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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, May 24, 2002, Vol. 2, No. 102
Jo Stuart
About us
A.M. Costa Rica photo
Painter inspects the dome of the San Pedro Apostol church Thursday afternoon in San Pedro, Montes de Oca. The job of coating the building with sparkly white paint nearly is finished.

Two events spotlight
Costa Rican tourism

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A pair of major tourism expositions takes place next week as the industry struggles to shake off the impact of terrorism, faltering economies and bad press.

The Asociación Costarricense de Profesionales en Turismo presents its 18th Expotur at the Herradura Conference Center this week. The main event is the two-day exposition of Costa Rica’s wares to international buyers. That takes place Wednesday and Thursday. Expotur actually begins with informal meetings Sunday and seminars Monday and Tuesday.

Expotur is closed to the public, but Saturday, June 1, and Sunday, June 2, the association is putting on the Feria Nacional de Turismo, which includes many of the same exhibitors. The national tourism fair is designed as a public event.

A  preliminary calculation based on the association’s Web site (www.expotur.com) showed that about 195 exhibitors were registered for the event. The biggest contingent was from Manual Antonio, whose tourism group rented 16 of Expotur’s 8-foot exhibition booths. The booths serve as meeting places for appointments between the exhibitors and the international buyers.

Potential buyers spend $200 to register, but that can include parties and a tour of Costa Rican tourism locations after Expotur. Last year more than half of the exhibitors took the tours, the association reported.

In 2001 sellers outnumbered buyers. Some 244 exhibitors, 217 of them tourist enterprises, hosted 243 representatives from 168 firms.

About 56 percent came from North America, and 23 percent came from Central America, according to statistics provided by the association. Only 4 percent came from Europe.

In a survey done of buyers at the 2001 event, 51 percent rated the effectiveness of appointments with sellers as excellent or very good. 

One seminar early next week explores the impact of Costa Rica being a destination for sexual tourists. That is an image the government at the same time tries to shake and also to exploit. 

New President Abel Pacheco is strongly opposed to sexual tourism, but the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo negotiated a deal last year with the producers of Fox Network’s Temptation island II to link the show’s Web page to the Instituto Web page. The show was filmed near Playa Tambor.

The Web page deal drew a lot of criticism from people who correctly noted that the Fox show was highly charged with sex not of the married variety. But the Web page pulled a lot of electronic visitors, although how many became tourists here is up for speculation.

Tourism overall is down slightly.  The reason probably is more the economic downturn in the United States than the terrorism attacks Sept. 11. The attacks staggered a tourism industry that was running about 8 percent ahead of the year before. Planes were grounded for five days. But the economic situation was more long-lasting.

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

In praise of little theater

Last Sunday I attended the annual general meeting of LTG. Just about the first thing I did when I arrived in Costa Rica in 1992 was to see a stage performance of "Mousetrap" presented by the Little Theatre Group of Costa Rica. It was being performed in the Laurence Olivier Theater. 

I had been a member of little theater groups in the United States beginning in Gettysburg Pa., later in Boston. When I moved to Hollywood, I decided I had to make a choice. Hollywood, land of the movies and wannabes. Did I want to get caught up in that? I decided to give up my amateur acting. Leaving Boston when I did meant giving up a leading role in "Death Takes a Holiday." 

In Hollywood, of course, I fell in love with a wannabe actor/writer/director and found myself involved with theater again when my husband and his brother bought a theater. After a several years of struggle (Hollywood is a movie town), we sold the theater. This enabled us to move to Majorca for three years. Now that I think about it, it is strange we didn’t try to start a little theater group there among the English-speaking community. One reason we didn’t, I think, is that starting and nurturing a successful little theater group is a lot of work. 

Somehow the expats of Costa Rica have managed to do that for over 50 years. Seeing "Mousetrap" fired my interest so I attended the next meeting of the Little Theatre Group. It was being held in a bed and breakfast in Los Yoses. There I met the high energy, tireless people who keep theater alive. Many of them are still with the group and still my friends. Very quickly I got involved in "putting on plays." Mysteries, comedies and farces (and an occasional musical) are the usual fare of little theaters. Eventually, I actually got a leading role in a farcical mystery in which I had to faint three times. 

