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These stories were published Thursday, Jan. 10, 2002
Jo Stuart
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60 degrees has
the locals chilled

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

If you were to believe the average Costa Rican in the Central Valley, you would think that the new Ice Age is coming.

This graphic in Diario Extra reflects mood.
Huddled in their houses and decked out in winter garb, the San José residents are suffering through another day of temperatures below 60 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s right, 60 degrees.

The popular newspaper Diario Extra ran a graphic Wednesday morning of a grimacing thermometer wearing a stocking cap with icicles hanging from the base. The writing on the graphic reported 20.5 degrees in Limon, 18.5 in Alajuela, and a numbing 15.5 degrees in San José.

The grimacing graphic isn’t so terrible when you realize that Costa Ricans use the Celsius or 

centigrade system of temperature. When converted to Fahrenheit, the temperature is 63 degrees in Limon, 60 degrees in Alajuela and 55 degrees in San José. And the only ice is the traditional cubes Costa Ricans frequently put in their beer.

To be fair, wind gusts of up to 25 mph have been hitting the Central Valley for two days, and most Costa Rican homes do not have good seals around the windows and doors.

Still, Lake Arenal hasn’t frozen over, and no mammoths have taken to munching on the banana plantations along the Caribbean slope. The Central Valley temperature Wednesday was a high of 21 degrees (63.5 F.) and a low of 15.8 (55.7 F.), said the National Meteorological Institute.

The drop in average temperature is likely to cause a new round of upper respiratory ailments among locals because of the drafts and thin blankets.

Meanwhile, Canadians and the occasional tourist from Buffalo, N.Y., (where the snows measured 

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Angry clouds head out of town over southwestern mountains after threatening most of the day Wednesday. This shot is from Plaza de la Democracia.

seven feet on the level) are surprised by the emphasis on the cold weather by the local populace. Russia is suffering through the worst winter in 50 years with temperatures hitting -15 or -20 degrees Fahrenheit, according to wire reports.

Many Costa Ricans, however, do not even have hot domestic water, much less any form of central heating. Some homes perched on the hillsides above the Central Valley or in the Arenal neighborhood have infrequently-used fireplaces.

The predictions for today called for clouds and possible rain all over the country with the exception of the north and central Pacific beaches where sunny and warm weather was predicted.

The cold front that the country experienced also brought some rain, particularly in the northern part of the country and on the Caribbean slope where some flooding was reported in Bataan and Barra del Colorado. Rain also caused some landslides that closed the access to the Zurguí Tunnel northeast of San José. The rain was supposed to diminish over night and through Thursday. The Central Valley had a strong dose of rain Sunday night but mostly sprinkles since.

Deadline given tax havens on 'harmful practices'
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

PARIS — An international organization of 30 industrialized countries has given the world’s tax havens until next Feb. 28 to agree to get in line. 

The organization is the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The member countries have agreed on a number of rules to eliminate what they call harmful tax practices. These are practices that hinder other countries from levying and collecting taxes.

These changes are set out in detail in a newly published report, which provides an update on all aspects of the work. The modifications relate to the commitments that the organization is seeking from tax havens interested in co-operating with it to address the tax practices.

The report describes progress made over the last year in identifying and addressing so-called harmful tax practices within and outside the 30 member countries of the organization. 

"In developing this report, the organization seeks to establish a framework within which all countries - large and small, rich and poor, OECD and non-OECD - can work together constructively to eliminate harmful tax practices with respect to highly mobile activities such as in the financial and service areas," said a statement from the group. "The OECD seeks to encourage an environment in which free and fair tax competition can take place in order to assist in achieving its overall aims to foster economic growth and development world-wide."

The focus of the report is on progress made in connection with the tax haven work. There are now 

a total of 11 committed jurisdictions, Aruba, Bahrain, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Cyprus, Isle of Man, Malta, Mauritius, Netherlands Antilles, San Marino and Seychelles. In addition, Tonga has taken measures to eliminate its harmful tax practices and no longer meets the tax haven criteria, said the report.

The countries have 12 months from the time they agree to follow the organization’s rules to actually put those rules into effect. A primary commitment will be in the area of "transparency," that is whether the country cooperates with other nations in the investigation of tax matters.

One such commitment is to agree to cooperate with any country that is conducting a tax-related investigation of an individual or corporation, said the organization.

". . . effective exchange of information will continue to be sought in both civil and criminal tax matters in specific cases," said the report. 

Member countries are now in the process of setting up a program to offer specific assistance to strengthen and improve the design of the administrative capacity of those smaller jurisdictions which require assistance. The organization said it is in discussion with the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and regional development banks on other forms of development assistance that may be appropriate to help committed jurisdictions further develop their economies as they move to eliminate what is being termed harmful tax practices.

More information is available at: www.oecd.org/daf/ctpa

Don't miss Patricia Martin's report on Manuel Antonio and Quepos
World Affairs Council will target Latin America
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON — President Bush will be the guest of honor at a World Affairs Councils of America conference that directs attention to Latin America. The meeting is titled "The Future of the Americas,"  and it is scheduled next Thursday and Friday.

