A.M. Costa Rica

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(506) 223-1327        Published Monday, June 12, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 115        E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Neighbors view the site where fire destroyed six older homes in downtown San José Saturday, just three blocks south of the Plaza de la Cultura on Calle 3. Some 12 families were displaced and one person suffered substantial burns.

A.M. Costa Rica photo

Search continues today for missing students
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Rescue workers will begin again early today the effort to find the bodies of a Kansas high school teacher and a student who were swept away at Playa Palo Seco at Parrita Saturday afternoon.

Two bodies already have been recovered from the Pacific. One was that of a recent graduate Danielle Tongier, 18, and a 17-year-old student identified as Andrew Hapstrite.
The Cruz Roja managed to rescue two students who also had been swept out by the strong current.

Cruz Roja workers were handicapped Sunday by the high surf which made launching small boats difficult.  One crew recovered the body of Hapstrite. Ms. Tongier had been found Saturday.

The students and the teacher, part of a group 
from La Bette County High School in Altamont, southeastern Kansas, had just arrived at the location Saturday when a number of students plunged into the water.

A weather alert was in effect for the Pacific, and, as is typical of most Costa Rican beaches, there were no lifeguards on duty.

The swimmers are believed to have been captured by a heavy undertow generated by the strong surf.  The area of the beach has been where four persons have died in the last two years from strong undertows.

The teacher Brett Carlson, about 26, dove into the surf in an effort to save students, reports from Kansas said.

The other students in the group came to San José Sunday night. They cut short their trip here due to the deaths and were scheduled to head home today.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, June 12, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 115

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One tropical storm down,
and 16 more to come

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and wire service reports

The first tropical storm of the year left Costa Rica mostly untouched, although there was damage in Honduras and Cuba.

The storm formed above Costa Rica in the Western Caribbean. Storms that do damage here usually form in the mid-Atlantic and come in from the east sometimes already at hurricane status.

Jeff Masters, the meteorologist at the Weather Underground, Inc., the weather service provided by A.M. Costa Rica, estimated that the storm, named Alberto, had but a 5 percent chance of reaching hurricane status.

The storm is unconsoilidated and may reach central Florida as only a rainy tropical depression, he said.

Experts at the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional feared Friday that the storm would intensify over the warm Caribbean waters off Honduras. Emergency officials issued an alert.

The Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias also said it was keeping an eye on a low pressure area off the coast of Panamá in the Pacific. That was where most of the rain originated over the weekend.

Rainfall was less than a half-inch in San José for Saturday and Sunday. The Pacific got about twice that Sunday, some eight-tenths of an inch based on readings from the institute's weather station in Liberia.

The emergency commission was worried because the bulk of the country was saturated with a week of rain. Officials cautioned residents to watch out for land slides and flooding, but there were no serious incidents reported. The weather institute said that rainfall should diminish this week in every part of the country except the south Pacific.

Alberto was located about 9 p.m. Costa Rican time at about 375 miles (604 kms.) due west of the Florida keys. The storm was moving north northeast at about 8 mph (12kph) and a gradual turn to the northeast is expected during the next 12 to 24 hours, said the U.S. Hurricane Information Center. Maximum sustained winds are at 45 mph (75 kph), well below hurricane level

The Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida, said the storm is expected to make U.S. landfall in Florida on Tuesday.

Scientists are forecasting an active hurricane season, with 17 tropical storms, nine of them hurricanes. The season began on June first and ends in November.

Residents of Mississippi and Louisiana and the U.S. government are working to rebuild and protect New Orleans and other low lying coastal areas before any new hurricanes. Last year, Hurricane Katrina devastated Louisiana and Mississippi and was blamed for more than 1,300 deaths.

Our reader's opinion

Soccer spirit misplaced,
this reader says

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I just saw another article in A.M. Costa Rica about the World Cup soccer match today, and all of the national excitement and circus that is around it.

I find the mix of sports and nationalism quite a bad one.  People get carried away, behave badly, and become ultra-nationalistic.  While it is fine and good to be proud of your country (if it deserves such pride!) sports is a reflection of the athletic ability of the players, and not a reflection of the ethics, morals, or anything else of the particular country . . . unless maybe the amount of money they can pour into training their athletes. 

What's the big deal?   You enjoy soccer?  Great!  Watch the best players from towns in your country compete, or international competitions with teams made of the best players from lots of countries.  But this pride in ones country's team is waaay overblown, and a dangerous thing.

Also, the World Soccer cup is one of the "bad guys" politically.  The setup is that countries are first matched against others in their geographical area, and then the winners compete at the end.  Well,  Israel is put together with Europe, because none of its geographical neighbors in the Middle East will agree to play them. 

