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(506) 223-1327        Published Monday, July 31, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 150       E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Political sentiment aired against pact with U.S.
Small organic growers not impressed by treaty
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some organic food producers fear the free trade treaty with the United States and consider it the kiss of death for their business.

They made themselves visible Sunday at the Feria Agroecológica at the Museo Nacional.

The event was billed as a time to share information on organic farming methods and to sell organic produce. But some shirts carried buttons seeking a no vote on the free trade treaty. In fact, the buttons were for sale there at a small stand that also featured buttons carrying the face of Argentine revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara, the architect of Fidel Castor's victory in Cuba.

Although larger agricultural producers lust after the free trade treaty, some of the smaller operators working Sunday said that the treaty would put them out of business. They fear a flood of produce from the north.

The fears may not be misplaced. U.S. pork producers said Costa Rican marketers have told them that more money can be made here simply by reselling U.S. pork. The efficient U.S. techniques produce a product that is even cheaper when transportation is considered.

There were no pork producers at the fair Sunday, but nearly all products of small-scale agriculture were represented, including some, like the fruit jocotes, typical of Costa Rica. There also were displays of seed specimens from dozens of tropical plants.

The tables were groaning under the weight of the various products on display and for sale.

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Juan Arriaga Nord of Santa Bárbara de Santa Cruz, Guanacaste, shows a potential customer how his Sol Verde solar oven heats stew.

Everything there from the products to the tourists was organic, but the word has come to mean products raised without chemical fertilizers and insecticides.

One small booth offered information on an insecticide made from citrus rinds.

The event was organized by the Movimiento de Agricultura Orgánica with the support of the Museo Nacional de Costa Rica and other agencies. 

The organic organizers also are concerned with transgenic products, that is products that have been subjected to genes inserted artificially. For example, a corn variety has been developed that produces its own insecticide via a gene from a bacterium. A video outlined in Spanish a mock trial at a Brazilian university where the defendant was transgenic plants.

Opponents fear polluting the gene pool of certain crops and effects on humans when the transgenic food is eaten.

Some of the producers need not worry about the free trade agreement. The United States is not a big producer of ayote or star fruit or bananas.

One free trade opponent agreed that the key to success under the treaty is marketing, something she did not feel small producers could accomplish.

Those who missed the annual organic fair have a chance to visit a similar event every Saturday from 6 a.m. to noon in Barrio Carmen, Paso Ancho. The Centro Ferial el Trueque features organically grown products there. The location is two blocks north of the Circumvalacion's Paso Ancho traffic circle and one block north of the Catholic church there.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, July 31, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 150

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Border with Panamá
figures in top series

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A newspaper in Panamá won an international press prize because of its exposé over the nation's border with Costa Rica.

The series of news articles was called “Una Frontera sin Control" or a border with no control. Those who wrote the article and took photos are Roberto López, Ranio Molina and Rafael Pérez.

The award was given by the Interamerican Press Association. It was one of 10 top awards given by the hemispheric press association. They were announced Friday.

According to the judges, the series revealed the differences in border and entry controls between Panamá and Costa Rica and the worrisome human, social and  legal consequences brought to light by the investigative reporting, with its excellent deployment of narrative resources and photographic testimony.

Judges awarded the grand prize for press freedom for 2006 to a disappeared Mexican journalist, Alfredo Jiménez Mota from the Hermosillo daily newspaper El Imparcial. The award will be presented to his family members in  October.

As a consequence of publication in April 2005 of the series “Mafia in Sonora State,” in which he exposed links between drug traffickers and local police,  Jiménez Mota was kidnapped and his whereabouts remain unknown since then, said the organization. The  series was not only a testimony to major, high-quality reporting but also reflects the social commitment and personal courage of its author, the organization added.

More than 100 publications throughout Mexico and the Southwest United States simultaneously published a report on Jiménez Mota’s disappearance.

Deputy among protesters
of Israeli air strikes

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Legislative deputy Evita Arguedas Maklouf was one of the dozens of persons who marched for peace in west San José Sunday.

They were seeking an end to hostilities in southern Lebanon where hundreds have been killed. Ms. Arguedas is a lawyer and is head of the Movimiento Libertario delegation in the Asamblea Legislativa.

Demonstrators released white doves and were criticized as being anti-Israel by some bystanders.

Israel has shelled and invaded southern Lebanon because Hezbollah, the Muslim militia, has taken control of the area and the Lebanese administration has not been able to dislodge them.  Hezbollah, backed by Syria and Iran, has been firing Soviet-made rockets into Israeli cities.

