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These stories were published Monday, March 22, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 57
Jo Stuart
About us
For ex-postal worker, chocolate is an art form
By Laureen Diephof
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

With a steady hand, Earl Willis edged a slice of miel de caña cake, covered with silky smooth chocolate onto a white plate and stepped back. 

"The plate is too big," he said. With the same agility, he successfully transferred it over to a smaller plate.  He placed a round ball of decorative chocolate on the wedge, twirled a dollop of chocolate syrup on the plate, added a small amount of cream, and topped that with a bit of brittle candy. An all-over dusting of chocolate powder finished the work of art. The cake could have sat on a shelf at the Guggenheim Museum.  Instead, a nearby chocolate fanatic ate it.

Willis, owner of La Casa de Chocolate in Santa Barbara de Heredia, began the business two years ago with his assistants, Francisca Delgado Mange and Adriana Quesada Herrera. They are, according to Willis, his left and right hand. "It’s my desire to feature visually attractive products, made with the finest ingredients," Willis said. "I can do this only with Adrianna and Francisca’s help," he added.

Willis, an artist and former art gallery owner and art promoter from New York, knows art. His career began as an art major at Valdosta State College in south Georgia. After college, he joined the Navy, then worked nights at the U.S. Postal Service in New York City until he retired five years ago. 

At the same time he worked full time at the post office, Willis owned the Nove Art Gallery on the 26th floor of the Fisk Building on Broadway and Eighth Avenue near Carnegie Hall. He lived in New York for 30 years, 20 of them in the artsy Soho neighborhood.

When he sold the gallery, he continued organizing art shows and branched out to an art critique book publishing business, Willis, Locker and Owens Publishing. 

During the 90’s, while working at the post office and thinking about retirement, he started to ask the question, what is next? Chocolate was the answer. He enjoyed working with his hands and

Earl Willis with associates Francisca Delgado Mange and Adriana Quesada Herrera.

A.M. Costa Rica/Laureen Diephof
This must be 12 million calories.

decided to combine that with a desire to create desserts, mainly chocolate. 

But guys with a bent toward perfection, like Earl Willis, do not go into new fields haphazardly. He said he wanted to learn all he could about his new craft, and use it in what he called, "the next chapter of my life." 

He attended three courses on Swiss chocolate at the International School of Confectionary Arts in Gaithersburg, Maryland, under the tutelage of Ewald and Susan Notter. 

Willis and his two helpers supply wholesale customers, such as Café Britt in Herrera and Jalapeños in Alejuela with desserts. They also retail for private parties, meetings and celebrations.

In the shop at the time of this interview there were several of the "Gourmet-to-Go" cakes: Guayaba made of Ricotta cheese, Chiverre and orange cake made of Moscaropone cheese, a flour-less torte with pecans, almonds, and macadamia nuts. Customers can purchase a sampler of the Gourmet-to-Go, Willis said. Gourmet-to-Go products are placed in hard plastic containers for portability. The shelf also held a French apple pie, pecan shortbread, chocolate banana bread, and a variety of cookies.

"We always have a slice of cake and a cup of coffee for 100 colones each for people who just want to drop in, and always something for kids," he said. La Casa De Chocolate is located in front of Estadio Carlos Alvarado in Santa Barbara.

Then he studied French chocolate at Cocoa Barry, a school outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  He also served in two apprenticeships, one at Payard Patisserie and Bistro in New York City, and another for Christopher Norman Chocolates in New York City.

Willis has become knowledgeable about the history and the chemistry of chocolate and demonstrates that in his dynamic conversations and extensive library on the subject. All of the dessert creations come from adaptations of the equally extensive cookbook collection and his unique flair.

His move to Costa Rica, where his brother had settled, began the new chapter of his life and new business. In the chocolate room, where temperatures must be regulated, he is currently experimenting with a world-class Venezuelan chocolate for truffles, soon to be available.

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Country sends wishes
to Taiwanese leaders 

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica was among those countries that sent wishes of quick recuperation to the president and vice president of Taiwan after they were shot at on the eve of the national elections there.

