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These stories were published Thursday, Jan. 6, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 4
Jo Stuart
About us
Central U.S. being hit by big storm
All this talk about cold is very relative
By  Joe Medici*
of the A. M. Costa Rica staff

As a relative cold spell continues to wash over the Central Valley, Ticos and expats alike look for ways to cope with the drop in temperature. Hats have been taken out of the closet, mittens purchased from a street vendor, and blankets have been placed over the beds. People are talking about the cold on the street corners. News broadcasters talk about ways to keep warm, and women have even been forced to wear shirts that cover two thirds of their upper bodies! 

While it is true that the temperature in San José has dropped and that most homes in Costa Rica do not have heaters, the general whining about the temperature throughout the country is excessive.

Locals can be pardoned for this behavior. They've never experienced real cold weather,  but there isn't a single expat in the country that hasn't seen the likes of a Michigan whiteout, a New York ice storm, or an Edmonton freeze for all. Expats know what January can really feel like, and, therefore, 

should be ashamed of their constant whining.

Up in the Midwest, or the tundra if you prefer, men and women are digging their cars and front doors out from under a ferocious snow storm that carved its way from Illinois to New York. Some areas were lucky and escaped with three inches of snow, while others were waylaid with eight to 10 inches of the thick, white powder. 

Those of us who have survived snow storms, however, know that the worst part is driving the next day. Can you imagine the chaos that would grab ahold of Avenida 2 if even an inch of snow fell? Within an hour, bus drivers would have organized a strike, cabs would be strewn about the sidewalk, and Transito officers would be directing traffic in thermal coats designed for Arctic use.

So when you go to bed and you have to use a blanket, remember the folks at home in the North who will be using three blankets, one of them electric.

*Mr. Medici is an editorial intern from Detroit, Mich., where they know cold.

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Vendors getting space
in former Registro Civil

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The displaced street vendors of San José have found a place to sell their goods and not on the sidewalks.

Mayor Johnny Araya and José Manuel Echandi, the defensor de los habitantes, have agreed to allow the vendors to use a sprawling structure between avenidas 2 and 4 that once was the Registro Civil. The building now is being used by the Fuerza Pública and its reserve units.

Echandi is the nation’s ombudsman and stepped in to avoid violence between vendors and city employees and police. 

Araya already has made concessions to the vendors in an effort to get them to leave the sidewalk locations they have occupied since at least 1995. The areas along Avenida 1 and 8 had become difficult to transit by pedestrians, plus there was a continuing crime problem from street thugs who found security by hiding among the various stalls.

Some vendors have found locations at parking lots around the city. Others have located outside the central city. Many will take advantage of a municipal-inspired increase in agricultural markets at various points.

Those who choose will be able to market their produce in the former inside parking area of the Fuerza Pública building not far east from Parque La Merced.  The indoor parking area is now used as a gym for Fuerza Pública officers.

Canopy decision voids
patent on the concept

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A mid-December decision by the Sala IV constitutional court has voided a patent issued to a man who claimed monopoly over the concept of canopy tours.

The operator of an adventure tour business claimed he had originated the concept, and the Registro Nacional had awarded him a patent in 1998.

Operators of similar businesses, which are popular here, protested after the businessman accompanied a Registro official and police to several canopy operations and destroyed key parts of their mechanisms.

That’s when the court action began. Other operators produced a 19th century painting showing a very similar canopy tour being used in Costa Rica and added that work of art to the evidence that the canopy concept was in the public domain.

A Registro official who spearheaded the destruction of adventure tour properties has been fired.

Venezuela is certified
as U.S. shrimp importer

By the A. M. Costa Rica staff

The U.S. State Department has certified Venezuela as a legal exporter of shrimp to the United States. The certification was granted Dec. 21 based upon efforts made by the Venezuelan government and the Venezuelan fishing industry to comply with laws regarding the protection of sea turtles.

In order for countries to be certified, they must meet the criteria spelled out in U.S. law that prohibits the importation of shrimp harvested in ways harmful to sea turtles. The section outlines the use of sea turtle excluder devices to reduce the risk of drowning of sea turtles in shrimp trawls. The devices allow sea turtles to escape from the trawl nets, while the shrimp are kept inside. 

