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These stories were published Friday, March 19, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 56
Jo Stuart
About us
Good grief! It's time to be campaigning again?
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The 2006 Costa Rican presidential campaign began last night as Oscar Arias Sánchez went to the voters seeking support.

Arias, president in 1986 to 1990, is the front runner, in part because of his status as a Nobel Peace Prize winner.

In a televised address, "With hope for the future," the Partido Liberación Nacional precandidate spoke in broad, general terms and said he wanted to help the country prepare for its 200th anniversary of freedom in 2021.

The elections are not until the first Sunday in February 2006, but Arias faces competition for his party’s nomination, including from Antonio Álvarez Desanti, who also was a would-be candidate in 2002.

Arias, born in 1941, is a professional politician who held a number of party posts before winning the presidency. His term was defined by the Nicaraguan civil war to the north, and his Nobel Prize was awarded for the Central American peace plan he devised.

The paid political message Thursday night was what television professionals call "a talking head." Arias and only Arias addressed the camera with none of the video clips that other politicians use.

To win the presidency Arias has to bury suspicions that he used inappropriate influence to try to sway the Sala IV constitutional court. The Costa Rican Constitution forbids citizens from serving more than one four-year term as president.

Arias tried unsuccessfully to have the court nullify that provision in 2001. The court failed to do so. It was not until 2003 that the constitutional court, in another hearing, decided that the constitution itself was unconstitutional and unjustly prevented some from engaging in politics.

When the current minister of Cultural, Juventud y Deporte published memoirs late last year, he unintentionally accused Arias of trying to influence the judges. The writer, Guido Saénz, said that Arias became angry when he heard of the 2001 constitutional court decision against him and groused that one of the magistrates had betrayed him.

The book entry suggested that Arias was negotiating beforehand with the magistrates.

Saénz later claimed he was exercising literary license when he recounted the Arias story. Arias, himself, has appeared before a committee of the Asamblea National.

The constitutional court reversed itself in 2003 and said that former presidents could run again for the office after a waiting period of six years.

Arias also is expected to face criticism for his family’s investments in Ingenio Taboga S.A. That company generates electricity, and a recent contract obligates the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, the country’s supposed utility monopoly, to purchase all that is produced.

In his talk, Arias said he wanted Costa Rica to be the most developed of the Latin nations, but he did not outline any specifics on how this might be done.

In the mood for a little water music
I had hoped to write about the new Calderón Guardia emergency ward that recently opened. I went over to the old emergency room, which was closed, and asked directions from the men in an ambulance that still was parked there. 

I have been a rather frequent visitor of that emergency room and have great appreciation and admiration overall for the health system in this country. I know that when the debate about health coverage rages in the U.S., someone always brings up the two words "socialized medicine." From the tone of voice, I half expect the speaker to be holding a cross in front of him for protection. What we have here in Costa Rica may be called socialized medicine, but it is better than the alternative that a lot of people have in the States.

But getting to visit the new emergency facilities was not to be. They gave me the runaround. Actually I had to run around two long blocks to the office of Dirección Medico. There I was told I had to write a note to the director and wait for him to call me. So I am waiting. 

Meanwhile, the outside of the new building is nicely painted yellow, green, tan and brown. Inside, this color scheme continues with a bit of hospital green here and there. The waiting room is larger and better lit than the old one and has the required snack bar with espresso machine and soft drinks, as well as plenty of unhealthy snacks. 

There are two waiting areas here. The larger one is for people waiting for their prescriptions dispensed from a window labeled farmacia. All prescriptions are free (as is a visit to the emergency room). The number of people there made me wonder if the whole world is over-medicated.

Tuesday I was once again on the road, this time to the La Paz Waterfall Gardens. I was with most of the same happy crew of last week with the addition of Darrylle who tore himself away from a busy day at the office. 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

Once you have descended a considerable distance via steps, paths and bridges, you are surrounded by water in just about all of its forms: huge and tiny waterfalls, gentle streams, and bubbling brooks, roiling cataracts, drips of water seeping from the rocks. The air is filled with mist that freely hydrates the skin. You have to appreciate the importance of water to life and health.

