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These stories first were published Friday, Jan. 18, 2002
Jo Stuart
About us
U.S. tourist slain
in night attack

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A tourist from the United States died early Thursday when three persons broke into the house where he was staying and shot him in the chest.

U.S. Embassy personnel identified the man as Steven Ines Hartling, 54, of the State of Maine. They did not know how long the man had been in the country, but they confirmed he was a tourist.

Agents of the Judicial Investigating Organization said the man was at a home in Itiquís de Alajuela, which they described as a barrio of that town. About 1:07 a.m. the three persons broke into the home with the supposed intent to commit robbery, said police.

Hartling resisted the intruders, and one of them shot him in the chest. He died at the house, police said.

Police said the house was owned by another U.S. citizen, but one who has spent about 10 years in Costa Rica. They said his last name was Story and that the dwelling was located in the Dos Emas subdivision.

In another attack, a Costa Rican man, Orlando Gonzáles, 56, lost his life when he tried to prevent men from stealing his car, which he parked in front of his home in Salitrillos de Montes de Oca, near San Pedro. The attack took place about 9:20 p.m. Tuesday, and the assailants shot González, a security guard, in the head at close range.

In another invasion of a home, bandits held a family  hostage in San Antonio de Desamparados, a section of San José,  after they broke in about 7:30 Wednesday. The victim, Olga Chin Leal, said the men demanded a large sum of money and threatened to kidnap her daughter if she did not pay. 

The four men held the family hostage and even grabbed a taxi driver who came to pick up Mrs. Chin. Police suspect that they thought the woman, who works in the National Assembly was another women with a similar name who is an elected deputy in the assembly.

Police were able to chase and arrest several suspects after the bandits fled the house.

A.M. Costa Rica photo
U.S. ambasssador John J. Danilovich listens to a translator while F. Tomás Dueñas, minister of foreign trade fields a question in Spanish

Free-trade pact
not nailed down

By Jay Brodell
A.M. Costa Rica editor

The question was the one on every foreignerís mind:

"Tell me, Mr. Minister, when will I be able to bring in a new car and not pay all that tax."

Automobiles and high taxes are an important part of free-trade negotiations, replied the minister, F. Tomás Dueñas of the Ministerio de Comercio Exterior (foreign trade). But despite promising that the issue would be on the table as Costa Rica and the United States discuss free trade, he could not make any predictions. 

Dueñas and U.S. Ambassador John J. Danilovich had just finished an up-beat meeting with reporters at the ministry in which free trade was praised. They were speaking less than 24 hours after U.S. President George Bush announced that his administration would actively seek a free-trade pact with Central America as a precursor to the larger Free Trade Area of the Americas that has been planned to take effect in 2005.

Dueñas was particularly pleased that Bush has singled out Costa Rica in his talk as "an example of what can be achieved through sound trade policy." "We are filled with pride and greatly motivated by this undertaking," said Dueñas.

Costa Rica will play a "proactive and robust role," he said.

Danilovich restated what Bush has said about free trade, that free trade supports democracy and reduces poverty. He called the idea "not simply an economic model that is being negotiated but the birth of a new era."

He said he was going to Washington next week to attend a discussion between State Department officials and business leaders on the topic.

Dueñas said that Costa Rican and U.S. negotiators are already talking  but that the topic of discussion is the ground rules for later substantive discussions.

As Danilovich noted, such discussions are not big news, but when the U.S. president makes a point of pushing for a free trade treaty with Central America, that is big news. "The president of the United States does not speak lightly about trade negotiations," he said.

Still there will be some wait before citizens here can determine the individual effects such a free-trade pact might have. One reader responded Thursday to the news by writing that Costa Rica wishes free trade only in one direction, so it can enter the largest market in the world, that of the U.S.

A multi-staged free-trade agreement between Canada and Costa Rica is still hung up in the National Assembly. And politics will have a big effect on the outcome. The Canadian treaty is taking flak over free trade of potatoes.

Although the three major presidential candidates went on record Thursday supporting the idea of free trade in the abstract, at least one, Otton Solís has made a big point that he will push high import duties to protect Costa Rica farmers if he is elected. Such a position is contrary to free trade.

In short, the time probably is not right yet to buy that new car in Miami.

