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These stories were published Monday, June 17, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 118
Jo Stuart
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Costa Rica is establishing itself as a major wedding center be the ceremony for bride & groom, bride & bride, or groom & groom.

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New York moves against online gaming credit
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In an action with high significance for Costa Rica’s online gambling industry, New York State’s attorney general has pulled the plug on a high percentage of credit cards.

Attorney General Eliot Spitzer announced Friday that Citibank has agreed to block online gambling transactions with its credit cards. The move by Citibank, the nation’s largest credit card issuer, is expected to significantly reduce illegal internet gambling, according to a release from the Attorney General’s Office

"Americans now waste $4 billion a year on this pernicious form of gambling," Spitzer said. "With this agreement, we will cut off an enormous line of credit that was a jackpot for illegal offshore casinos."

Under the agreement, Citibank will block transactions that are identified by casinos and web sites as online gambling. These transactions are important because internet gamblers can, and usually must, bet on credit. 

Many gamblers also use online clearance companies like PayPal. To do so they need to link a credit card with their account. It was unclear if the attorney general would be going after this type of company.

In New York, as in most states, the promotion of unauthorized betting and gambling is illegal, whether it occurs online or off. 

However, Internet gambling businesses usually operate offshore in foreign locations, beyond the enforcement power of local authorities, so that they can avoid prosecution, the attorney general’s office noted.

At least 35 such companies operate in Costa Rica, and they employ a number of English-speaking Costa Ricans and North Americans. A significant blow to these companies would be felt throughout the Costa Rican economy.

Spitzer has been aggressive in attacking online gambling and in 1999 even won a New York State court decision that even though an 
off-shore company was located in Antigua it still was subject to New York laws.

Noting that it is often difficult to prosecute online casinos operating in violation of New York and U.S. law, Spitzer said it was essential that financial entities, including banks, credit card associations, and other payment and processing services, do everything in their power to avoid facilitating these illegal and harmful transactions. 

While there have been several law enforcement actions combating online casinos, Spitzer’s agreement with Citibank is the first case to address financial entities that process gambling transactions. 

In addition to imposing blocking mechanisms that will reject transactions coded as gambling, Citibank has agreed to make payments to organizations that combat compulsive gambling and aid those affected by it, and will pay $100,000 in costs to the State of New York. 

Although Spitzer and his aides praised Citibank in the Friday announcement, The New York Times reported Sunday that the attorney general threatened to prosecute the credit card company as a co-conspirator in violating the state’s gambling laws if it did not stop the use of credit cards for online gambling. The $100,000 payment was part of the deal to avoid prosecution, the Times said.

U.S. team beats Mexico
in World Cup soccer

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

JEONJU, Korea — The U.S. national team defeated Mexico 2-0 this morning in a second round World Cup Match. 

Brian McBride drilled in a goal in the first period and Landon Donovan headed in the final point in the second period. Despite ball dominance, Mexico could not put the ball past the "Human Wall’ Brad Friedel, the goalie who made some spectacular saves.

The final period was rough with a flurry of yellow cards and a red card and expulsion for Mexican player Rafael Marquez, who smashed Cobi Jones in the face with his head.

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Costa Rica rapidly becoming world wedding capital
By Patricia Martin
A.M. Costa Rica travel editor

In Granny’s day, elopement suggested a couple running off to get married in secret, more than likely without parental approval. Further, the occasion was usually devoid of dream dust, unless a jiffy ceremony in a Las Vegas wedding factory constituted someone’s idea of a fantasy. 

How times have changed. Elopements still entail running away, but to an exotic spot like Costa Rica, which has become a preferred destination for North Americans tying the knot away from home. And forget about secrecy. Friends and family are not only in the know. Chances are they’re tagging along with the couple. 

The person responsible for cultivating this nuptial niche in Costa Rica is Aimee Monihan, whose Tropical Occasions company now boasts close to 100 events in the past few years, all of them deliciously romantic. Costs for an event hosting 30 guests span the $5,000 to $10,000 range, while an economy package for bride and groom alone is offered at $2,300. 

Rather than impose her own ideas and prices, Aimee first determines the clients’ budget and their notion of a dream wedding, then waves her wand and makes the magic happen. A listing of services and options can be found on the Web site www.tropicaloccasions.com

Getting back to dear old Granny, she’d probably drop her dentures to learn that the bride & groom may even be bride & bride, or groom & groom. Same-sex commitment ceremonies seem to be flourishing with society’s increased acceptance of gay/lesbian lifestyles, although the ceremony itself does not bear the legality of a male and female union. 

