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|In Brazil, a yearning for past glory of national team|
As the World Cup approaches, Brazilians are unusually pessimistic about the prospects for their national team, following a year of turmoil and scandal in Brazilian football. Many Brazilians feel the days when their country was a football powerhouse dominating World Cup play are over.
Scenes of past World Cup triumphs have been playing on Brazilian television lately. The sometimes grainy images show the yellow-shirted players kicking in goal after goal to the approving roar of the crowd in the stadiums.
A four-time World Cup winner, Brazil has been a dominant force in international football since its first victory in 1958.
But on Rio street corners, the discussions about the national team's prospects and the state of football in general tend to be pessimistic. Retired shopkeeper Anisio Araujo says he has lost interest.
"I used to care about football, he says, but not anymore," he says. "It is too big a mess, and football here is discredited. Besides, players only care about the money."
Araujo's disillusionment stems from the national team's poor showing in qualifying matches, and from the corruption scandals that have plagued Brazil's national sport.
Brazil barely qualified in the World Cup preliminary matches, losing to Bolivia, Chile, and other South American countries. This is in stark contrast to the past, when in 70 years of play Brazil lost only one qualifying match. This time, Brazil finished third in the South American division behind Argentina and Ecuador.
Meanwhile, Congressional investigations were under way that uncovered evidence of misappropriated funds, kickback schemes, and other illegalities in the professional leagues. One national team coach was forced out under a cloud of scandal, and members of Brazil's Football Confederation were implicated in the misdeeds.
This soured many Brazilians. Author Gilberto Agostino, who has written a book about football, says normally the World Cup brings Brazilians together as a nation.
"It is one of the few moments when the Brazilian who lives in Maranhao State, in the state of Para, in Rio de Janeiro, and in the south feels united. It is a moment when all the hearts are beating for the same thing," he explains. "Football continues to be, and was historically, an element in which people feel the sensation of being Brazilian, and this leads them to display the national colors the green and yellow which is something that is not an everyday occurrence."
|One sign of the sour mood is that
compared to past Cup championships fewer streets in Rio are decorated with
yellow and green streamers.
But one place where there is more optimism is at practice at Rio's Flamengo Club, which fields one of the best professional teams in the country. Flamengo goalie Julio Cesar speaks for many players when he downplays the current pessimism.
"This pessimism is because of the qualifying matches, and the difficulties Brazil had to qualify. This left people disillusioned, but I am sure once the championships begin people will be in front of their TV's to root for the national team," he says.
The club's lawyer, Carlos Portinho, agrees.
"The Brazilian people, the journalists, and the press we are very critical about our soccer, our football and sometimes this is not good... If you ask any fan about the national team he will probably say 'I do not like this coach, I do not like that player,' " he says. "We are very critical, but I believe Brazilian soccer is the most beautiful and the most important football in the world."
And this was certainly true in the past, when players like Pele, Garrincha, and Tostao dribbled and kicked their way to glory. They defined the elegant and ballet-like style of play that was often compared to the Brazilian samba. But many fans complain there is no one on the national team of equal stature to those famous players and that professional football in Brazil is in decline.
Flavio Monteiro, a Rio tennis coach, sums up the feelings best: I will root for Brazil, he says, because I am Brazilian. But the team has not done the work that France or Argentina have done. So even if it wins the Cup, it will not deserve it.
This mood may change as the championship progresses, but as of now few
Brazilians believe the country can win the cup a fifth time.
Costa Rica drops friendly game
From the A.M. Costa Rica wire reports
Costa Ricans dropped a friendly warmup soccer match to the United States national team early Thursday. The score was 1-0.
This was the last game for both teams before they enter World Cup competition for real. Costa Rica faces the Peoples Republic of China in Gwangju, Korea, at 3:30 p.m. local time Tuesday. The United States faces Portugal in Suwon, Korea, at 6 p.m. local time Wednesday.
The game in Korea Thursday was played in a heavy downpour and early morning Costa Rica time.
BOGOTA, Colombia — The leader of the South American nation's main rightwing paramilitary group is expressing support for President-elect Alvaro Uribe's proposal to negotiate peace with leftist rebels. The announcement comes amid increased violence between the rebels and the paramilitaries.
In a statement displayed on the Internet site of the United Self-Defense Forces, known by its Spanish initials as the AUC, leader Carlos Castano said Alvaro Uribe's proposal was "bringing more hope for peace." But the paramilitary leader said his forces would continue fighting Colombia's leftist rebels until they begin serious negotiations.
After winning the presidency in Sunday's election, Uribe said he would be willing to negotiate with all armed groups in Colombia that agree to a ceasefire and refrain from acts of terrorism. Uribe made clear that the paramilitary groups were included in this.
The AUC is an umbrella organization for various armed groups that were begun by wealthy landowners to protect themselves and their families from guerrilla attacks and kidnappings. Although they are now illegal, the groups continue to operate throughout the country and often clash with rebel fighters from the nation's two large Marxist groups, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia, or FARC, and the National Liberation Army, or ELN.
Thursday, the mayor of Colombia's second largest city, Medellin, was caught briefly in the crossfire between rebel supporters and paramilitaries who have been fighting for control of some areas of the city. Last week at least nine people died in violent clashes on the streets of Medellin.
There has been no word yet from the FARC on the Uribe peace talk proposal, but most observers in
|Colombia doubt the rebels will accede
to the demand that they begin a ceasefire and stop all kidnappings and
attacks on civilians.
The current president of Colombia, Andres Pastrana, tried to induce the rebels to agree to a ceasefire after granting them a large safe haven in the south of the country in 1998. The FARC used the zone for its lucrative cocaine smuggling operations and as a base for carrying out kidnappings and other attacks. Finally, Pastrana cancelled the zone in February and sent in the Colombian military to occupy it.
