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These stories were published Tuesday, April 5, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 66
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Strange similarities in deaths of U.S. citizens
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The deaths of two U.S. citizens in the last two months have troubling similarities.

Both men were seen last getting into taxis and their bodies were found some distance from the places where they rode off.

The latest is Granada, Nicaragua, businessman, Robert Cohen, 64. The Judicial Investigating Organization said that Cohen left the Intercontinental Hotel in Escazú March 6 and never returned. 

Cohen’s body turned up March 10 near the Caribbean community of Matina in Limón Province. He was under a bridge on the Chirripó River.

Officials have not yet determined the cause of death, although a spokesperson for the Judicial Investigating Organization said Monday that the body exhibited indications that death was caused by drowning. 

The second man involved was Ronald Steven Hayes, 62. He died as late as early Feb. 11 after leaving his San Pablo de Heredia condo Feb. 9

The body of Hayes turned up wrapped in a rug and a plastic bag. A farm worker found his body early Feb. 11 at Quitirrisí de Mora, a community between Ciudad Colón and Puriscal west of San José.

Hayes died of multiple stab wounds, and agents 

said there were indications that he was tortured before he died.

There are no indications that Cohen and Hayes knew each other, although Cohen was believed to have built residential complexes in the San José area before going to Nicaragua. Originally he was from Orlando, Fla., business associates say.

Agents wanted to question Hayes’ live-in companion, a Tico or Nicaraguan man who has vanished. The man is believed to be out of the country.

There does not seem to be any suspects in the Cohen case. He was in San José for business purposes and to further the construction of a major residential complex he was building in Granada.

The complex is on hold, according to a report from Granada. The complex was to be deluxe townhomes of 1,506 square feet in a gated community with fabulous views of Lake Nicaragua, according to the Web site of Coldwell Banker Nicaragua, which was to market the project. Prices started at $175,000.

A man who sought to do business with Cohen said he believed the man spent more time in Costa Rica than Nicaragua, despite the project.

The Cohen case is being handled by investigators in Limón, and the Hayes case is being handled by agents in San José with help from the Fuerza Pública in Puriscal.


 
Our readership more than doubles in one year
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A.M. Costa Rica set another readership record in March when the newspaper registered 2.16 million hits. That was a 22.9 percent increase over February and a 106 percent increase over March 2004, the first month the newspaper exceeded a million hits.

Other statistics had similar increases.

Some 397,368 individual pages were viewed by 99,351 readers. And 45,435 of those readers were registered as unique, which means they were only counted once regardless of how many times they visited the pages in a single day. 

The statistics are maintained by the Internet service provider in the United States where A.M. Costa Rica is hosted. The hosting company keeps track of visits independent of A.M. Costa Rica.

The statistical programs screen out hits and visits by mechanical means, other computers and automated Web crawlers.

The statistics show that the average viewer sees about four pages at every visit to the paper. 

Said Jay Brodell, editor:

"Our dramatic increase in readership over the last three and a half years is no surprise to our advertisers who are getting more and more business from the wave of retirees and would-be retirees who are looking at Costa Rica as a new home and need solid, daily information.

"It’s a new world, and our progressive advertisers recognize that."

A.M. Costa Rica statistics are available on a page that is updated every month HERE!

 
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Rates for electricity are going higher April 15
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Electricity is going up April 15 when higher rates approved this week are published in La Gaceta, the official government newspaper.

The Authoridad Reguladora de los Servicios Públicos approved an average increase of some 14.57 percent for the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, known as ICE. And the agency approved comparable increases for the retail companies that market power to consumers.

For example, the Compañía Nacional de Fuerza Y Luz S.A., which services the greater metropolitan area, got an average increase of 12.43 percent.

The Junta Administrativa del Servicio Eléctrico de Cartago got a 13.69 percent increase. And the Empresa de Servicios Públicos de Heredia S.A. got a 16.5 percent increase.  The rural electric provider in Guanacaste, Coopeguanacaste R.L., got a 14.3 percent increase.

A typical electric customer who uses a modest 250 kilowatt hours a month would pay from 1,000 to 1,500 colons more, said the agency. That’s from about $2.14 to $3.20 additional a month.

The rate system is complex, and ICE collects for power transmission, generation, distribution and public lighting. Also, some of the retail distributors themselves are seeking rate increases.


