's opponents call it a threat to national sovereignty, and with good reason. Its hundreds of pages of bureaucratic tedium require participating nations to capitulate to its terms, even those previously rejected by voters and their elected representatives.

NAFTA has led to an agricultural meltdown in Mexico, with 1.5 million farms forced into bankruptcy.  Before NAFTA, Mexico permitted importation of corn, its staple crop, only if locally-produced supply did not meet demand.  However, NAFTA eliminated those controls, resulting in a 70 percent drop in prices paid to farmers as cheap foreign corn was dumped on the Mexican market. 

As a result, displaced rural workers have migrated to Mexican cities or to the United States, where illegal immigration has more than doubled, 

according to the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services.  This has happened despite former Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari's pledge that his country, under NAFTA, would export products and not people.

NAFTA apologists respond that there has been an increase in Mexican exports to the U.S., along with foreign investment in Mexico.  However, NAFTA regulations have prevented Mexico from taking advantage of foreign investment to benefit the Mexican economy, and Mexican manufacturing workers have suffered a 20 percent cut in pay on average to a mere $4 per day.

NAFTA has also encouraged increased industrialization along the Mexico/U.S. border, leading to massive dumping of toxic waste and water contamination.  Citizens on both sides of the border are powerless to respond to the growing threat to public health.

NAFTA supporters claimed that consumers would benefit, but this simply has not happened.  According to a recent Hemispheric Social Alliance report, the prices of goods in the Mexican basic food basket have skyrocketed by 257 percent under NAFTA, compared to a 185 percent rise in prices paid to agricultural producers.  A recent report on National Public Radio cited a more than 50 percent increase in the price of corn tortillas, Mexico's staple food.

Furthermore, small and mid-sized Mexican retailers have been decimated by huge multinationals like Costco and Wal-Mart, which purchase mass quantities of goods from foreign suppliers and now dominate Mexico's retail sector, thanks to NAFTA's favorable service sector rules.

NAFTA is also responsible for the current credit crunch in Mexico.  Under NAFTA, loans to Mexican businesses have sharply declined — from 10 percent of Gross Domestic Product in 1994 to 0.3 percent in 2000 — as foreign concerns have bought up most of the Mexican banking system.

NAFTA's legacy of widespread harm has not exempted the U.S.  It seems Ross Perot was right when he warned that good jobs would be "sucked" out of the United States: recent U.S. government statistics show 40 straight months of losses in manufacturing jobs.  Many of these jobs are now in the hands of the Red Chinese.

What a change NAFTA has brought.  For over 45 years, the United States strived to export democracy to southeast Asia.  Now it's exporting jobs to the Communists.

*Stocker Brown, a reader, is the former owner of Financial Statements, a Mexican financial consultancy, and current director of inglés en 3 meses, a foreign language academy in Guadalupe.

North American trade treaty gets mixed reviews
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Jan. 1 marks the 10-year anniversary of a landmark trade pact that remains controversial to this day: the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that eliminated trade barriers between the United States, Canada and Mexico. 

At the time of its implementation, backers predicted the accord would greatly expand opportunities and boost prosperity in all three countries. Opponents warned of a severe migration of jobs from the United States and Canada to Mexico. Today, the consensus view of NAFTA seems to lie somewhere between the wildly optimistic and gloomily pessimistic predictions of the early 1990s, with some gains and some losses for each of the three nations. 

Analysis on the news

NAFTA has been in place for 10 years. But in 1992, the treaty's implementation was far from certain. NAFTA became one of the most contentious issues of the U.S. presidential race that year. During a debate in Michigan, independent candidate Ross Perot said, "You implement that NAFTA, the Mexican trade agreement, where they pay people a dollar an hour, have no health care, no retirement, no pollution controls, and you are going to hear a giant sucking sound of jobs being pulled out of this country."

Bill Clinton went on to win the election, and the U.S. Congress ratified NAFTA the following year. And what of Ross Perot's dire prediction? "This is why you hear about NAFTA and you do not hear about Ross Perot anymore," answers Jeffrey Schott, a senior fellow at Washington's Institute for International Economics.

"NAFTA has contributed to a strong period of economic growth in all three countries," Schott added. "Without NAFTA, all three countries would not be as rich as they are today, employment would not be as high and trade relations would not be as smooth."

Indeed, trade among the three nations has more than doubled, from $306 billion worth of goods in 1993 to $621 billion in 2002. U.S. trade with its NAFTA partners has grown twice as fast as trade with the rest of the world. Regardless of any NAFTA-related job losses in the United States, unemployment declined sharply after the agreement's implementation, from nearly 7 percent in 1993 to 4 percent in 2000. U.S. manufacturing expanded by a third between 1993 to 2001.

Among manufacturers that have done well in the last decade is Bison Gear and Engineering, a maker of power transmission equipment in St. Charles, Ill. The company's president, Ron Bullock, says Bison has thrived with the opening of new markets to the north and south.

"We have very positive feelings that it [NAFTA] has been successful, that it has been very beneficial in our trade north of the border in Canada," he explained. "We have seen nice growth with the easing of tariffs. Mexico has [also] been very beneficial for a number of our customers that are selling down there." 

But critics of NAFTA say the rosy picture painted by free trade proponents is misleading and masks 

an overall decline in America's manufacturing base. They point out that the trade pact was enacted at the start of a boom period for the U.S. economy, and contend that most Americans prospered during the mid-to-late 1990s in spite of rather than because of NAFTA. 

"NAFTA has cost a lot of jobs in the United States — good jobs, manufacturing jobs," said Thea Lee, chief international economist for America's main labor organization, the AFL-CIO. "We have seen a lot of plant closings. We have seen a lot of American companies shut down factories and move to Mexico or Canada. This has been good for the owners of the companies, but it has been very bad for the workers and the communities left behind."

