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News Briefs 2

Plan for High Seas Protest By Cuban Exiles Sparks Concerns

Los Angeles Times

A high seas pro-democracy demonstration planned by Cuban exiles off the coast of the island on Saturday has raised concern among U.S. officials, and has angered some members of the Cuban-American community here who fear the event is designed to provoke an international incident.

After a similar demonstration last month during which an exile boat was sideswiped by a Cuban gunboat, the Castro government has threatened to sink any vessels that violate the 12-mile territorial limit and to shoot down any planes that penetrate the Communist island's air space.

A flotilla of up to 30 private boats - accompanied by a half-dozen small planes - is scheduled to leave Key West, Fla., early Saturday for a rendezvous offshore from Varadero, a beach resort east of Havana. According to Ramon Saul Sanchez, one of the organizers, the aim of the demonstration is to protest Cuban human rights policy and show support for the U.S. economic embargo.

Gov. Lawton Chiles and State Department officials have cautioned protest organizers about going ahead with their plans, especially because participants in the July 13 demonstration deliberately crossed into Cuban waters and at least two private planes buzzed downtown Havana.

U.S. Drug Czar Brings Mixed News From South America

Los Angeles Times

Federal drug czar Lee P. Brown, returning from top-level meetings in Bolivia, Venezuela and Peru, Tuesday claimed "positive developments" in the fight against drug production there, but the specifics he cited appear to present at best a mixed picture.

"Based on my visit, I can say that in the cocaine-producing countries, we have had some degree of success, which, in turn, is producing new challenges," he told a news conference at the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy. He also said he found that the "political will to combat the narcotics problem exists."

But in Bolivia, which now grows about 30 percent of the leaves from which cocaine is refined, the new coca planted is outpacing that which is eradicated, Brown noted. Bolivia's government "has never seriously enforced its own laws" against illegal coca production, feeding the expectation among near-subsistence farmers that they can keep growing an important income-generating crop, he said.

In discussions with President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, Brown said, Bolivia's chief executive repeatedly observed that there are no "silver bullet" solutions to the problem of coca leaf production. Brown said the Bolivian president would face "substantial political difficulties," if he ordered eradication of mature coca.

Nevertheless, "involuntary eradication of illegal coca must occur if we hope to convince farmers that coca is too risky a crop upon which to base their economic future," Brown said.

Timber Sales Deal Rekindles Furor

The Washington Post

Two and a half years after President Clinton moved decisively to broker a truce in a region critical to his political fortunes, the Pacific Northwest timber war is flaring up again. And even some of the president's political allies say the White House has only itself to blame.

Clinton's reluctant acceptance of timber harvest provisions in a budget-cutting bill he signed into law last month has thrust the White House back into the same kind of political and legal battle that raged in the Pacific Northwest for years over northern spotted owls and old-growth forests.

This time, the fight is about an obscure, robin-sized seabird called a marbled murrelet, and the huge, ancient trees it needs when it flies to coastal forests to nest. The battle could unravel the delicately crafted Northwest forest plan that the White House knitted together in 1993 to placate warring timber workers and environmentalists in a region the president needs to carry next fall.

At issue are congressional timber directives that received much less publicity during the rescissions bill debate than did other provisions mandating a new program for salvaging dead and dying timber from national forests. The sections in question concern the sales of thousands of acres of healthy "green" trees - many of them ancient behemoths - in Oregon and Washington. Sale of the trees has been on hold since the early 1990s to protect the murrelet, which was listed as a threatened species in 1992.

FAA Orders Propellor Inspection

The Washington Post

Federal Aviation Administration officials Tuesday ordered inspections of propellers on about 1,500 commuter aircraft in an action stemming from a crash near Atlanta last week that killed five people.

The inspections, which are supposed to take place within a plane's next 50 flights, or about five days, will have little impact on commuter airline service, according to both the FAA and the Regional Airline Association.

Under the order, aircraft operators must inspect about 8,500 propeller blades for signs of stress and cracking. The blades are used on a variety of commuter aircraft.

One of four blades on the left propeller of an Atlantic Southeast Airlines Embraer 120 broke off during flight and apparently precipitated the Aug. 21 crash near Atlanta. The part of the blade that separated has not been recovered. Two of those killed were from the Washington area.

The FAA ordered the propeller inspections over the next few days instead of immediately, as the National Transportation Safety Board had recommended late Friday.

However, the FAA did order immediate replacement of 19 propellers and inspections of about 350 others thatit deemed most at risk because of the similarity of their maintenance histories to the propeller on the crashed plane.