So instead of disqualifying the Arab teams for unsportsman-like behavior, refusing to play with a country's team that should be in their league, Israel is penalized and so has to compete against the "superstars" in Europe, like France, Italy, Spain, Germany, where it doesn't stand a chance.  So the good players from Israel will be at home, while the Saudis and Iranians will be in Germany for the cup matches.  How unfair that is!

I won't be watching, and actually wish more people would really think about what is happening, and what the effects of it all are.  Fans go crazy, fans get drunk, people get violent.  There's not much good from it and lots of bad.

If you watch it anyway, I hope you enjoy it. At least I trust you won't go crazy.
Glen Love
Haverford, PA
and Dominical, Costa Rica
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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, June 10, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 115

Web site

Casa Presidencial is back on the Web with the daily doings of President Óscar Arias Sánchez and his executive branch team.

The site was abandoned along with a lot of other electronic-based information by the outgoing Abel Pacheco administration. As in the past, the site contains links to ministries and institutions.

 Webmasters said they will be posting some information in English, such as speeches by Arias given in that language

A.M. Costa Rica graphic

One needs a clever strategy for bold interrogators
El que dice lo que no debe escucha lo que no quiere.

“He who says what he shouldn’t may hear what he does not like.”

Today’s dicho frequently proves quite accurate.
There are often those who appear to us to be very frank and “outspoken,” but those same people are not always as prepared to hear what others have to say as they are to speak their own mind.

I have an aunt, whom I have referred to before in this column, who seems to take particular pleasure in making other people feel uncomfortable with the things that she says and her sometimes rather condescending manner. She’s one of those people who can utter the most blatant insults while maintaining a polite smile on her face. When I was a child, I didn’t understand what was going on with her, but I soon got onto the game. Now I listen and answer her carefully, but I brook none of her baloney, if you get my drift.

When one of my sisters was about to get married I remember hearing my aunt say, in her usual caustic tone: “So you’re getting married, huh?” But before my sister could respond my mother — knowing her own sister all too well — stepped in and said, “Yes, she’s getting married. And no, she is not pregnant. So just keep your sarcastic remarks to yourself.”

Of course, the aunt tried to act shocked and hurt, but my mother went on, “I know you all too well, Norma, so just let it be.” That was one time when my Aunt Norma had to back off and hold her tongue.

My own experiences with my aunt taught me much.  For one thing, I learned that if you don’t want people asking embarrassing questions, you should simply co-opt the questioning, and thereby take control of the conversation away from the insolent interlocutor.

If someone asks you something you do not wish to answer simply respond with another question, for example: “How old are you?” The answer might be

way we say it

By Daniel Soto

something like: “Why, are you looking to buy me a present?” Tell them your birthday is on such and such a date (minus the year, of course), and immediately move on to suggest a suitable gift. By this time the impertinent cretin will either be so completely confused or embarrassed that he will have forgotten all about his original question. And even if doesn’t, he will surely think twice before ever asking you your age again.
One of my favorites is: “Hey Daniel, are you staying out of trouble?” Often my response to this creative conversation starter is: “Why do you always ask me when it’s already too late?”

It’s also important not to give people too much information. Some folks like to brag about how rich they are, for example, while others who may overhear them are sometimes all too ready to relieve a braggart of his purse.

Of course, the more obvious application of today’s dicho is to the gossip. In fact, a somewhat non-literal translation of El que dice lo que no debe escucha lo que no quiere might be “He who does not wish to be gossiped about should not gossip.” Or, metaphorically speaking: “People who live in glass houses should not throw stones.”

Villalobos creditors say that trial date is set for Feb. 5
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A group of Villalobos creditors reports that a trial for Oswaldo Villalobos Camacho has been tentatively scheduled for next Feb. 5.

This is the same group that asked creditors to send e-mails to the courts and magistrates to speed up the setting of a date. 

There is no way to tell if there is a degree of judicial spite in the 2007 date. The courts are clogged, and many cases wait years before a trial takes place.

Prosecutors might also be awaiting the appearance of Enrique Villalobos Camacho, who has been a fugitive since 2002.

The group is the United Concerned Citizens & Residents. They have engaged in efforts to seek a speedy trial for Oswaldo, who faces illegal banking, fraud and money laundering charges. They also have urged creditors who have filed as victims to withdraw their allegations. They say that if Oswaldo is found innocent, the other brother will show up.

Some associated with the group have claimed that
those who maintain allegations against the Villalobos brothers will be the last to be paid when Enrique Villalobos returns to settle accounts. Others say this attitude is naive and the only person who might get some money are those who are parties to the suits.

The trial date could not be confirmed via the Poder Judicial because of the weekend.

The Villalobos high interest operation had about $1 billion on its books when Enrique Villalobos announced he was closing down Oct. 14, 2002.