In a bombing attack early Sunday, some 56 persons, mostly women and children, were killed. They had sought shelter in a basement in the town of Qana. As a result, Israel has ordered a 48-hour halt to air activities, according to a statement from the U.S. State Department.

Chávez welcomed to Iran

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has officially welcomed his Venezuelan counterpart to Tehran. Speaking at a reception at the presidential palace Saturday, Ahmadinejad said Hugo Chávez is very popular in Iran for his revolutionary views.

The leaders are expected to discuss bilateral issues and to sign energy deals during the two-day visit.  Saturday's visit marks the Venezuelan leader's fifth trip to Iran as president.

RACSA will cut its rates
for cable modem hookup

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The board of directors of Radiográfica Costarricense S.A., the government Internet company, has authorized a cut in rates and an increase in the speed of connection, the company said.

The company did not specify the rate cuts, but the cable modem rate for 256 download and 64 kilobits per second upload that is now $25 a month is expected to fall to $17. There will be similar cuts in higher speeds. The company is expected to outline the full rate structure this week as well as new options.

The company known as RACSA is in competition now with its parent, the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, which is supplying high-speed Internet via the company's telephone lines. The RACSA cable modem rate is only half the monthly cost. Private cable companies also charge a rate that also includes cable television services.

Open sessions proposed
for court and president

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An independent member of the Asamblea Legislativa has proposed a law to require that the Consejo de Gobierno and the Sala IV be open to the public. The lawmaker is Oscar López who ran on the ticket of the Partido Accesibilidad sin Exclusión.

The consejo is the weekly meeting of the president's cabinet. It usually is a closed meeting, and officials hold a press conference later to tell reporters what happened. The Sala IV is the constitutional court which makes its decisions in private and then has them announced by a press office.

López deplored the secrecy and said that it erodes public confidence in government.  Meeting in secret offends democracy and democratic principles, he said.

Because he is the only representative of his party in the legislature, his proposal does not stand much of a chance unless it is adopted by other political parties.
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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, July 31, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 150

One death already in hit-and-run mishap
Pilgrims to Cartago face weather and traffic dangers

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The three-day weekend stimulated hundreds of pilgrims to start their walk to Cartago a little earlier this year.

A steady stream of walkers was arriving at the Basilica de los Ángeles Sunday under partly cloudy skies, 90 percent humidity and temperatures that reached 32.5 Celsius or about 90.5 Fahrenheit.

Wednesday is the feast day of the Virgen de los Ángeles, the patroness of the country, and a legal holiday. Nearly two million persons are expected to have paid their respects by then. So some walkers expressed the desire to avoid the crowds by making their pilgrimage Sunday.

The annual religious event already has been marred with one death. A walker, Cristian Rodríguez Alvarez, 27, died when he was hit by a vehicle in Curridabat Sunday morning. The driver fled. A companion of the victim was hospitalized.

Police and emergency personnel were out in force. Not everyone was traveling by foot, and neither are the police. In addition to motor vehicles, there are police along the routes on bicycles, horses and motorcycles. Some pilgrims or romeros, as they are called in Spanish, were on horseback Sunday, too.

Although other roads lead to Cartago from the east and south, the principal route for walkers is the Autopista Florencio del Castillo between that city and San José.

The Fuerza Pública is being joined by the Policía de Tránsito, the Comisión Nacional de Emergencias, the Cruz Roja Costarricense and the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia, the child welfare agency.

The Cruz Roja has three aid stations set up along the autopista. The major complaints are blisters and cramps. More than 100 had been treated by Sunday night.

Also involved in providing security for the romeros are the Ministerio de Salud, the Instituto Acueductos y Alcantarillados, the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad , the Policía Municipal, Seguridad Presidencial, la Municipalidad de Cartago, Hospital Max Peralta, the Cuerpo de Bomberos, the Junta Administrativa de Servicios Eléctricos and the Comisión del Santuario de Cartago.

Security will be cranked up Wednesday when national officials, including President Óscar Arias Sánchez, show up for a 9:30 a.m. Catholic Mass at the basilica. By that time, the plaza in front of the church will be filled with hundreds of thousands of the faithful. The event will be televised.

The statute of the Virgin itself has new security. Three bungling crooks tried to hijack the statue, known lovingly as La Negrita. So basilica officials had what amounts to a small safe constructed. The small statue still is above the main altar of the basilica, but the heavy steel in which it is now contained can be closed to secure the statue of the Virgin during off hours.

Wednesday the Virgin will be taken down from the lofty perch and carried through the faithful.

