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These stories were published Friday, March 7, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 47
Jo Stuart
About us
A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
5-year-old Zuki is a four-footed welcoming committee for three tourists, who are from Canada, the United States and Australia. As the trio were relaxing in Parque Nacional Thursday, Zuki decided he would, too.

Pacheco takes aim
at poor lifestyles

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Abel Pacheco took aim at the smokers and the couch potatoes Thursday as he promised a revolution in health. His new plan for the country will stress prevention, he said.

Pacheco said specifically cited diseases generated by tobacco, a sedentary lifestyle and poor diet. He also deplored violence in the home and workplace, as well as terror on the highways.

He said these were the principal causes of death in Costa Rica today.

The president reflected back on his own career as a physician in Matina near Limón and in Puriscal. He said during much of his career the emphasis was on treatment of specific diseases.

Pacheco linked his emphasis on health to his plan to reduce poverty in the country. He said his goal was to strengthen and extend the universal social programs in the country.

He said his administration would fight to reduce the waiting periods for people who want to see specialists and take other steps to extend the country’s medical system.

But in addition he said he will promote health. However, he did not mention alcohol, which also is a big contributor to poor health. So are illegal drugs, also not mentioned.

Pacheco was accompanied by Dr. Rocío Sáenz Madrigal, the minister of Salud during the presentation of the proposals at Casa Presidencial.  She said among the challengers is to reduce the inequity among Costa Ricans in health care.

The president did not deal in too many specifics. Nor did he outline new legislative proposals that his administration would present to the Asamblea Nacional. However, he did say without further explanation that he wanted to create an electronic medical file, presumably on each Costa Rican.

President criticised
for economic woes

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Abel Pacheco came under fire Thursday from a Liberación deputy who said that the present administration has not taken the steps necessary to maintain the country’s economy for the short and long term.

The deputy is Luis Ramírez, and he cited what he called little action by the government, particularly in the face of a negative report unveiled Wednesday. The report, which is done each year, came from the International Monetary Fund.

The fund said that the high deficit of Costa Rica, the supervision of financial institutions, the different rules that govern public and private banks and creeping dolarization spelled trouble. The report was released by the Banco Central.

Ramírez said it is not possible to have a national economic growth of 2.5 percent per year and not be able to reduce the annual inflation to less than the actual 10 percent a year. He also cited unemployment of 6 percent.

Some of the lawmakers concerns are being addressed by proposals for new laws that the administration has introduced. Among these is oversight of financial operations, in part  designed to control the unregulated high-interest lending operations that failed last year.

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

Culture Shock Happens (Part II)

One of the very nice things about Costa Rica is that you are never rushed in a restaurant. I have never been brought the bill until I have asked for it. Even sitting with my notebook, obviously finished with my meal, the waiter didn’t bring my check. 

It didn’t take me long to begin thinking of the good things in my life here. The people were kind and friendly, the weather in San Jose was always springlike. I walked more than I had since I was a child. Food was costing me less than $25 a week. It was easy not to be a consumer. I was simplifying my life. I almost never had to stand in a bus. —Someone always got up to give me his and even her seat. Those were just some of the plusses.

One of the best traits of my apartment was its location. It was within walking distance of just about everywhere I wanted to go. The Centro Cultural Costarricanse Norteamericano was just five minutes away. I had become a member and spent hours there in the Mark Twain library reading English-language newspapers and magazines, and could check out books. 

I could also get a very good and very reasonable lunch in the café downstairs. (An American, Pat Miranda has run this café, for years.) The Automercado was just a few blocks farther. It was always fun finding something new that they were importing from other countries. The Cine Megaly was just 12 minutes away and they showed the latest American movies with Spanish subtitles.

All of these plusses were things that connected me to my home country. Those were attachments I continued to need. Culture shock is an abstract concept. Generally expatriates, if they have chosen to move to a country, like the culture and the people — in the abstract. It is the surprising and unexpected behavior and responses we get that throw us as we are struggling to adapt to much that is new. By the same token our own behavior is baffling and irritating to the natives. 

Sitting in a restaurant, I remembered when I was living in Majorca with my family. Coping with everything that was new and unexpected was complicated by the fact that our money (which should have been in the mail) was not reaching us. We were eating mostly eggs and macaroni, and charging everything at the local store. One morning the deliveryman wanted to know when we were going to pay our bill. He finished by adding, "But you’re rich Americans!" At which I started to laugh and immediately went into hysterics, scaring the living daylights out of him, my children and my husband. 

A whole country is not going to adapt to us. (If it did, we might as well be back where we came from.) Some "sojourners" avoid culture shock by living in compounds quite isolated from the locals. Others join the expat community. These are very much alike all over the world — strangers in a strange land gathering together, joining the different clubs that those before them have started. Carrying on activities from bridge games to little theater productions to fundraisers for local charities. 

