A.M. Costa Rica's
Fifth news page
Obama promises more cash
to support Colombian peace
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
President Barack Obama promised Thursday to provide more financial aid and other support for Colombia as its government prepares to finalize a peace deal with left-wing guerrillas it has battled for more than 50 years.
After meeting with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos at the White House, Obama announced additional funding and other measures he said would help Colombia rebuild after reaching a peace accord with the Marxist rebel group the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, or FARC.
Negotiations have entered the final stages, and if an agreement is reached, it will end Latin America’s longest-running insurgency. White House officials predict a deal will be finalized in this first part of the year.
After meeting in the Oval Office, the two leaders spoke at a reception to mark the 15-year anniversary of Plan Colombia, a joint initiative started to help end the armed conflict and drug trade in Colombia.
The effort, which spanned presidencies and party lines, has reached a tipping point, Obama said. “A country that was on the brink of collapse is now on the brink of peace.”
He announced a framework, called Peace Colombia, marking a new era of partnership.
The U.S. leader proposed that more than $450 million be devoted to reinforcing security gains in Colombia, reintegrating former combatants into society and extending the rule of law and opportunities into areas where they had not existed. He also vowed to continue supporting efforts to fight drug trafficking and its effects in both countries.
As part of global de-mining efforts, the U.S. will also support Colombia as it works to remove every land mine in the country within five years, Obama said.
Santos told the audience, including members of the Colombian delegation and U.S. lawmakers from both parties, “Today, we see the future with hope.”
Santos recalled how 15 years ago, Colombia was in the throes of the worst economic recession in decades and had lost nearly two-thirds of its territory to paramilitary and guerrilla fighters, both supported by drug trafficking.
“We were very close to being declared a failed state,” the Colombian leader said. “We had a very dark and uncertain future.”
He thanked the U.S. for its partnership and noted that Colombia is enjoying economic growth, job creation, reduced poverty, a rising middle class and falling crime rates.
White House officials have said the U.S. still has concerns about human rights, justice for victims and the drug trade in Colombia.
The Obama administration has said it will ask Congress for additional funding in its 2017 budget to help Colombia recover after a peace accord is reached.
“This request will demonstrate our intention to help Colombia successfully implement its peace agreement,” said Mark Feierstein, the National Security Council senior director for Western Hemisphere affairs.
In Colombia, both government and rebel negotiators have been meeting in Havana for months to close in on a peace deal during talks sponsored by Norway and Cuba. Santos has set a March deadline for reaching a treaty.
The White House said the relationship developed under Plan Colombia had allowed the two nations to expand collaboration in new areas of mutual interest, including the fight against the spread of the zika virus.
The two nations agreed to intensify collaboration, speed up probes into the effects of the zika virus, and conduct joint research to help diagnose, treat and control the virus.
Mrs. Clinton and Sander
are starting to square off
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
The two remaining Democratic presidential candidates, former secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, held a tense and angry debate Thursday night in New Hampshire, days before the northeastern state holds the nation's first presidential primary.
Mrs. Clinton trails Sanders by 16 percentage points in the polls after barely beating him in the Iowa caucuses. Former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley dropped out of the race after a poor showing in Iowa.
Now that voter preference actually starts to count toward who gets nominated, the cordial campaign is becoming heated, with Mrs. Clinton and Sanders bickering over who is the true progressive in the race and who is beholden to big-money interests.
Mrs. Clinton called herself a progressive who gets things done, saying the senator's proposals for free college and health care are promises that cannot be kept. She said such ideas will raise taxes and make it hard for Americans to get ahead and stay ahead.
Sanders said these are not radical ideas. He said just about every other developed nation has free public college and single-payer health care for its citizens.
The senator said Mrs. Clinton once called herself a moderate. Sanders said no one can be a moderate and a progressive at the same time.
Mrs. Clinton seemed also genuinely offended when Sanders pointed out that she has received high speaking fees from large Wall Street financial firms. He said big money in politics and Congress is one major reason for high drug prices and energy policies that rely on fossil fuels and big oil.
Mrs. Clinton called it an artful smear and rejected accusations that anyone getting big money is being bought. She said she had never changed a view or a vote because of any donation.
