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These stories were published Tuesday, May 20, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 98
Jo Stuart
About us
San Jose's unique social life getting a U.S. airing
By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

There is at least one literary giant uniquely qualified to capture the seamy essence of downtown San José, the sin, the irony, the contrasts.

He is Ben Hecht, the Chicago reporter who wrote "The Front Page" and the screenplay for "Gunga Din." The major disqualification is that he is dead.

But comes now Paul Peditto, a Chicago author who lived with the ghost of Hecht long enough to convert his short stories into the play "1,001 Afternoons in Chicago."

What better training for Costa Rica. Said a reviewer of the Hecht/Peditto play: "Paul Peditto has vividly captured the times, as well. From dance hall floozies, to governmental corruption, to loose morals and looser women, it was a golden age, a time of vibrancy and light . . . .  "

Based on six months in San José Perditto then penned  "Pura Vida" which is running until June 21 at Chicago’s Live Bait Theater. The one-man show is about a Chicago craps dealer who wins enough in the stock market to escape to Costa Rica. Where have we heard that before?

There the hero, Pauly Vegas, in the words of Peditto in an interview with the Chicago Tribune:

"He's blindsided by a world that's completely foreign to him, by the absurd availability of sex in all forms. By the end he must choose between the stability of a family life and the endless varieties of temptation in the tropics."

The show got decent reviews in Chicago and got a mention in Monday’s New York Times.  The play might not be welcomed in all quarters.

After great emphasis on eco tourism and efforts to minimize the country’s sex industry, the country again will be characterized as the sex capital of the western world on the Chicago stage. President Abel Pacheco and others will not be pleased.

Peditto is believed to be back in Costa Rica. There’s a woman involved, it seems. Where have we heard that before?

According to Jonathan Abarbanel of Performink Online, the Chicago theater trade paper:

"Peditto discovered that a few American dollars could set a man up like a king, and fulfill every sexual fantasy including the one where the fat man gets the girl. He didn’t expect to fall in love; when he did, he had a play."

This probably is not something the Little Theatre Group will be presenting soon even if the play goes to Broadway.

U.S. to print, photograph and maybe scan foreign visitors
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is setting up a new electronic entry-exit system, called US VISIT, that will collect and share information, including physical identifiers, on visitors to the United States, according to a department fact sheet released Monday.

According to the release, the National Institute of Standards and Technology continues to study the use of fingerprints and photographs with travel documents. At a minimum, the US-VISIT system will use existing fingerprint and photographic technology, and other identifiers, such as facial recognition and iris scan, are still being studied, said the fact sheet.

When the system is fully operational, officials will be able to track just about every foreign visitor to the United States, according to the fact sheet. In addition, the plan is to be able to alert schools and universities that a new foreign 

student has arrived and should be reporting to the institution within the next 30 days.

Based on the computerized information, the department will be able to determine if a foreigner should be prohibitied from entering the country again, have overstayed a visa or can receive a visa extension, said the fact sheet.

Secretary Tom Ridge said in April that the US-VISIT system will be capable of capturing and reading physical identifier at air and sea ports of entry before the end of 2003. "We anticipate that the system will be capable of scanning travel documents and taking fingerprints and pictures of foreign nationals, which then could be checked against databases to determine whether the individual should be detained or questioned concerning possible terrorist or criminal involvement," he said at the  time.

The department has received $380 million for the program for this fiscal year.

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ICE strikers continue to insist on big bond issue
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Electrical and communications workers continued their strike Monday, and there were no prospects for a quick end.

The estimated 13,000 employees of the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad walked out Friday in a disagreement with the central government over some 38 billion colons in bonds that the institute wants.

Strike leaders were saying that they would stay out until the government and the Banco Central took steps to float the bond issue.

Also Monday, the institute filed a request for an unspecified rate hike for electricity. The institute is the telephone, electrical and Internet monopoly.

The communications workers may not be alone for long. The various teachers unions have said they are considering a strike starting next Monday. They are unhappy with the way the government has been unable to provide correct salary payments to teachers since February.

Both the teachers and the communication workers have conducted long, noisy marches through the city in recent weeks.

Critical services have not been affected so far by the electrical and telephone strike. Power generation continues. But new hookups are not being made and some telephone service numbers do not respond. Cashier windows are closed to bill payment.

Pablo Cob, the executive director of the institute, known as ICE, met with President Abel Pacheco Monday. The president has suggested going to court to force the strikers back to work.

