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These stories were published Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 18
Jo Stuart
About us

A renewed bridge at the entry to Ciudad Colón will cost about $211,000 and will increase the size of the former narrow bridge.

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Democrats would reject computer voting idea
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Once bitten, twice shy, says the ancient adage. And no one is more leery of the U.S. voting process than Democrats who believe their party’s candidate, Al Gore, really won the 2000 presidential election.

So Hal Smith got a good reception Monday at the Democrats Abroad of Costa Rica monthly meeting when he urged the use of punch-card ballots instead of high-tech computer systems.

"This will be another way the Republicans steal the elections," said co-chairman Dave Sagel as he made the introduction.

Smith, who styles himself as a political analyst and computer expert, said that punch cards are fool-proof and cheap but computers systems are vulnerable to hidden fraud and a "bad, bad, bad idea."

Smith, himself a former computer programmer, said that the software for computer voting stations can be rigged to provide false results.

"Computers only do what you tell them to do," Smith noted. But among the group of Democrats were those who were sure Republicans were 

A.M. Costa Rica staff
Hal Smith is not a fan of computer voting.

working behind the scenes to void Democratic votes in the 2004 presidential election.

Although punch-card ballots were much in the news when Florida became the key U.S. state in the 2000 elections, Smith maintained that the problem was a human one in setting up the devices that framed the punch-card ballots.

Also coming in for criticism was Diebold, Inc., which makes touch-screen voting machines. It didn’t help that the chief executive of the company is on record as a George Bush supporter. 

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Another worm virus
hits local computers

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A pesky computer virus is dumping thousands of unwanted e-mail messages into local electronic mailboxes.

The virus appears to be a worm, named W32.Novarg.A@mm or W32/Mydoom@MM by computer experts.

The virus arrives as an e-mail and an attachment. If the recipient opens the attachment, the worm attacks the computer.

A.M. Costa Rica accounts received upwards of 200 such virus messages in four hours Monday night.

Symantec Inc., a maker of anti-virus software, said the worm will allow a hacker to connect to the machine and use it to gain access to its network resources.

Operating systems vulnerable to the worm are Windows 2000, Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows Me, Windows NT, Windows Server  2003 and Windows XP, the company said.

DOS, Linux, Macintosh, OS/2, UNIX and Windows 3.x are not vulnerable to the virus, the firm said.

The virus made its appearance Monday and is designed to expire Feb. 12, according to the company.

New Four Seasons
says camping is out

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Four Seasons Resort has reaffirmed its contention that camping is not a permitted use on beaches at the hotel.

The company cites Costa Rican law and the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo master plan for the Polo Turístico Golfo de Papagayo project.

More than a dozen activists tried to camp on the beach near the hotel two weeks ago. Said a press release from the hotel:

"Visits to the project with the intention of disrespecting this national legislation and ICT bylaw, such as the visit by the group of 13 persons on Jan. 16, may adversely affect a tourism development project that has brought benefit to the people of Guanacaste and, worse yet, project a negative false image of Costa Rica outside of the country’s borders."

The hotel opened its doors to the jet set and closed the beaches to Tico tourists, said a release last week from three groups that spent a night on the beach. They call themselves the Confraternidad Guanacasteca. They are the Comité Cívico de Cañas, the Asociación Ambientalista de la Península de Nicoya and the Federación Costarricense para la Conservación del Ambiente.

This was not the first time that the groups have protested at Playa Blanca and Playa Virador. The Papagayo development organization, Ecodesarrollo Papagayo S.A., had brought in police.

The Four Seasons began operating Jan. 18 and is the first active operation in the gigantic Península Papagayo Project. The firm has a special respect for the environment, it said.

The hotel was designed and built by Costa Ricans and employs 583 people, 92 percent of whom are nationals, the company said. 

"Throughout the process, environmentally conscious construction techniques were used and the protection of the environment is reflected in the design and layout of the buildings, as well as by the Project’s extensive re-vegetation program,’ said the company’s news release.

"Península Papagayo’s commitment is to the law, to the environment, and to the progress of its neighboring communities," said Manuel Ardón, Península Papagayo’s general manager.  "As part of our corporate philosophy, Península Papagayo promotes visits to the project by various national groups with a shared interest in sustainable development and a sustainable tourism model."

More than 5,000 participants have taken part in an 800-million-colon environmental education program set up by Peninsula Papagayo, the firm said. That’s nearly $2 million.

The government of Costa Rica has entrusted Península Papagayo with the environmental protection of the concession’s land and, therefore, any activity taking place on the 840 hectares of property are governed by an environmental plan with a mandate to preserve 70 percent of the project’s green areas, said the news release.

Camping on beaches is a long-time activity in Costa Rica, although many beaches do not have the sanitary facilities campers need. The hotel does not dispute the fact that citizens have access to the public part of the beach near the hotel. The problem is overnight camping.

"In accordance with national legislation and the master plan for the Polo Turístico Golfo de Papagayo, ICT constructed walking paths which ensure public access to the project’s beaches and preserve the safety of all visitors," added Ardón.  "At the end of the year, we welcomed more than 1,200 visitors to the beaches open to the public." 

