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These stories were published Friday, Feb. 22, 2002
Jo Stuart
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Bert Wiesel of Maine
... helped burn victim
A.M. Costa Rica photos
Fire truck in front of the Calle 4 entrance to the Royal Dutch Casino and Hotel is the only evidence that two explosions took place there.
Twin gas explosions injure five at hotel-casino
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two explosions a little more than two hours apart tore through the kitchen of a San José downtown hotel and casino Thursday night, and five persons suffered burns.

The explosions at the Royal Dutch Casino and Hotel, on the northeast corner of Avenida 2 and Calle 4, were confined to the second-floor kitchen, and there was not obvious signs of the event outside.

The first blast happened in late afternoon. Bert Wiesel of East Baldwin, Maine, said he was with his wife Briggitta standing by the window in their room, No. 339, of the hotel when they heard and felt the blast. He ran one floor below where the hotel had installed a new kitchen and helped two men who were burned.

The explosion did not seem to have damaged the kitchen, but the flash burned a man who appeared to be a cook who was in obvious pain, Wiesel said. The man suffered severe burns of the face, chest and arms and Wiesel helped put the man in a third-floor shower to soothe the pain until rescue workers arrived.

Later, between 6 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. the Maine tourists were back in their room when a bigger explosion ripped through the building. By this time firemen were investigating the source of the first blast.

One fireman suffered severe injuries, and at least two more persons were injured.

A hotel employee said that a total of five persons had been hospitalized as a result of the two blasts. Wiesel said he saw one woman who appeared to be in shock being treated on the sidewalk in the street in front of the hotel. 

Wiesel and his wife were among a small group of tourists in the hotel who were evacuated after the second blast. About 9 p.m. a hotel worker said they would be allowed to return to the hotel to spend the night.

The hotelís American Bar on the second floor overlooking Avenida 2 had been closed for some time while remodeling took place. The casino is on the first floor. While firemen continued to investigate the second blast, a number of employees could be seen in the hotel lobby that opens to Calle 4.

Esteban Sanz, manager of the hotel, told reporters that gas was the source of the explosion. Police also said that gas, presumably propane, was the source.

Police taped off an area in front of the casino that extended two lanes into heavily traveled Avenida 2. They also closed Calle 4 between the hotel and the Banco de Costa Rica to the west. Traffic also was detoured at Calle 4 at Avenida 4.

The Voice of America speaks, and it's really interesting
Sunday mornings are a favorite time for me. I get up early, put coffee and water in my top-of-the-stove espresso maker, fill my hummingbird feeder on the balcony, crumble some bread for other birds, and turn on C-Span to listen to what the subject is for that day and what the opinions of the people will be. 

Last Sunday, at 6:30 a.m., the program abruptly went off the air and on came a "talking head" that said he was the Voice of America with news for people around the world. He spoke very slowly. The week before this person had come on and, in disgust, I had turned off the TV and later told my friend Bill about it, mimicking sarcastically the slow careful pronunciation of the man. 

Billís reply was "I wish my Costa Rica friends would speak to me in Spanish like that." Adhering to a principle I have followed more or less all my life ("Donít knock it if you havenít tried it.") Last Sunday I decided to watch and listen.

What followed were some of the most interesting news stories I have heard in a long time and a great relief from the repetitive news I usually get.

One story was about land mines. Afghanistan has more unexploded land mines than any other country. Russia planted many, but there are hundreds if not thousands of undetonated cluster bombs the Americans have dropped that are very dangerous to children and other civilians. 

Land mines, it seems, cost about $30 to make and place and over $100 to safely detonate. 

Some scientists are experimenting with giving cows Vitamin E instead of the antibiotics they have been giving them in past years. The antibiotics were supposed to help them grow faster and ward off infections. But there have been side effects, as we all know, of compromising human immune systems and creating bacteria that survive current antibiotics. 

The Vitamin E so far, looks promising in accomplishing the same results without the side effects of antibiotics. My, I thought, I would much rather get an extra dose of Vitamin E than unneeded antibiotics which when I have had to take them have left me with an upset stomach and a cough.

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

The next news essay was about a new cancer treatment that has been tested on rats. Although this treatment does seem to reduce the tumors, it also ages the rat (I donít remember if the treatment deprives the tumor of blood or oxygen or what causes the aging). The control rats, with untreated tumors, survived longer than rats who were cured. The conclusion the researchers came to was that old age is a defense against cancer! 

This contradicts what doctors have been saying for a very long time, i.e. that the reason that there has been an increase in cancers in past years is that people are living longer. Canít have it both ways, guys. Perhaps if we admit that the increase in cancers is in part due to our environment, more could be done to combat it.

