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These stories were published Thursday, March 25, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 60
Jo Stuart
About us
Giving kids
an extra lift
with early

A.M. Costa Rica photos/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Exercise over a ball stretches the back muscles and the muscles in the arms and hands.
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Babies are having stimulating experiences at a local hospital where they are celebrating one year of speeding up the physical and mental development of infants.

The location is the Hospital Carit or, as it is now known, the Hospital de las Mujeres. Thanks to physical therapy administered to enhance the daily development of children those born under special conditions get special attention. The children are those who were born as high risk deliveries, who were premature or who suffer from other woes such as respiratory problems.

The section of the hospital itself is called alto riesgo or high risk and it celebrated Feb. 3 one year of efforts to help the youngsters, who range from newborns to 3 years old.

A team of two women, Lic. Rosibel Calderón  and Lic. Eraida Palacios, child development professionals, work with the collaboration of the parents day-by-day trying to help those babies by giving support and early stimulation. Under their hands the babies work muscles and body parts and send messages to the brain creating new pathways and possibilities.

For the parents of the babies, the most amazing aspect is to see how the child advances each day, said Ms. Calderón. She is more than a nurse.  She is a mother herself who encouraged most of the parents there to bring their children.

She said that sometimes the first job and goal is to work with parents and convince them that the physical therapy sooner or later will show  gratifying results in their baby’s development.

The early stimulation or physical therapy for children services about 20 or more children a day. That means up to about 100 babies for their monthly workouts. Some youngsters with serious physical problems or deficiencies visit more than once a week, as do children who have had surgical procedures.

A typical session for a child lasts about an hour, although the time can vary depending on a child’s response. Massage, including with oils, plays a big role. But stimulation extends to sight and sound as well as touch. Music is played and dangling toys are evident. The child is put in 

The natural sucking response of a newborn is further stimulated during weekly sessions.

different positions based on the skills and the age of the young patient.

Parents participate and in group sessions it is the parents who are actually applying the massages. They take this knowledge home. Warm baths and the application of cold compresses afterwards also are encouraged to stimulate the nerve paths of infants.

In group sessions the presence of other children also serve as stimulation.

In the past, hospital officials provided obstetrical and gynecological care, but worries by the newborn medical team caused them to seek a way to continue monitoring and controlling the babies development. So the early stimulation section was created. 

A typical child is one who comes with a high risk of showing complications in the first months of life.

Most of the parents are grateful to the efforts provided by the stimulation team and the training they give so that parents can carry on the same practices at home.

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Deadline to tax plan
may be hard to meet

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Minority parties in the Asemblea Nacional came out Wednesday and said what lawmakers have been saying privately for two weeks.

There is just no way that the 400-plus page new tax plan can be approved by April 30.

Humberto Arce of the Bloque Patriótico Parlamentario in a statement proposed to eliminate 83 of the 99 articles contained in the plan. He was giving a negative minority report of a commission that studied the proposal.

Meanwhile, Epsy Campbell Barr of the Partido Acción Ciudadana issued a favorable minority report in which she praised the responsible deputies who had kept the legislative plan alive with courage and vision. She also said that the fiscal reform plan is of the country and not just of the current government.

The Partido Acción Ciudadana still wishes to make some changes, particularly in the tax rate assessed large corporations.

Despite the minority reports, a number of deputies, particularly those who did not serve on committees that studied the tax plan, feel overwhelmed by the size and scope of the measure.

The proposals are a complete rewrite of the nation’s tax code. The proposal would impose a value added tax in place of the current sales tax. The new taxes would raise nearly $500 million for the government.

The April 30 deadline is the end of a period when legislative priorities are set by the executive branch. The tax plan is in the No. 1 position until then, and members of the government party, the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana, are expected to push for passage by the April 30 date.

A temporary tax plan has expired, and certain taxes levied in it are no longer being collected.

Pacheco to stay home
for hospital tests

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Abel Pacheco will be staying home instead of attending the VI summit of heads of state and of government in Nicaragua.

Pacheco suspended his trip on the advice of his physician due to a high level of sugar in his blood, according to a message from Casa Presidencial. The president is scheduled to visit Clinica Biblica today for more tests.

Costa Rica will be represented in the summit by Roberto Tovar, the foreign minister, and Ricardo Toledo, the minister of the Presidencia.

Pacheco has a two-week trip to Europe planned, and the evaluation of his physician, Manuel Eduardo Sáenz, will have a bearing on his plans.

Stadium tax idea
backed, opposed

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Football collided with air travel before a legislative committee Wednesday.

Hermes Navarro, president of the Federación Costarricense de Fútbol, supported the construction of a first-class soccer stadium. Costa Rica deserves such a place he said, suggesting that a stadium that seats 50,000 would be acceptable.

He also said that La Sabana, where the current Estadio Nacional now sits, would be a good location.

But Fernando Naranjo, president of the Grupo Taca, the air line company, said he opposed the use of an airport exit tax for this purpose.

