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These stories were published Tuesday, July 30, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 149
Jo Stuart
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'Forest' drive from Europe to San José starts
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The great Slovenia-Costa Rica "Drive for the Forests" is under way, and two persons with ties to both countries are making their way through Europe in a 1970 Volkswagen beetle.

The pair, Karl Jaeger and Rory Bircz, are making stops along the way to raise consciousness for the condition of the world’s forests. They also hope to raise money to help purchase 5,600 square meters of forest in the Maribor, Slovenia, area. 

"This is a beginning for us as we head towards our continued goals, which are to purchase, protect, and maintain more forests both here in Slovenia and abroad," they said before beginning their trip.

The pair plan a journey of about four months and about 25,000 miles (about 41,000 kms.). Less than 100 miles will be on a boat as they cross the Bering Strait between Siberia and Alaska.

They left about two weeks later than planned and were sent on their way with a party for about 50 persons at BONGOS Latin Club in the town of Maribor. Among the music played was songs by the Costa Rican band, KALUA, said Ms. Bircz.

"No one has planned to drive over such varying terrains, for such a short period of time, and for a noble cause — to gather sponsorship and support to purchase and maintain woodlands — not just a road rally or sports event!" they said.

He is president and she is vice president of the Slovene Association for the Protection of the Environment. The couple, who are married, have lived in Costa Rica, too.

They made some changes in their schedule, in part so they could visit Germany and the HWK Foundation there which works closely with universities in Bremen and Oldenburg. The foundation contacted the association recently to see how it can collaborate on future research projects, said the pair.

The couple plan to return to Slovenia after their successful drive to Costa Rica where they will put on exhibitions and take advantage of the publicity to present their message about forests.

The project has accumulated a long list of sponsors, including the City of Maribor, the Ministry of the Environment and Spatial Planning for the Republic of Slovenia, the San José-based Asociación para la promoción del desarrollo humano, la educación y el arte and even A.M. Costa Rica which has promised to welcome them to the Central Valley with a party.

They will keep fans advised of their travels by e-mail messages and reports posted to the organization’s Web site: http://safe.slo.net

Their plan takes them east across the Ukraine, Russia, Siberia and then down the west coast of the United States, Mexico and Central America to San José. Slovenia is a part of the former Yugoslavia

José Antonio Soto Loría
You can buy monkey face
from presidential lookalike

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

He’s known as the monkey man because he works his way through the downtown most afternoons selling coconuts carved with humorous simian faces.

He is distinguished from other street vendors only by his contagious smile and his persistence.

But the 75-year-old Soto has known fame, of sorts. He was a dead ringer for Ronald Reagan, the former U.S. president. 

Even today he carries the creased photo that shows him and Reagan at the former president’s ranch in 1989. Soto’s face has thinned a bit now, but he still could pass for the former president, even though he is a head shorter.

Soto lives in San Rafael de Heredia. He managed to win a contest on "Sabado Gigante," the now-40-year-old Univision television variety show. 

To win, Soto recalled, he had to beat out people who looked like John Paul II, Abraham Lincoln, Queen Isabela and a boxer of current fame.

His victory got him $2,000 U.S. and a visit to the Reagan ranch arranged by show host Don Francisco. 

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Pacheco's aides bring in an emergency tax law
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Pacheco administration brought an emergency tax law to the Asemblea Nacional Monday, and the plan seems to have enough votes between two  major parties to pass.

The action was unexpected because the executive branch just set up a commission among the two parties to study the tax proposal. The parties are President Abel Pacheco’s Partido Unidad Social Cristiana and the Partido Liberación Nacional.

The contents of the emergency plan have been discussed before. They are some of the proposal that a panel of six former ministers of Hacienda presented in April.

The emergency plan calls for a value added tax of 13 percent to replace the present sales tax. The tax will include many more transactions because the present tax basically affects the sale of goods. The new tax will cover legal, accounting and medical services and any other services provided by "businessmen or professionals." The 13 percent tax also would apply to imported goods and would seem to trump any existing customs duties and even recently negotiated free trade agreements.

The importation tax would seem to apply on the household goods of foreigners who move into the country. The value added tax applies to any goods imported for commerce or use. That might also cover automobiles, too, which are now taxed under separate laws.

The proposed law also says the tax would apply to loans, insurance, hotels, restaurants and sports events. Real estate transfers are not covered by the tax, according to the proposal as it is written. 

