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These stories were published Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 159
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Talks about campaign against him
Pacheco stresses good economic news to nation
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Abel Pacheco went on the offensive Tuesday with positive economic news for the country even in the face of what he characterized as a systematic campaign of disparagement against him.

Pacheco said that in 15 months of his term he has put his soul, life and heart into an effort to reduce poverty.

Pacheco went on radio and television after a day

Pacheco on the move in this file photo
of good news from some cabinet ministers.

The day also saw the foreign minister go before a legislative committee and deny any blame for the scandal enveloping the financing of Pacheco’s presidential bid.

Probably not by coincidence, the aggressive response by Pacheco came after a meeting Monday with former presidents from his own party who gave Pacheco counsel in a private session.

The developing campaign scandal, replete with revelations of secret bank accounts and a parallel private campaign organization, has threatened Pacheco’s presidency.
 

In his speech carried by the Cadena Nacional de Radio y Televisión, Pacheco did not say who was behind the campaign against him. Clearly he was referring to the revelations being considered by a legislative committee.

However, instead of attacking legislative deputies for any presumed campaign, Pacheco instead urged them to approve a series of fiscal reforms that the government says is necessary to maintain confidence in the financial integrity of the nation.

The good news started in the morning with a report by Ronulfo Jiménez, economic coordinator. He said that Costa Rica is the Latin country with the highest economic development with a 6.3 percent increase in its gross domestic product. He also reported that exports jumped 22.8 percent in the first half of the year compared to the year before. Agricultural production was up 2 percent, he said, adding that the government expected to hold inflation to 10 percent for the year.

Rodolfo Coto, minister de Agricultura y Ganadería, followed up with a report that agricultural exports have increased 24 percent during the same period.  He had a favorable outlook on coffee exports and of bananas, two key crops.

Karla González, vice minister of Obras Públicas y Transporte, outlined the investments made in roadways this year. She also said that Delta Airlines would increase its flights to Daniel Oduber International Airport in Liberia from

two a week to five. She also reported that Other new flights were possible into Juan Santamaría Airport in Alajuela.

At a later press conference where the officials repeated their reports, Jiménez with colored charts, Pacheco praised the Guanacaste area for its efforts in boosting tourism, a direct reference to the Delta flights.

Pacheco carried the upbeat financial reports to the nation. He said in his Cadena talk:

• Cost of living has increased just 5.2 percent, less than the 5.4 percent in 2002 and less than the 7.3 percent in the same period in 2001.

• Exports for the first six months were $3.2 billion, a $590 million increase over 2002.

• While exports were up 22.8 percent, imports only increased 5.7 percent.

• The national monetary reserves are the highest in history at  $1.6 billion, some $231 million higher than the same period last year.

"We are a nation of brave men and women who in the middle of a world recession of wars and international instability we have worked and produced and grown," he said.

In his only reference to his political woes, Pacheco ended his talk with these words:

"I am sure that the Costa Ricans will be able to distinguish very well based on the results obtained who is working seriously for Costa Rica and who is playing politics. In this as in all things, God and time will be able to put each thing in its place."

In addition to financial disclosures, Pacheco was hit with the news this week that a University of Costa Rica survey said that Costa Ricans did not trust him. The survey asked 1,000 respondents if they agreed that Pacheco said one thing and did another. Nearly three quarters agreed.

A lot of the public’s lack of support was blamed on the Pacheco Adminisration’s support of the U.S. war in Iraq.

Tovar denies being
a financial leader

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Roberto Tovar Faja told legislators Tuesday that he was not the leader of Comité Civico, a campaign organization for Able Pacheco. He said that although he answered to many titles, he really was the controller in charge of keeping an eye on expenditures, not income.

Tovar, the current foreign minister, had been named as head of the parallel campaign organization by campaign treasurer Rodolfo Montero. But Tovar maintained in a formal statement to the committee investigating campaign funding that he never opened any bank account in Costa Rica or anywhere else.

He also denied he did anything contrary to the election code. As for the parallel campaign organization, Tovar told deputies that such an arrangement is provided for in the bylaws of his Partido Unidad Social Cristiana, unlike in other political parties.

Tovar said the campaign committee spent $6.2 million for the first round of elections, and $2 million more for the runoff.

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Droll
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Says the flyer:

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I love my canton
Don’t contaminate it.

Photo submitted by a reader
Villalobos files to be governor of California
and more of our humor contest HERE!

 
RACSA issues release
on computer worm

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Radiográfica Costarricense S.A., the Internet monopoly, said Tuesday that its systems were clear of a pesky virus but that each user should take steps to secure his or her computer.

The release from RACSA came after La Nación, the Spanish-language daily, published a story saying that its computer had been infected by a computer virus worm that enters a system under the guise of an e-mail attachment.

The existence of the virus had been reported here a week ago after it had been making the rounds in Costa Rica disguised as an e-mail message from an "administrator" who wanted to discuss a user’s e-mail account.

The reader has to open the attachment which contains the virus.

La Nación spent a couple of hours purging its PC computer systems of the virus, it said.

