A.M. Costa Rica

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These stories were published Friday, June 18, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 120
Jo Stuart
About us
A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Bird’s eye vista

A solitary parrot surveys the landscape amid the branches of a tree that is busting out in blooms thanks to a little moisture from the rainy season.

Rain has diminished in the last two days in the Central Valley and on the northern Pacific coast, and the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional says the drier weather with winds will continue perhaps into the weekend.

Not so along the Caribbean. That area and the northern zone were hit with heavy thunderstorms Thursday and rain is predicted for the afternoon or evening.

Writer's block is when both computers are sick
Authors love writers and would-be writers. They are the readers who buy their books — especially books about how to write and how to get through writer’s block. Sometimes it is writer’s block. Sometimes it is just life that gets in the way of writing.

Tuesday I had a visitor. He arrived around 8 a.m. and didn’t leave, except for a short sortie out, until 7 p.m. It has been a long while since I have spent an entire day with someone. But he was charming, patient, careful, attentive, thorough, and knew what he was doing. He was also very young, but as I told him, I was expecting someone about 4. 

I was grateful to him because he put me back on my writing path. Both of my laptops were in trouble, and he was fixing them. I had tripped over the cord to the second one and pulled out the connection. I have been off-line since last week. I didn’t know how attached I am to my computer and to being in touch with all the people I am in touch with. Scary. I never felt that way about my typewriters, although I did love them. And friend Dorothy recently gave me an electric typewriter as a security blanket. I have to have it fixed. But once I do, I wonder if I will use it.

I marvel that I think I need my little Sony to write. When I was 7 or 8 I started writing in longhand on tiny pads my mother had in her beauty shop, which occupied the two front rooms of our house. On the other side of these two- by five-inch pads were written words like shampoo, permanent, marcel, manicure, etc. 

My first "book" was a fairy tale and about 50 pages long. From that I graduated to notebooks and always wrote with a fine point pen in long hand in these notebooks and then typed them on my portable Royal that my mother had given me upon graduation from high school. Then I got so I could compose on my typewriter, and then along came computers. Computers were really easier because I didn’t have to retype or make carbons.

So I couldn’t write on Tuesday while Douglas sat at my computers, cleaning and fixing them and getting rid of the hundreds of viruses they seem to have acquired.

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

Wednesday morning I was off to Hospital Calderón Guardia for an appointment and to renew some prescriptions. Standing in line in the farmacia, the man in front of me turned and stated (he didn’t ask, he stated) "You are from the United States." This rather burst the little bubble I had been enjoying since three taxistas in a row had asked me what country I was from. I was sure my American accent was receding. 

After I had confessed, he asked me if seniors were given free bus tickets in the States. I said I thought the price of bus rides was reduced, but it wasn’t free. (I may be wrong about this, just as I was wrong about when President Reagan died. Some kind reader corrected me: He died on June 5.) Then the man told me that he had two hearing aids and they had cost him nothing while a friend of a friend had gotten hearing aids in Canada and they had cost $5,000. He didn’t say if this was before or after national health insurance. 

Then he opened his shirt to show me a very nice scar and said that last year he had had a bypass operation and that was totally free. I shook my head in wonderment, resisting showing him my scar, which wasn’t nearly as nice as his. 

My wait to see the doctor was long enough for me to almost finish the book I was reading. It is a slim volume by Annie Dillard, entitled "The Writing Life." All good books have quotable thoughts. I will just note one since it so applies to my life in Costa Rica: 

"There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by." 

I’ve had two days I consider good days, among the many others. As for my writer’s block, Annie has much advice for that, too, but I find the best cure for that ailment is a deadline. 

And my deadline is tomorrow morning.

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Comments from readers
Visitor agrees with us
on billing government

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Our family just returned from almost two weeks in beautiful Costa Rica. I read your digest today and just HAD to comment. I agree with you that the government should PAY for your vehicle inspections, due to the road conditions there. They should also pay for all shock repairs! 

When we first rented our 2004 Daihatsu Terios from Hertz there, I commented on how rickety it sounded for an auto that’s relatively new (although it had quite a few miles on it). But after experiencing the roads around Arenal Lake and on to Liberia, I can now see why the rental cars are in the condition they are! There were potholes a foot deep in some places! 