Many Catholics here consider the Black Virgin, La Negrita, to be the Costa Rican manifestation of the Mexican Virgin of Guadalupe. A youngster in 1635 found the dark stone statue said to be of the Virgin Mary. The statue mysteriously kept returning by
unknown means to the site where the basilica stands now in Cartago some 23 kms. (about 14 miles) east of San José, according to legend.

The actions of the statue were interpreted by church leaders as a desire of the Virgin Mary to have a church built on the Cartago site, and one was.

There also is a spring just south of the church where the faithful descend to obtain bottles of the water. The statue was found close to the spring.

Both the police and the weather bureau have suggestions for the romeros. The Mininsterio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública suggested that walkers bring nothing of value, including cell phones, to tempt thieves. The pilgrimage also attracts the less religious.

Nevertheless, the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad said it was beefing up the cell stations in  Curridabat, Tres Ríos, Ochomogo and Cartago in anticipation of a lot of cell phone use. The telecommunications giant said it moved in mobile switching stations.

The Instituto Meteorológical Nacional said that the best time to walk is in the mornings because afternoon thunderstorms are likely this time of year.

The weather bureau issued a special report for the romería Friday in which it said temperatures can dip to 16 degrees Celsius or 61 degrees Fahrenheit overnight in Cartago at the basilica grounds where many persons camp out. That's cold for Costa Ricans.

The instituto also warned of sunburn danger, heat stroke and lightning. The rains swept in Sunday around 2 p.m. and continued off and on through the night. Sunday was better for pilgrims than Saturday that had heavy rain all day.

The institute said that low pressure areas exist on both sides of the country and that moisture is pouring in from the Pacific. The afternoon and evening showers are likely in all parts of the country.

There is probably no phenomenon like the annual pilgrimage in Costa Rica. There is no real organization. It just happens. Some persons walk from Panamá or Nicaragua, Each either is fulfilling a promise made to the Virgin or has a request. One man, a fireman, was walking to Cartago Sunday in full, heavy gear, including helmet. He said he was completing a promise he had made. Others were disabled and in wheelchairs or on crutches.

For some, the romería is an outing. Young men and women holding hands can be seen in the mass of people.

To be invited by a young man to join him on the romería is equivalent to being a prom date elsewhere, a prom with spiritual overtones.

Today is the relocated anniversary of the Annexation of the Partido de Nicoya, the time in 1824 when residents of Guanacaste decided to join with Costa Rica. The ceremony marking the event took place Tuesday, the actual date, July 25. The three-day weekend is a creation of a new law.

With Wednesday being a national holiday, too, thanks to the Virgin, not much official activity will take place Tuesday. In fact, Tuesday will be the day that pilgrims change from a stream to a flood headed to Cartago to be there in time for the Wednesday morning ceremonies.

'Fool me twice and its my fault,' says this dicho
Solo una vez capan el perro

“The dog only gets castrated once.” This dicho has to do with misplaced trust. It means essentially you will only be betrayed or mistreated once by someone whom you trust. They shouldn’t be given the chance to do it again.

I’m always ready to help a fellow human in need, especially a member of my own family. But I have a certain cousin who is perpetually in need of assistance — usually of a financial nature — but after such help is rendered she wants to act as though it was really not so much. It’s as though she feels that these handouts should simply be taken for granted, not just by her but by her benefactor as well. Expressing appreciation seems somehow beneath her dignity.

Finally, I decided I’d had enough of this treatment. No more handouts. Well, you would never imagine the abrupt change that mysteriously came over this cousin. She was suddenly the picture of solicitousness. When I failed to fall for this new ploy, I heard from others in the family that my dear cousin was bad-mouthing me at every possible opportunity. And a fat lot of good that did her! I mean, hey! What did she think? It wouldn’t get back to me? Costa Rica is a very small country, especially when it comes to chismes.

Solo una vez capan el perro counsels us that we should never allow ourselves to be disrespected. It is good to be trusting and generous, but we should be on our guard that we’re not being taken advantage of or played for the fool, the kind of thing we call in Spanish falta de respeto.

I have a nephew whose wedding was celebrated in our house last year. No expense was spared to make it a memorable occasion. A friend of mine, who also knows this nephew, had to return to the States well before the nuptials took place, but he very thoughtfully bought the couple a generous wedding gift anyway. Now it is almost 6 months since their wedding, but the loving couple is yet to send my friend a thank-you note. Ellos le faltaron el respeto since the gift clearly meant more to them than the giver. We always should thank people for what they do for us because no one is obliged to go the least bit out of his or her way on our behalf.