The virus continues to be active. A.M. Costa Rica received at least seven such messages Tuesday.

RACSA said in its release that at least 300 persons and some companies had been attacked by the virus. It directed computer users to commercially available anti-virus protection software.
 

Noboa gets asylum
and prepares to go

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

QUITO, Ecuador — The Dominican Republic has granted political asylum to former Ecuador President Gustavo Noboa.

Dominican Ambassador Norman Ferreira said Monday that Noboa will be able to travel as soon as Ecuadorean authorities grant him permission to leave the country.

Noboa has been holed up in the Dominican Embassy here while Ecuadorean officials investigate his finances for evidence of corruption. Ecuadorean prosecutors have said they will pursue the investigation and have requested Noboa be placed under house arrest. It is unclear how the move will affect the asylum offer.

Noboa requested political asylum from the Dominican Republic two weeks ago when accusations by a political rival sparked a probe into his role in the re-negotiation of Ecuador's foreign debt.

Former president Leon Febres Cordero says Noboa's mismanagement of the negotiations cost Ecuador $9 billion. Noboa denies any wrongdoing while president from January 2000 until January 2003.

Uribe tells military
to pick up the pace

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has told the nation's army generals to produce results in the fight against leftist rebels or lose their jobs. 

President Uribe issued the warning Monday here during a four-hour security meeting with the country's top generals. He also was quoted as saying that battalion and brigade commanders who are not doing well should start presenting their resignations. 

The remarks follow recent car bombings which have killed at least eight people and injured 25 others. Leftist rebels are blamed for the attacks. 

Colombia is mired in a long-running civil war that pits the rebels, rightist paramilitaries and the government against each other. The conflict leaves thousands of people dead each year.

Aleman in prison
after ranch stay

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MANAGUA, Nicaragua — Former Nicaraguan President Arnoldo Aleman has been jailed to await trial on money laundering and fraud charges stemming from his 1997-2002 term.  Police took Aleman to El Chipote prison Monday, after escorting him from his ranch south of here where he had been under house arrest since December. 

Managua Judge Juana Mendez ordered Aleman to go to jail. She was quoted as saying that keeping the former president under house arrest was too expensive because security guards and police were needed to patrol his residence. The former president's supporters criticized the decision, saying Aleman is in poor health. 

Aleman's arrest is part of a promised anti-corruption campaign by current President Enrique Bolaños against former officials. President Bolaños was once Aleman's vice president. Both men are from Nicaragua's ruling Liberal Party. 

Aleman was widely viewed as heading a corrupt government and enriching himself while in office. He also is accused of misusing more than $1 million in a deal involving the state-run television station. The former president denies the allegations against him.

Public trial starts
for boat hijackers

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

HAVANA, Cuba — A public trial has begun here for six Cubans who hijacked a boat last month in a bid to flee to the United States. They face sentences of eight to 10 years in jail. 

The hijackers were apprehended by U.S. authorities and sent back to Cuba after Havana gave assurances that they would serve no more than 10-year sentences for their crime. 

The repatriation sparked widespread criticism from Cuban-Americans as well as Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the brother of President George Bush. 

In April, Cuban authorities executed three men convicted of hijacking a ferry boat. The executions drew worldwide condemnation. 

Meanwhile, the United States has expressed "deep concern" about the health of imprisoned political dissidents in Cuba.  The State Department said Monday that Cuba should allow international observers to monitor the treatment of 75 political prisoners serving lengthy jail sentences in the country. 

State Department spokesman Philip Reeker noted that the health of two of the prisoners, journalists Raul Rivero and Oscar Espinoza, has worsened since they were jailed. He also says the Cuban government should provide them with the best possible medical treatment. 

Rivero is the 57-year-old founder of the independent press agency Cuba Press, and Espinoza is a 62-year-old independent journalist. Both are serving 20-year sentences. 

 The 75 dissidents were arrested in March in a Cuban government crackdown on the political opposition. They were convicted the following month. 

Caribbean troops
heading for Iraq

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic — Troops from here have left for a mission to Iraq, where they are to join international peacekeeping efforts. 

Officials said 150 troops left the Caribbean country Monday for Spain, where they will train for a week. The troops will then head to Kuwait for further training before arriving in Iraq next month. 

The troops will be part of a brigade of 1,300 that includes troops from Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua. 

Study of glaciers
to track warming

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

BOULDER, Colo. — Researchers at the University of Colorado here will combine historical records with measurements from satellites to complete an online database of the world's glaciers, which are viewed as key indicators of climate change.

Researchers at the university's National Snow and Ice Data Center will receive $1.8 million from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to provide a global picture of the response of glaciers to climate change, which up to now has been difficult to obtain. For example, fluctuation measurements have been made on only a few hundred of the world's approximately 160,000 glaciers.

"Accelerated melting over the last two decades has contributed to rising sea levels and impacted water resources and hydropower potential in many mountain regions of the world," said Richard Armstrong, principal investigator on the project.

The scientists will combine high-resolution data with other satellite imagery and new digital inventories of glaciers in the former Soviet Union and China and historical data collected from both of those countries and from other regions around the world. 