"I treat all love relationships with equal care and respect, and their ceremonies reflect that," professes Aimee, who holds credentials from the American Association of Bridal Consultants, and a degree in hotel and restaurant management from Colorado State University. After the wedding, a same-sex couple is referred to the International Commitment online site to register their contract, while a traditional male/female pair need only go to their country’s embassy in Costa Rica to file their wedding documents. 

"It’s advisable for gays and lesbians to follow up with that registration," the wedding specialist feels, "because in the U.S. many states have a domestic partnership policy which allows certain rights or privileges usually afforded a husband and wife. When the newlyweds return home, they can then consult their own lawyer." 

Any Tico lawyer is empowered to perform weddings in this country between men and women. Aimee prefers to work with Marcello Galli, who also acts as the company’s business manager. For Jewish weddings, only Orthodox ceremonies are offered by the resident Costa Rican rabbi, but people are free to bring along their own rabbi if they wish a different kind of religious rite.

Aimee sums up the appeal of elopement, Costa Rican style: 

"Weddings back home have become too much of a stale formula, lacking in imagination. But worse, they can be a big hassle and expense, leaving the 

NEXT Media photo
Spectacular Costa Rican vistas add to the impact of the ceremony. All photo subjects are former clients of Tropical Occasions.
NEXT Media photo
Sometimes the happy couple are two grooms

couple and their families stressed as they try to take care of hundreds of details. What I offer them is something incredibly romantic in a gorgeous setting — mountaintop, waterfall, seashore, butterfly garden, on a beach, or in a rainforest — the choice is theirs. 

"This entire country is a marvel of nature. And I handle every single detail, including the ceremony, wedding cake, feast, flowers, pre-wedding spa and hair treatments, along with digital photography by my artistic colleague, Fernando Edwards Carcamo. All the couple has to do is show up!"

Show up they do, in growing numbers, grateful to have everything in place so that they can fully relax and enjoy the grand event. "Best of all, they’re already at the honeymoon site," Aimee stresses, "instead of racing off to an airport after the wedding in a state of fatigue, as they would in their own hometown." 

Most couples bring along a small number of guests to share in Costa Rica’s nature tours and adventures, but Aimee Monihan is adept at handling a guest list in the hundreds. 

Coordinating the myriad aspects of these events, the Seattle, Wash., native who now lives in Quepos, maintains an air of tranquility that’s an acquired survival skill. Spend an hour with her in the office, and you’ll witness someone wresting order from chaos, fashioning dreams out of dilemmas. 

She’s talking Spanish into one phone, English into another, while her fax machine grinds away and her fingers tap out e-mails to clients, florists, designers, chefs and hotel managers. "That’s right — 11 more people are coming at the last minute! Start building a new wing," she laughs. 

"There are always snags to work out," confesses the attractive, young president of Tropical Occasions, "but its important for me to stay calm and pass that feeling along to everyone I work with, and certainly to the clientele I’m serving." 

"In the end, everything always turns out beautifully and right on time. This is what I’m trained for — to orchestrate all the elements into an ideal presentation. It gives me personal satisfaction to see a couple so happy and carefree at their wedding."

Depending on the client’s wishes, the wedding and honeymoon venue may be anything from a fashionable seaside resort to a storybook country inn, or a secluded nature lodge with monkeys and iguanas in attendance. 

Flexibility is an important feature of Tropical Occasions, said Aimee, alluding to a recent beach wedding that was rained out, but easily re-scheduled for the next clear day. No one will ever be disappointed on their special day, she promises.

Those ready to say "I do" the Costa Rican way should look up www.tropicaloccasions.com, or www.costaricapages.com/gayweddings, or e-mail costaricawed@yahoo.com

The (506) numbers to call are 377-6004 (cell phone), 777-2521 (Quepos office tel/fax), and 273-4336 (branch office in San José.) 

If Granny’s still around, she may want to get in on the elopement trend herself, giving Gramps something to fret about. Look up the antiquated meaning of "elope," and you’ll see that it also referred to a woman running away from her husband with (gasp!) a lover. 

Just 30 years ago it was a petty little break-in
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Exactly 30 years ago today what first appeared to be a minor office break-in set the stage for the greatest political scandal in American history. 

A band of burglars working for President Richard Nixon's re-election committee broke into Democratic Party Headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington. The break-in and subsequent cover-up eventually forced Nixon to become the first president to resign from office and instilled a deep sense of cynicism in the American public. 

At first, the Watergate scandal appeared to be a minor annoyance for President Nixon, who won a second term by a landslide in November1972. But as revelations emerged about White House attempts to cover up knowledge of the Watergate break-in, Richard Nixon's presidency began to unravel.

