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These stories were published Thursday, March 17, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 54
Jo Stuart
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Ancient sphere to represent country at exposition in Japan
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

One of the mysterious Costa Rican spheres will be transported to Japan to be displayed during the Aichi International Exposition.

The fair, which opens March 25 in Japan’s Aichi Prefecture, will feature exhibitions from around the world. Costa Rica is sending the large stone sphere to represent the country and the Latin American region.

The stone measures 1.3 meters in diameter and is estimated to be over 3,000 years old. The two-ton sphere will be on display at the exposition until September 2005, where an estimated 15 million visitors will have a chance to see it. Normally the sphere is a fixture in the gardens of the Costa Rican Embassy in Washington, D.C.

The spheres are an enigma in Costa Rica. They come from the Río Térraba and the Isla del Caño. No one knows why they were made or when. Many have found their way to be lawn ornaments in upscale Tico homes.

The international exposition is set to represent 123 countries. The official theme for the fair is Natures Wisdom. Participating 

Ministerio de Relaciones 
Exteriores y Culto photo 
Sphere at rest in Washington

countries are encouraged to produce  exhibitions which feature the glory of nature and lessons that can be learned from it.

The fair will highlight sub-themes such as sustainable economic and environmental development in an attempt to spread ideas, technology, and information.

Gold company with mine here posts an $8.4 million loss
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The company that controls the Bellavista mine near Puntarenas announced Wednesday that it showed a loss of $8.4 million in 2004.

The Toronto-based company, Glencairn Gold Corp., blamed the loss on increased costs related to exploration and administrative expenses. The company’s multimillion dollar loss follows a $1.2 million loss in 2003.

The company, which also owns mines in Canada and Nicaragua, said in its statement that the Bellavista mine would begin producing gold during the second quarter of 2005. The mine is designed to produce 60,000 ounces of gold 

annually over its eight-year life span.

The company’s statement attributed the increase in costs to the acquisition of the Black Hawk Mining, Inc. in late 2003 that brought the Limon Mine in Nicaragua. Between construction at Bellavista and at Limon, the statement said, costs rose.

The Bellavista mine has become involved in controversy in Costa Rica from several environmental groups. Group officials claim that the company’s open pit mining practices destroy valuable environmental resources.

The mine is in the Montes de Oro area 70 kms (44 miles) west of San Jose, near Miramar. 

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Our readers’ opinions

Control of weapons
urged after bank siege

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

What can be done to prevent future carnage such as happened at the Santa Elena bank? 

Perhaps not much the way things are. Little point in blaming Nicaraguans, which Costa Rica cannot keep out anyway. In that direction one might more usefully point to Ronald Reagan and his criminal "Contra" war which to this day hurts Nicaraguans in terms of lingering poverty, instability, criminals, and weapons. 

Perhaps even more to the point is the availability of guns made for the sole purpose of slaughtering people. Illegal possession of arms ranging from handguns up to death machines like AK-47's should warrant progressively severe prison sentences, ex. 10 years. Readers can check out the organization called IANSA for practical ways to curtail the spread of small arms.

International co-operation is the key to this problem, and it would really help if big players the U.S. would get on board. 

This is a problem that could largely be solved, and would go a lot further in the war against terrorism than would hair-brain and expensive missile defense schemes. 

Ross Martin 
Toronto, Canada

Who needs free trade
and bullying Gringos

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Who needs CAFTA?

The politicians of Costa Rica, especially the president, continue to play a dangerous waiting game to vote for approval of CAFTA.  The vocal minorities consisting of labor union leaders, entrenched bureaucrats who control inefficient state monopolies and others who have the most to lose are stirring the self-serving pot of alarm as fast as they can.

But relax, people of Costa Rica.  You don’t have to be a part of CAFTA.  You can vote against it and not be a part the free trade group with your neighbors.  You don’t have to export your goods to the U.S. or other neighboring countries without paying an import tax to get it there. 

You can pay taxes on your coffee, bananas, plants, fruits and other products while a dozen other countries that make the same product does not have to pay the tax and will be able to sell its products cheaper than you. 

You don’t have to allow competition with your labor union-controlled, government-owned monopolies like your phone company.  After all, it would allow you to pay less for your phone service and have better service and quicker connections. 

You don’t have to have the convenience of walking into a store and instantly getting a cell phone that works instead of waiting weeks. 

You don’t have to have a competing insurance company for your car and other insurances that will probably lower the cost of your insurance and give you better service.

You can continue to pay astronomically high import taxes on thousands of items from the U.S. and other countries while your neighbors can get the item without tax and enjoy that new fridge, stove, washing machine or car. 