The emergency law also imposes a calendar-year tax of from $100 to $225 on every corporation listed in the Registro Nacional. Many foreigners who use corporations, "sociedades anónimas" as they are called in Spanish, to hold title to a car or real estate will be affected by this section of the law.

People who register a corporation would have to pay the tax for the remainder of the calendar year as part of the registration fee, said the proposal.

Autonomous institutions, such as the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, and commercial state banks will have to turn over 10 percent of their net income as a "dividend" to the state, said the proposal.

The temporary proposal, which is supposed to continue in force until a permanent law is passed, has some 65 articles, and further analysis is needed to determine the exact effects. The administration wants the plan to go into effect within 30 days so the greater income can begin to be applied against a budget deficit and long-term debt. 

The permanent measures proposed by the government probably would include much of what is in the temporary measures.

Mosquito-born dengue reaches epidemic stage
By A.M. Costa Rica wire services

New epidemics of dengue fever are being reported by the World Health Organization. The disease is a severe flu-like illness transmitted by infected mosquitoes. The agency says the new outbreaks are in Latin America and Southeast Asia. 

In 1998, tropical and sub-tropical regions of the world were hit with outbreaks of dengue and its more severe form, dengue hemorrhagic fever, unlike any seen before. 

Mike Nathan, World Health Organization specialist, said similar epidemics already are underway in Latin America and Southeast Asia.

"In 1998, we had a pandemic, and it affected much of the tropics all more or less at the same time," he said, noting that a record "1.2 million cases approximately were reported to WHO in 1998. This only really represents the tip of the iceberg. We estimate there probably is more than 50 million infections per year."

The World Health Organization estimates 2.2 billion people, about 40 percent of the world's population, are at risk from dengue. The disease is endemic in 

more than 100 countries in Africa, the Americas, the eastern Mediterranean, and Southeast Asia. 

A person with dengue fever suffers headaches and severe joint pain. The disease is rarely fatal. However, the more serious form, dengue hemorrhagic fever, kills about five percent of the victims, mostly children and young adults. 

Dengue thrives in urban areas in homes with inadequate water storage and sanitation. 

Nathan says countries must combat the dengue-carrying mosquito with insecticides before epidemics break out. "The challenge is to make the investment between the epidemics to try and bring mosquito populations down, to keep the mosquito population in check so you cannot in fact start an epidemic," he said. 

"But you have to bring that population down a long way. So, I think that is the real challenge. Lots of money gets thrown at the epidemic, but not in the intervening period."

The World Health Organization also says better waste disposal and water storage will eliminate the mosquitoes' breeding grounds.

Guatemala greets
pope with carpets

By A.M. Costa Rica wire services

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala — Pope John Paul arrived in the Guatemalan capital Monday, the second stop on his three-country Americas trip. Hundreds of thousands of faithful in this largely Catholic country came out to welcome him.

The pope was visibly tired at the ceremony honoring Brother Pedro de San Jose Betancur. He was a 17th century Spanish missionary who dedicated his life to helping the sick and the poor.

For over 12 hours before the pope's plane touched down slightly before 3 p.m. local time, thousands of Guatemalans had been out on the streets. They constructed five kilometers of colorful and intricately designed floral carpets from pine needles, flower petals and colored sawdust along the entire route where the Pope would travel.

John Paul also sent a special greeting to Guatemala's Maya Indians before leaving the airport.

Later Tuesday, the pope flies to Mexico City to canonize Juan Diego, a 16th century indigenous Mexican Indian. His reported vision of a dark-skinned Virgin Mary has become a powerful symbol of Mexican cultural identity.

John Paul's trips to Guatemala and Mexico follow a week-long visit to Toronto, Canada, where he took part in World Youth Day celebrations. He wrapped up his visit there with a call to young Catholics to stand by the church and not let their faith be shaken by recent sex abuse scandals.

Reich says democracy
best for Latin lands

By A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Despite the difficulties faced by a number of Latin American governments, democracy is the "only political system that can deliver real prosperity and social justice," says Otto Reich, U.S. assistant secretary of state.

Reich stressed in an interview Friday the importance of encouraging democracy and capitalism in Latin America in order to ensure a better quality of life in the region. Paraphrasing a famous quote of English leader Winston Churchill, Reich said that democracy and capitalism are the worst political and economic systems "with the exception of all others."

As a market for more than half of Latin America's exports, and as the largest source of private investment and public assistance to the region, the United States is making an important contribution to hemispheric economies, Reich said.

Congressional approval of trade promotion authority should allow President Bush to move forward the creation of a Free Trade Area of the Americas, which will also have a "great economic impact" on the region, according to Reich.

