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These stories were published Friday, May 16, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 96
Jo Stuart
About us
We have a higher-class type of pickpocket
By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two good things can be said about pickpockets in Costa Rica: They are polite, and they are equal opportunity employers.

At least two man-woman teams are working the western section of the downtown now. Their efforts are elegant compared to the four- and five-man gangs that sometimes roughly jam pedestrians into a corner and empty their pockets.

One man begged his pardon this week as he smashed into my right side. He did that while his helpmate was trying to rifle my left pants pocket. Both were short, and both tried to doubleteam me as I crossed a street in the opposite direction.

I have stopped being a gentleman when couples or groups of people jam me for the obvious criminal goal. I fear the gentleman’s teeth were rattled as I blasted through their doubleteam block. Yet he apologized.

I still remember three short Colombian 

women who confronted my wife and me on the Avenida Principal boulevard. The middle one made no pretense, She walked right up to me and stuck her hand in my left pants pocket. 

I grabbed her hand and spun her about, but she passed the few bills she had netted, and I was left embracing a smiling, 40-ish, 4-foot, 2-inch woman in broad daylight. I started smiling, too, as I let her go. 

Even with substantial evidence, police are inclined to disregard complaints by North Americans. With no evidence, the probability of police help is zero. That is true even though North Americans are continual targets under continual surveillance by thieves.

Some tourists make it easy by putting their valuables and passport in the rear pocket of their backpack. Then they put on the backpack, giving crooks easy access to the rear pocket.

I have taken to carrying some paper and several phony credit cards in a pocket. I have not yet lost the decoys, but friends have.

The more things change, the more I object
Legend has it (or perhaps history) that President Lincoln asked his speechwriters to come up with a phrase that would suit all occasions. I can’t tell you how far and wide they searched. This, after all, is not a fairy tale. But sooner or later they came to him with the phrase he could use as a universal response: It was "And this too shall pass."

What this phrase also says is that change is inevitable. When you’re a kid, that thought may be a comfort if you think about it at all. But you are so preoccupied with the changes you yourself are going through, you don’t notice outside changes. But as an adult whose ways and life are pretty much established, outside changes are not always welcome. (I am not even going to deal with the changes we notice in ourselves — also unwelcome.) 

Sometimes it is not true that "The more things change the more they stay the same." 

I was thinking about this the other day while walking downtown. The biggest change I have noticed in San Jose is the number of cars — on the streets, in the parking lots, in showrooms, blocking sidewalks. Getting downtown by taxi is to be stuck in gridlock. Walking is worth your life crossing the street since cars, by dint of their sheer weight, and lack of experience of many of the drivers, have the right of way. 

I’ve also noticed that there are a lot of new very large buses on the streets. Many of these buses seem to exude less black emissions. That is good. Even with the greater number of cars, the buses seem to be pretty full. So the streets are filled with loaded buses and cars with one person in them . . . most of them standing still. 

The advantage of having the freedom of movement as the result of having your own car has reached a point of diminishing returns in this city whose streets are not equal to the challenge. 

I have also noticed the increase in the number of fat people. When I first came here, I didn’t see one obese person on the streets. I was particularly struck by this because every time I returned to the States from another country, the first thing I noticed was that Americans were fatter than most other people of the world were. 

Now there are a lot more fat people on the streets of this San José. There are many reasons for this, I am sure, including the influx of people from other countries. But I am sure the advent of so many cars and 
more TVs added to fast food restaurants 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

Typical midday traffic jam

already here have contributed to the extra weight pounding the streets. 

In a column on this subject, fellow columnist, Laureen Diephof, says that research done by the U. S. Department of Agriculture shows the size of food portions in fast food restaurants has doubled in the past 25 years and a small order of French fries is bigger than the large size of the past. I’ve noticed that in many restaurants here the portions are larger than they used to be. 