On the same day, certification was withdrawn for Trinidad and Tobago and for Panamá due to concerns over the effectiveness of their sea turtle protection programs.

In August of 2003, Costa Rica lost its certification after a scheduled inspection by the US Departments of State and National Fisheries. In February 2004, Costa Rica was recertified by the State Department because the government here, in cooperation with the fishing companies, took steps to improve enforcement and compliance with fisheries laws.

Expotur begins May 29

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Expotur will run this year from May 29 to June 3 at the Hotel Herradura, Centro de Conferencias, in Heredia. 

Expotur is a trade fair that is held every year for Costa Rican and Central American tourist companies.  This is the 20th year that the Asociación Costarricense de Profesionales in Turismo has organized an event that allows companies to come together to promote their businesses and initiate negotiations with tourism service providers in Costa Rica. 

Representatives from airlines, tour operators, car rental as well as ministries and institutes of tourism will be present from 10 countries, the majority being from Costa Rica.  Every year more than 200 businesses participate in the trade fair. 
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Mass for peace is tonight

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Abel Pacheco will be among those who pray for peace at a Roman Catholic Mass marking World Peace Day this evening. The 6 p.m. Mass will be in the Catedral Metropolitana in the downtown.

Many countries celebrated the day Jan. 1, and that is when Pope John Paul II delivered his message to 72 nations, including four Islamic lands. The Pope echoed his concern about the war in Iraq, globalization and the need for a more equitable distribution of goods.
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Former Nicaraguan president retains power
Aleman does not lack visitors to his hacienda prison
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

MANAGUA, Nicaragua — The Parade continues to El Chile. The convicted money launderer and former president of Nicaragua, Arnoldo Aleman, not only is serving his 20-year sentence on his 2,500-acre coffee farm, the Hacienda El Chile, but his visiting privileges extend to over 100 individuals. 

The former president and still powerful leader of the right wing Partido Liberal Constitucionalista has received permission from the presiding judge in his case to permit all of the Liberal diputados, magistrates of the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals and many local businessmen to visit his home without supervision. 

Between checking the coffee harvest at the farm and spending a quiet Christmas with his family, Aleman still found time to strengthen his power over the Liberal party. This week the entire party contingent of the Nicaraguan National Assembly met in the farmhouse-jailhouse to choose the next board of directors of the same legislative body. 

Ironically, the judge handling the Aleman case, David Rojas, is a militant Sandinista who allegedly received his orders for the release of Aleman directly from Daniel Ortega, former president of Nicaragua and secretary general of the Frente Sandinista. The same judge is currently investigating sitting President Enrique Bolaños Geyer for alleged electoral crimes including the use of offshore Cayman and Panamanian banks for fund-raising during the last presidential election cycle.

These decisons coupled with the recent constitutional modifications by the National Assembly stripping President Bolaños of his powers of ministerial appointment, provide proof of the working agreement between Aleman and Ortega to change Nicaragua to a parliamentary democracy. The scope of the agreement includes the division of political appointment throughout all levels of the Nicaraguan government, control of the budget process and the energy, water and telcom sectors of the economy. 

The U.S. ambassador to Nicaragua, Barbara Calandra Moore, has publicly stated support of President Bolaños. However, three separate press outlets reported Wednesday that State Department powerhouse Dan Fisk intends to come to Nicaragua to broker a resolution.

The urgency of the visit is in part prompted by the landslide victory by the Sandinistas in the municipal elections in 2004, wherein 14 of the 16 departmental capital cities were taken by Sandinista candidates. This visit to Nicaragua likely will include discussions with Aleman and Ortega.

Some news from the north

A.M. Costa Rica will, from time to time, publish articles about Nicaragua because expats living there have asked that we do so and because the newspaper already has many readers from our neighbor to the north. These will be in addition to our independent coverage of Costa Rica.

We also would like to thank those expats in Nicaragua who are providing contacts, information and advertising to make the additional news possible.

The Bolaños government has recently been plagued with a series of high-level resignations, including the imminent resignation of Nicaraguan Vice President Jose Rizo, as reported today in the local press. Rizo is one of the founders of the Liberal party and a staunch suporter of Arnoldo Aleman. 