Sanders again boasted that he had raised millions of dollars from small contributors and that he was the only candidate in the race, Democrat or Republican, without a super PAC, a political action committee that raises unlimited sums from mainly wealthy donors.
Voice of America photoSgt. Clayton Embre, far right, and Sgt. Devin
Burgett, second from right, pose with comrades
Iowa's Afghanistan veterans
judge candidates differently
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
While polls show that most Iowans had the U.S. economy on their minds when they participated in Monday's caucuses to choose a candidate for president, one group of caucus watchers was picking candidates with a different issue in mind.
Five thousand of Iowa's National Guard troops have served in Afghanistan since the U.S. went to war there after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. And it has changed the perspective of many of them.
Sgt. Devin Burgett served in Afghanistan from 2010 to 2011 with Company B, 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regiment of the Iowa National Guard. He was stationed in the east of the country in Torkham Gate, an area close to the Pakistani border. He also served in eastern Laghman province.
Burgett, who lives in Iowa City, said he would back a candidate who supports staying in Afghanistan to try to help the Afghan people.
“I would be happy to see a candidate who would win that shows appreciation to Afghans," he said, "because a lot of Afghans helped the U.S., and I think we owe it to them. I would be happy to see someone who would show a little gratitude to the people who fought alongside us in Afghanistan.”
Last year in October, President Barack Obama announced that American troops would remain in Afghanistan at the current level of 9,800 throughout 2016 as part of Resolute Support Mission. The plan had been to reduce that number this year, but because of Taliban advances, Obama postponed cutting troops to 5,500 until 2017.
Sgt. Clayton Embre, who served alongside Burgett in Afghanistan, identified himself as a Republican.
“I am a Republican and will vote for the Republican Party. I like John Kasich and Ben Carson,” Embre said.
He said national security and the economy were the most important things for him during the election season. On the issue of fighting the Islamic State group and terrorism, he said neither of his favorite GOP candidates has the necessary solutions to deal with that problem.
“Neither one of them knows exactly what to do and what they should do,” Embre said. “Obviously, they are smart enough to listen to generals and other people, and they will surround themselves with intelligent and smart people and do what they say.”
Sayed Monib, an Afghan interpreter who served with Embre’s unit in Afghanistan, lives in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He found the primary process in Iowa interesting and said that he was looking forward to being able to vote one day.
Only U.S. citizens can vote, and it can be a long process to become a citizen. Serving with the National Guard offers expedited citizenship.
Another interpreter who served with Iowa National Guard’s 168th Infantry Regiment said that he is closely following the elections in the U.S.
“I would like to vote as an American one day. I consider myself part of America and am looking forward to my citizenship. I have a green card now and will soon vote,” Nabi Mohammadi said.
He drew a comparison between U.S. and Afghan elections: “Unlike Afghanistan, it’s a very transparent and clear process here. You get the results quicker here.”
Mohammadi has survived four attacks on his life, two improvised explosive device attacks and two rocket attacks, while serving with the U.S military in Afghanistan. He was in short-term disability for four months when the vehicle he was traveling in ran over an explosive device in Afghanistan.
Now he is living what he considers the American dream in Des Moines, Iowa, with his two kids and wife. He bought a house and studies information technology at Des Moines Area Community College.
Another Afghan, Sayed Mansoor Afzali, is a Fulbright student at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, where he now lives. He said that he was very excited about the primary process as voters’ energy and enthusiasm reminded him of Afghanistan’s 2014 presidential elections, where he said Afghanistan demonstrated the same level of passion.
Afzali added that “I am truly lucky to be living in the U.S. at such an important and eventful time.”
State Department reveals
server lapses by GOP, too
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
The U.S. State Department has determined that emails containing classified information were sent to the personal email accounts of former Secretary of State Colin Powell and aides to his successor, Condoleezza Rice.
Former secretary of State Hillary Clinton's use of a personal email server has dogged her presidential campaign, and news that her predecessors in a Republican administration might have received such information on nonsecure servers could help her blunt the criticism that Republicans have leveled at her, hoping to impede her presidential campaign.
The State Department inspector general has determined that two emails sent to Powell and 10 others sent to Rice's staff also contained classified national security information. Those emails have now been classified as confidential or secret as part of a review process that has resulted in similar upgrades of information sent through the personal email server that Mrs. Clinton used while she was secretary of state from 2009 to 2013.
