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These stories were published Friday, Jan. 16, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 11
Jo Stuart
About us
Phone lines are easy pickings for thieves
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The cable cutters are at it, and the most recent thefts of telephone lines left more than 400 families in Pavas and San Jerónimo de Moravia without service.

Police are frustrated because the crimes happen at night, and there are no witnesses. So the Judicial Investigating Organization’s Sección de Robos is seeking help from the public to locate such thieves. They ask that citizens keep a lookout for unmarked cars and people climbing telephone poles and to call 295-5305 or 295-3306 if they see such activity.

Telephone and electrical lines are easy targets because they are unguarded. Thieves

also grab guy wires from poles. They then sell this material for scrap. Fuerza Pública officers grabbed several suspects earlier this week in a routine traffic stop and recovered several coils of utility pole guy wires.

The amount received for the copper conductors in the wires at salvage yards is tiny compared to the cost of restringing the wires and the possible damage that might be caused by the telephone service outage.

There have not been deaths in Costa Rica, at least lately. But in other Latin American countries thieves target electrical cables. Some have thick copper conductors for high voltage transmission, and thieves frequently do not have the knowledge to handle such lines. The results are tragic.

The signs of intelligent life outside of San José
There seem to be many people living contentedly in small towns and cities outside San Jose. Scott Eastman, driven away from the city by pollution and crime, decided to settle in Guápiles. He gave me an exhaustive and interesting report of that area, and I have culled from it to what will fit within this column. 

He starts by saying, "The people in Guápiles are the most convincing asset." Guápiles is 38 miles from San José — halfway between San José and the Caribbean coast city of Limón — and a few minutes from the Braulio Carrillo National Park. Although it rains more than in the Central Valley, it is also warmer, ranging from a low of 70 F to 85 F with a lovely breeze (that sounds very nice after this cold spell in San José.) The residents are mostly Tico, so land is much cheaper than other areas where foreigners congregate — as little as $7 per square meter. For the same reason rentals are few and hard to find. 

With a population of 30,000 Guápiles is the center for shopping for the people in the surrounding area. There are several national banks and all the stores you might find in the city, including a large hardware center with "more variety than any Home Depot." With one of the better hospitals in the country and several clinics, the medical care is excellent. Other than fast food restaurants, dining out will be mainly Tico fare. But it has "one of the nicest coffee houses in the country." 

There is an annual fiesta which, like in Tilaran, is mainly for the horse set. 

Says Scott, "I live about five kilometers outside the center of town and have found my particular neighborhood to be quite relaxed. The people here make it all worthwhile. If you are looking for a quiet place to relax without giving up civilization entirely, this place should be given serious consideration while it is still a reasonably priced place to live." 

As it seems to be with other small towns in Costa Rica, there is high praise for the people who live there who are helpful and honest, and the claim that they are where "the old Costa Rica" still exists. Scott has generously offered to give free information and advice for the asking either at his e-mail account  or phone (506) 710-0033. 

He will probably tell you about the Isla Verde. For information about living on the Caribbean, a couple from there has offered their Web site.  Or write them an e-mail.

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

I learned from reading about life there that there is an insect called the balas ant so called because its bite is as painful as being hit by a bullet, a bala in Spanish.

Meanwhile back in balas ant-free San José, I ran around all day this week in this lovely sunny, breeze-caressed city telling myself over and over that being a theft victim is better than being in the hospital. (As we get older our choices are more limited.) I am not so sure being a victim is better. At least in the hospital all you have to do is lie there while other people take care of matters. 

If you have your handbag stolen, as I did, then you find yourself doing all of the running around, getting new debit cards, a new cédula, a new mailbox key, getting your lock and the porton lock changed for a whole apartment building (at considerable cost), waiting in line after line to get again what you once foolishly kept in one handbag. Meanwhile the police are helpless. 

The various guards and people behind the ceiling mirrors in the casino where the bag was stolen are useless. Obviously they are concentrating so hard to make sure nobody cheats they fail to see a crime in progress.

The last time, when my apartment was broken into and my computer and passport stolen, I decided I would turn on the news and see all the more unfortunate people in the world and put things in perspective. Then I discovered the thieves had taken my remote control. 

This time, after rushing home when I realized my keys were in my purse, I was exhausted and decided I wouldn’t even think about it, instead I would crawl into bed and finish the murder mystery I had been enjoying. That would take my mind off my troubles. 

I got ready for bed, went searching for my book and then recalled that I had taken it with me. It was in my purse. The thief had that, too. Now I am thinking about what people writing in about their small towns are saying — that it’s like living in the old Costa Rica. That means before big time pollution and CRIME. Something to be said for that. 

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Place your bets
on free-trade pact

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

If you like to bet, figure a free-trade treaty with the United States at about 3 to 1.