Wednesday morning I attended a free concert at the Centro Cultural: a pianist from Russia and a singer from Maryland. There were only two of us in the audience, but the two of them gave us what seemed to me, a top performance. I was reminded of that memorable scene in the movie, "Cabaret" that opens with a close up of Lisa Minelli on stage in the nightclub singing her heart out. As the camera pans back one sees her audience: just one sleeping drunk at one table. 

Watching the two performers and remembering that scene, it occurred to me that people who are gifted with a talent, even a talent that should be shared, would be wise to learn to enjoy plying that talent just for their own pleasure.

The music the pianist played, a piece by Debussy, was a continuation of my experience of the day before. Her fingers disappeared in a blur of movement, so rapid the notes were like drops of water coming together to make waterfalls and cataracts, bubbling brooks and seas. 

The soprano sang her notes purely with no seeming effort. I was once more refreshed from the music as I had been from the water. Both are healing to the soul and the body. I left the concert feeling so good, I had no desire, and happily no need to visit a hospital under any circumstances, for a long, long time. 

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Vacation for Easter
is official now

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

It’s official: Most government workers will have a week off  before Easter, as usual.

Ovidio Pacheco Salazar, the minister of Trabajo, said this week that April 5, 6, and 7 will be vacation days for public employees. He was acting after a decision Tuesday by the Consejo de Gobierno, President Abel Pacheco’s cabinet.

Holy Thursday and Good Friday always are days off. They are April 8 and 9 this year. So most public employees will leave work Friday, April 2, and not return until Monday, April 12. Easter is Sunday, April 11.

Minister Pacheco noted that offices and services that are vital will remain open. The days off will help the government cut down on vacation owed to employees, he said.

The Christian calendar recognizes Good Friday as the day Christ died on the cross. Many of the faithful in this predominately Catholic nation will mark Holy Week with funeral marches and passion plays. But probably more will go to the beaches.

Private employers usually take their cue from the governmental edicts. Except for religious celebrations, major towns and cities will be all but shut down much of Holy Week. The closer the date approaches Good Friday, the more businesses will be closed.

Restaurant owner
abducted by gunmen

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Armed men showed up at the Los Gemelos restaurant in Alto de Guadalupe Wednesday night and abducted the owner, identified as Leang Huaxing, 46.

The businessman had not reappeared Thursday.

Investigators were mystified by the case, particularly when no one would file a complaint about the abduction. They speculated that the abduction was another case of strong-arm bill collecting, a technique that is becoming more frequent.

Man shot in Escazú
undergoes surgery

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A  man digging through garbage containers in the upscale Escazú urbanización of Trejos Montealegre Wednesday night suffered a gunshot wound to the stomach.

He was identified as Guillermo Navarro Peroza, 49. The wounded man managed to alert a private guard, who called rescue workers. The man underwent surgery at Hospital México, so agents have not yet been able to interview him to find out what happened.

Three separate cases
of abuse draw arrests

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

 Police arrested three men Thursday in separate cases of suspected intimacy with female relatives.

In Liberia, a man with the last names of López Morales was detained in the Urbanización Cañas for investigation of the allegation that he sexually abused his stepdaughter, 14.

In San Juan de Dios de Desamparados police detained a man with the last names of Segura Hernández during a fight with his female companion. Police said it appeared the fight was about supposed rape of their daughter.

In Cartago, police there arrested a man with the last names of Santos Obregón in the vicinity of San Pablo de León Cortes for investigation of the allegation that he sexually abused his daughter, also 14.

It was a MOOOving
violation in Heredia

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The taxi passenger was a little on the heavy side. In fact, you would be forgiven for calling her a cow.

In fact, she was a cow, hog-tied and stuffed into the rear seat of a four-door Hyundai. Her head appeared occasionally sticking out the window viewing the world with interest.

Police came across this situation Wednesday night in Santo Domingo de Heredia when they stopped a pirate taxi. The driver, identified by the last names of Vargas Montenegro, must have been helped by other individuals, police concluded. But these suspects conveniently left as police arrived.

After some effort, officers got the cow out of the rear seat, cut the ropes on her hooves and put her into a small pasture near the police station.

The owner of the animal has not yet been located, but police are investigating the case as cattle theft.

Another truck yields
stash of illegal drugs

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Anti-drug officers have found another big haul of cocaine in a truck about to cross the border into Nicaragua. This vehicle contained a hidden load of some 300 kilos, some 660 pounds.