The council, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that has affiliate members in 82 cities across the United States, examines issues relevant to U.S. foreign policy and sponsors international speaker exchanges and educational workshops. It also is conducting "people-to-people" diplomacy missions to help foster contacts between U.S. professionals and their counterparts overseas.

The organization selects a different theme each year for its annual conference, according to Dr. Jerry Leach, president. This year’s conference, to be held in Washington, will focus on the nations of the Western Hemisphere "in order to redirect attention to Latin America, because President Bush has expressed an interest in the region and because we hadn't addressed the region in previous conferences," Leach said in a telephone interview.

Speakers at conferences "are often drawn from think tanks, Congress, the State Department, embassies and the Inter-American Development Bank," Leach explained. He noted that the 2002 conference will feature speakers including ambassadors or charges d'affaires from Mexico, 

Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Colombia, Costa Rica, Uruguay, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Canada and Peru, as well as senior officials in the Bush Administration and the president himself. Renowned Chilean novelist Isabel Allende and Cesar Gaviria, the secretary-general of the Organization of American States, are among other high-level invitees.

According to the conference schedule, participants will hear remarks on "the United States and the Western Hemisphere" and "what Americans need to know about contemporary Latin America," before splitting up into smaller discussion groups. The discussion groups will explore a wide range of concerns, such as the challenges confronting Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, Peru, Argentina and Colombia. In addition, participants will debate the broader issues of terrorism, free trade, women's equality, corruption, narcotics and law enforcement, human rights, immigration, the U.S. economic embargo on Cuba, democracy, urbanization, and the business climate in Latin America.

Leach said that council conferences "have a very nice long-term follow-up effect," pointing out that the 2001 conference ("Reconnecting America and the United Nations") has helped to establish closer working ties between U.S. officials and their U.N. colleagues. He said that he hopes the 2002 conference, similarly, will emphatically underscore the importance of Latin America to the United States. 

Paper gloating
over poll data

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

It was gloating time for the Spanish-language daily La Nación Wednesday when another presidential poll showed about the same results as the newspaper reported Dec. 9.

Then Partido Liberación Nacional officials ripped the newspaper because survey results showed their candidate, Rolando Araya, in a dead heat for second place with upstart Otton Solís of Partido Acción Ciudadana. The party officials used the word "fraud."

Never argue with someone who buys ink by the barrel, says the old expression. So Wednesday, La Nación came out with the results of the new survey and an editorial that said that the Liberation officials should apologize for their brash words.

The new poll was not commissioned by the newspaper, but by another newspaper, La Republica, and the national television chain. It was done by CID-Gallup, a different company than the one that did the earlier survey.

The new poll showed Abel Pacheco of Unidad Social Cristiana in the lead with 32 percent of the anticipated vote and Araya with 24 percent.  Solís had 20 percent.  The new survey was done in early January before the debate Tuesday. Solís is believed to have picked up some strength as a result of his showing in the debate.

Drug researchers find
possible genetic link

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Drug abuse researchers have found distinct differences between the genome of individuals susceptible to substance abuse and those who are not. A statement indicates the finding could lead to a means to identify individuals at high risk for alcoholism or drug abuse.

The researchers identified more than 40 regions on the human genome that differed between the 667 drug abusers who participated in the study and the 338 control subjects with no history of addiction.

The human genome is the complete set of DNA and its 30,000 genes. Since 1990, the National Institute of Health, has been one of the government partners involved in a project to map the genome and trace the genetic source of human characteristics. The researchers are with the National Institute of Drug Abuse, a subsidiary.

Previous studies have shown that genetic factors are involved in addiction, but the latest work marks the first time the potentially causal DNA regions have been identified. 

Don’t be chicken!
Get this new book

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

You don’t have to be chicken about starting a chicken farm in Costa Rica. The Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock has come out with a book on how to do that here.

The guide, "El manejo de una granja avicola," sells for a mere 400 colons ($1.17). It was written by Boris Coto Fong in cooperation with the University of Costa Rica with financing from several other organizations.

The book covers selection of breeds and the prevention of diseases, which are many in the chicken business. The book also addresses environmental concerns in the selection of a location.

"The land to locate a farm ought to be far from houses and other farms and from future urban and tourist centers, owing to the regulations that exist with the Ministry of Health to avoid passing diseases from animals to  human beings," said the author, an engineer.

The guide is available at the ministry in Sabana Sur or by calling 231-4764, said the ministry in a release.

Robbers have problems
in two different attempts

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two robberies were thwarted Wednesday. But one robber at a busy location in San José exchanged shots before fleeing. 

The gun battle was at Les Car, a automobile dealer at the San Sebastian plaza about 3 p.m. A masked man with a gun tried to rob the business but ran into the security guard at the site. He then engaged in an exchange of shots with guard and then fled, according to the Judicial Investigating Organization.

