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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, May 25, 2004, Vol. 4, No. 102
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Twentieth Century Fox graphic
St. Petersburg on the Hudson

A new disaster movie turns New York City into an ice box while playing fast and loose with global warming. The movie, which opens here Friday, has political ramification in the United States.

Our story is: 

BELOW!

 
It seems like it's just one scandal after another
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The average citizen needs a scorecard to keep track of the latest scandals.

Monday while two executives of Corporación Fischel were taking the Costa Rican version of the Fifth Amendment before a legislative committee, the foreign minister was explaining to television crews why the Taiwanese government has been supplementing salaries in the diplomatic corps.

Meanwhile, wholesale irregularities and illegal foreign election contributions seem to have been put on the back burner because the two major political parties were involved.

Then there is the case of officials of the electrical-telecommunications monopoly taking a trip to Europe along with representatives of suppliers.

And the insurance monopoly lost an executive president when he would not dump the idea of installing an expensive outdoor, scenic elevator at the skyscraper headquarters.

Meanwhile, Costa Rican and expat investors alike are trying to recover from a major economic shock because a dollar-denominated mutual fund at Banco Nacional took a beating because it only invested in Costa Rican government bonds.

The two executives who were not very talkative Monday morning were Emilio Bruce and Walter Reiche of Corporación Fischel, which has been a major supplier to the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social, the independent institute that runs the clinics and hospitals.

They came into the news when the executive president of the Caja, Eliseo Vargas Garcia, was found to be renting a luxurious home purchased by the corporation. He quit, as did another Fischel executive.

But the Ministerio Público, the country’s independent prosecuting arm, broadened its investigation and last week raided the company’s corporate headquarters and the homes of the executives, including those of Bruce and Reiche.

So the pair used the excuse of a criminal investigation to stay mum when they appeared before a legislative commission with their lawyers Monday.

The flap over the generous Taiwanese government became public Monday when La Nación reported that the government of that Asian country has been funneling money to an association set up by the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto. The Spanish-language newspaper ran a photo of a $250,000 check issued by the Embassy of the Republic of China.

The Taiwanese money is being used to supplement the salaries of 13 employees in the foreign ministry and to pay the entire salary of 21 more, said the newspaper.

Roberto Tovar Faja, the foreign minister, rejected the idea that these payments that have gone on for years might represent a conflict of interest. Among those being paid is the daughter of President Abel Pacheco, Teletica Channel 7 disclosed Monday night.

Tovar ran a parallel, informal campaign funding organization for Pacheco when he was a candidate three years ago, and among the donations was some $500,000 which appears to have come from Taiwan. The whole series of election financial disclosures also is under investigation by the Ministerio Público, but little has been heard lately. 

Taiwan has been generous to Costa Rica, which usually supports the Asian country in international controversies. Taiwan has built the Puente de Amistad, a bridge connecting the mainland with the central Nicoya Peninsula and it has agreed to pay for a major highway near San Carlos.

However, this is the first revelation that the Taiwanese government was making indirect payments to individuals in government positions.

Some legislators said they were not pleased. Meanwhile, news reporters will have their first chance to question the president on the topic at a regular Tuesday news conference today at Casa Presidencial.

 
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Sentences upheld for pair in Martin murder case
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala III criminal appeals courts has upheld the conviction of two Golfito residents in the murder of U.S. student Shannon Martin.

The two are Kattia Cruz Murillo and Luis Alberto Castro Carrillo. Both were convicted and sentenced in November to 15-year-terms.

The court, the highest criminal court, ruled on cross appeals filed by the lawyers for the defendants and the prosecutors. The decision was handed down

Friday but was not made public until Monday.

Miss Martin, 23, a University of Kansas senior, died early May 13, 2001, as she was walking a short distance from a disco to the home where she was staying. The murder was a brutal one and involved 14 knife wounds. Nevertheless, the accused faced convictions for simple murder instead of the more grave premeditated murder.

