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These stories were published Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 19
Jo Stuart
About us
Mydoom virus is spreading rapidly here, too
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The computer virus worm that showed up Monday continued to grow dramatically Tuesday. A.M. Costa Rica logged more than 1,000 virus generated e-mail messages.

The virus, called W32.Novarg.A@mm or W32/Mydoom@MM by computer experts, spreads because recipients open an attachment that comes with the message. Radiográfica Costarricense S.A. mail servers continued to keep up, but U.S. sources estimated that one in nine e-mail messages Tuesday worldwide were generated by the virus.

The fast spread of the virus shows that many computer users still open attachments that come from an unknown source and that many computer users do not have adequate virus protection software.

The virus-generated messages also trigger responses from anti-virus software and non-delivery messages from computer servers. These further clog the Internet.

The virus arrives in an e-mail with the subject line of "hello" or "test" or "status." The attachment clearly contains an executable file with a suffix of "exe," "scr" or "zip."

In order for the virus worm to enter a host computer, the user must open the attachment.

The virus is designed to launch many more e-mails on Feb. 1 in an attempt to crash the mail servers at SCO Group Inc. in Lindon, Utah, U.S. sources said. That company, the owner of the Unix operating system, has filed a suit to claim certain codes used in the free Linux 

operating system. This has angered some computer users.

The virus worm attacks all but the very early Microsoft operating systems. The virus then snags e-mail addresses in the host computer and mails itself out in multiple copies. The virus seems to retain domain names but randomly replaces the username of the intended recipient and the return e-mail address.

So A.M. Costa Rica received many e-mails to non-existent mail accounts here, such as jose@amcostarica.com. In addition, many bounced e-mails were returned to A.M. Costa Rica addresses that were forgeries.

A.M. Costa Rica is particularly vulnerable because it maintains a number of different e-mail accounts and keeps them public on the Web pages. However, its computers cannot generate this virus.

The SCO Group said it had offered a $250,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the individual or individuals responsible for creating the Mydoom virus. 

"During the past 10 months SCO has been the target of several . . . attacks," said Darl McBride, president and CEO. "This one is different and much more troubling, since it harms not just our company, but also damages the systems and productivity of a large number of other companies and organizations around the world. 

"The perpetrator of this virus is attacking SCO, but hurting many others at the same time. We do not know the origins or reasons for this attack, although we have our suspicions. This is criminal activity and it must be stopped."

Anti-drilling activists to protest Harken's choice
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Oil drilling opponents are rallying their forces for a protest Thursday centering on former U.S. Sen. Robert Toricelli of New Jersey.

The former senator will be in San José representing Harken Energy Inc. that wants Costa Rica to pay for canceling its right to drill for oil off the Caribbean coast.

The protest is scheduled at the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía about 2:30 p.m., the group said in an e-mailed announcement. The group is Federación Costarricense para la Conservación del Ambiente, which also is associated with Oilwatch.

The administration of outgoing President Miguel Angel Rodríguez pulled the plug on exploratory drilling, in part due to protests by the same groups. But Harken responded by filing an international arbitration request for $57 billion. 

Costa Rica is on record saying that it is willing to

 negotiate a compensation somewhere in the $3 to $11 million range. Officials seem unaware that the damage to Harken includes future earnings on oil production.

The anti-drilling group also opposes Toricelli because he authored a 1992 U.S. law that formalized the embargo against Communist Cuba. The group also said that Toricelli is linked to betting and gambling interests and, incorrectly, that he had to resign from the U.S. Senate because he was influence peddling. Actually, Toricelli, a Democrat, declined to seek renomination.

"We know that the objective of this visit by Toricelli is to strongly pressure our authorities, especially MINAE [the ministry], which is the institution that has managed the case. . . ."

"We invite all the organizations, sectors and persons to give a message to these type of personages of the North American politics so they do not believe that he the corporations and their interests dominate us," said the announcement.

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Campaign for approval of free-trade treaty begins
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican officials have launched a public relations campaign to gain public support for the proposed free-trade treaty with the United States.

President Abel Pacheco is at the forefront. He declared Tuesday that the treaty would not deliver the nation’s telecommunications and insurance monopolies into the hands of foreigners. Instead, pending legislation will strengthen these institutions, he said.

Pacheco was speaking at his weekly press conference. He was joined by Alberto Trejos, minister of Comercio Exterior who led the Costa Rican negotiating team, and Germán Serrano Pinto, head of the Instituto Nacional de Seguros, the insurance monopoly.

The proposed free trade treaty would allow private access to insurance sales and open up cellular and some internet services now under the control of the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad.

