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These stories were published Monday, Aug. 2, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 151
Jo Stuart
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Policemen Urbano García García and Alberto Campbell are two of the hundreds of officers providing security for the annual pilgrimage to Cartago and the Basilica of the Virgen de los Angles where a Mass and celebration will be  held this morning. Perhaps as many a two million persons will make the trek. These youthful believers are passing the Castillo Azul, part of the legislature. Our story is 

Expat pensioner faces possible loss of her land
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

This is a tale of another North American getting caught up in an Alice-in-Wonderland situation with real estate in rural Costa Rica. The story is incomplete because there are at least as many questions as answers.

The North American is Marguerite Paduano, 64, who lives near Puriscal in Jilgueral. She came to Costa Rica on a pension and bought land to raise animals and also to run a riding camp for handicapped kids. She is under a court order to leave her land by Aug. 16.

According to Ms. Paduano, the court order stems from a Banco Nacional loan executed by the previous owner that may or may not have something to do with her land. No survey was done to accompany the loan.

Nevertheless, her land, either part of it or the entire three parcels, was auctioned off to a third party for 1,600,000 colons. That’s $3,640 at the current rate of exchange. This is a good deal for the buyer because the land is about 100 acres with a $60,000 new home, plus corrals and outbuildings.

Ms. Paduano seems to have done most things correctly. She said she had a search of the title to her land when she bought it four years ago. The land came up clear.

Then out of the blue 18 months ago Banco Nacional claimed that a mortgage loan lists the property as security. The Registro Nacional where the nation’s property records are kept shows no such loan. She just spent $500 to verify the title is clear.

Nevertheless, she said that a judge from Puriscal appeared at her home Wednesday accompanied by the man who claims to have purchased the property at an auction last May. The judge was not interested in arguments. The legalisms had been settled in San José.

Ms. Paduano agrees that she then made a major mistake. Her 75-year-old husband was hospitalized where he lives in the United States. She is separated but still has feelings for him, so she was upset and planning an emergency trip to his bedside.

She said she thought that a handwritten paper the judge gave her in Spanish was only an acknowledgement of a delay in the legal situation. She signed it even though she speaks Spanish poorly and did not have her eyeglasses. Even Sunday night she was unable to say exactly to what she agreed to by signing.

However, it appears she agreed to vacate the property.

Ms. Paduano has employed five lawyers, two in Puriscal and three in San José. Her most recent lawyer lectured her for a couple of hours about signing the document, she said.

Part of the problem appears to be that most of the lawyers told her not to worry about the alleged loan. None has ever visited the property, she said.

Causing her additional stress is the possibility that she may have to relocate her 15 horses, eight cows, five English mastiffs, five ranch dogs and 30 cats. Not to mention her Natures Acres Foundation and its therapeutic riding camp for the handicapped.

"I have spent all my savings repairing my finca, the cabin for the camp, raising horses suitable for handicapped children, and supporting my workers families and the local schools," she said.  The new lawyer estimates she will have to spend $2,500 more, she said.

She leaves for the United States in a few days to be with her husband of 42 years as he undergoes a heart bypass operation. She will be back in time to confront the eviction — when and if there is one.

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Homage to La Negrita
calls millions to Cartago

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

To explain to a North American what is happening at Cartago today is difficult. 

Would someone believe that nearly two million persons visited or are visiting the Basilica of the Virgen de los Angles? And nearly all did so on foot.

Would anyone believe that residents of southern Costa Rica, Coto Brus, for example, have been on the road knocking off 25 to 30 kms. a day (15 to 19 miles) to arrive in Cartago early today. That route is 270 kms. (about 165 miles)

Cartago today is Costa Rica’s Fatima. The sick, the lame and the dying are visiting seeking miracles. Relatives of those too ill to come are entering the basilica’s center aisle on their knees, as is the custom. Others are there to repay a blessing or to fulfill a promise.

What do people in Cartago do? Some fear their proximity puts them at a disadvantage in pleasing the Virgin. They hop a bus to San José, Heredia or another point and join the pilgrimage to cover the 24 kms. (15 miles) back.

