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These stories first were published Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2002
Jo Stuart
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Some of the staples of life here in Costa Rica, but the people prefer the black beans with their rice.

Researchers check
preferences in beans

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Donít ever say that consumers donít know beans about beans. In fact, Costa Ricans have some strong, predictable preferences.

Thatís according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, which announced the results of a study of varieties of beans, the little red kind.

The principal result is that the color of the bean and the brightness are the key reasons people buy beans, said the ministry. Less important is the size of the bean or the uniformity of color.

The study was done in conjunction with the Foundation for the Promotion of Study and Transfer of Technology in Costa Rica, said the ministry. Interviewers stationed themselves in Palí and Megasuper stores in Tibás, Moravia, Desamparados and San Pedro and asked shoppers to rate beans.

They used varieties right off the shelf in transparent packages in amounts of 100 grams (about a quarter pound): Chirripó rojo, Bri-Bri, Honduras, huetar, generalito, saca pobre, the Sabemás product, testigo and others.

The study found that the bean variety Honduras with 35 percent and generalito with 23 percent were the types most preferred. About 80 percent of the people questioned rated the color of the bean as important in selecting a variety in the store. Some 60 percent said brightness. Other qualities mentioned included the shape and the uniformity and size of the beans. But these aspects were less important, said the study.

Interviewers found that only 34 percent of Costa Ricans eat red beans, and 54 percent of the shoppers eat black beans exclusively. The average family of a little more than 4.5 persons in the study eats 3.59 kilos of beans a month, the investigators said. Thatís about 7.9 pounds. It was unclear if the ministry report meant all bean eaters or just eaters of red beans.

The principal investigators, Ana Beatriz Sandoval Carvajal and Juan Carlos Hernández of the ministry, said that the criteria reported in the study will help producers and packers in their consideration of other varieties that may have higher yields and more resistance to diseases.

Police beat, kick vendors on mall

By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two San José municipal police officers Tuesday beat and kicked two street vendors, including one who said she was two months pregnant, on the pedestrian mall downtown in the capital.

The incident sparked anger in the crowd of about 75 passersby who saw the beating. People yelled at the police to stop, and eventually the two officers, a man and a woman, ran from the scene.

The two vendors, both Colombians, had been selling handicrafts on the pedestrian mall. The woman, Ariana Garcia, in her 20s, said that she would file a complaint with the Judicial Investigating Organization.

The incident seemed to be another chapter in a sporatic crackdown by police on street vendors in the downtown area. Some of the vendors who sell goods to tourists in the area of the Teatro Nacional for weeks have been complaining that municipal police officers have been writing them tickets and confiscating their goods.

The incident Tuesday started about 3:30 p.m. when the two Colombians were selling goods in the street east of Calle Principal. Witnesses said the two bundled up their goods when the two municipal police officers approached. But when the police demanded that the two turn over their goods, the Colombian man began to run, and the two policemen started to run after him. The Colombian woman joined the race to accompany the man.

The police caught up with the man near the intersection of Calle Principal and the pedestrian mall on Avenida Central, and the male police officer started beating the man while the female police officer started beating the woman. The woman then yelled she was pregnant.

This was the scene that attracted the crowd. The two steet vendors did not appear to fight back at the police, who hit the two with their fists and then kicked them when the two vendors fell to the ground.

Members of the crowd yelled at the police in a threatening manner and said that such conduct was not allowed in Costa Rica. Others in the crowd called other police. Soon, about five more municipal police officers arrived, and later a police car with two officers showed up.

By this time the officers in the incident had fled. The Colombians remained to talk with the other police. The woman showed that she had bloody scratches on both her arms from where the police had grabbed her.

All the police involved in the incident were from the municipal force. These are the officers who dress in gray. The Fuerza Publica officers wear blue and belong to the Ministry of Security.

It was two male municipal police officers at Christmas time who ordered two French tourists not to play a board game while they sat in front of the Teatro Nacional. 

They returned a few minutes later to confront a tourist from Florida whom they incorrectly thought had videotaped their discussions with the French man and woman. They spent at least 10 minutes yelling at the tourist as he sat in the patio of the Gran Hotel Costa Rica.

River basin
near Quepos
getting the eye
for possible
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A report on an extensive study of the Río Savegre Basin in western Costa Rica will be made Jan. 29 at 10 a.m. in the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock in Sabana Sur in San José.

The purpose of the study is to determine the land-use capacity and the areas with the most agricultural potential based on fertility, climate, drainage and danger of erosion, said the ministry. The area is little developed and contains some 60,000 hectares of land or about 150,000 acres.

The basin runs from the Cerro de la Muerte area, the highest point in Costa Rica on the InterAmerican highway, to the mouth of the river in Quepos. The river basin runs 41 kms. (14.6 miles) in a direct line from an altitude of 3,400 meters (11,050 feet) to sea level and contains six climate zones.

These zones include significant agriculture now and the river contains commercial quantities of fish, including trout, said the ministry.

