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These stories were published Thursday, Jan. 31, 2002
Jo Stuart
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Despite soccer cup and Superbowl XXXVI
Elections will mean dry weekend in Costa Rica
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The weekend will be a big, dry one in Costa Rica. In addition to Costa Rican national elections, Sunday is the date for Superbowl XXXVI, a time second only to St. Patrick’s Day for U.S. citizens to swill beer.

But not this year here in Costa Rica.

Thanks to Costa Rican law, the bars and cantinas will be closed under police seal from midnight Friday until midnight Monday. That means no alcohol sales all day Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Restaurants must not sell alcohol, and supermarkets must close off that part of the store dedicated to alcohol sales.

The elections are Sunday, and polls open at 6 a.m. and close at 6 p.m. The Superbowl starts in New Orleans at 5:33 p.m. Costa Rican time, and will be available for viewing on the Fox network. The St. Louis Rams will be facing the New England Patriots.

On Saturday, another dry day, the finals of the Copa de Oro Soccer Football championship is played in Pasadena, Calif., at 2 p.m. Those cheers you heard last night came from spectators watching Costa Rica beat South Korea, 3-1, in the semifinal game. Costa Rica now moves to the finals on Saturday to play the United States team that defeated Canada in a last-minute shootout late Wednesday.

Bars in downtown San José were closed Wednesday because Fuerza Democrática, the orange party promoting Valdimir de la Cruz, had a rally at 6 p.m. in the Avenida Principal just east of the pedestrian boulevard. The stage blocked the street, but all traces of the rally vanished by 9 p.m. The bars stayed closed.

Operators of tourist resorts are hard-pressed to explain the situation to tourists, some of whom may be in the country only a few days. One hotel owner in Nosara said that she might have a tailgate party for her guests some distance from the hotel. Others are urging their guests to stock up on beer and alcohol, although drinking probably will not be permitted in the public areas of hotels.

The hotel and bar owners have good reason to comply. A law passed last year raised the penalty for violating the alcohol ban or 

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Manuel Soto Soto beams as he prepares the stage for a Fuerza Democrática rally that took place Wednesday night.

tampering with the paper seals placed on the 
doors of drinking establishments. In the past, violators could face a fine up to 1.2 million colons (about $3,500 at the current exchange rate). Now the penalty can be from three months to two years in jail.

Spokesmen for the Tribunal Supreme Electoral said that any establishment that has as its principal activity the sale of alcohol must close for the 72 hours. Also closed are nightclubs. Casinos must close off the part of their operation dedicated to alcohol sales, according to the spokesmen, Carlos Rojas, jefe nacional de delegados, and Nuría Aguilar, a member of the Jefatura Nacional.

During election times, the Supreme Election Tribunal is the top branch of government in the land and takes control of other agencies including the police.

The Patriots are hoping that Tom Brady, a two-year veteran, can quarterback the team to victory in New Orleans. He will start instead of long-time quarterback Drew Bledsoe. The Rams, who have won the championship twice in the last three years, will have Kurt Warner as a quarterback. The Patriots have made the Superbowl twice before, but never won.  St. Louis is 16-2 for the year, including a 24-17 win over the Patriots. 

Saray Ramírez contributed to this report

'Betty la Fea' wraps up its run with a wedding
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The ugly duckling had her night last night as the long-running soap opera or telenovela "Yo Soy Betty la Fea" came to its predictable end.

The ugly Beatriz Aurora Pinzón Solano, played by Ana María Orozco, completed her transformation to a beauty, got the guy, lost the eyeglasses and the braces and might even have become a mother, depending on how you interpret the final scene.

The Colombian telenovela has been somewhat of a phenomenon that has meant big bucks for Telemundo, the U. S. Spanish-language network, and the national television chain here. The show aired on Channel 11.

Betty is the highly educated, over-qualified bad dresser who takes a lowly job at EcoModa, a clothing manufacturer. Only through her skills does EcoModa keep its head above red ink, and manager Armando Mendoza, played by Jorge Enrique Abello, toys with her feelings in order to keep her working.

They fall in love, out of love, somewhat in love through the whole telenovela. 

But Armando is a jerk, and as Betty loses the crummy clothes and the schoolmarm glasses, a lot of Costa Rican woman were hoping she would find true love elsewhere.