My e-mail friend Enrique caught me up to date on the changes in Mallorca and Spain. Other than the cost of living that has gone up, he tells me that there are huge bulldozers in Alicante and other places digging up the land bordering the sea to put up skyscraping condominiums which will, of course, block the view of the sea for others. For many of us, change seems to result in a loss in the quality of life. 

And finally we come to what really prompted these musings. My favorite chocolate candy, Gallito’s Milan relleno, used to be a delicious dark chocolate little bar filled with chocolate mint. I used to take them back to the States as presents and have at least one a day. 

Recently they changed the packaging to a lighter green and silver for no reason that I could figure, except that with the change came a difference in the quality of the chocolate. It simply is not as good. That’s the bad news. The good news is I am no longer addicted to this candy. I can take it or leave it. 

If all of these changes, too, shall pass, I wonder what comes next? 

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Commercial speech is the stumbling block
Treaty urges worldwide battle against tobacco 
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
with input from the A.M. Costa Rica staff

GENEVA, Switzerland — A major international treaty to discourage smoking is headed for adoption next week here.

The proposed treaty would, among other things, impose global restrictions on advertising and labeling, and on marketing tobacco products to young people. It would also clamp down on smuggling and impose rules to protect non-smokers from tobacco smoke in public places. 

The World Health Organization says the world's first tobacco control treaty has solid support and will be adopted largely intact despite efforts by the United States to amend it. The so-called Framework Convention on Tobacco Control will be presented for adoption to the 190-member World Health Assembly, which begins its annual session here next week.

More than 170 countries approved the draft text of the tobacco control treaty in March. The head of World Health Organization’s non-communicable disease program, Derek Yach, says he cannot imagine that the draft will fail now, despite attempts by the United States to gather support for at least one amendment. 

The United States says it needs the flexibility to reject some elements of the treaty, which could violate the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of free speech, and its separation of powers between the states and the federal government. That is not now allowed in the draft.

The treaty follows on the heels of a report that says transnational tobacco companies have engaged in active comprehensive campaigns of deception over the last decade in Latin America and the Caribbean regarding the harmful effects of second-hand smoke and the nature of tobacco company marketing activities. These campaigns were designed to delay or avoid tobacco marketing restrictions and restrictions on smoking, according to the report by the Pan American Health Organization.

The report is the result of over a year of investigation by a team of researchers into more than 10,000 pages of internal tobacco company documents. The documents are primarily from Philip Morris and British American Tobacco, who together have most of the market share in Latin America and the Caribbean, and were obtained through the Internet and through the Guildford depository in the United Kingdom. 

The report says that the tobacco companies:

• hired scientists throughout Latin America and the Caribbean to misrepresent the science linking secondhand smoke to serious diseases, while cloaking in secrecy any connection of these scientists with the tobacco industry; 

• designed "youth smoking prevention" campaigns and programs primarily as public relations exercises aimed at deterring meaningful regulation of tobacco marketing; 

• had detailed knowledge of smuggling networks and markets and actively sought to increase their share of the illegal market by structuring marketing campaigns and distribution routes around it; 

• and enjoyed access to key government officials and succeeded in weakening or killing tobacco control legislation in a number of countries. 

Once it has  been adopted, the tobacco treaty will be opened for signature by member states. The 

treaty will come into  force shortly after it has been ratified by 40 countries.

The text requires signatory parties to implement comprehensive tobacco control programs and  strategies at the national, regional and local levels. In its preamble, the text explicitly recognizes the need to protect public health, the unique nature of tobacco products and the harm that companies that produce them cause.

Some of the key elements of the final text include:

• Taxes — The text formally recognizes that tax and price measures are an important way of reducing tobacco consumption, particularly in young people, and requires signatories to consider public health objectives when implementing tax and price policies on tobacco products.

• Labeling — The text requires that at least 30 per cent — but ideally 50 per cent or more — of the  display area on tobacco product packaging is taken up by clear health warnings in the form of text,  pictures or a combination of the two. 

• Advertising — The final text requires nations to move towards a comprehensive ban within five years. It also contains provisions for countries that cannot implement a complete ban by requiring them to restrict tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship within the limits of their laws.

