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These stories were published Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 153
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Two lawmakers would trash nation's toll booths
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

For some lawmakers toll booths on the principal highways leading from San José are more trouble than they are worth.

One deputy, Luis Gerardo Villanueva. supports a measure that would eliminate the toll booths and their tendency to tie up traffic from the Carretera General Cañas, the autopista to Juan Santamaría Airport, from the Carretera Próspero Fernández that runs from La Sabana through Escazú and from the Carretera Florencio del Castillo that runs to Cartago.

The number of vehicles in the country have increased significantly and they produce at peak hours long lines at the various toll booths, said the lawmaker. This is not only an environmental problem but an economic one as well, he said.

For the country, he said, the toll booths generate a cost greater than the benefit received when considering the income to the state against the fuel consumed and the environmental woes generated, he said.

The discussion took place before the Comisión Permanentes de Asuntos Económicos of the Asamblea Nacional where the bill is now.

Villanueva said that the Consejo Nacional de Vialidad, which is in charge of maintaining and building roads, gets 30 percent of the taxes collected on fuel in the country and that ought to be enough to maintain the major highways, which is the stated reason for continuing the tolls.

Lawmaker Elvia Navarro agreed with Villanueva and said that although the toll booths have been a fixture for Costa Rica for many years, at this time they create more problems than benefits. That is why she is backing the bill to eliminate them, she said.

The tieups at the toll booths have become so long that certain peak hours when there is lots of traffic the tolls are not collected and motorists are waved through.

Sometimes five lanes of cars and trucks are backed up a half mile at Escazú, particularly when one of the toll booths is closed or a machine that makes automatic collections is jammed.

The Minsterio de Obras Publicas y Transporte contends that eliminating the toll will cause an irreplaceable loss of funds. Instead, officials suggest increasing the number of toll booths at certain locations.

A.M. Costa Rica hits are up 204 percent in year
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

This daily electronic newspaper will turn two years old in 10 days with reader access 204 percent higher than a year ago.

In all, the newspaper has registered nearly 8.5 million hits in the year ending July 31. In the single month of July, 879,294 were registered by the independent statistical program maintained at the Internet server. By comparison, in July 2002 some 288,409 hits were registered. 

The highest month of reader access to the daily newspaper was in January when 908,726 hits were registered. That was a period of worldwide concern about the status of several high-interest investment operations here in Costa Rica.

In addition to Internet hits, from 50,000 to 55,000 reader sessions are logged each month when individuals sit at their computer and look through the newspaper.

The readership statistics show that the newspaper has successfully found new readers to replace those who were victims of the investment collapses or otherwise lost interest in Costa Rica.

The most recent readership statistics are available HERE!

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Attorney at Law & Notary Public
Real Estate Transactions
Litigation

Memberships: Costa Rican Chamber of Real Estate Brokers
Colegio de Abogados (CR Bar Association)
Association of Official Translators & Interpreters
Asociación Italiana del Mutuo Socorro

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Push against underage prostitution shatters myths
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A current push against underaged prostitutes is likely to shatter the myth that such activity is something foisted on the young by foreigners.

The more Costa Rican officials investigate, the more they are forced to report that juvenile prostitution is a home-grown woe.

The trigger for official action was a series of articles last week in the Spanish daily La Nación that pointed out that a great deal of such activity takes place under the eyes of police in Parque Morazán in the center of the city.

In response, Fuerza Pública officers and workers from the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia paid calls on the park in the late evening. What they found there were adult and juvenile prostitutes who were content to be there. Some even praised the police protection.

Officials also met at least one father who was dropping off a daughter for work as a prostitute. The girl was 18, of legal age.

In the wake of the exposure to San José nightlife, officials are now categorizing juvenile prostitution to be part of a larger social problem.

Nearly three dozen social workers and psychologists have been put on the job in San José alone. Police will step up their patrols of Parque Morazán.

Officials announced Monday that a booth for police officers would soon be constructed there. Rogelio Ramos, minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública, will discuss plans for creating safe parks in an unusual 10 p.m. session tonight at Parque Morazán.

