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These stories were published Thursday, April 11, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 71
Jo Stuart
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Teachers display their signs in front of the National Assembly Building

Teachers take to the street  to protest decentralization
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Here’s one group of protestors who make sure their signs are spelled correctly. The teachers were out Wednesday trying to scuttle plans by some in the National Assembly to let the municipalities take over public education.

True to their profession, the teachers did not arrive until after classes were out, and some were trickling up to Avenida Principal in front of the assembly building as late as 4:15 p.m.

The teachers are concerned that certain measures that are being considered in the assembly would have a negative effect on the quality of education, they said.

Specifically, the present government has adopted a policy of distributing more and more responsibilities to the municipal governments. The teachers said there are some proposals that this also be done with the education system which now is closely controlled by the Minsterio de Educación.

The gathering Wednesday was mostly from teachers in the Central Valley, and there were at least 500, some with hand-drawn signs protesting "muncipalization" of education.

At the very least, the protest marked the beginning of business as usual in politics. The whole country had been awaiting the outcome of the April 7 election won by Abel Pacheco.

Change of season is presaged by grey clouds above city
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The change of season is arriving if the skies over the Central Valley were any indication Wednesday afternoon. The locals would say the sky was "heavy." 

The gray cumulus clouds crowned the mountains on all side of the city, but no rain fell in central San José. May usually marks the beginning of the rainy season, but an occasional downpour in April is not unheard of.

The rainy south Pacific has been getting its share of storms, but the Central Valley is beginning to show signs that a little water would be welcome. Municipal crews have been at work for several weeks raking up the dry leaves dumped by thirsty trees into public places.

The grass has turned a dark brown except in areas with sprinklers installed. Still certain species of flowers are in full bloom despite not having a drink for at least six weeks.

There is fire danger, particularly in parched Guanacaste and in certain areas of the Central Valley where tall weeds are like tinder.

The drainage workers are cleaning runoff chutes and ditches in anticipation of the May and June precipitation that always causes local flooding because runoff is blocked by accumulations of trash. Repairmen are slapping on one last coat of paint or fixing broken roof tiles all over town.

There is a chance that the skies over the Central Valley might open up today, if only to settle the dust that has accumulated since the last good storm in January.

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional says that the weather for Thursday called for morning cloudiness in five of the six national weather zones. Only in the North Pacific in Guanacaste was there to be a few clouds.

In the Central Valley, the prediction is for rains threatening in the afternoon. The same is true in the north Pacific.

But in the Central and South Pacific, downpours are predicted.  On the Caribbean slope and in the northern zone of the country isolated showers are predicted.

Weather fine for parade

Today is a national holiday in Costa Rica. It is Juan Santamaría Day and the anniversary of the 1856 Battle of Rivas where Costa Rican forces turned back the mercenary army of adventurer William Walker. Santamaría of Alajuela died while setting fire to a house where Walker’s forces were sweeping the Costa Rican positions with rifle fire during the battle. He is credited with turning the tide. 

A parade, an annual event, is scheduled today at 9 a.m. in Alajuela, and there were some activities last night.

The U.S. Embassy, most Costa Rican government offices and banks are closed today. So is the Association of Residents of Costa Rica. School children must attend classes today for patriotic activities.

Most taxis are working today, and most stores will be open. Some Ticos are taking a long holiday, so beach locations should have good crowds.

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Chavez won't come
to Rio Group session

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and wire service reports

The 19-nation Group of Rio meeting begins today at the Hotel Herradura, but Hugo Chavez, embattled president of Venezuela, will not be here, according to word early today from Caracas.

Chavez is under strong pressure at home in Caracas because a general strike is entering its fourth day.

The authoritarian Chavez took to the television Tuesday to give his side of the story, and he ordered the national television chains to run his speech. Wearing a red beret, the former military leader could be seen on cable in Costa Rica delivering a fiery talk to his supporters at Miraflores, the Venezuelan presidential palace.

But the television network struck back. As Chavez spoke, a protest from the television stations scrolled across the screen. It cited Venezuelan law and said Chavez broke the law by commandeering the television coverage.

Meanwhile, in Caracas, anti-government labor unions in Venezuela are vowing to strike indefinitely to support dissident oil industry workers.

Petroleum industry analysts say a prolonged strike could have a major impact on world oil markets.

Venezuela is an OPEC member and is the world's fourth largest oil exporter. It pumps more than 2.4 million barrels of crude oil each day, exporting nearly one million barrels daily to the United States.

Venezuelan oil industry workers are at odds with President Hugo Chavez over management of the state-run company, Petroleos de Venezuela.

The president's opponents say the strike, now entering its fourth day, has disrupted operations at several oil refineries. The government insists oil production is still normal.

Paraguay’s president
accused of corruption

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

ASUNCION, Paraguay — President Luis Gonzalez Macchi has been officially charged with corruption.  State prosecutor Javier Contreras Wednesday alleged that Gonzalez Macchi skimmed $16 million from the Central Bank for personal use in a "high interest" investment operation in the United States.

A presidential spokesman says the accusation is ridiculous. A judge will decide if there is enough evidence to ask Congress to open impeachment proceedings against the president. However, the Paraguayan Congress is dominated by the presidents' supporters.

Mexican vote on Fox
riles ruling party

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MEXICO CITY, Mexico - The ruling party is condemning a decision by the Senate that blocks President Vicente Fox from traveling to the United States and Canada next week. 

National Action Party leaders told the Mexican newspaper Reforma Wednesday that the decision contributes nothing to the country's well-being and is irresponsible. The ruling party also suggested the move jeopardizes international confidence in Mexico. 

On Tuesday, four opposition parties in the Senate voted 71-41 to deny President Fox permission to travel abroad. It was the first time in Mexican history that the Congress blocked a president from leaving the country. By law, Mexico's presidents are required to seek congresional approval before they go abroad. In a televised address late Tuesday, President Fox lashed out at his opponents, accusing them of stopping progress by curtailing his travel. 

Opposition party leaders say the president has spent too much time abroad and is neglecting important issues at home. Fox said his trip was intended to focus on protecting the rights of immigrant workers and on attracting foreign investment to Mexico. 

U.S. Congress to divide
immigration service

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. lawmakers are moving forward Wednesday on a proposal to break up the struggling Immigration and Naturalization Services. 

The House of Representatives Judiciary Committee is discussing a proposal that would divide the INS into two branches — one for processing immigration applications and one for enforcing immigration law. INS Commissioner James Ziglar recently told Congress he agrees the agency needs an overhaul, but he and the Bush Administration would rather wait to let a recent internal reorganization take effect. 

But House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner said nearly three decades of attempts to fix the agency by giving it more money and allowing it to fix itself have not worked. He said the country cannot afford to wait, and it is time to move legislation. 

The INS has come under heavy criticism in recent weeks after mailing approved visas to two of the dead Sept. 11 hijackers, more than six months after the terrorist attacks. 

The proposal would go to the full house for vote if passed by the committee this week. The Senate is working on similar legislation. 

U.S. stamp 
will cost
3 cents
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. Postal Service has announced that starting June 30, the cost of sending a first class letter in the United States will rise three cents to 37 cents. 

The new rate was approved in February and the effective date was announced Tuesday by the U.S. Postal Service's board of governors. 

Postal board chairman Robert Rider is quoted as saying the June increase will help the agency cope with its financial problems, but said the governors recognize repeated rate increases are not the long-term answer. 

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