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These stories were published Friday, May 14, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 95
Jo Stuart
About us
Region shows major recovery in basic exports
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — After a disappointing performance in the previous year, exports from Latin American and Caribbean nations grew by 8.3 percent in 2003, due to better prices and higher-volume sales for basic goods such as copper, oil, coffee, cotton, wool and sugar, says the United Nations.

The U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean  said the figures so far in 2004 are even better, with exports rising by 17 percent for the first quarter of the year. In 2002, the commission  said the region's exports rose only by an estimated 0.6 percent to 0.8 percent.

The "rapid rhythm" of trade growth in 2003 was maintained by high demand in the United States, Europe and Asia, particularly China, for the region's products, said the commission.

In 2003, Latin America and the Caribbean accumulated a surplus in goods and services of about $25.5 billion, and a current account surplus of about $2.8 billion, said the U.N. 

commission. The region has not experienced this kind of growth for half a century, it said.

The recovery in exports "is an encouraging sign," said commission executive secretary José Luis Machinea. He added that "now we must seek ways to develop an export base" that incorporates new technologies and has a stronger effect on job creation.

Significant price rises were reported for the region's basic products in 2003. Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay expanded their farm exports on the strength of higher prices for the soya. In addition, coffee exports from Colombia, Brazil and Central America went up, and Paraguay and Uruguay benefited from higher cotton and wool prices. An "extraordinary" rise in the price for copper helped Chile and Peru, the commission said.

The biggest boost for Central America and the Caribbean was the recovery in the price of sugar, while Belize, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, and Trinidad and Tobago all saw growth of more than 20 percent in their mining and oil sectors, said the commission.

This is advertising at its most basic level
A couple of weeks ago I decided to accept every piece of paper offered me on the street. These are advertisements handed out by sometimes very young people. Of course, once I decided to do that, the people handing out these notices seemed to have disappeared. But I do have a few. 

One was announcing a special at Quiznos for sandwiches for I think it was 695 colons ($1.60). I can't find that one. But I had already been to Quiznos and was surprised when my bill was considerably less. That piece of paper explained why.

Many of these ads are for schools. I have two of them. One advertises you can get your high school diploma (and with this announcement get a 50 percent discount on enrollment). It lists the advantages, including comfortable classrooms, excellent teachers, a soda (coffee shop), individual attention. And classes are held day and night.

Another one offers free enrollment into a university where you can learn about computers and learn English. It tells of the jobs that you will be prepared for. 

Another small piece of paper I accepted advertises a Colombian beauty shop. 

It then lists the prices of all the various services. It would be interesting to compare these prices with those in other countries. A haircut for women is 2,000 ($4.62), a pedicure, 3,000 ($6.93). The biggest price is for painless permanent makeup, probably eyeliner, for 25,000 ($57.75). I was recently looking for an eyeliner that doesn't run, and they were over 3,000 colons. So maybe over a lifetime, 25,000 is a bargain.

And finally we have an advertisement that begins with a testimonial from a satisfied customer of the caciques who helped her daughter kick her drug addiction. And she now has a good job. The caciques (chiefs), by means of prayer and secrets of the "Mother of the Jungle" and "Mother Nature" will cure whatever ails you from impotence to drug addiction. They guarantee their work. How can one go wrong? I certainly don't mind this method of advertising. 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

Then there are the people who are allowed to get on the city buses and sell their small items (a pen, a small comic book) for usually 100 colons each (23 cents) to help some organization or other. 

Usually these people give their pitch for a couple of blocks, then walk through the bus collecting money and handing out whatever they are selling and get off. 

I have donated to various causes and once to a young man who told the sad story of his family whose house was wiped out by a flood and had a sick child. If he could get up in front of a busload of people and tell his sad plight to us with such feeling, I felt he deserved help. But yesterday when I got on the bus some man was standing at his seat and was in the middle of a religious tirade. 