There was no use in dodging in many spots. The entire road was a series of potholes. I saw where there was a recent accident there, involving a motorcycle and a bus, both dodging potholes at the same time. Very sad. Too bad the involved parties can't sue the government for not maintaining the roads.

Before we got to Arenal, from San José, we came upon a voluntary donation booth, set up to support road repairs. Why doesn't the government just set up an official toll booth and use the funds to repair these roads? I am sure most visitors to Costa Rica would not be offended by that, especially if they knew how bad the roads are currently. 

Does Costa Rica have a lottery? That would be another good way to create funds for road repairs... Other than the roads, Costa Rica was PERFECT for us! We especially liked staying at Pirate's Cove in Drake Bay (five days) and the two nights at Arenal were LOVELY, especially at the Observatory Lodge. What a beautiful pool area they have there!  We also liked our two nights at Hotel Daria on Playa Tamarindo...very nice. Enjoy your beautiful country. We sure did!

Ginger Hokeness 
Wichita, Kan.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Even long-time residents here rent cars when they have to travel to distant places with bad roads. Rental is cheaper than new ball joints, shocks and a muffler.

Colorado man replies
to comments on rents

Dear A.M. Costa Rica: 

I have just read the comment by two of your readers in response to my letter on the new lease law. I hope that you will print my comments. 

To Ms. Lorring of Montana: Point NO. 1 of the new lease law stated that a rental contract could be verbal or written. She is correct about the Statute of Frauds, which is the law in every state in the U.S., under the UCC (Uniform Commercial Code).

While Ms. Lorring and I have the advantage of a legal education it would seem that Emily of Heredia has little if any education. She states that I should do research of laws around the world. OK, I lived and did business in Europe for six years, Tahiti for three years, some time in Ethiopia and Mozambique, and 16 years in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. 

I know a little about the laws. But we have to go to Emily’s comments. She says the U.S. has a system of common law. Not true in any sense. We have common law to be certain, but we do not have a system of common law. She says that Costa Rica has a system of parliamentary law. This statement is patently ignorant and untrue. Costa Rica has a president and a legislature. It is a representative democracy system, not a parliamentary system.

Setting that aside: It is not important the type of governmental system a country employs. Dumb laws are dumb laws, and that is not xenophobic. How about common sense. Can you imagine going into court in Costa Rica and arguing a case over verbal rental contract? That would be a pig circus of "he said, she said." 

Maybe Emily would like to comment on why the government even gets into the private business affairs of individuals. Why should the government tell two people how much the rent will increase each year? Suppose I am the property owner and I do not want to increase the rent?  Again the law is almost as ridiculous as Emily's comment. She should read and study before she writes. 

Nicholas C. Allen
Evergreen, Colo.

 EDITOR’S NOTE; Mr. Allen’s original letter appeared Wednesday, and the two letters he mentions appeared Thursday.

AOL blocking continues

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

For two weeks now, our daily news digest has been blocked by America Online. There is no reasoning with these people, and e-mails generate canned responses. They seem to have classified the daily digest as spam because of the many AOL subscribers who receive it in their mailboxes each time we send it. WE encourage you to get a free Yahoo, Google or Hotmail account.

Dent urges passage
of big tax proposal

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The minister in charge of finances warned legislators Thursday that if they do not approve a new tax plan, drastic cuts will be imposed in the national budget next year.

The minister is Alberto Dent. He said that with budget cuts, the country would not be able to afford more teachers or expand rehabilitation services. He also said the government would not be able to open more rural clinics, hire more police or build new roads.

Dent said that if the new tax plan had been approved in 2003 the country would have saved money in interest paid on governmental debt. Instead, the public debt increased to the extent that the country now has to pay $70 million more in interest.

The new tax plan would raise an additional $500 million a year with a value added tax in lieu of the existing sales tax, taxation of overseas income of residents and a number of other money generating proposals.

Costa Rica is bogged down in debt because it has hardly ever balanced its national budget.

Legislators are discussing some 500 amendments to the proposals, and a vote is expected in the next two months.

Squatters moved out

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police moved in about 5:30 a.m. Thursday to clear an estimated 190 families from some 14 kms. of beachfront that is now Parque Nacional Manual Antonio. 

Officials finished the job by noon after they found that there wre far fewer squatters still on the land than they had expected. Some 45 families were moved out. The section is known as Playa Rey de Quepos.
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This is the 1729 map by military engineer Franciso Álvarez Barreiro of what then was northern Mexico. From such maps,  researchers obtain clues to help track Indian migrations before the arrival of Europeans to the New World.