For those who cannot make the meeting, information will be available at the beginning of February in the office of the Río Savegre Project in Santa María de Dota. The study was done under the direction of Dr. Diógenes Cubero Fernández of the ministry, who used global positioning technology to make the geographical references as accurate as possible.

Don't miss Patricia Martin's report on Manuel Antonio and Quepos

For Patricia's report on what to do with foreign visitors

Don't go to the bank yet with latest presidential survey results
By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

People who conduct surveys know all about bias. There are hundreds of ways surveys can go sour.

Telephone surveys only obtain responses from persons with telephones. Door-to-door surveys only catch people who are home. Mail surveys are notoriously unreliable because most people do not respond.

A fast-talking, aggressive interview can skew many survey respondents in the direction he or she wishes and not even realize it.

Letís talk about Costa Rica and something we will call cultural bias. More than persons in many other countries, Costa Ricans are eager to please. Anyone who lives here knows that when a Costa Rican is asked for directions many will give long, involved, detailed answers even if they do not have the slightest idea of what they are talking about.

The reason is a deep, personal drive to help and please the other party in a conversation. By extension, this is why the Costa Rica culture is generally non-confrontational.

In such an atmosphere, one cannot count too heavily on the results of presidential preference surveys. Another hit the media this week. It  showed Abel Pacheco of Partido Unidad Social Cristiana still leading with support from 30 per cent of those 1,000-plus persons interviewed.

Upstart Otton Solís and his new Partido Acción Ciudadana had been picked by 22.0 percent of the interviewees, and Rolando Araya Monge of Partido Liberación Nacional had 20 percent.

If the survey was like an earlier one done by the same company, Unimer, and commissioned by the same newspaper, La Nación, the methodology was 
right out of a textbook. Yet that may not be enough in Costa Rica.

The uncertainty of any survey seems to have been lost on citizens, the newspaper and the politicians themselves. All seem to be treating the numbers as 

Analysis on the news

coming from above on stone tablets, all except former president Alberto Luis Monge of the Liberación Party. He was reported proclaiming in Grecia Monday that the presidential survey by La Nación has disoriented the public.

This essay argues that the persons interviewed might be disorienting the survey takers. Here more than anywhere in the Western Hemisphere does it seem that survey interviewees will respond not with what they really feel but what they believe the interviewer wants. 

And interview subjects are notorious for picking up on any little sign or indication.

Mix that cultural inclination with reports that 10 per cent of the survey pool had no preference at this late date and you still have a horse race.

La Nación has a lot of money invested in doing the survey, as it should. But the investment probably makes editors believe the survey results are stronger than they really are.

Evidence of this can be seen in La Nación Tuesday where the newspaper reported on another part of the same survey done by Unimer. The company asked people to rate President Miguel Angel Rodríguez.  The results showed that the popularity of the president fell 25 points since October. This is a dramatic nosedive, particularly since not much has happened to hurt the presidentís reputation.

The dramatic change in Rodríguezí popularity has to be evidence that the survey itself is unreliable. If it is unreliable with opinions of the current president, the results of preferences for a future president also have to be viewed with suspicion.

Big campaign to help street children doesn't include Costa Rica
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. ó A new campaign has been launched to reduce the percentage of children in the Americas who spend most of their time on the streets. But Costa Rica is not included in the project.

The campaign, called "Don't Call Me Street Kid," is aimed at creating a greater awareness among the region's general population and policy-makers on finding solutions to the growing social problem of street children, according to organizers.

The campaign will include Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Peru, according to the sponsoring agency, the Inter-American Development Bank.

The campaign's manager, Jose Luis Lobera, said in an interview that the purpose is to "spark national debate" in 10 countries in the region "on the need for public policy" to help street children. Lobera said the development bank will run the campaign in conjunction with the United Nations Children's Agency and numerous civil and governmental organizations in Latin America and the Caribbean. 

Among the organizations involved are the Asociación Convenio del Buen Trato in Colombia, the Olof Palme Foundation in El Salvador, the National Commission against Childhood Abuse in Guatemala, Children First in Jamaica, Covenant House in Nicaragua, and Calandria of Peru. Covenant House is the parent agency of Casa Alianza which deals with street children in all of Central America, including Costa Rica.

The development bank said the campaign will be supported by printed informational material, guides, and a video. In order to change preconceived notions about so-called "street children," the goal will be to stress the potential of these children to become valued members of society through work with their families, schools, and communities, an announcement said.

 Throughout the Americas, the number of children 

and adolescents who spend the majority of their time on the streets is rising, the development bank said. The root cause for this problem is said to be poverty, which affects family stability and leads youngsters into low-paying jobs, petty theft, prostitution, or other survival strategies associated with the streets, said the announcement, adding that many of the children are victims of abuse, exploitation and sometimes murder.

The development bank said the term "street kid" has negative connotations, synonymous with delinquent, thief, and drug addict. But street kids are simply children who live in difficult circumstances, it said.

More information about the campaign is available at the IDB web site at www.iadb.org.

Man sent to jail
for abusing kids

A  61-year-old Australian professor who was arrested in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, in 1998 has been jailed for 30 years without parole in Australia, basically condemning him to die in prison, according to Casa Alianza, which has been following the case.