However, he noted that regardless of the continued contributions of the United States to regional economies, any solutions in countries confronting economic difficulties "have to be internal and cannot be imposed externally."

With regard to Argentina's current financial crisis, Reich said that the Bush administration "is very interested in the economic recovery of Argentina and its neighboring nations." He expressed confidence that Argentina will overcome corruption and other obstacles to restore the nation's confidence in democracy and capitalism.

Reich indicated that the United States would also continue to work to deepen democracy in the region, but again insisted that the United States would not seek to impose solutions to its neighbors' problems. Citing the enduring polarization between Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and the nation's political opposition, he said that "we want to help the people and government of Venezuela, but Venezuelans themselves have to find the solution" to the current impasse.

Reich encouraged both sides to assume greater flexibility and called on the Venezuelan government to make a more concerted effort to convene talks. Reich also expressed "great concern" over the rumored arming of Chavez supporters known as the Bolivarian Circles. Reich suggested that these rumors, coupled with frequent speculation on possible coup attempts, are destabilizing democracy in Venezuela.

In neighboring Colombia, Reich said that the presence of illegal armed terrorist groups financed by narcotics trafficking "represent not only a threat to Colombian democracy, but [to] all of the region."

Stressing Colombia's geographic links to Central America, the Andes, the Amazon and both the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean, he said that containment and elimination of the threat posed by these groups must be a priority. Reich pointed out that the United States has recently approved more military equipment and greater intelligence sharing to assist Colombians in winning the battle against armed insurgents.

He said that the approval of the Andean Trade Preference Act currently before the U.S. Congress is of the "utmost importance" in providing economic alternatives to coca cultivation in the Andes. He also acknowledged that the United States must also do more to diminish demand at home for narcotics, and said: "We are doing it."

New Southcom CO
lists area woes

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The transnational threats of arms and drug trafficking, illegal migration, and terrorism are some of the most serious problems affecting the security and stability of Latin America and the Caribbean, says James Hill, President George Bush's nominee to be the next commander-in-chief of the U.S. Southern Command.

The United States Southern Command is the unified command responsible for all U.S. military activities on the land mass of Latin America south of Mexico; the waters adjacent to Central and South America; the Caribbean Sea, with its 13 island nations, and European and U.S. territories; the Gulf of Mexico; and a portion of the Atlantic Ocean.

Hill told a congressional panel that many of the region's democracies remain fragile, because of the instability and corruption that evolve from these transnational threats.

"Without strengthening these fragile democracies, we will not have a prosperous, democratic, and safe hemisphere free of current societal and economic ills," Hill said Friday in response to a series of questions posed by the Senate Armed Forces Committee regarding his nomination and views on Southcom's role in the region.

A top priority for Southcom, said Hill, should be to foster regional support for the war on terrorism by "improving partner nation capabilities, ensuring U.S. operational access, and building reliable coalition partners."

Terrorist groups operating in Southcom's area of responsibility in the Americas "have demonstrated the capability and intent to conduct violent activity ranging from anti-government demonstrations to bombings," said Hill, who holds the rank of lieutenant general in the U.S. Army.

Terrorist activity has been greatest in Colombia "and there is an apparent resurgence of the Sendero Luminoso [Shining Path] in Peru," Hill said.

International terrorist support organizations are operating mainly in the tri-border region of Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina, he said. Terrorists continue to make threats against U.S. civilians, military members and diplomatic personnel, and "the full extent of their capabilities and actions is unknown," Hill said.

On the subject of Colombia, Hill said the greatest threat to that nation is the lack of a "safe and secure environment for democratic institutions to take hold."

"The nexus of guerrillas, terrorists, drug traffickers, and illegal self-defense forces has severely stressed the government's ability to exercise sovereignty and maintain security" in Colombia, said Hill.

Hill said that he believed "rigorous human rights" protections in Colombia will continue if U.S. aid is allowed to be extended to help the Colombian Army fight terrorism in that country. Hill said the U.S.-trained Counter Narcotics Brigade is the "best-trained and-equipped unit" in the Colombian Army, and that there have been no allegations of human rights abuses made against that brigade.

"Increased U.S. support and training will help the human rights situation in Colombia, while enhancing the Colombian military's capability to provide a safe and secure environment," he said.

Hill said that while he understood that there has been an increase in Colombian coca production overall, "in those areas where U.S.-supported Colombian counter narcotics forces operate, there have been significant positive results."

