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These stories were published Monday, March 28, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 60
Jo Stuart
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Onlookers had some excitement for their Sunday walk around town. The blaze blocked Calle 7 and forced traffic to detour.

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas

Sunday fire damages
well-known corner

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A smoky fire ravaged the second floor of six attached businesses on the pedestrian boulevard in downtown San José Sunday.

Hardest hit was Restaurant Mariscar, a popular place for expats and tourists. Also damaged was the second floor of Chelles, the 24-hour restaurant that has been a San José fixture.

Around the corner on Calle 7 four small clothing stores suffered fire damage to the second floor and smoke damage to the inventories. Several shop owners arrived to carry goods from Chik's, a woman's clothing merchant.

All the frame structures involved lost their roofs. Firemen initially blamed a short circuit for the blaze, which appears to have started in the second floor of Mariscar and spread east and then south.

Those associated with Chik's clothing store try to save some merchandise from the smoke.

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U.S. tax experts helping
Costa Rica draft casino law

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

U.S. Treasury experts have helped Costa Rican authorities to draft a bill to tax casinos.

U.S. Employees worked with the Costa Rican Ministerio de Hacienda from July through October to come up with concepts for the tax plan. In January three U.S. Treasury Department advisers conducted training in gaming industry audit techniques. In addition to Costa Rican officials, students included tax collectors from Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.

The Ministerio de Hacienda is expected to present the draft to the Asamblea Legislativa to replace a measure being considered now. The five-year-old casino proposal that is languishing in the legislature is considered inadequate by most standards.
The role of the U.S. Department of Treasury in helping with the gaming legislation became known as officials announced an even wider presences for U.S. tax collecting experts. U.S. officials have conducted an extensive study of  the Hacienda collection agency known as Tributación and submitted a 20-page report in February outlining areas where improvements could be made.

The result was that additional U.S. experts are conducting training of Costa Rican tax employees, and the training will last the rest of the year. Federico Carrillo Zuircher, the minister of Hacienda, and Robert Warfield, a Treasury expert, signed an agreement this month outlining the program.

The ability of Tributación to collect taxes has been poor historically. One criticism of a proposed new tax plan for Costa Rica is that officials are not collecting the taxes that they are owed now.

One reason for the involvement of  U.S. advisers is to assess the tax collecting structure here and suggest alternatives, according to the agreement. Training is high on the priority list, too, and Costa Rican employees will get a mid-level management skills court that was developed by the U.S. Internal revenue Service, the U.S. tax collector, said the agreement.

The agreement also pledges representatives of both countries to assist the streamlining of taxpayer appeals and taxpayer complaints with the intent to improve their effectiveness.

The U.S. experts also will study “current archaic work practices that consume resources and inconvenience taxpayers” as well as provide technical assistance to Tributación with tax audits, said the agreement.

It's back to work today
for most Costa Ricans

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Ricans are waking up this morning with the grim reality of going to work. The Semana Santa holiday is over, and the next week-long break will be at Christmas.

Heavy traffic carried vacationers into the Central Valley Sunday. Road accidents hampered the effort with traffic on the InterAmerican highway being detoured east of Puentarenas

Some 24 deaths were catalogued during the period that began March 20. That is not a record. Violent deaths during the Easter Week holiday have ranged from 5 to 30.

Eight deaths were attributed to road mishaps. Seven persons drowned.

More than 400 persons were listed as Semana Santa victims throughout Central America.

Costa Rica wins match
even without cheering fans

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Even though there were no vocal fans in the  Ricardo Saprissa stadium Saturday, Costa Rica still managed a 2-1 win over Panamá in soccer.

The game was a preliminary for the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

Costa Ricans also were cheered Sunday when México defeated the U.S. National team by the same score.

Costa Rica was penalized because fans had behaved badly in a previous home match against México. The international committee decreed that Costa Rica would have to play two matches without allowing fans into the stadium.

Four accident victims
aielifted to hostpials

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Four seriously hurt family members, including children 4 and 10, were airlifted off the Nicoya Peninsula Sunday by the  Servicio de Vigilancia Aérea, which used a helicopter and two small planes.

The four were injured when their vehicle rolled near Cóbano. The air service took the four to Tobias Bolaños airport in Pavas, and the youngsters went to the Hospital National de Niños and the adults went to Hospital México.

Those transported were identified as  Adán Rivas Velázquez, 36, Socorro de Velázquez Castillo, 34, Adán Divas Marín, 10, and Orlando Velázquez Días, 4, said a release from the Ministerio de Gopbernación, Policía y Seguriddad Pública.

Intel declares regular dividend

SANTA CLARA, Calif. —  The Intel Corporation board of directors has declared an eight-cent per share quarterly dividend on the company's common stock. The dividend is payable on June 1 to stockholders of record on May 7. The company has manufacturing plants in Costa Rica.

