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These stories were published Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 38
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These guys want to have YOU over for dinner
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Few views are grander than the universe laid out across a clear Costa Rican sky. But as you take in the magnificence, the no-see-ums are munching on your body.

The little flying insects are common in Costa Rica from the highest mountain to the most deserted beach. They reward their dinner guests with bites that itch like crazy and last for days.

But a little study shows that some of these creatures also are responsible for pollinating cocoa trees. No bugs, no cocoa pods and no chocolate. The larva are as hungry as the adult female and dine on certain water pests.

The Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad here is an authority on the environment, and these experts say the biting flies (Family Ceratopogonidae) are restricted to four species of the genera Leptoconops here and Culicoides with 111 species. But the institute also warns that many Costa Rican insects are still unknown to science.

So that fly quietly munching on your leg could be a new species.

Spanish speakers call these pests purrujas, and English speakers know them as midges, sand flies or no-see-ums because they almost always get away without being seen. Some are so small that they fit through screens that stop bigger insects. Sometimes they swarm.

Generally the biting flies resemble mosquitoes. Some bite during the day, and many do so at night. But like the mosquito, it always is the female. The male may be out pollinating cocoa trees.

The University of California at Davis, another agricultural and environmental center, reports that no-see-ums will bite humans, domestic and wild animals and birds. They also may feed on other insects.

The female has small mouthparts, not the big lance of Mrs. Mosquito. The insects should 

Graphic courtesy of Bohart Museum, 
University of California at Davis
really be called chewing flies because the female injects a little saliva into the small wound to help keep the blood flowing. Several hours later the bite turns into a small red spot that itches intensely, said a report from Davis.

Some tropical species can transmit diseases of tiny worms, so repellent and tight-fitting clothes are recommended. Some species are not put off by bug spray.

Clear nights and a lot of outdoor activity increases the exposure of humans to these flies, although each only has a short lifespan, perhaps two weeks. But there seldom seems to be a shortage.

Around dwellings, the number of biting flies can be reduced by eliminating stagnant water and decaying vegetable matter where the larvae dwell, according to entomologists at the University of Georgia.

If someone really want to know what administered that bite, the Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad has an extensive online key to help with identification of the known species.


 
Ready
to strip
for theater?
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Little Theatre Group has a new show in the works, and directors need six men willing to take off their clothes.

The English-speaking theater group has auditions March 8, and the proposed play is "Ladies Night." The 1997 film "The Full Monty" was so similar that there was a court suit. In both, unemployed men find fame and money as male strippers.

The group said it needed six men "of all ages (and size too for that matter)," A youthful lad and two women. Further information is available at 228-2661. Auditions are from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

 
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This smart woman had her umbrella with her downtown Monday when rains started.

Call it a big surprise:
Rainy day in February 

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country is in for about three days of rain, thanks to a Caribbean low pressure area.

The unseasonable downpour hit the downtown about 2 p.m. Monday and turned into a regular gully-washer. More of the same is expected today even though Costa Rica’s "summer" season is supposed to be dry.

For beach dwellers the rain was a welcome break from the hot, humid weather. Even in the Central Valley drenched pedestrians still saw value in the rain as it cleaned the dust away.

Officials being trained
in cybersex crimes

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 60 police officials are getting training here on sex crimes committed via the Internet. 

The training, sponsored by Microsoft Corp., is being conducted by the International Center for Lost and Exploited Children through Thursday. Included in the class of students are officials from Nicaragua, Panamá, El Salvador and Honduras.

The thrust of the sessions include how to investigate crimes in cyberspace against minors as well as how to conduct investigations and programs of prevention against abuse of children. The psychology of the pedophile also is being examined, according to an announcement by the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

The bulk of the participants in the training are from the Judicial Investigating Organization, some 18. But the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia, the child welfare agency, has sent 10.

Costa Rica is particularly sensitive to cybercrime because sometimes youngsters are exploited by being displayed on the Internet to attract sex tourists.