Harris gets support
from video of talk

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Casa Alianza said Monday that a video tape of a 1997 press conference shows that its regional director did not attack the honor of a politically connected lawyer in Guatemala.

The video was shown during the third day of the criminal defamation trial of the director, Bruce Harris, who is based in San José.

Susana Luarca de Umaña, ex-wife of then President of the Supreme Court of Guatemala brought a criminal charge against Harris as a result of the press conference in which he discussed adoption practices in that country. She is involved in arranging adoptions.

Casa Alianza is a group that advocates for children.

"The scratchy video of the press conference, which lasted approximately 40 minutes, showed the packed courtroom that Harris had clearly limited his interventions to explain the irregularities in the international adoptions of Guatemalan babies and urged the need for the Public Prosecutor’s office to investigate," said a news release by Casa Alianza.

The trial resumes today at 1 p.m., Casa Alianza said.

Robbery at hospital

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Witnesses said that a man robbed a woman after following her into Hospital CIMA in Escazú Monday morning.

There was no official police report available, but witnesses who were at the hospital said that officials closed down the facility while they searched for the criminal. The woman had come to the hospital from a bank, one witness said.

Tourist dies in Jacó

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Swedish tourist, identified as Mikael Viisainen, 50, died Sunday night at a beach in Jacó from what officials believe was accidental drowning.

Police were called shortly after 8 p.m. Sunday. The Judicial Investigating Organization confirmed his nationality Monday.
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Bird flu causes another human death in Asia
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Authorities across Southeast Asia are culling millions of chickens in an effort to contain a fast-spreading strain of bird flu. Monday, Thailand reported its first human death from bird flu, one of three confirmed cases of the disease in the kingdom, and said 10 others are suspected of having the disease.

Thai officials Monday said a 6-year-old boy infected with bird flu died during the night in a Bangkok hospital. 

Six people in Vietnam are also known to have died from the disease, bringing to seven the total number of confirmed fatalities in the region.

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra urged people not to panic because the disease is not easily transmitted to humans.

Thaksin said officials of Thailand's health and livestock ministries are working with the World Health Organization and other international groups. They are to meet Wednesday with ministers from other countries in the region to discuss the outbreak.

Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai said they are seeking cooperation in several areas, including the exchange of information.

"And how can each country, especially developing countries, receive assistance to be able to identify through our laboratory system what is this particular disease . . . ," he said.

At least eight countries in Asia have reported bird flu in their chicken populations. Cambodia, 

Indonesia and Pakistan are the latest to confirm the disease, and there are reports of birds falling ill in Laos. 

The four countries have begun culling chicken flocks, but say no human cases have been detected as yet.

Some scientists say they also expect the virus to be found in China, although tests to date there have been negative.

World Health Organization officials have voiced concern about the speed with which the virus has been spreading, and they warn that in humans, the latest strain is more resistant to common antiviral drugs than the strain that caused a bird flu outbreak in Hong Kong seven years ago.

However, the World health representative in Thailand, Bjorn Melgaard, said that current fears are out of proportion to the actual risk of the disease.

"There are people who get the disease, but it's not a huge epidemic that we are facing so far," said Melgaard. "More importantly, we've seen no evidence of human-to-human transmission."

Bird flu spreads rapidly on chicken farms. Humans contract the disease only by coming into contact with infected birds. But officials fear the virus could mutate to a form that humans can transmit to one another.

Around Asia, more than 10 million chickens have died of the virus, or have been culled on government orders to prevent the disease's spread, causing severe hardship among poultry farmers and exporters.

Aristide ready to accept Caribbean compromise
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Haiti's president says he has agreed to proposals from the Caribbean Community to end his country's political crisis. 

Following a meeting with the Bahamas Prime Minister Perry Christie, Haiti's president, Jean Bertrand Aristide, said he supported the major points of a plan from the Caribbean Community to end Haiti's nearly four-year-long political crisis.

The plan, which was put together last week at a meeting of Caribbean leaders, calls for a consensus government to be established, a schedule for legislative elections, and the disarmament of armed gangs who have attacked Aristide's opponents in demonstrations during the past few months.

Aristide said he would support the formation of a new government that would include members of the opposition, so long as it contains members of his Lavalas Party. Opposition figures in Haiti say they support elements of the Caribbean plan, but they still want Aristide to leave office, something he says he will not do before his term officially expires in two years.

A coalition of opposition politicians, business 

people, students, and journalists have been organizing large street protests during the past few months with the aim of forcing Aristide from office. Haiti's opposition says Aristide has done nothing to alleviate poverty and is allowing members of his government to harass and intimidate government opponents — charges Aristide and his supporters deny. 

Kesner Pharel, a leading Haitian economist, says the on-going political crisis is hurting Haiti's economy and its people.

"These people are living in a very difficult situation," he said. "The middle class has been wiped out and so now you have a brain drain in the country. A lot of well-educated Haitians have gone to Canada and the United States because they just cannot live in this situation anymore."

Haiti's political crisis stems from legislative elections in May of 2000 that Aristide's Lavalas Party won, but which international observers called deeply flawed. Since then, Aristide and Haiti's opposition have been unable to agree on when or how to re-schedule elections. 

Earlier this month, parliamentary activity came to halt when most legislators' terms expired without agreement on the issue. 

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