The last news item was about the island of Sardinia. There, people live to a very ripe old age (cancer free, from what I can gather). Sardinia has a larger ratio of centenarians than other countries or islands. Many people there say it is due to drinking red wine every day. Researchers are studying the people, hoping to find a gene that accounts for the longevity. 

I wonder when we are going to come to the conclusion that traits are a mixture of nature and nurture? The interesting additional fact is that in a world where women generally outlive men, there are as many old men as old women in Sardinia. I am thinking of personally checking this out. I have a special affection for islands in the Mediterranean. But then, I thought, I have a special affection for Costa Rica. Life expectancy here is on a par with most so-called advanced countries. 

I got all of the stories in slow, clear English. I wondered if I would have understood it if the newscaster had spoken in slow, clearly enunciated Spanish. 

More Jo Stuart columns can be found HERE.

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8-inch rise in sea level predicted from ice melting
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOSTON, Mass. ó Researchers report that melting ice from glaciers could contribute at least 20 centimeters (about 8 inches) to the rise in global sea levels by the end of the 21st century.

A University of Colorado press release says the revised estimate, which is more than the sea level rise predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, was reported here Saturday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The U.N.-sponsored group, established in 1988 to assess the state of existing knowledge about climate change, calculated that glacier melting could contribute between 4.9 and 11 centimeters to sea level rise during the 21st century. There are 2.54 centimeters in an inch.

A research team led by geological sciences Emeritus Professor Mark Meier of the University of Colorado has collected new data showing the world's glaciers and ice caps have lost significant amounts of ice in the 20th century, with the process accelerating since 1988. That loss contributes at least 20 percent of the observed rise in sea level, Meier said.

The panel has estimated that other processes such as ocean warming would cause an additional 11 to 43 centimeters of sea level rise by the year 2100.

Meier said that while these estimates of sea level rise may seem small, a rise of 30 centimeters (nearly 12 inches) typically will push shorelines 30 meters inland. This would have substantial social and economic impacts. A sea rise of just one meter in Bangladesh would put one half of that nation underwater, displacing more than 100 million people, he warned. 

Many more people live on illegal sites, lawyer says
By Sarah Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The eviction Tuesday morning of 24 families from land they did not own near Playa Herradura was a good start. But there are many more families living there in houses that range in value up to 15 million colons, according to a lawyer involved in the case.
The case has been going on since 1993.

The action Tuesday involved five hectares (a little more than 12 acres). But according to Horacio Mejías Gonzalez, attorney for the former owners, two U.S. citizens, that land is a small part of the property involved in the ownership dispute.

This year the property was sold to Victor Valverde along with all the risks associated with purchasing a property with persons living there illegally, said the lawyer, who maintains an office in San José.

But the total property is about 360 hectares divided into 72 parcels of five hectares each, said the lawyer. Thatís about 890 acres.

Many of the homes were vacation homes for people who live in the Central Valley. For this reason, the lawyer said he had little sympathy for those persons who constructed houses without formal municpal approvals or with appropriate inspections.

The lawyer wondered how this had been permitted in the early 1990s when everyone in the Canton of Garabito knew the construction was going on. The home builders and the owners have been in court for nearly 10 years..

The lawyer said that a simple check of the papers in the Registro Nacional would have shown the homebuilders that they did not own the land. He said that every legal house plan and survey in Costa Rica is checked with the national registry, which maintains the names and ownership records of nearly all properties in the country.

The land is near the entrance to the Los Sueños Resort and very valuable, said the lawyer. He dismissed the idea that the persons who took the land were "precaristas," that is persons without means who were seeking a principal residence and land for themselves.  The families that have the homes here actually purchased the land illegally, said the lawyer.

Some 84 persons were evicted in the police action Tuesday morning. They were members of 24 families. There were no problems reported.

The two U.S. citizens who owned the land until a year ago had purchased the property in 1979, said the lawyer.

Argentine protests grow and imperil government
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina ó In Argentina, protests against the government of President Eduardo Duhalde are on the rise, as it tries to deal with a deep economic and social crisis caused by a prolonged recession. The mounting protests and the negative effects of a currency devaluation are putting the government into an increasingly difficult position. 

Beating drums and carrying banners, thousands of unemployed Argentines marched on the Presidential Palace on a recent weekday afternoon in Buenos Aires to demand jobs. 

One marcher, out of work for over two years, said he wants the Duhalde government to do something. "We want the government to give us jobs, so we can have money," he said. "We're doing this march so we can have jobs, that's what we want."

