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(506) 223-1327        Published Tuesday, March 21, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 57          E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
A makeshift horse-drawn hearse carries the coffin of the trade treaty to the grave
Trade treaty looks like work for new assembly
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Young Socialists took to the streets Monday few in number but as a glimpse of what demonstrations are to come.

They were of the tiny Partido Obrero Socialista, and they opposed the free trade treaty with the United States. They were urging the construction of a unified front to oppose the treaty. A major component of that front would be the Partido Acción Ciudadana, headed by former presidential candidate Ottón Solís, they said.

They said Acción Ciudadana had a moral obligation to oppose the trade treaty. In place of the free trade treaty, they said they wanted a "new creature that is the product of discussion, debate, creativity, the will and the decision of the best sons of this land.

The minor demonstration along Avenida 2 Monday morning comes at a time when others think that the ratification of the free trade treaty might not take place quickly. There are but five working weeks left for the 2002-2006 deputies who would ratify the agreement, which is being discussed in committee.

The new 57-member legislature, which takes office May 1, contains 17 members of the Partido Acción Ciudadana, who oppose the treaty. A two-thirds vote would require the approval of 38 deputies.

The Partido Liberación Nacional has 25 deputies in the assembly. This is the party of president-elect Óscar Arias Sánchez, who has supported the free trade treaty. There also are six members of the Movimiento Libertario and five members of the current government's party, Unidad Social Cristiana. That represents 36 deputies who probably will vote for the treaty.
The power seems to rest in the four deputies elected by minor parties who may or may not support the treaty.

The Costa Rican Constitution is not clear on the percentage of votes needed to ratify an international treaty. In certain cases, three-fourths of all deputies must ratify a document.

Article 7 of the Constitution says that any treaty or international agreement referring to the territorial integrity or the political organization of the country shall require the approval of the Asamblea Legislativa by a vote of not less than three fourths of its total membership and the approval of two-thirds of the members of a constitutional assembly called for the purpose.

Lawmakers have not mentioned a constitutional assembly even though the free trade treaty seems to make changes in the political organization of the country, at least insofar as opening up the wireless market to private companies. A part of Article 121 of the Constitution says wireless services may not be permanently removed from state ownership.

The same article also says:

"Public treaties and international conventions which confer or transfer certain powers to a community legal order for the purpose of achieving common regional objectives shall require the approval of the Legislative Assembly by a vote of not less than two-thirds of its entire membership."

The articles are vague enough at least to open the door to a non-binding constitutional court opinion.

All that will take time, putting the trade treaty squarely in the hands of the new assembly.

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, March 21, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 57

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Country Day High School photo
Charlie Brown and classmates are dwarfed by the desks

Country Day takes on
'Charlie Brown' and gang

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The “Peanuts” comic strip has become a musical comedy and can be seen at the Country Day High School Cafetorium beginning March 30 at 7:30 p.m.  Repeat performances will be March 31 and April 1.

Starring Luis Diego Granera as Charlie Brown, Allison Fontaine Capel as Lucy, Michelle Atkinson as Patty, Daniel Mermelstein as Linus, Josh Slowiczek as Schroeder and Gabriel Wien as Snoopy, the show also boasts a rousing chorus of Dancing Dogs.  The musical is directed by Lisa DeFuso with musical direction by Liz Head.

Some 56 years ago Charlie Brown and his pals were introduced in seven newspapers as a comic strip.  The enduring and beloved strip was created by Charles Schulz.  Although Schulz died in 2000, “Peanuts” still appears in close to 2,600 newspapers in 75 countries in more than 40 languages.  With more than 350 million daily readers, it is the world’s most widely read comic strip, and was the inspiration for numerous TV specials.

The play is a series of events in a typical day lived by Charlie Brown, who is sort of an Everyman to the driven Lucy, the musician Schroeder and the canine air ace Snoopy. The play won a Tony on Broadway.

