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These stories were published Tuesday, July 13, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 137
Jo Stuart
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Canadian caper characterized as just a hoax
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

This stunt will go down in Costa Rican history as The Great Canadian Hoax.

Blame it on the eight drunk Canadians who were skinny dipping, singing "O Canada!" and otherwise carrying on the night of Canada Day, July 1.

At least that's the story from Ramsay Mameesh, operator of The Banana Tree Hotel in Manuel Antonio. He said the Canadians woke him up several times, so the following morning he erected a sign: "Sorry. No room for Canadians."

The hung-over Canadians did not see the sign as they left in their van, Mameesh said, but his neighbors did and took the sign seriously. He began to get calls from residents who branded him a racist or worse. 

A neighbor, Ad Latjes, called for a boycott and posted his condemnation to his Web site: "The Quepos/Manuel Antonio community can miss this kind of people like a heavy headache." 

Mameesh, a U.S. citizen, said he decided to tweak his neighbors, but first he had to come up with a reason to discriminate against Canadians. The answer was food.

The hotel owner prepared an elaborate defense that was faxed July 7 to Latjes, among others. The defense purported to be the results of a survey that showed Canadians eat more than other nationalities and were affecting the bottom line of the hotel, which provides free breakfasts.

The average Canadian eats 3.6 slices of banana bread, far more than the 2.13 slices U.S. citizens consume, Mameesh wrote. Latjes, who is Dutch, posted the report.

Community members began calling A.M. Costa Rica, and word must have reached the Canadian Embassy here because Mameesh reported Monday night that he had received a call from a concerned diplomat.

Ad Latjes photo
The offensive sign: Hoax or ploy?

"Me and my wife are running this hotel. We have no time for surveys," Mameesh said as he admitted the whole situation was a hoax.
The whole time, he said, a Canadian couple was staying at the hotel, and Canadians tourists were stopping outside getting themselves photographed with his offensive sign.

"Canadians have a sense of humor," Mameesh said. To end what he called "this nonsense," the hotel owner faxed yet another communiqué claiming that a Banana Tree "study group" had found less costly sources of food so that hosting Canadians is once again economically feasible.

At least that's what Mameesh says. He is a San Francisco Bay area refugee with heavy credentials in marketing. 

Even as we publish this, A.M. Costa Rica editors have this sinking feeling that they have been conned into giving massive free publicity to a clever Manuel Antonio hotel owner. Call it "The Great Editor Hoax."

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Our readers write:
Corruption blamed
for national malaise 

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Walter Fila made some good points in his letter about corruption being responsible for the road conditions. I would add that corruption is a top-down phenomenon. Corruption can only exist when the jefe either is directly involved or turns a blind eye to it. 

Favoritism, such as awarding contracts to relatives/friends without a competitive bidding process is also corruption.

Corruption causes people to lose faith in the processes of government, and is responsible for the general malaise that exists in corrupt countries. If you can't pay the mordida or don't know the right person to get the job done, why care?

I confess that I was unaware that the diputados in Costa Rica are not elected. This explains why, on numerous occasions, that when I have asked my Tico friends why they didn't complain to their diputado about things gone wrong they just shrugged their shoulders and said it wouldn't do any good anyway.

I didn't realize you could have a "democracy" if only the president was popularly elected! 

Pete Todd 

Murder generates
mixed feelings

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A young man died early Monday just a week before his 18th birthday when a dispute turned into a knife attack. The location was Avenida 6 at Calle 8, and the time was 6 a.m.

Police had mixed feelings because the victim, identified as Yasdani Josué Delgado Mora, was well-known to them, although he had never been convicted officially of a crime.

The young man, knifed in the chest, staggered down the sidewalk before falling dead. Police are seeking a person who was identified as a suspect.

Later a police spokesman said that Delgado had been investigated seven times since 2002 for robbery, drug use and drug sales. All the cases were in juvenile court.

Monetary Fund pitch
is for taxes, trade pact

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An official of the International Monetary Fund was in San José Monday promoting the benefits of the free trade treaty with the United States and the proposed $500 million package of new taxes.

The man is Agustín Carstens, a Mexican and deputy managing director of the fund.

The fund is an international organization of 184 member countries. It was established to promote international monetary cooperation, exchange stability, and orderly exchange arrangements; to foster economic growth and high levels of employment; and to provide temporary financial assistance to countries to help ease balance of payments adjustment, according to its Web site.

It is better known as the agency that bails out countries that are in financial distress.

In Latin America the fund promotes regional integration and financial integration.

Carstens spent last week at a regional meeting of Central American officials in Honduras. He said Monday that the proposed tax plan would strengthen the Costa Rican economy and guarantee the finances of the Banco Central. He also said the country was vulnerable to outside financial forces because of its dependence on the dollar. He urged the wider use of colons, the national currency.