"We give thanks to God because President Chen Sui-Bian and his vice president, Anette Lu, have been able to escape harm from the attack and we enegetically condem these reprehensible acts," said Marco Vinicio Vargas, the acting foreign minister.

Meanwhile, in the island nation, Taiwan's High Court has ordered ballots and other documents from Saturday's presidential election sealed amid a bitter dispute over the result. Protests have broken out around the island questioning the incumbent president's victory.

Opposition candidate Lien Chan went to court to challenge the president’s very narrow re-election. Thousands of Lien's supporters took to the streets, demanding that the president's victory be declared invalid.

Lien filed an appeal against the election after Saturday's results were announced, demanding a recount and an investigation into alleged irregularities.

The Lien campaign is also questioning the apparent assassination attempt against President Chen one day before the polls, which observers say created a sympathy vote that turned the election in his favor.

Some Lien supporters accuse the president of playing up the incident or even staging it himself. Chen was slightly wounded in the stomach by a bullet as he rode through the streets in Southern Taiwan.

They also note that 2.5 percent of the ballots were declared invalid, while the margin of victory was less than one percentage point.

This, combined with some private exit polls showing an opposition victory, points to what the opposition claims was election rigging by the administration.

Costa Rica, which supports Taiwan on the international arena, has close relations with the Asian nation and has received a number of public works projects as signs of friendship.

Man awaiting taxi
shot at by gunmen

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Gunmen shot at a man waiting for a taxi at the Centro Comercial El Pueblo about 4 a.m. Saturday. The would-be victim, identified by the last name of Navarro, was not hurt, police said.

No motive could be established. El Pueblo is where a number of dance clubs are located, and 4 a.m. is not an unusual hour for someone to be there. 

Police said they were able to detain two suspects in the shooting. They were identified by their last names of Villalobos Sánchez and Pereira Castillo. Polie said they confiscated a 9 mm. pistol.

Pacheco promoting
Harry Potter books

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Abel Pacheco wants to get Costa Rican students hooked on Harry Potter. The president visited the Escuela República de Nicaragua and the Escuela Omar Dengo, both identified as schools with less than adequate resources.

Pacheco was accompanied by his 9-year-old grandson, Sergio Castro, who praised the work of the British author J.K. Rowling. Castro, himself, is working on the fifth book of the Harry Potter series.

In all, Pacheco is purchasing 520 Harry Potter books for the school children. He is using some $5,000 he received Feb. 26 from the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute in New York. The president was honored with the award because of the country’s stand against human cloning.

Pacheco said that he was not a very good student and what saved him was reading and learning from the works of Jules Verne and the Italian adventure author  Emilio Salgari. "This awakened my imagination,"  Pacheco said.

Rather than just giving the books to the children, Pacheco’s plan is what amounts to a revolving lending library. As a child finishes one book, he or she may surrender it for another Harry Potter novel.

Jacó man detained

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An Italian resident of Jacó who ran a laundry at his home now faces a drug charge after being arrested Friday.

The man, whose name was not available, has sold marijuana in the beach community for several years, using the laundry as a cover, agents for the Judicial Investigating Organization allege.

Vice minister picks
her baby over job

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The vice minister of Transportes who used to take her infant to work has quit because her maternal activities have caused a constitutional court appeal.

The minister is Karla González. She said she would leave to remove her 6-week-old child from the public spotlight. A resident of San Ramon made the Sala IV appeal, claiming that the child deserved better than to be brought daily to the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes.

There is no indication that the person who filed the case ever met the vice minister or the baby. Ms. González has three other children, 6, 9 and 12 years. She was considered a hard charger who worked through her pregnancy, frequently at job sites.

The minister said she would get a job in industry where she would continue to bring her infant.
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Pro-U.S. candidate wins presidency in El Salvador
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — Antonio Elías Saca, the candidate of the pro-United States ARENA Party, has been declared the winner of the presidential elections held Sunday.

He had 57 percent of the votes cast, or 987,860, according to El Diario de Hoy. In second place was the former leftist rebel Schafik Handal, who garnered 35 percent or 618,076 votes. Saca led in the polls through the race. His strong showing with more than 50 percent of the votes avoided a second round of balloting.