With him will be Walter Navarro, director of the 

Fuerza Pública; María Fullmen Salazar, vice minister under Ramos; and Rosalía Gil, minister of Niñez and director of the Patronato.

Representing San José will be Mayor Johnny Araya. Security at the park is a shared concern between the central government and the municipality.

Until now, underage prostitutes have been considered victims of "sexual exploitation." Although few in number, foreigners, principally North Americans, were the most publicized target when plans were made to stem such exploitation.

Officials have announced plans to maintain a data base of foreigners who are suspected of illegal activity with underage boys or girls. This data base will be shared among Central American nations and aid immigration officials when suspected pedophiles try to enter the various countries.

Officials seem to be moving in the direction of treating juvenile prostitution as a significant social problem that cannot be attacked simply by arresting customers of the youngsters.

Still some officials talk of organized bands that put minor children on the streets to work as prostitutes. But there has been little evidence of that revealed.

Nevertheless, some organization must exist. A reporter confronted three young teenagers several weeks ago as they were changing clothes and applying makeup in obvious preparation of meeting men in a nearby bar. The girls were certainly underage and highly nervous when questioned, but they carried cédulas that said they all were 19 years old.

The cédulas were of the new variety that are said to be very difficult to forge. Such work duplicating official documents suggests a well-financed organization.


 
Soldiers just tourists,
says their agenda

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Costa Rican security minister took the unusual step Monday of releasing the itinerary of 40 Colombian military officers who will tour the country for two days starting today.

The secretary general of the Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados has protested the visit, saying that the Colombians were here to get military training.

Rogelio Ramos, minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública, characterized that view as a grave error that could have been prevented by a simple telephone call.

Instead, said Ramos at a press conference Monday, the 40 military men, all soon-too-be graduates of the Escuela Superior de Guerra in Colombia, are here to study the history, culture, laws, and environmental challenges of Costa Rica.

Ramos released an agenda that shows a meeting with an official at the Instituto Interamericano de Drechos Humanos, a human rights group, and sessions with personnel at the Fundación de la Cordillera Volcánica Central, Inbio-Parque and the Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza in Turrialba. 

At all three sessions, the military officers are scheduled to discuss environmental situations, according to the agenda.

The union leader who made the protest, Albino Vargas, said that he feared the presence here of Colombian military officers would involve the country in Plan Colombia, an elaborate $7 billion project orchestrated by the United States to eliminate drug shipments from Colombia and end the civil war there.

Ramos said any suggestions about Plan Colombia are absolutely false.

The military men arrive later today and leave Friday about 2:30 p.m. Ramos said they have been traveling to other Central American nations since July 25 as part of the final stages of their studies.

Carry-on items eyed
as possible weapons

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Reports say the U.S. Homeland Security Department is preparing to release a new advisory to the aviation industry about personal carry-on items officials say could be used to hide explosives. 

The new warning, expected to be released today deals with small electronics, including cameras and cell phones that officials are concerned could hide weapons. Officials say they found modified versions of such items during raids of al-Qaida safe houses. 

But officials say there is no indication that terrorists have actually used such carry-on items to conceal weapons. 

Meanwhile, the United States says it is eager to question a Saudi man who a congressional report links to two Sept. 11 hijackers. On Sunday, Saudi national Omar al-Bayoumi said he was ready to talk to U.S. investigators in Saudi Arabia. 

Faberge grandson
crafts another jewel

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — A famous jewelry company specializing in exquisite crystal Easter eggs has presented one of its little treasures to the residents of St. Petersburg in commemoration of the city's 300th anniversary. 

The egg, crafted by Theo Faberge, the last surviving grandson of the famous Russian jeweler Carl Faberge, is decorated in gold and silver. It contains hand-engraved images of nine St. Petersburg palaces and the profiles of Russian rulers. 

Inside the egg is a miniature version of St. Petersburg's famous Bronze Horseman — a monument to the city's founder, Czar Peter the Great. 