The drivers, both Guatemalans, were identified by the last names of Soberanis Monasterio and Avendaño Hernández. Agents of the Policía de Control de Drogas said the two men abandoned the truck tractor when it became clear that the vehicle would be subject to inspection.

When police found the empty tractor, they inspected it in detail and found the hidden stash.

The truck was registered in Guatemala and entered Costa Rica March 4 with a load of resin, said police. The drug is believed to have been loaded while the tractor was in Costa Rica.

Agents found another Guatemalan-registered truck with a hidden compartment and presumed drugs last Jan. 24 the same Penas Blancas border crossing point.  They found yet another last year.

Soccer fans, police
engage in battle

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

At least 30 fans were arrested Wednesday night after the Deportivo Saprissa-El Pachuca soccer game in Estadio Nacional in Parque La Sabana.

At least six officers suffered injuries in the confrontation that led up to the arrests.

Saprissa won the game, 2-0, and some 400 exuberant fans left the stadium and began acting unruly, police said. The fans attacked 20 foot-patrol officers and 10 mounted policemen. One member of the horse unit was hit in the mouth with a rock when he tried to aid a fellow officer. The Judicial Investigation Organization is in charge of the probe of this incident.

Officers said they heard gunshots from the crowd but no officers suffered a bullet wound.

Aclaimed pianist
to perform tonight

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional gives its second performance of the season tonight at the Teatro Nacional. The guest performer is the aclaimed Polish pianist Raphael-Alexandre Lustchevsky.

The program include Brahms, Saint-Säens and Richard Strauss. Chosei Komatsu will again conduct.

The Friday performance at 8 p.m. will be repeated Sunday at 10:30 a.m., again in the Teatro Nacional.

Man dies in San Pedro

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 78-year-old man died about 8:30 a.m. Monday when he was struck by a vehicle in the vicinity of the Fuente de Hispanidad, the traffic circle fountain, at the entrance to San Pedro. He was identified as Mario Marín Huertas
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New cabinet sworn in for Haiti's acting PM
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Interim prime minister Gerard Latortue has sworn in a new cabinet, calling it a non-partisan administration that will be judged on its achievements.

Latortue presided over the swearing-in of 13 cabinet members during a ceremony Wednesday at the National Palace here. Most of the cabinet ministers have been described as "technocrats" with few political connections.

Analysts have expressed fears that excluding allies of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide from the new government could prolong tensions in the country. And members of Aristide's Lavalas party have warned that national reconciliation will not be possible unless they are given a voice. 

Latortue has said his priority is restoring accountability to the government and ending corruption. 

Meanwhile, pro-Aristide gangs began turning their guns over to police in the slums of Haiti's capital Wednesday. French peacekeepers were present as dozens of weapons were handed in.

Despite the recent progress in Haiti, Venezuela and Jamaica have refused to recognize the country's new government. 

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez says he still considers Mr. Aristide to be the country's true president, while Jamaican officials say they will likely re-examine the issue following next week's Caribbean Community regional summit in Saint Kitts.  Earlier this week, Haiti suspended diplomatic relations with Jamaica because of its decision to allow Aristide to visit for eight to 10 weeks. 

Aristide fled Haiti in late February in the midst of an armed rebellion and international pressure. The former leader has maintained that he is Haiti's legitimate leader, and that the United States forced him to resign. Washington strongly denied this.

Canadian-based company ruled off-limits to U.S. citizens
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Treasury Department Thursday continued its crackdown on travel agencies that promote illegal travel to Cuba by prohibiting persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction from using the Hola Sun Holidays Limited travel agency, which Treasury designated as controlled by Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. 

The designation blocks all property of Hola Sun Holidays Limited held by persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction. It also prohibits persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction from engaging in any transactions with the agency unless authorized by Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control. The company is based in Ontario, Canada.

The action by the Office of Foreign Asset control  is part of President George Bush's October 2003 initiative to strengthen enforcement of U.S. laws prohibiting travel-related transactions with Cuba, according to a Treasury Department press release. 

Stepped-up enforcement, the Treasury 

Department said, will help keep travel-related dollars out of Castro's hands.