• The text also explicitly requires signatories to look at the possibility of a protocol to provide a greater level of detail on cross-border advertising. This could include the technical aspects of preventing or blocking advertising in areas such as satellite television and the internet.

• Liability — Parties to the convention are encouraged to pursue legislative action to hold the  tobacco industry liable for costs related to tobacco use.

• Financing — Parties are required to provide financial support to their national tobacco control  programs. In addition, the text encourages the use and promotion of existing development funding for tobacco control. A number of countries and development agencies, have already pledged their commitment to include tobacco control as a development priority.

The text also requires countries to promote treatment programs to help people stop smoking  and education to prevent people from starting, to prohibit sales of tobacco products to minors,  and to limit public exposure to second-hand smoke.

Information on the proposed treaty is here: http://www5.who.int/tobacco/

ICE workers planning to go on strike this morning
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 13,000 workers of the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad plan to go on strike today. There are suggestions that the strike will last into next week.

The work stoppage is another show of force by workers of the monopoly that controls telephone, electrical and Internet service, among others.

The stoppage will begin at 7 a.m. and will include virtually all services, such as installation of new telephones, and counter service, such as cashiers for payments of bills.

The workers are expected to be joined by their families for a public demonstration.

Ostensibly the protest is because the Central Bank will not authorize the issuance of some 38 billion colons in bonds for company projects. Without the bonding and the projects, workers fear layoffs and impact on their own salaries.

There is a deeper fear, that of the free trade treaty being negotiated with the United States by Central American nations including Costa Rica. Although President Abel Pacheco has said repeatedly that 

the instituto will not be broken up or privatized to please the United States, workers and managers fear that it will be.

Pacheco reiterated his promise Thursday morning at a seminar on the free trade negotiations organized by the Academia Centroamerican at the Hotel Herradura.

The Institute, known as ICE, is a government within itself. The services offered in communications are well behind other countries. Only recently did ICE clear a list of more than 500,000 applicants for cell telephones. Some had waited for 18 months.

On April 29, the company announced that cell telephones could be used to connect to the Internet, but North American users were disappointed that the announcement only meant that the cell telephone could be used as a modem. To access the Internet, a computer was needed, and the cell telephone filled the same role as the desk telephone for accessing the Internet.

Some North Americans incorrectly thought the announcement meant that E-mail messages would be available on the screen of the cell telephone.  Some phones elsewhere have that capability.

Colegio student, 16,
shot dead in school

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 15 year old shot dead a 16-year-old schoolmate in Batan Thursday morning.

The dead teen is Michael Hernandez, a student in the Colegio Venecia in that town near Matina north and west of Limón.

The murder happened about 11 a.m. inside the school and may have involved a simmering dispute, according to the Judicial Investigating Organization.

Hernandez was confronted by his killer as he prepared to leave the school to go home  for lunch, said officials. The 15-year-old suspect fled but was detained a short time later. A handgun, believed to be .38 caliber, was located in a nearby street.

Kidnapping suspect
gets 12 years total

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A judicial panel was unwilling to go easy on the man who took a boy, 4, away from his home to his death.

So they came up with a way Thursday to tack 10 more years on a sentence for Wilbert Argüero Castro, a guard and handyman in San Miguel de Desamparados where the victim, Oswaldo Fabricio Madrigal, lived.

The three judges also gave him the maximum two years in prison for stealing a child.

The crime happened last June 4. Argüero admitted to his role. He said he took the boy from his home and after a taxi ride delivered the lad to a couple in La Uruca.

Costa Rican law notwithstanding, the judges looked for a way to pad the accused’s sentence. Because the boy did not die until some time after he left Argüero’s custody, judges could not sentence him for the boy’s murder.

Their solution was to find him guilty of abandoning the child. They said that there was no evidence that the mystery couple even existed. Testimony showed that Argúero took the boy from a taxi to an undisclosed location and then returned alone.

