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These stories were published Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2002
A.M. Costa Rica file photos
Help Costa Rica in the new year. Eat plenty of bananas and drink lots of Costa Rican coffee!

Here's your resolutions
for a Costa Rican 2002

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff 

‘Tis the time of year to envision a better self. And New Year’s resolutions are the traditional way to put yourself on notice:  Lose weight, quit smoking, give up strong drink, be kinder.

Here are a dozen resolutions specific to Costa Rica that are appropriate for expats:

1. In 2002 I will not sneak through red lights unless it’s pretty late at night.

2. I will promptly remit any taxes due on investments and other earnings that my country of citizenship requires. Or at least consider it.

3. I will not grumble when standing in long lines even if I do not have the correct form when its my turn.

4. I cheerfully will pay $45,000 for a $22,000 car, knowing full well that the government will put the extra money to a good use.

5. I will not laugh at bus loads of cruise ship tourists who spend five hours here and think they have seen Costa Rica.

6. In the new year, I will improve my Spanish to such an extent people will think I am Tico(a).

7. I will try vigorously not to snicker at the next political speech I hear.

8. I will support the economy by eating lots of bananas, by drinking lots of coffee, by buying a new computer with an Intel chip and by visiting some of those great tourist spots I haven’t seen.

9.  I will not ride in a pirate taxi even if it is raining, it is late, and all the metered cabs have passed me by.

10. I will stand patiently in line at Banco Nacional so I can place a sports wager in Costa Rica’s new electronic betting system.

11. I shall not fear sidewalks because the holes are not more than three feet deep.

And, of course, 

12. I shall read A.M. Costa Rica every day and lavish large amounts of advertising dollars on the publication to support my business.

Record of earthquakes
shows moderate year

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 40 earthquakes rattled Costa Rica in 2001. These were tremors registered by the U.S. Earthquake Information Center. 

Most had a magnitude between 4.0 and 4.9. The largest quake, now estimated at a magnitude of 6.2, took place about 6:48 p.m. Nov. 8 a few miles off the Caribbean Coast from Sixaola in extreme southeast Costa Rica. 

The quake database search encompassed a rectangle between 8.0 and 11.0 degrees north latitude and 82.0 and 86.0 west longitude, roughly the land area of Costa Rica with parts of Panama and Nicaragua thrown in.

The center (http://wwwneic.cr.usgs.gov/neis) provides a number of search engines and reports all quakes that have been registered by the center and its worldwide associates. 

The earthquake data does not include quakes elsewhere but felt here. For example, another 6.2 quake took place offshore from southwest Costa Rica Aug. 25, some 50 miles (about 80 kms.) from land along a fault line that parallels the coast. 

Auto deadline is today

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Facing the possibility that only about 60 per cent of the country’s motorists have paid their vehicle tax, the National Insurance Institute has postponed the deadline though today. The deadline had been Jan. 1.

The problem is not so much paying the taxes, because there are hundreds of places to do that. But motorists must get their vehicle emissions inspected first, and there are fewer shops equipped to do that.

Those who do not make the deadline will face an automatic 3 percent surcharge from the Insurance Institute, and they also may get a police ticket.

Death, drama
marked holiday 

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The New Year’s holiday proved to be crime-filled and dangerous on the highways, according to police agencies.

• Five more persons, including a 20-month-old child and two young models, died in the three latest fatal traffic accidents, bringing the total New Year's holiday deaths to at least 15.

• Two private guards were murdered by bandits in separate incidents.

• Two motorists engaged in a running shootout along a street in Tibás north of San José.

• Police arrested five persons Sunday for the murder Dec. 12 of a man in Heredia.

• Police identified a man who was murdered over a can of sardines on a coffee plantation in Tarcares near Grecia.

• As the New Year arrived in Costa Rica thousands of illegal fireworks could be seen over the city. Explosions continued through New Year’s Day.

Traffic deaths

The traffic deaths continued Saturday night when a car carrying six models from Tamarindo to Liberia ran off the road and struck a tree near Portegolpe not far from the Guanacaste beach community where they were involved in a cigarette promotion. 

