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These stories were published Wednesday, June 16, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 118
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When a manhole gets yanked out of the street, leaving a deep pit, there is no need to hurry up and fix it. 

A simple board will warn motorists, even if the disaster waiting to happen is in the very center of the city.
 

A.M. Costa Rica photo

 
Police grab man said to be leader of car bandits
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police call it "modalidad del bajonazo."  That’s when armed men stick a gun in the face of a stopped motorist, yank him or her out of the car and then flee with the vehicle.

The method also is extraordinarily dangerous because blood is spilled when something goes wrong.

Depending on their needs, the crooks target all types of vehicles and ambush motorists at traffic lights, driveup windows and even as they pull up to their homes.

Upscale areas like Escazú are preferred by bandits seeking late-model, expensive cars like BMWs and Mercedes.

Incidents of such crimes have been skyrocketing, so police were happy to announced Tuesday the arrest of a man they consider to be one of the leaders of the most dangerous group of car bandits in the city.

He was identified by the last names of Barboza Cordero. The arrest was made by the chief of the Unidad Contra Robo de Vehículos, according to the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

The chief, Paul Chaves, reported he had been following Cordero for several days until he made the arrest Tuesday afternoon in front of a Tibás car dealership.

Appropriately, Cordero was driving a BMW which appeared to have altered identification numbers, according to the ministry. The vehicle will be inspected. Officials said the arrested man was carrying a toy gun.

Motorists have a number of ways to protect themselves from such holdups. Being alert at stop lights is one solution, officials have said.

Some auto supply houses sell devices that turn off vehicles automatically if the operator fails to respond with a key or code when the car randomly issues a prompt.


 
Investigations will study tourism and Alex Solís
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two separate investigations of public officials were launched Tuesday.

The Asamblea Nacional voted 45-6 to empanel a commission to study the case of Alex Solís, the new contralor general de la República, the fiscal watchdog.

Meanwhile, in the executive branch, the Consejo de Gobierno, the cabinet of President Abel Pacheco, decided to set up a group to study the actions of the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo during the Luciano Pavarotti concert Jan. 31. That group will be headed by Marta Lora, secretary of the council.

The tourism institute spent $70,000 to help promote the concert, but in return, promoters gave tourism officials some 40 free tickets, some worth $100 or more each.

Pacheco has not been critical of the ticket giveaway. He praised the institute’s sponsorship

as a way to promote tourism. This study will basically determine if the co-sponsorship of the concert was within the jurisdiction of the tourism body. Rodrigo Castro Fonseca, minister of Turismo, sought the study. The Contraloría de la República was critical of the arrangement.

The investigation of the new contralor by five legislators was prompted by Humberto Arce of the Bloque Patriótico Parlamentario. He disclosed that the new contralor, Alex Solís, had signed his brother’s name to a real estate agreement and then notarized the signature as authentic. Solís admits this but said he acted with his brother’s permission.

The brother is Ottón Solís, leader of the Partido Acción Ciudadana and a likely presidential candidate.

The legislative commission will have 20 days to conduct its probe.  Another topic will be certain financial arrangements with persons who emigrated to the United States, according to a legislative summary.

 
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Marijuana makes you schizophrenic, Yale study says
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and the Yale University news service

Does smoking make you feel suspicious with a touch of schizophrenia? It may be what’s in the cigarette.

A Yale Unversity scientist says his study shows that cannabis triggers transient schizophrenia-like symptoms 

In a release from the New Haven, Conn.-based university, the researcher reported that the principal active ingredient in marijuana causes transient schizophrenia-like symptoms ranging from suspiciousness and delusions to impairments in memory and attention.

Marijuana is widely used in Costa Rica where posession of small quantities for personal use hardly ever is prosecuted.

D. Cyril D'Souza, an associate professor of psychiatry at Yale’s School of Medicine, said the study was an attempt to clarify a long known association between cannabis and psychosis in the hopes of finding another clue about the pathophysiology of schizophrenia. 

"Just as studies with amphetamines and ketamine advanced the notion that brain systems utilizing 

the chemical messengers dopamine and . . . receptors may be involved in the pathophysiology in schizophrenia, this study provides some tantalizing support for the hypotheses that the brain receptor system that cannabis acts on may be involved in the pathophysiology of schizophrenia," he said. "Clearly, further work is needed to test this hypothesis." 

