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(506) 223-1327        Published Friday, March 10, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 50          E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Ox carts and their drivers to have their day
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

You better brush down those oxen and shine up their hooves and horns. Sunday is the big day for the boyeros in Escazú centro and San Antonio de Escazú.

If you do not happen to have a matched pair of oxen and a carreta, you still can go because the show is a good one.

The parade Sunday marks the Día Nacional de los Boyeros or ox cart drivers. The vehicles and the giants that pull them are enshrined in Costa Rican culture the way the cowboy is the dominant figure in the U.S. West.

These are the vehicles that carried the Central Valley's coffee to the Pacific ports and also were the 19th and early 20th century equivalent of the John Deere tractor. Some still are used in logging and farming.

The event this weekend actually starts Saturday in Escazú centro with music and festivities at noon and then a 6 p.m. Mass to remember deceased boyeros. Fireworks follow. This is the 23rd year.

The real show is Sunday starting about 9 a.m. at the municipal building in Escazú. From there the oxen, the carts, drivers and passengers make the long, slow haul uphill to San Antonio de Escazú where the animals are blessed in front of the parish church. Prizes are awarded and the whole area takes on the

A.M. Costa Rica file photo
This matching ox cart and yoke were awarded as a prize during a previous Escazú event

atmosphere of a country fair with food stalls and socializing.  There may be more than 100 pairs of oxen and carts participating in the event.

Giant Central Valley sewer project gets favorable loan
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The government of Japan has decided to provide money for a project that will improve the water lines and sewers in the San José metropolitan area.

The country has agreed to loan $127.2 million, according to Yoshihiko Sumi, the Japanese ambassador who appeared at a press conference Thursday.

The loan is at a 1.2 percent annual interest rate by the Japan Bank for International Cooperation for 25 years and with a seven-year grace period on repayment.
The project, which is supposed to be finished in 2025 carries a $450 million price tag. The project is significant because for the first time Central Valley sewaage will go to a treatment plant instead of being dumped into tributaries of the Río Tarcoles to be washed into the Pacific.

The project is under the jurisdiction of the  Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados, the government sewer and water company.

Japan initially said it would back the project, but there were delays while officials discussed accounting responsibilities.

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New attempt launched
for Caldera highway

By José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The government is trying again to get a highway constructed between Ciudad Colón and Caldera on the Pacific.

An agreement was signed Thursday that empowers the firm Autopista del Sol S.A to build the highway and collect tolls to pay for it over the next 25 years.

The Consejo Nacional de Concesiones is involved in the agreement as is the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transporte. Autopista is a creation of two Spanish firms, a Costa Rican company and a Portuguese entity.

The concession contract covers 76.8 kms. The highway will cost $150 million to build. The deal still needs approval of the Contraloria General de la República. Tolls are estimated to be in the $3 range. Seven toll plazas will be constructed.

The new road, when finished is expected to provide an economic boost to the area, and it will cut down travel time from west San José to the central Pacific beaches.

The concession also includes work on the highway that runs along the south side of Parque La Sabana and additional work on the highway to Ciudad Colón. From there, three lanes will be constructed to Orotina and then to Caldera. Bridges already are in place and have been for four years.

The problems in the past have been getting the appropriate approvals.

Meningitis worries
deputy in legislature

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Concern over meningitis reached the floor of the legislature Thursday when a deputy urged the executive branch to take steps to keep the current outbreak from becoming an epidemic.

The deputy, Miguel Huezo Arias, said he was concerned because six cases have become public knowledge in the last week. Of these, two persons died.

The disease is bacterial meningitis.

The country has hundreds of such cases every year, health officials said, but the two deaths in a week brought the matter to public attention, although 20 to 25 persons die of the disease every year.

Huezo suggested that the Ministerio de Salud begin a publicity campaign so citizens would know how to avoid the disease.

A curious aspect of the current cases is that three are employees of Delroyal Scientific in Heredia, officials said. Another is a female officer at the Escuela Nacional de Policía.

Health officials said persons should wash their hands frequently.