Miss Martin was in the area to finish up a senior thesis on biology before graduation in Lawrence, Kans. The motive was presumed to be robbery.


 
Downtown walking tour
has trial run today

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 50 tourism wholesales are expected to take a walk today from the Mercado Central through the historic areas of San José. The jaunt will end at the Centro Nacional de la Cultura where an artists fair and musical and dance exhibitions will be presented.

The idea is to interest tourism professionals in booking their guests at least one day in San José. More and more tourists are skipping the capital and heading right for the beaches.

The walk today is abbreviated. A longer, more detailed walking tour is being prepared and will be published in pamphlets for visitors.

The event today is sponsored by the ministries of Turismo, Relaciones Exteriores y Culto, Cultura, Juventud y Deporte and Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

The tourist professionals are in town for Expotur, the annual marketing event that will be inaugurated tonight.

Low pressure moves on,
but rainy season stays

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A stalled low pressure system that dumped rain on Costa Rica for a week has moved off to the northeast, according to the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional.

That means the weather will return to normal: cloudy and raining in the afternoons and evenings instead of all day.

Costa Rica seems to have weathered well the latest lambasting by Mother Nature.

More than 27 landslides were reported around the country. These locations were being inspected for possible removal or repair Monday.

The Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias said that just 85 persons had been lodged in shelters or housed with family members. That’s in comparison with more than 2,000 evicted from their homes in a similar rainy period a month ago.

Some 72 homes were damaged, including 15 by landslides, said the emergency commission. No reports were available yet on damage to bridges in the San Carlos area, but at least six were heavily damaged.

The commission continued to urge those living in areas of danger to be on guard because of the saturated ground and possibilities of slides.

One more fatality has been added to the toll. A child of 18 months fell into a drainage basin in the Fray Casiano section of Puntarenas Sunday afternoon. The child, Bryan Chaves Montano, was rescued alive but died later in Hospital Monseñor Víctor Manuel Sanabria in Puntarenas.

A man died near Ciudad Neily a week ago when  he tried to wade a raging stream.

Duel was to death

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two agricultural workers in Cañaza de Puerto Jiménez engaged in a battle with machetes Monday afternoon and one, Napoleon Vargas Gómez, 27, suffered fatal wounds, said the Judicial Investigating Organization. Hospitalized was Alvaro Zamora Jiménez, 46. Agents are treating the case as a killing.

Choirs join in Limón

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Choirs from 11 denominations will join to celebrate gospel music at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the VI Festival of Black culture in Limón.

The free event will be in the Black Star Line of the Caribbean city. The gospel extravaganza, as it is called, also will have soloists.

More information is available at 225- 8916 and 307- 3473. 

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Computer game makers see new market in women
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — Electronic games are part of a multibillion dollar industry, and analysts say that as computer use expands, so will the games business. Thousands of game developers met here to assess the growing market.

The industry generates $12 billion a year, mostly for video console games like Sony's Playstation Two, Nintendo's Gamecube and Microsoft's X-Box. The rest of the revenue comes from games that are played on computers.

The annual Electronic Entertainment Expo is a place where designers like Andy Megowan of Sandlot Games can survey the market and inspect the competition. "Most of the games you'll see out here are about muscles, guns, testosterone, action, blood, knives and jumping," he said.

Sandlot Games President Daniel Bernstein said that his customers don't want the pulse-pounding, vein-throbbing action that is mostly seen here. He markets to older players, many of them women, and they want a quieter challenge.

"It has to be a very engaging experience, but it is a different kind of engagement that we have with the consumer," he explained. "It's more about diversion and making people feel good and making people feel happy, taking them to perhaps a far-off place, which is what ‘Tradewinds’ does, for a very short period of time."

"Tradewinds" is a fantasy game about combat and trade in the old Orient. Characters overcome obstacles to amass a large trading fleet.