D'Souza and his co-researchers administered various doses of delta-9-THC, the main active ingredient in cannabis, to subjects who were screened for any vulnerability to schizophrenia. Some subjects developed symptoms resembling those of schizophrenia that lasted approximately one half hour to one hour. 

These symptoms included suspiciousness, unusual thoughts, paranoia, thought disorder, reduced spontaneity, reduced interaction with the interviewer, and problems with memory and attention. THC also induced euphoria and increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol. There were no side effects in the study participants one, three and six months after the study. 

The findings of this study go along with several other lines of evidence that suggest a contribution of cannabis and/or abnormalities in the brain cannabinoid receptor system to schizophrenia. 


 
Letters from our readers
He likes freedom
that we exercise

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I have been reading with amusement the letters shared by your readers with respect to President Ronald Reagan. I guess what really delights me is the fact that a Costa Rican newspaper is enjoying the autonomy to host a forum on an American president on foreign soil. 

Whether or not you liked Ronald Reagan, one must admit that democracy is being exploited to its fullest when Americans, Costa Ricans, English, German, French, etc., can stand together and share their thoughts without censure or repercussions in a foreign land. Thanks for making this possible. 

John Dame
Albuquerque, NM USA
Rental law is dumb,
this reader contends

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I have just read your article regarding the new real-estate rental laws and evictions. While the article was informative I believe that you have missed the point.  That is, that the Costa Rican government has no respect for personal property and, more importantly they have no respect nor are they aware of the Law of Contracts. 

If one ever needed a good example of a government that was and is completely clueless, this legislation will fill that need.  The fact that two people, a lessor and a lessee cannot come to an agreement on their personal business affairs without interference from the government is appalling. 

One has to wonder if anyone in the legislature there in Costa Rica has even a minimal education.  They are like a bunch of children playing a grown up game. 

It is not bad enough that they interfere in private enterprise with unnecessary legislation; they have to interfere with stupid legislation.  Who on the face of this earth ever heard of a real-estate contract, or any contract for that matter, that extends beyond one year to be made orally?  Dumb, Dumb, Dumb. 

This kind of thing is why Costa Rica will always remain about 100 years behind the rest of the world. 

Nicholas C. Allen
Evergreen, Colorado


Bank president tells
about crash of fund

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The president of Banco Nacional went before a legislative committee Tuesday to explain what steps the bank took to confront a financial crisis that was triggered by a big drop in the value of a bond fund.

The bank president, William Hayden, said that bank officials provided adequate management of the bond fund decline and offered investors the opportunity to move their money from the fund to other investments offered by the bank.

The bank ran the Super Fundo, a dollar denominated fund that was invested exclusively in Costa Rican government bonds. The value of the fund was about $2.2 billion. A year ago, the fund offered investors a yield of about 14 percent a year.

Private banks aggressively sold the fund to investors based on the attractive interest rates. The fund was sold like a mutual fund with each share being worth its proportion of the value of the entire fund on any given day.

When an adjustment in the value of Costa Rican government bonds took place on the world financial markets in April, the dollar fund plummeted. Some investors lost up to 50 percent of their original investment.

Joyce Zürcher, who chaired the commission, said that the Superintendencia de Valores did not offer sufficient information about the fund. The Superintendencia is a government agency.

The commission is the Comisión Permanente de Asuntos Económicos.

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Deaths blamed on Argentine regional leaders
Murders of women spark a political house-cleaning 
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

SANTIAGO DEL ESTERO, Argentina — After a year of popular protest in the poor northern province of Santiago del Estero, Argentine President Nestor Kirchner has sent an intervention government there and placed the governor and her husband under house arrest on charges ranging from espionage to embezzlement. 

The move was sparked, in part, by the alleged complicity of politicians, judges, and businessmen in the gruesome murder of two young women there last year. The murder scandal appears to have put an end to the fiefdom that has existed in this province for the past half-century. 