Despite the happy talk surrounding the negotiations, what Costa Rica is looking at are profound changes in its society. And Costa Rica and its people are at least very conservative.

Take the area of insurance, for example. Costa Ricans have little choice. The Instituto Nacional de Seguros takes care of everything. You may not like the product, but one size fits all.

Analysis of the news

You pay minimal car insurance at the time of registration each year. Sales people will sell you additional coverage, but they all are agents of INS, as it is called.

Have a fire? The firemen work for INS, not the municipality. Have an accident? The insurance adjuster is an INS employee.

Opening up the national insurance market to competition, as proposed in some free-trade treaty drafts means more choices, marketing, hard-selling insurance agents. These all are factors that will upset the placid Tico culture.

The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, the telecommunications monopoly, also is well-ordered if inefficient. Dinner is not interrupted in Costa Rica by telemarketers trying to get a telephone customer to change the service provider. Again, one size fits all. But more than that, ICE, as it is called, sees itself as a social agency providing low-cost service throughout the country despite the actual expenses involved. This is similar to the Robin Hood approach North American monopolies had adopted.

The company and its Internet subsidiary provide low-cost e-mail service to any Costa Rican who seeks it. The marketplace is highly distorted by socialized policy. Utilities are highly subsidized.

For those services that are not government owned, a regulatory agency keeps close control of prices. And a chunk of the government budget comes from the unrealistically high import taxes leveled at the port of entry. (Nearly 90 percent on automobiles!) Free trade would drastically reduce governmental income when the national budget is more than 50 percent interest on debt.

So of all the Central American nations, Costa Rica is risking all on free-trade. Much union opposition stems from this fact. Individual Costa Ricans are beginning to wake up to what may come. Many are not avid supporters of free trade when they consider the impact a deal will have on their lives and the lives of their children.

Even if the executive branch signs a deal, the final approval rests with the Asamblea Nacional. So place your bets.

More trade talks
planned next week

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican officials will be back at the negotiating table Tuesday trying to put together a free-trade pact with the United States.

Four big categories remain to be resolved: agriculture, textiles, telecommunications and insurance.

Alberto Trejos, minister of Comercio Exterior, told reporters Thursday that the country was completely prepared to approve a deal but that the deal must be balanced the way Costa Rican negotiators seek.

To get a head start, negotiating teams in the telecommunication and insurance areas were to meet today in Washington, D.C., to outline the degree of access that would be satisfactory to the United States in those areas which now are state monopolies.

The discussions about agriculture will begin Tuesday, and Trejos said Costa Rica is interested in  exporting sugar, ethanol and beef to the United States while protecting the production of potatoes, rice, onions and chicken here.

Although negotiations are supposed to end by Jan. 23, Trejos said that the possibility remains of additional extensions to discuss specific points.
We now accept
other currencies

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A.M. Costa Rica is now able to deal in four more important world currencies, thanks to its association with Pay Pal.

Until now, the newspaper accepted payment internationally in U.S. dollars. Colons were accepted in Costa Rica.

However, now the newspaper will accept Canadian dollars, euros, pounds sterling and yen via the Pay Pal Internet system.

The U.S.-based company does all the math and either converts payment to U.S. dollars at the current rate of exchange or places the money in the newspaper accounts denominated in the correct currency.

The exchange is invisible to advertising customers who simply make payments in their own national currency.

Pay Pal is a handy, secure system that allows customers to send or receive money with a few strokes on the computer keyboard once an account has been established.

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Campaign against flu well along in meeting goals
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Just 5 percent of the Imovax, vaccine used for the 2004 national influenza campaign remains in the basement of the Ministerio de Salud, said Dr. Hugo Arguedas Jiménez of the ministry.

Ministry officials will announce today exactly how many persons have been vaccinated. 

The campaign has been organized locally since 2002 by the ministry as a result of the studies made based in the number of people who die every year of influenza. 

Influenza attacks certain populations, especially those with high risk to be infected. These include adults 65 years and older and children between 6 months old and 5 years, according to Arguedas. Also other populations are at high risk to get influenza like sufferers of AIDS, leukemia, cancer, respiratory illnesses like asthma and persons with immunology problems. 

The total of doses this year is 90,000. Of these, some 30,000 were designated for children who are more at risk. Physicians of the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social made the final evaluations. In Latin America the prevention of virus diseases like the influenza has not been routine, according to international health sources.

At least 42 Costa Ricans have died in the last year from the disease. Most of them were adults 65 and 

older. Children have more resistance to produce more antibodies against a virus. That is why 60,000 of the 90,000 doses were designated to older people. The elderly represent 6.5 percent of the Costa Rica population, around 200,000, according to the 2000 national census.

