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These stories were published Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2002
Jo Stuart
About us
ABC News file photo
John Kennedy watches his rival, Richard Nixon, on the television monitor.

Some lessons from 1960
learned, lost Tuesday

By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

The world has aged 41 years since the first Nixon-Kennedy debate Sept. 26, 1960, but the lessons from that much-discussed encounter seem to have been both remembered and misplaced when Costa Rica’s major candidates met Tuesday.

The basic lessons from the debate between then-Vice President Richard Nixon and then-U.S. Sen. John F. Kennedy were these:

1. The successful debator must paint a giant vision for the viewers.

2. Specifics are dangerous, but generalities are great.

3. You can play dirty to win.

4. When you get done, viewers probably will stick with their original candidate.

The four Costa Rican candidates seemed to bicker among themselves rather than addressing the big picture. Voters want to hear that they will be better off next year than this year, even if that is not the truth.

Otto Guevara, the candidate of Movimiento Libertario, came closest to painting a word picture, but his self-reliant, anti-monopolistic vision was counter to the paternalistic, socialistic government most Costa Ricans expect.

The contrasts were clear in the Nixon-Kennedy debate. Of course, Nixon had a disadvantage, one shared by Abel Pacheco of Unidad Social Cristiana. Nixon was an insider. He was vice president to Dwight Eisenhower. Pacheco is of the same party as President Miguel Angel Rodríguez.

Despite an agreement to discuss only domestic issues, Kennedy broke that rule to immediately flog the Eisenhower Administration (and, by extension, Nixon) for being weak on communism. Plus, "I'm not satisfied when the United States had last year the lowest rate of economic growth of any major industrialized society in the world," said Kennedy, whether or not he believed that statement.

Nixon replied with facts and figures, droning on like an economics professor: "Now last year, of course, was 1958. That happened to be a recession year. But when we look at the growth of G.N.P. this year, a year of recovery, we find that it's 6.9 per cent and one of the highest in the world today," he said, whether of not anyone in the audience knew what G.N.P. was.

And that was the key to the debate. Kennedy talks of abstract, frightening problems, and Nixon replied with numbers and facts and boring information bits.

Rolando Araya, the candidate for the Partido Nacional Liberación, did a little bit of the same Tuesday when he spoke in concrete terms. Handlers for Otton Solís and to some extent Pacheco must have cautioned their candidates against being too specific.

Solís only said he would hire honest people in his administration to end corruption, a fairly simplistic reponse. Pacheco said the newspapers might say he did not have any new ideas.

But new ideas are exactly what a successful candidate should not present at such a debate. 

Much has been said about how tired Nixon looked in his first debate with John Kennedy. He did look tired and a strange color even on the black-and-white television screens of the day.  Candidates have been very concerned about appearance ever since. Tuesday, each candidate had his own makeup person, and each looked roughly as he looks in real life on the color sets of today.

The non-profit Commission on Presidential Debates (http://www.debates.org/index.html) maintains files of relevant U.S. debates.

Argentine devaluation
causes concerns

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Argentina has let its peso float free, effectively devaluing the currency against the U.S. dollar.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has denied rumors and prompted some more when he said that his government would not devalue the boliver by a significant percentage. In other countries in Latin America business people and officials are bracing for the ripple effect of the Argentine action.

In Costa Rica a double economy already exists: one with the dollar and one with the national currency, the colon. The Central Bank supervises a tiny daily reduction in the dollar exchange rate to avoid a precipitous drop. For example, Tuesday each dollar was worth 341.87 colons to sell and cost 342.47 colons to buy. But Saturday one dollar could buy 341.78 colons. 

In January 1995 the dollar was worth166.5 colons. The steady devaluation has kept the local economy from feeling the tremors of an unexpected cut in the value of the colon.

Still, some foreigners here and certainly some Costa Ricans are taking steps to protect against the possibility of a larger devaluation. They look at the time following the Feb. 3 presidential elections as a period when a new president could make financial changes.

These same people argue that Costa Rica’s foreign and internal debt is too high and imports to Costa Rica are much greater than exports. This puts pressure on the local currency. Others argue equally as strong that the current daily devaluation is sufficient to avoid a big change. Candidates have avoided discussing the subject, although the state of the economy dominated a presidential debate Tuesday.

To compensate for the daily decline in the value of the colon against the dollar, bankers and businessmen here pay higher interest rates on loans denominated in colons. A typical interest rate this week is about 16 percent on year-long colon loans. Higher rates can be negotiated by lenders for larger sums. And consumer interest is much higher.

The official inflation rate for the last 12 months was about 11.5 percent. That means someone with a colon bank deposit paying 18 percent interest would have earned a real interest rate of about 6.5 percent, a better rate than deposits in a U.S. dollar account. That may have paid only 3 percent for the year.

Some real estate developers and the National Insurance Institute offer 15-year mortgages in colons at 16 to 16.5 percent, but some of the loans have adjustable rates, and the stated rate is only guaranteed for one year.