Theo Faberge spent two years completing the gift which is part of a collection of his work dedicated to the city of St. Petersburg. 

Spanish economy
expanding slightly

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MADRID, Spain — The Bank of Spain said the country's economy expanded slightly in the second-quarter. 

The bank said in a report Monday that Spain's economy grew at an annual rate of 2.2 percent from April to June. The rate represented a 0.6 percent quarterly growth rate. Part of the gain came from increased demand and public spending. 

The Bank of Spain also predicted a moderate recovery in the world economy in the second half of this year. The report comes only days after the Spanish government revised its 2003 growth forecast downward. 

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Lawyers

Arcelio Hernández Mussio, Lic.

Attorney at Law & Notary Public
Real Estate Transactions
Litigation

Memberships: Costa Rican Chamber of Real Estate Brokers
Colegio de Abogados (CR Bar Association)
Association of Official Translators & Interpreters
Asociación Italiana del Mutuo Socorro

legalxpt@racsa.co.cr                 P.O. Box 947-2400
www.forovial.com                   San Jose, Costa Rica
Cell: 365-3088
Fax:  259-7197



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Reader says leaders have forgotten why we're here
By Daniel Soto
Amnesty International USA
Chair, Central America Country Specialist Team

While leaders in the Vatican, Washington, and San José, were busy trotting out their own piety last week, they forgot about the most important reason why we are on this earth: to live in peace and to practice mutual respect for one another. 

When men in positions of religious and political leadership send messages of intolerance concerning a minority group, they open a little window in the minds of people who are prone to hating those among us who happen to be different. 


Letter from a reader

Suddenly this kind of hatred appears to be just, even righteous, and it is once again open season for attacks of verbal and physical abuse. History has taught LGBT people all around the world that when anti-gay pronouncements, such as those that issued forth from The Vatican, Washington, D.C. and San José, Costa Rica, last week, take place verbal harassment, beatings, killings, and blackmail will likely soon follow.

To characterize same-sex unions as constituting "the gravest immorality" is total lunacy when one considers the abject immorality of social injustice, poverty, starvation, child abuse, corporate greed, and war, all of which the leadership in Washington, San José, and yes even The Vatican 

seem to have reached a fairly comfortable accommodation with. 

Rather than concerning themselves so much with what consenting adults are doing in the privacy of their own bedrooms, those leaders would do well to consider what might be done to alleviate the pain and suffering of abandoned and orphaned street children in New York, San José and Rome, for example, or the fact that over half the earth’s population goes to bed hungry every night. 

One wonders if this sudden outpouring of self-righteous bile directed at the gay community isn’t designed specifically to take the public’s collective mind off some of the world’s real moral calamities.

The pious curia in the Vatican are not even supposed to know what gay sex is, but they certainly seem to know a lot about it. Homophobes, who feel called upon to loudly announce the defense of their heterosexual privileges shouldn’t worry so much about what the next-door neighbors are doing in their bedroom. 

People need to let each other alone, and otherwise respect one another’s basic humanity. After all, the true key to understanding a person’s character is not found by spying on him or her in their bedroom, but rather by looking into their hearts, and in so doing remembering the words of Jesus when he said: "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." 

Mr. Soto is a Costa Rican now based in Bloomington, Ind.

We are counting on some funny stories
It's time to tickle that funnybone if you have one
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica is a land of contradictions, and contradiction is one of the chief concepts of humor.

So now is a time to gently explore our foibles in the mid-winter humor contest sponsored by A.M. Costa Rica marking the second birthday of our Internet daily newspaper.  (Yes, it is "winter’ in Costa Rica.)

Send your humorous writings for publication to:

editor@amcostarica.com

Make your fellow readers laugh and win great prizes, such as:

• water skiing at Lake Poas.

• annual subscriptions to A.M. Costa Rica

• sunbathing expeditions to the sand dunes of Quepos

• Whale-watching expeditions at the patio of the Gran Hotel Costa Rica

• A night of guaro excess with the A.M. Costa Rica editor (your treat).

