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These stories were published Monday, April 1, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 63
Jo Stuart
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A.M. Costa Rica photo
A friend quickly turns an altar boy into a little devil at the start of a La Fortuna religious procession Friday.

Processions show
country's devotion

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Tourists got a good look at the religious side of Costa Rican life this weekend as religious processions made their way to the streets.

The mecca of La Fortuna, only a few miles from the famous Arenal volcano was one such location Friday. A 4:15 p.m. procession there stopped traffic from the city to the area around the volcano and gave shutterbug tourists a chance to capture on film Roman soldiers, apostles, the Virgin Mary and a figure of the crucified body of Christ.

Similar processions took place all of the country, including the hill coffee towns and through downtown San José Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Good Friday is the traditional day of Christ’s death on the cross, the most significant moment in Christianity.

The somber tones of Friday gave way to the joyful Resurrection Sunday in a country where Catholicism is the official religion. Less visible was the celebration of the Jewish Passover, which began at sundown Wednesday. 

A.M. Costa Rica photo
A parish priest leads the La Fortuna  procession that includes the body of the crucified Christ in a glass coffin.
Travel producer mad
at police response

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The producer of a major international travel program on Canadian and European television was roughed up while in Costa Rica, and he is mad because he does not think police followed up on his complaint.

The producer is Gordon C. Sivell of "Don't Forget Your Passport," a one-hour outdoor adventure travel show that can be seen on the Outdoor Life Network in Canada every Monday as well as on the Travel Channel in Europe, according to the company’s Web site.

"It is my intention to broadcast this incident, complete with video, to 80 nations worldwide, including two national networks in Canada." Sivell said in a message to A.M. Costa Rica that appears on today’s letters page.
"Canadians should hear first hand about these people and the lack of follow-up from the police."

Sivell said that he was assaulted 30 seconds after he got off a bus from Nicaragua Feb. 9. His crew had been filming there. He suspects that the man was trying to case a ruckus so confederates could swipe luggage.

During the scuffle a cameraman got a photo of the man, and a policeman later saw the photo of the man making an obscene gesture at the camera, said Sivell.

Although the policeman who responded to the crew’s hotel promised a written report on the incident, no such material arrived, said the producer. Sivell characterized the police officer as young and seemingly disinterested.

The producer also said he was unhappy that his 18-year-old daughter, on her first foreign trip, had to witness the attack on her father.

Police administrative offices were closed over the weekend, so no comments could be obtained.

Traffic toll put
at 13 for weekend

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Easter week proved to be a bloody one with traffic deaths totaling 13.

A 9-year-old, Elieth Astúa died about 3 a.m. Sunday when she was thrown from the bed of a pickup when the vehicle rolled as the result of a spectacular collision in the center of Ciudad Colon. Two others persons lost their lives in traffic mishaps Sunday.

Another violent death took place Sunday afternoon when Walter Cortés, an inmate at the La Reforma prison died in a nearby hospital from knife wounds inflicted during a brawl.

On Saturday, Henry Zúñiga Ureña, 11, suffered a serious bullet wound to the head about 8 a.m. in Cartago. The person holding the weapon was a 15-year-old, said police, who speculated the youngsters were fooling around with the weapon.

A total of 10 persons died in vehicle accidents from Palm Sunday through Saturday, according to a count by newspeople. The Cruz Roja and police sources said that eight persons drowned during the same period.

At Playa Cedro at the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, an animal tragedy was averted when residents managed to save 33 of 38 dolphin that had  beached themselves during Saturday’s record high tide.

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Trying to keep
control of fire

A Grecia cane worker flails at a blaze Thursday. Fire is used to eliminate undergrowth before harvesting of the sugar cane, but a burn Thursday got out of control and sent flames leaping 10 feet into the sky, so the workers came running.

Foes of Cuban embargo press their case in Miami
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MIAMI, Fla. — A coalition of groups advocating an end to the longstanding U.S. economic embargo of Cuba has held a conference here to discuss their views, which run counter to the policy of the Bush Administration.

This is a city where Cuban exiles have traditionally rejected any suggestion that the United States ease sanctions on their nation of birth. The conference, and the reaction to it, drew a sharp contrast between opposing ideas on how best to bring change to Communist Cuba. 

U.S. Rep. William Delahunt of Massachusetts is one of several American legislators who have traveled to Cuba to assess the effectiveness of U.S. sanctions on the island-nation. He says virtually no one in Cuba, not even pro-democracy dissidents, supports the United States' four-decade-long economic embargo. 

