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These stories were published Thursday, March 31, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 63
Jo Stuart
About us
Camping at the beach is a holiday ritual for Costa Ricans. Beaches are open to the public, and camping is a cheap way to enjoy the benefits without hotel bills.
A.M. Costa Rica/Garland M. Baker
Oh, for the good olde days of frolicking on the empty beach
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

"They have taken all the fun out of Semana Santa,’ said an old hand who remembers when there was no law west of Tibás.

He was talking about rules issued to protect the Ostional National Wildlife Refuge on the far Pacific coast and, by extension, other coastal national parks.

"We would sit on the beach, toast marshmallows, throw back bottles of beer, play our radios so they could hear it in Japan and dance to the wee hours."

Alas. Such activities now get a frown from the local environmental officials and the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía.

Beach land in Costa Rica is divided into the public zone, the first 50 meters (about 163 feet)

 from high water line, and the restricted zone, the remaining 150 meters is what is known as the Maritime Zone.

The public zone is what most people consider to be the beach: sandy, surf and sunbathers.

For years Costa Ricans camped in the public zone. Camping now is illegal, according to the rules handed out to visitors during Semana Santa. So are motorized vehicles and loud music within the first 50 meters. And no campfires.

Resourceful Costa Ricans simply set up their tents, light their campfires and turn on the potable radio in the 150 meter zone. But it is not the beach in most cases.

At Ostional over Semana Santa there were park rangers to enforce the rules. And snuggling under the stars at a surfside campfire is prohibited.

Massive porno spams are making us look bad to the world
By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

Since Saturday the A.M. Costa Rica server has been under attack from spammers who appear to be tarnishing the name of the newspaper worldwide.

The server attack seems to be secondary to an effort by someone to sent explicit pornography to hundreds of thousands of e-mail users. The pornography contains ficticious return e-mail addresses of A.M. Costa Rica.

About 2,000 to 3,000 bounced pornographic e-mail messages land in the A.M. Costa Rica inbox every day. They represent a clerical burden in removing them. But more than that, the massive numbers of spam messages that do not bounce and the explicit content represent a slander on the name of the newspaper.

Typically spammers send unwanted messages with false e-mail addresses. In this case they have continued to use the same domain name, that of

Consequently any bounced e-mail is returned 

to the A.M. Costa Rica server. Nearly all are explicit pornography that urge recipients to visit porno Web sites.

The messages seem to originate from brokers who obtain a commission for directing viewers to porno sites. The Web sites involved are registered from Venezuela, Spain and Quebec, although the accuracy of the registration data also is suspect.

The mass mailers are using address lists that span the globe. Bounced messages are rejected by local e-mail servers in a multitude of languages.

A representative of where the A.M. Costa Rica Web pages are hosted confirmed that no spam messages are passing through the computers there. The messages are just from some spammers who have faked the return address, said the representative.

Anti-spam servers are likely to pick up on the massive amounts of unsolicited e-mail and begin to blacklist the A.M. Costa Rica server as well as the server of any other e-mail user being victimized by the spammers.

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Guess who’s a candidate
for February elections

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

To the surprise of no one, Ottón Solís announced his candidacy for president Wednesday. Solís is the founder and leader of the Partido Acción Ciudadana, and he was the party’s candidate in 2002.

He is certain to get the nomination because the party’s period of members declaring to be "pre-candidates" expired Wednesday.

Solís opposes the free trade treaty with the United States in its present form. He is considered a socialist on many issues.

He is certain to face Oscar Arias Sanchez, the only candidate of the Partido Liberación Nacional. Arias, the former president, needed a favorable Sala IV constitutional court ruling to run because the Costa Rican Constitution says citizens may serve just one four-year term as president.

The elections will be in February, and earnest campaigning will not start until August or September.

The Partido Unidad Social Cristiana has a four-way race for its nomination. One candidate is Ricardo Toledo, the former minister of the Presidencia under current President Abel Pacheco.

That party will not hold a convention until July, so other candidates are likely.

Both Liberación and Unidad have been shaken by corruption allegations. Two presidents who are Unidad members are under house arrest facing corruption charges.

José María Figueres Olsen, another ex-president who is the son of the founder of the modern Costa Rican state, declined to return from Switzerland to face similar allegations. He is a member of Liberación.

Man killed in Heredia
was Canadian not from U.S.

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 46-year-old North American, shot fatally in Heredia last week, was a Canadian and not a U.S. citizen, investigators said Wednesday.