Every week for the past 16 months, Younes Bshier has marched the six blocks from the Santiago del Estero cathedral to the government house, carrying a large sign stapled to a stick with a photo of a young woman with big eyes and olive skin that reads simply "Justice for Leyla." He says, "Leyla was very young and very pretty. She liked music and liked to dance with her friends, but to be a young, pretty and humble girl in Santiago del Estero is a curse." 

A curse that Bshier's 22-year-old daughter Leyla paid for with her life. In January 2003, investigators say she was murdered during a drug-fueled orgy attended by some of Santiago's most powerful people, many of whom have strong ties to long-time political boss Carlos Juárez and his wife. 

Investigators say Leyla's body was chopped to pieces and then fed to a pack of hungry pumas and buzzards housed at the personal zoo of the province's former security chief, Musa Azar. 

Authorities have varying theories as to why Leyla was at this party and why she was killed, but according to many here, these sex and cocaine parties were a regular thing for the province's elite, who often enticed women of limited means to attend. 

Soon after Leyla's disappearance, another young woman disappeared. Three weeks later police found the body of 26-year-old Patricia Villalba in thick brush in a remote area miles outside the city, but just yards away from where remains of Leyla had been discovered. 

The judges investigating the murders suspect that Patricia was tortured and killed because she knew too much about Leyla's death. In addition to the arrest of former security chief Azar, his wife, and son, several others have been detained in connection to the murder, but none has been put on trial. 

Olga Villalba cries when she thinks about her daughter. She describes Patricia as a smart and 

responsible woman who liked to share a beer with friends after work at the nearby fruit stand. 

Ms. Villalba says her stubborn refusal to let her daughter's death go unpunished helped spark the popular revolt here that lead to the federal government's intervention. She hopes the new government will bring an end to the culture of impunity that has pervaded this poor region of Argentina for so long. 

"The Juárez family and all the other corrupt people in Santiago thought that I would get tired of fighting for justice after three months, because they always win, but they were wrong," she said. They did not know what kind of mother she was. The Juárez family has ruled Santiago del Estero for the past 55 years. Carlos Juárez, now 87, was elected governor five times. His second-wife, Mercedes "Nina" Aragones, became governor in 2002. 

Now under house arrest, Carlos is under investigation for the death and disappearance of political opponents during his time in office. His wife is accused of defrauding the province's pension system. The couple, through their lawyer, declined a request for an interview. 

Cristina Torres runs the local branch of Argentina's Ministry of Human Rights. She says the gruesome nature of the girls' killings and the alleged complicity of the ruling class reminds her of Argentina's military dictatorship of the 1970s and '80s, when she was tortured and detained for seven years. 

She says these murders produced something in society that was like the years of terror. She says it would be hard to tolerate that again. 

So when the people of Santiago started to speak out, the national government listened.

Since taking office a year ago, President Nestor Kirchner has made fighting corruption and human-rights abuses his top priorities. He sent the intervention government to Santiago del Estero on April 1, and the interim governor Pablo Lanusse immediately purged the local courts and police force. 

Sophia Aguille, 50, recently joined the family members of Leyla Bshier during their weekly march for justice. This is the first time she has felt compelled to speak out against the government. She says this is historic, she has never seen this before. "The people in Santiago del Estero were totally constrained, they stayed in the house, they never spoke up. But this unfortunate tragedy with the girls has finally given the people a chance to express themselves." 

And now that the people have finally expressed their anger, they will have to turn their attention to the future and pick a new path for their province.


 
Congress asked to delay use of biometric passports
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Department of State is urging Congress to postpone a legal deadline on the adoption of more sophisticated passports because neither international nor U.S. immigration agencies are able to meet the Oct. 26 target.

Maura Harty, an assistant secretary of State, told the Senate Judiciary committee Tuesday that the technological challenges involved in introducing biometric features to passports are too great for nations to meet the 2004 deadline set by Congress in the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002.

Biometrics indicators are features that can be definitively linked to a given individual, such as fingerprints. The International Civil Aviation Organization has recommended that facial recognition technology become the preferred technology for passports. 

Facial recognition technology takes use of the standard photo identification card to a new level of sophistication. Rather than a border official comparing a face to a passport photo, a camera at the port of entry captures the traveler's image, 
 

then a computer validates the facial characteristics of the individual presenting the passport and the passport itself. 