These unemployed protesters are known in Argentina as "piqueteros" because in addition to their marches, they also block roads and highways to press their demands. The piqueteros are different from the members of the middle class who have been coming out onto the streets of Buenos Aires to bang their pots and pans in protest. Like the piqueteros, these pot-banging demonstrations known as "cacerolazos" in Spanish are another manifestation of Argentina's profound economic and social crisis.

A nearly four-year recession has left the country virtually bankrupt, with unemployment at over 22 percent. Poverty levels have risen markedly. The latest government figures show almost 44 percent of the country's urban population, or some 14 million people, now live below the poverty line. 

Thirty-two million people out of Argentina's 36 million population live in cities. 

Added to this, prices are rising following a currency devaluation of almost 50 percent. President Eduardo Duhalde devalued the peso in January after it had been pegged one to one to the U.S. dollar for ten years. Many economists considered the fixed exchange rate as one of the factors hindering an economic recovery.

Duhalde, who took office Jan. 1, inherited the crisis from ex-President Fernando de la Rua, who resigned Dec. 20 following bloody protests over his failed economic policies. Congress chose Duhalde, a former governor and senator from Argentina's dominant Peronist Party, to serve out de la Rua's remaining two year term. His selection came after the interim president chosen by Congress to replace de la Rua in late December, resigned after just a week in office. All these factors have put Duhalde and his government in a difficult situation. Political analyst Ricardo Rouvier says the Duhalde government has to not only try to resolve the country's crisis, but also try to gain legitimacy.

"The government today is facing two issues," he said. "The first is the question of its legitimacy because it was not elected. So it must try to gain legitimacy via consensus and dialogue. The second is dealing with the current emergency. It has to deal with this day after day, so it is caught between legitimacy and the emergency. It has to reach consensus and strengthen itself as a government, while at the same time resolving the problems of the people and the economy. It seems like an almost impossible challenge."

Many middle class protesters taking part in the weekly "cacerolazos" say Mr. Duhalde is doomed to fail because he is part of the political class that brought the country to ruin. These protesters are angry over the currency devaluation which has reduced the value of their savings. They also are 

frustrated over continuing restrictions on bank withdrawals aimed at preventing a collapse of the banking system.

Most, like businessman Jorge Morgenrod, say they do not trust Duhalde or any politician to solve the crisis. "They are all mafias, capos of the mafia," he said. "They are all mafias because they make $10,000 or $15,000 a month, while the hospitals and all the social benefits there are no social benefits for anyone."

But, other than calling for elections, these protesters offer few alternatives. 

Yet holding elections under the current situation might prove difficult. Analyst Rouvier, who heads a political consulting firm, says an election would delay urgently needed decisions to deal with the crisis.

"What would happen to pending issues, such as negotiations with the IMF, the negotiations on the debt payments which have been suspended, and reactivating the economy? The chain of production, the system of payments have been broken," he said. "All this in a scenario in which elections are being held would be terrible. No country can call elections in such a situation because during the 30 or 40 days in which election campaigning is underway what would a transition government do, when all these problems require immediate solutions."

But the pressure on the government is building. Continuing banking restrictions, the peso's devaluation, and rising prices are making daily life increasingly difficult. January's inflation rate of 2.3 percent was the highest in many years. 

President Duhalde has called for patience, saying he understands the anger and frustration of Argentines. But he also has warned of possible anarchy if the situation gets out of control. 

It is unclear if Argentines are heeding his warning. Mass protests were held Wednesday, the two month anniversary of ex-President De La Rua's resignation. Some opinion surveys show Duhalde's negative ratings rising, while support is dropping. They also show an increase in the number of people who believe Duhalde will not complete his term a change from January when more people believed in the Argentine leader's staying power. 

EU lifts embargo
on Argentine meat

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services 

The European Union has lifted its embargo on meat exports from three Argentine provinces, where outbreaks of foot and mouth disease were reported. 

The EU had already re-opened its markets to meat from most Argentine provinces last January, following an intense vaccination process in the country which stemmed the spread of the disease. But three provinces, La Pampa, Cordoba and Santiago del Estero, had remained under the embargo, as the final cases of foot-and-mouth outbreaks were reported. 

Meat exports to the EU bring Argentina about $50 million annually, making them a substantial source of foreign currency as the country tries to emerge from one of its worst economic crises and find ways to repay its foreign debt. 

Argentina has asked the EU to increase the amount of foreign meat entering the EU market at lower tariffs, in an effort to boost its ailing export revenues. 

