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These stories were published Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 3
Jo Stuart
About us
Gold price rise puts pressure on mining project
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

When President Abel Pacheco took office May 8, 2002, gold was selling for about $310 an ounce.

Not long after, Pacheco announced a moratorium on open pit gold mines, much to the dismay of a company that had a concession to mine gold that way in northern Costa Rica.

Gold closed Monday at $423.90 an ounce, and the pressure to construct the mine has increased proportionately.

The company, Industrias Infinito S.A., estimated that it has some 723,815 ounces of gold near the surface. It says it can mine gold for $160 an ounce. The mining project may have a total of 1.9 million ounces.

Infinito’s parent company, Vannessa Ventures Ltd., said last Oct. 27 that the gold project was back on track after Costa Rican environmental officials have said their previous action that rejected the company’s environmental study was flawed. 

Infinito was quoted in a business publication Monday saying that it hoped to start digging by the end of April. More paperwork is needed first, it said.

Vannessa’s Crucitas project is near the San Juan River in northern Costa Rica, and it plans to use cyanide to leach gold from rocks. 

This makes residents nearby and downstream nervous. Opponents cite the environmental problems caused when the Summerville mine in Colorado dumped millions of gallons of cyanide-laced water into a mountain river.

Costa Rican officials have done an about face, mostly after the company filed a case at the Sala IV constitutional court. The company withdrew the case after it received a promise of negotiations, which have continued.

Involved in the situation is Carlos Manuel Rodríguez Echandi and his Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía. 

The Secretaría Técnica Nacional Ambiental is an environmental agency within the ministry. This was the agency that rejected Vannessa’s environmental study. Many saw the rejection as a pretext to maintain the anti-pit mine moratorium.

The mining controversy pits Pacheco’s environmental beliefs against his promise to reduce poverty. The northern zone where the mine would be located is lacking in industry.

U.S. says it's concerned by Chavez ties to Castro
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States expressed public concern Monday about the close ties between the governments of Cuba and Venezuela, amid suggestions by U.S. officials they may be working together to fan anti-American sentiment and undermine democratic governments in Latin America. 

The comments by the State Department were a rare public expression of what has been growing private concern within the Bush administration about the relationship between the Fidel Castro's Communist government in Cuba and the administration of Venezuela's maverick President Hugo Chavez. 

The briefing remarks by State Department spokesman Adam Ereli stopped short of accusing Venezuela of anti-democratic activities. But Ereli said Cuba's efforts in that area over the years have been clear, and that the United States is concerned about the close relationship that has developed between the Castro government and Chavez. 

"We are concerned about any action that might impede free and fair democratic processes throughout the hemisphere. I would note that the Castro regime, as is well-known, has a long history of attempting to undermine democratic governments throughout the region. And for that reason, the close ties between the government of Venezuela and the government of Cuba raise concerns among Venezuela's democratic neighbors," he said. 

U.S. officials believe that oil-rich Venezuela has been supporting Cuban political activity in the region, and that Venezuelan money may have been decisive in the ouster of Bolivia's elected pro-American president, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada last October.

It also said U.S. officials believe that despite denials, Chavez has supported left-wing Colombian FARC and ELN guerrillas, and allowed them to use Venezuelan territory as a springboard for attacks inside Colombia. 

The two military groups have been classed as terrorists by the United States.

Ereli said the United States has expressed concern with Venezuelan authorities about what he said were reports of "terrorist elements operating along Venezuela's border with Colombia," and continues to monitor the situation. 

In a related development Monday, the State Department applauded the joint Ecuadorian-Colombian security operation that produced the capture in Quito last Friday of a senior guerrilla commander, Ricardo Palmera, also known as Simon Trinidad.

Ereli congratulated the Ecuadorian police who made the arrest for their high level of professionalism, and described the apprehension of Palmera, the guerrilla group's chief ideologue, as "a blow to terrorism throughout the region." 

The spokesman said while the United States has long been providing training and equipment to the Ecuadorian police, it was not involved in the arrest. However, sources in Ecuador said police there were provided with U.S. intelligence updates.