Some 25 percent of older people and 15 percent of children are considered a higher risk.

Illegal migration to Costa Rica does not mean higher risk, health officials say.  Most who come to work here are young, healthy adults. 

In 2000, an estimated 296,000 illegal immigrants were in Costa Rica, according to the Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Censos de Costa Rica.

Costa Rica in recent years has used different systems to avoid mortality by reducing some 15 percent the incidence of major diseases. Costa Rica is the only country in Central America which has done that to prevent sickness like measles, tuberculosis, polio and now influenza.

Arguedas said it would be a good idea if the countries got together to purchase medicine because they could do so for a lower cost.

The concern about a wave of influenza started early this year when at least four children died in the western United States, and health officials there said that vaccines were only partly effective against a new strain.

Chavez leaves Monterrey and heads off to see his buddy Castro
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

HAVANA, Cuba — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez held talks Wednesday in Havana with his Cuban counterpart, Fidel Castro.

The two presidents discussed strengthening bilateral cooperation.  Chavez traveled to Cuba on his return from a regional summit of the Americas 

in Monterrey, Mexico. Communist-led Cuba was the only country in the Western Hemisphere not invited to the talks.

Venezuela maintains close ties with Cuba. Their relationship has prompted the United States to voice concern about what it sees as a joint effort by the two Latin American countries to stir up anti-American sentiment in the region.

Dirty War victims bring suit against giant car manufacturer
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Survivors and relatives of victims of Argentina's "Dirty War" have filed a lawsuit against car giant Daimler Chrysler for alleged human rights abuses of workers and union leaders. 

The lawsuit, filed in a federal court in San Francisco, accuses Daimler Chrysler of responsibility in the disappearance and presumed death of nine workers at its Mercedes Benz plant 
outside of Buenos Aires in 1976.  It also accuses 

the automaker of detaining and torturing eight other workers at the plant. 

The lawsuit says the disappearances and detainments were carried out by Argentine authorities, after Mercedes Benz officials gave the country's security forces the names and addresses of workers they deemed "subversive."  Daimler Chrysler has denied the charges. 

Some 30,000 people were killed during Argentina's "Dirty War," when a military junta took power in 1976. The junta stepped aside in 1983. 

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White House lists accomplishments of summit
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The White House considers the Special Summit of the Americas a success and has released a fact sheet listing U.S. accomplishments.

The summit was Monday and Tuesday in Monterrey, México. Leaders from the 34 democratic countries of the Western Hemisphere pledged to fight corruption, spur growth and reduce poverty, and improve education and health in the region, according to the fact sheet.

The fact sheet cites President George Bush's summit remarks in which he urged hemispheric leaders to strengthen the foundations for democracy and economic growth in the region. In pursuit of these goals, regional leaders agreed to a number of measures.

To intensify the region's efforts against corruption, the leaders agreed to strengthen the culture of transparency in the Americas, to deny safe haven to corrupt officials, to promote transparency in public financial management, and to hold consultations if transparency and anti-corruption objectives — as articulated in the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption — are seriously compromised.

To spur region growth and reduce poverty, leaders agreed to reduce significantly the time and cost to start a business by the next Summit of the Americas in 2005. The officials also endorsed the Inter-American Development Bank's goal of tripling credit provided to small and medium-sized businesses by 2007. Other measures included cutting in half the cost of sending remittances in the region by 2008 and strengthening property rights by the time the 2005 summit is held. 

Remittances are the money foreign workers send home.

In Monterrey, the leaders also reaffirmed their support for completing the Free Trade Area of the Americas, on schedule, by 2005, and expressed their shared interest in advancing the World Trade Organization's negotiations.

To improve health and education in the region, the leaders agreed to provide HIV/AIDS antiretroviral therapy to all who need it, with a goal of treating at least 600,000 individuals by 2005. Leaders agreed on the urgent need to reform school systems in Latin America, and vowed to work on improving the quality of education in the region by publishing school-system performance reports by 2005.

Panamá extradites Colombian drug suspect to the United States
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Panamá has extradited to the United States a man believed to be one of Colombia's top drug lords. 

Panamanian authorities say Arcangel de Jesus Henao Montoya was taken to the United States Wednesday on a Department of Justice plane. Henao Montoya was detained in Panama last Saturday near the border with Colombia. 

Henao Montoya is expected to face charges of drug 

trafficking and money laundering. U.S. authorities say he is responsible for bringing "huge volumes" of illegal drugs into the United States.  Authorities in Colombia say he is a leader of the country's powerful Norte de Valle drug cartel. 

Saturday's capture of Henao Montoya came less than a month after Colombian police arrested another suspected drug lord, Juan Carlos Montoya. He is also an alleged cartel member.

Colombia is the world's largest producer of cocaine.

Jo Stuart
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