Tragedy in Coronado
with family dispute

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The youngster was in a rage with his mother. He jumped in a car and ran her over, according to police. The woman, Ana Virginia Cárter Vargas, suffered two broken legs and went to Hospital Calderón Guardia.

Meanwhile, police went in search of the son, identified as Miguel Vargas Cortés, 17. They caught up with him in Zetilla where he had driven from Coronado. Police took the lad to the delegación or police station in Coronado while they prepared paperwork to turn him over to the facility in Guadelupe.

But while they were working on the transfer, the lad took a string from his pants and hung himself.

Bandits shoot one
in El Pueblo heist

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Bandits held up a group of party goers about 3:30 a.m. Monday just outside the grounds of Centro Comercial el Pueblo, the home of several dance locations.

The robbers shot one of their victims in the head. He was identified by police as Cristian Valverde Rodríguez, 24. He was taken to the hospital.

Four men held up three women and four men, including Valverde, said police. They got money and jewelry worth about 50,000 colons or about $138.

Airliner is safe
after engine woes

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Mexicana Airline jet with about 80 persons aboard declared an emergency and landed without incident at Juan Santamaría Airport Monday night.

The pilot reported that the aircraft was experiencing engine trouble about 20 minutes before landing.

Tire slams pair
in Cartago mishap

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

One man died and a second suffered injuries about 7 a.m. Monday when a tire fell off a truck and struck them.

The mishap took place in San Nicolás de Taras de Cartago. Dead is Salvador Guzmán Guzmán, 72, who was walking with a companion, Luis Ramirez Viquez, 52, when the trailer truck carrying tires passed by.

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Dow racks up gains
as U.S. markets surge

By A.M. Costa Rica wire services

NEW YORK, N.Y. —  U.S. markets surged ahead Monday, making gains across the board in all major indexes. The Dow enjoyed its third biggest day ever. 

The Dow Jones industrial average soared 447 points to close the day at 8,711, rising almost 5.5 percent. That is up more than 1,200 points from the bottom it hit last Wednesday.

The broader Standard and Poor's 500 index also closed up almost 5.5 percent. And the technology-weighted Nasdaq Composite index ended the day with a 73 point increase, or 5.6 percent. 

Analysts say the biggest winners of the day were found in the financial sector, especially Citigroup, J.P. Morgan-Chase and American Express. Oil and pharmaceutical shares participated in the widespread gains, as did giants like General Electric, Microsoft and Cisco. 

Charlie Mayer, an investment manager with the private Invesco firm, says strong foreign markets and a more powerful dollar helped U.S. markets open positive and stay that way. "One of the things that has helped over the last few days is that the dollar has once again strengthened," he said. "As you know, the dollar has been pretty weak. So I think the strengthening of the dollar has encouraged some foreign money to flow back into our markets also."

Wall Street observers also say strong performances by airline and lodging equities may bode well for a recovery in the travel industry.

On the downside, telephone service provider Qwest Communications announced it is adjusting its financial statements for the past three years. Qwest is already under investigation for its accounting practices. Analysts hope the market's calm reaction to the latest news is a sign that investor confidence is returning after a series of corporate scandals.

Congress studying
Bush’s Iraq plans

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A Senate panel conducts hearings this week into a potential U.S. attack on Iraq aimed at ousting Saddam Hussein. The hearing comes in the wake of a series of news reports about possible military action against Iraq.

President Bush, who has labeled Iraq part of an "axis of evil," accuses Saddam Hussein of supporting terrorism and trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction. He has talked openly about the possibility of U.S. military action to topple the Iraqi leader.

Congressional Democrats have called on Bush to brief lawmakers about the strategies the administration may be considering toward Iraq.

Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia has been among the most outspoken. "Reminiscent of the dark ages is an administration that believes in keeping the Congress in the dark, the American people in the dark," he said. "We are hearing a lot of sword-rattling about an attack on Iraq. The administration should level with the Congress. It is an equal branch, it is not a subordinate branch to the executive, never has been and never will be. Let's hear more about this plan to invade Iraq." 

Recent news reports have highlighted the debate within the administration about Iraq.

The New York Times Monday reported that U.S. officials are considering the idea of seizing Baghdad and one or two key command centers and weapons depots in the hope of toppling Saddam Hussein's government. 

The paper said U.S. military planners hope the strategy would cut off Iraq's leadership and lead to quick collapse of the government, while disrupting the country's ability to produce or use weapons of mass destruction. The Times said no formal plan has been presented to Bush or his national security team.

