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These stories were published Thursday, April 10, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 71
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A.M. Costa Rica staff
The Fuente de Hispanidad on Avenida Central at the western entrance to San Pedro demonstrates one of Costa Rica’s natural resources: water. The fountain is a gathering place during times of great political or sports events, and crowds replace the usual traffic. The landmark is maintained by the Instituto de Acueductos y Alcantarillados, the water company.
 
More protests planned while Pacheco is away
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

While President Abel Pacheco is meeting with George Bush in Washington today, more anti-war activities will be taking place in Costa Rica.

Protestors have not been put off by television shots of happy Iraqi or the likelihood that the war there is nearing an end. However, an effort to have Costa Ricans display their support for peace seems to have fizzled Wednesday.

Protestors wanted similarly minded people to display white flags to show their support for peace. But few such flags or banners were in evidence in San José Wednesday.

One motorist with a pre-1955 red Willies Jeep was decked out with twin flags, one each over the rear wheels. But he was the most visible demonstrator.

The big event today is an 11:30 a.m. rally at Parque Nacional in the downtown sponsored by the Facultad de Ciencias Sociales of the University of Costa Rica. Participants are being asked to walk to the rally from nearby assembly points.

Protestors also want Costa Ricans to turn off their electric lights between 9 and 9:10 p.m. Saturday.

The central issue for Costa Ricans is the listing of the country along with others who support the United States and its allies in the Iraqi conflict.  Protestors are demanding that Costa Rica be neutral, but President Pacheco has said that neutrality to terrorism is not an option.

The university is not the only organization supporting the protests.  So is the Centro de Amigos para la Paz, a group called Coletivo No 
Más Guerra and at least one representative of 

the United Nations Children’s Fund.

At 5 p.m. today in the Auditorio Clodomiro Picado of the Universidad Nacional in Heredia a round table against the war will be held followed by a vigil for peace with the participation of Angel Sancasimiro, Roman Catholic bishop of San Carlos and Max Esquivel, assistant Defenso de los Habitantes. The Defensor is pushing the legal battle in favor of strict neutrality and has threatened to file a Sala IV constitutional court action against Pacheco.

Meanwhile, in Washington discussions among Bush, Pacheco and other Central American presidents is likely to touch more on negotiations for trade treaties than on the war.

While House Spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters Wednesday that Bush looks forward to the talks for many reasons. Trade is an important part of the United States' relationship with those countries and that the president is proud of the increasing trade with them, said Fleischer. 

The White House spokesman also says President Bush considers Central America to be a region of peace and democracy, where regional integration offers the promise of growing prosperity. 

Pacheco will be accompanied by Roberto Tovar Faja. Later both will be guests of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Also representing Costa Rica will be Alberto Trejos, minister of Comercio Exterior, and Jaime Daremblun, Costa Rica’s ambassador to the United States.

The Costa Rican delegation also will meet with Robert  Zoellick, the U.S. trade representative; Enrique Iglesias, president of the InterAmerican Development Bank and Andrews Natsios of the U.S. Agency for International Development. 

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Tempisque Bridge finally opens up (We think)
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The $27 million Tempisque Friendship Bridge was to open at midnight, and officials are expecting heavy use for the Semana Santa Holy Week period.

For now, crossing the bridge is free, but a toll will be enacted after Easter.

The bridge connects the east and west banks of the Tempisque River and the mainland with the Nicoya Peninsula. The bridge is seen to be a boon for development on the peninsula, particularly in the beach communities of Sámara and Nosara.

The bridge was inaugurated last April by outgoing President Miguel Angel Rodríguez even though the work was not completed. Officials plan yet another inauguration at a later date.

Contractors still are working on the access roads that began to fail even before they were used. That work should last six more weeks.

The Government of Taiwan built the bridge as a gift to Costa Rica, one of the few nations that maintains diplomatic relations with Taipei. Work started in mid-2000.

The 780 meter bridge (nearly a half mile) is the second longest in Central America. The towers that hold the suspension cables are 79 meters high, some 257 feet, making them the tallest structure in Costa Rica. 

The bulk of the bridge is carried by eight columns. But a section some 170 meters (some 550 feet) is held up by the suspension cables and the high towers. 

The opening of the bridge was a series of incorrect predictions. In November officials said the bridge would be open in January. Then the faulty road work turned up. President Abel Pacheco said a month ago that the bridge would open in six weeks. The span replaces a ferry that has connected both banks for more than 20 years.