Today is the Día de la Virgen de Los Angeles. Cartago, the colonial capital, turns into the religious, political and media center of the country. The Virgin is the patroness of Costa Rica. In Christian theology she is Mary, the virginal mother of Christ.

The figure of the Virgin there, the Black Virgin or La Negrita, is a statue found by a local girl in 1635. The statue demonstrated magical powers by always returning to the spot where it was found and where today the basilica stands. Hundreds of thousands have sent gifts or tiny garments for the Virgin.

The flood of foot traffic to Cartago has diminished this year. The long weekend has given the faithful the opportunity to visit the basilica Friday, Saturday or Sunday. The reduction in foot traffic is apparent in San José but still long columns of faithful dominate the city sidewalks and climb Avenida Principal and Avenida 2. The stream becomes a flood as these two streets join east of the downtown. From there and in main streets elsewhere around Cartago the hikers are forced to slow down to a slow pace due to the crowds.

Today is a legal holiday here. Even the U.S. Embassy is closed. Even some who do not join the pilgrimage will hop a bus to be in Cartago for the religious ceremony this morning. President Abel Pacheco will be there, as will most other business leaders, politicians, diplomats and others who need to be seen.

Although the atmosphere of the pilgrimage is upbeat, police are out in force to stifle the dark side. Crooks and worse do their best to prey on pilgrims, or romeros, as they are called in Spanish. The romeros are vulnerable because many sleep in nearby fields along the route. 

As a test of faith of a different kind, many boyfriends are asked to accompany their special girl on the pilgrimage. School and religious clubs go in large groups.

Although Saturday was a day of many thunderstorms, Sunday was free of downpours, frustrating at least a couple of merchants who opened their doors in San José especially to sell rain gear.

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A special expression for people who are tightfisted
Más agarrado que un mono en un ventolero.

"More tightfisted than a monkey in a windstorm." This saying could be applied to some of my relatives when it comes to spending a little money. They would much prefer to find someone else to foot the bill. Another expression we use is: More tightfisted than my grandmother on a motorcycle: Más agarrado que mi abuela en una motocicleta.

A favorite relative of mine — and it’s a good thing he can’t read English or he’d be mad at me —  is a fellow who always comes up with ideas about where we should go on vacations. But when it comes to paying for the hotel room or dinner or gasoline for the car, he never makes the slightest effort to reach for his wallet.

Earlier this year, in February, we planned to go to Cartagena, Colombia, but he says to me, "Why don’t we go to San Andres Island?" (Nobody had invited him along, except himself.) "I can even bring my wife" (my real blood relative), he said. 

He quoted us what seemed a ridiculously low price $150 per person for fours days and three nights in a resort hotel, meals and airfare included. It was too good to be true, and I should have known there was un gato encerrado here. But I was seduced by the idea that for such a low price four people from my house would be able to go. So I cautiously agreed. He told me what travel agency to go to in order to make the arrangements. I was to pay for all the reservations and he would reimburse me for his and his wife’s.

So I went to the agency to make the arrangements only to discover that the price was $350 each, not $150. But, I went ahead and purchased the tickets anyway. When I called him later and told him that

way we say it

By Daniel Soto

he’d made a mistake he insisted that he had not, and referred to some radio advertisement where the price was quoted at $150. 

However, with the help of his wife, I succeeded in extracting a promise from him to pay me the difference the next day. But, you should have been with us at Juan Santamaría International Airport when he found out he had to pay the exit tax! 

So, we would say that this guy is más agarrado que un mono en un ventolero. This time, however, he would have to pay even more because it was his first time flying, and the plane we took to San Andres was a little bi-motor commuter aircraft. Even though it was a fairly calm day, that little plane bounced around like a sardine can on the ocean.

Daniel Soto divides his time between Indiana and Costa Rica, where he owns a home in Santo Domingo de Heredia.

A.M. Costa Rica up 49.9 percent over the year
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A.M. Costa Rica had another record month in July. The newspaper received the highest number of Internet "hits" in its three-year history.