The details of the Bush talk are HERE

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

Oversimplifications about Life

My thanks to my friend Grady for the heading of this column. I ran into him the other night, and over coffee we discussed our life and times. Iíve been thinking about our conversation.

I told him I didnít think my non-gambling friends understood much of my column on gambling. We agreed that the briefest advice on gambling is "bet a little and win a lot." That is similar to advice about the stock market that is the most valuable: Buy low and sell high. Canít go wrong if you follow that advice.

Through the course of my life I have received and garnered plenty of advice ó and given my share. Most are simple guidelines that have helped me in day-to-day living like, "First, make sure it is plugged in." The other day my laptop suddenly went black. Each time I re-started it, it lasted only a minute and then went black again. Even the battery light went off. Of course, my heart sank. I couldnít bear to face the consequences of such a disaster, so I just left it. Later going back to it, I noticed the cord lying on the floor. I had disconnected it in order to connect my iron. I plugged it in, and my computer came merrily on, all lights blazing. 

The second most valuable simplification has been "Left loose, right tight" (this is sometimes expressed in cuter language, which I donít care for). It is incredible how often this has come to my rescue, whether it is trying to loosen the top of a jar or tighten a screw. (I also discovered that if you put on a rubber glove or just put a rubber band around the rim of the jar top it helps to open it ó it doesnít help with a screw). Remembering that simple phrase can solve many of lifeís problems. 

I used to work in student housing. I was what was once called a "dorm mother" and later (when men got into the act) residence hall director. It was about 1 a.m. when I heard the heavy metal doors at the end of the hall slam open. I put on my housecoat and opened my door just when about every other door in that wing opened. Coming down the hall were three very large and quite drunk football players. "Weíre looking for the party," one said. "Whereís the party?" Student doors slammed shut. I walked out into the middle of the hall hoping to stop their progress. 

"Iím so sorry," I said, smiling in a friendly way. "But all of the parties are over in this dorm. I guess you gentlemen might as well leave." 

They stopped, and we all just looked at one another for a moment. Then one said, "Yeah, I guess we might as well leave." And they did. Once again it worked: people tend to behave the way you expect them to. This works very well in Costa Rica where most people want to do the right thing. Of course, this could be put under the heading "Do unto others ..." 

By now I was having some chicken fingers (not as good as KFCís nuggets), Grady was eating lemon pie, and I was telling him another way we simplify the world is by dividing people into two kinds. Like those who have more money than time and those who have more time than money (explaining, as I have before, that by definition the idle rich and the working poor donít fit into this division). Thus, the ones with more money spend it saving time, and those with more time, spend their time saving money. Grady liked that, but he said that, in fact, there are three kinds of people in the world: those who know, those who donít know, and those who donít know they donít know. Those who donít know they donít know, he said, are the scary ones. 

Since then I have been thinking about that and trying to come up with examples, and then I got two in a row. Just like when you hear a word for the first time (or are introduced to someone new, you see that word or person time and again right after that.) 

Well, I was watching C-Span ó itís practically a hobby of mine ó and first there was the director of the Center for Disease Control talking about anthrax and how little we know about the infection and beware of doctors who donít say "I donít know" when they donít, because they are very scary people. Later, on the same program there was a discussion of aid to developing countries from industrialized countries. 

Annoyed Americans called in to say that the generosity of the U.S. should be curbed because the money didnít go to the right people anyway and why were we always helping countries that didnít like us in spite of our generosity? Finally, the host held up a printed chart showing the15 richest countries and their foreign aid records. 

The most generous country in the world seems to be Denmark. The U.S. came in last in terms of the money they give to less fortunate countries, whether it was measured per capita or in dollar amounts. A lot of us Americans do not know that ó and donít know we donít know. That may not be scary, but it can be embarrassing. 

More Jo Stuart columns can be found HERE.

Man dies attempting rescue

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 62-year-old tourist bus driver died Wednesday as he tried to rescue two children who were caught in the surf at playas de Doña Ana in Puntarenas.

Investigators said that the man, José Solano Leandro, was on the beach about 10:30 a.m. He had just driven a small bus containing tourists from Santa Cruz de Turrialba, where he lived.

Witnesses said that Solano was talking to some of the tourists on the beach and taking in the sun when he saw two youngsters at the point of drowning in the surf. Investigators said he raced into the surf to save the children.