The government is about to crack down on Internet cafes because  President Abel Pacheco has signed a decree making such places off-limits to younger teens during the late evening. Officials believe that pornography is rampant on the Web.

Retired physician faces
child sex allegation

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators arrested a 65-year-old retired physician Monday for investigation of corruption of minors.

The man, identified by his last names of Peraza Alvarado was taken into custody about 100 meters, some 300 feet, from his home in San Antonio de Belén. Investigators raided his home a few minutes later. With the man were three teenage boys.

The arrest  was a joint one between the Unidad Contra la Explotación Sexual Comercial and the Judicial Investigating Organization. The man put up no resistance about noon when he was taken from his sports utility vehicle and handcuffed. The crime for which he will be investigated is punishable for from three to eight years in prison.

The Mininsterio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública said that the man is suspected of recruiting youngsters for sexual purposes in low-income sections of the Central Valley and taking them to his home.

Lent starts Wednesday
and Easter is coming

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Roman Catholic period of Lent starts with Ash Wednesday, which is a reminder that Holy Week, a holiday here is the week of April 5 with Easter Sunday falling on April 11 this year. Lent is a period of fasting and prayer leading up to Good Friday, the traditional day for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Unlike other Latin countries, Costa Rica does not precede Lent with a big carnival. But in Brazil and New Orleans they do.

Rio's globally-televised Carnival events begin late Sunday, featuring parades by top Samba schools with lavish floats and scantily-clad dancers, many adorned with little more than feathers. Thousands of revelers cheered, as groups paraded in downtown Rio.

Costa Ricans have their carnival Dec. 27 and head to the beach or mountains during Easter week. Work, except essential services, comes to a standstill.

Two teens wounded

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Three teens were detained Sunday night after two youngsters, 17 and 15, suffered gunshot wounds in La Carpio in west San José. Jairo Flores Medina, 17, suffered a gunshot to the knee. His companion, Andrés Castro Barrantes, 15, was shot in the ear. The three detained youths were being questioned.
 
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Free-trade pact will face battle in U.S. Congress, too
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Central American free-trade pact may end up being rejected by the U.S. Congress even though it could pass in Costa Rica and the four other Central American nations that are part of it.

One variable is the November congressional elections that might result in major changes in the control of both houses of the U.S. Congress. Republicans rule now.


Analysis on the news


A number of U.S. groups that oppose the pact are planning to meet with their congressmen during the legislative recess April 5 to 16 to push for the pact’s defeat.

Presidential politics will play a role in the agreement as will the strategy that U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick employs. He will decide exactly when to send the agreement to Congress.

First the pact has to be signed by the participating countries, and that is expected to take place in April. Under terms of the so-called fast-track legislation passed in 2002, Congress may make no change in the pact. Members must either vote for or against the pact as it was negotiated.

U.S. politics are intensely local, and members of congress are likely to respond better to economic 

forces and opinions within their districts instead of basing their decision on what may be good or bad for trade in general.

Lawmakers from sugar-producing states will listen to those growers who are unhappy with the additional Central American sugar permitted under terms of the pact. Those from other agricultural areas also will face local opinion.

Labor, some church groups, and other U.S. organization already have come out against the agreement. Protection for foreign workers, the environment and public health are big issues. For example, some U.S. groups oppose the pact because they believe prices of medicines will rise here.

President Abel Pacheco said much of the opposition in Costa Rica comes from groups that are opposed to the United States in general. So, too, in the United States anti-capitalists groups and leftists are working against the agreement.

In general businessmen favor the pact, and the Florida delegation that came to Costa Rica last week with Gov. Jeb Bush, the president’s brother, were here staking out territory for more trade under the pact.

The opinions of whoever is elected U.S. president this November will have a lot of impact on the pact. Some have suggested that Zoellick may take that into consideration as he decides when to present the agreement to the U.S. Congress.


 
Trade rep is here for agricultural negotiations
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick is in town for a meeting with ministers from the Cairns Group of agriculture exporting countries. He wants to discuss liberalizing trade in agriculture as part of World Trade Organization negotiations.

