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These stories were published Thursday, Feb. 17, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 34
Jo Stuart
About us

La Torre goes down!
A.M. Costa Rica photos/Clair-Marie Robertson
Skymaster shakes them up
Wild ride is a way to help sick children, too
By Clair-Marie Robertson
of the A.M Costa Rica staff 

La Torre in the Parque de Diversiones is not recommended for those who have just had a full meal. In addition, those who have a fear of heights and don't particularly enjoy free falling for 40 meters should also steer clear. 

La Torre was imported from Italy and opened to the public in December. The ride consists of 12 seats that are slowly pulled up a 40 meter (130-foot) structure. At the top, with your legs swinging in the air, it is possible to see the whole of the Parque de Diversiones, La Uruca and beyond. 

Those who operate the ride leave you up there for what seems like an eternity. Just when you think that you will stay up there, a button is pressed somewhere and the high speed free fall starts. The descent of approximately70 mph is so fast that many don't have time to scream. 

At the bottom, with the ride at an end, many sit frozen in their seats, white knuckled, open-mouthed and wide-eyed. 

For those who prefer the rides that stay on the ground, there are bumper cars, water shoots and go-karts.  Other more daring rides include La Montana Rusa, a roller coaster, and Skymaster, a big wheel into space.

Pueblo Antiguo, another attraction offers 

visitors an insight into Costa Rican traditions, culture and the past. Some of the structures are originals from the 19th and early 20th centuries. Other structures are slightly scaled-down versions of famous buildings elsewhere. Plus there are carriage rides, band concerts and all that was Costa Rica in about 1890.

Parque de Diversiones, west of San José near Hospital México, is open Monday to Thursday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Friday to Sunday 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. A special pass which gives access to all the rides costs $8. Entry to the park is free. 

The Parque de Diversiones has a history rooted in the 1953 polio epidemic. Polio that year in Costa Rica caused the highest mortality rate.

More than 2,000 children suffered serious crippling because of the disease. Doctors Carlos Saenz Herrera and Roberto Ortiz Brenes created the Asociación Pro-Hospital Nacional de Niños. 

The association generated enough funds to open the now-famous Hospital Nacional de los Niños en 1964. 

Ortiz then created an institution which would help fund the hospital and the fun park was put forward as a possible idea. Parque de Diversiones was opened in 1981 and all profits being donated to the Hospital de los Niños as well as other charities.

on Pacific
By the A.M Costa Rica staff

British supermodel Kate Moss is on vacation in Costa Rica. Ms. Moss arrived in Guanacaste Tuesday and is staying at the Paradisus Melia in Playa Conchal.

Ms. Moss's trip to Costa Rica comes at a time when tabloid newspapers in Britain are heavily documenting her on-off relationship with a troubled British rock singer. 

The singer, Peter Doherty, is being treated in a rehabilitation clinic for his addiction to heroin. Doherty announced in tabloid newspapers Monday that he and Ms. Moss will be getting married this summer.  Last week he was bailed out on robbery, violent conduct and blackmail charges. Doherty is due to appear at Snaresbrook Crown Court, East London, Feb 21. 

Ms. Moss, 31, is known for her waif-like figure, became famous for revealing Calvin Klein ads. 

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Guido Sáenz González, the minister, explains aspects of the new Web page to visitors at the ministry Wednesday.

Culture ministry finally,
officially on the Web

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The culture ministry officially inaugurated its new Web page Wednesday even though the page has been in use for nearly a year.

The ministry, officially the Ministerio de Cultura, Juventud y Deportes, has a varied mission, and the Web page is designed to provide for each category.

Dance, theater, cinema, video, most types of art, all find a place on the Web pages. But there also are sections for the various orchestras and choruses as well as the regional bands.

One interesting feature is the history of the Centro Nacional de la Cultura, the structure that houses the ministry just east of Parque España. The structure came into being in 1853 to house the state monopoly of manufacturing liquor, hence the name la Fábrica Antigua de Licores.

