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These stories were published Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2002, Vol. 2, No. 5
Jo Stuart
About us
Televised debate is exactly what you would expect
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The four major presidential candidates squared off in a televised debate Monday night, and it quickly became clear that they all were against poverty, a bad economy and corruption.

The solution to corruption was obvious to one candidate, Otto Guevara of Movimiento Libertario. The concentration of power in the government is the root cause of corruption, and his solution was to redistribute that power.

Otton Solís of the Partido Acción Ciudadana simply said he would hire honest persons to work in his administration. He, too, styled himself as a reformer, and he has assembled a party on short notice after leaving the Partido Liberación Nacional. He wants to make sure that corporations pay their fair share of taxes.

Abel Pacheco continued to play the role of the gentle grandfather as he politely asked questions and gave replies sandwiched between basic courtesies. He was called on the spot by the other candidates because the current president is a member of his party, Unidad Social Cristiana. How can you effect changes if all your advisers are members of the current administration, he was asked more than once. He is leading in the polls.

Rolando Araya, the Liberación candidate, also took heat and called on the long tradition of his party as evidence that the country would prosper under his leadership and the Liberation team. He also said the principal problems of Costa Rica were economic (unemployment and the high cost of living) and the "feeling of impotence that Costa Rica has."

Araya has been criticized for being stiff and out of touch with the common citizen. He began his presentation by calling himself a country boy. He said he wanted to be president to change the course of the country.

Channel 7, which aired the  2 1/2-hour debate, sold 

The lineup of candidates

the time, and every half hour the screen was flooded by a multitude of commercial messages ranging from universities to Taco Bell to Megasuper. The station was under orders to provide similar time to presidential candidates of nine minor parties. The station will do so Tuesday and Wednesday night. The Supreme Electoral Tribunal agreed with the minor candidates, and although Channel 7 fought the ruling it eventually caved in.

The messages carried by the candidates were consistent with their campaigns, and there were no surprises. The co-directors of the Channel 7 news department, Pilar Cisneros and Ignacio Santos began the questioning and served as referees as the candidates questioned each other. An on-screen clock allowed viewers to see who ran over their alloted time.

The responses in the debate made it appear that Pacheco was trying not to alienate voters by making controversial proposals. He ended by suggesting that "the newspapers tomorrow will say that Pacheco doesnít have any ideas."

Solís several times raised the specter of bankrupt Argentina as he told viewers the country would go the same way if they do not vote for a change. 

The elections are Feb. 3, and the winner has to get 40 percent of the popular vote, something that might not happen. Solís and Araya have been running neck and neck in the polls, but Pacheco has been leading. Guevara is a distant fourth. 

hold up
Pizza Hut
in Escazú
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Three masked men invaded a Pizza Hut outlet in Escazú Sunday night, pistol whipped two customers and took the money in the cash register.

But a security guard in the adjacent commercial center saw what was going on and managed to arrest a suspect.

Meanwhile, one of the other men fired a shot that awakened the neighborhood as they fled in a Hyundai Excel, according to the Judicial Investigating Organization. A fourth man apparently was waiting in the car, said police.

Arrested was Randall Campo Molina, 27, who was carrying a .38-caliber revolver on him when detained, according to investigators.

Don't miss Patricia Martin's report on Manuel Antonio and Quepos
A.M. Costa Rica photo
Two women brave unseasonable rain as they pass in front of the Bella Vista Fortress in San José, which is now the National Museum. The rains started at mid-afternoon and continued into the evening. Pock marks in the fort are the result of bullet impacts during the 1948 revolution.
U.S. ag chief seeks
elimination of subsidies

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

OXFORD, United Kingdoms ó Export subsidies and taxes on agricultural goods should be eliminated worldwide, said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman.

Speaking at a British farming conference here Thursday Veneman also called for eliminating exclusive export and import rights to increase market access for farmers. "We want farmers and ranchers to be able to compete in global markets on a level playing field," she said.

Veneman said emerging markets and new uses of agricultural products are offering farmers "new possibilities for producing differentiated products," beyond traditional commodities. She cited "functional foods" that contain vaccines or proteins and other nutrients, bio-fuels, bio-polymers, such as soy-based resins, and soy-based inks as examples of new foods and new approaches to food production.

She said biotechnology is also shifting agriculture from a commodity-based system to a value-enhanced system. She added that new packaging and processing technologies are "revolutionizing" the ways foods are processed and marketed.

Veneman cautioned against the "precautionary principle" concept in Europe. The precautionary principle justifies placing restrictions on food imports regardless of whether scientifically identified risks to health have been identified. She said the World Trade Organization's Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement establishes clear rules for governments to protect the safety of their consumers and agriculture industries while preventing the use of the rules for protectionism.

