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These stories were published Tuesday, June 3, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 108
Jo Stuart
About us
Ah. . . Ah. . . Ah. . . Ah. . . Ah. .
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The rainy season is in full swing, and that means half the population is sniffling, snorting and coughing. The rainy season head cold has gripped Costa Rica.

Despite medical explanations, colds are caused by not taking the first wave of heavy rains seriously. Hope springs eternal that the dark clouds and sheets of a downpour are mere temporary conditions.

Alas, the rainy season is with us now until December. But there are some advantages for cold sufferers.

For example, any cold victim can quickly get a seat on a bus by saying (in Spanish, of course) "Two weeks in Toronto, and all I brought back was this cough."

Naturally, a cold is a good excuse for not doing things you didn’t want to do in the first place. Dinner dates, work. And you can generate lots of sympathy.

Plus there is the advantage of taking significant quantities of nature’s cold medicine: guaro, the local sugar cane liquor.

And remember the expression: feed a cold. Calories don’t count when you have a cold. So bring on the goodies, affix the TV remote in right hand and nibble.

And while watching the television, did you ever notice that the weather is brought to you by Hall’s cough drops?

 Ah. . .


Will ICE submit to an independent audit?
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The workers at the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad have shown their strength with thousands of marchers and more than a week of strikes.

Now the government is poised to show its strength with the sharpened pencil of an auditor.

The institute, known as ICE, has worked itself into a box. A meeting of negotiators Sunday firmed up the plan that would give ICE workers all that they want if the institute submits to a detailed audit.

The semi-independent institute is concerned with the possibility that some of its jobs will go to private enterprise under the Abel Pacheco administration. The governmental monopoly also fears a free trade treaty with the United States that might undercut its power.

The strike, purportedly by its employees, has really done little to hurt day-to-day service by the company. The administration has been careful not to disrupt key services and thus generate ill will among the citizens.

The institute controls telephone service, Internet service and electrical generation and distribution. Despite the strike, normal activities continue in these areas.

The major issue of ICE workers is a $100 million bond issue the company wants the Central Bank to float on its behalf. The workers agitated in the street for the bond issue. How much of the strike is being orchestrated by the institute board of directors remains to be seen. However, Monday, government negotiators met with the board and not the representatives of the worker unions.

The claim is that the workers are striking because they know that the bond issue is vital to the future of the company and their jobs. However, the government has balked at the bond issue because some of the financial statements provided by ICE did not appear to be accurate.

The numbers were so inconsistent that Jorge 

Walter Bolaños, minister of Hacienda, the budgetary and tax collecting agency, quit.

Now a possible accord devised over the weekend at the home of Ottón Solís, the likely presidential candidate, would have the ICE operations subjected to an independent appraisal.

The Unión de Cámaras Empresariales, a business owners’ group, supported this idea after representatives met with Pacheco Monday morning. Clear, transparence and verifiable accounts was demanded of ICE in a statement released after the meeting.

The Central Bank could destroy Costa Rica’s financial reputation in the international arena if it floated bonds based on faked financials. ICE is not a strong candidate for such a bond issue because its reputation as a technologically challenged, bloated monopoly transcends the nation’s borders.

The question is will the monopoly allow outsiders to conduct a detailed audit of its operations.

A second governmental strategy is a legal one: to have the strike declared illegal. That may take some time in the Costa Rica court system.

The original $100 million bond issue has given way to a $60 million bond issue plus some $30 million in higher electrical and telephone rates.

Although ICE characterizes itself as being owned by the people of Costa Rica, many Ticos realize that the monopoly is a self-perpetuating organization that looks to its own needs first. Although Pacheco is losing some public support in the confrontation with ICE, he also is picking up support from Costa Ricans who appreciate his firmness with the monopoly.

For example, the Unión de Cámaras Empresariales called the strike unjustified and promised total support to Pacheco.

Then, too, the question remains that even if ICE is successful in forcing the Central Bank to float a bond issue, who will be anxious to purchase the notes given the disruption that preceded the issue.

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Swiss are appalled by extent of G-8 vandalism
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LAUSANNE, Switzerland — As industrialized country leaders continue to meet in Evian, France, Monday, Switzerland is still reeling from the violence of anti G-8 demonstrations.

The glass store front of Migros supermarket in downtown Lausanne is still shuttered, a day after rioting youths broke into the store. But signs pasted outside inform shoppers Migros is open for business.