Hits for July were 1,318,470, up about 64,000 from June. Hits are not as reliable an indicator as unique readers. The newspaper had 64,025 unique daily readers in July, the highest of any month except March (64,692) and May (64,847). 

Compared to statistics for July 2003, the newspaper received 49.9 percent more hits this July, 31.2 percent more page views and 29.3 percent more unique daily readers.

The figures are based on an independent statistical program maintained by the newspaper’s Internet service provider in the United States.

The newspaper’s Web site was ranked 62,759 by Alexa Web search Sunday night. The company is associated with Amazon.com. This ranking places A.M. Costa Rica well within the world’s prestigious 100,000 top Internet sites.

That position compares to the La Nacion Web site 

The direction always is up!

at  8,686th place, the RacsaWeb site at 22,284, the Diaro Extra Web site at 30,270, the Web page of the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo at 82,750, and The Tico Times site at 139,841st place.

Anyone can check the ranking of any public Internet site by using the Alexa Web page.

A.M. Costa Rica's full statistics are HERE!

The online daily will mark three years of providing Costa Rican news to expats and the world Aug. 15.

Last month A.M. Costa Rica registered 1,318,470 hits.
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Senators back Bush on increasing terror warning
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. legislators say raising America's terror threat warning is prudent and appropriate given intelligence reports about potential al-Qaida plots. Several senators spoke as the Bush administration boosted the warning level for key financial institutions in Washington, New York City, and northern New Jersey. 

Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky says no one should be surprised that terrorists continue to target U.S. cities, including Washington and New York. McConnell, who sits on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, spoke on CNN's Late Edition program Sunday. 

"We know the terrorists want to hit us again." he said. "Everyone is aware that Washington and New York seem to be the most desirable targets from their [the terrorists'] point of view. There is nothing they would like to do more than to strike in the United States again, particularly before the election." 

Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut echoed the sentiment. Also appearing on CNN, Lieberman said Americans must not be lulled into a false sense of security by the fact that their homeland has suffered no further terrorist attacks since Sept. 11, 2001. 

"It reminds us that we are in a war," he said. "Thank God that we have not been hit since September 11. But let us never forget that al-Qaida went after the World Trade Center with a truck bomb in 1993 and eight years later came back and hit it with the planes. And I am very mindful that one of the targets they did not hit was the Capitol and the White House. And we have to raise our guard, and it is why, even in this political season, we ought to be pulling together in destroying al-Qaida and reaching out to the Islamic world and finishing the war in Iraq against terrorists." 

But not everyone is taking the Bush administration at its word. 

The elevated terror warning comes days after the conclusion of the Democratic National Convention in 
Boston, Massachusetts, four weeks before the Republican National Convention in New York City, and three months before the November general election in the United States. 

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who competed with Massachusetts Sen. John 

Kerry for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination, noted that national security is a major campaign issue this year. Dean said it is not unreasonable to keep that fact in mind when contemplating the Bush administration's terror warnings. 

"The president is basing his political campaign on the notion that he ought to be reelected because terrorism is a danger and his case to the American people is that 'I am the only person who can get us through this,'' he said. "So of course this is politics. Do I believe that this is being fabricated? No, of course I do not believe that. But I do think there is politics in this and the question is: how much of this is politics and how much is a real threat?" 

That comment brought a swift response from the chairman of President George Bush's re-election campaign, Marc Racicot, who said that accusing the administration of allowing politics to intrude into national security decisions is both unfounded and harmful. 

"I think it is reckless," he said. "No one would engage in that sort of thing. And to suggest that, I think corrodes the confidence of the people of this country." 

Racicot added that he is confident that officials are doing everything humanly possible to ensure public safety nationwide, including at the upcoming Republican National Convention in New York.

Big advances made in world trade negotiations
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

GENEVA, Switzerland — World Trade Organization  trade talks in Geneva ended with a milestone agreement that opens the way to reforming and improving the global trade system in a way that will make life better for peoples around the world, according to U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick. 

In an agreement reached late Saturday, the 147 World Trade Organization members agreed on a framework for future talks on reforming trade in agriculture, manufactured goods and services and streamlining customs procedures, Zoellick said. Even though the framework was a major step in providing momentum to the negotiations started four years earlier in Doha, Qatar, much of the toughest work lies ahead. 

