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These stories were published Wednesday, April 23, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 79
Jo Stuart
About us
Girls were hot, but his credit card was hotter
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A New Jersey man went to a strip palace here as part of a boys’ night out. When the dust cleared, he said he found that the nightspot had charged $11,000 to his credit card.

And a male companion lost his cellular telephone and his passport to obliging young ladies who helped the men back to their hotel.

The tale is similar to that of many tourists who frequent certain San José strip clubs. The only difference here is the scale of the fraud.

The man contacted A.M. Costa Rica for information on how to file a police complaint with the Judicial Investigating Organization. He now is back in New Jersey where the full impact of his night of frolic became clear. That happened when the credit card bills arrived.

The man said he and three other tourists went walking around San José, and a taxi driver promised to take them to a place with "hot women."

Pretty soon the tourists were in private rooms upstairs, drunk and partly undressed, he said. A number of San José nightspots rent upstairs rooms to the legions of legal prostitutes who prey on male tourists. The nightspots avoid penalties for pimping because they claim they

are just renting rooms, although for short periods.

Apparently during the upstairs interlude or when the tourists were leaving, the nightspot had its way with the credit cards. The man was unclear as to if he actually signed the receipt. However, he did say that the U.S. credit card companies were siding with the strip club.

Taxi drivers in San José get a substantial commission, sometimes $100, for steering tourists to certain strip clubs. Once there, the men unknowingly purchase various services. For example, when a scantily clad girl brushes past a man, some clubs ring up the brief encounter as a $50 lap dance. Other services also find their way on the hapless tourist’s bill.

Two visiting Colorado men dropped $300 in 30 minutes at a downtown club that has since gone out of business. They just had a few drinks and looked at dancers, they said.

Some clubs employ bulky bouncers who encourage balky customers to pay their bill, either with cash or a credit card. 

Seriously intoxicated visitors are at the full mercy of the club employees, who frequently work on commission and in unison.

A.M. Costa Rica photo
The real heart
of the downtown

The main Correo Nacional building stands in all its spendor on Calle Principal under a gray sky as passers-by go about their business.

Other parks and cafés notwithstanding, everyone goes to the post office one time or another to mail letters and check their mailboxes.

Behind is the towering Banco Nacional building.

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Land crab season approaches on the Pacific coast
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The situation is perhaps not as dramatic as the swallows coming back to Capistrano, but reports from the Pacific coast say that the land crabs are on the move.

The pink and purple creatures are impossible to find for most of the year, but with the first rains and advent of wetter weather, the crabs head for the ocean where they mate and the females spawn.

Patty Yaniz, operator of the Gilded Iguana in Nosara reported she had her first crab sighting of the year Saturday. She said she was moving some boxes around at the hotel. Soon the whole Pacific coast will be alive with crabs. Scientists have counted upwards of 10,000 per hectare (2.47 acres).

The Land Crab (Gecarcinus quadratus) is a forest farmer most of the time. The creature lives on plant material it collects and brings below ground. It lives in individual holes. Sometimes it also eats other small creatures.

The crab mating ritual is closely tied to the full moon, which will take place May 15. But first the male crabs have to march from the woods where they usually live to the coast where they prepare a burrow . They also meet lady crabs.

The female will carry eggs around on her body for some days awaiting the correct time when the moon tells her to head for the ocean where a sea water bath will trigger the hatching of her eggs.  Then the crabs are off again to the woods.

Some crabs are up to 10 inches across. Most are smaller. Any size is likely to be crushed by motor vehicle tires. Soon the roads around the coast will have a pink consistency from crushed crabs.

The small creatures have their downside, too. Some environmentalists worry that mosquitoes can breed in the abandoned burrows that the crabs construct near the ocean.

Despite their number, the land crab has not made its way onto Costa Rican menus. The crab here is generally considered not worth the effort for cooking and eating.

Canadian caution
urged over SARS

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. —The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Tuesday issued an alert for anyone traveling to Toronto, Canada, because of the occurrence there of numerous cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

Centers Director Julie Gerberding said at a news briefing at the centers’ headquarters in Atlanta, Ga., that the alert is "no reason to stay home," but she urged visitors to Toronto to avoid areas where they could be exposed to the viral disease, such as hospitals and health care settings.

The global accounting of SARS cases issued by the World Health Organization Tuesday showed 139 cases of the pneumonia-like illness reported in Canada, with 13 deaths. In total, 3,947 cases have been reported in 25 countries, with 228 deaths.