Bush said Pearlís death
will deepen U.S. resolve

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BEIJING, China ó Kidnapped American news reporter Daniel Pearl has been murdered in Pakistan, where he was kidnapped last month. President Bush says the killing of the Wall Street Journal correspondent was "an act of barbarism that made all Americans sad and angry." 

Speaking here early today after learning of Pearl's death, Bush said his heart goes out to the reporter's family. The president said the attack on Pearl will "only deepen U.S. resolve to rid the world of all agents of terror."

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan also condemned the killing. He said journalists have the right to work without fearing for their lives. In Islamabad, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf vowed to hunt down every member of the gang that kidnapped Pearl on Jan. 23 in Karachi.

News reports say Pakistani and U.S. authorities confirmed Pearl's death late Thursday, after receiving a videotape of what is described as a gruesome murder. It is not clear when the Wall Street Journal reporter was killed.

Pearl's parents and sisters issued a statement from their Los Angeles home, saying they had clung to the hope that no human being could harm such a gentle soul.

U.S. officials had hoped Pearl was still alive as late as this week, after conflicting statements given by one of the suspected kidnappers, who was arrested by Pakistani police.

Backers, Chavez foes
clash in Venezuela 

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela ó Supporters of President Hugo Chavez have clashed with university students who were planning an anti-government demonstration in Caracas. 

Witnesses say the incident happened Thursday, when the pro-Chavez activists attacked the students at the state-funded Central University of Venezuela. 

The witnesses also say the government supporters stoned television crews who arrived at the school to cover the event. At least one person was injured in the skirmish. 

Metropolitan police officers stayed outside the grounds of the university. Venezuelan law prohibits police from entering universities without authorization from those schools. 

Tensions have risen in the oil-rich country in recent months as President Chavez's opponents step up calls for his resignation.  On Thursday, government officials said a military officer who called for the president to step down was ordered to resign. 

Defense Minister Jose Vicente Rangel said officials decided to discharge Air Force Col. Pedro Soto for inciting anti-government protests. Soto, however, says he will challenge the decision, saying the nation's constitution allows freedom of expression. 

The colonel called for Chavez's resignation two weeks ago, saying the Venezuelan leader threatens democracy. Two other military officials have spoken out publicly against Chavez. The president has dismissed the criticism, saying Venezuela is not facing a "military rebellion."

Queen Elizabeth off
for New Zealand

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

KINGSTON, Jamaica ó Britain's Queen Elizabeth has left Jamaica following a visit timed to coincide with celebrations marking her golden jubilee. She and husband Prince Philip are headed next to New Zealand.

Wednesday, the royal couple left Jamaica's north coast city of Montego Bay, where the queen opened a new museum. The prince spent part of his day touring an elementary and junior high school. 

The couple arrived in Jamaica Monday for three days of official engagements that included a speech by the queen Tuesday to the Jamaican parliament. Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip also toured the inner city neighborhood of Trench Town, which was once home to the late reggae singer Bob Marley.

Late Tuesday, Queen Elizabeth hosted a dinner at King's House, the official residence of her representative on the island, Governor-General Howard Cooke. Part of the event took place by candlelight because of a power outage caused by a tripped electrical breaker. The guests were in the dark for about one hour.

The royal couple's visit came amid questions over the role of the monarchy on the Caribbean island. Although Jamaica gained its independence from Britain in 1962, there is debate over whether the queen should continue to be the island's ceremonial head of state.

U.S. priest gets jail
in fondling case

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A former priest in the U.S. state of Massachusetts has been given a maximum jail sentence of nine to 10 years for fondling a young boy a decade ago. 

The judge in the case said the conduct of former priest John Geoghan was in her words "reprehensible" and that he posed a danger to other boys. 

More than 100 people have accused him of sexual abuse, but this was the first sentence against him. He was barred from priesthood in 1998 amid the swirl of accusations after serving in Boston-area parishes for 30 years. 

Preparations are underway for another trial against the former priest for a child rape alleged to have taken place in 1986.

Tapes show jet
faces turbulence

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. ó Newly released air traffic control tapes show American Airlines Flight 587 which crashed into a New York City neighborhood last November took off without problems.  However, pilots were warned of air turbulence from the plane that preceded it. 

The tapes were released by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. They contain no transmission or conversations between Flight 587 and the control tower at the time of the crash. 

Shortly after the plane took off, a pilot on another plane reported, "there's an aircraft crashing." 

The American Airlines jetliner slammed into a residential area minutes after taking off from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. All 260 people on the plane and five on the ground were killed. the plane was going to the Dominican Republic.