During a brief acceptance speech, Saca fielded two congradulatory calls on his cellular phone. One was from President Oscar Berger of Guatemala and the other was from President Enrique Bolaños of Nicaragua.

Also elected was vice presidential candidate Ana Vilma de Escobar.

Saca claimed throughout the campaign that Handal would install a Communist regime in El Salvador. Handal denied that but said he wanted to renegotiate the free trade treaty the country had negotiated with the United states and to recognize Cuba.

A 1992 peace accord between the government and leftist rebels ended El Salvador's bitter civil war. But in some ways, Sunday's presidential election is seen as a re-run of those Cold War rivalries, pitting the former Communist rebel against a candidate for the long-ruling ARENA party. 

During a recent campaign rally under the blazing Salvadoran sun, supporters for Saca sang "Fatherland, Yes, Communism, No," thrusting their fists into the thick afternoon air. Saca, a 39-year-old sportscaster turned radio-station-owner, ran on the ticket of the right-wing ARENA party or Nationalist Republican Alliance, which has been in power for three terms, and is closely linked to the business establishment.

Critics charge ARENA's campaign is designed to scare voters away from the FMLN or Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, a former rebel group which became a political party when the civil war ended with a 1992 peace accord. 

In an interview, Saca defended his campaign. It is his party's obligation to point out the truth, he says, adding that he has no doubt that the FMLN still has a Communist agenda in mind. 

Handal is an aging, bearded, ex-rebel commander. At an FMLN rally, the 73-year-old, three-term legislator led the crowd in a 1970s Latin American revolutionary song. 

The FMLN was trying to win the votes of the those who are disappointed with the current economy. Handal said he has no intention of installing a Communist regime. 

Communism is not even under discussion in El Salvador, he said. The FMLN would establish a government far more democratic than Salvador has had in the past, he says.

There was little likelihood Handal would win. Polls gave Saca anywhere from a 7 to a 25 point lead. 

But observers say the elections have created divisions deeper than any seen since the war, when the FMLN was a guerrilla group and ARENA was linked to counter-insurgency operations. Some 75,000 people died during the 12-year civil war. 

During the Cold War, the United States supported the army's efforts to quash the FMLN guerrillas. Now, some charge, Washington helped ARENA defeat the FMLN party. 

"The U.S. has repeatedly, three or four times now, publicly taken the position that the election of the FMLN candidate, who opposes the U.S. on a number of policy issues, would put U.S.-Salvadoran relations in jeopardy," said Geoff Thale, who works for the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights advocacy and policy group. 

Handal favors resumption of El Salvador's diplomatic relations with Cuba and said he would renegotiate the Central American Free Trade Agreement reached with the United States last year.

Saca emphasizes his ARENA party's close relations with the United States. El Salvador's economy is disproportionately dependent on money sent home by Salvadorans working abroad, many of them in the United States. His critics say he is playing on fears that arrangement could be jeopardized if relations with Washington deteriorate. 

"ARENA and Tony Saca are the ones who can ensure tranquility for Salvadoran migrants because they have good relations with the United States," he says. 

The campaign has struck a chord with people like Mirna Hernandez, an unemployed 33-year-old, who depends on the remittances sent to her by relatives living in the United States. If the FMLN wins, she says, the United States is going to deport the Salvadorans.

Over a quarter of the Salvadoran population lives in the United States, and the money they send home totals roughly 15 percent of the nation's economy. 

The United States Embassy recently emphasized that work visas and deportations are based on legal, not political, criteria. But pollsters say what is seen as the underlying message of the ARENA regarding the future of Salvadoran migrants in the United States seemed to work especially among less educated voters. 

Two other candidates were running, but both pulled about 6 percent of the votes. 

Uribe off to Washington for parley with Bush
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe is set to visit Washington next week for talks with President George Bush and other senior U.S. officials on extending the Plan Colombia anti-drug initiative by four more years.

The White House says President Bush will welcome Uribe to the White House on Tuesday. It says the two leaders will review efforts to defeat trans-national narco-terrorist groups.