"I believe that I have met with every prominent dissident. Almost universally, they describe the embargo as harmful to the Cuban people. It is causing pain," he said. 

Opponents of the embargo describe U.S. sanctions as a "Berlin wall" that prevents new ideas and influences from reaching the island. They say the embargo also provides the government of Cuban President Fidel Castro with a convenient excuse for repression and a scapegoat for economic failure. 

As a first step, they suggest lifting the travel ban that bars the vast majority of Americans from visiting Cuba. Again, Congressman Delahunt. "It is a fundamental American right to travel. It is my understanding that we [Americans] are allowed to travel to Iran and North Korea. By my calculation, that is two-thirds of the "axis of evil". And we cannot travel to Cuba? That is wrong." 

But resistance to any easing of U.S. sanctions is considerable, particularly in Miami, which is home to many exiles who have fled Cuba since Fidel Castro came to power in 1959. Exiles point out that, years ago, many nations steadfastly maintained sanctions against South Africa until apartheid was abolished. Similarly, they say the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba must remain in place until real change comes to the island. a Cuban-American Miami congresswoman, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, says those who want to dismantle sanctions while Fidel Castro remains in power are misguided. 

"Their focus should not be on trade," she said. "They need to talk about human rights, political rights, and economic rights for all the Cuban people. They need to talk about free speech. They need to have a panel about encouraging a regime and a government that meets the needs and the aspirations of all the Cuban people." 

Embargo opponents stress the question is not whether Castro must go, but how best to achieve an end to his rule and the beginning of democracy in 

Cuba. Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake rejects any suggestion that he wants to "cozy up" to Castro. 

"We are not doing this because we believe that Castro is coming around or somehow improving, he said. "We are doing this because we believe he is a bad guy. And we think that every American ought to have the right to see what a mess that man has made of that island. I think we have to get beyond Castro and look at what is the best way to engage the Cuban people. They are going to be transforming pretty soon. I want American ideals down there." 

Earlier this year, the United States authorized the limited sale of food and medicine to Cuba for humanitarian needs. Those who want to end sanctions say they hope such sales will be a first step to constructive engagement with the Cuban people. Opponents fear any erosion of U.S. sanctions will inevitably reduce pressure for change on the island. 

Diplomat says change coming

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The top U.S. diplomat in Cuba says a political transition is under way there, sparked by growing public discontent over the Communist island's economy and concern about the future after Fidel Castro. 

Vicki Huddleston is the principal officer of the U.S. interests section in Havana. Speaking here Thursday, she told reporters she believes the transition began last June when President Castro fainted during a speech. 

Ms. Huddleston said that although President Castro's brother, Raul, is the designated successor, Cubans want, in her words, "a name change and a generational change." 

She also says Cuban dissidents have collected more than 10,000 signatures calling for an unprecedented referendum on political reform of Cuba's one-party state.  The initiative is known as the Varela Project and is named after a 19th century Roman Catholic priest who fought for the emancipation of slaves on the Caribbean island. 

The referendum would call for freedom of speech and assembly, the release of political prisoners and the opening of the country to private enterprise. Cuba's National Assembly is not expected to approve the initiative. 

The Cuban government has routinely labeled dissidents as counterrevolutionaries and lackeys of the United States. 

The United States and Cuba have not had formal diplomatic ties for more than 40 years. The U.S. interests section in Havana is located in the Swiss embassy there.

Theater group extends
latest production

The Little Theatre Group of Costa Rica has extended the production of "The Vagina Monologues" for one more weekend.

The show will be put on April 19, 20, 21. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday.  Playgoers may call 289-3910 for reservations. Tickets are ¢2,000 (about $5.70).  A percentage of the income is being donated to groups working to halt domestic violence, said a spokesman.

The show is being presented in the newly air conditioned Bello Horizonte theater.

Package tours ready
for beatification

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica will be well represented April 14 when the beatification of Sister María Romero is promulgated in the Vatican City, the center of Catholicism.

Sister María Romera, a member of the María Auxiladora order of nuns, was the founder of a number of social welfare organizations in Costa Rica, her second home. She was born in Nicaragua.

Beatification, which carries with it the title "blessed," is major step towards sainthood, which in Catholic tradition can only come with the confirmation that miracles have taken place through the intercession of the individual.

Several travel agencies have set up package tours to Europe that include participatiion in the religious ceremony April 14.

Butterflies are off
for trip to north

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Mexican officials say the famed Monarch butterflies have begun their return flight north after spending the winter months in Mexico.