The bonding project had been shelved by the Central Bank due to concerns about the figures supplied by ICE. The institute runs a $40 million deficit each year. In addition, Costa Rica has suffered recent downgradings of its credit worthiness with international rating agencies.

The workers want the bonds because the money will filter down through the organization and assure them continued employment and salaries.

Bandit wounded
fleeing the scene

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Bandits held up the Megasuper store in San Juan de Dios de Desamparados Sunday night but they did not get away clean. A Fuerza Pública officer shot it out with the fleeing crooks.

The stickup happened about 7 p.m. Sunday night and involved about five individuals. They took about 5 million colons, according to a preliminary estimate by the Judicial Investigating Organization. that’s about $13,000.

The police officer who was not identified said the bandits fired at him with a 12-guage shotgun and a variety of handguns. He, in turn, blew out the rear window of the getaway car.

Later police found the car, and it contained blood stains, they said.

Newspaper groups
protest detentions

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

PARIS, France — The World Association of Newspapers and World Editors Forum have sent a strongly worded protest to British Prime Minister Tony Blair against the arrest of two journalists in Northern Ireland, who the press organizations said were being punished for embarrassing the government.

"Police actions in this case constitute an attack on press freedom in the United Kingdom," said the two groups in a letter to the prime minister.

"To pursue journalists under the Official Secrets Act for revealing embarrassing information gained by clandestine operations of the security services is unjustified and clearly against the public interest," they said.

April 30  armed police arrived at the home of Liam Clarke and Kathryn Johnston, co-authors of an unofficial biography of Sinn Féin leader Martin McGuinness, and took away four computers and a large number of documents. They also raided the Belfast office of the Sunday Times, where Clarke is Northern Ireland editor. They declined Clarke's offer of a key and instead broke down the door to confiscate documents.

Clarke and Ms Johnston were arrested under the Official Secrets Act May 1 and were each interrogated four or five times in the presence of their lawyers before being released on police bail after almost 24 hours in custody. No charges have yet been brought.

The arrests follow the publication in The Times and Irish News of excerpts of transcripts of tape recordings of four telephone calls in 1999 and 2001 between senior political figures, including Martin McGuinness, a member of Parliament, Jonathan Powell (chief of staff to the prime minister), Mo Mowlam (secretary of state for Northern Ireland at that time), and Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams. The tape recordings were allegedly made by the Police Service of Northern Ireland  at the request of the secret intelligence service.

"Given the . . .  disproportionately heavy-handed behaviour, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the police were 'punishing' Mr. Clarke and Ms. Johnston for embarrassing the government, while at the same time sending a clear warning to other investigative journalists and would-be whistle-blowers," said the letter.

México public workers
close down Zocolo

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MEXICO CITY, México — Striking public workers shut down many roadways and public areas in México City Monday and they are threatening even bigger protests today unless the city government agrees to their demands. 

More than 10,000 marchers walked down some of the Mexican capital's main avenues Monday and then blocked off the entire central plaza, known as the Zocalo. Smaller groups of protesters blocked major intersections leading to the downtown area, effectively preventing thousands of tourists, shoppers, business workers and government officials from reaching the area. 

Still, city government spokesmen say the strike has not caused a break in basic city services such as water delivery and garbage collection. The city's secretary of government, Alejandro Encinas, is calling on the strike leaders to resolve their disputes peacefully and to stop actions such as roadblocks that are detrimental to the citizenry. 

The leader of the public workers' union for México City, Jose Medel, however says the protests are likely to grow bigger. 

He says city workers started at various points in the morning and converged on the city center, where they expect to greet more striking workers today. He says the marches and demonstrations will continue until there is an answer from city government officials. 

The city office workers are demanding better pay, subsidies for food and sports activities, free access to public transportation and larger holiday bonuses. The union is also seeking more control over distribution of uniforms and programs through which workers obtain eyeglasses. 

Cuba pulls out
of deal with EU

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

HAVANA, Cuba — The government says it is withdrawing its bid to join a trade pact after the European Commission criticized the island nation's human rights situation. 

The state-run Granma newspaper said Monday the European Commission tried to pressure Cuba by establishing unacceptable conditions and interfering in the country's internal affairs. 

Last month, the commission suspended Cuba's bid to join the pact to protest the jailing of scores of Cuban dissidents and execution of three men who hijacked a ferry. 

This was Cuba's second bid to join the pact - dubbed the Cotonou Agreement - which aims to bring billions of dollars of trade and aid to African, Caribbean and Pacific nations. 