After the show closed, I went off to Nicaragua for my three days out of the country when I was still doing that. I was sitting in the patio of the Italian Gardens motel — a place that didn’t have a garden or anything Italian about it — when a woman and her husband entered. Her face was black and blue. A friendly sort, she came over to introduce herself, opening with the comment that her husband was not a wife-beater, she had just had a face-lift. As I started to introduce myself, she exclaimed, "I know you! I just saw you in ‘Exit the Body’ in Costa Rica!" 

I was delighted; of course. I was an international star! "How did you like the play?" I asked, hoping for some kudos.

"I didn’t pay much attention to the play," she said. "But I just loved your haircut. As soon as my face heals, I’m going to get mine cut like that." 

There was no point in asking her how she liked my faints, I decided.

Putting on plays was always complicated by the need to find a theater and then places to rehearse. We seldom got into the theater until the week of the performance. I’ve seen or been in productions in theaters from The Sabana to Sabanilla. One year we even resorted to dinner theater in order to get free space in the Italian Cultural Center. We moved so many times our audience had trouble finding us. 

We’ve stayed afloat but rentals took most of our profits. But that is Little Theatre . . . until a few years ago. Our then president, Blanche Brown witnessed the agonies of location and offered the back patio of her house in Escazú as a permanent home for our productions with a no interest loan to build it. Can you imagine having theater instead of a nice covered patio attached to your house? 

Blanche could do it, I suppose, because in the States she was the director of a large preschool located on her property. If you can put up with the noise of 4-year olds at play, I suppose rehearsing actors are a piece of cake. 

The building went forward in 1999, and our first production in our new home was "The Last of the Red Hot Lovers." That season, in a burst of enthusiasm, LTG put on nine productions. 

At our Sunday meeting, Stefani and Kevin Glass, two past presidents who have worked tirelessly (actually, all the presidents have been tireless) were elected co-presidents for the coming year. Our treasurer, Shirley Amack, announced that we had paid off the building debt. In gratitude to Blanche, it was unanimously (and with much applause) voted to name our very own, permanent, free-and-clear theater, The Blanche Brown Theater. 

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Chang will blast off again Thursday on shuttle
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Costa Rican with the most frequent-flyer miles will again take to the sky Thursday in Endeavour and spend 12 days in space.

The astronaut is Frank Chang Diaz, 52, a San José native who holds a doctorate in plasma physics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Workers were checking the coolant system of the spacecraft Thursday at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The purpose of the mission is to deliver a three-person replacement crew to the International Space Station and deliver key parts.

The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration said the mission includes three space walks, and veteran Chang-Diaz is involved in each one.

The mission is labeled STS-111 and is scheduled to be launched Thursday between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Florida time. It will land June 11, according to the schedule. Weather or mechanical problems might cause delays at any time.

Thursday night, workers were to enter Endeavour's aft engine compartment to inspect Water Spray Boiler No. 3 and look for leaks. The inspection is being conducted because temperatures in the auxiliary power unit's coolant system failed to reach proper levels in the required times during routine testing, said NASA. The agency didn’t think this problem would delay the mission.

Thursday afternoon, launch countdown preparations were under way and items were being placed into the Leonardo Multi-Purpose Logistics Module for delivery to the space station. 

The Expedition Five crew, Commander Valery Korzun and Flight Engineers Peggy Whitson and Sergei Treschev, will replace the Expedition Four crew, which will return home with the space shuttle.

In addition to Chang Diaz, three astronauts comprise the prime crew Kenneth D. Cockrell is mission commander, and astronaut Paul S. Lockhart is pilot. Astronauts Philippe Perrin, representing the French Space Agency, is a mission specialist, as is Chang Diaz. 
Chang Diaz was graduated from Colegio de la Salle in San Josè in November 1967, and from Hartford High School in Hartford, Conn., in 1969. He received a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Connecticut in 1973 and his doctorate four years later.

NASA photo
Astronaut Franklin R. Chang Diaz, grins as the final touches are made on the training version of his space suit prior to being submerged in water to simulate neutral buoyancy that mimics space. 

His mother, Marìa Eugenia Dìaz de Chang, still lives in San José, as do brothers and sisters. He is a veteran of six other space flights and had logged 1,269 hours, according to NASA. Chang Diaz is married and has four children.