President Uribe also is expected to meet with Secretary of State Colin Powell, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, members of the U.S. Congress and other officials during the four-day visit that begins Monday.

Since 2000, the United States has provided more than $2 billion in mostly military aid under Plan Colombia. The current aid package is set to expire next year. 

Colombian Foreign Minister Carolina Barco says the plan's goal of reducing the cultivation of coca crops by 50 percent by next year remains on track. But, she said that sustained U.S. involvement in Colombia is needed to cement gains made so far. Coca is the raw ingredient in cocaine.

Colombia is mired in a long-running civil war that pits two leftist rebel groups against rightist paramilitaries and government forces. Both the guerrillas and the paramilitaries finance their illegal operations by drug trafficking with the country's powerful cocaine cartels. 

Shroud that covered Evita auctioned for $195,000
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

ROME, Italy — A blue and white shroud that was used to cover the embalmed body of late Argentine first lady Eva Peron has sold for $195,000 at an auction here.

Antonio Mata, the chairman of airline carrier Aerolineas Argentinas, put in the winning bid for the shroud Thursday. His office said he planned to donate the item to the Argentine government, because of its value to the nation. 

Once an actress, Eva Peron was immensely popular

with poor and working-class Argentines for her work on their behalf while first lady.  Known as "Evita," her life story was later chronicled in a musical and in a movie starring Madonna. 

Eva Peron's husband, Gen. Juan Domingo Peron, was president of Argentina from 1946 to 1955, when he was overthrown. He returned to power in 1973 and died a year later. 

The shroud fetched the highest price at a sale of items that once belonged to the Perons. Other items sold included Gen. Peron's book collection and some of his clothes. 

New Haitian leader calls rebels 'freedom fighters'
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

GONAVIES, Haiti — Haiti's new Prime Minister Gerard Latortue has praised insurgents in this northwestern town where the uprising that forced former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide from power began. 

Latortue spoke to a cheering crowd of about 2,000 people Saturday after arriving to his hometown aboard a U.S. Army helicopter. He described rebels in the country's fourth-largest city as "freedom fighters" against the Aristide regime, dismissing claims they were "thugs." 

Latortue also met with rebel leaders in the town, who turned over a handful of weapons in a 

symbolic gesture. Haitian officials say they hope to begin disarming groups in coming weeks. 

Meantime, military officials with the multi-national peacekeeping force say a French legionnaire in Gonaives was killed when a gun accidentally misfired.  Dozens of French peacekeepers have deployed to the town and the northern port city of Cap-Haitien in an effort to ensure order. 

Haiti's political crisis came to a head last month when Aristide resigned and fled to the Central African Republic. He later traveled to Jamaica, where he is expected to remain for several weeks. Aristide has said the United States forced him to resign — a charge U.S. officials have denied. 

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Two studies point to mass extinction of species
By the American Association 
for the Advancement of Science

Two new studies of flora and fauna offer some of the first comprehensive evidence that species diversity is decreasing in the United Kingdom. The findings support the hypothesis that the world is experiencing a mass extinction on par with the other five mass extinctions that have punctuated the history of life.

Until now, this hypothesis has rested on data representing a relatively small portion of the world's plants and animals. Population information about insects, which make up approximately 50 percent of all known species, has been particularly sparse.

The two reports, which used data collected by scientists and thousands of volunteers scouring the countryside, now provide a thorough census for much of the wildlife in the United Kingdom.

"These results are by far the most detailed estimates we have for declines in the distributions of multiple species from major different groups of organisms," said Andrew Sugden, an ecology expert and international managing editor for the magazine "Science."

In one study, author Jeremy Thomas of the Natural Environment Research Council Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Dorchester and his colleagues analyzed six surveys covering virtually all of the United Kingdom's native plant, bird and butterfly populations over the last 40 years. Although the results varied for individual species, each group of organisms showed some overall declines.

Butterflies have fared particularly poorly, the authors found. Over 20 years, the ranges of approximately 70 percent of all the butterfly species in the United Kingdom declined to some degree, from a relatively small number of regional disappearances for some species to nationwide extinctions for a few others.

Overall, these insects have disappeared from 13 percent, on average, of areas they once occupied, the authors report.

