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These stories were published Tuesday, May 13, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 93
Jo Stuart
About us
Plastic surgery visit a bad trip for Texas woman
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Texas single mother Carla Strange heard that Costa Rica was an economical place to have cosmetic surgery, but she got more than she bargained for.

The woman said she nearly died after her breasts became infected, and the U.S. medical bills she ran up after returning home hit $100,000. She said she still needs more surgery.

This is not a story of medical malpractice, because such allegations are complex and best leveled by experts. And bad things happen in medicine even with the best of care. But Ms. Strange was so upset by her Costa Rican experience that she has put up a Web site  showing graphic photos of her infected body.

She came to Costa Rica, she said, Feb. 24. She is 42 and thought that her breasts had sagged. She mortgaged her Lott, Texas, home to get money for the procedure. The idea was to get a pair of breast implants.

She chose a clinic here that specialized in such work. We won’t name the clinic if and until a legal action is filed, but Ms. Strange does.

She said she developed a high fever the day after her breast operations here. She said her doctors were not concerned until her left breast started bleeding and showing clear signs of infection. Her physicians here treated her again, removed one implant, washed it and then reinserted it, she said.

Soon she was on a flight to Texas, but she said she nearly fainted in the Houston airport and had to use a wheelchair.

The following day she said she was in a Scott & White Hospital and fighting infection and blood poisoning for her life.

Carla amid illness
Carla now

She said physicians there had to remove the implants and remove breast tissue. The fight against infection lasted 10 days, she said.

Her Costa Rican physicians said they would take care of her if she could return here, but that would have been a life-threatening experience considering her condition, she said.

She said her problems are not over because she needs more operations and suffered tissue damage that will require at least a year to heal.

Ms. Strange is philosophical about her problem. She is not happy with her treatment here but she is less that accusatory. She said she just wants her body to be made right. And she also wants the world to know about her experiences.

She just wants other people to consider her experiences when they are making plans to visit Costa Rica’s cosmetics surgery meccas. Her Web site has attracted more than 6,000 hits since March 31.

A photo that she provided shows a woman groggy with illness. But a later photo shows her smiling and in good spirits with friends.

New initiative will try to teach coffee technique
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. —A new project jointly financed by the Inter-American Development Bank and a non-profit U.S. organization has been launched to help coffee growers in Central America become more competitive on the global market.

The three-year project will receive $4.5 million from the development bank and Connecticut-based TechnoServe to help improve the quality of coffee grown in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, the bank said in a statement Monday. TechnoServe is involved with finding business solutions to rural poverty.

Ernest van Panhuys, project director of TechnoServe's Nicaragua office, said in an interview from Managua that coffee prices in Central America have tumbled over the past several years, as other countries such as Vietnam and Brazil produce an ever-larger volume of coffee.

"The only way for Central America to compete in the long run" is to improve the quality of its coffee, said van Panhuys. He explained that "those farmers who can produce quality coffee will be able to compete," while many others who cannot produce the superior grade will have a much harder time. This is because they will end up competing against farmers in such countries as Brazil where regular-grade coffee is produced.

TechnoServe's goal, said van Panhuys, is to help farmers sell to the higher-paying specialty coffee market. That market, which includes organic and gourmet coffee, can command 

prices of about 100 percent more than the prices generally paid for conventional coffee. The specialty market is smaller than the market for conventional coffee, but it is also more stable and dependable.

The new venture, van Panhuys said, is oriented toward helping farmers learn a processing technique called "wet milling" of coffee — which refers to the transitional step in making high-quality coffee. Inadequate milling, or allowing the coffee bean to "over-dry," destroys the possibility of yielding a superior product.

The initiative ties in very closely with that recently launched in Central America by the U.S. Agency for International Development to help the region's coffee growers compete globally, van Panhuys said.

The U.S. AID administrator, Andrew Natsios, said that the oversupply of coffee on world markets has driven prices to historic lows, "causing great hardship to coffee producers and workers," particularly in Central America, the Caribbean, and East Africa, where economies are heavily dependent on coffee. Central America has experienced a drop in coffee export earnings of $1 billion over the past several years.

In August  U.S. AID signed an $8-million quality-coffee agreement with the five Central American countries, along with the Dominican Republic and Panamá, for a market-based program to assist small and medium coffee producers. That project aims to form new business linkages, secure longer-term contracts with the specialty coffee industry, and identify and implement diversifications for producers who cannot be competitive.

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Arrival of 'winter' heralded by heavy rains all over
A.M. Costa Rica photo
Two women, trapped in a downpour Monday afternoon, try to make their way across a city street.
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Plan on staying wet for the rest of the week. And plan on watching out for slides. The Costa Rican "winter" season is in full swing with heavy downpours, mostly in the late morning and afternoons. That’s also the prediction for today. 

Monday some 2.44 inches of rain fell in the Central Valley. That’s 40.7 mms. The rain caused some washouts, and emergency personnel are keeping an eye on more than 300 shanty towns throughout the country where the danger exists that the dwellings will be swept away by rain-driven slides.

This is a recurrent problem in Costa Rica as homes are slapped together without consideration of the weather and gravity, frequently on filled land. The occupants usually are poor families.

The weather bureau blamed the heavy rain Monday on a Pacific tropical disturbance that was stalled over northwestern Costa Rica. This caused heavy rain all over the country.

The Institution Meteorológico Nacional also noted that two important events will happen Thursday. The first is the official start of the Caribbean hurricane season. This year nine tropical storms and four hurricanes are predicted. Although the storms do not hit Costa Rica, they can cause havoc higher up Central American and in México. Plus the rain spinoff of the storms can drench Costa Rica, depending on the path.