Most expats have at least a toe in the local culture. When I worked at the San Jose State University International House (a residence for foreign and American students), I watched the foreign students first make friends with others from their own country, then with other foreigners with whom they shared similar experiences, and last of all with the natives — American students. This is probably universal behavior.

After lunch I walked around San José. Walking made me feel better. People returned my smile; I heard the gracious way Ticos say "please" and "thank you." The energy of the city gave me energy.

Over time I weathered the attack of malaise, found a roommate who was even a better cook than I and very compatible. My landlord came through with all of his promises and we agreed to put the rest of my deposit into a CD where it would collect interest, which I thought we would eventually share. I began to expand my circle of friends and activities. Except for a few dear Tica friends, most of my friends are other expats. Over time I have had other attacks of culture shock.

Meanwhile, I have resigned myself to the fact that I will always be a Gringa. 

More Jo Stuart:


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Day of Woman dominated by Nigerian situation
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Saturday is the International Day of the Woman, and the day is getting more emphasis here because a Nigeria woman is facing death there for having a child out of wedlock.

A second round of 100 petition books asking the Nigerian court to spare Amina Lawal were being distributed Thursday, according to the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto.

The petition drive was launched last week and also involves the Instituto Nacional de las Mujeres, court justices and lawmakers. The death sentence is particularly repugnant because the method to be used is stoning.

The first issue of some 200 petition books already have been available at ministries and other government offices. Each has space for 380 names, said a release from the foreign ministry.

The books will be collected March 17 and sent through diplomatic channels to the high court in the district where the woman is being held.

The significance of the day is not lost on others who have more local concerns. The Poder Judicial will hold a program to discuss ways to give women greater access to justice. The discussions will be part of a recreation program held at Centro de Recreo of the Asociación Nacional de Empleados Judiciales in San Rafael de Ojo de Agua in Alajuela, beginning at 9 a.m.

National deputies spent a significant part of their legislative session Thursday urging quick approval of a law that would increase penalties for violence against women.

Meanwhile, the Ministerio de Cultura, Juventud y Deporte plans a program at the Centro José Figueres Ferrer at the ministry at 5 p.m. Saturday. Information is available at 447- 2178

One great, big circus horse is missing in Limón
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Mexican circus, currently performing in Limón, has reported to the Judicial Investigating Organization that one of its prized assets is missing or stolen. 

The circus, called Hermanos King, told the organization one of its horses was missing Thursday morning, said officials. The last time the horse was seen, it was resting near to one of the circus’ huts Wednesday night, said the officials.

According to the officials, the circus members noticed that the horse was missing around 6 a.m., when they were packing up in readiness to move onto Siquirres.

The circus members said to officials that the horse 

was valuable to the circus. They said it was used for many functions. 

But the horse is worth much to the circus for other reasons, too. The officials said the horse is valued at $15,000.

The horse is described as being twice the size of normal horses. Its breed is Percheron, a horse said to originate from near Normandy in the province of Le Perche in France.

This particular Percheron horse is beige in color, has a white mane and has a lame foot, said the officials. It responds to the name, "Chapparo." 

Anyone with information regarding the horse’s disappearance should call the Judicial Investigating Organization in Limón at 799-1332 or 798-3936.

Online chat available
for expert on killings

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A U.S. expert on the murder of Honduran street children will be chatting online today from 11 a.m. to noon, Costa Rican time, according to Casa Alianza.

They said he is Asma Jahangir, who went to Honduras in 2001 to tour Tegucigalpa, the capital city, and San Pedro Sula, and last year published a report that presents and analyzes information on the extrajudicial killings of Honduran children and juveniles, said Casa Alianza. 

The report concurs that security forces have been involved with a number of killings and recommends that the government needs to take a more active role in the investigations to signal to the police that their blatant abuse of human rights will not be tolerated or go unpunished, said an announcement from the child welfare organization.

Since 1998, more than 1,600 street children and juveniles have been murdered, the organization said.

The online meeting with Ms. Jahangir will be in English and is open to the public and will take place at http://chat.dfn.org.

Two raids grab four
in big bank robbery

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two simultaneous operations by the Judicial Investigating Organization resulted in the detention of four suspected bank robbers Thursday.

One was in Plaza América in Hatillo. The other was in Ciudadela 15 de la Setiembre. The men are suspected of involvement in a robbery of a Banco de Costa Rica branch in La Uruca last Friday.

Officials said the robbers, who were armed, took 5 million colons, some $13,000. The officials added the robbers fled the scene in a car stolen in Moravia a few days earlier.

