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 NEWS
updated by 8:00 a.m. CST each day

Baby Trafficking Ring Operates in Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Israel
An Israeli citizen who manages a Costa Rica adoption agency faces an INTERPOL detention order as a suspect in the trafficking and kidnapping of babies as well as the murder of one child in his care who died from lack of medical attention in Colombia.

Rolf Salomón Levy Berger, also known as Rafael Leyva or Rafael Levy, founded the International Adoption Resources Foundation in Costa Rica to facilitate international adoptions despite the fact that he was not certified to do so. This same agency has offices in Boca Raton, Florida, where Levy is the “international coordinator”.

Levy, who resides in Miami Beach, Florida, faces a Colombian arrest warrant for illegal actions between the year 2000 and 2002. In the INTERPOL report, he also is accused of the theft of babies.

According to Colombian authorities, one of the stolen babies, only described as 8-month-old “Gregory”, died of “neglect and a lack of medical attention” whilst in a home under the care of one of Levy’s workers.

The Costa Rican authorities have requested an international arrest order against Levy through the First District Penal Court in San Jose as a result of an investigation into the trafficking of Central American babies.

“According to the investigations, Levy was the person who formed the Costa Rican Foundation, “Fundación IAR, Sí a la Vida” before the jailed notary Carlos Hernán Robles on June 11th this year. In the home of this same foundation in the urban area known as La Uruca, nine Guatemalan babies were found. With Levy’s precedents he should be considered as a dangerous person and we ask the international authorities to comply with his immediate detention”, insisted Bruce Harris, Regional Director for Latin American Programs of Casa Alianza, an affiliate of the New York based Covenant House.

In Colombia, Levy was the legal representative of an Israeli based agency called “El Niño y sus Padres” (The Child and his Parents), dedicated to the promotion of international adoptions.

According to Colombian police reports, Levy and at least four other people – who also face criminal charges – searched for pregnant women in different areas of the country and offered them economic help in return for their babies. They would register the newborns and keep them in one of their properties until their adoption. This is a similar manner in which they appear to have functioned in Guatemala with the eventual trafficking of the Guatemalan babies to Costa Rica for international adoption in the United States and Asia.

Casa Alianza, an organization dedicated to protecting children’s human rights, has made an urgent appeal to Central American authorities regarding international criminal networks who are stealing babies in the region with the purpose of then sending them for lucrative international adoptions.

“It was over 7 years ago when Casa Alianza uncovered the illegal trafficking of babies from Honduras and later in Guatemala. In the last few months the illegal adoptions situation has been repeated in Nicaragua and Costa Rica”, added Harris.

Since 1996, Casa Alianza has documented and denounced illegal adoptions from Guatemala – the country that sends more children in international adoptions per capita than any other country in the world, ninety percent of which go to the United States. Guatemala does not even have an adoption law and recently the Guatemalan Constitutional Court made an attempt to reject the country’s adherence to the Hague Convention on International Adoptions.


Stability and Growth
The economy of Costa Rica has behaved better than expected this year, but it depends on the developments in 2004 to expect a calm 2005.

This according to Central Bank chairman Francisco Gutierrez, the coordinator of the Economic Council Ronulfo Jimenez, and Vice-President Lineth Saborio (above, right), who coordinates the Social Council.

The figures upon which their assertions are based include a 5.8 percent growth in the Gross Domestic Product including the high-technology sector -4.2 percent if high-tech is not included-, a $415-million decrease in the fiscal deficit, a 2 percent drop in poverty, and a 6.99 percent cumulate inflation.

Gutierrez pointed out that the efforts to improve economy as a whole have been carried out without further recession. In relation to next year, the three officials agree that the performance will greatly depend on the approval of a fiscal reform and of a free trade agreement with the United States.

The two would result in sustained growth, more exports, and more foreign investment, whose positive results would not be evident until the year 2005, Gutierrez, Jimenez, and Saborio pointed out..