Seating is reserved, and tickets must be purchased in advance at the high school office or at the ticket booth in front of the high school entrance.  The cost is 1,500 colons for students and 2,500 colons for adults.  For directions to the school, which is in Escazú, playgoers may call 289-0919 Ext. 2216.

Two convicted in case
of failed Banco Anglo

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two men accused in the failure of the Banco Anglo Costarricense in 1994 got 15-year-prison sentences Monday, but the long-running case is far from over.

The men,  Luis Fernando Chanto Carvajal and Carlos Rodó Ortuño, were accused of illegally taking money belonging to the state.

The three-judge panel, comprised of  Omar White, Marta Muñoz and Carlos Cháves, also accepted a civil action which will continue after the criminal sentence is fixed.

The men are likely to appeal their conviction to the Sala III high criminal court.

The action Monday was in the Tribunal de Juicio de San José, and the conviction was reported by the press office of the Poder Judicial.

Essentially the judges found that the actions of the men helped cause the failure of the giant bank.

Banco Anglo resulted in losses of more than $100 million, although some of that was recovered by a liquidation panel.

Law protecting women
against men advances

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The law for the protection of women got its first approval from the full Asamblea Legislativa Monday.

The law levies stiff penalties for domestic violence and includes as violence not only physical but less clear forms such as psychological violence.

The law would levy a penalty of from 20 to 35 years on a man who murders a woman with whom he has a matrimonial union or a union in fact.

There also is a penalty of from six months to two years in jail for someone who privately or publicly ridicules, devalues or insults the woman to whom he is married.

The law has been controversial because it singles out men for penalties.

Lilliana Salas, a deputy, said that the measure is not against men but only against male aggressors.  Miguel Huezo, another deputy, said he would seek to send the measure to the Sala IV constitutional court for clarification. Deputies planned for vote a second and final time on the measure Thursday.

The measure grew out of a series of murders of women by their spouses. Police are looking now for a woman who is suspected of bashing her husband's head in while he slept in their home in Heredia. She wold not be covered by the law even if it were in effect.
Aid being readied for Ecuador

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

With some 17,000 families directly or indirectly affected by flooding and landslides in Ecuador, United Nations agencies have announced plans for emergency relief focusing on food, drinking water, medicines and sanitation supplies as well as assistance for the repair and reconstruction of homes.
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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, March 21, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 57


Plenty of sculptures and other art . . .

. . . plus kids having fun

Arts festival has lots of attractions — but bring money
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Festival Internacional de las Artes 2006 runs through Sunday, but a visitor ought to bring money. From a small cup of soft drink for 700 colons ($1.39) to art objects selling for far more, the festival is dedicated to capitalism.

A number of musical and performance acts dot the calendar for the annual event. The location is the east
side of sprawling Parque la Sabana.

The kids will love the serpentarium with its pythons and colorful corn snakes. Adults might be attracted more to the working poets or book stalls, not to mention the many different types of food available at events like this.

Artists have come from all over Central America to display and perhaps sell.

Photos by
Saray Ramírez Vindas

Miguel Hernández makes mask from a mix of clay and paper.

Patricia Víquez Faith shows handcraft done from recycle tuna cans and plastic bottles and finished with papier-maché. Ceramics also are by Li Sáenz Urgell.

You need to see Costa Rican tourism information HERE!

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, March 21, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 57

Church-run hostels are bright spots on route north
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Thousands of Central Americans leave their homes each year and embark on a perilous journey north through México to end up as illegal emigrants in the United States and Canada.

Dozens die on the way each year, most turn back, and some consider themselves lucky to make it. The Catholic Church is running a string of shelters for the intrepid travelers along the Guatamala-México border where the migrants find food, a bed and time to steel themselves for the long trek.

At a church-run hostel in Guatemala, on the border with México, there are around 50 immigrants resting from what has already been a long journey. They huddle around tables and in hushed, furtive whispers plan the next stage of their route.

One Guatemalan girl, who did not want to be named, says the hostel gives the migrants a chance to regroup.

"Over here they give us food and give us water. They give us rooms to sleep," she said. "They give us three days to stay. Those three days we've got to plan what route we're going to take. We ask whatever questions we want to the social worker."