However, eight people reportedly carried out the robbery, said officials. The investigation is continuing to find more suspects.

Chavez says oil company
is again reliable

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — President Hugo Chavez has lifted the emergency status on crude oil and most petroleum exports, telling customers the state-run oil company will be able to fulfill its contracts. 

Chavez made the announcement Thursday during a swearing-in ceremony for Petroleos de Venezuela's new board of directors. 

Company officials declared in December that it was impossible to live up to its oil export contracts because of the two-month general strike that crippled the industry and brought the country to a standstill. 

Chavez says output, which fell to less than 150,000 barrels a day during the strike, is now up to more than 2.6 million barrels a day. It was more than 3 million a day before the strike. 

But oil workers who were fired because of their participation in the walkout said earlier this week that production is only about one million barrels a day. 

The opposition called the general strike in December in a failed bid to force Chavez to resign. They say his economic policies are destroying the country.

United States bemoans literature ban by Cuba

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States is protesting a Cuban decision to bar U.S. diplomats from importing and distributing books in the Communist-ruled island. 

Richard Boucher, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department, Thursday said the move prevents the sharing of "great books of literature and thought" with the Cuban people. 

Boucher criticized the government of President Fidel Castro, saying the U.S. government does not place similar restrictions on Cuban officials operating in the United States. 

Cuban authorities seized the books last month, saying they objected to U.S. plans to give the books to dissident groups and libraries not connected to the Communist government.  Boucher said the ban restricts imports as well as books already available in Cuba, which U.S. officials buy for later distribution to independent libraries.

Ecuadorian Congress
damaged by fire

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

QUITO, Ecuador — Authorities here say a fire has swept through the Congress building, injuring at least two people and damaging part of the structure. 

Officials say the blaze broke out late Wednesday. At least 12 people had to be rescued from the building but all were unhurt. 

Authorities say a firefighter was hospitalized for smoke inhalation and at least one other person was injured.  The extent of the damage to the building is unclear. Fire officials are investigating the cause of the blaze.

Belize set for first re-run
as premier is re-elected

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BELIZE CITY, Belize — The People's United Party has won the majority of seats in the country's parliament to claim an historic re-election victory.

Leader of the party, Prime Minister Said Musa, declared victory Thursday over the rival United Democratic Party.

The elections office reported Thursday, that Musa's People's United Party, won 22 seats in parliament. The United Democratic Party won the remaining seven.  The results marked the first time a party has won re-election since the Caribbean nation gained independence from Britain 22 years ago. The two leading parties have consistently alternated terms in office.

State: U.S. shrimp bans 
for protection of turtles

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Department of State has banned U.S. imports of shrimp from Honduras and Venezuela harvested from the wild because of inadequate protection for endangered sea turtles, the department has announced.

In a release Thursday, the department said that imports of those countries' shrimp harvested by aquaculture and artisanal (non-mechanical) methods are still allowed.

"The Department expressed the hope that the import prohibition will be a brief measure," the note said, adding that it could send U.S. experts to work with officials of the two countries on improving turtle protection.

U.S. law requires that U.S. fleets shrimping in waters where turtles are known to migrate must use turtle-excluder devices -- which allow turtles to escape the shrimp nets. The World Trade Organization has upheld later U.S. law that applied the same requirements on imported shrimp.
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Cheap method to make water pure uses bleach
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has formulated a simple, inexpensive way for people to purify their drinking water in order to reduce the number of deadly cases of water-borne diarrhea diseases in Latin America, the Caribbean, and elsewhere around the world.

The center’s Eric Mintz said the formula, developed with scientific help from the World Health Organization and other support from the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, involves using diluted bleach and germ-resistant jugs to bring cheap, safe drinking water to poor families.

Pilot programs using this formula have proven effective in about 15 nations, including Bolivia, Guatemala, Peru, Ecuador, and Haiti, where people often are exposed to drinking water tainted by sewage, natural bacteria and parasites. The goal, Mintz said, is to make the product increasingly available to the more than one billion people around the globe who lack access to safe drinking water. A bottle of the diluted bleach is enough to last a family for a month and sells for about 15 to 30 cents.

Mintz said in an interview that in Guatemala, his agency has worked with the Proctor & Gamble Co. of Cincinnati, Ohio, to sell a product called PUR, which consists of a sachet that treats 10 liters of water at a cost of about 10 cents to the Guatemalan consumer. Proctor and Gamble makes products such as toothpaste, laundry detergent, items for baby and feminine care, and snacks and beverages.