A few days ago we were in La Fortuna del Arenal where we’d gone to take some visiting friends and family to the Tabacon Resort. My niece’s husband drives a tourist minibus and he was shepherding us

way we say it

By Daniel Soto

about. As we were loading up the bus at the resort suddenly two complete strangers climbed aboard. I explained that I was very sorry but this was a private minibus hired for a family outing. They started speaking frantically in a language I didn’t understand. I asked if they could speak Spanish or English. One of them answered in English that their hotel wasn’t far and, as it was raining, couldn’t we give them a lift?

Well, after all it was starting to rain rather hard and they did have a couple of hefty-looking backpacks, so I agreed that we’d take them as far as their hotel.

As we were reaching their hotel these two began hysterically yelling “stop, stop!” My nephew brought the bus to a halt and opened the door. The two strangers clambered out without uttering the least word of appreciation, not even so much as a grateful smile!

This pair appeared totally oblivious to their own rudeness. I looked at my nephew and shrugged. At least we had the satisfaction of knowing that we’d done them a good turn.

As it turned out, however, solo una vez capan el perro applied in this particular case sort of like the English expression “what goes around comes around.”  The following day, as we were headed around Lake Arenal, on our way to the beach in Guanacaste, we encountered this ill-mannered pair once again. This time they were standing by the side of the road trying to hitch a ride. My nephew looked at me. “Should I stop?” he said.

After a momentary pause I replied, “Hmm… Well, it isn’t raining, and I’m sure someone else will come along soon who’ll give them a lift.”


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A.M. Costa Rica

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, July 31, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 150

U.S. Latins asked to back trade treaties in hemisphere
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Hispanic American community should support economic growth in the Americas, said Thomas Shannon, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs.

He was one of seven persons who the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute hosted to discuss what was called the emerging common market in the Western Hemisphere.

Shannon said that Hispanic Americans are succeeding in the United States because the “environment allows them to take advantage of opportunity.” According to Shannon, U.S. policy in Latin America is focused on creating an environment that will enable Latin Americans to take advantage of similar opportunities.

He said this is possible because the democratically elected leadership in the region has established a consensus concerning the value of the free market and economic integration.

“It is through the combination of free markets and integration that this hemisphere is going to create the kind of economic opportunity that is necessary, not only to generate wealth, but to allow people to become economic citizens of their countries,” he added. Shannon gave similar thoughts when he visited Costa Rica June 28.
Another panelist, Israel Hernández, an assistant secretary of commerce, argued that there is “more economic integration today in the Americas than ever.”

Free-trade agreements are, according to panelist Anne Alonzo from the National Foreign Trade Council and the Hispanic Alliance for Free Trade, “the best tool for formalizing trade.”  She said that two-thirds of Latin America’s gross domestic product comes from the 13 countries that have free trade agreements with the United States.

Shannon pointed out how important trade with Latin America is for the United States, citing that “about 85 percent of all imports enter the United States from South Central America and the Caribbean.”

The importance of U.S. trade with the region “underscores the commitment that this administration has for free trade and the commitment that this administration has for building markets that cross national boundaries,” he said.

Shannon said that the Bush administration has doubled foreign assistance to Latin America, increased the presence of Peace Corps in the region, signed multiple trade treaties with Latin American nations, and encouraged capacity-building through the Millennium Challenge Account.  The challenge grant initiative assists countries that encourage fairness.

López Obrado calls for massive occupation of México City by supporters
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The leftist candidate for Mexico's presidency, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has called on his supporters to occupy downtown Mexico City until a court orders a vote-by-vote recount of the July 2 election.

López Obrador made the call Sunday to at least half a million supporters in the city's historic central plaza. He said he and the supporters should remain night and day until the votes are recounted and the country has a president-elect.
López Obrador alleged vote fraud when the initial count showed he lost the election by less than 1 percent to conservative candidate Philipe Calderón.

Calderón has said the vote was fair and no recount was needed.

Mexico's top electoral court is hearing arguments from lawyers for both candidiates before declaring who will be Mexico's next president.

The court has until Sept. 6 to issue its ruling.

Once mighty Varig to lay off more than half of workers in restructuring
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Brazil's financially-strapped airline, Varig, says it is laying off 5,500 workers as it emerges from bankruptcy under new owners.

The company said Friday that only about 4,000 of its more than 9,000 employees will keep their jobs. But Varig said it hopes to re-hire laid-off workers once it resumes growth.

The investment group, Volo do Brasil, together with a 
U.S. fund, bought the company during an auction last week for $24 million. In addition the group pledged to invest another $485 million to revive the airline. The group was the only bidder.

Varig was once the largest airline in Latin America, as well as Brazil's national carrier, but it has struggled in recent years and accrued $3 billion in debt.

Varig has canceled flights and been unable to pay for fuel and airport fees in recent months. The airline's fleet has also dwindled.

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