Chang will greet
Pacheco from space

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Astronaut Frank Chang Diaz plans to call President Abel Pacheco next Friday, May 31, to promote a book "Costa Rica desde el Espacio."

The event is planned for about 1 p.m., and the president will be at the U.S. Embassy in Pavas, an embassy spokesman said Thursday.

The embassy, the Universidad EARTH and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration have organized the event.

The book, compiled and produced by the university, relied on NASA photos from space of Costa Rica to analyze the use of land, ecological phenomena and population growth, among other subjects, the embassy said. Chang Diaz assisted in the project, the spokesman said.

Vehicle inspection program shows what not to do
By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

The launching of Costa Rica’s vehicle inspection program is a classic study in how not to win acceptance from the public for a new idea.

The joint Costa Rica-Spanish firm is investing upwards of $22 million, yet managers seem to have given no consideration to the public mood or reaction.

Conservative Costa Ricans do not like changes. Another truth is that advertising and public relations skills are not well executed here, mostly because managers will not pay the money needed to do these jobs correctly.

The vehicle inspection program charges each of an estimated 550,000 vehicles $22.50. With that kind of cash flow the partnership should have been investing heavily in public opinion surveys, dramatic advertising and clever public relations.

Now, faced with strong opposition from taxi drivers, union leaders and farm operators, the situation has moved into what is called "crisis mode." Still, the best that the partnership can do is to let the minister of Obras Públicas y Transporte set up some meetings with the angry vehicle owners.

The problems with marketing the vehicle inspection program are so obvious, the situation provides a case study that also illuminated much of what is wrong with Costa Rican businesses, including the tourism industry.

The involved firm is RITEVE, SyC, a combination of Supervisión y Control S.A. and Transal S.A. The first is Spanish, but the second firm that is a partner in the project is Costa Rican.

Managers obviously thought that because they had a monopoly backed by a Costa Rica law they did not have to win the hearts and minds of the public.

If the company did market studies, researchers did not probe deep enough to find the basic hostility Costa Ricans have to foreigners and foreign  companies. Had managers known how deep this hostility runs they could have restructured the company as a Costa Rican one with taxi drivers, farmers and others on an "advisory board."

The firm should have begun an emotion-charged advertising campaign several months ago stressing the dangers of vehicles with bad brakes.

Whole campaigns could have been built around teary case studies: "I lost my Dad to a car with bad brakes." Now the best that MOPT Minister Javier Chaves can say generally is that a high percentage of accidents were caused by faulty lights and bad brakes. A good public relations pro would not let him open his mouth unless he had the facts, figures and names. 

That’s because Chaves is treading on dangerous ground. A much higher percentage of accidents and 

Perspective on the news

deaths each year are caused by bad or inadequate roads, and Chaves is now in charge of that department, too.

RITZEVE needs to personalize the campaign for its services in the way Colombian coffee growers used Juan Valdéz.

The company needs to pay to take its case to the public. The firm tried to tell its story by inviting newspeople to visit. But managers have no control over what news people write, so the idea actually backfired and kicked off the current storm of protest.

How does this relate to Costa Rican society at large? In many ways.

• Much of advertising here is ritual, and public relations is a little understood art.

• How many business people make a giant investment in, perhaps, a restaurant, hire a staff and then wait around for people to visit. They make no provision in their start up costs for promotion or advertising save a yellow banner from Cerveza Imperial. 

• How can the Instituto of Turismo justify an investment of $70,000 in a single full-page advertising in The New York Times when the expense was not followed up by more advertising? A single ad, regardless of size, is generally worthless. Every first-year advertising student knows that.  The key to effective advertising is repetition, something the $70,000 ad did not provide.

Of course, the real reason is that Turismo spent $70,000 so the former minister and his team could show tearsheets to prove the great job they were doing. That had nothing to do with advertising tourism.

• How many firms make big investments in trade shows and conventions where they end up showing off to their own inner circle and to visitors who are more interested in big parties and free drinks than in actually buying something?

• How many firms put their promotional hopes in the hands of people who are trained as graphic artists and do not have the necessary background in advertising?