The man, Robert "Dolly" Dunn pleaded guilty to 24 counts of the 91 accusations against him for sexually abusing eight Australian boys between the ages of 7 and 15 during the period 1986 to 1995, Casa Alianza said in a release.

In 1996 Dunn left Australia and went to Indonesia. In October 1997, the man moved to Honduras where he was known to have been in La Ceiba, Trujillo, Roatan, Olanchito, Tela and San Pedro Sula. According to his passport, Dunn had also traveled to Antigua, Guatemala. 

Dunn was finally found in 1998 running a pizza restaurant in the tourist town of Copan, Honduras. Dunn was never charged for sexually abusing children in Honduras or Guatemala. 

Peace talks are ready
to resume in Colombia

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia ó Government and leftist rebel negotiators are set to resume peace talks today, ahead of a new deadline for the guerrillas to set a ceasefire timetable. 

Colombian President Andres Pastrana says rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, have until Jan. 20 to make solid progress on an agreement to end the country's ongoing civil war. If the deadline is not met, President Pastrana threatens to send the army into a rebel stronghold area. 

As preparations for the talks progressed, rebels blasted into a prison in the town of Ibague to free captured comrades and exploded bombs in the town of Puente Quetame. 

Colombian Defense Minister Gustavo Bell condemned the violence, calling the rebels hypocrites for talking of peace while attacking civilian targets. He also said army troops will remain posted outside the rebels' stronghold area to counter any guerrilla offensives. 

The rebels and government decided to return to the negotiating table late Monday, just hours before the army was set to send thousand of soldiers into the 42,000 square-kilometer stronghold. The rebel enclave in southern Colombia is roughly the size of Switzerland. 

The talks have stalemated over rebel objections to government surveillance flights over the zone and security patrols around it. The government says the security measures are not negotiable. 

President Pastrana ceded the area to the guerrillas in 1998 to re-start the peace process. Critics say the FARC uses the southern enclave to hide kidnap victims, train for war and run its drug business. 

Colombia's civil war began in 1964 and pits rebels against the government and right-wing paramilitary groups. The conflict has left at least 40,000 people dead in the past decade. 

U.S. wonít confirm 
expansion of drug aid

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. ó U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said Tuesday that U.S. officials are continuing to help Colombia combat drug trafficking and advance human rights. 

But Reeker said he could not comment on a newspaper report saying the Bush administration is considering expanding counternarcotics aid to Colombia to include backing its fight against leftist rebels. 

The newspaper says ideas under consideration include increased intelligence-sharing on rebel activities and training of an additional battalion of Colombian troops to serve as a rapid reaction force to protect the country's vital infrastructure. 

Meanwhile, U.S. drug czar John Walters was expected in Colombia late Tuesday to begin a two-day review of its anti-drug efforts. Walters is set to meet with President Andres Pastrana and the commander of the armed forces, Gen. Fernando Tapias.

Riots in Argentina
directed at banks

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina ó Rioting Argentines have smashed cash machines and shattered bank windows to protest unpopular banking restrictions.

The unrest occurred in at least three cities Tuesday, the latest symptom of Argentina's ongoing economic crisis. Thousands of demonstrators also rallied in the capital here to demand work.

President Eduardo Duhalde has called the restrictions on cash withdrawals a "time bomb" likely to spark social unrest. He expressed hope Tuesday to ease the measures limiting withdrawals to 1,500 pesos per month.

More than 18 percent of Argentina's work force is unemployed. Rioting in December over the country's economic plight helped topple the presidencies of Fernando de la Rua and Adolfo Rodriguez Saa.

The limit on cash withdrawals was put into place to prevent banks from collapsing. As Argentina's economic crisis worsened, depositors raced to withdraw savings, amid fears accounts could be seized or frozen.

Meanwhile, the newly devalued peso again lost value Tuesday, days after it debuted on the international currency markets. A dollar sold for nearly two pesos, compared with one-point seven pesos in previous days.

President Duhalde recently ended the peso's decade-old one-to-one peg to the dollar in a bid to jumpstart the economy, now in its fourth year of recession. Argentina also is in default on its $141 billion public debt. 

Bush plug for OK
of fast-track bill

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

NEW ORLEANS, La. ó President Bush came here to bolster support for Senate passage of trade promotion authority, otherwise known as fast track.

In remarks Tuesday at the port, the president reiterated his position that U.S. workers can compete successfully in free, fair trade.

The House of Representatives voted, 215-214, in December for its version of fast track. Democratic Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said he intends to schedule a Senate vote soon after the Senate returns from recess.

The president cited support for his position from longshoremen working at the port. Under fast track, Congress restricts itself only to approve or reject a negotiated trade agreement, within strict time limits and without amendments. 

Since the previous grant expired early in 1994, attempts to reauthorize TPA have failed over labor and environmental issues.

"This isn't a Republican issue; this isn't a Democrat issue. Trade is a jobs issue. And the United States Senate needs to hear the voices of the working people and get me a bill I can sign," Bush told the crowd. 

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