The resignations as well as the recent scandals involving alleged electoral fraud have substantially damaged the strength and credibility of the Bolaños government. 

Prior to the Christmas holiday rumours had circulated regarding the resignation of the popular and widely respected Eduardo Montiel, minister of Hacienda and Credito Público. These rumors were confirmed only days before Christmas when Montiel resigned, publicly blaming the lack of support by the president and in particular other members of the cabinet in the formation of the budgetary process. 

The Nicaraguan budget process is extraordinarily difficult due to limitations imposed by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank as well as disciplined political forces seeking wage increases beyond fiscal means. 

Montiel had successfully reached an acceptable agreement with the Assembly and representatives of the monetary fund that angered other cabinet members due to cuts in pet projects, thus prompting his resignation 

Wednesday two more high level resignations of long-term professional employees in the tax collecting authority were confirmed with changes or resignations of other cabinet members in the wind within the next week.

Valentine's Day golf tourney is ready for 5th year
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The fifth annual Have a Heart Golf Tournament will be held on St. Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, at the Hacienda Pinilla Golf Course in Santa Cruz, Guanacaste. All proceeds from the tournament are directly donated to the schools in nearby Villareal. 

Golfers may assemble four-person teams to compete in the tournament. Tee off time is at 7:30 a.m. The fee for the tournament is $99, which covers golf, cart, awards 

luncheon and more. First, second, and third place trophies will be awarded to the best teams. 

There will also be a registration party Feb. 12 at 7 p.m. in the Villa Alegre B & B in Playa Langosta. 

The tournament developers are also looking for volunteers to help run the tournament. If you would like to sign up to golf or if you would like to become a volunteer, contact Suzye and Barry Lawson at 653-0270  or e-mail them at

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Bush pick for Commerce spot would push for free trade
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

President George Bush's nominee to be the Commerce secretary is pledging to expand free trade if confirmed by the U.S. Senate. The Cuban-born Carlos Gutiérrez made his comments during a confirmation hearing before a Senate panel Wednesday.

In an appearance before the Senate Commerce Committee, Gutiérrez, chief executive officer of the Kellogg cereal company, underscored his commitment to easing regulatory and trade barriers on U.S. businesses if he is confirmed as Commerce secretary.

The 51-year-old Gutiérrez highlighted his remarkable life story for the committee. 

Born in Cuba, he fled to the United States with his family in 1960, shortly after Fidel Castro took power.

Gutiérrez joined Kellogg in 1975, starting as a truck driver in Mexico City. Known for his strong work ethic, he worked all over the world for the company. He rose through the ranks to become CEO in 1999. He is credited with reviving the company when it was grappling with financial difficulties.

But he never received a college degree. Some lawmakers were concerned that that might be a disadvantage. But Gutiérrez said the education he received on the job better qualifies him for Commerce secretary than a college diploma would.

"I have been able to work around the world, which I consider to be a great fortune, being able to work with different cultures, being able to understand the nuances of how to deal with people of other countries, the minor

nuances, the difference between an Argentinian and a Chilean, the difference between Korea, China and Japan, which you know are very marked," he said. "That is something I can bring to this job."

Sen. Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, whose state is home to Kellogg's headquarters, agrees.

"This vast business experience in the United States and abroad is going to give him and has given him a unique understanding of our country's role and the challenge that we face in the global marketplace," he said.

If confirmed, Gutiérrez would not only deal with business and trade issues, he would also be concerned with weather and storm-related subjects because the Commerce Department is also home to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In the wake of the deadly tsunami in South Asia, lawmakers expressed their concerns about the need to bolster the warning system for tsunamis in this country.

"As you are well aware, 85 percent of tsunamis occur in the Pacific Ocean area," said Sen. Daniel Inouye, a Democrat from Hawaii. "We spend $10 million annually for the Pacific system, we have only six buoys deployed, we need at least 12 more." 

Gutiérrez assured lawmakers he would work toward strengthening the tsunami warning system.

The Gutiérrez' nomination hearing is the first of several scheduled over the next few weeks on President Bush's second-term cabinet nominees.  Gutiérrez, who is expected to be swiftly confirmed, would succeed Don Evans, who announced his resignation in November. 

Jo Stuart
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