Trejos and Anabel Gonzalez, the chief Costa Rican negotiator, appeared on Channel 7 Teletica later Tuesday to praise the treaty as a boon for Costa Rica. Other public meetings are planned.

Pacheco has said that a text of the treaty would be available soon. Only summaries are available now. Officials said that a formal signing of the pact would take place sometime in April, probably in Washington. After the agreement is signed, both the United States and Costa Rica have to submit the pact to their legislative bodies.

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Alberto Trejos makes a point as President Abel Pacheco and Germán Serrano watch.

Rice growers joined the chorus of opposition Tuesday. The free-trade treaty protected the Costa Rican onion and potato producers but would allow increasing shipments of foreign rice into Costa Rica. A spokesman for the Cámara de Arroceros, said the treaty would wipe out rice growers.

Unions, too, are unhappy and are assembling their forces for street demonstrations and also for lobbying efforts in the Asamblea Nacional. Pacheco warned them not to march when they should be working.

Rice growers last year blocked Avenida Principal in front of the legislative building for days with big trucks and tractors to pressure national deputies.

Law enforcement seeks
info on missing U.S. man

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A U.S. citizen described as a tourist staying in Heredia vanished Dec. 23, and investigators have 
received an official missing persons report.

The man is Barestan L. Monegain, 54, who had his passport issued in Illinois. Officials said little else about the case except to say that information would be accepted at 277-0342 and 277-0345, the Judicial Investigating Organization offices in Heredia.

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8-year term sought
by Harris accuser

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Guatemalan notary Susana Luarca Saracho de Umaña asked a criminal court there Tuesday for an eight-year jail term for Bruce Harris plus $125,000 in damages and his deportation from Guatemala upon completion of the sentence, according to Casa Alianza.

Harris’ defense lawyer, Victor Hugo Navarro, argued that the accuser has not presented sufficient proof for the three-judge tribunal to warrant a conviction, the child advocacy agency said.

Harris is the San José-based Latin American director for Casa Alianza. He is on trial for alleged defamation uttered at a 1997 press conference.

According to a report by Casa Alianza, Navarro argued that Ms. Luarca’s lawyer failed to show that Harris damaged the accuser’s professional honor. 

Harris was involved in an official investigation into irregular international adoptions of Guatemalan babies. Ms. Luarca handles adoptions.

In Guatemala the law allows for a daily fine to be paid in lieu of a prison sentence of less than five years. By asking for the maximum term, Ms. Luarca wants to make sure Harris goes to prison, said Casa Alianza.

Evidence presented Tuesday, including two video tapes showed that Ms. Luarca was mentioned along with 18 other persons when Harris discussed irregularities in international adoptions, said Casa Alianza.

Words attributed to Arias
draw request for probe

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 23 national legislators want the president of the Corte Suprema de Justicia to investigate allegations the present minister of Cultura made in his new book.

The minister, Guido Sáenz, wrote a series of recollections titled "Piedra Azul: Atisbos en mi Vida."  The title translates to "Blue Stone: A glimpse into my life."

Sáenz said in his book that former president Oscar Arias was miffed when the supreme court rejected his bid to let him run again for president. This happened in 2002. Subsequently, the court reversed itself, and former presidents can now run again after a waiting period.

Sáenz described Arias as upset because he said he had been assured by a supreme court magistrate that he would vote to allow Arias to run and did not. The book suggests that Arias, who may be a presidential candidate in 2006, had inappropriate contact with a magistrate who was involved in a case.

The legislators sent a letter asking the court to conduct an investigation.

More protests hit
capital of Haiti

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Haitian protesters again took to the streets of this capital Tuesday to call for President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's resignation.

Media reports from Haiti say the protests were peaceful. The demonstrations have become an almost daily occurrence as an opposition-led show of defiance against the Haitian leader. 

Monday, Aristide said he has accepted proposals offered by the 15 nation Caribbean Community to resolve his country's prolonged political crisis.

The plan calls for the establishment of a consensus government, the scheduling of legislative elections and efforts to disarm armed gangs that have attacked Aristide's opponents.

Gang members stage
running gun battle

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Members of a Pavas gang threatened a mechanic in Escazú Tuesday night and then engaged police in a running gun battle back to their hangout, police said.

The mechanic, identified as Marvin Porras, told police that gang members wanted to take away a piece of equipment without paying for its repair. One person was injured in the initial exchange with police.

In Pavas, police roped off a van that had bullet holes in its side. They set up outside a house believed occupied by gang members and were still on the scene at midnight.

The police tactical squad was called in perhaps an indication that the house would be stormed.

ICE floats bonds

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad said Tuesday that its agents had placed some $60 million in 10-year bonds at a favorable 6.45 percent rate.