You can continue to stand in endless lines in inefficient banks and accept the shoddy service they offer because of limited foreign competition. 

You don’t need the high-paying jobs that would be created by foreign manufacturing firms moving operations into Costa Rica like Intel to take advantage of the tax-free exports they could produce. 

And why would you want to pay less money for the rice you eat that would be allowed to be imported without tax.

So stand up and be counted Costa Rica.  Show those bullying Gringos who’s the boss.  You really don’t need CAFTA.

Phil Mattingly 
La Paz, Mexico

Horror in our backyard
just doesn’t happen here

Dear A.M. Costa Rica: 

I have some reflections on the Monteverde events I want to share with you:  In the States, we were accustomed to this kind of  violence.  School shootings, crazed druggies mowing down customers at MacDonald's, street wars with innocent passersby in the line of fire, Mafia strafings of restaurants . . . all old news. 

The kind of violence that happened in Monteverde just doesn't happen in Costa Rica.  All of my Costa Rican friends are in shock.  The other day in Tilaran there was a funeral for a well-loved school teacher.  The church was jammed with mourners.  She and her husband had been in the Monteverde branch when the assault started.  He was in the manager's office and was able to escape.  She was the last person standing in line, was shot and bled to death. 

This is horror in our own backyard, so to speak. 

It's interesting to me, on a personal note, that after 15 years in this country I have become re-sensitized to violence.  I can't even watch violent movies —  I feel too much empathy for the victims.  The scary part for me is realizing that, back in the States, I had grown used to it.  I'd rather not be used to it.  Here, in this mostly peaceful country, I've been able to reconnect with my own humanity. 

It also occurs to me that the only thing left for U.S. citizens to fear is terrorism.  Everything about that society is so violent that they've had to up the ante to feel anything.  Terror is extreme fear.  But what's the next level?  Constant fear is dehumanizing. 

And when we are de-humanized, what are we capable of?  It's important to remember that! 

Sandra Shaw Homer 
Professional Directory
A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.


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 Bold robbers knock over bank near criminal courts
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Three men robbed a bank in downtown San José during the early morning hours Wednesday.

According to a report by the Judicial Investigating Organization, the bandits looted a Banco Crédito Agrícola near the Tribunales de Justicia on Avenida 4 and Calle 15. The robbery took place around 7 a.m. during a change of guard duty at the bank.

Investigators said that the men arrived at the bank earlier in the morning and waited for the guard change. Officials said the men used pepper spray to put down 

the guards who they proceeded to tie up. The men stole over 12 million colons, some $25,800, and fled the scene in a manager’s car. 

Officials said that the bandits were forced to ditch the car a few blocks way after a security device engaged. The men fled the car on foot and officials say that they may have then boarded a bus or used a taxi to make their escape. 

The bank closed for the duration of the day. Security guards at the bank declined to comment on the occurrence and claimed that they did not know why the bank was closed. 

Dad hangs on in face of rumors about his missing son in Tamarindo
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

As rumors circle over Tamarindo, Brian Dobbins, the father of the missing Australian student, continues to search for his son.

Several rumors about the missing student, Brendan Dobbins, have appeared in the last few days, but officials at the Cruz Roja and the Fuerza Pública said that they are unfounded. Most rumors claim the student from Florida has been found.

Chris Munn, the consular general of the Australian Embassy in Mexico traveled to Tamarindo over the weekend and has been assisting Brian Dobbins in his search for his son.

"We are just moving one day at a time," Munn said over the telephone Wednesday. "Right now we are wading through rumors and different leads, trying to find something that can help us."

Officials from the Judicial Investigating Organization have continued to search through areas surrounding the beach side community, but so far they haven’t found any leads.

Munn says that he plans to stay with Brian Dobbins until they are able to find something. "Right now I am just helping Mr. Dobbins with Spanish and trying to help him cope with the situation," Munn said from his hotel in Tamarindo. "We still believe that we will be able to find something."

 International sweep on for participants in internet pedophile ring
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MADRID, Spain — Authorities in Latin America and Europe say more than 500 people have been targeted for arrest for their alleged involvement in an Internet pedophile ring.

Police in Spain have detained 19 people, while other arrests are under way in 11 other countries, including Mexico, Chile, Argentina, France, Italy and Sweden. One news report said that Costa Rica was among those 

countries where suspects were sought.

Spain's Interior Ministry says the investigation, which began in January, was prompted by a Spaniard who reported seeing child pornography in a chat room. The ministry said police identified more than 900 addresses from which people logged into the site.