He held some book in his hand (which seemed too small to be a Bible) and had a number of arm movements that he kept repeating. I was very annoyed at having my ride interfered with. I glanced around the bus to see others reactions. Typical of Costa Ricans, everyone was just pretending that he wasn't there. Typical American that I am, I looked annoyed, feeling put upon as a captive audience. I am sure their blood pressures stayed normal while mine mounted. He didn't stop talking until our final bus stop.

My favorite street salesman is the "statue" that stands on a box near the Plaza de Cultura. Dressed in a long white robe with a hood and with a painted white face, he stands perfectly still until you put some money in the tin in front of him, donating to keeping the environment clean and the world at peace. (I think that's what it's says.) Then he, like a mechanical doll, bows and waves a thank you. I always wave back.

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Pineapple juice!

Celebrating in anticipation of el Día del Agricultor, which is Saturday, are Ariel Guzmán Ramírez, Camila Guzmán Ramírez and Abraham
Ramírez Vindas. Pineapples represent a major innovation and diversification in Costa Rican farming. 

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Legislators celebrate
the farmer’s life

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Legislators celebrated the Día del Agricultor a bit early Thursday. The day is Saturday, but Thursday was a great day for setting up displays on the Bulevar Ricardo Jiménez that passes through the Asamblea Nacional complex.

Gerardo González Esquivel, president of the congress, promised the agricultural sector that he will work to provide the most favorable conditions under the proposed free-trade treaty with the United States.

The mayor of San José, Johnny Araya, urged those present to retain the values of their ancestors, including love of work, the simple, the humble and the honest.

The bulk of the displays were from producers of so-called organic products, which was reported to support some 14 firms and more than 3,000 farm families.

A spokesman for the Ministerio de Salud, the health ministry, said that officials were trying to reduce the use of agrochemicals in production to improve the living of consumers.

Free-trade treaty
to be signed May 28

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. —  The U.S.-Central America Free Trade Agreement will be signed May 28 at the Organization of American States headquarters here, according to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick will sign on behalf of the United States and trade ministers from Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua will sign on behalf of their nations, according to a press release issued by the trade representative’s office Thursday.

Zoellick said the agreement will foster increased U.S. trade with the region and support continued openness and democracy in Central America, among other benefits.

The United States has finished negotiations to include the Dominican Republic in the trade pact, but a period of congressional consultation required by the Trade Act of 2002 has not yet concluded, the trade office said.

Once signed, the agreement will have to be ratified by legislative bodies in all the countries involved in order to go into effect. 

The agreement has been criticized in Costa Rica as representing a loss of sovereignty and jobs. The agreement would open up the state insurance monopoly and certain areas of telecommunications in Costa Rica.

Bullets kill man, 20,
on Pavas boulevard

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 20-year-old man died late Wednesday when someone shot him near the west end of the Pavas boulevard.

The Fuerza Pública identified him as Josué Chavarría Castillo and said he suffered a bullet wound in the chest and stomach.

An 18-year-old companion with the last name of Araya Morales suffered a shoulder wound.

The Judicial Investigating Organization said that the pair were in a car and became involved in a dispute with three persons in another vehicle. Each driver stopped their car, the men got out and gunfire ensued, agents said.

The other vehicle and occupants fled the scene.

South Africa OKs
request by Aristide

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CAPE TOWN, South Africa — The government has agreed to give temporary asylum to former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The decision comes several days after South Africa received a formal request from the ousted Haitian leader and has sparked criticism from South African opposition parties. 

A South African government spokesman says the cabinet approved a request to give the former Haitian leader a temporary home until the political situation in Haiti stabilizes enough for him to return.

The government has steered away from the term asylum, but analysts say that is essentially what it is.

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Fundación Roberta Felix seeks volunteers 
Help on the way for rural kids with special needs
By Roberta Felix 
Fundación Roberta Felix

For many of us who come from other countries, the concept of community-based care for the handicapped is not new. In more developed countries handicapped children can expect services to be provided locally and also significant services funded by the government. 