 
Trade pact prompts fears
of expensive AIDS drugs

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala — As the U.S. Congress prepares to debate passage of the Central America Free Trade Act, some activists in the region are hoping lawmakers in Washington will vote it down. Peasant organizations and trade unions, worried about the effects of competition with U.S. companies, are not the only ones taking to the streets. HIV-positive Guatemalans are also opposed to the accord. 

One, Rigoberto, a 55-year-old taxi driver, has been coming to a Guatemala City AIDS clinic for his retroviral medicine for more than a year. But since the government ratified the free trade pact, he says he has been worried about getting the drugs he needs in the future. Activists say the accord's provisions on intellectual property rights put serious restrictions on generic drugs in countries that are too poor to pay for brand-name products. 

"We can not buy expensive medicines," he says, adding that if he cannot get medicine, he will die. 

With the exception of the Caribbean, the Central American nations of Honduras and Guatemala have the highest per-capita HIV-rates in the hemisphere. 

During the past decade, activists have sued Central American governments to force them to provide AIDS medicines in public- and social-security-run hospitals. In recent years, activists like Costa Rican Guillermo Murillo have fought to get governments to extend coverage to more patients. 

While it is great that governments now give medicine, he says, more than half the population in the region needing it is still not getting it. Under the free trade pact, he said, it will be impossible to extend coverage. 

Currently, generic retroviral treatments here cost about $400 per year per patient. In coming years, patients may need to switch to new medicines, which under the free trade pact would only be available in brand-name form. These can cost as much as $10,000 per year per person. 

Late last year in Guatemala, AIDS activists scored a big victory when a new law was passed that further opened the country's market to generic drugs. But the U.S. Embassy and the U.S. Trade Representative put stern and open pressure on the government to change the law, saying it contradicted the already negotiated free trade pact.

In March, weeks before ratifying the free trade accord, the government changed the law to bring it in line. 

Rodolfo Lambour, who represents multi-national pharmaceutical companies in Guatemala, agreed with the U.S. government's actions. 

"For many years, there has been no intellectual property rights protection in Central America, and now, we feel the time has come to respect a little bit the intellectual property rights — which are legitimate and fair — of companies that invest more than any other sector in industry, in research and development of new products. It is our companies that help discover new and innovative products that have given cures to many incurable diseases in the past. We are not the enemy; we are friends of the people," Lambour says.

Lambour says there are mechanisms by which governments can still get affordable medicine for AIDS programs, without hurting the companies that develop them. Some analysts note there is a side letter to the free trade pact that says intellectual property rights provisions should not affect government AIDS programs. 

But people like Alain Kergoat, of the humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders, says the only sure-fire way for Central Americans to ensure continued access to generic drugs is for the U.S. Congress to vote against the Central American free trade agreement.

"I hope there is enough time to explain to people in the United States the effect this accord will have on health systems in these countries, he says."

At a recent protest outside Guatemala's Health Ministry, HIV-positive demonstrators wearing paper bags over their heads shout, "We want health." 

They say they are planning to stage protests like this one in front of U.S. embassies across the region, and they are also working with AIDS activists in the United States to lobby Congress. 

The Senate is scheduled to hold its first debate on the trade pact Wednesday. 

Go-ahead given to work
to increase cell lines

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, known as ICE, which is also the telephone monopoly, said it has authorized the installation of some 600,000 additional GSM cellular lines.

The $130 million job will be done by Ericsson. A source at ICE said that the new lines would be on sale before the end of the year.

The demand for cell telephones has always outstripped ICE’s effort to provide them, and only a few lines are available now. These are lines that supposedly have been surrendered by persons who could not pay their bills.

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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James J. Brodell........................editor
Saray Ramírez Vindas...associate editor

Avenida 11 bis, Barrio Otoya, San José 

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A commentary by a reader
Modern example of greed: The ports are being blocked!
By Phil Mattingly
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

I know the title brings images of 18th century rum runners and Civil War maneuvers in the South, but this time it’s a modern day form of the same old devious game. It keeps a product from those who want it by those that have the power to deny it for the profit and gain by those who have the power. Nothing new, Pilgrims. Same old story of greed and power.