Any money prizes will be paid in post-dated checks.

We expect to have some famous judges. At least we will have judges.

 

Consider the possibilities:

• The Escazú Witch Project
• Fear and Loathing in Santa Ana
• Waiting for Enrique
• How Would You like to be President for a Day?
• The Attack of the 100-foot-tall ICE
• The Return of the Arias.
• The Taxista Always Rings Twice
• Mr. Smith Goes to Arbitration

But you can do better than that. The important thing is to be funny. You can use satire or straight humor. But you must write about Costa Rica. (George Bush is out. We can’t make this too easy.)

Your stories can be true, but exaggeration is a tool of humor. We will publish the good ones as fiction.

Some people say our readers cannot possibly top what really has been happening in Costa Rica. But we have faith.

Our second birthday is Aug. 15, and that’s the deadline.

Now some folks will be upset with us, thinking that we are picking on them. These are the folks who are humorously challenged. Why should we take the credit for them being so funny? Nevertheless, if you wish to send us hate mail or death threats, please do not clog up the editor’s mailbox like before. Send your hate mail or death threats to:

threats@amcostaric.com

Let the contest begin.

No humor essays are available for today,
but you can write one!


 
Italy makes new donation to land mine clearance
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Italy has made its third donation since 2001 to a program of the Organization of American States to eliminate land mines in Central America.

The OAS said that Italy had pledged 100,000 euros (more than $114,000), bringing its total donation to the mine-clearing program to more than $478,000.

The United States and a number of other countries have contributed significant financial support through the OAS to rid the Americas of land mines, defined as a victim-activated device filled with explosive. In all, the United States assists with mine-clearing operations in more than 40 nations worldwide.

The OAS program assists with mine-clearing operations in Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, and in several countries in South America. 

Italy's permanent observer to the OAS, Sergio Vento, said his country's donation reaffirmed the Italian commitment to the humanitarian cause. Vento, also Italy's ambassador to the United States, added that anti-personnel land mines have caused great suffering in post-conflict situations.

In thanking the Italian diplomat for the contribution, OAS Assistant Secretary General Luigi Einaudi said Italy has been "a prime mover" in de-mining in Central America and has supported citizen education efforts in mine-affected areas.

Einaudi said the OAS is also coordinating de-mining efforts along the border between Peru and Ecuador, and recently signed an agreement to help Argentina destroy stockpiled mines.

"It is not generally known that we are making 

very major strides in the Americas toward the elimination of anti-personnel mines," Einaudi said.

In December 2002, Costa Rica declared itself the first country in the Western Hemisphere free from anti-personnel land mines under the OAS program. Placed in hills and brooks, bridges and roads, the mines were buried during 15 years of civil conflict in Central America in the 1970s and '80s. The OAS says its mine-clearing action is expected to be completed shortly in Honduras, and by the end of 2004 in Guatemala, while Nicaragua is expected to be a land mine-free country by the end of 2005.

Lincoln Bloomfield, U.S. assistant secretary of State for political-military affairs said in an October 2002 speech that through the State Department's humanitarian de-mining program, the U.S. government's official efforts and investment in humanitarian mine action have totaled over $600 million since 1993 alone. In addition, the U.S. private sector has distributed millions of dollars for de-mining action.

"Americans have joined with donors around the world to lower the rate of civilian land mine casualties," Bloomfield said in October 2002 remarks. He added: "It was estimated in 1993 that as many as 26,000 people were being killed or injured by landmines every year. We now think the number is much closer to 10,000 casualties per year. Of course, that is still 10,000 too many."

The State Department's Office of Humanitarian Programs in Bloomfield's bureau has published "To Walk the Earth in Safety," an annual overview of the U.S. Humanitarian Mine Action program. The report includes a synopsis of U.S. mine action assistance to each country in the program. 

The report is available on-line at:

www.state.gov/t/pm/rls/rpt/walkearth/2002.

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