"That's the opposite of what people thought 20 years ago: that insects were much more resilient because they could fly about. So that changes our priorities in the United Kingdom," Thomas said.

If butterflies prove to be representative of insects as a whole, then "the world is indeed experiencing the extinction crisis many people have been suggesting and talking about for years," Thomas said.

For each of the three types of organisms, Thomas and his colleagues analyzed one set of population data from 20 to 40 years ago and another set collected more recently. For all the datasets, the researchers divided Great Britain up into squares 

ten kilometers across and recorded the number of species spotted at least once in each square.

One-third of all the species recorded disappeared from at least one of the squares they had occupied 20 or 40 years ago. That group includes 70 percent of the butterfly species, as well as 28 percent of  plant species and 54 percent of native bird species.

It should be "harder for policymakers or decision-makers to pooh-pooh this idea that extinction rates are real, if they see this evidence," said Thomas. "It strengthens the case for those arguing for policies nationally and globally to mitigate the effects that man is having on the environment."

In a second report, Carly Stevens, a doctoral student at the Open University in Milton Keynes and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Huntingdon, and her colleagues have designated nitrogen pollution as the most likely reason for reduced numbers of grassland species in parts of the United Kingdom, and possibly elsewhere in Europe. Excess nitrogen can allow a few species, especially grasses, to grow fast and crowd or shade out their neighbors. The nitrogen is deposited from the atmosphere as the result of agricultural fertilization and fossil fuel combustion.

"We don't know how great the implications for consequential loss of other species, which rely on particular plant species, might be. Our results support the idea that pollution should be reduced and soon," Stevens added.

Stevens and her colleagues recorded the presence and abundance of plant species in 68 grasslands, which are typical of temperate grasslands in Europe and elsewhere.

The researchers then analyzed 20 different environmental factors to see which could best explain the variability in the number of species from one site to the next.

Their results showed that the effects of nitrogen deposition could account for more than half of the variation in the number of plant species. The relationship was linear, meaning that every additional amount of nitrogen deposited on a site over many years corresponded to an incremental decline in the number of species.

The authors estimate that grasslands receiving an average amount of nitrogen in the United Kingdom or central Europe may have already lost more than 20 percent of their species. Even though the rate of nitrogen deposits is beginning to decline in many areas of Europe and North America, recovery will likely be very slow, according to the scientists.

"The data suggest that it's taken around 40 years of high nitrogen deposition to get to this state, so it may take some time for species to return," said Stevens. "And some of the changes may be irreversible."

Foreign-born and blacks show disproportionate cases of TB
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that the overall rate of domestic tuberculosis cases declined in 2003, but cases among foreign-born and minority populations are disproportionately high. 

Significant geographic, racial and ethnic disparities remain in the distribution of tuberculosis cases, and cases have increased in some parts of the country, said a news release from the centers. California, New York, and Texas accounted for more than 40 percent of the 2003 national case total.

Rates among foreign-born individuals remain disproportionately high, nearly nine times the rate of persons born in the United States, the release said. Persons born outside the United States accounted for more than half (53.3 percent) of all new tuberculosis cases in 2003, it added.

After more than a decade of falling rates, the rate of decline for persons with active tuberculosis in the country is slowing, the centers said. New 

surveillance data for 2003 show that 14,871 persons with active tuberculosis disease were reported in the United States, comparable to the 15,075 cases reported in 2002, it added.

Overall, the national tuberculosis rate was 5.1 cases per 100,000 persons in 2003, a slight decline of 1.9 percent in case rate since 2002, said the centers, adding that this was the smallest one-year decline since 1992.

Blacks remain at heightened risk for tuberculosis. National rates for non-Hispanic blacks are nearly eight times higher than rates for non-Hispanic whites and two times higher than rates for Hispanics, said the centers.

The Centers for Disease Control said it continues to work to identify contributing factors and to develop strategies to eliminate existing disparities among racial and ethnic minorities, including demonstration projects to eliminate tuberculosis in African-American communities in the United States. In addition, the agency is working to improve screening among applicants for immigrant and refugee visas.

Jo Stuart
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