The PUR formula, he said, involves repeatedly stirring a solution composed of diluted bleach for 

water purification into a narrow-mouth plastic jug with spigots for disinfecting and storing water. The result can significantly reduce fecal contamination of beverages in homes and on food and water sold on the street, said Mintz, who is chief of the center's diarrhea diseases epidemiology section. He added that the product is also being test-marketed in the Philippines.

Mintz said food and beverages prepared and sold by street vendors in Latin America have contributed to the transmission of cholera and other diseases because the vendors typically do not have a continuous supply of potable, running water for drinking, cleaning, cooking and preparing beverages. The vendors often use wide-mouth storage vessels that allow dirty hands to dip into the jug, which ends up contaminating the water.

The center, working in partnership with the U. N. Children's Fund and Population Services International, a Washington-based non-profit group, hopes to gain further support to expand the water-purification program at the Third World Water Forum, being held in Japan March 16 to 23. Large populations around the world, Mintz said, would greatly benefit from this simple way to take deadly germs out of water.

The center's work in purifying drinking water comes as the United Nations released a major study Wednesday which said that 50 percent of the world's population in developing countries is exposed to polluted water sources. Rivers in Asia are the most polluted in the world, with three times the amount of bacteria from human waste as the global average, according to the study.

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Our reward offer is still $500

Louis Milanes

Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

This newspaper seeks the prompt return of two men who ran high-interest investment operations that have gone out of business.

Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho, 62, was associated with Ofinter S.A., a money exchange house, and with his own private investment business that had about $1 billion in other people’s money on the books.

Villalobos closed his business Oct. 14 and vanished.

Louis Milanes operated Savings Unlimited and several casinos in San José. He left the country with other members of his firm the weekend of Nov. 23. He may have as much as $260 million in his possession. Both operations catered to North Americans.

Villalobos had about 6,300 customers. Milanes had about 2,400.

Villalobos and Milanes are the subjects of international arrest warrants.  Associates of both men have been jailed.

A.M. Costa Rica has posted a $500 reward for information leading to the detention of either man with the hopes that others will make similar pledges. The newspaper believes that investors only will see some of their money when the two men are in custody.

Milanes has few supporters in San José. On the other hand, as the letters frequently on this page show, Villalobos still has supporters who believe that he will reappear and settle his debts. They believe he is in hiding because of a predatory Costa Rican government.

An invitation to enter our photo contest
The first A.M. Costa Rica photo contest welcomes your submissions and will award a prize of $100 in each of five categories.

The deadline for submission is April 15. The contest was announced in November.

Five categories have been established:

1. DEADLINE NEWS: A news photo that shows a breaking news event, such as, but not only, crime, accidents, fires, arrests.

2. SCENIC: Landscape scenes which may or may not include people as a secondary emphasis.

3. WILDLIFE: Photos that have as their principal subject one or more animals, plants or insects. 

4. SPORTS: A photo related to one of the major or minor sports, team or individual.

5. PEOPLE:  A photo that has as its principal emphasis one or more persons, including individual portraits. 

Deadline is April 15

BASIC RULES: The photo must be taken by the person who submits it, and he or she, as a condition of submission, agrees to give A.M. Costa Rica the right to publish the photo in A.M. Costa Rica. Upon publication, the photo will be covered by A.M. Costa Rica’s copyright, which the newspaper will happily assign back to the contestant upon request. As a condition of submission, the contestant affirms that he or she owns full rights to the photo and that it has never before been published in any professional medium.

The photo must have been taken within the borders or territorial waters of Costa Rica between Nov. 15 and the contest deadline. 

Only one entry per photographer is allowed in each category. Judges reserve the right to place the photo in another category during the selection process.
Employees, shareholders or interns with A.M. Costa Rica may not enter the contest. 

This is an open competition. No distinction will be made between professional and amateur photographers.

A.M. Costa Rica, at its option, will publish photos and information including the name of the photographer, as submissions are made.

The management of A.M. Costa Rica and judges are the final authority on contest rules and submissions.

TECHNICALITIES: The photos must be sent digitally via e-mail to 

editor@amcostarica.com, and the subject line must specify "photo contest." Within the body of the e-mail, the contestant must specify into which category the photo is submitted. The photo should be between 4 and 8 inches in width and contain no less than 72 pixels per inch of density. Each photo should not be larger than 200 k.

The e-mail message must clearly state the name and the circumstances surrounding the taking of the photo and the date the photo was taken. 

The photo should be in jpeg format and sent as an attachment with the file name as the number of the category in which it is being submitted followed by the name of the photographer.

For example, the file name of a photo in the sports category taken by Mr. Jones would be 4jones.jpeg or 4jones.jpg

PRIZES:  A first place winner will be named in each category, and the prize will be $100 paid via Pay Pal, the electronic fund-transfer system.

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