The country’s alcohol was made on the site until the early 1980s when the factory was moved to Grecia. In 1994, the ministry took over the sprawling structure, although many reminders of the previous use were left in place.

The nation’s many museums, including the Museo Nacional, as well as its libraries are in the domain of the ministry.

Newspaper faces probe
of printing press sale

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Spanish-language daily La Nación is in trouble with the tax man, and its competitors are taking advantage of the situation.

The tax woes came to light in a news story Tuesday. But the news story was not in La Nación. The sensational daily El Diario Extra played the news as its top Page One headline and gloatingly published a full-page article on Page 2.

Finally, La Nación published its own story, a bit more sedately, on Page 18 Wednesday.

A judge has ordered banks to provide tax authorities with information from the La Nación accounts. A number of banking establishments were named in the Extra story.

Tributación Directa, the tax-collecting agency, wants to know why a pair of rotary printing presses were sold in 2001 by the newspaper to a leasing company for $2 million and then resold two months later to a third party for $5 million. The implication is that La Nación understated the value of the presses for tax purposes.

Television news shows picked up the story Wednesday.

The La Nación story described the transactions as part of a leasing operation. The newspaper sold the presses and then agreed to lease them from the new owner. However, the newspaper did not describe the transaction in detail and give a reason for the differences in sale prices.

Bus fares computed
under new system

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The agency that controls the prices of public services says it will use a new system to determine when bus companies can raise their rates.

The agency, the Autoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públicos, outlined this new weighted formula in a press release Wednesday. Affected are the estimated million persons who travel the country’s 800 regulated bus routes each day.

The formula takes into consideration salaries, fuel costs, maintenance and administrative costs. These costs represent the bulk of the costs of running the buses, but does not include profit and depreciation.

The formula will be applied to the kilometer cost of carrying each passenger. When one of the components of the formula increased at least 5 percent, a rate hike is anticipated.

The last time bus operators got a general increase was July 14. Under the new formula, a new increase is likely.

The formula will go into use after it is published in the la Gazeta, the official newspaper. That will be in about five days.

Bus operators will still have the option of seeking rate hikes greater than the formula if they can justify the additional costs. The purpose of new buses would be one reason.

Child support agreement
signed by U.S., Costa Rica

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica and the United States have signed an agreement that would allow parents in one country to collect child support from a parent in the other country.

The Patronato Nacional de la Infancia would be the agency that would seek payment here for a parent in the United States. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services would have the task of getting the money from someone in that country.

The agreement must be approved by the Asamblea Legislativa.

One possible outcome of the agreement would be to make it easier for Costa Rican mothers to collect child support from U.S. citizen fathers who return to the United States.

The United States has similar agreements with 10 other countries, including Canada.

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Seals and trade pact sparking demonstrations today
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Those who have a political ax  to grind have a choice of demonstrations today.

At 9 a.m. union members and others will be protesting the proposed free trade treaty with the United States in front of the U.S. Embassy in Rohrmoser. They will precede the protest with a march from Channel 7 Teletica in Sabana Oeste.

At 9:30 the Canadian Embassy in Sabana Sur in the scene for environmentalists protesting the killing of harp seals.

Organizers of both demonstrations promise to be peaceful. But employees of the U.S. Embassy were not optimistic.

"We wish to remind American citizens that even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence," said a statement Wednesday from the embassy. "American citizens are therefore urged to avoid the areas of demonstrations if possible, and to exercise caution if within the vicinity of any demonstrations."

The embassy announcement also said that the streets near the embassy, Pavas Boulevard and the Calle Alexander Humbolt, might be closed due to the crowd of protestors.

The protest against the killing of harp seals will take place on Calle de Golf, the street that ruins east of Oficentro La Sabana where the Canadian Embassy is located. The group sponsoring the protest is the Association for the Preservation of the Wild Flora and Fauna.