Ancient maps are keys to early Indian migrations
By the University of Wisconsin 
news service

MADISON, Wisc. — Maps are tools to show you where you are going, but they can also show you where you came from. That principle drives the work of Roberto Rodríguez and Patrisia Gonzales, who study ancient maps, oral traditions and the movement of domesticated crops to learn more about the origins of native people in the Americas. 

"How do you bring memory back to a people that were told not to remember?" asks Rodríguez. As longtime scholars and syndicated columnists, Gonzales and Rodríguez explore this issue and others related to native people in the Americas. They recently entered the University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences as graduate students and are teaching a class this summer that shows how the stories of Wisconsin's native people fit into the larger history of the continent. 

European efforts to homogenize indigenous people in the Americas destroyed much knowledge of the origins, migrations and history of different peoples, explains Rodríguez. However, some migration stories persist in oral traditions, including a central story — told in Mexico and depicted on the Mexican flag — of native people moving south from a place called Aztlán. The location of that place and the paths of movement are unclear, says Rodríguez, because people were moving around in all directions for thousands of years. 

He's trying to untangle the different paths and trace them back to their root. 

"I'm not looking for an individual answer to the question 'where did I come from,'" he adds. "Patrisia and I want to know where we as a people came from." 

Rodríguez and Gonzales, husband and wife, have pursued this question as authors, teachers, distinguished community scholars at the University of California-Los Angeles, and now as University of Wisconsin graduate students. One line of inquiry has led them to study dozens of maps of what is now Central America, Mexico and the United States, created by cartographers from around the world and dating as far back as the 1500s. 

"Europeans back then were fascinated with newly discovered lands and people," Rodríguez explained. Mapmakers often added notes and comments to their drawings, including references to the homelands of indigenous groups on some of the maps. One notation from the 1768 Alzate map reads, "The Mexican Indians are said to have departed from the shores of this lake to found their empire," in reference to what is now the Great Salt Lake in Utah. Another shows an ancient city near the Colorado and Green rivers, also in Utah. 

Rodríguez says that the maps represent a previously untapped source of information. "These maps were all in public archives," including the Wisconsin State Historical Society, says Rodríguez. "However, we could find only one other researcher that had used them, and he dealt with the topic much differently than we have. What we are pursing is not in the realm of legend or myth, but as historical fact and narrative." 

Besides maps, Rodríguez and Gonzales have researched ancient chronicles, pictographs, and oral traditions. They are also studying the spread of plants — including corn and herbs — to track migration. 

"I was taught to follow corn — that is who we, as a people, are," explained Rodríguez. "Looking at the story of this continent, civilization has to do with food, in this case, corn." Corn was first domesticated in southern Mexico at least 5,000 years ago, and was moved by humans across the continent, he said.

Rodríguez and Gonzales have visited some of the sites indicated on the maps and have found intriguing possibilities, but no firm evidence of a single migration point, though many of the maps allude to the Salt Lake region. "What is clear," says Rodríguez, "is that the people of this region, from the Utes, Paiutes, Shoshones, Hopis and Yaquis, on south to Mexico and Central America, spoke a common language and were related. But many other people were also related via maize and trade."  The languages are of the Uto-Azteca family.

Rodríguez and Gonzales recently organized a symposium at the University of California-Los Angeles examining the migrations and origins of native people. They displayed 40 of the ancient maps they have studied. 

México's Fox seeks to reduce massive wave of kidnappings
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MEXICO CITY, México — President Vicente Fox is planning to strengthen laws on kidnapping, a crime which continues to cause a major crisis for his administration. 

President Fox has ordered his Public Security Task Force, which includes the ministers of defense, interior, public security, and foreign affairs, to improve their efforts to combat organized crime, especially kidnapping.

He has also announced that he is sending a bill to Congress, which demands tougher jail sentences for kidnappers and permission for local authorities to use federal expertise and resources to stop kidnapping.

José Antonio Ortega, president of the National Security Commission at the Mexican Employers Association, known as Copamex, points out that only one in every three kidnappings in Mexico is reported to the authorities because few people have confidence in the police. 

Ortega says that the kidnapping rate in and around Mexico City has increased 740 percent during the past seven years.