Perhaps in the long run, the woes of RITEVE, SyC, will provide some enlightenment to Costa Rican managers elsewhere and help them enter the 20th century ("20th century" is correct) with their promotional and advertising attitudes.

Brodell, in addition to his journalism background, has taught advertising and public relations at the university level. 

Oil pollution of oceans blamed on boats and runoff
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — End users of oil, not the ships and pipelines that transport it, are responsible for 85 percent of the petroleum pollution in the North American oceans, according to a study released Thursday by the National Research Council here.

"Oil in the Sea: Inputs, Fates, and Effects" reports that 29 million gallons of petroleum (109,800 kiloliters) pour into North American waters each year. Most of it comes from land-based runoff, polluted rivers, boats and other recreational watercraft. Massive oil slicks and blackened beaches caused by occasional shipping spills and accidents get the most attention, but sources emitting smaller amounts of petroleum day after day are the greater causes of oil pollution in the seas, according to an announcement.

Oil spills account for 8 percent of the annual gush of petroleum into the seas while oil drilling and extraction is another 3 percent, the report said.

Besides these man-made petroleum sources, the study found that 47 million gallons (almost 178,000 kiloliters) seep into the ocean from natural geologic formations on the sea floor. 

The study's good news is that there is less petroleum in the oceans than was reported in a similar 1985 study.

The report makes several recommendations to reduce the emission of oil into North American waters including:

— The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should continue to phase out the manufacture of inefficient two-stoke engines that power many watercraft, discharging oil and gas by design;

— The U.S. Coast Guard and Maritime Administration should continue to expand shipping standards in order to further reduce spills;

— U.S. ocean management agencies should develop better methods for estimating the amount of oil that seeps into ocean waters naturally from the seafloor; and

— Further research must be conducted to determine how oil spills and chronic releases effect the marine environment.

Worldwide, the report says, 210 million gallons (almost 795,000 kiloliters) of oil from manmade sources flow into the oceans, with another 180 million gallons (more than 681,000 kiloliters) coming from natural seepage.

A consortium of U.S. government agencies with maritime responsibilities sponsored the research. The full report is not yet available online.

Special U.N. envoy
to  visit Guatemala

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

NEW YORK, New York — The United Nations is sending a special representative to Guatemala to assess the human rights situation in that country, the international organization announced.

In a statement Thursday, the U.N. said the trip is being made at the invitation of the Guatemalan government. One purpose of the May 27-June 1 trip by Hina Jilani will be to investigate incidents relating to alleged human rights abuses in Guatemala. Jilani, from Pakistan, was appointed special representative of the U.N. secretary general last August.

Jilani will meet with Guatemala's president and other government officials during her visit, along with high-ranking officials of the army and the police, and with a wide range of non-governmental organizations and individuals engaged in human rights work.

New pact on housing
seen as helping poor

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Improving housing and living conditions for poor people in Latin America and the Caribbean is the goal of a new agreement between the United States and the Inter-American Development Bank. 

The agreement, a "Memorandum of Understanding" between the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development  and the bank, was signed Thursday. 

The agreement calls on the two bodies to undertake joint studies on diverse housing and urban development issues, such as exploring ways to revitalize neighborhoods, and to institute fair housing and fair lending policies to reduce discrimination against the poor and minorities.

Jose Fourquet, executive director of the U.S. office at the Inter-American Development Bank, said that "we're all very excited about what means for the poor people" of the Western Hemisphere "who lack the most basic of housing needs in the region," adding: "For months, my office has strongly supported this agreement ... to address the critical needs for housing in Latin America and the Caribbean."

Sexploitation probe
sought in Honduras

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras —A Honduran congresswoman has called for the creation of a high-level congressional commission to investigate the international trafficking of Honduran children for sexual exploitation, according to Casa Alianza in San José.

The request comes in response to a May 16 raid on at least six bars in Forth Worth, Texas, where U.S. authorities rescued some 60 Honduran women and girls, reportedly from the hands of sex traffickers. 

Congresswoman Doris Gutierrez expressed her concern in Congress this afternoon, Casa Alianza said in a release. The woman quoted figures supplied by Casa Alianza that reported that at least 1,000 children have been forced into prostitution in Guatemala and Mexico, an estimated 500 of whom are from Honduras. 