Dead were Isabel Alvarez, 24, and Glen Solano Monge, 27.  Four other woman suffered injuries. Police said another car may have run them off the road.

The deaths continued Sunday when the child, Kevin Rodríguez Ugarte, 20 months, got off a bus near Cañas with his mother and stepped in front of the bus wheel while his mother unloaded groceries.

Monday two fishermen died when their vehicle ran off the road and crashed in Mata de Limón in Puntarenas not far from the port of Caldera. The dead were identified as José Luis Martinez Pinceda and Erick Rodríguez. Four other men suffered injuries.

The deaths added to the high toll that included five members of a single Desamparados family Friday morning on the Pan American Highway two miles east of Esparza. They died when their vehicle suffered what may have been a blowout and ran under a Liberia-San José bus.

Guards murdered

One guard was killed in Tueltal Norte, Alajuela, at the cabinas Acuarto just after midnight Monday. He was Juan Montiel Garcia, 34. Investigators said he was surprised by two men who took his own gun and shot him between the eyes from a short distance. They then forced an administrator of the cabinas to hand over 40,000 colons (about $117). Only one man wore a mask, and police released a composite drawing of one attacker late Monday.

Five hours later in the Guápiles settlement of Llano de Pococí guard Dagoberto Valverde Chavarría, 50, died when someone shot him twice then stole his bicycle and two gold chains. The thief or thieves left the guard’s gun and his wallet, said police.

Shootout in Tibás

The roadway shootout happened about 5:30 Monday when two men got into a dispute in the area of León XIII in Tibás. The two drivers exchanged shots as they drove down the public roadway. One car, driven by a man identified by investigators as Blanco, displayed seven bullet holes. Blanco suffered a wound to his hand. The driver of the other car was identified by the last name Chinchilla, and that vehicle, too, carried a bullet hole when police made the arrest. Investigators said they did not know what started the gun battle.

Murder arrests

Five persons, including one women, were taken into custody at different places Sunday in connection with the investigation of the death of Wilmer Cordero Jiménez, 23, who was stabbed to death Dec. 12 in Heredia. Three persons were arrested in Lotes Peralta in Heredia. Two were located at Finca San Juan in Pavas.

Victim identified

In Tacares, Grecia, agents of the Judicial Investigating Organization identified a man killed there as Jesús Domingo Salgado Rivera, 32, and said that the death was caused by a dispute over a pair of scissors and a can of sardines.

Fireworks all over

Despite the warnings of police agencies, a number of injuries here and a massive fire in Lima, Peru, that killed nearly 300 persons, Costa Ricans took to the streets at the hour of midnight to celebrate the new year with traditional skyrockets.

The city skyline was alight with all forms of rockets at the changing of the year. Side streets were cloaked in gunpowder smoke as groups of residents took to the streets or their decks to launch the bootlegged fireworks.

However, the traditional fireworks at the Zapote festival didn’t make it this year because the contractor who was going to put on the nightly show did not have the correct paperwork, according to the Ministry of Health, which canceled the show. The dispute centered on permissions to import the rockets.

Police had warned that they would crack down on persons who discharged fireworks, but there did not seem to be any such effort early New Year’s morning.

Don't miss Patricia Martin's report on Manuel Antonio and Quepos
Democracy, justice and stability praised as foes of terrorism
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The greatest enemies of terrorism, organized crime, and political violence and repression are democracy, functioning justice systems, and economic stability, said the U.S. acting assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere.

He is Lino Gutierrez, a career diplomat, who addressed the U.S. conference of Catholic bishops.

Despite heightened security concerns in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks against New York and Washington, "the fundamentals of U.S. policy" in the Western Hemisphere "remain constant," he said.

Gutierrez, a former ambassador to Nicaragua, outlined new measures adopted by regional governments in response to the terrorist threat, and praised the nations of the Americas for backing the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan.

The United States is working with other nations to ensure the identification and seizure of the financial assets of terrorism, said Gutierrez. "All of the democratic nations of the region moved quickly to review financial records."

The United States and other nations are assisting Western Hemisphere nations in improving their capacity to prevent the laundering of the proceeds of criminal activity, he added. Many nations have created or are now creating financial intelligence units, he said.