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When that really good deal has a tendency to backfire on you
Ir por lana y salir trasquilado

“To go for wool and come back shorn.” When I was a little kid, whenever I would hear this dicho I would envision a man going to the barn to get some wool and coming back with all his hair shaved off. Now, this refrán seems pretty straight forward: Sometimes we expect to get something, but in the end we lose everything.

One simple example might be when we¹re buying a used car. We think were getting a great deal. It¹s cheap. It looks nice and appears to be in good condition. Then, a few months later, just about the time the short guarantee runs out, our bargain car turns out to be one big fat lemon. There¹s a saying in English that we should also keep in mind in such cases: “If it appears to be too good to be true, it probably is.”

Sometimes a guy might think that he¹s such a lady killer that he is just irresistible to the opposite sex. But when he makes a pass at the prettiest girl on the block, he may not only find himself rebuffed, but also having to deal with her boyfriend who just happens to be captain of the soccer team! Sometimes it¹s better not to be too sure of one¹s self — or one¹s irresistible charms, as it were  — or you just might ir por lana y salir trasquilado. 

Speaking of soccer, recently the FIFA the supreme authority of the international Fútbol [Soccer] Federation, penalized Costa Rica because the fans threw objects at a referee at the end of a game where Costa Rica lost to México.

The sanction imposed was that at the next international game Costa Rican fans would be barred from the stadium. Members of the Costa Rican soccer federation flew to Switzerland to try and get the FIFA to lift the ban. But instead, FIFA imposed an additional sanction on the Costa Rican team in that their coach would not be allowed to be present during the game against Panamá. Now that's what I really call ir por lana y salir trasquilado!

I do dearly love fútbol. I played it throughout my youth in high school and college, but I must agree with this ban. Fans and players alike must respect the referees and the members of the other team regardless of what the final outcome of the game
way we say it

By Daniel Soto

may be. I love to scream and carry on during a fútbol game, and sometimes, in the heat of play, I've even been known to hurl the occasional invective at the opposing team. But hurling objects at the players or officials on the field is something else entirely. This is never acceptable under any circumstances.

When we were kids my by now ultra famous Uncle Chifol used to take us to the games. We always knew that if our team lost there was bound to be a brawl, and Uncle Chifol would probably be among the chief instigators. We were prepared because no sooner had we entered the stadium than Chifol's archenemies from the other side would start yelling insults at him. But for us, it was all part of the game.

Nothing ever really got out of hand and no one ever even thought of throwing things onto the playing field.

As crazy as Uncle Chifol could be sometimes, he always told us that we must respect the players and the referee because they are professionals who are there to do their job. But to those idiots who supported the other team he gave to quarter. Actually, however, away from the soccer stadium many of the fans rooting for the other teams were really very good friends with my uncle. Unfortunately for Uncle Chifol, he was one of those guys who always seemed to ir por lana y salir trasquilado throughout his life. It was really rather sad, when I look back on it now.

Today's dicho also has something to say about being content with what we¹ve got and to not always be hankering after more because, in so doing, we might just lose what we already have.

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Tiny, cheap packet of powder can produce clean water
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The World Health Organization says more than 3.4 million people die every year from poor water and sanitary conditions. More than 250 million people suffer from diseases caused by dirty water every year, and 6,000 children die every day from diseases caused by contaminated water. No country in the Western Hemisphere suffers more from problems caused by contaminated water than Haiti, the poorest country in the hemisphere. But that could change soon, with the introduction of a new product that cleans contaminated water in just minutes.

The waiting room at the Carrefour maternity hospital is always crowded. It is a good place to find an audience receptive to a song extolling the benefits of clean drinking water.

The woman leading the sing-along at the Carrefour hospital is Amelia Shaw, a specialist on mother and child health, who also works as a journalist for international news agencies in Haiti. She is introducing a new product called PuR, or purifier of water, to those who have come to the hospital seeking help. Many of those at the hospital are bringing small children suffering from diarrhea, and Amelia Shaw says the new product could save their lives.

"It is a powder that essentially purifies water," said Amelia Shaw. "It will take the dirtiest water you have ever seen and after about 25 minutes make it potable [drinkable]. It will make it potable and absolutely clear. It kills all pesticides, all microbes, everything organic from viruses to bacteria to worms. It eliminates all poisons, heavy metals, and other dangerous contaminants in water."

Supporters of such point-of-use water treatments, as they are known, have shown reductions of 30 to 50 percent in diarrheal disease, with even higher reductions during water-borne epidemics.

Diarrhea is the leading cause of death among Haitian children less than one-year old, and the second leading killer among children between the ages of one to five. A recent study found that one out of every 13 Haitian children die before they reach their first birthday and one out of 24 that survive the first year die before the age of five.

