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These stories were published Friday, Jan. 2, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 1
Jo Stuart
About us
Economics are
at the root 
of everything 
in 2004
The year 2003 may have left, but the problems that bedeviled Costa Rica remain. And one way or another those problems are economic.

Our report: HERE!

On the road to recovery and a better new year
My experience with the Caja up until now had been limited to the emergency room and the Clinica Carlos Durán. Now, I learned when I woke up in the morning in the observation ward, I was going to experience the hospital. They were transferring me to a regular ward on the fourth floor of the hospital. 

I was dismayed when we got there because I was not put in the room that had large windows with a view of the mountains and the sky. Instead, I was assigned to the seventh and last bed in the ward across the hall, one with frosted windows facing, from the sound of it, the machinery that kept the hospital going. 

During the next five days, while I breathed in oxygen and got drips of antibiotics every six hours, I slowly learned the ropes of surviving in a ward in the Hospital Calderón Guardia. 

When I asked how one could tell who was a doctor, who not, I was told that doctors came around in the morning. After that, they were all "not doctors." 

A patient I dubbed our "social director" told me that and other things. Every day began at 6:30 (actually, there wasn’t much difference between day and night in terms of giving us our various medications). But at 6:30 a.m. we  took turns taking our showers while every bed was stripped and given new sheets. Before I had someone bring me a towel from home, I was instructed to use my hospital gown as a towel. These are heavy cotton and work nicely.

Unlike private hospitals, you are not given little kits with toothbrushes and tooth paste or booties to wear. You bring all of your own toiletries, slippers, and any snacks or goodies you want. You ask friends to bring them. A night mask and earplugs would give you a private room, or as someone said, "With them you’re sleeping at the Ritz."

Visitors, one at a time, theoretically, seem to be allowed 24 hours a day. One patient whom I dubbed our "social butterfly," always had 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

someone with her, even throughout the night someone slept in a chair by her bed. 

I had difficulty eating the food, in part because I had no apptetite. I do believe Costa Rican hospitals are the biggest customers for Bimbo bread. (In the United States, they get Wonder Bread.) After seeing my untouched plates time and again, the woman serving us asked what I would eat. I said, "fruit." And the next meal I got a carton full of fruit which I dutifully and happily ate.

Every evening after dinner, the patient on my left (the one I called our "religious leader") read from the New Testament and then led the others in saying the rosary. I read during this interlude, feeling a little guilty because the book I was reading was the historical account of secret societies that questioned the divinity of Jesus.

Every patient was assigned two doctors, and during the course of the morning, a teaching doctor might come in with medical students or residents, stop by each bed, look at our charts and explain the diagnosis and treatment. When they reached my bed, I listened carefully to hear what the doctor said about my situation. All I heard was, "This patient is from the United States." And with that they moved on. 

When it was time to leave, I was checked out of the hospital loaded down with all of the medication I would need for the next month and a referral to see a cardiologist. No bill, no loose ends. I was, once again, very grateful for this country’s government provided health care at a monthly premium I can afford. Anabel was there to drive me home, and I vowed: "Next year is going to be better."


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Body found in lot
by two workmen

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two men clearing a lot adjacent to Hospital CIMA in Escazú discovered the long-dead body of a man about 30 to 35 years of age, officials reported Tuesday.

An autopsy has been ordered to determine the cause of death. The lot was in Urbanización Trejos Montealegre, said the Fuerza Pública. The Judicial Investigating Organization is handling the case.

Foul play is suspected because the body was unclothed.

Better border effort
sought by Venezuela

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — The government has asked Colombia to increase security along the shared border following the recent killings of seven Venezuelan guards by Colombian gunmen. 

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Roy Chaderton told reporters in here that his country welcomes more cooperation from Colombia. He was quoted as saying Colombia could do more to stop leftist rebels, right-wing paramilitaries and criminals from crossing into Venezuelan territory. 

Chaderton, however, welcomed a call by Colombian President Alvaro Uribe for a bilateral commission to investigate incidents along the porous border. 

Dec. 20, four Venezuelan national guardsmen were shot dead by gunmen who ambushed them near Colombia's border. Venezuela says the soldiers were riddled with bullets as they drove a patrol vehicle, and then shot in the head at close range after they were dead. 

A few days earlier, three other guardsmen were killed around the same region. Venezuela blames the attacks on Colombian paramilitaries. 

Venezuela and Colombia have each accused the other of not doing enough to guard the border. 

Colombia is mired in a long-running civil war that pits rebels, paramilitaries and the government against each other. The conflict leaves thousands of people dead each year.

Meanwhile, Colombian authorities report they have captured seven police officers suspected of belonging to a 32-member kidnapping gang in Medellin. 

Colombian officials say the seven were detained Tuesday and that a lieutenant was among those taken into custody. 

Authorities believe the gang was behind the kidnapping last year of a Medellin businessman who was later sold to leftist rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. 

The scandal comes just two weeks after the head of Colombia's highway patrol, Col. Jaime Leal, was arrested on drug trafficking charges. He is suspected of ordering his forces to escort a truckload of cocaine from the south of the country.