The Cairns Group is holding its 26th ministerial meeting through Wednesday. The United States and other invited guests will have the opportunity to share views about World Trade Organization agriculture exporting negotiations. 

The United States has submitted a proposal that calls for substantial liberalization of world agricultural trade by reducing and eventually eliminating the allowed levels of export subsidies, tariffs, and trade-distorting domestic support.

In addition to host Costa Rica, the Cairns Group member countries are: Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Fiji, Guatemala, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Paraguay, Philippines, South Africa, Thailand, and Uruguay. The United States and other countries attend the Cairns Group meetings as guests. 


 
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U.S. tries to patch together a peace plan for Haiti
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — State Department officials said late Monday that Haitian opposition leaders have asked for, and been given, another 24 hours to consider an international plan aimed at ending the country's political crisis. The United States and other sponsors of the power-sharing plan have offered to guarantee its implementation and monitor compliance. 

The international plan, building on a settlement package by the Caribbean grouping, CARICOM, was presented to the sides late last week by diplomats from the United States, Canada, France, CARICOM and the Organization of American States.

Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide has accepted it. But senior opposition figures, who have been demanding that Aristide leave office as part of any settlement, deferred a decision. 

They had been given until late-afternoon Monday to make a choice, but then asked for, and were given a day's extension until Tuesday evening.

Diplomats who spoke to reporters here reiterated U.S. opposition to the early departure of Aristide, the country's elected leader, and said there had been some progress in talks with the opposition figures. 

They said the international parties are prepared to guarantee both sides' compliance with the package, under which Aristide would share authority with a new prime minister and a broad-based advisory council that would lead the country to new elections to end a four-year political stalemate. 

Briefing reporters, State Department spokesman 

Richard Boucher said Secretary of State Colin 
Powell was personally involved in diplomatic efforts and spoke by phone Monday with French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin. 

Powell also spoke with a leading Haitian opposition figure, Andre Arpaid, over the weekend.

Boucher conceded there were no direct contacts with rebels actually holding some of Haiti's biggest towns. But he said U.S. officials believe that if the plan is embraced by the opposition leadership, the gang leaders can be persuaded to fall into line. "Our view is that if you move Haiti in the direction of peace, if you can move toward a peaceful settlement of these differences, that there will be a stronger support among the population for maintaining the process, for maintaining a new government that's chosen, a new prime minister and government, that are chosen by this process. And that that will have a calming effect on the violence. And that that is indeed one of the first steps to try to calm the situation and create an atmosphere where order can be maintained," he said.

Boucher also said that with broad acceptance of the package, the international grouping would make good on promises to send additional police to Haiti, though he declined to say how quickly such a deployment might be made.

The United States Monday sent about 50 Marines to Haiti to protect the embassy and other U.S. facilities in Port-au-Prince. 

But the Bush administration has ruled out military intervention in the broader conflict in Haiti and has not specifically offered personnel for the envisaged international police presence.


 
 
Fresh fighting in rural Colombia kills at least 48
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — At least 48 people have died in fresh fighting in Colombia after government troops clashed with leftist rebels and right-wing paramilitary fighters in different parts of the country. 

Colombian military officials say troops killed 17 rebels from the country's largest guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. The fighting Sunday took place west of the capital, Bogota. 

A day earlier, 21 paramilitary fighters were killed near the town of Villanueva, located north of the 

capital, in Colombia's cattle-ranching region. Ten soldiers also died in what was described as a heated battle. 

The renewed clashes took place, even though Colombia's main paramilitary umbrella group, known as the United Self-Defense Forces, has declared a unilateral cease-fire. The group has been involved in on-going peace negotiations with President Alvaro Uribe's government. 

Colombia's civil war has dragged on for four decades. Thousands die in the fighting every year in the three-way conflict that involves the government, two main leftist rebel groups and right-wing paramilitary fighters. 

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