This is why more and more real estate ads quote the price in U.S. dollars. The same is true for real estate rentals where the monthly payment is specified in dollars to avoid the decrease in value over a period of time.

So what can a foreigner do to protect him or herself against a steep drop in the value of the colon.

Raúl Sanabria of International Market Consultants, S.A., is one of those advisors who believes not only in keeping most cash in dollar accounts but also keeping the accounts out of Central America. He said he believes that the actual amount of U.S. dollars in Costa Rica is so small that bankers would  not be able to find enough to honor all their dollar accounts if the colon should run into trouble.

Some real estate buyers are using the possibility of a devaluation as an incentive to make investments in real property with a fixed-rate mortgage denominated in colons, if they can find such a deal.

Nearly all tourist hotel rates and other tourist services already are denominated in dollars, and colons are accepted at the daily exchange rate. Imported items are most vulnerable to any devaluation, as Argentineans have seen.

The root cause of Argentina’s problem was a giant international debt and the political decision to keep the peso at the same value as the dollar. But as the peso was allowed to float and became much less valuable than a dollar, prices expressed in pesos began to skyrocket.

The devaluation affected those items expressed in pesos, such as salaries, fixed expenses like electric bills and other necessities of daily life that carried prices that could not be changed easily. In terms of real value, many Argentineans found that their salaries and peso-denominated bank accounts immediately were worth 40 percent less now that the peso can float.

on corruption
will be topic
of meeting
by Democrats
A  lawyer who studied the perception of Costa Ricans on the topic of corruption will present her findings to Democrats Abroad Jan. 28.

She is Cristina Rojas Rodríguez, a researcher, lawyer and mediator. Her survey is titled "Corruption in Costa Rica: Causes, Consequences and Countermeasures."  Ms. Rojas, a former ambassador to Japan, has been board chairwoman of the Center for Mediation, Conflict Resolution and Investigation since 1997.  She has worked extensively with United Nations commissions and other international forums on criminal, judicial and development issues.  She also is a former Costa Rican criminal judge. 

The meeting will be held on the fifth floor of the Gran Hotel Costa Rica with the business meeting and political update beginning at 11 a.m.  The buffet lunch is at noon, and Ms. Rojas’ presentation and discussion will follow. Lunch reservations (2,500 colons for members and 3,000 for guests) are required and can be confirmed with Ruth Dixon at 494-6260.  All in the community are welcome, said a club announcement.

The study of corruption was done in the first four months of 2001, and interviewers contacted some 440 persons in business, in unions, in professional groups, in the media and in politics. The survey concluded that corruption was endemic in Costa Rica and endangered the democratic process.

Don't miss Patricia Martin's report on Manuel Antonio and Quepos
Human trafficking
study targets Balkans

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

GENEVA, Switzerland —A new study finds that approximately 120,000 women and children are victims of human trafficking in Europe annually, even though the report also finds that reliable data on this crime is extremely difficult to gather. The study, a compilation of information from more than 200 sources in 28 countries, was unveiled by the International Organization for Migration Tuesday..

Trafficking in the Balkans is the special focus of the report, according to spokesman Jean Philippe Chauzy, because the region is a major center of this form of criminal activity. "The Balkans will remain an important transit region between Eastern and Western Europe because conflicts have led to a breakdown of social, political and legal structures, a situation which continues to give traffickers significant freedom to operate," Chauzy said.

Assessing the extent of the problem in the region, and developing some ideas to combat trafficking are the main goals of the study, according to its executive summary. The primary purpose of the trafficking is sexual exploitation.

The organization has an active anti-trafficking program underway in the Balkans that has provided assistance to almost 700 victims, helping many to avoid a life of forced prostitution, said the group.

Caracas paper calls
Chavez a dictator

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — A daily newspaper whose offices were besieged by pro-government protesters says President Hugo Chavez is, in its words, a "dictator." 

El Nacional published the comments Tuesday in an editorial titled "Dictator Without a Mask." The editorial was printed one day after hundreds of Chavez supporters surrounded the newspaper's offices, banged pots and pans and accused the paper of printing lies about the government. 

Venezuelan newspaper editors declared a state of alert in response to the protests and denounced the rally as an attempt to intimidate reporters. They described the incident as typical of, in their words, "totalitarian regimes of a fascist nature." Meanwhile, U.S. officials say they are concerned by the attempts of Chavez supporters to intimidate the press and opposition politicians. The U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela, Donna Hrinak, visited El Nacional Tuesday to express Washington's support for a free press. 

Monday's protests came one day after President Chavez accused El Nacional of waging a propaganda war against his government. Chavez claims news organizations are working to undermine the government. He has threatened to draft a law restricting freedom of the press.

Congressman strips
for airport security

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Airport security personnel at Reagan National Airport have forced a U.S. congressman to strip to his underwear, after a surgical implant set off a metal detector. 

Rep. John Dingell, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, was about to board a plane bound for Detroit when an airport screener took him aside for examination.  Dingell told security personnel he has an artificial metal hip and that it had set off the metal detector. But the screeners, following procedure, asked him to undress in order to confirm his explanation. 

