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Friday, December 27th 2002 - 20:00 UTC
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Headlines: HMS Sheffield to Chile; Trade surplus; Punta Arenas monument to oil; Argentine crisis losses; Rich, poor and very poor; Uruguay working on human anthrax vaccine.

HMS Sheffield to Chile

Chilean Minister of Defence Michelle Bachelet confirmed this week that Chile will purchase the decommissioned Royal Navy frigate HMS Sheffield and it should be delivered to the Chilean Navy by October 2003. "What we must begin now are price discussions", said Ms. Bachelet in Santiago. The cost of the transaction is estimated between 10 and 15 million US dollars. "The Navy has the necessary resources for the operation so we are now looking into the equipment we're interested for the frigate", added the Chilean Minister. The purchase of HMS Sheffield will mean a delay for the Chilean Navy long term project of renewing its surface fleet with six to eight new frigates, based on a German model, which would mostly be built in Chilean shipyards. "The "Frigate" project is still standing. However since we don't have the funds for the Trident operation, --the building of new frigates--, the "bridge" option has been to purchase used frigates until we can retake the original plan", indicated Ms. Bachelet. As to the possibility of further purchases of used frigates Chilean Defence Minister said they "are rumors". Navy Commander Admiral Miguel Angel Vergara said the announcement was "excellent news", adding that "we now have to look ahead to the building of new frigates in Chile". HMS Sheffield is a Type 22 frigate, Lot 2, with a displacement of 4,800 tons and a crew of 265. The unit was built after the sinking of a similar named vessel during the South Atlantic conflict.

Trade surplus

Chile managed a 2,23 billion US dollars trade surplus in the eleven months of 2002, according to a release from the country's Central Bank. At the end of November, Chile's sales overseas reached 16,792 billion US dollars and imports 14,554 billion. Exports recorded a 15,4% increase over the same period a year ago, with copper sales, the country's main income, jumping 17,7%. Imports on the other hand also increased but at a slower rate, 14%. The Chilean Central Bank estimates that the final trade surplus of 2002 will be over 2,5 billion US dollars. In 2001 Chile's trade surplus was 2,1 billion US dollars with total exports of 18,5 billion US dollars and imports of 16,4 billion US dollars. The Chilean Central Bank also reported a significant plunge, 62%, in foreign investment during the first ten months of 2002. Last year foreign investments in Chile reached 5,5 billion US dollars. However the overall 2002 picture is expected to change in the last two months of the current year once the sale of the copper mines "La Disputada" is finalized. The mines belong to Exxon and have been sold to a South African consortium in 1,3 billion US dollars. Karen Poniachik, vicepresident of the Foreign Investment Committee anticipated a big thrust in foreign investment in Chile for the coming year. "Not only the free trade agreements signed this year, but also Chile's reliability, transparency, competitiveness, infrastructure and legal security will be playing a vital role in attracting new investments and expanding those already established in the country", stressed Ms. Poniachik.

Punta Arenas monument to oil

As part of the celebrations of the 57th anniversary of the discovery of oil in the Magallanes Region, a monument dedicated to the occasion will be unveiled this week in downtown Punta Arenas. The artist is Félix Maruenda who has tried to amalgamate in his work the past, present and future of the oil industry in Punta Arenas, a landmark that changed the region for ever. The monument depicts the surge of oil bursting out of the ground with fine copper filaments representing the wind in the shape of a hand. Next will stand a steel tower, symbol of human knowledge and engineering that made possible the "adventure of oil". Magallanes is the main oil producing province of Chile, although the country is still highly dependent on foreign imports. Actually production in Magallanes region has been gradually dropping and ENAP, the country's oil company is more involved in overseas operations and joint-ventures.

Argentine crisis losses

Direct costs to Chile of the Argentine situation can be estimated so far in 553 million US dollars and will have reached 600 million when the final report of 2002 is completed, according to the Santiago Chamber of Commerce. The losses are threefold, lost exports to Argentina in first place, followed closely by a serious decline in the tourist industry, (Argentines represent 50% of overseas visits to Chile) and finally the losses experienced by Chilean companies in Argentina. In the first ten months of the current year exports losses accumulated 297 million US dollars, equivalent to 60% of 2001 sales to Argentina. In January-March, 343,000 Argentine tourists visited Chile, 177,000 less than in the previous summer season. As to losses by Chilean companies in Argentina they add up to 190 million US dollars in the first nine months of 2002. Chilean companies control several public utility companies in Argentina that have seen the rates frozen by the Duhalde administration.

Rich, poor and very poor

With a total Brazilian population of 175 million, the country has 39,5 million people living on a monthly income below 85 US dollars according to the latest results of an official 2000 census. The census which was done between August and November 2000 and covered 5,507 locations showed that Brazil has 54 million people described as poor. The latest figures indicate that out of a working force of 79 million, just 2,8%, equivalent to 2,2 million people have earnings above 1,150 US dollars per month, that is approximately 20 monthly minimum salaries. In the employment field numbers also indicate a strong racial discrimination; 80% of employers are white; 15% mulatto and only 1,65% black; similarly 55% of those with jobs are white, 35% mulattos and just 7,27% blacks. Regarding religion, in 2000 there were 124 Catholics, 26 million evangelist and 20 million who practice other cults including those of African origin such as cambomblé and umbanda. However the census also revealed that Catholic participation slid from 83% to 74% while the evangelist, protestants advanced from 9% to 15,4%. Illiteracy among the Brazilian population above 15 years is 12,9%, but access to schooling for those between 7 and 14 years reached 94% according to the census. Infant mortality experienced a significant drop from the 37,5% of 1991 to the 29,7% of the current 2000 census. Similarly the average number of children per mother dropped from 2,8 in 1991 to 2,3 in 2000.

Uruguay working on human anthrax vaccine

A Uruguayan pharmaceutical laboratory is working on a "purer" human anthrax vaccine than those currently in existence, the press reported here Thursday. El Pais newspaper reported that the Vaccine Against Human Anthrax (VAHAS) project is being funded by a Brazilian group and receiving technical assistance from French and British scientists. The vaccine is being manufactured at Uruguay's Santa Elena labs, which have traditionally produced vaccines and veterinarian medicines. Lab tests on animals will begin within six months, according to a report drafted by technical consultant Rafael Leaniz. The goal is a genetically engineered recombinant vaccine unlike any other currently existing. Recombinant-DNA technology, or gene cloning, entails combining DNA molecules from two or more sources, either within cells or in test tubes, and then inserting them into host organisms in which they are able to reproduce. The technique has been used to produce bacteria that are capable of synthesizing human insulin, human interferon, human growth hormone, a hepatitis-B vaccine, and other medically useful substances. In this case, the process entails extracting the genetic material from the anthrax bacteria that creates antigens, substances that when introduced into the body stimulate the production of antibodies. The genetic code is then transferred into a harmless bacteria which is reproduced under laboratory conditions. "The portion of the bacteria's DNA that causes the disease is extracted and transferred to a fast-growing bacteria such as salmonella or yeast, which produces antigens while reproducing," Leaniz said. The method eliminates the risks associated with handling anthrax and is more productive, he added. The project is receiving technical assistance from the University of Uruguay, France's Pasteur Institute and the Center for Applied Microbiology and Research in England.

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