Casa Alianza, a child advocacy agency, said the recent police raids in Texas, where eight men were arrested, follows a worrying a trend in which poor, underage Central American girls are duped into the sex trade, believing they are coming to work in high class hotels and restaurants in either Mexico or the United States. Because of desperation, the young girls accept the offer, but when they arrive at their destination they are forced to have sex with up to 10 clients a day, the organization said.

Casa Alianza noted it has informed U.S. Immigration authorities of its willingness to help with the social reintegration of the girls if they choose to return to Honduras, a choice, the organization said, they should be free to make. The Honduran child welfare authorities have come under criticism as they occasionally "lose" unaccompanied repatriated children returned from the United States.

Ms. Gutierrez calls for a commission to be established to investigate the trafficking of Honduran children and submit a report to the Commission on Children and Family of the Honduran Congress on recommended action to be taken within 30 days, Casa Alianza said. It would help with the study.

Embassy closed Monday

The U.S. Embassy in Pavas will be closed Monday as a tribute to U.S. servicemen who lost their lives while serving their country. Monday is Memorial Day.

Colombia braces
for Sunday voting

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — The government is preparing for presidential elections Sunday amid a climate of violence and fear in many parts of this South American nation. Threats by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the leftist guerrilla group known as the FARC, could diminish voter turnout in some areas.

Political analysts here in Colombia are looking for levels of voter participation Sunday that would be in line with those of past elections, in which there was just over 50 percent turnout. But the FARC has called for a boycott of the election and rightwing paramilitary groups may also attempt to intimidate voters in some areas.

This week there has been unprecedented fighting between Colombian security forces and FARC guerrillas on the streets of the nation's second-largest city, Medellin. At least nine people died in the fighting Tuesday when government forces tried to dislodge the FARC from neighborhoods where the rebels have established control.

President Andres Pastrana, who by law can not seek a second term, acknowledges that various armed groups could disrupt the voting process, but he says the government is taking steps to guarantee the integrity of the process.

He said his government and the armed forces are prepared to respond to whatever problems arise in order to allow the electoral process to proceed without interruption. The Colombian leader says that in addition to the FARC, another leftist guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army, and several paramilitary organizations pose a threat to the voting in some places.

The major candidates in the presidential election stopped most campaigning in public last month after a bomb came close to killing front-runner Alvaro Uribe Velez.  There have been a number of other bombings and violent clashes in Colombia since a three-year effort to start peace talks with the FARC broke down in February. 

One minor presidential candidate, Ingrid Betancourt, was kidnapped by the guerrillas February 23 and is still being held.

Outrage over kidnappings and other crimes carried out by the FARC helped boost Uribe in the polls. Although the FARC began in 1964 with social justice and agrarian reform as its principal causes, most Colombians now view the rebels as simple criminals who enrich themselves through drug smuggling, kidnapping and extortion. In public opinion polls, less than 5 percent of Colombians say they support the FARC.

U.N. refugee program
teaches kids to play

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

GENEVA, Switzerland — A United Nations refugee agency here is teaming up with the International Olympic Committee and other sports associations to expand a program that teaches the world's refugee children how to "play again."

The program, operated by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, uses sports to reach out to refugee children in camps and settlements to help them heal the emotional scars they have suffered from war and other traumatic events.

The agency established one of its sports programs in Guatemala in 1997 to assist refugees who returned from exile in Mexico following peace agreements, which brought an end to 36 years of war in Guatemala. That sports program, which ended after about a year, worked in cooperation with the Guatemalan National Olympic Committee in four resettlement zones.

The agency said Wednesday that it will help sponsor new sports programs, mainly in Africa and Asia, aiming to reach an estimated 3.5 million refugee children in some 1,000 camps and settlements. The new programs will be in Pakistan, Eritrea, Guinea, Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Thailand.

Kidnap victim free;
so are 3  suspects

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man identified as Chinese, Yeng Yang Ling, 25, told police he was kidnapped in Desamparados Wednesday night and taken to Casa Villa Bonita in Alajuela where he was held overnight by three men.

The man managed to escape in the early morning and notified police. Police raided the house and arrested three men, all believed to be Chinese, but then the victim declined to make an identification, said agents of the Judicial Investigating Organization. And the three were set free.

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