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These stories first were published Thursday, Jan. 24, 2002
Jo Stuart
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White knight might have a problem if he wins
By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

Everyone wants a savior, someone to bail them out, chart their course and be an understanding parent. Two of the world’s major religions are based on this concept.

Here in Costa Rica Ottón Solís, presidential candidate of the new Partido Acción Ciudadana, is emerging as such a savior.  He is running on an anti-corruption, protectionist platform and has continued to gain in the polls. There is a strong chance that he might be the next president.

The savior, the hero on a white horse, has strong attraction to Costa Ricans.

Still, in the history of the world such saviors have not fared well. One such example is Jimmy Carter, elected president of the United States in 1976 in the wake of the Richard 

Analysis on the news

Nixon scandal. Carter goes down in history as the most moral of recent U.S. presidents and the most ineffective.

Carter ran as an outsider to the corrupt Washington politics-as-usual, so when he won he could not manipulate the political machine. And Carter was a candidate of a major U.S. political party.

Here Solís broke off from the Partido Liberación Nacional and at one time was asking for suggestions from the public for names to put on his party’s ticket. He, too, plays the role of outsider, despite many years as an insider.

Ironically, Solís has said that if he is not elected the country would continue to have serious problems and Costa Ricans would elect an authoritarian populist in the next presidential elections.

The anti-corruption, populist rhetoric plays well in theory with Costa Ricans, although it is clear Solís is presenting a simplistic version of what he would do as president. When asked during a national television debate how he would end corruption, his answer was, simply, "appoint honest people." Certainly, Solís in all his years in politics and during his education in Britain has heard the phrase "power corrupts." 

Because quickly assembled, reformist political parties do not have the strict discipline typical of the mainline political organizations upstart parties frequently end up more corrupt than the professional politicians they replaced.

Liberación supporters, recognizing the coldness and lack of appeal by their candidate, Rolando Araya Monge, have taken to urging Costa Ricans to vote for the whole team, not just Araya. There is a degree of truth in that position. It takes more than a single person to run a country.
More news of Costa Rica
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A.M. Costa Rica photo
This is the Supreme Electoral Tribunal where the Feb. 3 vote results will be sorted out.

Consider the case of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, who became president after a campaign waged against traditional political parties. Now he is the closest example Latin America has to an old-line 1950ish dictator. His high standing with the public, his egotism and power led to a situation where many in Venezuela hope he just leaves. See the latest Chavez story HERE.

Having been hammered together quickly, some of the positions of Solís just do not make sense. Tuesday he told the Tourism Chamber that he would privatize the inefficient Costa Rican Institute of Tourism. But a glance at his written platform available on the Internet shows that he really wants to keep a minister of tourism and staff as a cabinet office and then create a national tourism office directed by industry representatives to promote the country to the world.

But the results would be similar to what exists now because the national tourism office would get tax money to do its job. The result likely would be two inefficient organizations instead of the single one now.

Then seemingly out of the blue, he has begun calling for the elimination of casinos in Costa Rica, something that is not in the party platform. This is another advantage of a new political party. Leaders can pick popular issues without worrying about positions they have taken in the past.

The ability to bob and weave and cherry-pick hot issues ends with elections Feb. 3. If Solís wins the presidency, he better make the most conciliatory speech in history to attract technicians from other parties to his cause if he expects to govern adequately. The alternative is not pretty for Solís and not pretty for Costa Rica.

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Arrest made in case of murdered housesitter
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators took into custody Thursday a 24-year-old to face a charge of murder in the death of a man who had his throat cut while he was minding a house.

The victim was Juan Artavia Blanco, 57, who was found dead Friday in Trinidad de Moravia.

The case has greater publicity than a normal murder because the man was only in the house two days while the owner was vacationing at the beach. The victim was a long-time handyman in the area who did odd jobs and took care of his ailing 89-year-old mother nearby.