An official from the western Mexican state of Michoacan, Gustavo Soto, Friday said swarms of the orange and black butterflies had left Mexico's fir forests on their way to the United States and Canada.

He also said that about 145,000 tourists turned out this year to see the popular butterflies, which arrived in Mexico last October and November. 

The monarchs spend the cold weather months clustered in the fir forests before heading back north in the spring. This winter, millions of them were killed by unusually cold weather and winter rains.

IMF again plans
talks in Argentina

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES,  Argentina — An International Monetary Fund team is set to arrive in Argentina today to begin a new round of talks on possible fresh loan aid to the cash-strapped nation. 

IMF spokesman Thomas Dawson told reporters Thursday the mission will come here in phases, with an initial technical team arriving first. 

Dawson said the mission is not expected to reach a final agreement, but if talks are productive, the IMF could start drafting a letter of intent for new aid during a follow-up trip.  The spokesman also said progress has been made in identifying issues that need to be addressed for Argentina to qualify for aid. 

In December, the IMF refused to clear a loan payment to Argentina worth more than $1 billion, saying the government failed to control spending. The IMF had said Argentina must craft a viable economic recovery plan to qualify for additional assistance. 

Argentina is seeking upwards of $20-billion in international aid to help revive its economy, which has been in a devastating crisis for nearly four years. More than 20 percent of the Argentine workforce is jobless. 
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Queen Mother’s rites
will be held April 9

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LONDON, England — Buckingham Palace says Britain's Queen Mother will be buried April 9 at Windsor Castle beside her late husband King George VI.

Although she will not have a state funeral, the Queen Mother will have a royal ceremonial funeral at London's historic Westminster Abbey before being taken to Windsor.

On Sunday, pall bearers took the casket from Windsor's Royal Lodge where the Queen Mother died Saturday at the age of 101, to a nearby Chapel in Windsor Great Park.

The Palace says the coffin will stay there until Tuesday, when it will be taken to St. James' Palace in London. For four days, the public will be able to file by and pay their final respects.

On the morning of April 9, the casket will be carried through the streets in a ceremonial procession to Westminster Hall, part of the Houses of Parliament, for funeral services. It will then travel for a private burial later that day at St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle.

The royal family will remain in mourning until April 19, after the planned memorial service for Princess Margaret, who died February 9 at age 71. The ashes of Princess Margaret will be interred at the George VI Memorial Chapel in Windsor.

Meanwhile, crowds of admirers gathered again outside Windsor Castle's gates and at St. James' Palace wall in central London Sunday, to leave flowers and sign books of condolence.

Competitive telecom
urged at conference

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

ISTANBUL, Turkey — A competitive and transparent regulatory environment will bring developing countries more and cheaper telecommunications services, a U.S. Federal Communications commissioner says.

Speaking at the 2002 World Telecommunications Development Conference which concluded Wednesday here, Commissioner Kevin Martin encouraged developing countries to "seize digital opportunities" to bring the educational, health and economic benefits of telecommunications to their citizens.

According to a State Department release, the "Istanbul Action Plan" adopted at the end of the conference seeks to improve coordination of the international telecommunications sector, increase private sector involvement and foster information sharing among countries.

U.S.-Peruvian pact
targets grave thefts

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States and Peru have renewed an agreement that restricts the importation of pre-Columbian archaeological material and ethnological Colonial material into the United States without an export permit granted by Peru, the White House said Thursday..

The agreement is intended to help prevent pillage of archaeological sites, to prevent stolen cultural artifacts from being smuggled out of Peru, and to facilitate the return of such artifacts to Peruvian authorities. "Protection of these materials permits alternative and constructive access to it for cultural, educational, and scientific purposes," the White House said.

Interpol tracking
Colombian rebels

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — The international law enforcement agency, Interpol, is trying to track down 14 leaders of Colombia's largest leftist rebel group, FARC - the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. 

The Colombian government issued international arrest warrants against the rebel leaders after President Andres Pastrana revoked the rebels' special political status following last month's collapse of the peace process. 

Interpol officials said Bogota issued the warrants in an effort to limit the guerrilla leaders' international travel. 

FARC has waged a 38-year war against the Colombian government, demanding radical agrarian, political, economic and social reforms. The rebel group has for years engaged in kidnapping and drug trafficking to finance its guerrilla operations against the army, civilians and right-wing paramilitary forces. 

Three years of peace talks with Pastrana's government ended with little progress. President Pastrana ended the talks with FARC in February, after the rebels hijacked a commercial airliner and kidnapped a senator.

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