The second major event Thursday is at night, a full eclipse of the moon. Totality begins at 9:14 p.m., said the weather experts.

Paseo Colon filled
with ICE marchers

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

No one realized that so many people worked for ICE until  a march estimated to contain 20,000 persons dominated Paseo Colon Monday.

ICE is the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, and the marchers are demanding that the Banco Central de Costa Rica issue some 38 billion colons in bonds that the institute would use to modernize. That’s about $96.6 million.

However, the march had another meaning. The workers were showing their strength so that no Costa Rican politician even considers briefly the idea of privatization or ending the institute’s monopoly.

ICE runs the telephone service. A subsidiary is the electric company. Another subsidiary is the Internet monopoly. Workers think that their monopoly status is endangered by free trade treaty negotiations even though President Abel Pacheco has promised not to downsize the institute.

While employees from all over the country were marching, few people were minding the stores. So little routine business was done Monday.

Later the Casa Presidencial issued a statement saying that the government has fulfilled all the points of an accord reached last Feb. 16 with the institute.

Jorge Walter Bolaños, minister of Hacienda, said that the problem with providing funds for ICE is that the institute has not provided figures that were clear and consistent in negotiations to raise rates or in discussions about longer-term financing with government officials.

Due to national economics, the Central Bank has decided not to float the bond issue that ICE employees want, he said, adding that the government has negotiated a line of credit with the Banco de Costa Rica and international entities.

Employees want the Central Bank to float the bonds to underwrite certain projects of the institute. This would result in more job security.

The employees formed up in Sabana Norte Monday morning and marched to the Banco Central in the middle of the downtown to press their demands.

They may end up going on strike Friday to continue to press their claims.

Clothes vendor dies
in morning holdup

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Holdup men murdered a clothes vendor near his home Monday morning as the man and his wife were leaving for work.

The bandits shot the man when he offered resistance. He was identified as Jorge Vega, 45. The murder happened about 9 a.m. in El Carmen de Goicoechea northeast of San José.

The holdup men took the couple’s van that contained clothing they were going to sell door to door. The vehicle was located later with some of the merchandise missing.
We now accept
other currencies

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A.M. Costa Rica is now able to deal in four more important world currencies, thanks to its association with Pay Pal.

Until now, the newspaper accepted payment internationally in U.S. dollars. Colons were accepted in Costa Rica.

However, now the newspaper will accept Canadian dollars, euros, pounds sterling and yen via the Pay Pal Internet system.

The U.S.-based company does all the math and either converts payment to U.S. dollars at the current rate of exchange or places the money in the newspaper accounts denominated in the correct currency.

The exchange is invisible to advertising customers who simply make payments in their own national currency.

Pay Pal is a handy, secure system that allows customers to send or receive money with a few strokes on the computer keyboard once an account has been established.

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Guatemalan peace process is lagging, critics claim
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala — More than five years after a peace accord ended the civil war here, representatives of governments and international organizations that support the peace process are to meet to assess its progress this week. As the meeting approached, various sectors of Guatemalan society and diplomatic missions unleashed a wave of criticism of what they say is a stagnated process. 

Each morning, Guatemala's national palace guard performs a solemn ceremony in which they change a single white rose laid on the palace's monument to peace. 

Palace tour guide Italo Liberati talks to a group of tourists watching the ceremony. 

"In 1996 the table where the parts in conflict signed the peace was in that place, so the Guatemala artist Luis Carlos made this sculpture dedicated to the signing of the peace on Dec. 29, 1996, [ending] 36 years of internal war," he told the group. 

The daily changing of the rose is a symbol of the constant renewal of the peace process. But as the country nears the fifth meeting of the consultative group, as the donor nations and international organizations are known, many in Guatemala are saying the peace process needs more than a symbolic renewal. 

Tom Koenigs is the chief of mission for the United Nations office in charge of monitoring the implementation of the accords. He will present a report to the consultative group this week, assessing progress since their last meeting. 

He says that the improvement in the area of human rights that the group hoped for has not happened and the progress made in the implementation of the accords since February 2002 has been disappointing. 

The accords ended the armed conflict, but they also set out to address its causes, like poverty, 

racism, and impunity, while compensating victims of wartime rights violations. 

Critics say little has been done to address these issues. They complain that budget allocations for the armed forces are equal to that of wartime, while social spending is lagging. 

They cite recent events that they say demonstrate the lack of advances and the government's skewed priorities. 

In what was a highly controversial move, the government last week began paying compensation to former paramilitary groups for their obligatory wartime service to the army. 

The truth commission report identified these groups as responsible for wartime atrocities. Critics say it is an insult that the government is paying these groups when it has not put in motion the accord-stipulated compensation program for victims of wartime rights violations. 

Also last week an appeals court reversed a recent conviction for the 1990 murder of anthropologist Myrna Mack. The October verdict was the first-ever conviction of a high-ranking military officer for a wartime rights violation. Rights groups in Guatemala and abroad have scorned the appeal court's decision as a significant setback for justice. 

But critics and government alike agree that the accords are ambitious in scope. Guatemala's Secretary of Peace Catalina Soberanis says the government has made some important advances, but that fulfilling the accords in their entirety is costly and will take time. 

She says that many civil society groups and donor nations have recognized that some commitments are so ambitious, that their completion will require at least two more administrations. 

Despite the harsh reviews of the current administration's performance, detractors say the peace accords are not only the best framework, but the only one, that can ensure Guatemala a better future. 

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