Colombian soldiers
storm rebel post

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia ó At least 10,000 Colombian soldiers and police have stormed a rebel-held stronghold in southern Colombia after day-long government bombing of the zone Thursday. 

Officials here say the Colombian Air Force hit at least 85 rebel targets after President Andres Pastrana announced Wednesday he has ended the peace process. Rebel fighters of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia have apparently retreated into the jungle to avoid being captured. 

The military offensive took place one day after rebels allegedly hijacked a passenger plane and forced it to land near their stronghold area. They also kidnapped a prominent senator who was on board the aircraft. 

In Washington, the State Department said it supports the Pastrana government's decision to crack down on the rebel force. 

But U.S. officials say no consideration is being given to using U.S. troops in a combat role in the Andean nation. U.S. military assistance in Colombia is limited to counternarcotics efforts. 

In a related development, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan says the recent actions by the rebels, known as the FARC, violate international law. Meanwhile, some of Colombia's neighbors have reinforced security along their borders amid concern its 38-year civil war will spill over into their territories. 

The conflict has left at least 40,000 people dead in the past decade alone. The war pits the FARC and a smaller rebel force (the National Liberation Army) against the government and a right-wing paramilitary group. 

Currency takes fall

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia ó The national currency fell Thursday, after the government ended the three-year peace talks with the FARC guerillas and the air force began bombing part of the rebel-controlled territory. 

The Colombian peso fell to as low as 2,325 to the U.S. dollar from 2,290 on Wednesday due to increasing uncertainty about the economy as the country returned to civil war. Colombia's government said it plans to cut its 2002 budget by $870 million to help ensure economic stability in the increasingly volatile environment. 

The government's bombing began a day after FARC rebels hijacked a domestic airplane and kidnapped a senator on board. 

Meanwhile, in neighboring Venezuela, the bolivar continued its slide, a week after the government was forced to allow the currency to float freely. The bolivar has lost 17 percent of its value since it was floated, trading at 956 to the U.S. dollar, and some analysts say it could fall to 1,100 to the dollar before it stabilizes.

Russia threatening
to quit Olympics

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah ó In yet another Olympics controversy, Russia is considering pulling out of the remaining events at the Salt Lake City games. 

Team spokesman Gennady Shvets said the issue is being discussed with Moscow. The Itar-Tass news agency also says Russia is considering pulling out of the Olympics. 

Late Thursday Russia filed an official complaint with the International Olympic Committee over what it calls non-objective decisions by judges and officials in skating, ice hockey, and skiing. 

Earlier, Russia withdrew from the cross-country relay skiing event after its nine-time Olympic medalist Larissa Lazutina was disqualified because of high levels of hemoglobin in a blood test. 

The Russian team also was upset with the decision earlier in the games to award duplicate gold medals to Russian and Canadian pairs figure skaters. This came after International ice skating and Olympic officials determined that misconduct had occurred during the judging of the event. 

Another skating controversy erupted when South Korea filed a formal protest over Wednesday's disqualification of men's short track speedskater Kim Dong-sung. 

Kim finished the race in first place, but a referee ruled he had obstructed American Apolo Anton Ohno, who was then awarded the gold medal. The U.S. Olympic Committee says threatening e-mails regarding Ohno have been turned over to the FBI for investigation. 

Britain beat Switzerland Thursday four to three to win the gold medal in women's curling. The Swiss team takes home the silver and earlier, Canada beat the United States nine to five to win the bronze. 

Austria's Stephan Eberharter won the gold medal in men's skiing giant slalom. The United States and Norway were runners-up.

Girl, 5, vanishes
not far from home

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The mystery of what happened to a 5-year-old Desamparados girl has police puzzled.

The girl, Jessica Valverde Pinede, left home about 2:30 p.m. Wednesday to walk to a small store less that 100 meters (about 325 feet) away to buy candy. She had a small sum of money.

The girl had not appeared by last night. Investigators said that the mother and father live together, so this is not a case of parental kidnapping. 

There are no rivers or other dangerous places near where the child vanished. 

31 Yemenis kept
off BOA plane

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

NEW YORK CITY, New York ó Authorities in New York have stopped 31 Yemeni passengers from boarding a flight to Yemen departing from John F. Kennedy International Airport. 

A Port Authority spokesman says the Yemenis were stopped by British Airways security because of problems with their visas. The spokesman added that several of the Yemeni passengers purchased one-way tickets with cash. 

The Port Authority, which operates the airport, called the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, whose Joint Terrorist Task Force responded. 

The Yemenis were released after being questioned, and no arrests were made. They were trying to board a British Airways flight for Yemen via London. 

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