The company's games are sold online, through general sites like Yahoo and specialized gaming sites like shockwave.com. Trial versions are also found on some new computers. Bernstein says his goal is to get customers hooked on the game.

"So hooked that they would want to pull out their credit card, pay online via an e-commerce transaction and then at the end of that process, they would be able to unlock the game and be able to play the full version," he said. "That's how we make money."

Sandlot Games is a small player in the market. Sony Online Entertainment is a big one. It produces the popular multi-player online games EverQuest and EverQuest Two. Senior game producer John Blakely 

says players form six-person groups and guilds that can range from 50 to 200 players.

"We created a virtual world where people can interact online and they all log into the server. They're able to chat, interact, and communicate with each other through text and through what we call visual emotes, little animations that allow them to say ‘hi’ or wave goodbye or something like that," he explained. "And so people interact and work together to accomplish different things in the game, and as game designers, we put challenges in their way and they overcome those challenges."

Players pay a monthly subscription fee. Blakely says the game is international, with the largest number of players in Asia. "We have over half a million subscribers worldwide, and we'll see simultaneous numbers in excess of 110,000 people a night online at any given time," he said. "That's bigger than most small cities in the U.S. So it's pretty amazing."

At the Electronic Entertainment Expo, there are games with military themes and others that create fantasy worlds with wizards and dragons.

Andy Megowan and Daniel Bernstein say most appeal to young players and are created by young designers. They cite themselves as examples.

Megowan: "I'm 13 [laughs]." Bernstein: "No, I'm 33. We're both 33. And actually, you're going to find that it's a very young industry, so a lot of folks are younger than us."

For those who are really youngsters, the Disney Co. has its own online game site, as Petrina McPhee explains. "You pay a small fee and for that, you get an ad-free, kid-safe super-site that kids can play around with," he said. "Parents can feel comfortable leaving them playing there, and there's something for all ages, so we really cater for the 3-to-12 year old audience."

Industry figures show that game players are aging. Their average age today is 28, and the number of women players is growing. 

That's good news for Andy Megowan of Sandlot Games, which markets to the older crowd in their 20s and 30s. He says games are a bargain compared with movie tickets, which typically cost $6 to $8 in the United States. He says a movie offers viewers two hours of entertainment, while a game costing $20 to $30 offers weeks of challenges.


 
Massive mad cow testing will start June 1 in U.S.
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States plans to test cattle for bovine spoingiform encephalopathy by June 1, according to senior officials of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Ron DeHaven said that the system should be fully operational by early July. Under the plan, approximately 200,000 high-risk cows and 20,000 normal animals will be tested annually. Animals considered to be at high risk are those age 30 months or older. DeHaven is administrator of the Agriculture Department's Animal Plant Health Inspection Service.

More than 15,500 samples had been collected from Oct. 1 through April, he said. The illness also is known as mad cow disease.

Test results will be posted on the USDA web site at www.aphis.usda.gov, DeHaven said.

The plans for expanded testing were announced in January, following the recommendation of an international panel of experts convened by Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman after a single case of the disease was discovered in Washington state in December 2003. Agriculture officials determined the cow had been born in Alberta, Canada, and it and other cows that it could have come in contact with were destroyed.

As part of the expanded surveillance system, the Agriculture Department has identified 12 state testing laboratories that will help do the testing. 

Samples from animals tested at any of these laboratories that result in inconclusive results will immediately be sent to the department’s National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Iowa for confirmatory testing, Dehaven said. Results from these second tests would be expected in four to eight days, he said.

No part of the cow will be allowed to enter the food system until a negative result can be confirmed, DeHaven empahsized. 

DeHaven said "we anticipate we'll have some inconclusive screening results. That's to be expected, and it's the nature of any kind of screening test."