The assistant secretary did not mention Costa Rica, but this country’s Legislative Assembly is considering measures to cut down on money laundrying. One proposal is to adopt a banking provision that is in force in the United States and other countries that requires transactions of more than $10,000 be reported to government officials.

Guterriz also said that the United States also stresses sustainable development, including increasing free trade and economic stability. "Second, we seek to strengthen democratization and rule of law, including human rights and education," he said. "Third, we want to promote hemispheric security, including combating terrorism and an aggressive but balanced counternarcotics program."

Such problems as poverty and human-rights abuses must also be confronted, Gutierrez said. In addition, he voiced concern about undue pressure on the media and on organized labor groups by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, and about oppression — religious and otherwise — in Cuba, where he was born. 

"Our policy is to encourage a rapid transition to democracy in Cuba, characterized by strong support for human rights and open markets," he explained. "The Church will play an important role in any transition," he told the bishops.

However, "perhaps the area of greatest hemispheric concern for us is Colombia," he said. Gutierrez noted that Colombian authorities, grappling with a decades-old insurgency conducted by guerrilla and paramilitary forces "that fund themselves from drug trafficking, kidnapping, and other types of extortion," have become all too familiar with the horrors of terrorism.

He asserted that the United States will continue to assist Colombia and its immediate neighbors by contributing funds to Plan Colombia, the comprehensive strategy designed by Colombian President Andres Pastrana to curb civil unrest, strengthen democracy and enhance economic development in his country; and by funding the Andean Regional Initiative, which aims to promote alternative development and judicial reform in the region, among other objectives.

Enron scandal seen as being ignored similar to Watergate case
By Edward B. Winslow
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Almost 30 years have elapsed since the "third rate burglary" of the Democratic National Committee headquarters on June 17, 1972, that opened the dam of the Watergate scandal.  The press and members of Congress largely ignored the crime, as then-President Richard M. Nixon kept the nation’s focus on the war in Vietnam. 

Similarly, with the press and Congress distracted by President George W. Bush’s war in Afghanistan, they are ignoring another scandal.  No third-rate burglary, the Enron Corp. scandal involves millions of dollars in campaign contributions to Bush, U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm and other members of Congress. The cozy relationship between the Bush White House and Enron enabled Kenneth L. Lay, then Enron’s CEO to meet in secret with Vice President Richard Cheney to help mold the nation’s energy policy.  Bush’s presidential campaign received $1.14 million from Enron.

Shortly after taking office President Bush waged a battle against the imposition of federal price controls in California that allowed Enron to price-gouge consumers by extending the energy crisis in California, costing the state billions of dollars.  Enron reported increased revenues of almost $70 billion from the previous year.

Bush also resisted attempts to crack down on Enron’s utilization of its 2,830 offshore subsidiaries in countries with lax banking-regulation laws.  The consumer-rights watchdog organization Public Citizen alleges that some of these offshore havens helped Enron defraud its stockholders.

Moreover, while Sen. Gramm was working the Congress to pass legislation favorable to Enron (and collecting nearly $260,000 in campaign contributions from the company), his wife, Wendy Gramm, first was chairperson of a regulatory committee overseeing Enron’s business activities and later a paid member of that company’s board of directors.  Enron paid her between $915,000 and $1.85 million, according to Public Citizen.  Sen. Gramm has announced his decision not to seek re-election for another term in the senate.

Enron, whose stock price plummeted from almost $85 per share to $0.25 per share within one year, forced its employees to invest their retirement plans in the company stock while corporate executives were free to make out like bandits by selling their stock when it was near its peak before anyone caught wind of the company’s impending collapse.  Jeffrey K. Skilling, who resigned his position as Enron’s chief executive in August, sold more than $30 million worth of his stock in

Opinion on the news

the company this year.  Lay, who was Skilling’s predecessor, was able to unload about $23 million worth of his Enron stock.

Meanwhile, employees, who invested in Enron stock through their company’s 401(k) plan, were prohibited in diversifying into other securities. They lost their shirts while 500 of the company’s top executives divided up $55 million worth of bonuses.  The remaining 20,000 employees were given severance packages of not more than $4,500 each. 