Investigators at the time said that the murderer  must have been known by the victim because there was no sign of forced entry. 

Although investigators said at the time of the murder that no objects of value were missing, they said Wednesday that they recovered a number of items, including jewelry in four houses, two in Trinidad de Moravia and two in Guápiles.

Agents of the Judicial Investigating Organization alleged that the suspect entered the house, got into a discussion with the man and then stabbed him with a knife. A bloody knife was found at the scene, and the victim was nearly decapitated, investigators said. The suspect is believed to live nearby.

Countries that dump telecommuncations monopolies said to benefit
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Countries that have allowed competition in their telecommunications businesses have received big benefits in return, according to experts at a meeting here.

These benefits have included significant price reductions, improved quality of service and more choice for users. Competition has improved efficiency in the telecommunication industry as well as in user industries and in helping countries to diversify their economies through providing inexpensive and efficient communication infrastructure and access to a greater range of services.

That was the summary of the closing statement by the Conference on Telecommunications Policy for the Digital Economy, which met here. The group is part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which includes about 30 of the most developed nations.

Costa Rica is a country with a government-owned telecommunication monopoly.

The two-day conference here was held to provide guidance to developing countries on liberalizing their telecommunications sectors. Approximately 250 ministers, senior government officials, regulators and representatives of business and civil society attended.

Competition in telecommunications has helped countries diversify their economies by providing an inexpensive and efficient communication 

infrastructure, the statement said. It also has led to the rapid spread of affordable new technologies, particularly Internet access, and to improved local, long-distance and cellular phone services, it  said.

The conference discussed a number of experiences in telecommunications regulatory reform including those of emerging market economies. 

The transition from a monopoly telecommunications market framework to a competitive one requires governments to change their institutional structures and legal frameworks, and implement a number of new regulations to safeguard the process of creating competition, said the statement.

An independent regulatory body that has the legal authority to take action and implement regulations is essential, attendees agreed. 

Regulators need to ensure that rules of the game are transparent and well known in advance. 

There are wide differences in the speed in which countries have initiated changes from monopoly market structures to competitive structures, but the process can be relatively rapid if the regulatory framework is in place and the appropriate adjustments have been made, said the conference statement.

A number of key regulatory safeguards need to be put into place, including a requirement that new businesses can connect to the existing network at
reasonable costs, the statement said.

Venezuelans take to streets for and against Chavez
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Government and opposition measured their strength on the streets of the Venezuelan capital Wednesday, as tens of thousands marched in rival demonstrations. Although the two groups were only a couple of blocks apart, the events passed off peacefully. 

Jan, 23 marks the anniversary of the overthrow, in 1958, of Venezuela's last military dictator, Gen. Marcos Perez Jiménez. It is not a date dear to the heart of President Hugo Chavez, himself a former military man who once staged a failed coup. In his version of history it led to a sham democracy which looted the country for the next 40 years, until his election in 1998.

This year, however, when opposition forces ranging from political parties and business organizations to labor unions and civic groups announced a joint demonstration, the president changed his mind. 

Determined not to allow the opposition to march to the parliament building, government supporters mounted a counter-demonstration, forcing their 

opponents several times to change their route to avoid violent clashes. Nonetheless, the opposition claimed success. Their march, which different sources put at between 70,000 and 100,000 strong, was the biggest in many years. 

The president claimed his supporters outnumbered the opposition 3-to-1, but most independent observers suggested the reverse was the case. 

In a speech, President Chavez said what he calls his 'revolution' was entering a new phase, in which the social and economic structure of the country would be profoundly changed. The growing opposition, however, complains that the president is attempting to push through his political and social agenda without consultation. 

Recent opinion polls have shown that the president's approval rating, once over 30 per cent, is now down to around 30 per cent. Many of those on the opposition march called for the president to resign immediately. 

Laughing off the demand, the president insisted he would be in power until 2013.