"We face complex technological and operational issues," said Harty, explaining the problems of ensuring the readability and security of the system. "Working through these hard issues takes time." 

Harty said manufacturers have just begun producing the advanced computer chips that must be embedded in the passports, so neither the United States nor other nations have been able to produce even the first biometric passports for testing. 

Congress had wanted to require the more sophisticated passports of travelers from the 27 nations that are currently participants in the Visa Waiver Program. Lacking the biometric passport, these travelers would need a visa to travel to the United States under the 2002 law.

Sen. Orrin Hatch suggested at the hearing that nations should work to meet their goals within a one-year postponement of the deadline. He expressed concerns that a failure to increase border security through more sophisticated immigration procedures leaves the nation vulnerable.


 
U.S. pact with Australia praised as a landmark
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States-Australia Free Trade pact is a "landmark agreement" that will enhance the alliance between the two countries, putting their trade and investment relationship "on the same plane" as their longstanding political and security ties, says Josette Sheeran Shiner, deputy U.S. trade representative.

In prepared testimony delivered Tuesday to the Senate Finance Committee, Shiner said the agreement, dubbed the "Manufacturing FTA," will eliminate more than 99 percent of the tariff lines covering exports of U.S. manufactured goods to Australia on the first day the pact goes into effect. 

"This is the most significant immediate reduction in


Bush says he’ll sign 
Bahrain free trade pact

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President George Bush has notified Congress of his plans to sign the U.S.-Bahrain Free Trade Agreement within three months.

In a message Tuesday to legislators, Bush said the pact would strengthen ties with a close ally and advance the goal of establishing a U.S.-Middle East Free Trade Area  by 2013. U.S. and Bahrain officials announced completion of the trade negotiations on May 27. Bahrain is the third Arab country, following Jordan and Morocco, to negotiate a Free Trade Agreement with the United States.

U.S. law requires the president to give at least 90 days notice to Congress before signing a trade pact. Congress must approve legislation implementing the U.S.-Bahrain agreement before the pact can go into effect.

industrial tariffs ever achieved in a free trade agreement," she said.

Australia purchases more goods from the United States than from any other country, and the United States enjoys a trade surplus of nearly $7 billion, Shiner noted. "The thousands of American jobs supported by these goods exports pay an estimated 13 to 18 percent more than the national pay average," she said. 

"With the further reduction in trade barriers, we expect new opportunities for America's manufacturers, farmers, and workers. The International Trade Commission estimates that the tariff cuts alone would increase U.S. exports to Australia by about $1.5 billion yearly."

When the "Manufacturing FTA" goes into force, it will also benefit all U.S. farm exports to Australia, nearly $700 million in 2003, by eliminating duties, she said. Access for U.S. services industries will increase as well.

In addition, she said, the United States and Australia will establish a special committee to address sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) issues, a longstanding trade concern.
 

Morocco signs agreement

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick and Taib Fassi-Fihri, Morocco's minister-delegate of foreign affairs and cooperation, signed the U.S.-Morocco Free Trade Agreement in Washington Tuesday.

The U.S.-Morocco agreement will support economic and political reforms in Morocco, Zoellick said. "In Morocco, Jordan, Bahrain, and elsewhere, we are laying the building blocks that will lead to President Bush's vision of a Middle East Free Trade Area," he added. 

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Scientists on the track of coffee bean genes
By the Agricultural Research Service 
news staff

New, gourmet coffees might result from work by researchers in Hawaii. 

Agricultural Research Service scientists at the U.S. Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center and their Hawaii Agriculture Research Center colleagues are discovering more about the genetic makeup of this popular tropical crop. Their studies should benefit coffee lovers as well as coffee growers. Both research centers are located in Aiea, just outside of Honolulu. 

One of the scientists' goals is to ensure that coffee's genetic diversity, or gene pool, is preserved for the future. That's because as-yet-unknown genes in today's popular commercial coffee varieties or in their wild, uncultivated relatives might hold the key to delicious new coffees for tomorrow. 

The researchers examined coffee's genetic material, or DNA, to look for similarities and differences. Any dissimilarities among the species could be important. They could reveal interesting genes, such as ones that make some plants hardier or more disease resistant, or make their beans more flavorful. 