White House aide John Dean told Congress that the president himself was deeply involved in the cover-up. "I began by telling the president that there was a cancer growing on the presidency and if the cancer was not removed, the president himself would be killed by it," he said.

It was the release of White House tape recordings that eventually proved to be Richard Nixon's undoing. Revelations that he stopped the FBI from investigating the break-in undermined his support in Congress and forced him to become the first U.S. president to resign from office on Aug. 9, 1974.

"I have never been a quitter," the president said. "To leave office before my term is completed is abhorrent to every instinct in my body. But as president, I must put the interests of America first."

Nixon's successor, Gerald Ford, immediately sought to heal the wounds of Watergate. "My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over," he said. "Our Constitution works. Our great republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here, the people rule."

But historians say the damage was already done.

"Watergate remains the most notorious, the most widespread and the best known scandal in all of American history," said Allan Lichtman, a presidential historian at the American University in Washington. "The legacy of Watergate is that we 

have to be very, very careful to protect our basic rights as Americans and the sanctity of our political system."

In his later years, Richard Nixon sought to mute the impact of Watergate on his presidential legacy by writing books about world affairs. But Allan Lichtman says Nixon and Watergate will be forever linked in history.

"Historians will always talk about the Alpha and the Omega of the Nixon administration," he said. "The tremendous corruption of Watergate, the twisted mind of a president who thought so often more about his own power than he did about the good of the American people. And yet on the other hand, a president who made significant breakthroughs in relations with China, in disarmament treaties with the Soviet Union, in enlightened environmental polices here at home."

In addition to prematurely ending Richard Nixon's political career, Watergate ushered in a new era of public cynicism about politicians and the trustworthiness of government.

"Well, Watergate coming right after the 'credibility gap' and all the problems of the [President Lyndon] Johnson era during Vietnam really shook deeply the faith Americans have in their government," said historian Lichtman. 

"It was somewhat restored, ironically, after the 9-11 attacks. But I think the legacy of Watergate continues to reverberate over the generations. And I think the legacy continues to be that Americans have to be very vigilant and very careful and can't automatically trust the integrity of any public official, including the president."

The day he resigned, Richard Nixon sought to boost the spirits of White House aides who had gathered to wish him farewell. But in a twist of irony, he also touched on a weakness that supporters and detractors alike believe was a major factor in his downfall.

He said, "always give your best. Never get discouraged. Never be petty. Always remember, others may hate you, but those who hate you don't win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself." 

Richard Nixon died on April 22, 1994, after suffering a severe stroke. He was 81 years old.

Chicago man mugged
in downtown street

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Chicago, Ill., man has joined the long list of North Americans and English-speakers who have been mugged by a band of robbers who operate along Avenida 1 between Calle 5 and 9.

The robbers seem to operate without any official interference and have mugged about 50 North Americans and perhaps twice that many Costa Ricans in the last year.

The latest victim is Alex Weiland, who was walking along Calle 5 Thursday night about 9:30 p.m., just north of the Avenida Principal pedestrian boulevard. He said his goal was to get a sandwich. He said that he saw very little when someone came up behind him and put him in a choke hold that quickly rendered him unconscious.

"I sort of feel lucky I wasn’t hurt," Weiland, 55, said, noting that he suffers from a heart condition. He said the robbers got 32,000 colons and a cheap watch. That’s about $90.

The tourist said he spent time in Costa Rica in the past without incident. He arrived June 11 for this vacation.

Like most of the English speakers mugged in the area, he did not report the incident to police, although he told the manager of his downtown hotel. He did contact A.M. Costa Rica, which has been the only publication— Spanish- or English-language —  reporting on the muggings.

Weiland described himself as a small man, about 5-foot, 4-inches tall and about 165 pounds. He said other pedestirans were on the street when he began to walk north but he saw no one on the street when he regained consciousness.

Officials in charge of robbery investigatiosn say that such crimes actually have decreased in the downtown and said they see no reason to step up patrols. They urge pedestirans not to walk in the area alone.

A police presence usually is maintained on the pedestrian mall, but the side streets and Avenida 1 are patrolled at intervals. Merchants in the area believe they have seen the muggers awaiting a new victim on street corners and in doorways. The robbers usually only work on Friday and Saturday nights. A Thursday mugging like that of Weiland is unusual. And they do not work late, perhaps from 6:30 p.m. to about 10 p.m.

The area is frequented by North Aemricans because many of the tourist bars, casinos and clubs are in the area. 

Another offshore quake
hits southern zone

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Yet another earthquake, this one at a magnitude of 6.2, took place off the west coast of Costa Rica about 8:46 p.m. Saturday.