She says the travel is dangerous because the migrants have to look out not only for bandits who want to rob them, but also for crooked policemen who demand bribes.

Last year, 70 people were killed by gangs, or Maras, as they are known. Their activities stretch all the way from El Salvador to the United States. All the migrants at this hostel said they were or expect to be robbed on this journey.

The savvy ones get their family to wire money to Western Union offices along the way but, this young woman is worried about more than losing her money. She says women run a great risk of being raped and getting pregnant. But she says that will not stop her from reaching the United States.

A local non-government organization, Fraya Matias, estimates that over one half of those trying to cross borders illegally are women and minors.

Traveling down a dirt track is a bright orange jeep. The man driving is also in a bright orange uniform,
the mark of Grupo Beta, an organization the Mexican government set up in 1990 to provide some protection for the thousands of migrants who travel from Central America through México to the United States and Canada. Like anyone in uniform, Group Beta officers are not readily trusted.

Grupo Beta officer Frances Aceves assures a group of a dozen or so men who emerge from roadside brush that they will not be arrested. He says, even without valid travel papers, they have rights and should call for help if they are threatened.

A young El Salvadoran says he and his friend have been on the road for seven days and their ultimate destination is Canada. He says, so far, the journey has not been easy.

"Feel very tired now …my feet are so hot… In the buses the people, they steal our money," he said. "Have nothing now."

He says he was robbed on the bus and by immigration police. But he says it is his "obligation" to get to North America and do what he can to improve the life of his family. There is no way back for him, he says.

Grupo Beta patrolmen hand out cans of tuna and some crackers to the men, and small bottles of water. They offer to take any of them back to Mexico's southern border, but there are no takers. Still, Grupo Beta estimates that only about one in five will make it across the border to the United States. It says the trip north is just too dangerous for most migrants.

For those who run out of luck and decide to go back, there are hostels at the Guatemalan border as well.
Juan Luis from El Salvador is one of them. His legs are two stumps below his waist. He draws himself up to a sitting position to tell his story.

Juan says he was trying to get to the United States, but had a train accident in which he lost both of his legs. He says he hadn't eaten anything for three days and was so weak he couldn't stay awake and fell off the train. He says he took a big gamble trying to make it to America and lost.

The dangers for the Central Americans to make the journey to the United States are enormous and the odds they will make it are long. But many are determined to succeed, mainly because the alternative is poverty, unemployment and hopelessness at home.

Coffee's saving mechanism against booze-induced pancreatitis outlined
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Scientists at the University of Liverpool have found how coffee can reduce the risk of alcohol-induced pancreatitis.

Pancreatitis is a condition in which the pancreas becomes inflamed, causing severe abdominal pain.  It is often triggered by alcohol consumption which causes enzymes to digest part of the pancreas.

Scientists have known for some time that coffee can reduce the risk of alcoholic pancreatitis, but have been unable to determine how.  Researchers at the university have now discovered that caffeine can partially close special channels within cells, reducing to some extent the damaging effects of alcohol products on the pancreas.

Ole Petersen and Robert Sutton, both professors from the university’s Physiological Laboratory and Division
of Surgery, have found that cells in the pancreas can be damaged by products of alcohol and fat formed in the pancreas when oxygen levels in the organ are low.  Under these conditions, excessive amounts of calcium are released from stores within the cells of the pancreas.  Special organelles, called mitochondria, also become damaged and cannot produce the energizer that normally allows calcium to be pumped out of the cells.  The excess calcium then activates protein breakdown, destroying the cells in the pancreas.

Petersen explained: “The primary cause of the build up in calcium ion concentration is movement of calcium ions from a store inside the cells into the cell water through special channels in the store membrane. We have found that caffeine, present in drinks such as coffee can at least partially close these channels. This explains why coffee consumption can reduce the risk of alcoholic pancreatitis. The caffeine effect, however, is weak and excessive coffee intake has its own dangers, so we have to search for better agents."

Jo Stuart
About us

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