In Guápiles a quick-thinking delivery truck driver spotted an ambush set up by four masked men, jammed his truck into reverse and escaped backwards for about 100 meters, more than 300 feet.

The driver was identified by the surnames Rivas Padilla, said the Judicial Investigating Organization. He was delivering groceries for Fecoop. The driver and his assistant, identified as Rojas Sandoval, backed up all the way to the store where they had made their last delivery, La Colina in Palmitas de Pocicí. There the woman owner named López helped them and called police. The driver had just received a large cash payment from the woman before the attempted ambush, police said.

Fiesta starts in Palmares

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The festival in Palmares begins today with a horse parade at noon and a Latin music concert. The event runs until Jan. 20.

For the rest of the week the festival features more horse events, athletic events, including a long-distance run Jan. 19, Children’s day next Wednesday and several days of bull fighting, including both Spanish and Tico style.

There are not a lot of accommodations in Palmares, which is west of Sarchí, so most visitors are day-trippers.


Pastrana puts army on alert
and evicts rebel group

By A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia —President Andres Pastrana has put his army on high alert and has given the nation's largest rebel group 48 hours to leave its southern stronghold.

President Pastrana issued the ultimatum late Wednesday, saying the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia had abandoned peace talks with government envoy Camilo Gomez. The FARC says the government is lying about the status of the peace talks.

The negotiations took place in the guerrilla stronghold but stalled over the issue of government security controls around the zone. The FARC objects to military air patrols over the zone, as well as restrictions on entry into the area. The government says its security controls are not negotiable. But it also says the door is open to more talks.

Pastrana ceded the enclave to the 17,000 member FARC in 1998 to advance the peace process. Critics accuse the rebels of using the stronghold to hold kidnap victims and engage in narcotics trafficking.

Colombia has been involved in a civil war that has lasted nearly 38 years and claimed at least 40,000 lives in the last decade alone. The conflict pits leftist rebels against the government and right-wing paramilitary forces. 

Argentina delays putting
peso in marketplace

By A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — The government has reversed an earlier decision to unveil its newly devalued peso on international currency markets today. 

The Central Bank made the announcement late Wednesday, saying authorities need more time to work out details governing the way the peso will be traded. 

The government has fixed the peso at 1.4 to the U.S. dollar for now, although President Eduardo Duhalde has said the peso will be allowed to float on open currency markets as soon as possible. In recent days, black market dealers have been selling a U.S. dollar for as much as 1.6 pesos. 

The currency devaluation has been the centerpiece of President Duhalde's plan to bring Argentina back from the brink of economic collapse. Official foreign exchange trade was suspended Dec. 21, one day after President Fernando de la Rua resigned amid protests over his unpopular austerity measures. 

Those measures included restrictions on cash withdrawals to prevent an exodus of capital from the financially-strapped country. Argentina has been in recession nearly four years and has defaulted on its $141-billion-public debt. 

The government, however, says it is easing restrictions on bank withdrawals and will allow people to pull 1,500 pesos per month from their accounts. The previous government limited such transactions to 1,000 pesos monthly.

U.S. expresses concern
over press intimidation

By A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — The United States has expressed concern about what it says are efforts by supporters of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to intimidate the press and opposition politicians.

The U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela, Donna Hrinak, visited the Caracas newspaper El Nacional Tuesday to express Washington's support for a free press. Her visit followed a large demonstration Monday by Chavez supporters who banged pots and pans and accused the newspaper of printing lies about the government.

For a time, the protesters prevented El Nacional's staff from entering or leaving the newspaper's building. The newspaper's editor, Miguel Henrique Otero, accused the government of organizing the demonstration — a statement that leading members of Chavez's Fifth Republic Movement party have denied. Meanwhile, El Nacional published an editorial Tuesday which described President Chavez as a dictator.

Chavez says news organizations are working to undermine the government. He has threatened to draft a law restricting freedom of the press.

Criminal probe of Enron
will be started in U.S.

By A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. —The U.S. Justice Department has opened a criminal probe into the collapse of the bankrupt energy-trading giant, Enron Corp. 

Enron made the largest bankruptcy filing in U.S. history Dec. 2, after its stock plummeted from $85 a share to about $1. While Enron workers were blocked from selling the stock from their retirement accounts, reports say company executives sold nearly $1 billion worth while the stock was near its peak. 

The Justice Department probe is expected to look into possible financial fraud. Officials said the Justice Department will lead a criminal task force made up of federal prosecutors in Houston, San Francisco, New York and several other cities. Enron is based in Houston, Texas. 

The White House says it is very important for the Enron probe to proceed to find out what happened and how to avoid such sudden collapses in the future. The White House acknowledged that Vice President Dick Cheney or his aides met six times with Enron executives last year, but said the company's financial position was not discussed. 

The probe comes amid concern Enron executives may have had excessive influence over the Bush administration's energy policy. The company made large donations to the Republican party.

The company, once one of the world's top energy traders before being overcome by debt, also faces civil investigations led by the Labor Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission, which governs how corporate stock is bought and sold in the United States. 

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