The fund estimates, and Carstens has reported, that Central America will experience about a 4 percent growth this year after coming through a trying period of economic stress.

Cable shock kills boy

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 14-year-old boy, Diego Gómez Cordero, died Sunday afternoon when he touched a high tension cable while crossing a river near Siquirres. Investigators said that the cable appeared to have become loose.

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Gaviria sees corruption as region's major challenge
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Although Latin Americans prefer democracy over any other political system, effectively combating the problem of corruption is a major challenge in consolidating democracy in the Western Hemisphere, says Cesar Gaviria, secretary-general of the Organization of American States.

Gaviria warned in remarks at an anti-corruption conference in Nicaragua that corruption undermines the legitimacy of democracies. Gaviria cited a study released in April by the U.N. Development Program that revealed that 90 percent of Latin Americans believe corruption in the region is worsening, and many view corruption as the biggest national problem in their countries.

The Organization of American States quoted Nicaraguan President Enrique Bolaños, who hosted the conference, as calling for greater political will and moral commitment to increase international cooperation in order to prevent countries in Latin America from becoming a "sanctuary for corrupt individuals."

Bolaños said at the conference, formally called the "Meeting of States Parties to the Inter-American Convention against Corruption," that corruption remains "one of the major causes of poverty" in Latin America. Not only do acts of corruption foster evil, Bolaños said, but corruption also impedes international cooperation and assistance and diverts much-needed resources from job creation. 

The Inter-American Anti-corruption Convention, the first treaty of its kind in the world, has been ratified by the United States and 30 other countries.

Participants at the Managua conference examined concrete ways to enhance their anti-corruption efforts, the Oreganization of American States said. Participants considered measures to strengthen cooperation among law enforcement authorities, deny safe haven to corrupt officials, strengthen domestic laws related to extradition and the seizure of assets, and promote legislation to allow repatriation of public assets that have been stolen.

The conference attracted many officials from Costa Rica. Former president Miguel Ángel Rodríguez will replace Gaviria as secretary general in two months.

HIV impact on workforce expected to be grim
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

With an estimated 36.5 million people of working age in the world infected with HIV, the disease is expected to have a severe impact on national economic growth rates, according to a U.N. labor agency.

In a press release announcing its first global analysis on how HIV/AIDS affects the work world, the International Labor Organization said HIV is destroying human capital and weakening the capacity of workers to produce goods and services. The agency studied 50 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. The release was issued Monday.

The impact of HIV/AIDS on workers is two-fold, the labor organization said. While tens of millions of people have already died, millions more sick people are dropping out of the labor force. This forces active workers to bear more of an economic burden in the workplace and at home caring for the infected, it said.

Women are particularly affected by HIV/AIDS as 

they are the primary caregivers, the release said. The burden of caring for sick family members may displace the time women would otherwise spend on farming and other ways of supporting the home, affecting the entire household, it said.

In addition, young women are showing the largest increases in HIV-prevalence rates, it said.

The education and health sectors in developing countries will be severely affected by HIV/AIDS as the rate of dying educators and health care providers increases, the labor organization said. Children will suffer from a lack of care from sick or deceased parents and may be forced to drop out of school and seek work, it said.

However, the organization said, the workplace offers an "ideal medium" for a comprehensive approach to preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS.

"Work provides a venue — the workplace — where talking about HIV/AIDS is especially relevant, where prevention skills can be directly transmitted, and where treatment can be exceptionally productive," said Odile Frank, report coordinator. 

Fox's wife says she is not a presidential candidate
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MEXICO CITY, México — President Vicente Fox's wife, Marta Sahagun, has publicly announced that she will not seek the presidency when his term ends in December 2006. There was widespread speculation that the first lady would try to succeed her husband.

The short official announcement, made at the presidential palace, Los Pinos, by the first lady herself, ends months of speculation that she would run for the top job. She said she wanted to confirm that she will not be a candidate and will go home with Fox to the family ranch when his term expires at the end of the year. He is constitutionally barred from seeking a second term.

Opinion polls clearly showed that she would have featured very strongly in the next presidential election in 2006. Only the left-wing mayor of Mexico City, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, is currently more popular.

Unlike most Mexican first ladies, she has not chosen to stay out of the limelight. She has even launched a high-profile charity called Vamos Mexico, or Let's go Mexico. However, the charity is now being investigated by the attorney general amid accusations that money from the national lottery was wrongly directed to its projects. 

Critics have accused her of using the charity as a 

vehicle for her political aspirations, and argued that it would be ethically wrong for her to use the charity as part of an effort to succeed her husband. Ms. Sagahun has denied any wrongdoing.

She has also come under criticism from the man who, until a week ago, was President Fox's official spokesman, Alfonso Durazo. He resigned last week and in his letter accused Ms. Sagahun of constantly meddling in the day-to-day running of the country.