Lawyer stung
in bribery case

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A lawyer faces a bribery charge after he tried to buy the vote of a municipal official, according to the Judicial Investigating Organization.

The lawyer was arrested after a sting operation. Police said that the lawyer approached a municipal regidor, a member of the municipal council of Ciudad Neilly, and asked that he vote against the reappointment of a particular board member of a foundation that works in the area.

The council member contacted police, who helped set up the sting operation at a local restaurant. According to police, the lawyer met with the council member and handed over 65,000 colons (about $190) at which time police made the arrest.

Argentina miffed
by IMF comments

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Argentina is rejecting remarks about its economic crisis from the head of the International Monetary Fund, which has been urging the government to craft a viable plan for economic recovery. 

IMF Managing Director Horst Koehler told the French newspaper "Le Monde" that Argentines face further suffering before their country can emerge from its deep financial crisis. In the article published Wednesday, he said while the IMF is willing to help Argentina, the government needs to come up with what he called a "sound fiscal policy." 

Argentine government and banking officials say the IMF does not have to remind anyone about the country's problems, since the financial crisis has caused extensive suffering over the past three years. Their comments were made after the "Le Monde" remarks were printed in Argentine newspapers. 

President Eduardo Duhalde has called on the lending institution to provide as much as $15 billion to help Argentina recover from its economic crisis. IMF officials say that amount is too high. Argentina has been in recession since 1998 and is in default on its $141 billion public debt. The country struggles with 18 percent unemployment as well. 

In a related development, scores of account holders rushed to local banks Wednesday, hoping to take advantage of relaxed banking rules that allow them to withdraw more of their money. 

Radio reports, however, say small protests erupted in Buenos Aires and other cities after some banks turned away customers, claiming "technical difficulties" with the transactions.  The new rules, introduced Wednesday, allow depositors to exchange up to $5,000 in frozen dollar savings into devalued pesos. The transactions would be made at the official exchange rate of 1.4 pesos to the dollar. 

Bush wants more
billions for defense

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Bush says he will ask the U.S. Congress for nearly $50 billion dollars in supplemental military spending for the war on terrorism — the largest proposed increase in two decades. 

Speaking in Washington to reserve officers Wednesday, Bush said the money would go toward new weapons systems and high-tech equipment for ground troops, as well as pay increases.

President Bush says the tools of modern warfare are, in his words, "expensive but essential," in order to win the global war on terror. He also said that as commander-in-chief he is asking a lot of the men and women wearing the U.S. uniform and that they, in turn, deserve every resource needed to achieve victory. 

Estimates for the soon to be proposed budget for fiscal year 2003 put total defense spending at $379 billion. 

The president says he also will be seeking additional money for homeland security — with extra money for local police and firefighters, as well as airport baggage screeners. Bush is expected to unveil details of that request in a speech to U.S. mayors on Thursday. 

President Bush said the United States has accomplished a lot during the war in Afghanistan, and that great progress has been made in stifling other terrorist cells around the globe. 

Earlier, Bush said he is pleased U.S. lawmakers have sounded a conciliatory tone on their first day back in session, but he urged them during a closed-door meeting Wednesday to put their words into action. The president particularly wants to see the passage of a comprehensive economic stimulus package. 

Dramatic volcano
spews out smoke

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services 

MEXICO CITY — One of the volcanoes that towers over this capital is spewing out smoke and ash, but there appears to be no threat to populated areas yet.

The view of Mexico's Popocatepetl volcano in the early morning hours was spectacular and a little frightening for many of the area's 20 million inhabitants. A column of dark smoke rose two kilometers (1.2 miles) above the crater. 

Experts monitoring the mountain known generally here as "El Popo" say the emissions are part of the process of forming a new lava dome within the crater. They say it is not likely that the volcano will throw ash five kilometers (3 miles) out from the crater as it did two years ago. Still, authorities are taking steps to protect people in the vicinity.

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