And what of Mexico? Since NAFTA's implementation, direct foreign investment in Mexico has totaled $124 billion, more than five times the amount recorded during the previous decade. Mexico's exports to the United States have nearly tripled, making it America's second-largest trading partner, topped only by Canada. Mexico's economy has averaged a 4 percent growth rate over the last 10 years, despite a devastating financial crisis in 1995.

Even so, Mexico's overall poverty rate has remained static, at roughly one fourth of the population. The World Bank's vice president for Latin America and the Caribbean, David de Ferranti, says NAFTA has been a boon to Mexico's northern regions, which saw a surge in manufacturing activity, but has had little if any impact on the rest of the country. Speaking at a recent conference in Washington, De Ferranti described NAFTA as a moderate success for Mexico.

"Overall positive, but falling unevenly across the economy and population of Mexico," he said. "The benefits could have been better if more had been done in Mexico to address key development issues, for example, to correct under-investment in education, innovation and infrastructure."

Today, in the debate over jobs and job losses in North America, one hears more about China than one does about NAFTA. Even Mexico has lost an estimated 200,000 manufacturing jobs to China over the last three years. Its average factory wage of about $1 an hour is still much higher than what Chinese workers are paid. 

According to economist Jeffrey Schott, NAFTA's most enduring legacy may not be jobs or profits, but rather the example it has set for other trade pacts, including the proposed hemisphere-wide Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), which negotiators hope to finalize by 2005.

"NAFTA has provided a very important template for moving forward in international trade relations. It has been the base for new free trade agreements that we have negotiated with Chile and Singapore and are about to conclude with the countries of Central America," he said. "It also has provided new models for international agreements in the World Trade Organization."

Mr. Schott adds that in absolute terms, free trade is always beneficial, but the elimination of trade barriers inevitably produces some economic dislocation even as new opportunities arise. He says, as nations pursue more open trade through bilateral, regional or global initiatives, it is increasingly important for governments to provide assistance and training for those who lose jobs.

New York tightens security for New Year's bash
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Officials in New York are taking unprecedented steps to protect revelers celebrating New Year's Eve in New York's Times Square, as the United States remains on a heightened state of alert for a possible terrorist attack. 

Nearly three-quarters of a million people are expected to gather in Times Square to watch a giant crystal ball drop at the stroke of midnight, the climax of New York City's New Year's Eve celebration. 

Security officials in the New York region are working with the federal government to help protect the area, just one-and-a-half weeks after the national terror alert status was raised to its second highest level. 

Officials in New York City have been on a heightened state of alert since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has granted New York's request for military air patrols over the city during the New Year's holiday. The Federal Aviation Administration will also impose temporary flight bans over parts of the city.

Thousands of local uniformed and undercover police officers are patrolling New York's streets and subways. As a security precaution, officials have ordered the removal of garbage bins from Times Square and have fenced off sidestreets. In additon, more than 200 metal detectors have been set up to screen revelers. Special radiation detectors will also be used to check holidaymakers' bags. 

At a news conference, New York City Police 

Commissioner Ray Kelly said so-called "chatter" reported by intelligence agencies has led police to increase their presence at soft targets, such as hotels.

"Quite frankly, we are paying perhaps additional attention to hotels and sensitive locations this year," he said. "We have more personnel, we have counter-terrorism helicopters that we are using and we are focusing on landmarked buildings, hotels and financial districts."

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is trying to reassure the public, saying there has been no specific threat to New York City.

"The reason for the heightened security is that we have a large number of people together and it is a symbolic time of the year and particularly New Year's Eve, a symbolic evening," he said. "Should you feel any less threatened, or more threatened today than any other day? No, you should go about your business."

New York City is experiencing an increased number of tourists this the holiday season and many have already visited the Time's Square area for the New Year's celebration. 

"We have seen it on television so we want to be here and see it and feel it," said one tourist. "It is going to be nice, it is going to be busy, crowded."

This year's special guest for the live, televised celebration at Time's Square will be Shoshana Johnson, who spent 22 days as a prisoner of war in Iraq, after she was shot during an ambush. Ms. Johnson is expected to help drop the 485-kilogram (1,067-pound) Waterford crystal ball and lead a 60-second countdown to the new year. 

U.S. announces stricter measures for slaughtering
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Department of Agriculture Tuesday announced stricter measures to further ensure the safety of the American beef supply from mad cow disease, adding that American beef remains safe for domestic and international consumption. 

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman announced a ban on the slaughter of sick, so-called "downer," cows like the one discovered last week with mad cow disease in Washington State. 

Under the new restrictions, meat from the diseased cow would not have gotten into the food supply. Recalls for the beef were announced in eight U.S. states and Guam.

In addition, meatpackers will be barred from using the small intestines, head and spinal tissue from older cows, born prior to a rigorous inspection program for mad cow disease implemented in 1997, and packers will no longer be allowed to use certain slaughering techniques that might contaminate safe meat.

Secretary Veneman also announced the appointment of an international panel of scientists to review the U.S. response to mad cow disease. "Sound science continues to be our guide," she said.

Officials believe the contaminated cow in Washington State was one of 82 head from the same Canadian herd imported to the United States. Last May, a cow infected with Mad Cow disease was discovered in Alberta. 

Intensive efforts are underway in the U.S. to trace the movement of the cows, and those that have been found are being quarantined for further testing. 

Secretary Veneman again stressed the safety of American beef. "The risk of BSE spreading in the U.S. is extremely low," she said.

Mad Cow disease, also known as BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy), is a fatal, neurological disorder that cattle get by eating infected meal from other animals, such as sheep. Humans can contract a version of the disease from diseased cows.

Jo Stuart
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