Ortega argues that this situation can and must be reversed. He explains that action taken in Colombia by its president, Alvaro Uribe, reduced kidnapping by more than 60 percent in just two years. But Ortega says the crisis in Mexico remains unchanged, because President Fox still has not gotten past the planning and words phase.

"The difference is that Alvaro Uribe has more 

energy," he noted. "He puts all things against the kidnappers. He puts all the armed forces, the police and everything. Money, professional schools and everything against the kidnappers. In Mexico, our president is thinking about the problem, if the problem is real or not. And we need more energy and more push."

Rolando Solís is a former U.S. Secret Service bodyguard who protected four U.S. presidents. He now runs the Mexico City branch of an executive security firm, Vance International. Solis says that a recent survey shows that 98 percent of kidnappings in Mexico are successful for criminals, which is a clear example of the true depth and gravity of the current situation.

"That means that less than 2 percent, or 2 percent get arrested and less than that actually get convicted. So you see it is a low risk crime with high returns for the kidnapper," he said.

José Luis Santiago Vasconcielos, the special prosecutor for serious crime at the Mexican attorney general's office, insists that with the proper nationwide networks combined with absolute and resolute determination, the kidnapping crisis can and will be overcome.

He says the results we have obtained up to now, are very positive and very optimistic, and we can win very easily, and we will win with coordination, interchange of information, immediate decisions and with the unity of all of us.

But before more progress can be achieved, President Fox's crime bill will have to survive the close scrutiny and likely amendments of a politically hostile Congress.

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Support for Colombia expressed in U.S. Congress
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — For the first time in 20 years the United States and Colombia are on a path to achieve dramatic reductions in cocaine production in the Andean nation, Director John Walters of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy told a congressional committee Thursday.

Support for Colombia from the U.S. military, police, intelligence agencies and the U.S. Agency for International Development has been the "crucial enabler" in helping to arrest thousands of criminal drug traffickers and in militarily engaging Colombian narcoterrorist groups in a battle those criminal groups cannot win, Walters told the House Committee on Government Reform.

Walters predicted that if the Colombian military continues its "pressure" on those narcoterrorist groups — specifically, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia  and the United Self-Defense Group of Colombia — the viability of those groups as major narcoterrorist organizations is doubtful.

The government of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe is moving Colombia's cocaine industry toward collapse, Walters said. If the cocaine eradication tempo is maintained in Colombia, he said, there will be a halving of cocaine cultivation in the country from its peak levels in 2001.

In another committee hearing congressmen were told that U.S. assistance to Colombia is vital to the continued success of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe's efforts to eradicate drug trafficking and narcoterrorism in his country. Testifying was Roger Noriega, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs.

Noriega was before the Committee on Government Reform Thursday. He described the steady progress that Uribe has made in restoring the rule of law throughout Colombia, which has been beset by civil strife for over four decades. The United States is a crucial ally to Uribe in his fight to protect Colombia's democratic institutions against threats from drug-financed terrorist organizations and guerillas, he added.

Stressing the important role of U.S. aid in helping Colombian authorities combat lawlessness, Noriega said: "U.S. policy towards Colombia supports the Colombian government's efforts to defend and strengthen its democratic institutions, promote respect for human rights and the rule of law, intensify counter-narcotics efforts, foster socio-economic development and investment, address immediate humanitarian needs, and end the threats to democracy posed by narcotics trafficking and terrorism."

Colombia's struggle has a direct impact on U.S. and regional security, Noriega told lawmakers. In fact, "Colombia remains central to our counter-narcotics and counter-terrorism goals" in the Western Hemisphere because "90 percent of the cocaine, and a significant percentage of the heroin, in the U.S. comes from Colombia," he said. Yet despite significant gains by the Uribe administration, "close to 30,000 well-armed, drug-financed terrorists still operate in Colombia, affecting the government's 

ability to provide security and services to its citizens," he warned.

Noriega pointed out that narcoterrorists in Colombia also have affected neighboring countries in the Andes, as well as Brazil, Central America, Mexico, and the island nations of the Caribbean. This is especially worrisome, he said, because the struggle between armed insurgents and a democratically elected Colombian government ultimately might jeopardize fragile democracies elsewhere in the Americas. "Regional instability resulting from Colombia's internal wars undermines our efforts to strengthen the inter-American community and foster regional partners who are democratic, stable and prosperous," he argued.