U.S. For Trade Pacts With Smaller Countries
Washington, Nov.30. (PTI): With major global or even regional free trade agreements eluding its grasp, the US is now pursuing numerous trade pacts with smaller countries which would have limited economic impact but which it hopes will ease the path to its ultimate goal of a worldwide business zone.

The US is currently working towards free trade agreements with 19 countries, though the impact of bilateral agreements on businesses and jobs is expected to be limited because the countries have relatively small economies.

US trade representative Robert B Zoellick and Mark Vaile, Australia's Trade Minister, met this week and their negotiating teams will gather next week in Washington to try to finalise a deal.

Negotiators from Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua will be in Washington in the second week of December, hoping to finalise terms for a deal between the US and the five-nation trade bloc.

'The Washington Times' said many US business groups are eager for the deals so that they can get easier access to the markets but others are worried that competition from Central America will cost profits or jobs.

The two proposed pacts, said the paper, are also indicative of the limited economic impact of bilateral or small regional agreements.

 



FARC declares US soldiers in Colombia "military target"
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) declared on Saturday US soldiers deployed in the country "military target."

"There are more than 1,000 US troops in Colombia training and supporting the official forces in the anti-insurgent war and against people," one of the FARC leaders, Luis Devia, also known as "Raul Reyes," said in a website statement.

"Military targets are both the invaders and their war instruments," said Reyes, the ex-negotiator of the FARC in the failed peace dialogue with the previous government.

The 17,000-strong FARC is the largest guerrilla force of Colombia, followed by the National Liberation Army (ELN), with 5,000 combatants.

Colombia is one of the countries to which the United States provides military and economic assistance. In the past three years, the US aid to Colombia has surpassed two billion US dollars, merely less than those provided to Israel and Egypt, with an extended range covering ammunition, military consultancy, satellite surveillance and telecommunications monitoring.

With the conflicts between the Colombian guerrillas and the government escalating since last year, the United States has intensified its military aid accordingly.

FARC warned previously that the US intervention in the Colombian domestic conflicts would make the peace process complicated and worsen the current situations. The guerrilla group demanded that all US military personnel withdraw from Colombia, a prerequisite for a ceasefire.

The FARC and the US military personnel have not fought each other yet.

In regard to the demobilization of the paramilitaries of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) on Tuesday in Medellin, Reyes described it as a "publicity show by President Alvaro Uribe."

The dismantling of one fraction of the AUC "is not good news for Colombia, the FARC, or the international community," he added.

Since taking office in 2002, Colombian President Uribe has adopted a tough policy against the leftist guerrilla groups and far-right paramilitaries in a bid to put an early end to the country's four-decade civil war, the longest in Latin America. An average of 3,500 people, mostly civilians, are killed every year in the conflict.


Central America attains "important advances" on FTA plan
Central America made "important advances" Friday to achieve a united position on the planned Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) with the United States.

The latest regional coordination meeting on CAFTA closed in Honduras Friday with Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador agreeing to negotiate as a bloc with the United States for the free trade agreement.

The ninth and final round of CAFTA negotiations will be held Dec. 8-12 in Washington, Costa Rica's Foreign Ministry said in a statement Friday. Observers of the negotiations believe the agreement will be signed next March.

Attending the current negotiating session were officials responsible for services, investment, textiles, and environmental issues.

On services and investment, delegates discussed financial services and trade in cross-border services.

On textiles, negotiations focused on regulations and rules of origin.

On environment, Central America and the United States attained "important advances" on topics to be contained in the agreement, the ministry said without outlining specifics.

The ministry pointed out that on market access, it should be possible to utilize the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) to cover Costa Rican products.

"We have reached an agreement with the United States which basically means that already all of our exports sent to the United States can be dealt with under the CBI," said the Costa Rican negotiator in chief, Anabel Gonzalez.

She said "issues related to conditions covering the export of US products to Costa Rica were accorded with the exception of sensitive products on which we will work intensively in the final round."

 



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