So the court reasoned that the boy died as a result of abandonment by Argüero. The sentence for that is 10 years.

A taxi driver, William Valverde, who drove the pair to La Uruca received an 18-month sentence even though the prosecutor suggested that the court give the man the benefit of the doubt. 

The case was before a three-judge criminal panel in Desamparados, but the prosecutor could only ask for two years imprisonment for Argüero in a hearing Tuesday. That’s what the law provides because there was no evidence that the man who took the boy participated in his murder, if it was a murder.

An autopsy said that the boy was dead about four days when his body showed up floating behind a dam in Santa Ana June 11. The two men had been firmly in custody well before the estimated time of death.

Although investigators tore apart neighborhoods in Pavas and La Uruca they never found anyone else linked to the case.

A lawyer representing the family asked the court Tuesday for 50 years of jail time for Argüero.

The case was heavily publicized because the boy’s father is a drug agent for the Judicial Investigating Organization and because a girl was kidnapped in Desamaparados a few months before. She has never been found.

Eclipse clouded out

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Cloudy skies frustrated eclipse viewers in the Central Valley last night. Some clearing took place in time for persons in the eastern part of the valley to see some of the eclipse. But clearing, caused by increased winds, did  not drive clouds away in time for would-be viewers in the western end of the valley.

Regardless of Costa Rican weather conditions, the eclipse went off right on schedule with totality between 9:14 p.m. to a little bit after 10 p.m.

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Estimate by International Labor Organization
SARS, tourism slump cut 5 million industry jobs 
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Concerns about severe acute respiratory syndrome, security and the ongoing global economic slump may cut another 5 million jobs in 2003 from the world tourism industry, according to a United Nations agency.

The estimate dampens the optimism of early 2003 that the worst of the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks might be over, said the U.N. International Labor Organization.

Asia is the worst hit region, facing up to a 30 percent loss in 2003 tourism employment, the agency said. The longer the decline in tourism lasts, the more likely the job losses will be permanent, it said.

Companies could help save jobs by adopting more flexible work methods and re-training existing employees, the agency suggested.

The labor organization is urging governments to 

support travel companies' implementation of temporary cost-saving measures in order to save as many jobs as possible, according to the agency.

Travel and tourism represent more than 3 percent of international employment, the agency said, adding:

The slump in the industry comes after a strong economy had fueled a global tourism boom in the late 1990's. In the peak year 2000, the number of international trips rose by a record 4.5 per cent from the year before. In the year 2001 the industry suffered disastrous effects from the events of Sept. 11 and shrunk by more than 1 per cent on an annual basis, braking the growth dynamics which are needed to keep employment at its normal level.

The agency’s report added that prospects for a recovery are grim, saying "the capacity of the travel and tourism industry to create employment seems to be severely damaged by the recent events."

U.S. officials confident of victory in biofood dispute
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Bush administration officials say they have no doubt the United States will win a World Trade Organization challenge against the European Union moratorium on new products derived from biotechnology.

"This is a case that is so solidly grounded that we are very confident that we will succeed," Under Secretary of State Alan Larson said Wednesday at a briefing here.

Larson and others reiterated the arguments that science has repeatedly demonstrated the safety of biotech food, that the EU ban is not based on science and therefore violates World Trade Organization rules, and that the European Union ban is discouraging developing countries from importing food that could feed their hungry people and seeds that could make their farmers more productive.

"There are many, many countries in the world that are not proceeding with biotechnology because of this moratorium and concerns that they will not be able to market their products in the European market," said John Veroneau, chief counsel for the U.S. Trade Representative.

Larson and the others deflected some questions related to a proposed European Union scheme for labeling products as produced by biotechnology. Larson did suggest that a labeling scheme could be rigged in a protectionist way "that would establish tolerances and requirements that would be, in practice, impossible to comply with."

Larson contrasted the European Union's food problems with the safety record of food for U.S. consumers and of U.S. food exports.

"One of the reasons we have a strong record is that we have food safety review processes that are scientific and not politicized," Larson said. 

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