Juan Zarate, Treasury's deputy assistant secretary for terrorist financing and financial crimes,  explained why the action was needed:

"As long as we allow money to flow unabated into the hands of the Cuban government, we allow Castro to fund the atrocities of his dictatorship and perpetuate the oppression of the Cuban people." 

The Treasury Department said that Hola Sun Holidays Limited is a travel agency owned by Cimex and is associated with Caribe Sol. Hola Sun and Caribe Sol share a Web page and openly state they "are proud to be part of Havantur," another business owned by Cimex.

Hola Sun Holidays Limited provides easy access to U.S. individuals traveling to Cuba. U.S. law enforcement officials have intercepted travelers whose tour packages were purchased through this travel agency, which uses the Internet to advertise and sell Cuban tourism to the U.S. public.

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Health officials worried about inevitable epidemic
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The World Health Organization says urgent steps must be taken to prepare for a human influenza pandemic, which could happen anytime in the near future. 

The World Health Organization says it is just a matter of time before an influenza pandemic occurs. 

The head of the U.N. organization’s  Global Influenza Program, Klaus Stohr, said it is urgent to prepare now for a new outbreak because, he explained, since the last pandemic occurred in 1968, there have been 12 possible pandemic events. He said five of them have occurred during the last year, and, he said, one virus is to blame for the majority of events in the last three years.

"So, the influenza experts say that this virus is sneaking around the corner," he explained. "It is ready to get fit in order to jump into the human population. So, we have a situation, which looks slightly different from the past. We have a suspect, and the suspect is behaving suspiciously, and that is why we believe that measures should be taken quickly, in order to deal with this increased risk for the occurrence of a pandemic." 

Some Asian governments have announced the disappearance of bird flu from their countries. However, the World Health Oganization says outbreaks are still occurring. And, it warns, as long as the avian and human flu viruses are circulating in the environment, the ingredients for a human pandemic still exist.

Eight countries in Asia have been affected by a particularly virulent form of bird flu. More than 100 million birds have either died or been culled to stop the virus from spreading. Twenty-three people died in Thailand and Vietnam. 

A health specialist from Australia, Aileen Plant, is one of more than 100 health experts who attended a World Health emergency meeting. She said a global surveillance system is critical in trying to head-off an influenza pandemic. She said countries must have access to rapid diagnostic tests.

"That sounds really easy to say, but it is, of course, quite difficult for many countries to be able to have access to those tests, to be able to use them, to have good quality assurance and to send the specimens on to reference laboratories to confirm what they find," she said. "But, a quick diagnosis in the early phases, that is what we need. We need mandatory reporting internationally. And, of course, we need the capacity to investigate clusters of disease. Cluster surveillance is key to knowing whether we have got true human-to-human transmission."

There is a potential problem. Until the influenza strain is known, vaccines against a pandemic cannot be manufactured. Then, it takes between four and six months to produce the vaccine. The World Health Organization says the stock of vaccine is likely to be very limited.

During this period, efforts must be made to either stop the virus from spreading or blunt its impact, said the organization. It says anti-viral drugs can be of some benefit as can existing flu vaccines. 

Venezuela brings pressure on justices who backed recall vote
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — The government is investigating three Supreme Court justices who ruled that hundreds of thousands of signatures urging a presidential recall vote are valid. 

Venezuela's attorney general launched what's being called an "ethics" probe Wednesday, a move that could lead to the dismissal of the three justices. 

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that Venezuela's electoral council was wrong to disqualify more than 870,000 signatures on the petition for a referendum on President Hugo Chavez. The Supreme Court said the signatures must be considered valid unless citizens disclaim them. 

Opposition leaders say they gathered more than 

three million signatures supporting a recall vote, far more than required for the referendum to proceed. 

In an interview published Thursday, Chavez conceded the recall vote was all but inevitable. But, he said his government would continue to scrutinize every signature. 

Chavez also said there has, in his words, "been no way of talking" with the Bush administration. He added that any effort by the United States to remove him from office would result in a sharp increase in the price of oil. Venezuela is the world's fifth largest oil exporter, and a major supplier to the United States. 

Chavez' government has had tense relations with Washington and has strongly criticized the Bush Administration's foreign policy. 

Jo Stuart
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