He was Richie Hattan, 46, who got in an argument with Guillermo Villalobos Hernández, the owner of the hotel where the Canadian had stayed for two months. Hattan originally was identified as a U.S. citizen.

Investigators said that Hattan had problems with aggressive conduct, alcohol and drugs and that he faced a criminal case for the attempted murder of a former girlfriend.

The argument developed because Hattan had not paid his rent for two months, investigators said. They said that the hotel owner was beaten up and that the case was one of justifiable self-defense.

Hattan suffered a gunshot wound to the hip and died several hours later in a hospital.

Air Force Eye doctors
will work in San Carlos

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Eye doctors from Lackland Air Force Base in Texas will be in San Carlos for two weeks offering their medical skills to residents there.

A release from the U.S. Embassy said the doctors would be working at the Hospital de Ciudad Quesada and would be seeing from 30 to 50 patients a day.

The visiting physicians are believed to be members of the 59th Medical Wing at the Air Force base.

The group is headed by Dr. Richard Lane and consists of four eye surgeons, two assistants and an anesthesiologist, said the embassy.
They will be in San Carlos for two weeks, beginning Friday.

The medical staff at Lackland has a long history of conducting readiness exercises that benefit residents at various points in the Caribbean and Latin America.

Two from San Pedro
face pimping allegations

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two San Pedro beauty shop operators are facing allegations of being pimps after a raid at the shop.

The investigation was by the Unidad Contra la Explotación Sexual. A release from the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública said that the men provided men, women and transvestites to customers.

Investigators said the beauty parlor was near the Banco Nacional branch office in the center of San Pedro. The men were identified by the last names of Medina and Suárez.

Investigators said the men advertised in newspapers and other publications for massage services, which were offered in addition to haircuts.

Encounter on the border
for Pacheco this Friday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Abel Pacheco and his Panamanian counterpart, Martin Torrijos, will meet Friday in Bocas del Toro, just south of the Costa Rican border. The topic will be economic development of the frontier zone, including Sixaola, which was ravaged by the January floods.

Casa Presidencial said the main topics would be security, infrastructure, tourism, environment and agriculture.

The two presidents also will discuss the interconnections of electricity between the two countries and plans for reconstructing the bridge over the Río Sixaola that was destroyed in the flooding.

The two presidents are expected to agree on joint patrols of police at the border to guard against illegal immigration and drug and arms trafficking.

Three-day holidays set

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Workers will get a guaranteed three-day weekend for five national holidays starting in 2006. 

Lawmakers voted Wednesday to schedule the holiday on a nearby Monday to provide three-day weekends that encourage tourism.

That means a day like Labor Day, which is May 1, a Sunday this year, always will be celebrated on the Monday. Workers lose the holiday this year.

Other days are: Mother’s Day (Aug. 15), Anniversary of the Battle of Rivas (April 11), Annexation of Nicoya (July 25) and the day of the Cultures (Oct. 12).

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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World Bank allocates $8 million to fight AIDS here
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The World Bank has approved an $8 million grant to help fight HIV/AIDS in Central America, including in Costa Rica.

The new funds are timely because HIV/AIDS is a growing health issue in Central America, the World Bank said in a statement.

Jane Armitage, the World Bank's country director for Central America, said that, if unchecked, HIV/AIDS has the "potential to erode human welfare, socio-economic progress, productivity, and social cohesion" in the region.

Armitage said the grant "builds on the strengths of regional cooperation in Central America on health issues by improving access to and equity of services" for groups vulnerable to HIV/AIDS. The project will operate in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama.

The World Bank said the grant supports the ability of the Central America region to better address HIV/AIDS by undertaking critical actions that are beyond the capability of individual countries.

The project will promote access to HIV testing, counseling and treatment, and pay for anti-retroviral drugs, lab tests and other related medical supplies.

Another aspect of the project includes establishing a regional laboratory to carry out specialized testing for HIV and opportunistic infections such as tuberculosis. The laboratory will also become the regional center for quality control of HIV/AIDS national laboratories and HIV-related supplies, and will become a specialized regional training center on HIV/AIDS-related technologies.

In addition, the project will develop an epidemiological surveillance system for collecting and distributing information about HIV/AIDS. This will involve regionally coordinated surveys about the groups most vulnerable to HIV/AIDS. These groups include mobile populations who work in seasonal jobs, commercial sex workers and members of several ethnic communities.