Powell and Rice were top diplomats under Republican President George W. Bush.
In a statement, Powell said the emails in question were not judged to contain confidential information at the time they were sent to him. A representative for Rice said the emails sent to her aide did not contain intelligence information.
The news came less than a week after the Obama administration confirmed for the first time that Mrs. Clinton's unsecured home server when she was secretary of State contained 22 top-secret emails, which the State Department said would not be released.
State Department officials have said that using a private email account was not prohibited, and that Clinton never shared classified information over the account. But critics said the private account might have permitted her to hide her communications and that use of the unsecured server at her home outside New York City left it vulnerable to overseas hackers.
Mrs. Clinton initially said that setting up the private server was a matter of convenience, but later conceded it was a mistake.
Phoenix International Holdings, Inc. photoThe Phoenix Synthetic Aperture Sonar, or
ProSAS-60, provides a higher resolution,
especially at the outer ranges of sonar.
Better sonar device joining
search for missing aircraft
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
Nearly two years have passed since the disappearance of MH-370, the Malaysia Airlines flight that vanished on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board.
A U.S. firm, Phoenix International, will rejoin the search next week aboard a Chinese vessel, which will join three Dutch ships in scouring the Indian Ocean. The underwater search will take place in the southern Indian Ocean, off the west coast of Australia.
Phoenix International's side scan sonar, which can create an image of large areas of the sea floor, will be towed from the Chinese Rescue Ship Dong Hai Jiu 101.
Experts say the Phoenix Synthetic Aperture Sonar is more accurate than the traditional 75 kHz side sonars that were previously used. According to Phoenix officials, the device provides a higher degree of resolution, especially at the outer ranges of sonar.
It also allows 24-hour access to instant data with less need for battery replacement.
"We fully understand and appreciate the magnitude of this effort, and we look forward to assisting the ATSB in finding MH370 and bringing closure to those impacted by this tragic event," said Mike Kutzleb, president of Phoenix, referring to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.
Phoenix has assisted in the search before. It was first contracted three months after the plane disappeared.
MH-370 is thought to have gone down in some of the most remote ocean stretches in the world. Numerous underwater searches have failed to locate debris on areas of the ocean floor that are yet unmapped and up to 6,000 meters deep.
The area is fraught with unforeseen danger. An Australian search report mentions underwater mountains, crevasses, ridges and 2,000-meter sheer cliffs.
Last month, an underwater sonar device, called a towfish, slammed into a 2,200-meter high mud volcano. The cable snapped and the towfish along with 4,500 meters of cable plummeted to the ocean floor. Experts say it is possible to recover the equipment at a later date.
Over the course of the search, two previously unknown shipwrecks have been found.
In January, sonar photos revealed a strange object. The Shipwreck Galleries of the Western Australian Museum determined the object was a ship made of steel or iron from the turn of the 19th century.
Last May, debris was located from the wreck of another ship. The largest object in the shape of a box was about six meters.
Without any substantial debris to study, the Australian Defense Science and Technology Group says the most likely cause of the plane crash was a right engine flame-out, followed by a left engine flame-out.
The analysis took into account the amount of fuel loaded in Kuala Lumpur and the amount used in each engine before the plane's final transmission.
Flame-outs occur when jet fuel in a tank is depleted.
The report continues, "It is estimated that the left engine could have continued to run for up to 15 minutes after the right engine flamed out."
The only confirmed wreckage of Flight 370 to be recovered was a flaperon that washed up on Reunion Island in July of last year.
Last month, a large portion of plane wreckage was found off the coast of Thailand, igniting speculation that it could be from MH370. But Malaysian investigators said the debris was not from the same type of Boeing 777 as the mysteriously missing aircraft.
The complete search area is 120 square kilometers with less than 40 percent left to go off the west coast of Australia.
“Recent commitments by the People's Republic of China to provide funding and equipment, coupled with Malaysia's ongoing financial contributions, will ensure the thorough completion of the remaining 45,000 square kilometers of the search area," according to a statement from Australian officials leading the search effort.
Investigators say they will end all search efforts in June 2016.
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