The organization will be delivering a letter to Mario Lagüe, the Canadian ambassador. The group said in a release that the government of Canada has authorized the annual killing of some 300,000 harp seals in northern Canada.

The seals are used for their fur, but one reason 

advanced for the hunt is that reducing the seal population will increase the number of fish in local waters. The organization dismisses this theory, saying "Given the infinite forms of interaction between marine organisms, it is ridiculous to suppose that the selective massacre of one species will increase the population of another."

Demonstrators who oppose the free trade treaty with the United States also will be delivering a letter to the embassy that they hope will be sent to U.S. President George Bush. The letter lists the treaty points that protestors believe are disadvantageous to Costa Rica, according to Albino Vargas.

Vargas is president of the Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados. Many of his members will be affected if the treaty passes. They belong to government monopolies that will face stronger international competition.

Vargas estimated in a press conference Wednesday that some 200 persons will be demonstrating, but the protest has been announced widely in the Costa Rican news media, so additional groups are likely to join, including radical students from the University of Costa Rica.

As in the past, there also is the chance that a trade treaty demonstration will turn into a statement against the U.S. war in Iraq

An unanswered question is why Vargas and his union members are demonstrating at the U.S. Embassy. The fate of the free trade treaty in Costa Rica is in the hands of President Abel Pacheco and the members of the Asamblea Legislative. Although Costa Rican officials have signed the treaty with the United States, Pacheco has to send the document to the legislature where deputies must vote in favor for it to take effect.

The U.S. Congress is expected to consider the trade treaty in March. A favorable vote in likely. In addition to Costa Rica, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic are parties to the treaty. El Salvador already has ratified the pact.

Newspaper group seeks quick action in murder of eight journalists
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

PARIS, France — The World Association of Newspapers has expressed its dismay at a recent spree of killings of journalists and has called on governments to conduct rapid and thorough investigations to bring their assassins to justice.

Eight journalists have been killed since the beginning of the year, six of them in the last 10 days. The toll follows a particularly bloody year in 2004, when 71 journalists were killed worldwide.

"We are horrified by this escalation of violence against journalists and the impunity which their assailants continue to enjoy in most countries," said Timothy Balding, director general of the Paris-based organization. "We call on governments to show much greater determination in tracking down and prosecuting the killers.  Hundreds of journalists have been killed worldwide in the past decade, and no one has been brought to justice, much less convicted, in the vast majority of cases."

The organization will focus its activities for World Press Freedom Day, May 3, on the unpunished killings of journalists, with a campaign called "Impunity - Getting Away With Murder,"  Balding said.

The killings since Feb. 7 include:

• Kiat Saetang, managing editor of the Had Yai Post, who was shot dead in the town of Had Yai in southern Thailand Monday. According to reports, Kiat was on his motorbike when he was shot several times from behind by one of two men also on a motorbike. Kiat’s wife told 

investigators that she believed the killing was linked to his exposés on the misconduct of local politicians.

• Sheikh Belaluddin, a correspondent for the Bengali-language daily Sangram, who died Friday from injuries sustained in a bomb attack at a press club in the city of Khulna a week earlier.

• Abdul-Hussein Khazal, an Iraqi correspondent for the U.S.-funded television station Al-Hurra, who was shot dead by unknown gunmen outside his home in the city of Basra Feb. 9. The journalist’s 3-year-old son was also killed in the attack.

• Kate Peyton, a reporter for the BBC, who was fatally wounded in a drive-by shooting Feb. 9 in the Somali capital of Mogadishu. According to witnesses, the journalist was entering a hotel when unidentified assailants shot her before speeding off. The journalist had arrived only hours earlier to begin a series of reports on the country.

• Amir Nowab, a freelance cameraman for Associated Press Television News and reporter for the Pakistan-based Frontier Post newspaper, and Allah Noor, who was working for Peshawar-based Khyber TV, who were fatally shot by gunmen in Pakistan’s tribal area of South Waziristan Feb. 7.