Veneman added that an important result of the World Trade Organization ministerial meeting in Doha, Qatar, was the recognition of the importance of developing countries in future trade negotiations and those countries' need to improve their ability to negotiate effectively.

is a little unclear
on the 
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

So now if you got a little drunk and a little crazy and decided to burglarize someplace, where would it be?

Well, the downtown has a lot of banks. There are jewelry stores, and the casinos and the bars have plenty of money.

So would you go to the National Assembly building? Well, Javier Medina Miranda, 27, is accused of doing just that. He was arrested inside the Blue Castle in the protocol office by a security guard, according to the Judicial Investigating Organization. Police said the man was trying to steal computer equipment from the office.

Investigation showed that the man entered the building by scaling the massive south wall of the well-guarded complex about 9 p.m. Sunday. The wall faces heavily traveled Avenida Principal. The intruder broke into the hall of former presidents, then forced a lock and passed into the protocol office, said investigators.

There was no indication how the intruder planned to carry the computer equipment back over the high wall. Significantly, police said they confiscated a bottle of liquor that the man had been sampling before he entered the building and again afterwards.

Three bank employees
held as robbery suspects

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police arrested three employees of the Banco Crédito Agrícola de Belén in simultaneous raids Monday and charged them with the robbery that netted thieves 17 million colons (about $50,000) and $21,000 in cash.

Arrested, according to the Judicial Investigating Organization were two cashiers and a guard. One cashier was arrested at his home in the Victoria subdivision in San Francisco de Heredia and the other was arrested in a bank branch in the center of Heredia. The guard was arrested at the bank. Police gave their last names and ages as Fallas, 30, Cordoba, 30, and Solís 32.

Two brothers identified
as suspects in murder

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators have arrested one brother and are looking for a second in the New Yearís Eve murder of a man in a home in the Carpintera section of Barreal de Heredia.

The dead man is Róman Blanco, 44, who was sitting in a chair at a friendís house when an intruder burst in and stabbed him in the chest. The man chased his assailant into the street where he was felled by a bullet that entered a lung.

Police said the crime was revenge because Blanco had informed authorities that the two brothers had been dealing in firearms, including a revolver and an AK-47 assault rifle. Arrested was Manuel Largaespa, and police are seeking a brother with the last name of Vallecillo, according to the Judicial Investigating Organization.

U.S.-style street gangs reported
invading Central America

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

U.S.-style street gangs have come to Central America, according to a professor at Universidad Centroamericana, who has produced a 444-page report on the situation.

A  report on the professorís work is being circulated by Casa Alianza, a non-profit group that works with street children. The gangs are well developed in El Salvador, Guatemala, and less so in Honduras and Nicaragua, although some experts suggest that as many as 400 small gangs may be found in Managua.

The professor said that the gangs have contact and have obtained their inspiration from similar gangs in the United States, mainly in Southern California where there is contact with youngsters from the Central American countries.

Health organization sets
new AIDS guidelines

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Pan American Health Organization is issuing new guidelines for governments to follow in providing care for the estimated 2.6 million people in the Americas infected with HIV. 

"We are stressing the importance of linking prevention with treatment of HIV/AIDS infection. The two cannot be considered separately, since  treatment offers an opportunity to improve prevention and vice versa,"  said Dr. Fernando Zacarías, coordinator of the Regional Program on  HIV/AIDS. 

The recommendations are issued as part of a periodic regional survey of disease cases that the health organization began in 1986. In an attempt to contain and treat the virus, the group has adopted a multi-pronged strategy encompassing surveillance, research, health promotion, information dissemination, international cooperation and other actions. 

Argentine president
asks for price curbs

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES, Argentine ó  President Eduardo Duhalde is urging businesses to hold down prices in the wake of Sunday's sharp devaluation of the peso that ended its one-to-one peg with the U.S. dollar. 

President Duhalde made the appeal Monday as he met with business and community leaders here. Some businesses have already raised prices to cover expected increases in the cost of imports. Others have held back for fear of angering cash-strapped Argentines. 

Economists fear devaluation could spark steep price inflation that could, in turn, trigger more street riots like those last month that helped bring down two presidents. Argentina's financial markets are closed until Wednesday and the government has boosted security. 

For now, Duhalde says the peso will be valued at one-point-four to the dollar. But his government has also said that as soon as possible the peso will be allowed to float on open currency markets. 

The peso devaluation is the centerpiece in Duhalde's plan to revive Argentina's economy, now in its fourth year of recession. Argentina has defaulted on its $141-billion public debt. It is also struggling with an 18 percent unemployment rate. 

In a related development, the U.S. Treasury Department is urging Argentina to work with the International Monetary Fund to resolve its financial problems. A Treasury spokeswoman says U.S. officials hope to see Argentina find solutions that put it on a path to prosperity. 

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