The congressman later contacted the U.S. transportation secretary, Norman Mineta, to make sure the search was necessary. At the same time, he said he wants to be treated like everyone else, no better and, in his words, no worse.

Leni Riefenstahl, 100,
readies her next film

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

German film-making legend Leni Riefenstahl, famous for making movies for Adolf Hitler, has announced she will release her first film since 1954, in time for her 100th birthday in August. 

Ms. Riefenstahl told the German newspaper Die Welt that she is finishing a film called "Impressions Under Water," a 45-minute compilation of footage she took during 2,000 dives in the Indian Ocean over the past quarter-century. 

The artist gave up filmmaking in favor of still photography during the 1950's, possibly to leave behind her reputation as a Nazi propaganda artist. Her 1930s film "Triumph of the Will," which glorified the career of Adolf Hitler, has been called the best propaganda film ever made. She is also famous for "Olympia," which chronicled the 1936 Berlin Olympics. 

After the fall of the Third Reich, Ms. Riefenstahl said her association with Hitler was the product of her own naivete. The leader's influence was, in her words, uncanny. "He had us all under his spell," she said. 

Ms. Riefenstahl has since pursued less controversial topics with photographs of natural subjects, including the Nuba people of Sudan. The British newspaper, The Independent, says she has plans for a Riefenstahl museum to open after her death.

Passport agency to make
photodigitized documents

Special to A.M.Costa Rica

CHICAGO, Ill. — The U.S. Passport Agency is relocating and will now begin to issue photodigitized passports.

The Chicago Passport Agency will have a ribbon-cutting ceremony next Wednesday to celebrate its move from the third floor to the 18th floor of the Kluczynski Federal Building and conversion to the photodigitization passport issuance system. 

The building is at 230 S. Dearborn Street, Chicago, Illinois. The agency provides passport service to residents of the U.S. states of Illinois and Michigan.  The Chicago agency is the 16th and final domestic passport-issuing facility to convert to the photodigitization process. 

Since December, all domestic agencies have been issuing the new photodigitized passport. The State Department said it has also begun to explore ways to bring this new technology to passports issued at U.S. missions abroad.

Kiwanis invites visitors

The Metropolitan San José Kiwanis Club meets every first and third Thursday at noon in the Gran Hotel Costa Rica. 

The club has brought hundreds of wheel chairs into the country for distribution to needy people, said a club announcement. The group invited residents to come and feel welcome and meet lots of other Americans and Canadians.  Further info can come from from the president, Dr. David Martin, at 283-8627, 234-9814,  or 446-7670, or  duxdiego@racsa.co.cr 

Currency markets
still closed in Argentina

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Currency markets are expected to remain closed again today amid reports the government will ease restrictions on bank withdrawals. 

The banking holiday is also expected to remain in place to give officials more time to implement new policies governing the way the peso is traded on financial markets. The government devalued the peso Sunday, ending its decade-old one-to-one link with the U.S. dollar. 

For now, the peso is valued at 1.4 to the dollar. The government of President Eduardo Duhalde has said the peso will be allowed to float on open currency markets as soon as possible. 

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

President Duhalde is expected to soon ease banking restrictions imposed by former President Fernando de la Rua last month to stabilize the banks and prevent an exodus of capital from the country. 

The curbs limiting withdrawals to 1,000 pesos per month led to widespread street riots and President de la Rua's resignation. The Duhalde government is now expected to allow account holders to withdraw up to 1,500 pesos per month. 

In a related development, many Argentines, fearing an uncertain economic future, have decided to leave the country. Many residents of Spanish or Italian descent have lined up at the respective consulates, hoping to obtain new visas. Many fear the hyperinflation of the 1980s that led to long food lines and a rapid run-up in prices.

To the north, Brazil's finance minister has reassured Argentina that the sharp devaluation of its peso does not mean that Argentina is at risk for high inflation. 

Speaking from experience, Finance Minister Pedro Malan Tuesday said the previous four years of economic stagnation in Argentina could help by keeping demand down and prices in check. 

Brazil had a similar experience in 1999 when it plunged into recession following a 40 percent devaluation of its currency. But by the end of the year, projections by the International Monetary Fund showed Brazil's economy was expected to grow slightly rather than register an expected decline. 

Experts say high interest rates helped to stabilize the economy. 

Archbishop of Canterbury
will retire in October

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CANTERBURY, England — The Archbishop of Canterbury has announced his retirement after a decade as spiritual leader of the world's 70 million Anglicans. He is George Carey, 66, the 103rd person to hold the title. He said he would retire at the end of October. 

Among the archbishop's potential successors is the Pakistani-born bishop of Rochester, England, Michael Nazir-Ali, a conservative who is also an expert on Christian-Islamic relations. 

Other candidates include the archbishop of Wales, Rowan Williams, a former Oxford professor known for his liberal views, and traditionalist Richard Chartres, the bishop of London. 

A church commission names two finalists for the post. These names are then presented to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who will choose the finalist. His choice must be ratified by Queen Elizabeth, head of the Church of England.

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