So did another group of bathers, and they managed to get the youngsters, who were not identified. The rescuers lost track of the tour bus driver, but his body was found floating  in the water a few minutes later, police said.

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

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

All cleaned up
and ready 
for company

Scaffolding is all that is left of the big face-lifting given Costa Ricaís most famous monument, aptly called the Monumento Nacional in Parque Nacional overlooking the court district to the south and the downtown to the west.

The sculpture represents the five nations of Central America as five women attacking U.S. invader William Walker, who tried to take over in 1856.

A.M. Costa Rica photo

Amazon destruction
reported at fast pace

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A new study by a team of U.S. and Brazilian scientists suggests that forest destruction in the Brazilian Amazon has accelerated over the last decade.

The study's findings, showing that rates of deforestation in the Amazon have risen sharply since 1995, were based on over two decades of detailed satellite images of the region taken by Brazil's National Space Agency.

Team leader William Laurance, a scientist with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, said forest destruction from 1995 to 2000 averaged almost two million hectares a year. He said the destruction is comparable "to the bad old days in the 1970s and 1980s when forest loss in the Amazon was catastrophic."

The Brazilian government has said that threats to Amazonian forests have fallen in recent years because of improved environmental laws and public attitudes.

The government plans to invest more than $40 billion in new highways, railroads, power lines and gas lines in the Amazon over the next few years, saying these projects will have only limited effects on the Amazon. But the research team disputes the government assertions, saying there is no way the Amazon basin can be criss-crossed by giant transportation and energy projects without having a tremendous impact on the region.

The team's findings are described in an article in the journal "Environmental Conservation."

Cuba joins network
against world crime

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

HAVANA, Cuba ó The international law enforcement agency Interpol says Cuba will join its international network sharing intelligence on crime. 

Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble told reporters here Wednesday he hoped that within six to nine months, Cuba will be hooked up to an international crime database that allows nations to share intelligence for law-enforcement purposes. 

Noble also said he thanked Cuba for its immediate condemnation of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States. He said there cannot be any country in the world that does not help in the fight against terrorism. 

During his visit to the Communist-run island, Noble also discussed efforts to prevent drug-trafficking. He said he would like to see better cooperation between Cuba and the United States in that area.

Colombian rebels get
timetable on talks

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia ó The Colombian government has given the nation's largest leftist rebel group a timetable for conducting ongoing cease-fire talks as a Jan. 20 deadline for agreement draws near. 

Government officials presented the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia with the timetable Thursday during the second day of negotiations in the rebel safe haven in southern Colombia. 

Rebels say they will review the timetable. Details of the plan were not released. 

President Andres Pastrana has threatened to reclaim the rebel stronghold if the parties fail to reach agreement by Sunday. Government troops are outside the enclave, awaiting orders to retake it. 

Pastrana has also warned rebels that the time is over for waging war while engaged in peace talks with the government. His warning comes amid reports of renewed clashes. Colombian radio says 19 people were killed Thursday in fighting between rebels and government forces. 

Previous peace efforts have collapsed over rebel objections to government surveillance flights over their stronghold and security patrols around it. The Pastrana government says those measures are not negotiable. 

In 1998, Pastrana granted the Switzerland-sized stronghold area to the FARC in a bid to advance the peace process. Peace talks have yielded little results. Colombia's civil war began in 1964 and involves rebels, right-wing paramilitaries and the government.

Foreign service exam
applicants sought

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The U.S. Department of State has scheduled another foreign service exam for U.S. citizens April 13, 2002. The U.S. deadline to apply is March 11.

The Department of State said it will hire 466 new Foreign Service Officers in all five career tracks (administrative, consular, economic, political, and public diplomacy). 

Department of State maintains a recruitment web site: www.careers.state.gov or http://www.foreignservicecareers.gov. Interested persons also can call (202) 261-8846.

The foreign service exam has a reputation of being comprehensive. The State Department has a study guide that will be available soon. The deadline to file for the exam overseas is March 4.

Two clerks shot
in pharmacy heist

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Armed men went into the Tropical pharmacy Wednesday night about 8:20 p.m. in Barrio California just east of downtown and shot the two family members who were minding the store.

The man, Carlos Zúñiga, suffered a gunshot wound to his shoulder, said investigators. Another family member, Fedora Zúñiga was shot twice, once in the forearm and again in the back. The men helped themselves to a quanity of money, said police.