Alavro Uribe was critical of the Pastrana peace initiative from the beginning and called for a tougher approach with the guerrillas. He has proposed a large increase in military spending and an expansion of police forces nationwide. Uribe would also establish a citizens' network throughout the country to support the military by providing information about armed insurgent groups.
Critics have accused him of sympathy with the paramilitary groups, something he denies. Human rights organizations have expressed concern that these groups may step up attacks on civilians if they perceive a nod of approval from the new president after he takes office on Aug. 7.
Uribe says he will treat all illegal armed groups the same. He has also said he will seek more help from the United States in fighting the illegal drug trade, from which both the FARC and the paramilitaries receive most of their funding.
The United States has supplied Colombia with over $1 billion in counter-narcotics assistance and the Bush Administration has shown support for allowing at least some of the aid to be used for counter-insurgency operations. This, however, has not been approved by the U.S. Congress. President-elect Uribe says he will fly to Washington to meet with President Bush on June 20.
to reduce child sex
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
William Rodríguez, the president of the Camara Nacional de Turismo, closed ESPOTUR XVIII with a strong endorsement of a campaign against the sexual exploitation of children.
The speech at the Herradura Conference Center was in keeping with other official statements during the week long conference of tourism operators.
Rodríguez noted that 30 national tourism companies already have signed on to a worldwide code of conduct to protect children. Even with legal adult prostitution, Rodríguez said the tourist industry should work to eliminate the national stereotype of Costa Rica being a sexual destination.
His words were in keeping with the goal of the new administration of President Abel Pacheco who included a crackdown on child prostitution in his election campaign. Pacheco reiterated his position early in the week to tourism operators.
Rodríguez, an airline executive, said that the chamber must stand together with the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo to act against child prostitution and exploitation.
The campaign to have tourism operators endorse a code of conduct is worldwide, but organizers have not had a lot of luck in developing a groundswell for what some tour operators believe is public relations window dressing.
A number of downtown hotels made a similar pledge last year in which they basically said they would try to keep their facilities from being used as a location for child prostitution.
Significantly, the Web site of the tourism chamber (http://canatur.org)
says nothing about the fight against sexual exploitation of children.
Anonos bridge job
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
The Contraloría General de la República has countersigned a contract under which construction workers will make the single-lane Los Anonos bridge two lanes.
The project was announced two months ago, but approval by the Contraloría is required for all Costa Rican public contracts. This contract is between the Consejo Nacional de Viabilidad, the road construction agency, and Dimon, S.A., a contractor.
The job is for 175 million colons (about $492,000), And is estimated to take about 100 days.
The single-lane bridge, the so-called suicide bridge because of its height above the Río Tiribí, is a major bottleneck in the route from La Sabana to Escazú.
Only one lane of vehicles should use the bridge at one time, and traffic
lights have been installed to give vehicles going in each direction a fair
chance. However, the motorists usually follow their own inclinations.
Stickup in Heredia
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
Two motorcylists followed a man from a bank Wednesday, stopped his vehicle in San Pablo de Heredi, shot him in the thigh and took 5 million colons (about $14,000).
Police said the man is Alexander Vega Arce, who went with his sister to a bank in Tibás, where the robbers presumabily spotted them and began to follow them.
|FBI gets more power
to initiate probes
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft announced new guidelines Thursday to make it easier for the FBI to monitor the activities of suspected terrorists operating inside the United States.
The new rules will ease long-standing restrictions on domestic spying that FBI officials say hamper their efforts to detect and prevent acts of terrorism.
"In many instances, the guidelines bar FBI field agents from taking the initiative to detect and prevent future terrorist attacks or acts, unless the FBI learns of possible criminal activity from external sources," he said. "Under the current guidelines, FBI investigators cannot, for example, surf the web in the same way that you and I can to look for information."
The new guidelines give the FBI broader authority to monitor Internet sites, libraries, churches and political organizations in its search for potential terrorists.
In the past, FBI agents were allowed to monitor suspicious Internet sites only if they were linked to a specific, ongoing criminal investigation. But under the new guidelines, agents can initiate their own online research and will not have to wait for approval from FBI headquarters in Washington.
In another major shift, FBI agents will be able to conduct surveillance in public places and forums without first having to establish that they are following a specific criminal lead. That means it will be easier for agents to monitor activities at religious institutions, including mosques.
FBI Director Robert Mueller says the new guidelines will help agents to track terrorists within the United States. "We will also need to free up our extremely talented law enforcement agents to aggressively investigate possible terrorist plots without unnecessary bureaucratic obstacles and hurdles," he said.
Civil liberties groups immediately voiced concern, fearing that Attorney General Ashcroft was restoring domestic spying powers to the FBI that the bureau abused during the 1950's and the 1960s.
A statement from the American Civil Liberties Union said the new FBI powers would do little to make Americans safer but would inevitably make citizens less free.
President Bush tried to address those concerns during a question-and-answer session with reporters at the White House. "We intend to honor our Constitution and respect the freedoms that we hold so dear," he said. "And secondly, we want to make sure we do everything we can to prevent a further attack."
Announcement of the new investigative guidelines came one day after the FBI director announced a massive reorganization plan designed to improve the bureau's ability to detect and prevent terrorist attacks.
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
Three Costa Ricans and one man from Panama who were arrested a year ago in possession of 95 kilos (about 210 pounds) of cocaine pulled a grand total of 48 years in prison this week. They were arrested driving a vehicle with a false floor from Panama to Nicraragua. The drugs were under the false floor.
Alberto Salas Torres, a Costa Rican, and Alberto Draytón Angulo from Panamá, each got 15 years. Orlando Camacho got eight years and Marvin Chanto Méndez got 10 years. All sentences were in the Tribunal Superior in Desamparados.
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