The instituto, known as ICE, said that the government had to pay 6.548 to float $250 million in bonds recently.

The firm that did the bond work was Credit Suisse First Boston. The money will be used for reconstruction and improvements in the electrical system, the company said.

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New micro-credit project set for Central America
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Agency for International Development says it will expand on a partnership with the VISA credit card company and the Foundation for International Community for a program to improve electronic micro-finance services for disadvantaged people in Central America.

In a press release, the agency said the program will use "world-class payment technologies in order to increase the efficiency of microfinance" in Central America and "provide cutting-edge customer focused products."

The agency said the program will take place over five phases, beginning in Central America, resulting in a business model that VISA and the agency will "customize" for other nations.

The agency announced a $600,000 grant to expand the alliance with VISA and the foundation.

"This partnership will empower individuals and give them greater access to financial services and ease processing funds, while providing efficiencies for the banks that will make them want these customers" said agency Administrator Andrew S. Natsios. 

"Partnerships such as the one created between VISA and USAID create a win-win situation for clients, banks and microfinance institutions."

VISA will provide product platforms, transaction processing capabilities and technological expertise. VISA will also train the foundation’s credit officers to use these new methods of technology. 

VISA will also teach credit officers how to educate their village banking clients in the management and use of the technology. The foundation will provide access to clients through its network of village banks and train its clients on the use of electronic payment solutions, and share its expert knowledge.

More steps taken to limit mad cow infections
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. government took further steps this week to protect the public from bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as mad cow disease.

U.S. Secretary of Health Tommy G. Thompson said the new measures will "make strong public health protections against BSE even stronger." U.S. practices and policies in the beef industry have been under greater scrutiny since December when the first case of the disease occurred in a U.S. animal.

The appearance of the disease in other countries' herds has caused serious concern and the wholesale slaughter of animals in recent years. The illness is believed to be causally related to an always-fatal human degenerative brain disorder called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Just over 150 human cases of that disease had been reported worldwide as of Dec. 1, 2003. Almost all of the victims were exposed to mad cow disease in the United Kingdom during the 1980-96 time 

period, according to a fact sheet compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to a Department of Health and Human Services press release, Thompson said, "The science and our own experience and knowledge in this area are constantly evolving. Small as the risk may already be, this is the time to make sure the public is protected to the greatest extent possible."

One new safeguard will ban bovine-derived material from a broader spectrum of food products, dietary supplements and cosmetic products. A second new requirement will further restrict what may be fed to animals, specifically banning blood and blood products as a food source. These new standards will supplement previously announced regulatory practices that guard against BSE through import controls, cattle surveillance and an animal feed ban.

The press release also says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will be increasing its inspections of food production facilities this year to better insure that new standards are being followed.

Confabs will address women's health and foot-and-mouth disease
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. government will co-sponsor in February and March two separate conferences on health-related issues affecting both the Americas and the world at large, one devoted to infectious diseases and their effect on women, and the other to foot-and-mouth disease.

Scheduled speakers at the Feb. 27 to 28 conference in Atlanta, Ga., on infectious diseases include Julie Gerberding, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one of the sponsors of the event; Carol Bellamy, executive director of the United Nations Children's Fund; and Mirta Roses Periago, director general of the Pan American Health Organization.

The goal of the conference is to strengthen prevention and control of infectious diseases among women worldwide. Gerberding will provide an overview of the effect of infectious diseases on women, Bellamy will speak on globalization and how it affects infectious diseases among women, while Roses will discuss the next steps for preventing infectious diseases among women.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is one of the co-sponsors for the second event, called "Hemispheric Conference on the Eradication of Foot-and-Mouth Disease," being held March 3 to 4 in Houston, Texas.

Eradicating foot-and-mouth disease from the Western Hemisphere has progressed significantly, according to the Pan American health Organization, another of the conference co-sponsors. The organization says that the disease is endemic in only a few areas of South America and that completing the final stages of its eradication from the hemisphere "will require concerted joint efforts from both the public and private sectors."

The Centers for Disease Control defines foot-and-mouth disease as a severe, highly contagious viral disease of wild and domestic animals that primarily affects cattle and pigs, but infections can also occur in sheep, deer, and other animals with cleft hooves. Infections in humans are extremely rare.

In July 2003, agriculture ministers from seven South American countries, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay, declared a regional alert for the disease and set in motion a plan for its eradication, including a mass vaccination campaign.

Conference organizers say the Houston event will allow those in the livestock and agricultural production chain, and the public and private sectors, to express their commitment to completing the final stages of eliminating foot-and-mouth disease from the hemisphere.

Jo Stuart
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