The U.S. National Earthquake Information Center said the center of the quake was about 140 kms (90 miles) southwest of San José.

A 4.6 magnitude earthquake took place off the Pacific coast about 11:20 p.m. Wednesday in nearly the same spot. A 4.4 magnitude quake took place nearby about 11 a.m. June 7.

The latest quake was at a depth of about 33 kms or 20 miles, the same depth as the other two quakes.

Costa Rica marking
fight against aridity

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Today is the World Day against Desertification, and Costa Rica is marking its continual fight against the problem.

The country has many vulnerable lands, according to Renato Jeménez, a specialist in soils for the Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería.  Costa Rica has a double problem, he noted, because it is a country with a lot of rainfall. The non-productive and barren land becomes heavily eroded during the heavy rains, he noted. 

Some spots on the Nicoya Peninsula, the area around Puriscal, Turrubares, Acosta, Los Santos. Peréz Seledón and Coto Brus all have areas where the land has been degraded, said the ministry.

Marchers demand
Chavez resignation

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — Thousands of Venezuelans have taken to the streets of Caracas to call for the resignation of President Hugo Chavez and demand justice for deadly rioting during a short-lived coup in April. 

The marchers carried banners Saturday with anti-Chavez slogans. More than 1,000 police were deployed throughout the capital. No incidents were reported. Government supporters held a counter-march in the central city of Maracay. 

In April, President Chavez was ousted for two days during a military rebellion. Some 17 people were killed in rioting leading up to the coup. 

President Chavez has since called for national reconciliation. He also called for unity in the military and urged Venezuelans to ignore rumors saying another coup attempt is imminent.

Chirac wins majority
in French parliament

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

PARIS, France — French President Jacques Chirac's conservative coalition has won a resounding victory in the second round of parliamentary elections. 

As expected, the center-right scooped up about 400 of the 577 National Assembly seats, according to initial results announced shortly after the last voting booths closed at 8 p.m. local time. Most of the seats went to President Jacques Chirac's new Union for the Presidential Majority, giving the center-right an absolute majority in parliament.

The abstention rate on this rare sunny day was estimated as high as 38 percent, a possible record high in modern France.

The leftist coalition, which swept the 1997 legislative elections, scored only about 187 seats, with most going to the Socialist Party. But the beleaguered Communist Party, which was predicted to emerge with few seats, rallied and landed 25.

As in the 1997 elections, the far-right National Front Party of Jean-Marie Le Pen did not win a single seat in the National Assembly. The result marks a disappointing setback for Mr. Le Pen, who shocked France by placing second in the first round of presidential elections, in April. Chirac soundly defeated Le Pen in last month's runoff.

The second round results mark yet another victory for center-right Chirac, who spent much of his first term at odds with a leftist prime minister and parliament. 

Critics say he did little of significance during his first term as president. Now he has five years to prove himself. The new parliament is expected to meet in an extraordinary, month-long summer session starting July 2. 

Friends remember
Norma Juliet Wikler

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

About 45 friends of Norma Juliet Wikler gathered last week at a local hotel to remember her and her life.

She was a former president of Democrats Abroad of Costa Rica and also of the Costa Rican Hiking Club. She also was known as a political activist.

She died May 27 in Costa Rica. She took her own life while on a visit here from her current home in New York, said a friend.

Ms. Wikler, 60, had been a professor of sociology at the University of California-Santa Cruz. She moved to Costa Rica in 1992 and was involved in a number of projects in the community of Rincón de Salas de Grecia where she lived and in the production of organically grown pineapples for export. 

Following a cremation at Jardines del Recuerdo, her remains were carried by her sisters Marjorie and Jeanne to Lexington, Ky. for a family burial, according to a friend close to the family.

In addition to her two sisters, Ms. Wikler is survived by her mother, a brother Daniel and six nieces and nephews.

"Her friends and colleagues here and in the United States will greatly miss her energy, intelligence and passion for human rights and social justice," said a friend.

Cuba to declassify
missile crisis books

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

HAVANA, Cuba — Cuba's vice president says Havana will declassify government documents about the 1962 Cuban missile crisis on the 40th anniversary of the incident in October. 

Jose Ramon Fernandez gave no further details in making the announcement Thursday. 

A conference in Havana on Oct. 11 and 12 will mark 40 years since the missile crisis, a major confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. 

The United States and the Soviet Union were on the brink of nuclear war after Washington learned about a buildup of Soviet missiles in Cuba. The crisis was defused when Moscow complied with U.S. demands that the missiles be removed.

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