Ugly no more: Betty at the altar

She didn’t, and the show’s finale Wednesday 
night was dominated by a big church wedding of Betty and Armando. For a few seconds, an ambiguous scene even suggested that the couple would soon be blessed with a new tiny ugly duckling.

In anticipation of the wedding, Betty, already a looker, no longer wore braces on her teeth in Tuesday’s show. The glasses came off just before the wedding, to reveal the true Orozco, no one’s candidate for ugly duckling.

Never fear. the show did so well that Betty, again played by the somewhat reclusive Ms. Orozco,  will be back as the female executive battling to make her EcoModa firm a winner.

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Drug farming damages rainforest, U.S. reports
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Illegal drug cultivation in South America is destroying large amounts of the Amazon region's rainforest, a State Department official says.

About 2.3 million hectares of rainforest have been destroyed over the last 20 years in the Amazon basin due to the cultivation of coca, the crop used to make cocaine. This figure amounts to about one-quarter of all the deforestation that occurred in the area during the 20th century, said Rand Beers, assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs.

Briefing reporters Monday, Beers said the evidence shows that an "enormous amount of cutting" is occurring "for no other purpose than illegal drugs."

Speaking at the State Department's Foreign Press Center on the environmental damage caused by the drug trade, Beers said that in Bolivia "slash-and-burn" clearing of new coca fields resulted in the destruction of nearly 40,000 hectares of forest land in that country's Chapare region in the 1980s and '90s, while in Peru the amount lost was even larger.

Another problem caused by the drug trade, said Beers, is the large amount of toxic pesticides that coca growers put in their fields to get a higher return on their coca crop. Beers said that in Peru, for example, 346 metric tons of pesticides are used annually. These substances are then washed down by rain into the watershed, damaging plants and animals directly or indirectly via the food chain.

Beers charged that coca producers have no conscience in terms of how they are ruining the rainforest. For instance, coca growers cut down forests to grow their illegal crop, and then abandon these areas after only two to five years. They then move on to other areas, cutting down even more of the rainforest.

Beers indicated that because of the "clear-cutting" of forests, "quite significant" amounts of toxic runoff end up in the Amazon and Orinoco river basins. As evidence of this environmental damage, he said illicit crop cultivators cut down four hectares of forest for each hectare of coca planted, and two and a half hectares for each hectare of opium poppy.

Reporters asked Beers to compare the pesticides used by the coca growers to those used by the United States in its aerial drug eradication campaign in Colombia. He pointed out that "cocalleros" (coca growers) use a herbicide called glyphosate in much larger quantities than is used in the U.S. program. The coca growers also use far more toxic chemicals, such as paraquat and parathion, which he said are "sprayed indiscriminately" on the fields in order to kill weeds and thus allow coca bushes to grow more rapidly.

By contrast, he said, all the independent studies conducted so far suggest no health risk to humans from the amount of glyphosate used in the U.S. spraying campaign.

Beers said the United States, in partnership with the governments of Colombia, Bolivia and Peru, seeks to raise the issue of how coca production is hurting the Amazon region "so that people understand the seriousness of it." Beers referred to a pamphlet produced by the State Department, called "The Andes Under Siege: Environmental Consequences of the Drug Trade," which offers detailed information about the problem. The pamphlet is available on the Internet in English and in Spanish at http://usinfo.state.gov/products/pubs/andes.

Agriculture, trees,
fish called 'central'

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

NEW YORK CITY — Agriculture, forestry and fisheries should be central on the agendas of all preparatory events for an international conference on development in September, says the head of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

The World Summit on Sustainable Development must help to reverse the decline of official development assistance to sustainable agriculture and rural development, forestry and fisheries, FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf said Tuesday here. The summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, will bring together tens of thousands of participants, including heads of state, national delegates, and leaders of non-governmental organizations and businesses to discuss improving people's lives and conservation.

Texas student faces
gunman in Los Yoses

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 24-year-old Spanish-language student from Texas faced a gun and three robbers late Tuesday night as he walked along Avenida 2 in Los Yoses.

The man, who has been in the country about a month, said that a red car pulled up as he walked near Calle 31 and one man pointed a pistol in his face while a second man took his valuables including a backpack. This happened about 11:30 p.m. after he got off a bus after visiting friends. He lives in the area.

The man lost currency worth about $10, keys, credit cards, a number of CDs and a Walkman.