Regatta and races planned
at Playas del Coco

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A parade of boats takes place at 10 a.m. April 8 at Playas del Coco.  Then races commence at 11 a.m. on both Saturday and Sunday, sailing a course of buoys at Playas del Coco, the Four Seasons, Playa Panama, Playa Hermosa and Ocotal, organizers said.

The festivities are being launched April 7th at 7 p.m. with a cocktail, dinner and musical entertainment at the Ocotal Beach Resort. 

Race spectators can buy tickets to observe the events from launches. The regatta information center will be set in the restaurant Casino at Playas del Coco beach.

After Saturday’s race, participants and spectators can join in the festivities at a beach party in Playa Panama. The party included live music and fireworks, at a nominal cost. 

The regatta and races are a fund raiser for the Lion´'s Club effort to set up a children's recreation center.

For further information on inscription, tickets or sponsorship, call Marina 301-3030 or Andre  886-5633. 

Watercolors are topic
of book and exhibit

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Museos del Banco Central are coming out with a new book:  "Agua, Color y Permanencia: Historia de la Acuarela en Costa Rica."

The book will go on sale for the first time Wednesday at  Librería Internacional in Multiplaza, Escazú, at 6 p.m. The price is 12,000 colons, about $24. Some of the featured artists will attend the event. The book emphasizes the history of watercolors in Costa Rica and the principal subjects that motivated the artists.

The book release coincides with the opening of an exhibit at the museums. The watercolor exhibit will run until June 4. It features 88 works from 55 artists.  The museums are below the Plaza de la Cultura in the center of the city. The watercolors book will be on sale in the museum store, a spokesperson said.

Soccer team president
dies after takeoff here

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Douglas Hamiliton, the 42-year-old president of the Los Angeles Galaxy soccer team, suffered an apparent heart attack and died on at TACA Airlines flight just as it left Juan Santamaría airport Thursday night about 6 p.m.

The plane returned to the airport where agents for the Judicial Investigating Organization took over and ordered an autopsy. Hamilton's team lost a game to Saprissa Wednesday.

Girl's body found

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 15- or 16-year-old girl was found dead in a coffee plantation Thursday morning in Santiago del Monte de San Diego de Tres Ríos, according to the Judicial Investigating Organization.
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, March 10, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 50

A reader's response
Human rights report on U.S. shows many deficencies

By an Anonymous Expat*
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

As usual, that annual ritual of hypocrisy known as the U.S. State Department Human Rights Report, published in part here Thursday, did not include some salient facts with regards to the human rights situation in the United States, which it simply assumes to be above reproach.  Had it done an honest report on the United States, that report would have looked something like this:


The human rights situation in the United States continues to deteriorate.  During 2005, several major scandals came to light with regards to human rights in the United States, and several other significant situations continue, but remain relatively unreported by the domestic press in that country, and ignored by its administration.

Search warrants: The erosion of the Fourth Amendment guarantees of judicial review of searches and seizures became the subject of a major scandal when it was revealed that the federal government has been involved in a major secret surveillance effort outside of judicial review for several years, and in contravention to both the Fourth Amendment and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.  The major response of the administration, other than angry defiance, was to simply attempt to amend the FISA to make the surveillance legal under that law. Human rights groups are seeking judicial review of the legality of the program under the Fourth Amendment, but to date, no cases have yet been heard.  The attorney general has hinted that there may be other secret warrantless surveillance programs as well, but refuses to offer any details.

Disregard of habeas corpus: Hundreds of detainees continue to be held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, without being tried (and in most cases without even being charged) in civilian courts, as mandated by the American Constitution as well as obligations under treaties to which the United States is signatory, and demanded by court judgment.  A legal fig-leaf has been offered by arbitrarily designating them "enemy combatants," a categorization with no standing in law, and offering some of them military tribunals, while the standard of justice for the military tribunals can only be charitably described as deficient.  At least two of the military officers involved in the tribunals have quit during 2005, citing as their reason the lack of even rudimentary standards of justice.

