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These stories were published Tuesday, June 17, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 118
Jo Stuart
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If you thought rain was heavy, you were correct
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica’s rainy season is heavier than normal, at least as far as statistics for May are concerned. And long-time residents say that June appears to be even worse.

In May there were an average of 18 days when it rained, compared to the average of 15 days, according to computations based on data from the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional. And the total rain was about 25 percent more.

The weather bureau figures are based on measurements from 22 locations all over Costa Rica. The places with the most days of rain in May were Río Claro in southwest Costa Rica with 26 days and Atenas with 25 days of measurable precipitation. Sarchí and Grecia had 23 days. That’s higher than the historical average of 17 days for Atenas and Grecia and 18 for Sarchí.

But the prize for the most total rain goes to Quepos with 632.1 millimeters of rain, some 233.4 millimeters more than the average of 398.7. A millimeter is .04 of an inch, so Quepos got hit with 25.28 inches of rain in May.

May rainfall for all 22 locations in Costa Rica averaged out to 348 millimeters or nearly 14 inches. The historical average for the 22 locations is 280.23 millimeters or about 11.2 inches.

Of course, not all locations got an excessive dose of rain. Nicoya had rain only six days instead of the usual 14 during May. So the Guanacaste town only got 127.8 millimeters of rain, according to the weather bureau. That’s a little more than five inches. The normal May rainfall there is 269.6 millimeters or about 10.75 inches.

The location with the least amount of rain in May was La Guinea, between Liberia and Nicoya. Some 112.8 millimeters ( 4.5 inches) fell there, less than half the historical average.

Residents of the Central Valley said that the aggravating factor of this rainy season is the daily afternoon rainfalls. 

Actually for three days late last week no serious rain fell in San José, but the perception of daily downpours remain.

And that seems to be the forecast for today. The instituto said another tropical wave has hit Costa Rica and that the rain would intensify over most of the whole territory. 

The predictions are for such heavy rain that the instituto has renewed its warnings of possible floods, landslides and rivers out of their banks.

Japan threatens to walk out of whaling summit
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The International Whaling Commission has opened its annual meeting under the threat of a Japanese walkout if the group adopts a measure to improve protection of whales. Anti-whaling countries at the gathering in Berlin have already won an early battle against pro-whaling nations like Japan. 

At stake is a proposal aimed at beefing up the protection of whales and reinforcing an international ban against whaling. It is called the Berlin initiative and is supported by the United States, most European Union nations and such countries as Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. 

Japan, Norway and Iceland tried to remove the initiative from the conference's agenda but failed. They claim the measure is aimed at eventually eliminating whale hunting, which they assert is a centuries-old tradition among members of their coastal communities and, also, important for scientific research. 

As she opened the conference, Germany's agriculture minister, Renate Kuenast, urged delegates to help protect whales and dolphins for future generations. She says that once people used to be afraid of nature, now they are afraid for nature. 

The Berlin initiative, sponsored by 18 of the International Whaling Commission's 50 members, calls for the organization to set up a 

conservation panel that could recommend protective measures against such dangers as marine mammals being caught up in fishing nets, toxins in the oceans, or the use of sonar — all of which, environmentalists say, threaten whales with extinction. 

But Japan, Norway and Iceland, supported by some African and Caribbean countries, strongly oppose the idea. 

The International Whaling Commission imposed a moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986. Norway has simply ignored the ban. Japan has secured itself an exemption to conduct what Japanese officials call research hunts that help gauge the impact of whale herds on fisheries stocks and provide data on their migration patterns. But environmentalists say the research hunts kill hundreds of whales every year. 

Critics say the Japanese program is commercial whaling in disguise because the meat from the slaughtered whales ends up in Japanese restaurants, where it is considered a delicacy. 

Iceland is seeking the same kind of exemption as that enjoyed by Japan. 

If the anti-whaling forces have their way, Japan has threatened to stop its payments to the organization or simply walk out. For its part, Iceland says it will resume hunting whales commercially if the Berlin initiative is approved. 

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Vouchers pushed to give parents more control over local schools
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Libertarian members of the Asamblea Nacional are using the four-week-old strike by teachers as a reason to push their plan for educational vouchers instead.

The party members noted in a release from the assembly that youngsters in private schools have not missed a single hour of class and that the teachers there are getting paid.