This time the port is a little electronic pathway that allows users of the Internet to talk over a high-speed Internet line for local and long-distance connections. It didn’t take long for the techies to figure out that since the Internet uses phone lines that there must be a way to talk over them. 

There are several companies in the U.S. that sell this service, but the leader is Vonage. A person can purchase an inexpensive connection device and plug it into the Internet phone line and use the Internet to call anywhere in the world at no more cost than the normal monthly costs of the high speed connection.

The internet service providers (ISP) found out if they blocked part of the signal going out (port blocking) that the person on the other end could not understand what a caller was saying as the signal intermittently came and went and the conversation arrived in unintelligible clips. 

The caller can understand the incoming conversation, but the person at the other end of the conversation can’t understand the caller. Thus, those who wanted to get around not paying an abusive long distance phone charge to a monopoly are taken off at the knees while scaling the wall of the kingdom with the simple flip of a switch. How much easier today than it was in the days of old.

Fortunately in the U.S. we have a Federal Communications Commission that protects the public against this greed (some would argue otherwise) and recently fined an ISP in North Carolina $15,000 for 
blocking the ports to send voice over the Internet. It 

hopefully sent a signal that it wasn’t to be allowed in the U.S. The battle was won but not yet the war.

Beginning the first part of March of this year, users of Vontage in Mexico were quieted all across the country. Telmex, the state monopoly, has blocked the ports and anyone who wants to call the U.S. or other countries must go through their standard phone lines and pay handsomely for the privilege. 

Unfortunately in a country like Mexico with its embedded corruption and payoffs to the proper politicians, the chance of anyone standing up and protecting the public against Telmex is non-existent. With the majority owner of Telmex (Carlos Slim) listed as the second richest man in the world behind Bill Gates, one must ask, how much more does one need? 

Indeed, it can cost more to place a phone call from one city on the border in the U.S. to the neighboring city across the border only a mile away than it does to place a call from the U.S. city to Europe. 

Who wins? The monopoly and the politicians who get their payments from the monopoly. Who loses? The public as usual. It’s always about money and power. The long-term loser is the country wherein this monopoly operates. The freedom of growth of technology is stifled and squashed and the country eventually loses in its ability to compete in a world market.

Caution, Costa Rica, port blockage is coming to an ISP near you for the same reasons of greed and power. Unless, of course, there is a knight willing to defend and carry the banner of the masses scaling the walls of ICE. Could that knight carry the banner of CAFTA and use the battle cry of ‘Free Trade’? 
 

EDITOR’S NOTE: Mr. Mattingly of La Paz, Mexico, has experience with Telmex. The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, the communications conglomerate known as ICE, floated a trial balloon about criminalizing Internet telephone use two months ago. The reception to  that idea was generally hostile everywhere except in the communications monopoly.


 
A letter from a reader
What do you do when your Costa Rican telephone unexpectedly dies?
Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Government Monopolies WIN WIN!

When ICE charges for service which it does not deliver, it wins twice.

One might ask:  Where do charges for services go, when services are not delivered?

Are they skimmed off by  management that feels no accountability to their clients?  The answer I believe is that monopolies encourage arrogance and incompetence.

Last week my phone service was disconnected for four days. No warning was given.  I visited the Pavas ICE office to report the problem.  A man at the front desk promptly  phoned in my complaint.  He said it would be connected soon, "Just be patient and stay home."  I waited . . . . still no service. 

I returned to ICE repeating the same procedure again and again for three days (twice a day). Finally on the fourth day,  I staggered from the house, searching for food. 

Leaving a message stuck to the buzon,  I asked ICE to 

leave a phone number so I could contact them for a somewhat definite time. 

On the fourth day, after returning home with groceries, the phone rang.  It was ICE calling to verify my name, location etc.  I asked "Why was my phone disconnected when my neighbors had good service?"  The only answer given  was to blame the problem on the central office downtown. 

I feel certain if ICE clients whose lines have been cut for days, with no explanation, filed a class action for services not received, things would quickly change. 

RACSA’s monopoly is more of the same. Their service is consistently unreliable.

One calls RACSA Support only to have the tecnicos hang up eight times in a row. 

This rude "service" goes on for days, driving clients to other options… i.e. ICE’s Broadband.  With no competition, we are reduced to going in circles. 
 