Training seminar 
held in Miami

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Immigration and foreign ministry officials were in Miami last weekend to train Costa Rican consular officials in changes in the law.

Among those present was Milena Grillo, executive director of Fundación Paniamor, a pro-child non-profit group. She addressed the topic of sexual tourism.

Similar training sessions were held in Costa Rica and in Washington last year. Others are planned for Latin America and Europe.

The main topics were changes in the residency law for foreigners and visa rules and security, according to a release from the Ministerior de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública of which the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería is a part.

Our contest had
155 photo entries

By the A.M. costa Rica staff

Judging is under way for the 2003 A.M. Costa Rica photo contest.

More than 60 persons submitted 115 photos in five categories. The largest category, scenic, recieved 41 submissions.

Judges will take about three more weeks to evaluate the entries via Internet hookups. 
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SARS is just the start, world health group warns
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The World Health Organization says Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome is only the first of what experts expect will be many emerging infectious diseases this century. The organization says it is particularly concerned about future pandemics of influenza.

The head of the organization’s communicable diseases program, David Heymann, says the World Health Organization has no doubt that more previously unknown, life-threatening  infectious diseases will hit the world sooner or later. He says the big concern is influenza.

"And that was the concern at the start of this outbreak, when we saw an unknown respiratory disease, which was spreading to health workers and which was of unknown cause. One of the concerns was that it was influenza," he said. 

"There will be more outbreaks like SARS. There will be more outbreaks that spread internationally. Influenza, we are almost certain, will occur in a global pandemic form, as it did three times in the last century. 

And many other diseases, which we do not even know, such as AIDS 20 years ago, may come, and may become other endemic diseases in human populations, remaining with us from now on forward." 

Heymann says that, unlike SARS, influenza is an airborne disease that spreads rapidly and is highly lethal. One influenza pandemic early in the 20th 

century killed an estimated 20 million people.

SARS, on the other hand, spreads mainly through close contact from one infected person to another, and although it, too, can be lethal, 85 percent of its victims recover. 

Virologist Karl Stohr says the world must do more to prepare for an influenza outbreak. He says that, first and foremost, government health systems must strengthen surveillance of infectious diseases. 

"We need to understand very quickly when a new disease is happening. We should be able to detect it and to respond to it very quickly," he said. "Strengthening surveillance also includes laboratory surveillance. The second area which is specific for influenza is that, very quickly, vaccines and other drugs should be developed, and that will take at least six months, irrespective of the strain, which is going to develop. 

"And the third area is that countries should strengthen their national pandemic preparedness, to be able to control efficiently health, or to contain and to deal with a health emergency of a pandemic influenza." 

Stohr says that between 10 and 15 percent of the total population is likely to become infected with influenza. He says many national health systems are likely to become overburdened, as they attempt to grapple with large numbers of severely ill people and many deaths. 

Academics dismiss fears of U.S. economic deflation
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Shadow Open Market Committee, a group of mostly academic economists who monitor the policies of the U.S. central bank, Monday dismissed the threat of deflation, a damaging economy-wide drop in prices. The group is similarly unfazed by the fall in the dollar. 

At its semi-annual meeting here, the Shadow Open Market Committee said deflation fears are unfounded and misguided. It says with an expansionary monetary policy and a weakening currency, rather than deflation, the United States faces the prospect of moderately higher inflation. Gregory Hess of Claremont McKenna College says deflation may be a problem in Europe, but not in the United States. 

"In essence, deflation is a symptom and not a cause. Deflation is brought about by things like banking crises and, I won't call them collapses, but a certain implosion of the banking system, which we've seen historically earlier in the United States," he said. "But in no way do we see it now. It

may actually be possible in some European countries." 

Hess and his colleagues agree that Japan is caught in a deflationary spiral, but that it is very unlikely to occur in the United States. 

Mickey Levy of the Bank of America says the Shadow Committee believes the U.S. economy is poised for resumed growth. 

"If you look at the underlying fundamentals in the economy, along with continued monetary stimulus and the tail winds of previous tax cuts, there is every reason to believe that the economy is going to continue to register more improvement with the rate of growth improving moderately," he said. 

The committee is unconcerned about the sharp declines in the exchange rate of the dollar. It says the dollar's value should be determined by the market. The Shadow committee says the dollar's weakness creates more problems for the weak European economy than it does for the United States. 

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