The exit tax for citizens and residents is supposed to drop from $43 to 26, but lawmakers seem reluctant to let that money go. They have proposed using some for pressing highway needs and the rest for a stadium.

Naranjo said that private enterprise would be able to finance a new stadium.

Rodríguez uncontested
in bid for OAS position

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The president of El Salvador, Francisco Flores, has decided not to seek the top spot at the Organization of American States.

That leaves the field open for former Costa Rican president Miguel Angel Rodríguez. Nearly all of the Latin American states have said they would back his bid.

The job is to be secretary general of the hemispheric organization.

Explosion fatal to man

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man suffered fatal injuries Wednesday morning when a fireworks factory exploded in rural Cartago. Dead was Donald Villalobos Brenes, 23. He died later at the Hospital Max Peralta in Cartago.

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in south
Costa Rica
Graphic by Comisión Nacional de Prevención 
de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias
X and red spot show location of forest fire
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 5-day-old forest fire in southern Costa Rica is getting national attention. Already flames have charred 250 hectares, some 617 acres, and officials fear the blaze will spread into the nearby Parque International La Amistad and lands where Indians live.

The Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias has issued an alert, and more firefighters are being brought to the area. The location is in difficult terrain on the slopes of Cerro Dúrika near Buenos Aires in the Province of Puntarenas, which encompasses nearly all the central and southern Pacific coast.

The first crews on the scene arrived Saturday. Walter Ortiz, chief of the Buenos Aires sub-region of the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía, is in charge. He said that the principal work of the firefighters 

would be to keep the blaze out of the park.

The national emergency commission sent a crew to overfly the region Wednesday to locate hot spots and an air perspective of the challenging topography. The flight was made by the Sección Aérea of the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

The firefighters have established six fronts against the wind-fanned blaze on the slopes of the mountain. The habitat ranges from brush to forest.

And if the one blaze near Buenos Aires were not enough, other smaller outbreaks have been reported nearby. They include near Santa María de Brunca, Olán, and Salitre Caliente de Cabagra.

Thanks to Costa Rica’s dry season, the brush and trees are primed for blazes, although the one threatening the park is the largest in several years.

Mother Nature gives an afternoon jolt to Escazú
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Residents of Escazú got an afternoon shaking Wednesday when a 3.8 magnitude quake hit the area about 3:22 p.m.

That was the second quake felt in a 17-hour period in much of the national territory. A  larger quake, this one 4.2 magnitude, took place in Panamá near the Costa Rican border about 11:11 p.m. Tuesday. The location was some 40 kms. or 

24 miles southwest of Puerto Armuelles. This is the same general area where an early morning Christmas Day quake struck. That one killed a child and left significant damage in Panamá and southern Costa Rica.

The Escazú quake was reported to be about a kilometer southeast of Escazú Centro. That would put the epicenter between Escazú Centro and San Rafael de Escazú. There were no reports of damage in the Central valley.

Peace Corps comes in for criticism on safety issues
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. _ The director of the U.S. Peace Corps has defended the organization against charges not enough is being done to protect the safety of its volunteers around the world. A troubling increase in attacks on Peace Corps volunteers was the subject of a congressional hearing Wednesday. 

The Peace Corps has continued its work even as terrorist threats against Americans have increased in recent years. But amid its many accomplishments the Peace Corps faces escalating criticism that it has not made the kinds of changes necessary to ensure the safety and security of volunteers.

About 75 volunteers are assigned to rural community development and child welfare projcts in Costa Rica.

Incidences of physical attacks as well as robberies and disappearances have increased. Women, who now constitute a majority of volunteers, as well as those working in remote areas, are more vulnerable.

After a 20 month investigation, a newspaper in Ohio, The Dayton Daily News, published a series of articles on violence against Peace Corps volunteers.  The newspaper found that since 1991, reported incidents of assaults against volunteers more than doubled. 

"The extent of this safety problem has been disguised for decades, partly because the assaults occurred thousands of miles away, partly because the Peace Corps has made little effort to publicize them, and partly because the agency deliberately kept people from finding out while emphasizing the positive aspects of Peace Corps service," said Jeffrey Bruce, an editor at the Dayton Daily News.

Included in the newspaper's reporting was the case of volunteer, Walter J. Poirer, who disappeared in 2001 in Bolivia. His father told the House International Relations Committee what he thinks led to his son's disappearance.

"We believe that the lack of supervision, lack of a meaningful assignment, and lack of a proper place to live, all contributed the loss of our son," he said. 

"From the beginning we have found Peace Corps to be more concerned with its image and protecting the aura and prestige of the Peace Corps than any other issue."

Peace Corps Director Gaddi Vasquez says the agency has taken steps to improve security for volunteers. "The safety and security of each volunteer is the agency's top priority," he said. "While the Peace Corps will never be able to issue an absolute guarantee, we remain committed to delivering and developing optimum conditions for a safe and fulfilling experience for every Peace Corps volunteer."

Vasquez says there has actually been what he calls a "significant drop" in deaths, major sexual assaults, and minor assaults of volunteers. 