Can you spot the child? 

Youngsters love to wade through the clothing at this used duds outlet in downtown San José.
 

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Did you ever wonder where your old clothes went?
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

To dress well used to be expensive, and good clothing was hard to find. People who could travel went to Miami or Panamá to find exclusive and original clothing. But the prices were high.

Those who created or imported the same kind of clothing into Costa Rica demanded prices that many perceived to be unfair.

But now the castoffs of North America are what many of the better dressed Costa Ricans are wearing,

They call it "bueno, bonito y barato" (good, pretty and cheap) where second-hand clothing stores operate in the capital and also in other population centers of the country.

The idea is about 15 years old, but the go-go North American economy of the last 10 years resulted in many more useable clothes finding their way to Costa Rica. They arrive in large, plastic-covered bales. The sorting process is complex. Some of the clothing is collected by charities in the First World countries. The charities then sell the clothing to finance their operations.

The clothes sell at very low prices, as low as 500 colons (a bit more than $1.25) for a light blouse. But the smart shopper can find nearly every famous label in one of the many shops that offer these recycled threads. At least six offering "ropa americana" are within the central San José core.

The stores compete directly with boutiques and other specialty clothing stores nearby. Despite the 

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Whole families stretch their budget just by relying on the used-clothing outlets.

"American clothing" slogan, even top European labels can be found on the shelf. Part of the attraction, of course, is in finding a low-priced steal, just like at a garage sale. Sometimes the shops are like wonderlands where the savvy shopper can leave with a bulging bag for under 3,000 colons (less than $8). 

The stores also provide a way for the Costa Rican consumer, continually under financial stress, to make ends meet. Few garments cost more than 3,000, and the type ranges from sports gear to office clothing. You might even find a few North American retirees among the racks.

Labels include Levi, Benneton and Giorgio Armany.


 
Venezuela ‘progressing’
a year after the coup

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Venezuela is making "substantive progress" in the political dialogue between the government and the democratic opposition," Ambassador Jorge Valero said Wednesday.

He is that country’s permanent representative to the Organization of American States and spoke at a meeting of the permanent council.

Recalling the coup d’état against President Hugo Chavez’ government on April 11 last year, the ambassador said "thanks to the courageous and noble Venezuelan people, the coup leaders were defeated when the legitimate president was restored to power," as "the OAS and the international community condemned the coup and hailed the return to democracy." 

According to Ambassador Valero, "the plan to sabotage the oil industry had inflicted $7.36 billion in damage — equivalent to 33 per cent of the national budget." The ambassador said that despite the economic setback and the political excesses, "Venezuela is gradually returning to normal." 

Explaining the surprisingly rapid recovery in the oil industry, Valero said crude oil production currently exceeds 3 million barrels a day, with exports of 2.8 million barrels to meet international quotas. 

"Venezuela is moving towards full recovery of the productive capacity,"  he said.

The Venezuelan ambassador told the council that last year’s coup in his country had put the Inter-American Democratic Charter to the test for the first time. He said the Permanent Council and General Assembly resolutions have reaffirmed the organization’s commitment to democracy, and "encourage the Venezuelan government to continue expanding the frontiers of democracy." 

More effort sought
in fight against SARS

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — More needs to done to defend against a deadly virus, said Julie Gerberding, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "The emergence of SARS has reminded us yet again that we must not become complacent."

In her prepared statement given before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, Dr. Gerberding called SARS, (severe acute respiratory syndrome) "an emerging global microbial threat."

"It is not possible to adequately protect the health of our nation without addressing infectious disease problems that are occurring elsewhere in the world," Dr. Gerberding testified.

Dr. Gerberding noted that much progress has been made in the last decade to better the nation's capability to deal with the threat of infectious diseases, but surveillance and laboratory capacity must still be improved.

The center is recommending that persons "postpone non-essential travel to mainland China, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Hanoi, Vietnam." Anyone who has traveled to affected areas and experiences flu-like symptoms is instructed to contact a physician.

Costa Rica wins
delays in tariffs

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica won a diplomatic and commercial triumph in preventing the levying of tariffs by the European Union on certain agricultural exports, Roberto Tovar Faja, minister of Relaciones Exteriores y Culto, said Wednesday.