Torture:  The issue of torture in interrogating detainees, both domestically and internationally, became a major domestic political issue in the United States last year when an effort was made to specifically outlaw its use, and the administration went to great lengths to prevent the law from being passed.  A severely watered-down version was finally passed and signed into law, with sufficient loopholes to ensure that torture could continue to be practiced under U.S. sovereignty as deemed fit by the administration.  Human rights NGOs have complained that the law gives torture an even firmer legal basis than it had before.

Accounts of torture by American intelligence services, military officials and domestic police continued to appear in the press during 2005.  Few, if any, ever received an adequate investigation, and those responsible are rarely tried and convicted.  To date, no one above the level of unit commander has been cited in the Abu Ghraib scandal, in spite of clear evidence that the policy originated with civilian political officials overseeing the Pentagon in Washington.

A major scandal erupted worldwide regarding the use by American intelligence services of a procedure called "extraordinary rendition," in which persons being detained, often illegally, by American intelligence services have been taken to other countries known to practice torture routinely for interrogation purposes.  Hundreds of flights have been detailed through nations including Britain, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, The Netherlands, Italy, Romania, Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. 

Credible allegations were raised by Human Rights Watch that the CIA is operating a gulag archipelago of secret prisons in Bulgaria, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay at least, and some evidence exists for other nations as well.  HRW claims that the use of torture in this gulag is routine.  Several nations, including Denmark and Switzerland, have banned flights by the U.S. government through their airspace without specific prior approval as a result.

Political repression:  It was revealed as a result of court-ordered document releases in 2005 that as many as 30,000 activist groups and individual American citizens had been the subject of surveillance and occasional harassment by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, sometimes for years, without warrants and without credible allegations of lawbreaking.  The vast majority were left-wing political or environmental groups, or police-monitoring groups with no credible link to terrorism.

In some cases the harassment is of such an intimidating nature that the individuals involved are being forced to flee into exile.  Human rights campaigners familiar with this situation in Central America indicate that, at minimum, 200 per month are fleeing to that region alone, and the rate appears to be increasing.  Sufficient numbers are fleeing to Venezuela that press reports have begun to appear on the news wire services about them.

Election fraud:  Several analyses by highly respected and qualified academic statisticians appeared in 2005, analyzing the vote in Ohio in the 2004 presidential election, concluding that the official vote tallies were either outright impossible or wildly unlikely in the absence of significant vote rigging.  The vast majority of the anomalous results appeared in districts and precincts using electronic "touch screen" voting machines, and approximately 95 percent of the anomalous results favored the victorious candidate. 

One analysis said that the total vote tally for Ohio clearly had to have been rigged by a bare minimum of 5 percent, and that the challenger would have won the state by a minimum of 2 percent had the election been honestly tallied.  Yet efforts in Congress to convene a formal hearing to investigate these analyses were soundly beaten down, and to date, no official investigation has been launched at either federal or state level.

Touch-screen voting machines were approved for use in elections in North Carolina, California, and Florida, even though they do not meet the minimum legal requirements for security under the laws of those states, or the federal standards for federal elections.  In each case, the decision was made by

White House photo by Kimberlee Hewitt
George W. Bush addresses the audience after signing the USA Patriot Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005 Thursday in the East Room of the White House.

state officials belonging to the ruling Republican party.
It continues to remain legal in many states for the state official in charge of election procedures and processes (usually the secretary of state) to also be serving as a campaign official for candidates running in the elections they are supervising.  This occurred in Ohio in 2004 (Kenneth Blackwell, Bush state campaign chair) and Florida in 2000 (Kathleen Harris, Bush state campaign co-chair).

Press freedom: Press servility in the United States continued in 2005, interrupted only briefly when the administration's response to the Katrina hurricane disaster made that policy untenable.  Otherwise, the press has continued to accept the administration's ruthlessly enforced access-for-cooperation policy without complaint.  When the administration began a "plumbing" operation, the press generally cooperated fully and reported little about the effort which is ongoing. 

As a result of the servility issue, the credibility of the major newspapers and television news operations has eroded to the extent that most major newspapers in the U.S. are reporting significant erosion of their subscription bases, television news broadcast ratings are down, while readership in the U.S. of on-line news services, particularly those based outside of the United States, continues to grow rapidly.

