- The Washington Times - Monday, July 31, 2006

BRAZIL

President too busy to campaign for votes

BRASILIA — While his main rival tirelessly crisscrosses the country in search of votes, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is portraying himself as too busy working to campaign in earnest for the Oct. 1 national elections.

But now that Geraldo Alckmin of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party is gaining in polls of voters, some members of Mr. Lula da Silva’s campaign team worry he may be taking his popularity for granted.

“Lula is too absorbed in his job,” said Roberto Amaral of the Brazilian Socialist Party, which is backing the president’s re-election bid. “The campaign is just starting, and we need to find a balance between the presidency and the campaign.”

Aides have scheduled 36 weekend rallies and campaign trips, and Mr. Lula da Silva intends to use one evening a week for campaign events.

COSTA RICA

Scientists to test plasma space rocket

LIBERIA — Better known for coffee, surfing and jungles, tiny Costa Rica’s scientists are working on a plasma rocket engine they hope will slash travel time to the moon and beyond.

Led by Costa Rica-born former NASA space shuttle astronaut Franklin Chang-Diaz, the Houston-based Ad Astra Rocket Co. inaugurated a site in the Central American nation last month to test rocket components.

The company hopes to sell the finished rocket engine, propelled by super-hot plasma, to NASA for moon trips in the next decade and an eventual lunar space station. Considered the fourth state of matter because it is neither a solid, liquid nor gas, plasma is a high-energy form of matter that can reach millions of degrees.

VENEZUELA

Vice president leads land-reform march

CARACAS — Venezuela’s vice president led thousands of farmers Saturday in a march protesting the killing of peasant leaders who backed the government’s land-reform campaign.

Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel promised to punish those responsible for slaying dozens of peasant leaders since the campaign began several years ago. “For each attempted murder against one of our peasants, we will immediately expropriate millions of acres of land,” Mr. Rangel told the demonstrators.

Peasant leaders and human rights groups link the deaths of 50 to 150 activists to the land reform program, which expropriates state and privately owned land deemed to be idle.

Weekly notes …

At least one civilian was killed and 15 soldiers were injured yesterday by a car bomb targeting a military convoy in Bogota, Colombia, the army said. The blast, a week before President Alvaro Uribe’s second term begins Monday, was set off by remote control as military trucks passed by. Four years ago, Mr. Uribe’s first inauguration was marred by rebel missile attacks that killed 21 persons and injured 60. … Mexican producer Tequila Ley.925 announced July 21 that it had sold a platinum-and-gold bottle of “Aztec Passion” tequila to a U.S.-based collector for $225,000. The buyer’s name was not disclosed. Ordinary tequila, distilled from a cactuslike desert plant, sells for as little as $10 a bottle; cheap versions of the firewater are drunk by Mexican farmers and laborers.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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