The researchers analyzed Coffea arabica and C. canephora, the two most widely grown coffees in the world, and C. liberica, grown commercially in the Philippines as well as in parts of Africa. Arabica is the type of coffee grown in Costa Rica.

C. arabica was about 50 percent different from C. canephora and C. liberica. These differences may explain why these species vary in their resistance to pests, for example, or thrive at disparate elevations.  Of the five C. arabica varieties studied, Catimor and Mokka Hybrid differed the most from each other — information that could eventually result in a better cup of coffee. 

USDA photo by Peggy Greb 
Plant physiologist Paul More examines coffee production on the Island of Oahu.

These studies are the most comprehensive genetic analyses to date of cultivated C. arabica coffees and the first to use a sophisticated laboratory technique called amplified fragment length polymorphism. 

The scientists' findings were reported earlier in the journal Theoretical and Applied Genetics. 


 
U.S. high court limits some overseas antitrust cases
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Supreme Court has ruled that foreign buyers cannot sue an international business in U.S. courts over price fixing unless they can demonstrate that the company's actions in the United States directly harmed them.

In an 8-0 ruling, the court overturned part of an appeals court ruling that was opposed by multinational corporations, the Bush administration and antitrust agencies in Canada, Europe and Japan as amounting to unreasonable extraterritorial reach for U.S. antitrust law.

The case, a private lawsuit brought by five companies in Australia, Ecuador, Panama and Ukraine against multinational vitamin manufacturers and distributors, does not end here, however.

With the clarification by the Supreme Court, the five foreign companies, mostly large farms that bought the vitamins for adding to cattle feed, could still pursue their claims in U.S. courts.

The five companies' private lawsuit followed the U.S. Justice Department settlement in an international price-fixing scheme by a cartel of vitamin manufacturers that resulted in U.S. criminal fines amounting to $500 million plus heavy civil penalties imposed by European governments.

At issue is an amendment to U.S. Sherman Act antitrust law called the Foreign Trade Antitrust 

Improvements Act of 1982. It sought to limit the scope of U.S. antitrust law outside the United States except for behavior that has a "direct, substantial and reasonably foreseeable effect" on domestic U.S. commerce.

The overturned appeals court decision had found that that exception applied in this case. Even assuming that foreign higher prices were independent of higher domestic U.S. prices in this case, the appeals court ruling said, the amendment’s underlying goal of deterring price fixing made the lack of connection inconsequential.

In effect, the appeals court decision said that, in a global economy, price fixing by a multinational corporation in one country can harm people in other countries.

But Justice Stephen Breyer, writing an opinion for fellow Supreme Court justices, argued that the amendment’s exception does not apply when the antitrust claim depends solely on harm done outside the United States.

"The case involves vitamin sellers around the world that agreed to fix prices, leading to higher vitamin prices in the United States and independently leading to higher vitamin prices in other countries such as Ecuador," Breyer wrote.

Breyer also wrote, however, that the five companies could still attempt to argue in a U.S. court that the foreign injury to them was not in fact independent U.S. anti-competitive behavior.


 
Survey says world has more millionaires due to economic rebound
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

NEW YORK, N.Y. — A new survey says the number of millionaires in the world grew by some 500,000 last year due to resurgent stock markets and strong economic conditions. 

The survey says about 7.7 million people were in the millionaires club by year's end. 

It also finds the assets of the world's richest people grew to nearly $30 trillion last year. The United States led the world in the number of new millionaires, posting a 14 percent increase to more than 2 million. 

U.S. investment bank Merrill Lynch and consulting company Capgemini conducted the survey. Both are involved with the U.S. stock market.


 
Southern Chile rattled by a 5.9 quake, but no injuries reported
By the  A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A strong earthquake has struck southern Chile, but there are no immediate reports of injuries or damage.  Chile's National Emergency Office says the quake, measuring 5.9 on the open ended Richter scale, hit near the coast in the southern Araucania region early Tuesday morning. 

Some areas in the region lost electricity, local reports said. 

Late Monday, a similar strength tremor shook Mexico's capital, Mexico City, and southern coastal areas, sending scared people into the streets. There apparently were no injuries or damage in that quake.


 
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