Regarding news reports that 33 million pounds of beef entered the United States from Canada April 19, Elsa Murano, under secretary of agriculture for food safety, said any beef that has entered from Canada "would have been enterable under regulations related to low-risk materials." Murano also said the actual amount of beef that entered from Canada was much lower than 33 million pounds and that some of it, particularly tongue, lips, kidneys and hearts, simply moved through the United States bound for sale in Mexico.


 
Minnesota thrilled by visit planned by Mexican President Fox
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. —  The U.S. State of Minnesota is awaiting the scheduled June 18 visit of Mexican President Vicente Fox to the capital of St. Paul and its twin city of Minneapolis. The trip is being hailed as a sign of the state's growing trade relationship with Mexico as a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The office of Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said Fox would be the first Mexican head of state to visit Minnesota.

Pawlenty said that because of NAFTA, the 1994 trade pact that encompasses the United States, Mexico, and Canada, "we've seen an easing of trade restrictions . . . and a significant increase in the number of Mexicans coming to live and work in Minnesota." The governor said Fox's one-day visit "will be an important part of building on our friendship," and recognizes the "many cultural and economic contributions" made by Mexican-Americans to Minnesota.

The "cultural and economic bonds between Minnesota and Mexico are strong, and I'm pleased 

President Fox is committed to strengthening them," Pawlenty added. The governor's office said that Minnesota's exports to Mexico have increased 80 percent since 1997, making Mexico the state's eighth-largest trading partner.

In 2003, Minnesota shipped $342 million in manufactured products to Mexico, with leading exports in electronic products ($75 million), food products ($74 million), industrial machinery ($52 million), and paper products ($35 million).

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune quoted Minnesota state officials as saying that Fox's visit will be one of the most significant by a head of state to Minnesota since the visit of Mikhail Gorbachev of the former Soviet Union in 1990.

Fox's June 16-18 travel itinerary while in the United States also includes visits to the Midwestern states of Michigan and Illinois. Under Mexican law, Fox's trip to the United States needs to be approved by Mexico's Senate.

Since NAFTA's entry into force in 1994, Mexico has overtaken Japan to become the second-largest trading partner for the United States. 

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Another
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By the A.M. Costa Rica 
wire services

An apocalypse comes to movie theaters across the continent this Memorial Day holiday weekend. The film is "The Day After Tomorrow." The Hollywood blockbuster envisions the consequences of abrupt climate change. The movie has, even before its release, heated up a controversy over the politics of global warming.

"The Day After Tomorrow" is a disaster adventure story. The villain is global warming. Rapid climate change turns New York City into an ice sheet, triggers tornadoes in Los Angeles, 

Twentieth Century Fox graphic
sends massive snowstorms to New Delhi and 
pounds Tokyo with grapefruit-sized hail. 

Is the movie total fantasy? Not on the political front, according to Patrick J. Michaels, senior environmental fellow with the Cato Institute, a conservative public policy research foundation in Washington, D.C. He says the hysteria on the big screen can create irrational fears in the real world: 

"It is just yet another example of a movie that takes a kernel of truth, which is that the planet is warmer than it was at the end of the last ice age. And, people have had something to do with that warming, particularly in the late 20th century. And it turns it from that benign observation into an apocalypse to influence national policy."

Former Vice President Al Gore sees it another way. "This is a rare opportunity to have a national conversation," he says.

Gore, whose best-selling book "Earth in the Balance" examines the impact of global warming, has lent his support to a campaign sponsored by the Internet advocacy group Moveon.org. 

At a news conference with Gore at his side, Moveon Executive Director Peter Schurman announced his group's plans for the movie's opening weekend: 

"As millions of Americans leave movie theaters having just seen the film, thousands of Moveon members will be there handing out flyers that answer the questions people will have. Could this really happen? Are we responsible for global warming? What is President Bush doing about it? What can we do about it? The fact is that President Bush isn't doing anything to stop global warming, and he is actually preventing our country from stopping it." 

Gore says the grassroots campaign aims to correct the exaggerated notion of global warming presented in the movie and to advocate for a change in U.S. environmental policy that makes sense for the planet. 