The Movimiento Libertario has proposed the use of vouchers so that parents could pick the school their children attend and have real power when dealing with school administrators.

Meanwhile, the strike by public school educators continues and a march to Casa Presidencial is planned for today. And it has become obvious that a Sala IV constitutional court ruling that public school children must have 200 days of classes is falling by the wayside.

Teachers and the government have been fighting over exactly how payment would be made for the 200 days of class. Originally the government had planned and budgeted for fewer days.

The issue of the 200 days did not cause the strike but now that teachers are marching, the issue is one of the points they hope to win.

Pensions are another major concern. The teachers have proposed retirement with full pay after 30 years of employment. They want a retirement option at 25 years with three-quarter pay.

The strike grew from the Ministerio de Educación Pública’s inability to provide teachers with correct paychecks. Some got no pay. Others got too much. Computer errors and sabotage were blamed for the problems.

But as demands for a strike grew, teachers added more points to argue. Monday night the government said it could not meet the demands.

Fencing operation
raided in Barrio Cuba

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators Friday busted up what they said was a major fencing operation in Barrio Cuba.

One man, Abraham Bonino, underwent arrest, said agents. He was at the location which was a storage area filled with household appliances, televisions, stereo equipment and other items that the investigators said came from burglaries.

While agents were making the raid, two men pulled up in a car, and they were held for questioning.

Agents said that the appliances, computers, VCRs and such were products of crimes all over the Central Valley. Some seem to come from breakins where thieves forced open the bars around homes when no resident is present.

Aircraft deliverymen
arrested near cocaine

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública  agents grabbed three men when they landed Sunday in southern Costa Rica, and they said the men were there to pick up a big cocaine shipment.

The three men were Mexican, as was the registration of the two-engine light plane on which three of the men arrived.  They were identified by their last names as García González, 42,  and Vergara Nery and Solís Jilerrol, both 39.

The plane landed at a private strip in Finca 18 in  Palmar Sur, Osa Canton, said a release from the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

In a nearby dwelling police found 19 packages of 20 kilos each ready to be loaded on the plane. That is a total of 380 kilos or 836 pounds.

As the police raided the dwelling, two men fled, and a man with the last names of Hernández Martínez underwent arrest a short distance away.

Artist of the people
subject of exhibition

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Costa Rican artist who captured scenes from everyday life will be featured starting Thursday at the Museos del Banco Central beneath the Plaza de la Cultura.

The artist is Jorge Gallardo, who died in  2002.

He painted vendors, people conversing in the street, dancers, the nuclear family, the poor and the dispossessed, according to a release from the bank. The show runs until Oct. 19.

By 1968, the artist was injecting religious fervor into his works from a Catholic point of view, said the museum.

The museum also has produced a 128-page book or catalogue of the exhibition. The Banco de San José coproduced the book.

The museum is open Tuesdays to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. On Wednesdays admission is free for Costa Rican residents. 

Uribe will visit here

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Alvaro Uribe will arrive Thursday for an official visit to Costa Rica. He will be accompanied by a delegation of businessmen for local meetings and sessions with president Abel Pacheco and Chancellor Roberto Tovar Faja.

Car hijackers are back

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Car hijackers are back in business. A 25-year-old man suffered a gunshot wound Sunday night when men intercepted him as he drove through Colima de Tibás Sunday night. The man, identified by the last name of Azofeifa, suffered a wound to the cheek.


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Cuban jails not for the faint of heart, activist finds
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Pro-democracy activists jailed by the regime of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro are systematically subjected to harsh and life-threatening prison conditions, according to first-hand accounts smuggled out of Cuba by relatives of incarcerated dissidents.

A recent news report — which appeared in several major U.S. newspapers, including The Washington Post and The Miami Herald — offers vivid details of prison life in Cuba, as described by dissident journalist Manuel Vazquez Portal. Vazquez, one of 75 Cuban activists arrested in March during a crackdown on dissidents that was widely denounced around the world, kept a diary that his wife secretly removed while visiting him at Boniato Prison about 60 miles from Havana. The diary's contents were later released to the international media.