Colombia's main leftist rebel group is playing down the arrest of Palmera. A spokesman for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia said Palmera was not a member of the rebel group's central command nor of its secretariat. The man was at least the rebel negotiator in talks that failed in 2002.

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Immigration sweep
nets 52 on weekend

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Immigration officials conducted more identity checks at San José nightspots over the weekend. Some 52 persons were detained, and eight of these were deported immediately, according to Marco Badilla, director general of Migración y Extranjería.

He said key areas like the capital would get close inspection by immigration officials as well as the obvious points, Peñas Blancas to the north and Paso Canoas to the south, which are principal gateways into the country.

Among those detained over the weekend were citizens of Canada and of Romania, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Honduras and Nicaragua, said Luis Diego Solano, chief of the immigration police.

Involved in the sweep, in addition to the Policía Especial de Migración, were the Policía Metropolitana of the Fuerza Pública and the International Police Agency (INTERPOL).

Some 31 of those detained ended up in jail overnight because they lacked identity documents, said Solano. Nearly all were released after friends came by with their documentation, he said.

Badilla reminded tourists that they need to at least carry of photocopy of their passport. The photocopy should show the stamp for the most recent entry into the country. Photocopies are preferred to eliminate the possibility of theft.

High court rejects pleas
from Parmenio pair

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Seven judges of the Sala IV constitutional court rejected four appeals of habeas corpus submitted by defense lawyers of the Rev. Mínor de Jesús Calvo and Omar Chaves.

Both are being held in preventative detention while an investigation continues into the death of radio commentator Parmenio Medina Pérez July 7, 2001.

A spokesperson for the Poder Judicial said that the judges rejected three motions on behalf of the priest and one on behalf of Chaves.

Calvo was the founder and Chaves was the financial backer of Radio María, a now defunct radio station that suffered from criticism by Medina over the handling of money.

The men are charged with what amounts to first-degree murder in the drive-by killing of Medina near his home in Santo Domingo de Heredia.

Prosecutors claim the pair, who have denied the allegations, hired an intermediary to find local gang members to pull the trigger.

The justices met despite the current court vacation because of the high profile of the case.

Fed official says
rate will stay down

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Federal Reserve, the U.S. central bank, is likely to maintain its current accommodative monetary policy in the foreseeable future to ensure that the current expansion will become self-sustaining and the inflation rate does not fall further, a Federal Reserve Board governor says.

Speaking Sunday at a meeting of the American Economic Association in California, Ben Bernanke said such policy remains "appropriate" despite the recent pick-up in economic activity and thus "historically unusual" character of maintaining low interest rates in such environment.

He said the U.S. economy is poised for more growth and continued reduction in unemployment in 2004 after turning the corner in the previous year. 

Bernanke said that maintaining low interest rates also is justified by labor market conditions, which look "weaker" than a 6 percent unemployment rate suggests. Although such level of unemployment is not "exceptionally" high by historical standards, he said, it may understate the extent of job loss or the difficulty of finding new work. 

European Parliament
member bomb target

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BRUSSELS, Belgium — A letter bomb sent to a top member of the European Parliament here exploded in his office, but no one was injured. Investigators believe the incident is linked to several letter bombs that were sent last month from Italy to other European figures and institutions.

The bomb that detonated was addressed to conservative German lawmaker Hans-Gert Poettering, who heads the European People's Party, the biggest political group in the European Parliament.

Poettering was returning to Brussels from Germany at the time, and the aide who opened the videocassette-sized package suffered no injuries when it burst into flames.

Bomb disposal experts managed to neutralize another suspicious parcel that was addressed to Jose Ignacio Salafranca, a Spanish member of Poettering's party.

Harley says the packages were mailed from the Italian city of Bologna Dec. 22.  Italian police have linked the devices to a little-known Italian anarchist group that took responsibility for setting off two small bombs in garbage cans in Bologna Dec. 21. The group says it planted the bombs to strike at what it called the repressive European control apparatus.

Wanted man beats
justice by dying

 By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MEXICO CITY, México — A former Mexican police commander accused of playing a role in Mexico's "Dirty War" has died. 