Volcano menaces villagers in Congo

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

GOMA, Republic of Congo ó A volcano that erupted Thursday overlooking this eastern town in the Democratic Republic of Congo is causing thousands of people in nearby villages to flee. 

Many residents - their villages destroyed by lava flows - are trying to escape on foot or in vehicles to here or neighboring Rwanda. 

The volcano, Mount Nyiragongo, erupted early Thursday, spewing lava toward Goma's airport and the border with Rwanda. Two of the lava flows had stalled by nightfall, but one was still flowing toward the airport. 

Airport officials ordered all planes to fly out after the lava came within one kilometer of the runway. 

Officials have reported no casualties or injuries. But a worker from a United Nations base near here says it is hard to imagine that no one has died in villages near the volcano. 

Mount Nyiragongo is less than 10 kilometers north of Goma, a town controlled by the rebel Congolese Rally for Democracy, a Rwandan-backed rebel group that has been fighting the Kinshasa government since 1998. Scores of people died after the volcano erupted in 1977.

Argentines again protest
frozen bank accounts

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina ó Hundreds of irate Argentines have again staged noisy street protests across the nation to demand jobs and access to money in restricted bank accounts.

The latest demonstrations occurred Thursday, amid growing frustration over the country's deepening economic crisis. In many cities, protesters set old tires on fire to block city streets and highways, while others held symbolic crucifixions to demand work and social benefits.

Demonstrators also are protesting banking restrictions on the amount of money they can withdraw from their accounts. Many Argentines, especially those of European descent, are seeking access to their money in order to escape the economic uncertainty by emigrating to their ancestral homelands.

Argentine authorities imposed the banking restrictions last month to prevent a massive flight of capital from the financially troubled nation, which is in its fourth year of recession and has $141 billion in debt. Tensions also remain high following a peso devaluation that led to price increases for imports and other basic goods.

In a related development, investigators are looking into whether banks operating in Argentina shipped money out of the country before the government imposed the banking restrictions. The Reuters news agency says police have raided the offices of least two foreign banks as part of their investigation.

Also Thursday, Argentina's central bank president, Roque Maccarone, resigned, citing personal reasons. Local media reports say Maccarone stepped down because of differences of opinion with President Eduardo Duhalde over monetary policy.

The bank's vice president, Mario Blejer, is expected to replace Maccarone. Blejer is a former official from the International Monetary Fund, which has granted Argentina a one-year reprieve on payment of a $933 million loan that was due Thursday.

Bush waives U.S. law
on Cuban confiscations

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. ó President Bush says he will waive for another six months a provision in a U.S. law that would allow legal action against foreign firms using confiscated U.S. properties in Cuba. 

Bush notified Congress late Wednesday that he would continue to suspend the Title III provision in the 1996 Helms-Burton Act. It allows U.S. citizens and firms to sue foreign companies for using U.S. assets that were confiscated after Cuban President Fidel Castro took power in 1959. 

The clause has been suspended every six months since 1996, due in part to pressure from the European Union, which seeks to protect EU members' investments in the Communist-run island. 

Ailing Muhammad Ali
turns 60 years old

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The man who "floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee" - three-time heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali - celebrated his 60th birthday Thursday. 

When Ali began his professional fighting career more than 40 years ago, his name was Cassius Clay. But after becoming an Olympic champion in 1960 he announced to the world in 1964 that he had converted to Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali. 

First and foremost, Ali was a fighter, but it was because of his larger-than-life presence and colorful life that he also became a symbol of different things to many different people. At the peak of his fame he could draw huge crowds of admirers virtually anywhere in the world. 

These days, Ali is a devout Muslim, who is slowed by the effects of Parkinson's disease, for which he neither seeks nor accepts pity  He is not a huge fan of boxing, although his fights are still seen on television. He's also been the subject of several documentaries and a splashy feature film that was released on Christmas Day.

Big party in Quepos

The Festival in Quepos designed to raise money for a local nursing home is in full swing.  There is a concert tonight and bull fights at 7:30 p.m. The event lasts until Jan. 27 with concerts and bulfights most nights. The bulk of the activity is behind the bus station in the Pacific coast town. The schedule is on the calendar page.

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