 

Natalie O’Mara 
Pavas

 
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Daylight time in U.S. was controversial issue for years
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Americans switched over to daylight-saving time Sunday. And Costa Rica, which does not change, now marks the hours in step with U.S. Mountain time.

Most people in the United States probably do not give a lot of thought to the yearly ritual — other than to remember they should "spring forward," or set their clocks ahead one hour, in spring, and "fall back" when daylight-saving time ends in the fall. 

As it turns out, daylight-saving time, now used in some 70 countries around the world, has a complicated and controversial history. As Americans get ready to enjoy an extra hour of sunlight, Brendan Dieck, 13, of Philadelphia could not be happier. "I like daylight-saving time because I get an extra hour to be outside, and sunshine is like my natural battery," Brendan explains. "When it's winter I'm more depressed, because it's darker."

But not everyone shares Brendan's enthusiasm. In fact, writer Michael Downing says he can't think of a more controversial topic. He is the author of "Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight-Saving Time." The book recounts a century's worth of claims that setting the clock ahead an hour is unnatural, confusing, and even sacrilegious. 

"When it was first proposed," he says, "particularly the fundamentalist preachers in America objected to daylight-saving time, because they said it took the nation off of 'God's time.' It didn't help that the first Sunday America (went) on daylight-saving time in 1918 was Easter Sunday. And so a tremendous number of people were late to church."

The notion of trying to take advantage of more daylight hours has fascinated even the likes of American founding father Benjamin Franklin. But Downing attributes the actual birth of the idea to an English architect named William Willett. 

One morning in 1907, he was riding his horse through a London park. "It was sunrise and he noticed that everyone had their curtains drawn," says Downing. "He thought if we could just turn the clocks ahead by an hour, when people woke up, the sun would come up, and they would have an extra hour of daylight at the end of the day for leisure time."

The proposal set off a debate in the British Parliament that raged on until after World War I began in 1914. "Germany adopted daylight saving wholesale in hopes that it would save them energy," Michael Downing explains. "Once Germany did it, Britain did it, then the United States did it." 

But Daylight-saving time was repealed in the United States in 1919, thanks in part to pressure from farmers. "No matter what time the clock said sunrise was, they were still having to get up when the roosters crowed," says Downing, "and there's no sunlight to dry their crops, which they can't harvest because there's so much dew on them."

A uniform American daylight saving policy finally went into effect in 1966. But some parts of the country had adopted it long before that time, with cities like New York helping lead the way. 

Downing says Wall Street investors wanted a timetable as closely aligned as possible with financial markets in London, and department stores wanted more shoppers: "They figured if the workers were let out at 5 o'clock, and it was still sunny," he says, "they'd walk by the 

shop windows, be more apt to stop in and increase retail sales that way."

Baseball teams liked daylight-saving time because they could play extra innings in the days before ballparks had artificial lighting. Makers of outdoor barbecue equipment were also fans. "They figured out by the mid 1980s that for every extra month of daylight saving we had, they would pick up 150 to 200 million dollars in extra sales," said Downing. "This goes too for seed retailers and gardening supply stores, because people have more time after work for gardening. There were also industries that have been long opposed to it. The movies suffered bad drops in attendance when it was instituted because people wanted to be outdoors."

For industries that need to keep to a strict time schedule, daylight-saving time can create extra problems. Cliff Black, director of media relations for America's passenger rail system, Amtrak, says that in the spring, when the clock moves forward an hour, nighttime trains around the country become an hour late. "The interesting time is in the fall," adds Mr. Black, "when you find those overnight trains running an hour early. But what we do in the fall is we simply stop the trains at the station, and we wait."

An added complication, notes author Downing, is that Hawaii, Arizona, and parts of Indiana are not on daylight-saving time. "Indiana is the famous example in America," he says. "It's one of those states that has two time zones to begin with. Part of Indiana is Central time zone and part is Eastern, and some of the Eastern counties spring forward and some do not. Some of the Central counties spring forward and some do not. And this year again Indiana has its legislature grappling with this problem and not yet solving it." 

After studying everything from Congressional testimony to newspaper editorials, Michael Downing concludes that the debate over daylight-saving time shows how a simple idea can end up generating elaborate arguments from both supporters and opponents. He also points out that it is misnamed. Daylight-saving time does not really save anything. 
But he is still a fan for the most basic of reasons: He loves those long, light-filled summer evenings. 


 
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