Ex-political prisoner
named to high court

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — A woman who was detained under the military dictatorship has been nominated to fill a seat on the country's Supreme Court. 

President Nestor Kirchner Tuesday named Carmen Argibay to the court. The nomination requires Senate approval. 

If confirmed by the Senate, Ms. Argibay will become the second woman in Argentine history to serve on the high court. She has also worked at the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague. 

Ms. Argibay was arrested by state security agents during Argentina's 1976 to 1983 military dictatorship. Ms. Argibay was held for nine months before she was eventually released. 

Her nomination comes as President Kirchner takes steps to clean up a Supreme Court seen by many Argentines as corrupt and politically biased. Since taking office in May, the president has attempted to restore confidence in the country's institutions.

Teachers in Ecuador
get salary increases

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

QUITO, Ecuador — Public school teachers here have ended a six-week strike after reaching an agreement with the government to increase their wages. 

The 120,000 teachers ended their strike Tuesday after union representatives across the nation agreed to the government offer. 

News reports say that the deal calls for the teachers to get an additional $10 in salary and $20 in bonuses each month in 2004. The educators also are expected to get a pay raise in 2005.  The teachers currently earn about $280 per month.

Haiti celebrates
its 200th year

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — This Caribbean nation celebrated its 200th birthday Thursday. The celebration centered on the northern town of Gonaive to mark the bicentennial. 

Gonaive is where Haiti declared its independence from France 200 years ago on Jan. 1, 1804. 

Earlier this week, thousands of demonstrators protested in Port-au-Prince against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.  Police fired tear gas to force the protesters to scatter. Journalists on the scene say two people were shot. Witnesses say a gunfight also erupted between police and Aristide supporters, but no one was injured. 

Haiti has been in turmoil since its 2000 elections, which the opposition says were rigged. The country has lost international aid as a result.

Haiti shares the island of Hispañola with the Dominican Republic.

Coffee workers fight

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 30 or 40 coffee workers on a farm in Santa Bárbara de Heredia engaged in a brawl Tuesday, and one worker suffered injuries that required hospitalization. Some 10 persons were arrested by Fuerza Pública officers. The reason for the brawl is not clear.

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An analysis of current events
Economics at the root of everything in 2004
By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

The year 2003 may have left, but the problems that bedeviled Costa Rica remain. And one way or another those problems are economic.

Within a matter of days Costa Rica’s future in a proposed free trade treaty with the United States should become clear. The country stalled when four other nations approved the pact last month, mostly because the agreement will cause widespread dislocation of workers in the insurance and telecommunication monopolies.

The probability is high that Costa Rica will stay out of any agreement, at least for the next few years. Tradition here favors stability over prosperity.

Immigration and residency

As the national congress returns to work, some movement may be seen on several proposals that will change immigration rules. A proposal backed by the government would eliminate the rentista category. A proposal by a legislator would increase the financial qualifications for categories much used by foreign retirees as much as 300 to 600 percent.

Meanwhile, immigration officials have to decide if they will pull the residencies of those foreigners who did not strictly comply with the rules. The case is in court, and more than 1,000 foreign rentistas and pensionados are at risk of losing their right to stay here.

Real estate

The sluggish real estate market continues to improve slightly, at least as far as foreign residents are concerned. Nationally, commercial real estate appears to be overbuilt and offices and office buildings are crying for tenants.

A continual flow of new residents take the place of those homeowners or home buyers who were hit with the collapse of investment operations. However, tougher immigration rules might cut off this influx.

Jacó on the central Pacific is emerging as a real estate hot spot, probably at the expense of San José central. Santa Ana, Heredia and points west seem to have most of the new development.

Investment collapses

Investigations still continue in the cases of the Villalobos Brothers, Savings Unlimited, The Vault, and a handful of smaller operations that have gone bust.

The collapse of these businesses placed severe financial strains on many expats here and a lot of foreign residents are in critical financial straits. Little resolution of the cases are likely this year.

The government

President Abel Pacheco has survived a campaign financing scandal and his lack of popularity seems to have bottomed out. But his major initiatives are stalled in the legislature.

Among these is the permanent fiscal plan (more taxes) to bail out the government. All but forgotten is Pacheco’s idea to insert an environmental bill of rights in the Costa Rican Constitution.

As the country approaches the 2005 elections, Pacheco will become more and more of a lame duck, even though presidents can now seek re-election. Pacheco is too old to do so, due to a mandatory waiting period. Meanwhile, a whole scorecard full of potential candidates will be posturing and generally trying to capture publicity, perhaps at the expense of any government legislative programs.


The nation’s gamble on an $830,000 Web page probably is misplaced. Totals of real tourists are beginning to reach pre-Sept. 11, 2001, levels, but the industry is simply not marketing itself effectively. Tourism Minister Rodrigo A. Castro Fonseca optimistically predicts an 8 percent increase in tourism for 2003 over 2002. 

But Cuba announced this week that its tourist totals for 2003 were up 12.7 percent to 1.9 million even with the U.S. embargo preventing citizens from that nearby country from visiting.

And Cuba’s totals are not beefed up by visiting Nicaraguans and others who really are immigrants.