Here in Costa Rica, there are only a few centers to treat the special needs of handicapped children that are outside of the cities. Here on the Pacific coast all handicapped children rely on services provided in San José or Puntarenas.

Imagine that for one hour of therapy, rural children in most of Costa Rica take a bus ride that is generally two to four hours. Then they wait however long in the waiting room of a public facility. After an hour of therapy, there is that return bus ride. Add the expenses for food, maybe lodging. Then think about the fact that rural families in Costa Rica tend to be poor. Add to the equation that there are no buses equipped with ramps on the Pacific Coast that I am aware of, at least none here in Quepos or Parrita. 

These are children with cerebral palsy, Down's syndrome and other handicaps that need special attention, therapy and specialized educational services. Basically what happens is that the children here rarely enjoy the benefit of the services that are offered in the city. Most families with handicapped children do not have just one child, they tend to have many out here in the country. So making such a trip is difficult, costly and leaves also the question of who takes care of the other kids. Simply put, specialized services for handicapped children do not exist for those who live far from cities.

Here in the Quepos and Parrita area we have a census of about 100 children with severe handicaps. There are probably another 100 who need services such as physical, speech or occupational therapy but their cases aren't quite as severe. 

Children here do not have access to the rehabilitation centers that are so wonderful in the San José area. I have visited the centers at Pitaya and Santa Ana and they offer excellent services. It is a pity that a child from here will never have access to such services. We want to take the concept of community-based care and apply it here in our community. 

Fundación Roberta Felix photo
Pedro and Maria Elena are brother and sister.  Pedro was born with multiple deformities, and his sister has difficulties with both mental retardation and motor skill deficiencies. Both need speech therapy and physical therapy. Pedro also needs special foods.
Fundación Roberta Felix photo
Pool parties are one of the recreation activities sponsored by the foundation.

In fact, our desire is not only to open a center to attend the special physical, emotional and educational needs of this population, but to create something that could be a do-able example to other rural areas in Costa Rica.

The dream is close at hand. Fundacion Roberta Felix raised the $65,000 to build the center here to attend to these kids with special needs. The construction is under way and will be completed somewhere near the end of June. 

The center has two classrooms, a library room, a therapy room and two smaller therapy rooms for individuals. It is near the intersection where the hospital is located, making it relatively accessible to the community, the vast majority who do not drive their own vehicles.

Our situation is a difficult one. Due to a lack of support from government sources and a lack of knowledge of the buracracy, we have done this basically on our own. We are planning to staff the center with largely volunteers from the local and international community. 

However, minimum operating costs to cover the basics is around $40,000 dollars a year! We are hoping to hire a director who has lots of experience getting government funding for this type of project, and we have several candidates in mind. 

But until we have help with the government maze, we are on our own!

We can use volunteers with experience with handicapped children, teachers or retired teachers, help with fund-raising and help with funding the first year operating budget. 

While we have the funds to finish the construction and enough to operate the first several months, we are basically in need of furniture and kitchen equipment as well. We could arrange for transportation from anywhere in the country if someone has a warehouse full of furniture looking for a noble cause!

Costa Rica established a law protecting the rights of handicapped people several years ago. However, what will really improve the lives of handicapped children in our community is love and care. Laws don't change lives, people do.

Our website is at www.felixfundacion.org. Our phone number is 777-3336. We have both brochures and a complete project plan that explains all the expenses in great detail. It is available to anyone who may be interested in helping us, in English and Spanish . The foundation secretary doesn't speak much English, so if you need an English speaker, please call me at 838-4496.

Roberta Felix, a refugee from Silcon Valley, operates a hotel and a real estate business in Manuel Antonio-Quepos. She established the foundation to help residents in her Pacific coast section of the country.