Officials learned that the European Union meeting in Brussels, decided to apply tariffs in two stages, the first in November and the second in May 2004. The tariffs cover flowers, ornamental plants, some fruits and a few other agricultural products.

Costa Rica has been spared the tariffs due to its status as an emerging nation. The time ran out on the amnesty this year. Costa Rica has been working hard on the diplomatic front to eliminate or moderate the tariffs.

Costa Rica to propose
ban on human cloning

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica will present to the United Nations a proposed text of an international convention to prohibit the cloning of humans.

Pope John Paul II praised the initiative in a message delivered to Costa Rica Wednesday. The proposed text was offered at a seminar Wednesday in San José.

Marijuana, coke links
severed in probe

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators arrested 21 persons and confiscated 5.7 pounds of marijuana, 300 grams of cocaine, 186 crack rocks, automobiles, firearms and other products of drug sales in an extensive operation in Concepción de La Union. The investigation culminated Tuesday with the arrests.

Investigators said that the operation dismembered a marijuana sales network of five persons and a cocaine network of 12 persons.

Agents of the Judicial Investigating Organization worked with the Furza Publica and its Polícia de Control de Drogues. They said more arrests were likely.

American Airlines gets
pact with British Airways

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A code-sharing arrangement between American Airlines and British Airways has been tentatively approved, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced Wednesday.

The arrangement enables each carrier to market certain flights of the other carrier as its own, thereby expanding each carrier's service network, according to a department press release.
 

Man leaving bank
jumped and shot

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Bandits confronted a 64-year-old man who just left a bank in San Francisco de Dos Ríos Wednesday morning and shot him as they took 500,000 colons, about $1,285. The man, identified as Carlos Castillo, resisted the two men on a motorcycle who grabbed him.

He suffered a bullet wound to the left hand and to the groin, investigators said. The man had just completed a transaction in the Banco de Costa Rica.

Tovar supports dissidents

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica has joined other international voices seeking the liberation of imprisoned Cuban dissidents.

The Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto expressed its concern over the disproportionate sentences imposed on the dissidents by Cuba.

Roberto Tovar Faja, foreign minister, called the jailings unjust. Those held include independent journalists and members of the political opposition seeking a more democratic Cuba.
 
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Latin economy is called fragile by IMF report
Special  to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The International Monetary Fund says Latin American economies remain fragile as a result of the region's worst downturn in two decades. The fund also says prospects for the region remain uncertain but that the situation varies depending on the country. 

The fund assessed the region's economic prospects in its latest World Economic Outlook, released Wednesday. The report says Mexico and Chile have remained largely resilient to the region's economic problems, while Brazil appears to be stabilizing under new President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. 

The World Economic Outlook also notes that the worst may be over for Argentina, which has been mired in a severe recession and defaulted on its massive public debt.

The lending agency says that since the middle of last year, Argentina has had a modest recovery in real gross domestic product and strong growth in industrial production and construction. 

The fund, however, warns that the Argentine economy still faces inflationary risks, in part because of the planned release this year of bank deposits that had been frozen to prevent capital flight out of the country. 
 

The report also says geopolitical risks are a concern for the region, which depends on developments in the United States. The report says most Latin American countries would suffer economically from a prolonged war in Iraq. 

The World Economic Outlook, a semiannual publication presenting analysis and projections of global economic developments, forecasts that in 2003 the global economy will grow at a 3.2-percent rate — one half of a percentage point less than it projected in September 2002 — with growth accelerating significantly only during the first half of 2004.

The researchers, in preparing projections, assumed a relatively short war in Iraq with little spillover outside the region and limited impact on the global economy as the most likely outcome. An even more rapid resolution of the conflict could provide a larger boost to global activity from the second half of 2003, through a stronger increase in confidence and lower oil prices, the report said.

"The economy may snap up faster than we expect," said Kenneth Rogoff, fund chief economist, who presented the report at a news briefing here. "Heightened security risks may . . . have long-term insidious effects that could ultimately reduce our notion of normal global growth from 4 percent to, say, 3.75 percent," Rogoff said. 

Gold firm considers arbitration over permit denial
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The company that wants to develop an open pit gold mine in northern Costa Rica is considering international arbitration.

The firm would join Harken Energy and perhaps a group of Luis Enrique Villalobos investors in the international arbitration process.

Business New America quoted Infinito President Erich Rauguth as saying "If we don't get transparency and a process free from political interference, we are going to seek resolution in international courts in Washington." 