In her statement Monday, the first lady said that she has never intervened in decisions that belong only to the president of the republic. 

No woman has ever been president of Mexico, a fact that Ms. Sagahun also alluded to in her statement. Mexico, she said, is ready to be governed by a woman. 

Meanwhile, former Mexican Energy Minister Felipe Calderon said he plans to run for president in 2006.  Calderon said Sunday at a rally here that he will seek the nomination of Fox's National Action Party. 

Calderon resigned his post in May, one day after President Fox criticized him for appearing at an event attended by supporters of a presidential bid by him in 2006.  The former energy minister described Fox's criticism as unjust, saying it prevented him from continuing in a job that requires support, authority and a capacity for dialogue. 

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Sonora hosts four types of the virus
Mexican study seeks clues to dengue and carrier
By Mari N. Jensen 
The University of Arizona News Service

TUCSON, Ariz. — Biologists from the University of Arizona here are teaming up with health officials from the Mexican state of Sonora to learn more about the mosquitoes that carry dengue and West Nile viruses and about the disease-causing organisms. 

The reported number of dengue fever cases in Sonora has been increasing in the last several years, and the disease appears to be moving north. The dengue fever season in Sonora is seasonal and peaks mid-October after the summer rainy season.

The university team will travel to Hermosillo, the capital of Sonora, later this week to give public health officials a workshop on trapping and identifying various species of mosquitoes. The team will collect mosquitoes in Hermosillo, Guaymas and Navojoa.

Dengue fever is sometimes called "break-bone fever" because the disease is so painful. One form, dengue hemorrhagic fever, is fatal in about 5 percent of patients. Currently there is no vaccine against the disease. 

"The way to look at it is, dengue is an enemy," said Therese Ann Markow, director of the university’s Center for Insect Science and regents' professor of ecology and evolutionary biology. "The idea is to get to know your enemy well in order to know its weak spots." 

Professor Markow is collaborating with Sonoran health officials, Dr. Francisco Javier Navarro Gálvez, director general of Servicios de Salud de la Comunidad, and Dr. J. Gerardo Mada Velez, director, Enfermedades Transmisibles por Vector y Zonosis.

The newly formed University of Arizona-Mexican research collaboration will investigate the ecology, genetics and distribution of various mosquito species in Sonora and of the four types of dengue virus and its close relative, West Nile virus. 

"The ecology, distribution and genetics of the mosquitoes and the viruses need to be studied simultaneously to understand how they interact to cause disease," Professor Markow said. 

Other university members of the team are Michael Worobey, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, Frank Ramberg, an assistant research scientist in the Department of Entomology, Sergio Castrezana, an ecology and evolutionary biology graduate student, and Joel Vergara, an entomology graduate student. 

In May, Professor Markow offered employees of the Servicios de Salud de Sonora the opportunity to attend a university course on the insect biodiversity of Sonora. She expected one or two people to come to learn about identifying insects and said she was astonished when 13 people showed up, eager to spend days staring at insects through microscopes.

As a result, she initiated this joint research project on disease-carrying mosquitoes and the viruses they transmit.

The professor said the Sonoran health department is keen to control and prevent the diseases but has limited expertise and resources in some areas.

"That’s where we come in," she said. "We can provide training. The big things are how to identify the mosquito species that transmit the diseases and 

University of Arizona Center 
for Insect Science photo
Students in a University of Arizona course on the insect biodiversity of Sonora check on a mosquito trap in Guaymas. 

which molecular techniques can detect the viruses." 

"Part of the problem is no one has done a mosquito inventory in the State of Sonora," Professor Markow said. The Arizona-México collaboration will remedy that by doing a complete survey of the species of mosquitoes in Sonora. 

Project members will trap mosquitoes widely throughout Sonora, identify them and test them for the viruses. 

In addition to testing the mosquitoes for dengue and West Nile viruses, the researchers will test blood collected from patients to identify which strains of the dengue virus caused the infections. 

Sonora once had only two types of the dengue virus but now all four are found there. According to Worobey, that means people have an increased risk of getting dengue fever a second time because, although having one bout of dengue fever makes a person immune to the one type, the person is still susceptible to the other three.

It's only during the second infection with dengue virus that the person has about a 5 percent chance of developing the even nastier, hemorrhagic form of the disease. In dengue hemorrhagic fever, the person's blood vessels start to leak, causing bleeding from the nose and mouth. Of those people who get the hemorrhagic form of dengue, up to 5 percent will die, Worobey said. 

Joaquin Ruiz, the dean of university’s College of Science, said, "Teri Markow's efforts, both in educating ecologists from México as well as better understanding the transmission of these diseases, is important not only for Sonora but also for Arizona." 

Professor Markow and Ruiz will visit México City in August to talk to representatives from the National University of México and from the Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnologia, México's federal agency to fund research in science and technology, about expanding the scope of the project within Sonora. 

Jo Stuart
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