- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Officials rush to plug $500 million budget gap

BOGOTA | Colombia’s government will rush a tax bill to Congress this week to fill a budget hole that opened when the Constitutional Court struck down a presidential decree aimed at funding health care.

The court’s decision Friday threw out President Alvaro Uribe’s February decree imposing a levy on alcoholic beverages, cigarettes and gambling. Money raised by those taxes was to go toward funding Colombia’s cash-strapped health care system.

But the court decided that Mr. Uribe’s emergency health care reform — which would have provided $500 million through 2011 — was not justified as an executive order and that the legislature would have to vote on the measure.

Recognizing the financial problems Colombia’s health system faces, the court delayed the effect of its decision until mid-December. This will allow the decreed taxes to remain in effect until then and give Congress time to pass a health care funding package of its own.

It will not be easy for him to get new taxes passed, however.

The president’s legislative clout is dwindling as he prepares to step down in August at the end of his second term. Voters will choose his successor in May’s presidential election.


Boxer kills self after arrest in wife’s death

CARACAS | Champion Venezuelan boxer Edwin Valero hanged himself early Monday from the bars of a prison cell where he had been detained for killing his wife, police said.

Valero — who had held the World Boxing Council lightweight title until recently going for alcohol rehabilitation — was found in his cell with some signs of life but did not survive, said police Chief Wilmer Flores Trosel.

The 28-year-old, nicknamed “the Inca,” was charged with stabbing his wife to death in a room at the InterContinental Hotel in the city of Valencia. Police said on Sunday he had confessed to the murder of Jennifer Carolina Viera de Valero, 24.


Officials cite earthquake in 3 boating deaths

SANTO DOMINGO | Three local women drowned when a boat carrying them and foreign tourists sank in waves produced by a magnitude 5.1 earthquake off the eastern coast Sunday, officials said Monday.

The quake struck at 4:16 p.m. local time Sunday at a depth of 53.6 miles in the Mona Passage that separates Dominican Republic from Puerto Rico, 38 miles east-southeast from the Dominican beach resort of La Romana, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

Dominican Republic’s Emergency Operations Center said the three local women drowned when the boat that was carrying them and Russian and Italian tourists back to La Romana from the island of Saona sank about 15 minutes after the quake.


‘Seed man’ wins environmental prize

BAUTA | The folk-singing scientist strides over dry, fluffy soil that’s brown with a hint of red, like brownies fresh from the oven. He’s talking about seeds. He’s always talking about seeds.

Humberto Rios Labrada’s campaign to let Cuban farmers choose the crops and seed varieties best for their lands helped him win one of the 2010 Goldman Environmental Prizes — known as the “green Nobels” — on Monday.

“I want the seed to adapt to the people, not the people to adapt to the seed,” the 47-year-old self-described hippy told Associated Press during a recent visit to this farming town 20 miles east of Havana.

Mr. Rios Labrada wants to make Cuban farms more sustainable by giving farmers more autonomy — a radical notion in what has long been a strictly top-down planned economy in which officials tell producers just what to grow, even if it isn’t quite right for the soil.

The prize committee praised his approach for reducing the need for fertilizers and pesticides, helping Cuba shift away from dependence on farm chemicals.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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