Just weeks ago the same newspaper cited a highly classified draft plan to invade Iraq using air, land and sea-based forces attacking from three directions, and requiring some 250,000 soldiers.

Meantime, an article in Sunday's Washington Post offered a very different scenario. The newspaper reported that many senior U.S. military officers believe Saddam Hussein does not post an immediate threat. They argue the United States should continue its policy of containment rather than invade Iraq to force a change of leadership.

Ari Fleischer, White House spokesman, said Monday that he would not speculate about any potential military action in Iraq.

But members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans alike believe there should be a debate about Iraq policy.

Probe’s first stage
said to be complete

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The document study stage of an investigation into a massive illegal arms shipment is over, according to the Organization of American States.

The man in charge of investigating the shipment will travel in mid-August to meet with representatives of the three governments involved in the case.

The investigator is Ambassador Morris Busby, a U.S. citizen. The three countries are Nicaragua, Panamá and Colombia.

Busby is charged with investigating the export of a large shipment of arms and ammunition that ended up in the  hands of the rightwing United Self-Defense Force of Colombia. The documentation on the shipment said that the weapons, mostly AK-47 assault rifles, and $1 million in ammunition were supposed to go to Panamá for the use of the Panamánian police.

The documentation carried the signatures and official identification of high-ranking Panamanian officials who now say the documents were forged.

The guns never entered Costa Rica. Instead, they were shipped by boat. Reporters who uncovered the case found out that the boat unloaded the weapons and then quickly docked and dismissed its crewmen before anyone had a chance to question them.

"The first phase of the investigation involved collecting, analyzing and determining the facts of the case, based on available information including documents provided by the three governments who requested the OAS investigation: Colombia, Nicaragua and Panamá," said a release from the Organization of American States.

"Our team is working to uncover all the facts in this case and will make a full report to the secretary general. We are receiving complete cooperation from the governments involved and are confident that the facts will come to light," the release quoted Ambassador Busby as saying.

At the same time, members of Busby's team of investigators are looking at ways to strengthen arms control agreements and mechanisms in the hemisphere, including how to ensure the effective implementation of the provisions of the Inter-American Convention Against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives, and Other Related Materials, said the organization.

"This investigation is very important for the OAS since it will enable the organization to assist the governments of the region to put into place more effective controls on arms trafficking", said Busby, according to the release. He expects to present his report in September, the release said.

Busby was appointed by Secretary General César Gaviria in June to lead the investigation.  He has held senior U.S.government positions, serving among other things, as ambassador in Colombia, director of the Counter-Terrorism Office of the Department of State and special envoy for Central America. Busby has served under four U.S. presidents during his lengthy diplomatic career.

Gaviria is himself a former president of Colombia.

The arms shipment was a complex operation that used brokers and complex financial transactions. Nicaraguan officials who approved the shipment are able to show evidence that says the weapons were for Panamanian police. Panamá denies it ever had anything to do with the shipments even though official signatures from there were required to authorize the shipment.

When the boat reached Colombia instead of the planned destination in Panamá the arrival was no surprise to United Self-Defense Force members who welcomed the shipment, loaded it onto waiting trucks and carried the loads off into the jungle.

The self-defense force has been condemned as a terrorist organization with ties to drug production and shipment. But it also is a close ally of the Colombian military who are fighting leftist rebels who also have been branded as terrorists.

The case raises suspicions that high-ranking members of the Panamanian government were actually involved in the deal and used their positions to make sure the arms shipments seemed legal.

Panamá shares a border with Colombia, so it is concerned about leftist forces that have a presence in the thick jungle there.
Professional Directory

A.M. Costa Rica debuts its professional and service directory where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may provide a description of what they do.

If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.


United States Dentist in Costa Rica: Dr. Peter S Aborn, Prosthodontics and general dentistry private practice. 25 years in New York City. 5 years in Costa Rica. Professor and director of postgraduate prosthodontics Universidad Latina de Costa Rica. Former chief of prosthodontics Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City. Education: N.Y.U College of Dentistry; Westchester County Medical Center; Eastman Dental Center; University of Rochester Graduate School of Medicine and Dentistry. Location: 300 meters from the U.S. Embassy. Telephone: 232-9225. Cellular 379-2963. E-mail: jopetar@amnet.co.cr


American/Costa Rican attorney located in Costa Rica. Specializing in business law, commercial law, real estate sales, immigration law. Lic. Gregory Kearney Lawson. KEARNEY LAWSON & Asoc. Tel/Fax: (506) 221-9462 gkearney_lawson@hotmail.com

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