Population Services International which markets health care products in developing countries around the world on a non-profit basis, has just introduced PuR to Haiti. The product which was developed by the U.S.-based company, Proctor and Gamble has
been introduced with positive results in other
countries like Guatemala, The Philippines and Bangladesh, where tests show PuR substantially reduced arsenic levels in tube-well water, a major health problem for Bangladeshis. The widespread introduction of PuR is also expected to have a positive impact on expanding oral rehydration therapy, which is used to combat diarrheal disease.

The PuR powder which comes in a small sachet, or packet, and which is sold for about eight U.S. cents, got its first test in Haiti last September when floods killed several thousand people in the Haitian city of Gonaives. Amelia Shaw says a decision was made to distribute PuR in Gonaives, even though the product was not designed for emergency use.

"This is a product that is not necessarily designed for a relief situation because you have to be able to effectively show people how to use it," she said. "So it was a big challenge in Gonaives. People in Gonaives had water everywhere. It was dirty water and it was really posing a big problem. A product like PuR, if people know what it is, and they know how to use it, can save thousands of lives. I know we did a lot of good. We had teams on the ground and we were able to work with other relief organizations . . . ."

Amelia Shaw says there are four steps to preparing PuR. The powder must be stirred for five minutes until waste material in the water clumps together or coagulates. Then the clumped material must be allowed to sink to the bottom of a bucket or container. Then, the water must be filtered into another container, and then, allowed to sit for 15 minutes. If these steps are not followed correctly PuR will not work, so Amelia Shaw and her team constantly visit hospitals and clinics, where through songs and skits they show people how to use PuR, a product which she says could save many lives in coming years.

Dr. Dauphin Jean-Philippe of the Carrefour maternity hospital says he is amazed that a very simple product could have such a potential positive impact.

The Haitian doctor says he expects PuR to have a dramatic impact on people's lives because it will change the way water is used in Haiti, where only 10 percent of the population has access to clean drinking water in their homes.

Nearly two thirds of Haitians get their water either from public water fountains, which are difficult to keep clean, or from non-protected sources such as rivers and streams that are heavily polluted. Getting clean drinking water from a small package of powder, which sells for pennies, could save millions of lives now lost to contaminated water.

Paris press group worries that Chavez is after the media
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON — New amendments to the criminal code of Venezuela threaten press freedom in that country, says the independent journalistic advocacy group Reporters Without Borders.

In a statement, the Paris-based group said increased penalties for alleged press offenses, as outlined in the amendments that took effect March 16, represent "a big step backwards" for press freedom in Venezuela.

The press-freedom organization added that "instead of moving towards the decriminalization" of the press as advocated by the United Nations, the amendments "step up the prison sentences for some press offenses."

The Venezuelan authorities are "running counter to the general tendency to liberalize press laws," said Reporters Without Borders.

Journalists face heavy penalties, ranging from six to 30 months in jail, for what Reporters Without Borders called "poorly defined offenses," such as insulting the Venezuelan president.  Journalists can also now be jailed for one to two years for damaging the "honor" of a public official.  Reporters Without Borders said this punishment would encourage journalists to censor themselves when criticizing the Venezuelan authorities.

Another amendment regarding defamation says any individual making comments that could "expose another person to contempt or public hatred" is subject to a sentence of up to three years in prison and a fine.  Previously, the criminal code had provided for no more than 18 months in prison for this kind of alleged offense.

The group said other recently adopted legislation is also repressing the Venezuelan media.  For example, in July 2004, Venezuela's Supreme Court ratified a law under which a person can be imprisoned for working as a journalist without having a journalism degree or belonging to an association of journalists.

In addition, broadcast media risk heavy fines or loss of their licenses if guilty of breaking a December 2004 law on the content of programs broadcast on private radio and television stations.

Thus, "in view of the confrontation" between the Venezuelan government and the leading privately owned news media, "we fear that the government could use these new laws to try to silence its critics," said Reporters Without Borders.

The group said the United Nations' special watchdog for freedom of expression "clearly and formally stated" in January 2000 that "the imposition of a prison sentence for the peaceful expression of opinion constitutes a serious violation of human rights."

Reporters Without Borders added that Article 11 of the Declaration on Principles of Freedom of Expression, adopted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in October 2000, says that "public officials are subject to greater scrutiny by society.  Laws that penalize offensive expressions directed at public officials restrict freedom of expression and the right to information."

Another press advocacy group, the Miami-based Inter-American Press Association, also recently expressed great concern about freedom of the press in Venezuela, where it said Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has consolidated his grip over much of the media through changes in Venezuela's laws.

Jo Stuart
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