Corruption:  A number of major political corruption scandals erupted in 2005, most of them involving the ruling Republican party.  The "K-Street Project," an influence-peddling scheme created by a former speaker of the House, and run by lobbyist Jack Abramoff, involved members of congress and the administration, and by years' end had involved at least 10 percent of the membership of the House of Representatives, and was continuing to grow.

The House majority leader was forced to resign his position after he was indicted in a campaign-financing scandal in his home state.  His temporary replacement was not allowed to run for the position permanently because he, too, is involved in a scandal.

A California congressman was arrested for bribery when it was revealed that he had accepted $2.4 million in bribes, and even had a "price list" of bribe-prices for services on offer.

At the state level, the governor of Kentucky found himself involved in a jobs-for-contributions scandal of such proportions that the state Republican Party complained it was running out of qualified persons to fill appointed posts.

In Ohio, Congressman Bob Ney has been involved in several scandals at once, including the governor's "coingate" scandal, and yet he refuses to resign or even not run for re-election.

The mayor of Spokane, Washington, resigned when it was revealed that he had been operating a "jobs couch," offering city jobs in return for sex.

Transparency and accountability:  It was revealed in 2005 that the administration is now classifying documents at a rate of about 10 times that of any previous administration, and has drastically slowed down the rate at which old documents — some dating back as far as World War II — are being declassified and placed in publicly accessible archives.  The administration continues to routinely obstruct efforts to obtain information, even unclassified information, through the Freedom of Information Act, and made an unsuccessful attempt during 2005 to quietly get that act repealed.

Disregard of human rights in other nations:  It has been revealed that at least 10,000 detainees are being held by the United States in detention centers in Iraq, without access to even the most basic of detainee's rights.  Some of the Iraq detainees have been held for as long as two years without being tried, in many cases, without even being charged with a crime, or being allowed access to lawyers or families. Those who have been released offer credible descriptions of routine torture.

Prosecutors in Milan, Italy, have issued an arrest warrant demanding the arrest on kidnapping charges of 21 Central Intelligence Agency personnel when it was revealed that the CIA had simply kidnapped a person it wanted right off the streets of that city in broad daylight and removed him from the country under its "extraordinary rendition" program to be "interrogated" in Egypt, without seeking the permission of the Italian government, or even informing them of what it was doing.

The United States has continued its policy of meddling in the elections of other nations.  Through the fig-leaf of the quasi-private National Endowment for Democracy, during 2005, it continued to funnel millions of government dollars into elections throughout Latin America and elsewhere in the world, supporting candidates and political parties favorable to its interests, usually in contravention of local law.  It has also turned a blind eye as its nationals have done the same.

The president of Venezuela continues to complain of U.S. meddling, and continues to offer credible evidence to support his case.  A failed coup attempt during the recent legislative elections was apparently funded by U.S. interests.  Chávez has complained of support by the U.S. of an insurgency developing in the Lake Maracaibo region, and evidence has been uncovered that suggests the group is receiving arms support from the U.S. State Department via Colombia.

* A.M. Costa Rica, which said George Bush should be re-elected, feels compelled to agree with much of this document and specifically of the erosion of Constitutional rights in the United States and the timidity of the lapdog press.

Two detainees are led to another part of the Guantanamo Bay prison.

U.S. Department of Defense file photo

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, March 10, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 50

Our columnist gets plugged in to Fox News!
I have recently discovered that I can get Fox News on my TV.  So now I not only have access to "the most trusted name in news," I have access to "the most powerful name in news."  Those slogans have made me think about whether I would like to be (if I had a choice) the most trusted columnist or the most powerful. 

When I think of powerful, for some reason I think of gossip columnists like Hedda Hopper or Louella Parsons.  Those two women could make or break a Hollywood career.  I don’t think that is what Fox has in mind.  As for me, I think I would rather work at maintaining people’s trust than hanging on to power.  Perhaps that is a gender thing.  At any rate, I am enjoying the new (to me) talking heads and political discussions.