The presence of rats, cockroaches and scorpions, according to Vazquez, is but one example of the lack of sanitation in his tiny (1-1/2 meters wide by 3 meters long, or 5 feet by 10 feet) prison cell. That cell, he said, contains a metal cot with a thin, hard, filthy mattress — no pillow, no blanket — and "a Turkish [hole-in-the-ground] toilet with no running water . . . that regurgitates stench 24 hours a day." The barred window, "through which enters the sun's rays, the rain, the insects," Vazquez added, has "no mosquito screen."

Above the primitive toilet is "a spigot that provides water for bathing and drinking," Vazquez recorded. He said that he receives three meals a day, yet the food is so bad it is "indescribable." His testimonial could not be independently verified, since foreign reporters and representatives of human rights organizations are refused access to prisons on the Communist-run island.  But fellow activist Elizardo Sanchez vouched for the accuracy of Vazquez's statement. Sanchez, who served four years in the same prison during the 1980s for disseminating what the Castro regime refers to as "enemy propaganda," pronounced the story "authentic."

A co-founder — along with writer and journalist Raul Rivero — of the independent Cuba Press Agency, Vazquez was sentenced to 18 years in prison after a summary trial. Rivero was given a 20-year prison sentence.

The State Department's 2002 Human Rights Report, issued in March 2003, also documents the brutal conditions that prevail in Cuba's prison system. Prisoners, "both common and political, often were subjected to repeated, vigorous interrogations designed to coerce them into signing incriminating statements, to force collaboration with authorities, or to intimidate victims," the State Department said. "Some endured physical and sexual abuse, typically by other inmates with the acquiescence of guards, or long periods in punitive isolation cells."

On May 10, 2002, "political prisoner Carlos Luis Diaz Fernandez informed friends that he had been held in solitary confinement since January 2000 in a cell with no electric light and infested by rats and mosquitoes," the Department noted in its report. Moreover, the State Department argued, many such violations of human rights occurred — and continue to occur, unchecked — in Cuba. On June 20, 2002, "a guard at Las Ladrilleras Prison in [Cuba's] Holguin Province instructed a common prisoner to beat political prisoner Daniel Mesa," the department said. "Mesa reportedly suffered brain damage as a result of the attack."

The Cuban government "regularly failed to provide adequate nutrition and medical attention, and a number of prisoners died during the year [2002] due to lack of medical attention," the State Department added. Human rights monitoring organizations, the Department said, "have reported the widespread incidence in [Cuban] prisons of tuberculosis, scabies, hepatitis, parasitic infections, and malnutrition."

Unsanitary practices appeared to be rampant, the State Department concluded. For instance, "political prisoner Osvaldo Dussu Medina reported that inmates in Boniato Prison were forced to wash 

their clothes in water contaminated with feces and urine from a broken sewer pipe," the Department said. "Prison authorities had been aware of the contamination for two years, but did nothing to remedy the situation."

Meanwhile, the State Department issued two separate press notices in June 2003, expressing concern about the health of several dissidents seized in March and urging the Cuban government to provide medical care promptly to ailing prisoners. Martha Beatriz Roque, age 57, is believed to be the only woman arrested during the most recent crackdown against dissidents in Cuba; since her incarceration, she has been denied "the level of medical attention that she needs," the Department said.

Secretary of State Colin Powell, during his June 8-10 visit to Chile and Argentina, also highlighted the Castro regime's human rights abuses. At a Santiago press briefing on June 8, Powell applauded the June 5 decision of the European Union (EU) to restrict travel of its officials to Cuba. The EU's action, signaling strong disapproval of Castro's latest crackdown on pro-democracy activists, is perceived by most analysts as a severe diplomatic blow to the 76-year-old dictator who has ruled his nation since 1959.

The Castro regime was roundly criticized not only for its jailing of activists, but for the April execution of three men who hijacked a boat in an attempt to escape the country. The men were tried and convicted in just three days, and executed immediately after being condemned to death. No appeals process was permitted. Following "the deplorable actions" of the regime against dissidents in March and would-be defectors in April, the EU said, it has unanimously decided to re-evaluate its relations with Cuba. In addition to limiting the travel of EU officials to the island, the EU announced that it will reduce the profile of EU ambassadors at Cuban cultural events, invite Cuban dissidents to EU national-day celebrations, and strengthen EU ties to Cuban dissidents in general.