"The Bush administration is in some ways even more fictional than the movie in trying to convince people that there is no real problem, that there is no degree of certainty on the part of scientists about the issue and sort of accepting the big polluters' argument that nothing should be done to change the current practices of dumping pollution in an unrestrained way into the atmosphere," he says.

Michaels of the Cato Institute disagrees. "There is a degree of certainty from scientists about the issue, but I don't think that Al Gore was very candid about that certainty. The warming of the next 50 years is known to a very small range of error."

"Any of these pieces of legislation such as McCain-Leiberman, or the Kyoto Protocol, would change the temperature so little that there would be no measurable effect on that temperature rise," he said.

The McCain/Leiberman Climate Steward Act would limit the carbon dioxide emissions that cause global warming. Michaels calls it a waste of taxpayer money and offers an alternative more in line with Bush administration policy. 

"Technologies that are more efficient are developing and will continue to develop as long as people have the wherewithall to invest in them," he said. "As people have the capital to invest in efficient technologies then a society emits much less per capita. And, in the United States we have become efficient as our economy has gone forward. 

"We produce a constant dollar of goods and services now with 60 percent of the energy we did 35 years ago. That is the long-term point of view as opposed to the reactive point of view that I think this movie is going to generate," he says.

Even without the movie to generate reaction, Gore says the time is ripe for global warming to emerge as a top issue for the American electorate. "I do think that more and more people are feeling it in their gut. They are listening to their parents and grandparents tell them that the weather is very different from when they were children," he says.

That, says Cato Institute's Patrick J. Michaels, is what could tip a sharply divided electorate. "Consider the State of Arizona, hot as hell, droughty as heck. What is the chance that we could have a shift there and Kerry could win it? 

"If Kerry won all the other states Gore won and wins Arizona, it is President-elect Kerry in November. So these things can happen." 

And, as the Moveon.org flyer so boldly states, "Global Warming isn't just a movie. It's your future." Whether Americans believe that is another story. 
 

EDITOR’S NOTE: The movie opens in Costa Rica Friday.


 
U.S. squeezes out $100 million for Haitian help
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Bush administration said Monday it is providing Haiti with an additional $100 million in aid to help it recover from the political upheaval earlier this year that led to the resignation of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. 

The new aid commitment comes three weeks after a visit to the U.S. by Haiti's interim prime minister, Gerard Latortue, who told Secretary of State Colin Powell that the weeks of unrest that led to Aristide's departure at the end of February had virtually destroyed the country's economic infrastructure. 

Powell promised at the time to "scrub" the State Department budget for additional aid money for Haiti. 

At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the additional $100 million for Haiti was cobbled together from money unspent from a number of other programs, and will be largely devoted to help Haiti's interim government restore electricity and other vital services and deal with a budget deficit inherited from Aristide. 

He also said it would be used to help rebuild the country's police force and judicial system and prepare for elections next year. 

"In Haiti, we have a government that is democratically inclined, it is in fact very committed to the process of returning full democracy to Haiti, returning the government to the people through elections, and a lot of this money is going to be devoted to that," he said. "One of the things we will be helping with is to establish judicial and police mechanisms that respond to democratic government." 

The additional pledge nearly triples what had been a $60 million U.S. aid program for Haiti for this year, most of it food and other humanitarian assistance. 

Boucher said the United States remains the largest single contributor of aid to Haiti, and he expressed hope the new commitment will be an example to other participants in a donors conference for Haiti due to be held before mid-July in the Canadian capital, Ottawa. 

The United States has been the biggest contributor to the 3,600-member stabilization force, also including, Canada, Chile and France, that has helped keep the peace in Haiti since Aristide resigned and went into exile Feb. 29 in the face of a widespread popular uprising. 

The stabilization force is to give way next month to a United Nations contingent of some 8,000 troops. 


 
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