No decisions were made on which products would be covered, how extensive would the cuts be in tariffs and nontariff barriers, and when the cuts would be made. Also, no date was set for the end of the negotiations. 

Still, just a few months ago many trade analysts were wondering whether the negotiations could be put back on track in 2004, particularly during a U.S. election year.  The negotiations broke down in Cancun, Mexico, last September when a number of developing and industrial nations failed to show the necessary flexibility to strike a deal. 

At the urging of President George Bush, Zoellick has met with scores of counterparts from around the world since the beginning of 2004 to end the impasse. "We have laid out a map for the road ahead. And next we're going to have to negotiate the speed limits for how far and how fast we will lower trade barriers to growth and development," Zoellick said in briefing with reporters in the early hours of Sunday.

Disagreements about agriculture and subsidies paid to farmers by developed nations have been major sticking points in the ongoing negotiations, and this agreement produced historic reforms, Zoellick said. "This agreed framework envisions the complete elimination of agricultural export subsidies, which the United States and others have been seeking for decades. It envisions new disciplines on export credits and, for the first time, on state trading enterprises," the U.S. trade representative explained. 

The agreement on export subsidies was particularly critical for many developing countries that have found the prices of their farm product undercut in world markets as farm goods from more developed countries have flooded world markets.  Zoellick noted that European Union export subsidies total $3 or $4 billion annually, with the biggest impact found in beef, dairy, and sugar markets.

Zoellick also said the laboriously negotiated agreement also calls for "a global commitment to harmonize cuts in global trade-distorting farm subsidy programs, to ensure that countries with higher subsidies are subject to deeper cuts, a goal long sought by the U.S. to level the playing field with the European Union and Japan." 

Although countries will still be able to provide food aid for humanitarian and development needs, one of the more challenging areas for future negotiations are which programs will be considered trade distorting. 

The Geneva talks were specific in a few areas. Cotton, a major crop in poor African countries, was highlighted for subsidy reductions. Last month, ministers from four African countries were in the United States, which heavily subsidies cotton, touring the U.S. cotton industry and holding talks with Zoellick. 

Another difficult area in the upcoming talks will be those products on which high tariffs will be able to be maintained because they are deemed "sensitive" to the economies of countries. Regarding manufactured goods, comprising 60 percent of global trade, Zoellick said, "We'll see broad cuts in tariffs through a formula that would cut higher tariffs faster, supplemented by the possibility of complete elimination of tariffs in key sectors."

The agreement also addresses what Zoellick calls trade facilitation. "What this means is that we'll try to cut the red tape and reduce the cost of selling into some countries by perhaps 5, or 10 or 15 percent. We'll seek expedited customs treatment for express deliveries, and to improve the often Byzantine customs procedures that cause shipments delay and frustration for small exporters." 

Zoellick said a great deal remains to be negotiated, but he is optimistic about the prospects. "We can deliver a result that will make life better for millions of our citizens, in developed and developing countries alike."

Fire kills at least 250 Sunday shoppers in supermarket in Paraguay
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

ASUNCIÓN, Paraguay — A fire swept through a supermarket on the outskirts of Asunción Sunday and killed at least 250 people. Dozens more were hurt.  The fire started at midday Sunday at a suburban supermarket where hundreds of people were grocery shopping and lunching at the building's food court. 

Officials said the fire was likely sparked by an explosion of gas canisters, either inside the food court or in the building's underground parking lot. 

Firefighters worked feverishly, pulling burned and bruised bodies from the smoldering building. An 

enormous cloud of brown smoke billowed over the market, visible for kilometers. 

Paraguayan President Nicanor Duarte visited the site, offering support to victims' families. The country's health minister has asked neighboring nations for donations of antibiotics and supplies to help treat burn victims.

Scores of people are holding vigil outside local hospitals, waiting for word on the condition of their loved ones. 

Off-duty police and firefighters were called to the scene, while hospitals have been put on alert, as officials expect the casualty rate to rise.

Jo Stuart
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