Powell mentioned the case of prominent Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya. Paya is the lead organizer of the Varela Project, which aims to introduce free elections and other democratic reforms to Cuba. Taking advantage of a clause in Cuba's Communist constitution that allows citizens to seek a national referendum if they can collect 10,000 signatures, Paya and other opposition leaders delivered a petition with 11,020 signatures to the Cuban National Assembly, demanding election reforms. The Cuban government has ignored the petition.

Paya has been showered with international accolades, however. In December 2002, he was awarded the Sakharov Prize, the EU's top human rights award. Named after the late Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, the prize is bestowed annually on people who defend human rights and democracy. 

Departing from Cuba on Dec. 14 to collect the Sakharov Prize, Paya then embarked on a 48-day world tour that took him to several countries — including Spain, Italy, Mexico, the United States and the Czech Republic — where he sought endorsement of the Varela Project. During his tour, he met with Pope John Paul II in Rome, Secretary of State Colin Powell in Washington, leaders of Cuba's exile community in Miami, and Mexican President Vicente Fox in Mexico City. Heartened by the response to his efforts, Paya said: "The world's reception to the Varela Project is a solidarity message supporting the Cuban people and their right" to peaceful democratic change.

If the international spotlight has shielded Paya from Castro's worst excesses, comparable attention must be focused on the plight of other Cuban dissidents, a State Department official asserted. The diary of imprisoned journalist Vazquez, and similar documents smuggled out of Cuban jails by prisoners' relatives, are a harrowing reminder of the dissidents' vulnerability. Family members "take a risk in publishing" these accounts, the official said. He noted that Vazquez's wife, Yolanda Huerga, has already said that she expects reprisals from the Castro regime for telling her husband's story to the press.

Hemispheric anti-terrorism treaty enters into force
Special to A.M. Costa Rica 

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A U.S.-supported inter-American treaty against terrorism is about to go into effect, says the Organization of American States.

A week ago a sixth country, Nicaragua, ratified the Inter-American Convention Against Terrorism, which aims to prevent, punish, and eliminate terrorism. Six member nations of the organization were needed to ratify the treaty before it could go into force in 30 days.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has praised the organization for producing the first international treaty since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States "targeted at improving our ability to combat terrorism." Powell said that "more than ever before, the Americas stand together today against terrorism and for democracy. There can be no doubt of our resolve."

Powell, who signed the treaty for the United States in June 2002, also applauded improved inter-American cooperation in intelligence sharing and other areas since the Sept. 11 attacks.

At his confirmation hearing June 3 to be U.S. permanent representative to the OAS, John Maisto said the adoption of "this major international treaty" against terrorism "defies the conventional wisdom that the OAS is long on words and short on action."

Maisto said the treaty "elaborates for regional use a broad variety of legal and practical tools against terrorism and is consistent with, and builds upon, previous counter-terrorism instruments and U.N. Security Council Resolution 1373, which mandates certain measures to combat terrorism."

The U.S. State Department's "Patterns of Global Terrorism" report for 2002, released in April, said that international terrorist groups "have not hesitated to make Latin America a battleground to advance their causes elsewhere." 

As two well-known examples, the Department pointed to the bombings in Buenos Aires of the Israeli embassy in 1992 and the Argentine-Jewish Cultural Center in 1994. Those bombings have been linked to the Lebanon-based terrorist group Hezbollah, which the Department says has raised money through criminal enterprises such as drug and arms trafficking in several Latin American countries.

The Department said the treaty will improve regional cooperation against terrorism through exchanges of information, training, technical cooperation, and mutual legal assistance.

Nicaragua Foreign Affairs Minister Norman Caldera said the anti-terrorism treaty "shows the OAS can adapt to the times, rather than be stymied or seeking refuge in the past."

Caldera said the Western Hemisphere "now has an instrument with which to rid itself of one of the worst scourges of our time — the threat from terrorism." He said Central America, in particular, was working together as a united, peaceful, and democratic region to fight terrorism.

Besides the United States, 32 other organization member nations have signed the treaty, while Nicaragua now joins Antigua and Barbuda, Canada, El Salvador, Mexico, and Peru as states that have ratified it. President Bush transmitted the terrorism treaty to the U.S. Senate for its advice and consent to ratification last November. Action is likely before the summer recess.

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