Both news stations have reported that the governor of South Dakota has signed a law that takes away a woman’s right to have an abortion, even in the case of rape or incest.  Only if the woman’s life, not her health, is in danger is abortion permissible.  One legislator, who supports this bill, commented that it would be good for South Dakota to return to the values of the good old days in the West.  Then, if a woman got pregnant, the man responsible was forced to marry her.  Then, he went on to say children grew up with two parents — a mother and a father, and we presume, lived happily ever after.

Now why hasn’t someone thought of that great idea before?  Of course, in the case of rape, the woman would have to wait for her future husband to get out of prison (assuming he has been caught) before he could make an honest woman of her.  And in the case of incest or if the father were already married, marriage laws would have to be changed so that close relatives could marry or a man could have more than one wife.  I’m sure they could attach those conditions to the constitutional amendment 
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

making marriage between a man and a woman the only recognized marriage.

Abortion is illegal in Costa Rica.  I am told that rich women simply go to another country to have one, and poor women do what women have done through the ages — used traditional methods that either succeed or send them to the emergency hospital.

Just recently statistics on birth rates for 2005 came out.  There were 71,548 babies born in Costa Rica.  That is 700 fewer births than the year before, making the number of births per thousand 16.54.  But the number of infant deaths has gone up by one per thousand live births.  In  1985 the average woman (between the ages of 15 and 45) had almost four children.  Today it is two.  I have talked to Ticos over the age of 50 who come from families of as many as 16 children.  (In the United States the number of births per thousand last year is estimated at 14.14)       

Although it is a religiously tolerant country, Costa Rica is ostensibly Catholic.  Yet, there is no such thing as an illegitimate child.  I remember meeting a young former Peace Corps worker in Tamarindo who told me that her Tica mother-in-law had four children, each with a different father.  They were all grown, and she still proudly listed “soltera” (single) on her cédula.  It would be hard to imagine a Tica docilely submitting to a “shotgun wedding.”  However, if the number of guns keeps growing in this country, that may change.

Expert says bird flu will spread from birds mingling
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Bird flu is expected to cross the Atlantic Ocean and reach the Americas within a year, a U.N. official said.

The official, Dr. David Nabarro, senior U.N. coordinator for avian and human influenza, said that given the flight patterns of wild birds that have been spreading avian influenza from Asia to Europe and Africa, birds infected with the H5N1 virus could reach the Americas within the next six to 12 months.

At a press conference at U.N. headquarters, Nabarro explained that birds migrate each year from West Africa to the Arctic region and Alaska, where they mingle with birds that will migrate six months later south from Alaska into North and South America.

"We are obviously anticipating that there will be H5N1 in birds moving back north up that West Africa/Atlantic flyway in the northern spring, which is shortly," he said. "So we would then anticipate that one-half year later there will be movement south into the Americas of birds that have intermingled."
The migration, he reiterated, will occur within the next six to 12 months, or possibly earlier.

The immediate area of concern is West Africa, where the disease has been found in Niger and Nigeria. But bird die-offs have occurred in other African nations, and the U.N. expects confirmation of bird flu in other countries soon, Nabarro said.

Further investigation will be needed to determine whether the virus is being spread by migration of wild fowl or through trade.
Representatives of more than 40 sub-Saharan countries will meet in Libreville, Gabon, later in March to discuss responses and how to organize efforts with the World Health Organization, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Organization for Animal Health.

"I just think every country in the world now needs to have its veterinary services on high alert for H5N1,” Nabarro said, “to try to make sure they don't get caught unawares and find that it gets into their poultry populations without knowing."

The U.N. coordinator said he believes many countries in the Western Hemisphere are preparing for a possible pandemic. Because H5N1 transmission involves migratory birds, Nabarro said, it is difficult to predict where bird flu will appear next.

"It is like a fire,” he added. “We can get it under control if we use the right strategies."

Quoting world health officials, Nabarro said there will be a human pandemic sooner or later. It might be due to a mutation of the H5N1 virus to be easily transmissible among people, or it might be due to another influenza virus.

March 8 China confirmed the death of a 9-year-old girl, the 10th known human death in that country from bird flu.

According to the World Health Organization, the human death toll now stands at 96 worldwide. Some 200 million birds have been killed to prevent the virus from spreading.

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