Dr. Gerberding said all of the Canadian cases have occurred in people who have recently traveled to the epidemic's epicenter in Asia, or have had close contact with an individual who has.

Health officials have the greatest concern about cases of the disease in which the chain of transmission can not be traced from one patient to the next. For instance, Hong Kong health authorities are trying to determine how the virus, related to that which causes the common cold, may have been passed among several score residents of the same apartment building. One theory suggests that improper sewage disposal may have allowed transmission through fecal matter.

The Centers for Disease Control has issued a more rigorous travel warning for Hong Kong and other Asian sites of the outbreak, advising that nonessential travel to these areas be postponed.

The SARS death rate is also rising, Dr. Gerberding announced at the Atlanta briefing. SARS was killing about 4 percent of the patients infected in the first several weeks of the outbreak, but now Gerberding said the death rate has risen to 5.9 percent.

Dr. Gerberding cautioned about over-interpreting what that statistic may mean. "If you see the death rate go up, it's not necessarily because it's getting worse," she said. The director explained that the percentage of deaths may climb as the tests to detect the virus become more precise.

An unprecedented degree of collaboration among teams of health researchers and experts resulted in a rapid identification of the pathogen that causes SARS, but Gerberding was not able to report that an effective treatment has been identified as a result of that partnership. "We don't have any evidence that any specific treatment is effective," she said, but tests are continuing on the effectiveness of a variety of proven anti-viral medications.

CDC has issued general advice for travelers who are heading to areas affected by the disease. It is available at http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/sars/

Watch the water
in city’s northeast

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Officials still are trying to figure out what kind of substance got into the water in the northeastern part of San José.

Residents of Tibás, Moravia and Goicoechea has been urged to avoid tap water because the liquid has an oil smell. Ingestion can cause stomach aches and vomiting, and some cases were reported Tuesday.

The problem seems to be localized at a water tank in Moravia, which is served by a different system of supply lines than the rest of the city.

The system is under the supervision of the Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados.

The water company also had pressure problems Tuesday. Some residents of Escazú reported no water at all. Other sections in the west had just a trickle. The reason for the constriction could not be determined.

The water company, another government monopoly, has never been able to provide information to A.M. Costa Rica, despite repeated contacts.

Exit tax for tourists
to take a big leap

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

With tourism in a slump, Costa Rica Thursday will raise the price of tourism exit permits from $17 to $26.

The Ministerio de Hacienda, the financial authority, is expected to announce today exactly how the money will be collected. Officials have promised to end the use of exit stamps after years of complaints of falsifications, reuse and substitution of false stamps. The tourist tax increase has been known for some time.

Costa Ricans and permanent residents were supposed to get a break at the same time when the cost of their exit permit would drop from the current $43 to $26, but officials decided to delay that decrease for one more year in order to collect more revenue.

Temporary residents, rentistas and pensionados, will continue to pay the equivalent of $63 to leave the country.

Officials are expected to say today that the exit permit costs will be included in the price of the ticket.

Illegal logging suspected

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police confiscated two wagons and a truck in Bella Vista de Cutris, San Carlos, Tuesday because the vehicles were carrying 12 tree trunks that officials said they believe were logged illegally.

Fuerza Pública officers briefly detained the three men who were driving the vehicles.
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Guyana’s ambassador, Odeen Ishmael, tells the Organization of American States session that ‘any removal of a democratically elected government by non-constitutional means, including coups d’état, will not be tolerated by the member states of the OAS.’
New book extols value of Inter-American Charter
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A publication, "Inter-American Democratic Charter: Documents and Interpretations," launched at Organization of American States Headquarters Tuesday, hails the Inter-American Democratic Charter adopted in Lima, Peru, on Sept. 11, 2001 as a milestone in the hemisphere’s democratic history.

During a ceremony launching the book, edited by former Colombian Ambassador Humberto de la Calle, the speakers recalled the efforts by the Organization to ensure that the charter becomes "a navigation instrument" for member states. 

"Inter-American Democratic Charter: Documents and Interpretations" was launched with delegations of the 34 member states, permanent observers and special guests in attendance. The book is intended as a single collection that brings together documentation prior to and coming with the Inter-American Democratic Charter, and to launch the process of interpreting the charter. 