Vannessa Ventures Ltd. is the parent company of Infinito. The firms have rights to a large deposit of gold ore near the San Juan River. The Ministerio de Ambiente y Energia has so far denied environmental permits.

Harken is the company that wanted to drill for oil in the Caribbean near Limón. That case is believed to be submitted already to arbitration with the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes. Drilling permits wer denied.

Some investors in the failed Villalobos high-interest firm are seeking arbitration and perhaps a financial settlement from Costa Rica on the grounds that the country should have cracked down on the firm long ago.

According to Jack Caine, who is spearheading the investor effort with a Canadian law firm, all such disputes must be settled before a country can participate in a free trade treaty with the United States. Such a treaty is being negotiated now.

Vannessa did not specifically confirm the Business News America story, but the firm posted it to its Web site.


 
Our reward offer is still $500

Louis Milanes

Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

This newspaper seeks the prompt return of two men who ran high-interest investment operations that have gone out of business.

Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho, 62, was associated with Ofinter S.A., a money exchange house, and with his own private investment business that had about $1 billion in other people’s money on the books.

Villalobos closed his business Oct. 14 and vanished.

Louis Milanes operated Savings Unlimited and several casinos in San José. He left the country with other members of his firm the weekend of Nov. 23. He may have as much as $260 million in his possession. Both operations catered to North Americans.

Villalobos had about 6,300 customers. Milanes had about 2,400.

Villalobos and Milanes are the subjects of international arrest warrants.  Associates of both men have been jailed.

A.M. Costa Rica has posted a $500 reward for information leading to the detention of either man with the hopes that others will make similar pledges. The newspaper believes that investors only will see some of their money when the two men are in custody.

Milanes has few supporters in San José. On the other hand, as the letters frequently on this page show, Villalobos still has supporters who believe that he will reappear and settle his debts. They believe he is in hiding because of a predatory Costa Rican government.


 
An invitation to enter our photo contest
The first A.M. Costa Rica photo contest welcomes your submissions and will award a prize of $100 in each of five categories.

The deadline for submission is April 15. The contest was announced in November.

Five categories have been established:

1. DEADLINE NEWS: A news photo that shows a breaking news event, such as, but not only, crime, accidents, fires, arrests.

2. SCENIC: Landscape scenes which may or may not include people as a secondary emphasis.

3. WILDLIFE: Photos that have as their principal subject one or more animals, plants or insects.

4. SPORTS: A photo related to one of the major or minor sports, team or individual.

5. PEOPLE:  A photo that has as its principal emphasis one or more persons, including individual portraits. 


Deadline is April 15

BASIC RULES: The photo must be taken by the person who submits it, and he or she, as a condition of submission, agrees to give A.M. Costa Rica the right to publish the photo in A.M. Costa Rica. Upon publication, the photo will be covered by A.M. Costa Rica’s copyright, which the newspaper will happily assign back to the contestant upon request. As a condition of submission, the contestant affirms that he or she owns full rights to the photo and that it has never before been published in any professional medium.

The photo must have been taken within the borders or territorial waters of Costa Rica between Nov. 15 and the contest deadline. 

Only one entry per photographer is allowed in each category. Judges reserve the right to place the photo in another category during the selection process.
 
Employees, shareholders or interns with A.M. Costa Rica may not enter the contest. 

This is an open competition. No distinction will be made between professional and amateur photographers.

A.M. Costa Rica, at its option, will publish photos and information including the name of the photographer, as submissions are made.

The management of A.M. Costa Rica and judges are the final authority on contest rules and submissions.

TECHNICALITIES: The photos must be sent digitally via e-mail to 

editor@amcostarica.com, and the subject line must specify "photo contest." Within the body of the e-mail, the contestant must specify into which category the photo is submitted. The photo should be between 4 and 8 inches in width and contain no less than 72 pixels per inch of density. Each photo should not be larger than 200 k.

The e-mail message must clearly state the name and the circumstances surrounding the taking of the photo and the date the photo was taken. 

The photo should be in jpeg format and sent as an attachment with the file name as the number of the category in which it is being submitted followed by the name of the photographer.

For example, the file name of a photo in the sports category taken by Mr. Jones would be 4jones.jpeg or 4jones.jpg

PRIZES:  A first place winner will be named in each category, and the prize will be $100 paid via Pay Pal, the electronic fund-transfer system.

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