Eventually, during the Watergate scandal, members of Congress began to take a closer look at what first appeared to be an event that was unrelated to the White House.  Armed with much more evidence of a White House conflict of interest than Watergate, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) has opened a Congressional investigation on the Enron matter. In a letter dated Dec. 4 to Vice President Cheney, Waxman expresses concern about the administration’s secret meetings with Lay and the company’s subsequent failure. 

Waxman also mentions "the fact that senior Enron executives were enriching themselves at the same time that Enron was lavishing large campaign contributions on President Bush and the Republican Party and apparently influencing the administration’s energy policies."

Public Citizen urged Congress to bring Sen. Gramm and Wendy Gramm along with Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neill to give sworn testimony about what they know about possible accounting fraud and the use of offshore tax and bank regulation havens. The consumer-rights organization also called for President Bush, Vice President Cheney and political adviser Karl Rove to answer questions about whether discussions involving energy price controls, energy regulations or tax havens took place with Enron executives.

Specifically, what investigators need to determine is who knew what and when did they know it?  As Waxman wrote in his letter to the vice president, "It is appropriate to ask whether Enron communicated to (Cheney) or others affiliated with (his) task force information about its precarious financial position.  This is especially important since this information was apparently hidden from investors and the public . . . . "

Mr.Winslow is a Denver, Colo., freelance writer.

Mexico will cut output
from its oil fields

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MEXICO CITY — Mexico says it is reducing its oil exports by 100,000 barrels a day as part of an effort by oil producing countries to boost prices. 

The Energy Ministry released a statement saying the decision was made with the national interest in mind. The cuts are expected to keep Mexico's exports down to nearly 1.6 million barrels per day through June 30. 

The decision comes nearly two months after Mexico agreed to curb its oil exports if other producers agreed to do the same. Officials also applauded a recent decision to reduce oil production by 1.5 million barrels per day for the first half of this year. The decision was by the Organization of Oil Exporting Countries. 

Mexico is not a member of OPEC but has worked closely with the organization in recent years to determine output levels in an effort to stabilize volatile oil prices. In a related development, a published report in Japan says the country's state-owned oil company has acquired exclusive rights to explore Mexico's Chicontepec oil field, one of the largest natural oil reserves in the world. 

The Yomiuri newspaper quotes government sources as saying Japan's National Oil Corp. has agreed to survey the Gulf Coast oil field for five years at a cost of $15 million per year. The oil field is estimated to hold reserves of more than 70 billion barrels of oil. 

If the project proves successful, Japan could end up importing as much as 700,000 barrels of crude oil per day, the equivalent of 15 percent of its overall oil imports.

Police and soldiers die
in Colombian rebel raid

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — Colombian rebels stormed into two villages on New Year's Eve and killed at least two police officers and eight soldiers. 

Police say the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas attacked the small towns of Purace and Coconuco in the province of Cauca with machine guns and homemade mortars.  The two police officers were killed in combat. 

President Andres Pastrana is trying to negotiate peace with the FARC rebels and with the smaller National Liberation Army (ELN).

Peru mourns deaths
in downtown blaze

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LIMA, Peru — Peruvians are beginning 2002 in mourning for nearly 300 people who perished when exploding fireworks ignited an inferno in a Lima shopping district. 

Grief-stricken residents lined up outside a local morgue Monday, hoping to find and identify the bodies of loved ones killed in Saturday's deadly blaze. Many victims were children whose bodies were charred beyond recognition.

As relatives gathered at the morgue, many of them clutching photographs, search teams picked through burned-out buildings looking for the remains of victims. 

Witnesses say the fire started when a dealer lit a firecracker for a customer, triggering the fast-moving inferno that engulfed the crowded shopping district. 

The disaster prompted Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo to declare two days of national mourning and order a ban on the production and importation of fireworks.  Police have been combing the Peruvian capital to confiscate crates of fireworks in hopes of avoiding another disaster. Firecrackers have been central to public celebrations in Peru for hundreds of years.