Guyana’s ambassador, Odeen Ishmael, said the charter is "not only a guide to all our countries on the tenets of democracy, but what is more significant is that it unambiguously states that any removal of a democratically elected government by non-constitutional means, including coups d’état, will not be tolerated by the member states of the OAS." He is chairman of the organization’s Permanent Council,

Secretary General César Gaviria underscored the "giant step" taken in drafting and adopting the Charter, which was first invoked in the attempted coup in Venezuela. "We are increasingly aware as 

we follow the trail blazed by the Inter-American Democratic Charter," declared Gaviria. "The charter’s great virtue lies in how it brings together economic, political and social problems and demonstrates that they are all concepts and ingredients vital to a democracy."

For his part, Peru’s deputy foreign affairs minister, Manuel Rodríguez Cuadros, gave a historical overview of the efforts that led to the democratic charter which, he said, is a substantive contribution to a structural perspective of democracy in how it links democracy to human rights, the fight against poverty and economic and social development.

Describing the Inter-American Democratic Charter as a sort of navigation chart that will influence concrete political processes to the extent that member states have the will, Ambassador Rodríguez Cuadros warned that "problems arise in Latin American democracies because of the growing contradiction between democracy and the failure of economic systems and policies to adequately raise the standard of living for the majority of citizens by way of income, jobs and welfare."

For his part, the book’s editor, de la Calle, described the charter as an act of faith, reaffirmation and commitment. "The present reality is that, except for Cuba, representative democracy is being practiced by all the countries of the Hemisphere." But he warned that after democratic practices become consolidated, concern then turns to the looming dangers, including the rigors of economic adjustment, poverty, the growing perception that corruption continues unabated, and insecurity.

U.N. rights group criticized for slacking off oversight
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Human rights, including freedom of expression, have taken a back seat at the U. N. Commission on Human Rights this year. That's according to Human Rights  Watch, which says the commission — the world's highest human rights body — is failing to condemn  countries who commit the most serious human rights abuses.

Last week, resolutions criticising several countries and territories, including Zimbabwe, Cuba, Sudan and Chechnya, and calling for measures to improve human rights were tabled at the commission. All of them except Cuba were rejected. In the case of Sudan, that meant the U.N. will no longer be able to conduct human rights monitoring there for at least one year.

Human Rights Watch says the voting showed that many commission members  are more concerned with protecting each other than protecting the victims of human rights violations: "A growing bloc of repressive governments, including Algeria, China, Cuba, Libya, Russia, Sudan, Syria and Zimbabwe, have become progressively more aggressive in blocking or obstructing resolutions  critical of any specific country."

The voting also showed Western governments were failing to take action against governments who flagrantly abused human rights, particularly their new-found friends in the fight against terrorism, Human Rights Watch said, adding that "Western governments have weakened the commission's response to some of the worst human rights situations."

In the case of Chechnya, the United States refused to co-sponsor a resolution condemning human rights violations there, Human Rights Watch noted. In a briefing paper presented to the U.N. commission, the group noted that Russia continues to prevent international  observers and journalists 

from entering Chechnya in an "apparent attempt to limit the flow of information on human rights abuses."

Russian authorities have denied entry to Human Rights Watch 10 times. Russia has also delayed inviting U.N. experts on torture and extra-judicial executions to Chechnya despite two U.N. human rights commission resolutions requiring it to do so, Human Rights Watch said.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch says violations in Chechnya appear to be increasing. Between December 2002 and February 2003, Russian troops "disappeared" at least 26 people while new cases of torture, arbitrary detention and extrajudicial executions appeared. Meanwhile, Chechen rebels are continuing to carry out assassinations of village administrators and civil servants working for the pro-Moscow government in Chechnya, Human Rights Watch added.

Freedom House has named Chechnya one of the world's most repressive regimes. In a report submitted to the U.N. commission, Freedom House notes that "civilians have been subject to harassment and violence, including torture, rape, and extrajudicial executions, at the hands of Russian soldiers, while senior military authorities have shown general disregard for these abuses."

Freedom of information has also suffered, with the Russian military continuing to impose severe restrictions on journalists' access to the Chechen war zone, issuing accreditation primarily to those of proven loyalty to the Russian government, says Freedom House.

Read Human Rights Watch's Report on Chechnya: http://www.hrw.org/backgrounder/eca/chechnya/

Read Freedom House's list of the World's Most Repressive Regimes:

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