For its part, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) says Latin America remains a high priority in the fight against the HIV/AIDS global pandemic. USAID operates HIV/AIDS programs in the Latin American and Caribbean countries of Bolivia, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua and Peru.

In addition, President George Bush's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief has targeted Haiti and Guyana as two of 15 countries around the world that will receive U.S. funds to support treatment and prevention programs against HIV/AIDS.

Costa Rica and allies carry banana dispute to World Trade Organization
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Costa Rica and four fellow Latin American countries have called on the World Trade Organization to arbitrate their banana dispute with the European Union.

Ecuador, Colombia, Panamá and Guatemala, as well as Costa Rica, filed the request.

Earlier this year, the European Union announced that it plans to impose a blanket $300 levy on banana imports 

to replace its import quota system in January 2006. However, Latin American states want the rate to stay at the current $75.

African, Caribbean and Pacific countries believe the EU proposed rate should be higher.

The Latin American states are trying to avoid a repeat of the so-called "banana wars" that took place in the 1990s. That dispute ended after the WTO decided that EU banana import rules were discriminatory.

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Giant U.N. environmental study not all gloom and doom
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

An unprecedented four-year study initiated by the United Nations has concluded the majority of the planet's ecosystems is being degraded in an unsustainable fashion. 

At the first of nine news conferences being held in various cities around the world Wednesday, some of the 1,300 experts involved in the study warned of the damage that growing demand for resources is having on the Earth's life support systems. 

The researchers, from 95 countries, concluded that 15 of 24 ecosystems are being damaged by such problems as human population growth, global warming and over-logging. 

In the conclusions released Wednesday, the scientists warn the problems could get worse in the next 50 years if dramatic steps are not taken. Among the ecosystems studied were mangrove forests, rainforests and dry-land areas. 

In Tokyo, Hans van Ginkel, a United Nations undersecretary, said the assessment reveals a consensus of the largest body of social and natural scientists ever assembled to examine the planet's ecosystems.

"It's not yet extreme, it's not exactly immediately collapse, but we better act before the collapse is there," he said. "And that may be very much a scientists' type of approach. But we have to make clear that the future of humankind is not based on simplistic pictures." 

He called on Asian nations, home to 60 percent of the world's population, to take special note of the report. 

"Much of what it is in the report relates strongly to Asia," he added. "But, at the same time, it's not easy to come up with a one-fits-all solution because almost all the diversity of the world is present in that one continent, as well." 

The study, known as the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, has resulted in 2,000 pages of scientific data and technical volumes. The first two parts of the study have been released over the past few years.

There are concerns it could end up gathering dust on bookshelves unless there is a political and grassroots movement to act on its findings. 

The report includes an optimistic note amid the gloomy forecasts. The assessment's co-chairman, Malaysian biologist A.H. Zakri, says much of the damage can be reversed if practices are changed. 

"I would hope that individual governments would take action to take notice of the analysis and try to incorporate them into better policy formulation and management of ecosystems," said Zakri.

Zakri calls on people to speak up about imperiled ecosystems in their areas, to push policymakers to take concrete action. 

Although its organizers hail the assessment as the first to focus on how ecosystem changes affect human well-being, they acknowledge no new research was undertaken and their mandate was not to present new findings. 

Zakri, director of the U.N. University's Institute of Advanced Studies, said the starkest situation is the desertification of the world's drylands. 

"That's the most urgent and that's the most vulnerable and that's the most disenfranchised of our brothers and sisters," he said. "On a scale of one to 10 I would give it the top mark." 

The third part of the study will be released over the next year. It will include assessments of the Himalayan Hindu Kush, the Laguna Lake Basin in the Philippines, the Arafura and Timor Seas, western China region and Vietnam's Mekong wetlands, as well as several regions within India and Indonesia.

The humpbacks are on the move toward their summer in Alaska
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Every year, the migration of hundreds of humpback whales draws the attention of tourists as the whales swim between Alaska and the warmer waters of  Mexico's Pacific coast.

It is the time of year when adult whales and their young migrate from the tropics, returning to Alaska — putting on a spectacular display for whale watchers.

Last December, humpback whales traveled south, searching for the warm waters of the Caribbean and 

tropical Pacific Coast. That is where they breed and give birth.

The whales are a tourist attraction. Every year, people from all over the world travel to the Pacific to watch the migration.

At the end of January, the whales' offspring start growing at an accelerated pace in preparation for the return migration.

Now, the whales and their young will begin the journey back to Alaska.

Jo Stuart
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