U.S. motorcyclist
plunges to death

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A U.S. citizen identified as Erick Edwards died about 6:50 a.m. Wednesday when his motorcycle ran off a highway in Barrio Morazan in Pérez Zeledón or San Isidro and plunged over a cliff, according to the Judicial Investigating Organization. There were no further details pending an investigation.

Meanwhile, police are investigating the death of two bicyclists in different parts of the country. Melvin Chavez, 11, died when he struck the trailer part of a truck while riding a bike in Peñas Blancas about 11 a.m. Tuesday morning, said investigators.

In Guanacaste, police are investigating the death of Bismark Briceño, 15, who died when he was run over by a vehicle while riding his bike on a road near Filadelfia. This happened about 10 p.m. Tuesday.

Meanwhile, near Guápiles a 2-year-old, Marcos Gamboa, tried to cross a canal by walking on a plank, slipped, fell in and died of drowning, said the Judicial Investigating Organization. This happened about 8 p.m. Tuesday.

Chile will purchase
new fighters from U.S.

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

SANTIAGO, Chile — The government of Chile has decided to purchase 10 U.S.-built jet fighters, dismissing criticism that such a purchase could trigger an arms race in the region. 

Minister of Defense Michelle Bachelet Wednesday told reporters in Santiago that Chile will pay about $660 million for the F-16 fighter planes from U.S.-based Lockheed Martin Corp.  The defense minister said the purchase aims at replacing obsolete equipment and should not be seen as Chile undertaking an arms race. 

Officials in neighboring countries have criticized Chile's plans to purchase the planes, fearing it could spark a race by other nations trying to match Chile's arms capabilities. The F-16 is considered one of the world's most advanced fighter planes. The defense minister said the 10 new planes will replace 19 Chilean (A-37) air force jets that have been grounded plus an additional number of other fighter planes being phased out. 

Chile will pay for the planes over nine years with funds from the copper reserve law, which earmarks 10 percent of all state revenues from copper sales to the military. Some politicians have complained that the money to be spent on the planes should instead be allocated to social programs. 

New vote planned
in Trinidad & Tobago

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

PORT OF SPAIN — Trinidad and Tobago's two main political parties have agreed to hold fresh elections aimed at ending a six-week-old electoral tie. No date has been set for the new balloting. 

Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham made the announcement Tuesday after negotiating separately with the feuding party leaders, Prime Minister Patrick Manning and former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday. 

The Bahamian leader is part of a delegation of Caribbean leaders in Trinidad and Tobago to seek a solution to the twin-island nation's political deadlock. 

Prime Minister Manning and Panday met privately Tuesday and are expected to hold more talks later in the week. The crisis began after their parties each won 18 seats in elections for the 36-member parliament Dec. 10. 

Panday offered to form a coalition government with Manning, but the politicians were unable to agree on a power-sharing plan. President Arthur Robinson broke the tie by naming Mr. Manning to serve as prime minister. Mr. Panday later said the new government was unconstitutional. 

Bush will visit
Fox and Mexico

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D. C.  — President Bush will travel to Mexico to participate in the International Conference on Financing for Development, scheduled for March 22, and to meet with Mexican President Vicente Fox, the White House said Wednesday.

The meetings of the U.S. and Mexican presidents "will be an opportunity to address regional issues of interest to both countries and to review progress in key areas of the bilateral relationship," according to the White House.

Another earthquake

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A small earthquake took place Wednesday about 3 kms. south of Aserrí, according to the Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica. The magnitude was just 2.6 on the Richter Scale, and the quake was about 4 kms. deep.

Children’s items needed

Residents in Playa Bandera near Parrita on the Central Pacific coast are trying to open a free day care, nursery and play school. 

Desperately needed are children's toys, play-pens, cribs, used clothing and baby and toddler items, said Charlene Fertig, who is spearheading the effort. "Please look around your house. If there are things there that no one is using and it would help us, give us a call at 289-6520," she said. 

Look out below

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

GREENBELT, Md. — The National Aeronautics and Space Administration said that an aging unmanned NASA spacecraft could re-enter Earth's atmosphere within the next 24 hours. NASA said the probability of surviving pieces of the spacecraft falling into populated areas is very small.

Murders of women
stir reaction in Juarez

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico — This Mexican border city of Juarez continues to struggle with a population explosion, a recent loss of factory jobs as a result of the U.S. recession and an unending wave of violence. The rape and murder of more than 200 young women in the city over the past eight years has drawn particular attention to Juarez, which lies just across the Rio Grande river from the U.S. city of El Paso, Texas. Civic groups are now uniting to demand action from authorities.