Panday wants new vote
for Trinidad’s congress

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinadad —Trinidad and Tobago's former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday is calling for another round of general elections in the Caribbean country, disputing a presidential tie-breaker that put his rival in power.

Earlier this week Trinidad and Tobago President Arthur Robinson named opposition leader Patrick Manning prime minister over Panday following a deadlock in general elections Dec. 10. Manning and Panday had agreed to allow President Robinson to choose the country's prime minister.

Panday's United National Congress party and Manning's People's National Movement party each gained 18 seats in the elections. 

Argentina selects
fifth new president

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — New President Eduardo Duhalde has called for a government of national unity to battle the country's worsening economic crisis. He made the appeal late Tuesday, moments after being named by Congress to become the country's fifth president in less than two weeks.

The Peronist party, which controls Congress, appointed Duhalde to his new post by a vote of 262 to 21. He will serve until December 2003. The last Peronist Party president, Adolfo Rodriguez Saa, resigned Sunday after claiming his party did not give him enough support. 

Duhalde is apparently trying to garner support for needed economic programs from opposition parties as well as his own. 

Last month, President Fernando de la Rua was forced to step down amid deadly rioting and looting triggered by unpopular economic austerity measures.

The congressional session began four hours later than scheduled Tuesday, as lawmakers argued over who should be named to the post and how long the term should last. As the debate began, activists from leftist Argentine parties clashed near the congressional building, forcing police to use tear gas to disperse them. There were no immediate reports of injuries in the unrest.

Following de la Rua's resignation, caretaker President Ramon Puerta took office for about two days, followed by Rodriguez Saa, who held the job for one week before abruptly resigning.

The head of the lower house of congress, Eduardo Camano, took over Monday, one day after Rodriguez Saa quit. Puerta, the Senate leader who would have been next in line for the presidency, also resigned.

Transition to new euro
will face major test today

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

European Union officials say the changeover to the new 12-nation single currency, the euro, was generally smooth as the new year began. But the real test comes today when most banks and businesses reopen after the holiday.

Threatened strikes by French and Italian bank workers could also complicate what has so far been a mostly problem-free currency swap, the largest in history.

Europeans must start getting used to life without French francs, German marks, and other currencies. Many got their first euros Tuesday from bank machines, which soon ran out of the new money.

Cab drivers, bartenders, and shopkeepers across Europe also found themselves without enough change as many customers used old currency, unsure about how to use the euro.

There were also traffic jams at toll booths in France, Spain, and Italy as attendants accepted the old coins and tried to figure out how to give back change in euros.

European Union officials have given member nations until the end of February to phase in the euro.

Three E.U. members — Britain, Denmark, and Sweden — have not adopted the euro at this time. Some British officials warn Britons they risk marginalizing themselves unless they join the euro system.

Some non-European Union states, including Andorra, San Marino, and the Vatican, have also joined the euro. Banks in Montenegro, Yugoslavia, and Kosovo are stocking the new currency to replace the German mark, which had been the principle means of exchange.

Swiss president says
it’s time to join U.N.

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Switzerland's new president, Kaspar Villiger, says it is time the neutral country had a constructive and serious debate about joining the United Nations.

In a nationally broadcast speech upon assuming the rotating presidency Tuesday, President Villiger said that as long as the world experiences war, hunger, and environmental destruction, Switzerland must actively participate in resolutions to fight these problems.

Swiss voters will decide whether to join the United Nations in a March 3 referendum.

Switzerland established its neutrality in the 16th century and many Swiss have fought hard to preserve its status. Voters rejected a U.N. membership referendum in 1986 by a three-to-one margin. 


keeps on


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A.M. Costa Rica had another substantial increase in readership during December.

Statistics maintained by an independent computer program in the United States showed that the newspaper Web site registered 98,689 hits during December. That was up 56 percent over November’s total of 63,256.

Page views were up 28 percent to 28,548, and total unique readers were up 33.8 percent to 10,459, according to the statistics.

The electronic daily newspaper began publishing in the middle of August, and each month thereafter readership increased in the double digits. The second full month of October attracted 24.8 percent more hits (55,696) than September (44,617), and November hits (63,256) were 13.5 percent higher than October.

What we published this week: Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Earlier