Although Enrique Villalobos maintained his brother Oswaldo was not connected with the high-interest operation, prosecutors cite a study by the Judicial Investigating Organization that says he was.

Oswaldo was better known as the operator of the Ofinter S.A. money exchange company, although both brothers shared office space at the Mall San Pedro location. Ofinter, which closed the same day, had other locations around the Central Valley.

The high-interest operation paid up to 3 percent a month and appears to have been involved in the exchange of Colombian pesos for U.S. dollars.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, June 12, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 115

U.S. health chief says 766,000  Latins died of 1918 flu
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Michael Leavitt, the U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services, urged regional cooperation in preparing for a human influenza pandemic when he spoke to Central American health ministers.

At the meeting Thursday in Panamá City, Panamá, Leavitt outlined initiatives already launched to step up the region’s capability to fight infectious disease, anticipating that the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus that already has stricken much of the world soon will arrive in the Western Hemisphere.

In late 2003, the H5N1 influenza virus began appearing among birds in Southeast Asia, and since has spread to more than 50 nations, infecting wild birds, backyard poultry and commercial poultry flocks. More than 200 million birds have died or been destroyed to prevent further spread of the virus.

In 10 nations, humans also have been infected by this deadly flu, usually after close contact with ailing birds. The World Health Organization has confirmed deaths of 128 people due to H5N1, more than half of those known to have contracted the disease.

International health officials warn that the virus might mutate to become contagious among humans, a development which could set off a global influenza pandemic among humans.

Migratory birds are one means by which the virus can be transported from country to country, so officials in the Americas are bracing for the disease's arrival.

As Leavitt has traveled the United States and the world in recent months, urging pandemic preparedness, he has presented his audiences with historical facts about the effects of past pandemics, and the prospect of such episodes in the future.
“It is estimated that, in all of Latin America, about 766,000 people died during the Great Pandemic of 1918,” said Leavitt. “It was especially virulent in rural areas of Central and South America, and it touched many nations deeply.”

U.S. health officials have a long-standing working relationship with Panama’s Gorgas Memorial Institute as part of the network of worldwide disease surveillance. That relationship expanded in April, Leavitt said, when he signed an agreement with Gorgas and Panamanian health officials to step up joint activities.

“United States health experts are working with their counterparts in Panamá to enhance: surveillance capacity, laboratory testing, diagnosis, treatment and epidemiological investigations,” Leavitt said.

Other joint U.S.-Central American health initiatives noted by Leavitt include:

• The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute has a more than 75-year history of research in the region, with special knowledge of migratory bird patterns;

• The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has launched a new program with the government of Panamá to prevent the spread of disease in the poultry industry; and

• The U.S. Agency for International Development is working closely with the Pan American Health Organization on improving avian influenza preparedness.

The United States has pledged more than $360 million in international assistance to help other nations improve their capabilities to detect, contain and control infectious disease in animal and human populations.

Luxury timeshare firm gets cash to help with Papagayo project
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Denver, Colorado-based Exclusive Resorts, LLC has obtained a $72 million infusion of capital, thanks to Perry Capital LLC.

Part of the money will go toward development of the Poro Poro project on the Gulf of Papagayo, the resort company said. Exclusive Resorts is an upscale, members-only time share operation.

Founded in 1988, Perry Capital is a private
investment management firm with approximately $12 billion under management and offices in New York, London and Hong Kong.

Exclusive Resorts said the money would allow it to acquire $250 million in real estate. The company says it offers its members access to a portfolio of hundreds of luxury vacation residences in dozens of desirable destinations. With an average value of approximately $3.0 million, each residence combines the elegance of a private home with the services, amenities and conveniences of a five star resort, said the company.

Amnesty says China is an irresponsible and secretive arms exporter
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The human rights group Amnesty International says China is fast emerging as one of the world's biggest, most secretive and irresponsible arms exporters.
Amnesty says Chinese weapons sales to Sudan, Nepal and Burma have aggravated conflicts there and encouraged repressive rule in those countries.

Costa Rican President Óscar Arias Sánchez is promoting a proposed international treaty that would
require nations to be more responsible in their arms sales and to report each sale to an international registry each year.
In a new report, Amnesty accuses China of shipping tens of thousands of rifles and grenades to Nepal's security forces. It also says Beijing has exported hundreds of military trucks to Burma and Sudan.

The London-based group says China's arms exports, estimated to exceed $1 billion a year, often involve the exchange of weapons for raw materials to fuel the country's rapid economic growth.

China rarely confirms sales of military equipment — a policy that has compounded U.S. concerns about Beijing's military buildup and what Washington says is a lack of transparency in its defense policies.

Jo Stuart
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