The investigation has led authorities to more than 20,000 items found on the site, including videos and photos.

 Immigration holds man from Jacó facing sex charges in the United States
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Immigration police detained a U.S. citizen this week in Jacó.

He is William Hunsaker, 34, who faces allegations of rape and indecent acts against minors in the United States, according to Marco Badilla, director general of Migración y Extranjería.

The man also faces complaints of possessing a false document and illegal entry to Costa Rica, said Badilla.

Badilla said the man entered the country on a 

Guatemalan passport and, according to the Judicial Investigating Organization at the Garabito office, has been living in Jacó some time.

Hunsaker likely will be deported back to the United States, said Badilla. Costa Rican officials weighed the allegations in the United States against possible penalties here before deciding on deportation, Badilla said.

Badilla used the case to put in a plug for the proposed immigration law that still is in the Asamblea Legislativa. The law will tighten entry into Costa Rica as a matter of national security.

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World Bank cites poor public services in Latin America
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — More basic public services are being provided for Latin Americans, particularly in education and health care, but these services are often of poor quality and too many poor people receive no services at all, according to a new report by the World Bank.

The report, called "Citizens, Politicians and Providers: The Latin American Experience with Service Delivery Reform," praises the significant efforts by Latin American governments to provide services to their citizens.

But despite reforms made by those governments in areas such as democratization and civil-society participation, Latin Americans still suffer from inequality of access to services, and the services are often inefficient, as they are "below the level expected considering [the region's] stage of development."  For example, the report points out that the waiting time to get a telephone line — or the number of malfunctions for such telephone service per unit of time — in Latin America is more than double than that in East Asia.

The report says politicians and service providers need to be held more accountable by citizens in order to reduce the inefficiency and the persistent inequality of access to public services.

The report found that the average primary-school enrollment in the region's 20 largest countries rose from 81 to 92 percent between 1980 and 2000.

However, the quality of education in these countries is lower than expected.  Only a minority of students achieves satisfactory results in most of the region's countries, and these students generally live in large cities.  On average, 76 percent of Latin American 

students who live in large cities reach the expected 
levels of reading ability, while only 59 percent do so in rural areas.

In Mexico, the average person in the lowest 20 percent on the economic scale has had 3.5 years of schooling, compared to 11.6 years for a person in the top 20 percent of the income scale.  In Guatemala, an average indigenous adult has only 2.5 years of schooling, compared with 5.7 years for nonindigenous adults.  One of every four indigenous individuals in Ecuador has never attended school, compared to one of every 20 nonindigenous people.

In the 20 largest countries of the region, life expectancy increased from 59.7 years to 70 years between 1970 and 2000, and most of the countries showed an increase of more than 15 percent in this category.

The study also found that water, sanitation and electrical service coverage increased in 12 countries of the region.

Ariel Fiszbein, coordinator of the report, said that governments in the region have assigned increasing importance to the expansion of social services.  But Fiszbein, the World Bank lead economist for human development for Latin America and the Caribbean, warned that "considering the fiscal limitations and new demands, as in secondary education or the fight against AIDS, it is unlikely this trend will continue if it depends solely on an increase in public funds and if more efficient systems for providing services are not implemented."

The report concludes that "a one-size-fits-all strategy cannot be applied to service delivery" in Latin America.  Instead, more public accountability from governments, a strong legal system, and a "well-informed dialogue" are indispensable for providing better public services. 

Housing protestors call off hunger strike after official action promised
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Ministerio de la Presidencia will look into the case of crumbling homes in Esquipulas de Alajuela, so a group of women have called off a hunger strike they promised to begin.

The hunger strike would have been an escalation of the protests that came into the public eye with a demonstration two weeks ago at Casa Presidencial.

The group wants the government to declare their homes uninhabitable. The group says that the housing project of some 300 homes was built on a landfill and shifting soil has caused the homes to break up.

The protest targets government agencies, including Banco Popular and the Ministerio de Salud, according to 

Jeimy Briones Otero, a spokesperson for the group of families.

If the homes are declared uninhabitable, the families will not be forced to repay mortgages. Now the families are threatened with eviction because they have declined to pay.

The buildings were put up during the administration of Miguel Ángel Rodríguez, and any chance of legal action against those who purchased or sold the land is about to expire, the group said.

Luis A. Madrigal Pacheco, vice minister of the Presidencia, said that a meeting will take place Friday among representatives of the state institutions involved in an effort to reach a solution to the problem.  The women promised the hunger strike Tuesday and an announcement to the news media.

Jo Stuart
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