Violent crime also is affected by the economy and demographics, mainly the average age. Security Minister Rogelio Ramos and a more professional police force have made some inroads, but a young, poor population means they have an uphill fight.


Regardless of what Costa Rica decides on a trade treaty with the United States, unemployment will increase as the world economy puts more pressure on textile, agricultural and computer/telephone jobs. Some call center operations, a stable for upwardly mobile young Ticos, already are moving to cheaper possibilities in Panamá. Sportsbooks face international competition and also still resistance by U.S. officials.


Coupled with employment is the competitiveness of Costa Rican workers who are protected by a labor code tilted in their favor. Two-week Christmas vacations and a week off at Easter are a disadvantage for work forces in the 21st century. However, recent legislation injected some flexibility into the code, which may be helpful.


Strikes and walkouts have hurt public education this year. But perhaps the most damaging is the attitude that favors form over substance. Youngsters learn great attention to detail in elementary school and carry slavish devotion to filling in the blanks to their adult jobs. To meet challenges, youngsters need more emphasis on creativity and independence.

Results on other possible mad cows due next week
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. officials say they could learn early next week whether cows imported to the United States from Canada are infected with mad cow disease, a fatal neurological disease that can spread to humans who eat contaminated beef. 

U.S. agriculture officials have now located nine cows out of herd of 82 head of cattle imported from Alberta, Canada that may be infected with mad cow disease. 

The animals were sent to a ranch in Washington state, where one of the cows, infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), was discovered earlier this month.

Department of Agriculture chief veterinarian Ron 

deHaven said officials could soon know whether the other eight animals, whose DNA is being tested at labs in the United States and Canada, are also infected with BSE. 

"Assuming no laboratory glitches, we could have results from both laboratories early next week," he explained. DeHaven pointed out that stricter inspection measures announced Tuesday could help determine within two days whether apparently sick cows, known as "downers," are infected with mad cow disease. He said one measure, to quarantine downer cows while they are being tested, went into effect immediately after the announcement. 

And meatpackers have now stopped using a slaughtering method that can contaminate meat with infected parts of a sick cow. 

New year comes in without any major problems
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

People in the United States greeted 2004 under some of the tightest security in the country's history.

With the terror threat alert at the second highest level (code orange), the military provided assistance to many local governments to keep New Year's revelers safe.

Snipers on rooftops and armed security personnel on the ground watched over a crowd estimated at nearly one million people at New York's annual Times Square celebration. Everyone entering the area passed through metal detectors, while helicopters and fighter jets patrolled the skies.

Heightened security measures were also put in place in other large cities, including Chicago, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. 

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) banned all but scheduled commercial flights over Manhattan for several hours. The FAA issued a similar ban for Las Vegas. 

Meanwhile, in his New Year's message President George Bush encouraged Americans to reaffirm 

their commitment to peace and freedom.

Bush said the past year has been a time of accomplishment and progress. He said that, working together, U.S. citizens have made America safer, more prosperous and a better country.

The president thanked the men and women of the U.S. military for helping to "defend America and liberate the oppressed." And he said "Americans from every walk of life are building a culture of compassion," and he urged all "to bring hope to those who are less fortunate." 

In Europe, millions endured cold weather and massive security to ring in 2004 with fireworks, acrobats, and street parties. 

Fireworks exploded over the Parthenon as Athens welcomed the new year. Greek leaders say they are optimistic about 2004 as the city gets ready to host the Summer Olympics. 

Revelers in Berlin enjoyed an all-night party near the Brandenburg Gate that includes circus acts and a concert. Half-a-million people welcomed 2004 along the Champs Elysees, the most glamorous street in Paris, and another 100,000 enjoyed a fireworks display over London's Thames River.

Pope calls for a new world order to ensure peace
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

VATICAN CITY — Pope John Paul II has called for a new international order to solve conflicts and bring peace in the world. The pontiff spoke during a New Year's Day Mass at the Vatican. 

The pope delivered his entire speech in a strong and clear voice. On the day the Catholic Church celebrates World Peace Day, he said, more than ever, a new international order is needed that draws on the experience and results of the United Nations.

His words were a clear reminder of his opposition in 2003 to the U.S.-led war in Iraq and the need for a greater role by the United Nations. John Paul added that the new international order must be capable of finding adequate solutions to today's problems, based on the dignity of human beings.

In his New Year's address in the Saint Peter's Basilica, the pope also renewed a call for peace 

between Israelis and Palestinians. He said the land in which Jesus was born sadly continues to live in a distressing condition.

The pope also paid homage to his envoy to Burundi, Archbishop Michael Courtney, who was shot and killed this week. The envoy died, the pope said, while on a mission to promote dialogue and peace in Burundi.

The New Year's Mass was the pope's last major ceremony for this holiday season. The 83-year-old pontiff's schedule for the Christmas and New Year festivities has been reduced this year because of his poor health, but he has appeared in relatively good form at his ceremonies. 

Still unclear is whether Pope John Paul will continue to travel abroad in 2004, as he has done during the past 25 years. No trip has yet been confirmed by the Vatican, although there has been talk of a possible visit to Switzerland in the summer. 

Jo Stuart
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