President George Bush and Congress support an increase in Peace Corps funding, which would push the number of volunteers from 7,500 to about 14,000.

Poirer, whose son disappeared in Bolivia, says this should not occur without significant reforms. "Only after the safety of each and every individual volunteer is properly addressed, should there be an expansion of Peace Corps," he said. 

General Accounting Office official Jess Ford testified that the Peace Corps has increased the number of safety and security officers abroad, and is moving to implement other changes. However, he added that there are still shortcomings. 

"At each of the five posts we visited, we found instances of volunteers who began their service in housing that had not been inspected and had not met Peace Corps guidelines," said Ford. "We also found variation in the frequency of staff contact with volunteers and in Peace Corps responsiveness to volunteer concerns about safety and security."

Legislation is pending in the House of Representatives aimed at strengthening management practices in the Peace Corps.

Other witnesses at the hearing urged that whatever changes take place, including those mandated by Congress, should not change the essential mission of the Peace Corps, which was founded more than 40 years ago.

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Congress could double U.S. troops in Colombia
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The top Senate Democrat says he supports a Bush Administration proposal to double America's military presence in Colombia. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle spoke with reporters after meeting with Colombia's president on Capitol Hill.

U.S. law dictates a ceiling of 400 American military personnel and 300 American civilian contractors allowed in Colombia at any time to assist the South American nation in its efforts to battle drug traffickers and leftist guerrillas.

The Bush Administration wants to double those numbers. Daschle says he and many of his colleagues back the idea, and conveyed their support to Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.

"We talked about raising the military cap, and many of us in the Senate support it," he said. "I think it is necessary in order to continue the effective approach that we have used in addressing these issues. And we cannot address it unless we have the resources. Our governments have a mutual interest in stability and security."

U.S. troops serve in Colombia in an advisory, non-combat capacity under a multi-billion dollar U.S. aid program launched in 2000 called "Plan Colombia." President Uribe says he would welcome an expansion of American assistance.

The Colombian leader said, "The United States, through Plan Colombia, helps us with funding, technical issues and equipment. The United States 

is considering increasing the number of personnel assigned to help us, which we view positively. What we need is even more effective aid."

Raising the cap on U.S. military presence in Colombia would require an act of Congress. Minority Leader Daschle's support is viewed as key, since other members of his Democratic Party have expressed reservations about boosting U.S. involvement in Colombia.

They cite allegations of human-rights abuses in the South American nation, as well as fears that the United States could be dragged into a conflict similar to the Vietnam war.

But Daschle brushed those concerns aside, saying he has been impressed with progress in Colombia's anti-drug and anti-rebel campaigns since President Uribe took office 18 months ago.

"We are very pleased with the efforts to reduce drug trafficking," he said. "We are impressed with his efforts in fighting terror and FARC. We are very impressed with the strength of the economy, and the United States continues to want to be helpful in creating a good partnership with his government." The Revolutional Armed Forces of Colombia, the FARC, is the main rebel group.

For his part, Uribe said the battle for peace and stability in his country is far from over. The Colombian leader said, "Colombia's problems are grave. We must not focus on recent progress; rather, we must focus on what remains to be done. In that sense, expanding U.S. assistance benefits us all." 

U.S. Protect Act for kids gets its first guilty plea
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Bureau of Diplomatic Security has  assisted U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement with the investigation and arrest of the first individual to be prosecuted under the 2003 Protect Act. 

The Protect Act makes it illegal for U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents to travel outside the United States to engage in sexual acts with children. 

Michael Lewis Clark pleaded guilty March 17 at the U.S. District Court in Seattle, Wash., to two charges of engaging in and attempting to engage in illicit sexual conduct in foreign places, according to the U.S. State Department.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Bangkok received information from a non-governmental organization that Clark was engaging in sex tourism with children in Cambodia, officials said. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement contacted the Diplomatic Security special agent assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh for assistance in conducting the investigation there. The Diplomatic Security agent helped U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement interview victims and witnesses, provided translation support and coordinated the investigation efforts among U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Cambodian National Police and other Cambodian Government Ministries, according to a department release.

Clark was arrested by the Cambodian National 

Police on charges of debauchery involving illicit sexual conduct with two Cambodian boys, aged 10 and 13. U.S. officials petitioned the Cambodian government to drop the charges and deport Clark to the United States so he could be prosecuted under the Protect Act. 

Clark could serve a maximum sentence of 30 years for each offense and pay a fine of $250,000.

Top police officers
trained in sex cases

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

More than 30 top Costa Rican police officials are mong the 500 who have completed a special seminar in investigation and handling of commercial sexual exploitation of minors.

The 30 have the rank of comisionados and are about to assume the jobs of regional chiefs of the Fuerza Pública, said an announcement.

The Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública plans to bring many more rank-and-file officers into similar seminars during the next few months. 

The initial seminars are directed at officers in areas with the highest risk of such activities. Officials who received the training this week were from San José, Heredia, Cartago part of the Province of Limón. In the next session will be officials from Golfito and Quepos, the ministry said.

Jo Stuart
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