Around the city located just across Lake Geneva from Evian, where the G-8 summit is being held, scars from Sunday's demonstrations are plainly visible, mostly in the form of broken windows and graffiti sprayed on walls and public signs. Local residents like Jean-Daniel Gardel said they're shocked at the violent turn of the anti-Evian demonstrations.

Gardell admits Lausanne residents should have been better prepared. After all, he said, they've all read about previous counter-G-8 protests. And Swiss especially, he pointed out, hate such disturbances.

Although tens of thousands of anti-summit protesters also marched in France Sunday, much of the violence took place in the Swiss cities of Lausanne and Geneva. In Lausanne, police rounded up hundreds of rampaging youths. In Geneva, they used rubber pellets, tear gas and water cannons against violent crowds.

Monday, the city's streets were mostly empty and there were no incidents of public disturbance reported. "I've got nothing against people manifesting if they have a good cause," said resident Barbara Lannutti, 63, who was far from happy about the violence. "And the actual manifestations weren't bad, but it's all the hooligans and bad people who come in and profit and who do all the damage."

A government spokeswoman in Geneva said the country had not witnessed such violence in several years. Besides allowing anti-summit protesters to meet and demonstrate, Switzerland also hosted the dozen developing country leaders who joined the G-8 members on Sunday. But the price-tag for playing a role in Evian has been high. Authorities estimate damage by vandals in Geneva alone at millions of dollars.

Fischel on way out
to placate strikers

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Ástrid Fischel, the minister of Educación Pública, had a meeting Monday with President Abel Pacheco and the announcement of her resignation is expected is be made at the Consejo de Gobierno meeting this morning.

She has become the focus of the striking teachers’ wrath, and a logical move by Pacheco would be to sacrifice her in order to speed up negotiations with teachers.

Regardless of the outcome of the government actions, there is little chance that the teacher strike will be solved before strikers have a chance to march along with striking communications workers Wednesday.

Teachers want their full pay, and there also is some concern about funding a pension plan. All teachers have been striking since Monday, although some teachers groups have been out since the middle of last week.  There may be as many as 45,000 teachers on strike.

The recurring problem has been the inability of the ministry to provide accurate pay to the teachers since the start of the term three months ago.

U.S. demands help
for sick dissidents

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The United States Monday demanded that Cuba provide adequate health care for a recently imprisoned dissident, Oscar Espinosa Chepe, said to be suffering from a life-threatening liver ailment and other medical problems. The State Department says others among the 75 opponents of the Fidel Castro government sentenced to prison terms in April are also ill. 

The State Department is expressing deep concern over the Cuban government's treatment of Chepe, a 62-year-old independent journalist sentenced to 20-years in prison in April on what are described here as "trumped-up" treason charges. 

In a written statement, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said Chepe is suffering from liver disease, intestinal bleeding and other symptoms of a serious medical problem, and that his family fears he may die if he is not transferred from a prison hospital to a better facility in Havana. 

The spokesman said the United States "demands" that Chepe be given adequate health care and sent to a medical facility where he can receive a level of care commensurate with his illness. 

Reeker said U.S. officials are also concerned by reports that others among those sentenced in the recent crackdown against dissidents — Raul Rivero, Marta Beatriz Roque, Jorge Olivera and Roberto de Miranda — are also ill and should get immediate access to adequate care. He said many of the 75 prisoners are being held in "inhumane" conditions with poor sanitation, contaminated water and nearly inedible food. 

Reeker said Cuba appears "to be going out of its way" to treat the prisoners inhumanely and that the Castro government should end the practice immediately and, at a minimum, allow appropriate humanitarian organizations to monitor their care. 

The Bush administration was bitterly critical of the Cuban roundup and trials of the dissidents, many of whom were accused of subversion for associating with the chief U.S. diplomat in Havana, James Cason. In mid-May, the United States expelled 14 diplomats from the Cuban U.N. mission and its diplomatic "interests section" in Washington in a move widely seen as a response to the crackdown. 

The administration has been reported considering other sanctions against the Castro government as part of a policy review that officials here say is still under way. 

Policeman slashed
while making arrest

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man suspected of robbing a lottery vendor slashed the arm of a policeman before being taken into custody.

Witnesses said that three men tried to rob the vendor Sunday night. He was identified by the last names Matarrita Hernández. He suffered a knife wound in Ipís Zetillal, Goicoechea, and was hospitalized.

Fuerza Públic officer Cristhian Mora suffered the wound trying to take into custody a 17-year-old suspect identified by the last names of Sanes Martínez.