In Colombia, Uribe's determination to protect his country and its citizens from narcoterrorists has won overwhelming approval from the public, Noriega said. Uribe's "strength of character, courage and vision provide the foundation for his record of success and popularity in the past two years," the State Department official observed. "Latest polling shows his approval rating at more than 80 percent" among Colombians.

Coca production down

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The United Nations reports coca plant cultivation in the Andean region fell to a 14-year low last year. 

The U.N. drug agency announced Thursday that the world's top three producers of the plant used to make cocaine, Colombia, Peru and Bolivia, lowered output 20 percent from 1998 to 2003. 

It says Colombia, the world's largest producer of the plant, has scaled back coca cultivating areas by nearly half since the year 2000. 

However, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime is warning it will be hard to continue the downward trend unless these countries create new programs to provide coca farmers with alternative sources of income. It also warns the global cocaine problem will not be solved until consuming countries reduce demand.

Uribe chides Amnesty

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia —  President Alvaro Uribe has criticized the human rights group Amnesty International for not condemning the recent massacre of 34 peasants by suspected leftist rebels.

Speaking in this capital Wednesday, Uribe said he was saddened by the fact the London-based group had not yet denounced the massacre. He said Amnesty does not hesitate to condemn government forces for alleged human rights abuses.

Uribe accused the group of being sympathetic to the Colombian rebels. Amnesty International says it has not commented on the massacre, because it is still investigating the incident.

U.S. proposes Internet hate crime plan in Europe
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

PARIS, France — The United States has proposed a 10-point action plan to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe for addressing the profusion of racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic propaganda on the Internet.

The action plan was presented by the U.S. Ambassador to the body, Stephan Minikes, at the closing session of a conference on hate speech, hate crime and the Internet Thursday here.

The plan urges organization member states to prosecute criminal threats of violence on the Internet and to collect and publish data on hate crimes, while nongovernmental organizations are urged to increase their monitoring of the Internet. Parents are urged to avail themselves of filtering software that enables them to exercise greater supervision over their children's use of the Internet.

The plan also calls on states "to ensure that the Internet remains an open and public forum for the airing of all viewpoints."

Minikes acknowledged in his opening remarks differences in the ways other nations view 

government regulation of objectionable speech, with the United States in favor of confronting bigotry in the marketplace of ideas rather than suppressing it.

"Today, the Internet, like the printing press, can be used to promote unpopular ideas," he said. "However, the United States believes that ultimately the ability of the Internet to promote discourse and disseminate ideas is the very solution to — and not a problem in — the fight against racism, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism."

Minikes also pointed out broad areas of consensus at the conference on how to handle objectionable material on the Internet, and said those ideas provided much of the basis for the United States' proposed action plan. 

For example, he noted that the conference participants agreed on the need for further study on the relationship between online hate speech and bias-motivated crimes; the importance of educating children about the falsehoods in hate speech; the important role played by industry and nongovernmental organizations in monitoring and countering hate speech; and the need for governments to prosecute bias-motivated crime — and where appropriate, criminal threats posted on the Internet.

FTC says verified e-mail addresses key to attack on Internet spam
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is telling the U.S. Congress that a proposed plan to protect Internet users from unwanted, unsolicited e-mail, so-called spam, is not a good idea right now. 

In a report this week, the FTC said the success of an anti-spam registry will depend on development of a system for authenticating the source of e-mail. The agency recommends a program to encourage the widespread adoption of standards that will prevent the falsification of the origin of e-mail messages and help law enforcement personnel, Internet service providers and computer users to identify spam. 

Congress asked the FTC to conduct the study after witnessing the national success and popularity of 

the "Do Not Call" Registry. This system, implemented in 2003, allows consumers to ban telemarketers from calling them by registering their telephone numbers on a national list maintained by the FTC.

A comparable "Do Not E-Mail" registry could not be enforced and could make the problem worse, according to the findings reported in an FTC press release. After consultation with some of the nation's largest Internet, computer and database management firms, the FTC concluded that the security, privacy and effectiveness of a "Do Not E-Mail" registry could not be assured without universal e-mail authentication standards.

Without improved security, the FTC study also suggested, spammers might be able to invade an e-mail registry and use the addresses to spread even more spam and make the problem worse. 

Jo Stuart
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