Family members of Isidro Galeana say he died of a heart attack Saturday in the western beach resort of Acapulco. He had been suffering chronic health problems. 

Galeana had been on the run from authorities since a judge issued a warrant for his arrest in November. The warrant was the first in a series of government investigations into hundreds of crimes committed during Mexico's "dirty war" against leftists from the 1960s to the 1970s. 

Galeana was accused of kidnapping school teacher Jacob Najera in 1974. Najera was never seen again.

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Professor tries to crack code of the ancient Incas
By the University of Buffalo News Service

Although the ancient culture of the Inca is renowned for the highly organized society and extraordinary skill in working with gold, stone and pottery, few are familiar with the khipu, an elaborate system of colored, knotted strings. Many researchers believe these devices to be primarily mnemonic in nature, like a rosary, that was used by the ancient conquerors to record census, tribute, genealogies and calendrical information. 

Because the Inca rulers didn't employ a recognizable system of writing, researchers like Galen Brokaw have focused on the khipu as a way to further illuminate Inca history and culture.  He is an assistant professor in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures in the University at Buffalo's College of Arts and Sciences in the U.S. state of New York.

Brokaw doesn't adhere to the strict view held by some researchers that the khipu is solely mnemonic in nature, instead maintaining the possibility that these intricate specimens are historiographic in nature. 

Deciphering the mysteries of the khipu, which consists of a primary cord from which hang pendants of cords, depends upon researchers discovering a Rosetta Stone of sorts that would allow them to decode the meaning of the cords and knots. 

Cord color and the direction of twist and ply of yarn appear to denote specific meanings, but whether or not the devices recorded more than statistical or mathematical information, such as poetry or language, remains elusive to researchers, says Brokaw. He does believe, however, that some of the specimens (about 600 khipu survive in museums or private collections) do appear to be non-numerical. 

The khipu didn't originate with the Inca culture, explains Brokaw. Even today, he adds, Andean shepherds can be seen using a form of khipu to record information about their flocks. 

"There's a certain kind of mystery about it that's intriguing," Brokaw says. While there is a tendency among some researchers to overly romanticize the khipu as some kind of writing system, he said he believes, after reading the indigenous texts comprised, in part, of biographies of Inca kings, that it's easy to see how the khipu might have represented more complex speech structures than being simply records of tribute. 

In fact, Brokaw says the first step in understanding the khipu is "to recognize that it was linked to genres of Andean discourse, powerful discursive paradigms" that were retained by the indigenous chroniclers in the organizational structure they employed in writing down the lineage of the Inca kings. While these chroniclers wrote in the language of their Spanish conquerors, the discursive paradigms Brokaw refers to "do not simply dissolve and disappear when translated into Spanish," he says. One chronicler in particular, he points out, attributes the principal source of all his information to the khipu. 

"One of the questions that colonial chroniclers 

University of Buffalo photo
Research by Galen Brokaw focuses on khipu, like the one above, an elaborate system of colored, knotted strings that aides to the ancient Inca rulers may have used to record information. 

attempted to answer about the khipu was whether or not it constituted writing, and much of the debate today centers around the same issue. Based on a selective and literal interpretation of colonial sources and a limited understanding of archaeological specimens, many scholars have argued that the khipu was not writing, but rather a mnemonic device similar to a rosary," said Brokaw in his paper "The Poetics of Khipu Historiography: Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala and the Khipukamayuqs from Pacariqtambo," published recently in Latin American Research Review. Guaman Poma, writing around the beginning of the 17th century, is one of the Andean chroniclers who relied on khipu as his primary source.

The numerical aspect of many of the khipu differs from Western numbering systems in that Andean societies used and viewed numeration as a way to define and organize themselves, as well as a way to achieve balance in all aspects of life — from the aesthetic to emotional and material concerns, explained Brokaw in another research report. That one is "Khipu Numeracy and Alphabetic Literacy in the Andes," published in Colonial Latin American Review. Brokaw writes that the "complete decimal unit of 10, for example, is also a metaphor for the basic social groups called ayllus. 