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Intelligence-made-to-order alleged in Iraqi war
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The failure so far to discover weapons of mass destruction in Iraq has sparked controversy over the performance of Western intelligence agencies in the leadup to the war. U.S. officials and Western allies continue to insist the intelligence they got on Iraq was sound, and that the weapons cited as one of the justifications of the war will eventually be found. 

In the intelligence process, agencies collect a huge amount of information from a variety of open and covert sources, such as satellite photographs, communications interceptions, and human informants. The information is then sifted through and analyzed for its truthfulness. The finished product, which can then properly be dubbed "intelligence", is then passed on to the president and his aides for his use in determining policy. 

That is how it works in theory, anyhow. 

In the real world intelligence work is done by several different mammoth, secretive bureaucracies, of which the Central Intelligence Agency is only one, that are in competition for manpower, funds and the favor of the policymakers they serve. 

Policy is supposed to be determined on the basis of intelligence. But former CIA analyst David MacMichael says it is often the other way around, and selective intelligence is used to justify an already determined policy. 

"The intelligence process, frankly, in my experience is consumer-driven. In other words, policymakers of course want information on which they can act," he said. "But policymakers have a tendency, and I think I'm not being overly cynical in saying this, to have policies in mind which they wish to pursue. And the intelligence they prefer to receive, the information they prefer to receive, is that which supports the course on which they wish to embark." 

Intelligence analyses that do not fit that predetermined picture, he says, sometimes get sidelined. And, adds MacMichael, intelligence agencies can lose favor with policymakers and thus find themselves with smaller budgets.

"What has appeared in this is something that has been going on now for quite a number of years [and that] is the transfer of effective control of the intelligence process to the Pentagon. So there are aspects of, let's say, an institutional turf fight in this as well," he said. 

A group of 25 former intelligence officers called "Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity," of which MacMichael is a member, claims that intelligence was manipulated to justify the war against Iraq. 

Another former analyst, Ray McGovern, says that when administration officials did not like the answers they were getting from the CIA, they went elsewhere for ones more to their liking. 

"The object was to justify or to persuade Congress in order to enable the president to make a war against Iraq," he said. "So when they didn't get the right answers from the Central Intelligence Agency or even their own Defense Intelligence Agency, much to its credit, I would say, they created their own little CIA in the bowels of the Pentagon and served up that information to the president, which information was shown to be, well, the proof is in the pudding. Where's the weapons of mass destruction?" 

Bush administration officials hotly deny the charge. And a senior intelligence official who would not be quoted by name, said the intelligence community stands by the quality of its information on Iraq. He also says McGovern and the other ex-intelligence professionals cannot know the truth of the matter, since they have been out of the intelligence world for too long. 

But McGovern asserts that the fraternity of the intelligence world has bonds that carry into retirement, and that former colleagues inside the agency keep him and other intelligence veterans informed. 

Nevertheless, the failure to uncover Saddam Hussein's reported arsenal of weapons of mass destruction has prompted a review within the intelligence community about quality of the intelligence on Iraq. Intelligence officials describe it as "open-ended," saying there is no deadline by which it will be completed.

Elizabeth II marks 50th anniversary of coronation
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LONDON, England — Britain's Queen Elizabeth II marked the 50th anniversary of her coronation with a religious ceremony here Monday.

Queen Elizabeth returned to Westminster Cathedral and heard the same trumpets that played at her coronation 50 years ago.

The queen wore a primrose dress, a broad-brimmed hat and white gloves for the ceremony, which drew a congregation of about 1,000 people. Most of the royal family was there, except Prince Harry, who stands third in the line of succession. He had to take school exams.

Among the participants were 240 people who attended the 1953 coronation, as well as 34 so-called "coronation babies" who were born on June 2, 1953.

There were special prayers for Queen Elizabeth, and the Rev. Chris Chivers also made note of the queen's role as leader of the 54-nation Commonwealth, made up primarily of former British colonies.

"Oh God, who has made us members of the Commonwealth of Nations, and has banded us together under one queen, grant that we may ever be alert to our great responsibilities," he prayed.

The event was low-key compared with last year's Golden Jubilee festival for the queen's ascension to the throne on Feb. 6, 1952, following the death of her father, King George VI. Queen Elizabeth's coronation ceremony was held the following year.

After the religious service, the queen returned to Buckingham Palace to host a garden party for underprivileged children. Attractions included a 110-year-old carousel and a circus tent.

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