Leaders of 11 women's groups and several civic organizations in Juarez have come together in a broad coalition in the past few months in an effort to put pressure on local authorities to solve the murders. The groups were brought together by the grisly discovery in November of eight bodies of young women in a Juarez ravine. Police arrested two men and accused them of the crimes, but they claim to have been tortured into confessing.

Many women's leaders are also doubtful of their guilt and accuse the police of incompetence and indifference to the plight of young women, many of whom have come to Juarez from homes farther south in search of work in local factories. Esther Chavez Cano, who runs the private Juarez women's shelters Casa Amiga, or Friend's House, says these more recent cases have unified many divergent groups in Juarez to seek an end to the crimes.

She says the macabre discovery of the bodies in November led to a resurgence in civic outrage. She says the non-governmental groups, like hers, have never believed the problem was solved. They saw it as a latent problem because young women kept disappearing and the authorities made little progress in those cases. She says already this month there have been six murders, five of which were cases in which husbands killed their wives and one case that could fit the pattern of a serial killer, which is the theory behind at least 90 of the cases from previous years.

Mrs. Chavez Cano says the government of the state of Chihuahua has taken a defensive posture in front of the civic organizations' protests. She and other womens' activists believe a recent full-page advertisement in local newspapers that criticized the non-governmental groups was paid for by the state government. 

She says politicians should realize that this is not an attack on them, but an attempt by civic groups to end the violence against women and to save Juarez from what she describes as the law of the jungle.

State and local authorities say they are taking these crimes seriously and have sought help from international experts. The situation in Juarez has also drawn attention from the Mexican Congress which established a special commission last year to look into the issue.

Journalist shot down
in Colombian ambush

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — A Colombian journalist has been shot several times while walking to his office in the city of Manizales, about 200 kilometers northwest of here.

Police say a gunman opened fire on Orlando Sierra Wednesday. He is now hospitalized in serious condition. Officials say Sierra, a deputy editor with La Patria newspaper, had received threats, although the motive for the attack is not known. Sierra wrote a Sunday column for the newspaper. 

Authorities say the suspected gunman was arrested. His identity has not been released. International media groups say Colombia is one of the world's most dangerous places for journalists.

Meanwhile, a vehicle packed with dynamite has exploded here, shattering windows and damaging buildings. No injuries were reported. 

The blast occurred Wednesday outside the offices of a major Colombian television station. Officials blame the attack on leftist rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC. 

Monetary Fund wants
Argentina to cut outgo

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Top officials from the International Monetary Fund or the IMF are in Argentina to press that government to cut spending in exchange for renewed economic aid. 

The financially-troubled country is reportedly seeking at least $15 billion in IMF assistance to help replenish dwindling reserves. 

The IMF, however, says Argentina must develop a plan for sustainable economic growth as a condition for financial aid. The IMF withheld a $1.2 billion loan payment to Argentina last month, saying the government failed to keep spending under control. 

Years of budget deficits are blamed for Argentina's financial chaos, which has triggered widespread protests across the country. 

Argentina has been in recession for nearly four years and is in default on its $141 billion public debt. The country also struggles to contain an 18 percent unemployment rate. 

Police on guard
for forum violence

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

NEW YORK CITY — Police here have closed down streets and erected concrete barricades in preparation for today’s start of the World Economic Forum. 

The five-day meeting will bring together heads of governments, corporate leaders and members of non-governmental agencies at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in mid-town New York. 

Authorities have tightened security around the hotel, partly in an effort to prevent violent street clashes between police and protesters who have disrupted large international gatherings in recent years. 

After more than three decades of holding the meeting in the Swiss resort town of Davos, the gathering was moved to New York to show support for the city after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. 

Fed makes no cut
in fed funds rate

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C.— The Federal Reserve has announced it left a key interest rate unchanged ending a 12-month period of uninterrupted monetary relaxation. In a statement Wednesday the Federal Open Market Committee, the policy-setting body of the U.S. central bank, said that it decided to keep the federal funds rate at 1.75 percent.

Last year the Federal Reserve made 11 consecutive rate cuts that left the federal funds rate, the interest rate banks charge each other for overnight loans, at the lowest level in four decades.

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