"Furthermore, many colonial chronicles describe a decimal-based system used in the organization, administration and record keeping of the Inca empire, and the model of fives also is evident in the historical and geographical paradigms of Andean sociopolitics," he explains. 

Brokaw argues that Guaman Poma's work is shaped not only by European conventions of text, but also by an Andean conception of historical discourse. It is that Andean-influenced discourse, or poetics, that is shaping the Spanish chronicle of Inca kings that Brokaw believes establishes "an implicit link" between it and the khipu as its physical representation — indeed, as some type of text in and of itself. 

Brokaw's research is funded by a fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies. He is working on a book about the subject, titled "Reading, Writing and Arithmetic: The Andean Khipu and its Transcriptions." 

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First confirmed new SARS case found in China
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

China's Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization have confirmed that a pneumonia patient in southern China has tested positive for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. The case is the first that does not involve laboratory workers since the global SARS outbreak faded last July.

Xu Yueheng, the vice-director of Guangdong's Center for Disease Control, says tests on a 32-year-old pneumonia patient show he has Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. The man is in a hospital in Guangdong Province in southern China.

Xu told China's state-owned television, CCTV, that the patient is in stable condition.

According to World Health Organization records, this is the first confirmed case of SARS contracted outside a laboratory since last July when the initial outbreak faded. The only other known cases since then were researchers who apparently mishandled virus samples.

So far, China says none of the man's family or associates have shown signs of the disease, which causes severe flu-like symptoms that often develop into pneumonia.

Microbiologist Ky Yuen of Hong Kong University led a team of Hong Kong researchers studying 

virus samples from the Guangdong patient. Yuen says the samples show a close match to strains of SARS virus found in civets, a wild mammal sold in food markets in China.

He believes the SARS virus probably re-emerged after it jumped from civets to infect the man or other animal populations. One of China'a state newspapers reported that the patient had trapped rats in his home and the rats later tested positive for the virus.

Health authorities in Guangdong reacted to the new diagnosis by closing wildlife food markets that sell civets and by promising to eradicate rat populations.

Feng Liuxiang, the deputy director of the Guangdong health department, said 10,000 civets will be culled.

SARS first emerged in Guangdong in late 2002 before spreading to infect about 8,000 people worldwide. At least 700 people died from SARS, most of them in China and Hong Kong. 

Last year the mysterious illness prompted the World Health Organization to warn travelers to avoid areas where SARS cases were occurring. Those warnings and fears of the illness caused tourism in Asia to plunge. Some cities, including Singapore and Hong Kong, are still recovering from the economic downturn caused by the crisis. 

U.S. to kill 450 calves to avoid mad cow infections
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. agriculture officials have announced plans to destroy hundreds of cattle linked to the first case of mad cow disease found in the United States. 

Agriculture officials say the decision to destroy some 450 male calves conforms with a pledge to proceed with an abundance of caution in the wake of last month's diagnosis of mad cow disease in a dairy cow in the northwestern state of Washington. 

The Department of Agriculture's chief veterinarian, Ron DeHaven, says the calves to be slaughtered include the month-old offspring of the infected cow. He says that, since the calf in question could not be identified, the entire herd would be destroyed. 

DeHaven spoke with reporters via teleconference. "The calves will be transported to a slaughter facility that currently is not being used. In total, 

there are approximately 450 animals that will be sacrificed as part of this effort. None of the animals will enter the human food chain, nor will any of the products from those animals go into a rendered product," he said. 

Aside from the calves to be slaughtered, several thousand cattle remain under quarantine. 

Meanwhile, results from DNA tests that could confirm whether the infected cow came from Canada are expected later this week. The tests are comparing the DNA of the infected cow with samples from a farm in Alberta, Canada. DeHaven said, even assuming the tests confirm the infected cow's origin as Canadian, it would be premature to say whether the United States would then request certification as being free of mad cow disease from an international veterinary group. 

Such certification could be useful in restoring global confidence in American beef, which has been severely shaken in recent weeks. More than a dozen countries have banned U.S. beef imports. 

Jo Stuart
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