Details of all the murders can be found on the organization's Web site.

The Paris-based global organization for the newspaper industry defends and promotes press freedom worldwide. It represents 18,000 newspapers. and individual newspaper executives in 102 countries.

Farmers are encouraged to find new production techniques
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

More healthy and safe crops will require Costa Rica to investigate new production techniques, according to a Costa Rican official. Walter Ruiz Valverde, the vice minister of Agricultura y Ganadería, said Wednesday that Costa Rica needs to find a balance between chemical and organic farming.

According to Ruiz Valverde, detailed investigations needed to be made in order to find methods that can increase production while protecting natural resources. 

The vice minister said that Costa Rica needed to find methods with, "economic advantages for the farmers, while avoiding damage to the atmosphere, the earth and the waters, and protecting human health."

The ministry is committed to a risk/reward analysis of different methods available, according to Ruiz Valverde.

The vice minister said that both organic and biotechnological solutions needed to be investigated so that the farming sector could be fortified, thus improving the socioeconomic conditions of the country. 

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U.N. educational goals carry $150 billion price tag here
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. ? The United Nations says more than $150 billion is needed to meet four specific goals to improve the educational prospects for people in Latin America and the Caribbean by 2015.

The report, released in January, is entitled "Investing Better to Invest More: Financing and Managing Education in Latin America and the Caribbean." It evaluates the financial needs of the region's countries in the area of education over the next decade.

The four goals discussed are: providing universal preschool education, ensuring that everyone completes primary education, raising the net coverage of secondary education to 75 percent, and eliminating illiteracy among young people and adults.

The U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean and the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization prepared the report.

Regarding the first goal on universal preschool education, the report says preschool registration in the Latin American/Caribbean region in 2000 was just under 50 percent, with levels ranging from 15 percent to 30 percent in countries with low per capita income.  The resources necessary to provide universal preschool education are estimated at almost $64.6 billion.

The report says progress in meeting this first goal would make the educational system more efficient because it would reduce the number of years necessary 

to complete primary and secondary education and help to close the gap between children of different social strata.  It would also provide women with more opportunities to enter the labor market by allowing them to handle their domestic responsibilities and work for remuneration outside the home.

On the second goal of ensuring that everyone completes primary education, the report said that in 15 countries of the region, only 83 percent of the child population had successfully completed this level, while in five other countries the rate was 80 percent or less, indicating that high repetition and drop-out rates remain an acute problem.

Meeting the second goal will take about $21.5 billion, the report said.

On the third goal, raising coverage of secondary education, the report said that only 62 percent of the region's population aged 13 to 18 was registered in school, with a high drop-out rate reported in a number of countries.

Expanding coverage of secondary education to 75 percent would cost $59.3 billion, according to the report.

On the fourth goal, eliminating illiteracy among young people and adults, the report said the illiteracy rate is 10 percent or higher in almost half of the region, and in five countries the illiteracy rate is over 20 percent.  The report said the region has about 39 million illiterate adults.  Correcting this problem by 2015 would cost $6.9 billion.

Brazil sends in troops to area where someone murdered activist U.S. nun
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

ANAPU, Brazil ? Brazil's government has sent 2,000 troops to an Amazon rain forest region following the deaths of an American nun and an advocate of landless peasants in the past four days.

The soldiers headed Wednesday to the state of Para, one day after thousands of mourners buried Sister Dorothy Stang.  The environmental activist was killed Saturday after campaigning for decades for the rights of landless peasants. 

The 74-year-old Catholic missionary was fatally shot near this town, days after telling Brazilian human rights officials that she and several local farmers faced death threats. 

As Brazilians mourned Ms. Stang, the leader of a peasant workers union, Daniel Soares da Costa, was gunned down in Para. 

Ms. Stang’s death has drawn attention to Anapu, which is notorious for illegal logging and violent conflicts over land.

Jo Stuart
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