Pacheco issues ban against workplace discrimination of disabled
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Abel Pacheco issued a decree Thursday outlawing discrimination against persons with disabilities in the labor market. Included are persons who have diseases such as AIDS or epilepsy.

The president also designated May 29 as a national day for organizations that help the handicapped and their families.

In Parque La Sabana representative examples were displayed of some 100 buses now or shortly in service that contain wheelchair ramps and lifts. 

Costa Rica has 203,731 persons classified as having some form of physical or mental disability, said Casa Presidencial.

"I arrived in government with a very specific promise: To govern for all but especially and with a declared preference for the most humble. For these I have dedicated my personal and 

professional life, and I am doing that as president of the republic," said Pacheco.

Each bus company in the country must have at least one unit with a lift or ramp for wheelchairs, said the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes. Some 10 percent of the taxi fleet must also be setup to be able to handle disabled persons, said Casa Presidencial.

Pacheco noted that the government has spent $2 billion colons (about $4.6 million) to construct special homes for the disabled. There were mostly homes with access ramps for wheelchairs and with wider doors.

Pacheco also mentioned inaugurating a building for a rehabilitation center in Puntarenas.

Despite the effort, Casa Presidencial said that some public and private entities still have not taken the steps necessary to make needed reforms, and cities have not installed the infrastructure to improve the movement of the handicapped.

Escazú company says it uses light to fix worn skin and remove hair
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An Escazú-based cosmetic technology company reports that it can improve the look and feel of skin, remove age spots, sun damage, broken blood vessels, freckles, rosacea and even unwanted hair using light waves.

The firm, The Beauty Club of Escazú, located in Country Plaza, has begun offering intense pulsed light technology from Palomar Medical Technologies, Inc. Palomar of Burlington, Mass., just signed a development agreement with The Gillette Co. of Boston, Mass., for continued research into hair removal.

Pulsed light is a spectrum of light wavelengths to treat all skin types for many conditions, said the firm. Palomar is the first company to receive approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for permanent hair reduction.

Light-based hair removal is not new; however, the creation of a single system that can handle all skin types, from the whitest to the darkest, and produce the correct intensity and spectrums of light to treat skin pigment variations, capillary vein removal, hair removal and acne is a very recent advance, said the firm. Men also choose to 

remove or reduce hair on their backs and in their beards to avoid ingrown hairs or to remove broken blood vessels on their face, said the company.

"The really big news is that we are the only location in the country that can perform true photo facials using the Rejuvelux™ process.  This treatment process uses a series of three photofacial treatments to remove various imperfections including sun damage, aging spots, spider veins, rosacea and freckles, reduce pore size and improve the skin tone and texture.  The same process can be used on hands, arms, and shoulders which commonly show the signs of aging and sun damage," said Danitza Orlich the Beauty Club’s resident medical doctor.

The Beauty Club also announced that it soon would add a Thermage Thermacool™ TC system. The device uses radiofrequency energy for tightening the skin and regeneration of collagen. The technique, which was featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show in September, is used extensively in the United States and Canada for non-surgical brow lifts and the non-surgical tightening of facial wrinkles on the forehead, around the eye, the mid and lower face and the neck, according to the firm. The system represents a significant financial investment, the firm said.

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Venezuelan validation gets international oversight
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Organization of American States and the Carter Center will observe a process in Venezuela that allows citizens of that country to confirm their signatures on a referendum on whether Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez should be recalled from office.

The two groups said in a statement that they plan on deploying a joint mission of over 100 international observers in and around Caracas and many other Venezuelan cities, providing what they said is a strong international presence in the country.

The two scheduled "reparos" (restoration/correction process) are May 21 to 23 and May 28 to 30, the Organization of American States said. The observation comes at the invitation of Venezuela's National Electoral Council and in an accord signed by Venezuela in May 2003, brokered by the hemispheric Organization, designed to end the political crisis in the country.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, for whom the Carter Center is named, and organization Secretary General Cesar Gaviria will lead the observer mission.

In November 2003, opposition leaders said that about 3.4 million Venezuelans signed petitions calling for a presidential recall referendum in a process described as free and fair by the Carter Center and the organization. Subsequently, however, both groups criticized the election council’s decision to disqualify over 800,000 signatures on recall petitions.

The Organization of American States said the purpose of the reparos is to guarantee Venezuelan citizens' "free expression of will." The process establishes that individuals who have had their signatures invalidated due to an error by the CNE can now confirm their signature is valid, and those who allege that they did not sign can exclude and invalidate their signatures.

Both the organization and the Carter Center said they are deeply concerned by reports of intimidation of signers of recall petitions. The two groups said that signers of recall petitions should be able to freely exercise their "right to reparo, without harassment or coercion."

The two groups also said that "in light of the growing tensions" in Venezuela, "we urge all political actors, media, and the population in general to demonstrate to the world in the coming weeks the strength of the democratic spirit and the desire for peaceful coexistence. . .."

In addition, the organizations offered their "promise" to continue working with the Venezuelan authorities "and all political actors to strengthen democracy in Venezuela."

The State Department official said that Chavez and his supporters have "lashed out" at the United States with "virulent, false and outrageous" charges, in an attempt to draw attention away from the recall referendum process.

Chavez also has called Venezuelans who signed the recall petition traitors, and government officials have threatened to fire civil servants who supported the recall. 

Former Guatemalan dictator confined to his home
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala — In what is being called an unprecedented ruling, an appeals court judge ordered house arrest Thursday for a former military dictator, retired Gen. Efrain Rios Montt. 

Rios Montt will not be able to leave his residence until he goes to trial on manslaughter charges. The charges stem from violent protests that took place in Guatemala City in July during which a journalist Hector Ramirez died of a heart attack as he ran from an angry mob. 

Rios Montt has been accused of inciting the mobs which terrorized the city demanding the courts allow him to run for president.

At the time, Rios Montt was the president of Guatemala's congress. Soon after the riots, courts gave him the green light to run, despite a constitutional ban on former dictators running for president. He lost the November elections to the pro-business candidate Oscar Berger.

Since he no longer holds public office, Rios Montt has lost the immunity from prosecution that all legislators enjoy, opening up the possibility he could stand trial for manslaughter and other rights abuses during his rule in the early 1980s.  Rios Montt was not available for comment.

Since taking the office in January, President Oscar Berger has launched a new campaign to root out corrupted officials.

Dissident says that 100,000 are in Castro's prisons
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

HAVANA, Cuba — A prominent Cuban dissident says about 100,000 people are in prison in Cuba today, compared to 4,000 before President Fidel Castro seized power in 1959.

Elizardo Sanchez of the non-governmental Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation spoke here.

Sanchez said psychological torture, such as sleep deprivation, is common in Cuban prisons. 

Sanchez, himself a former prisoner, said that more than 300 people are behind bars for politically-motivated crimes. He also said the Red Cross has not inspected Cuba's prisons since 1988. He said Cuba's prison system constitutes a tropical gulag.

The figures given by Sanchez could not be independently verified. But the United Nations 

and international human rights groups have criticized Cuba for jailing people who speak out against the government.

Cuban officials say the prisoners are "mercenaries" whose aim is to subvert the government.

Meanwhile, Cuba's envoy to the United Nations says the nation's dollar-only stores have been closed temporarily while the government assesses the affect of what it calls brutal new measures imposed by the Bush administration.

Cuban U.N. envoy Orlando Requeijo Gual said Wednesday the closings are temporary. Earlier, the Cuban government suspended the sale of all but food and personal hygiene products in stores where only U.S. currency is accepted. 

Last week, President Bush announced that nearly $60 million will be spent over two years to help "hasten the day" when, as he put it, the Cuban people will be free." 

Jo Stuart
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