Central Asia, the largest glacier-covered area outside of the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets, accounted for 40 percent of the total sea-level rise resulting from glacier melt from 1961 to 1990.

Glaciologists located at research facilities around the world will assist in analyzing the satellite imagery to create a new baseline of current glacier conditions that will be compared to historical measurements from such things as field surveys, aerial photography and glacier inventories. 

Menem aide held
on corruption count

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — A top aide to former Argentine President Carlos Menem has been arrested on corruption charges. 

Officials here say María Julia Alsogaray was taken into custody Tuesday at the request of Federal Judge Rodolfo Canicoba Corral. 

Ms. Alsogaray served as natural resources secretary under President Menem. Authorities allege she mishandled public funds during her tenure, especially regarding cost overruns on the renovation of a building housing her office.  Investigators say Ms. Alsogaray failed to put the project up for bids from contractors. There has been no comment from her. 

Recently inaugurated President Nestor Kirchner has struck a chord with Argentines by vowing to stamp out corruption which has been rampant in the Latin American country for decades. 
 
 
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We are counting on some funny stories
Our humor deadline is fast approaching
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@amcostarica.com

Let the contest begin.

Guess who is running for governor of California
Special to AM Costa Rica*

In what political analysts of all stripes are calling an amazing and electrifying announcement, the hotly contested California governor recall election was thrown into chaos Tuesday by the surprise announcement that international businessman and fugitive Enrique Villalobos would enter the race as an independent candidate for governor.

"I said, 'I'll be back,'" Villalobos roared to thunderous applause impersonating Arnold Schwarzenegger's Austrian accent.

"I'm the only one who can solve the financial mess here in California and do it virtually overnight," Villalobos told a cheering crowd of supporters, estimated at over 250,000 by the Los Angeles Police Department. The crowd had assembled in the parking lot of Los Angeles International Airport for Villalobos' arrival on a chartered Air Romania flight. 

"My plan is a simple one that will not only restore the financial integrity of the state, but also result in the total elimination of the state income tax for both individuals and corporations," Villalobos told the wildly enthusiastic crowd in an impromptu 

speech that was carried live on virtually every radio and television station in the state and the nation.

"It's simple really," Villalobos smirked to great and wild applause, "the California Teachers Retirement System (CalSTRS) and the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS), the third and first largest pension funds in the country, have over $236 billion between them and last year only produced a return of 3.9%. By simply converting those funds into a high interest 'personal loan' paying 36 percent the state will be able to eliminate it's $38 billion deficit, give every man, woman and child in the state a $1,000 rebate and eliminate the need for a state income tax."

Villalobos' then led a motorcade estimated at over 35,000 cars to his new campaign headquarters located in the San Pedro (California) Mall. 

When asked by a reporter about the actor Arnold Schwarzenegger who up until yesterday had been considered the leading candidate, Villalobos responded, "Hasta la vista, baby." 

* Brought to us by an observant reader in the States

And guess who wants to form a workers union
By Edward Bridges*

Attorney Pablo Mendez, announced Tuesday that he will be filing papers to form a union to represent the under aged prostitutes of Costa Rica. He explained that the girls put together a rather impressive fund to set up their union. Pablo explained that the girls are tired of being blackmailed by the police, who are using new laws simply to get a little free sex.

The girls claim the oppressive laws recently passed by the government to crack down on underage prostitutes is forcing them to bribe government officials with more free sex in order for them to get fake I.D. cards. The girls say they haven't been turned down yet but are afraid the government officials may get tough and actually start asking for money.

The girls also feel they are being exploited by charitable organizations who use the girl's personal histories and international television interviews in order to raise more funds for their charitable cause. The girls claim they are entitled to a percentage of all contributions raised based on their personal heartfelt histories and interviews.

"To be perfectly honest though, we have to thank those charitable organizations for the publicity they give us. Business has never been better since they went on the Internet worldwide and let the whole world know that Costa Rica is the spot for underaged hookers," said one.

Another added, "With all this publicity, the country is flooded with all kinds of foreigners looking for young girls. It seems like every girl in my neighborhood is out there now making good money. What is the sense of us finishing high school when we can make more than a bank president at age 15".

The parent's of the underage prostitutes are planning a march in downtown San José to protest the government's interference with their primary source of family income.

The girls say that once their union is formed they are going on strike. They claim that sending those high ranking Costa Rican government officials back to their wives ought to do the trick. They don't anticipate being on strike for long.

The girls complained that this ridiculous law is preventing them from taking care of their parents. "Do they expect us to sell flowers and pencils in the street until we are 18 years old?" one girl said.

"And what about the Internet? Every hotel in the country has a web site, so why are they bothering us for wanting to get a piece of that market. That market certainly wants to get a piece of us. Are we going to give that market away to the Russians and the Americans. 

"I mean, doesn't the government owe us something for keeping the tourism industry alive all of these years. I can tell you about a lot of grandpas that aren't just looking at birds when they come here," she added.

Lawyer Mendez added, "The girl's union will be called ‘Local 911, the sisterhood of underaged street girls,’ and they mean business."

He said he has been managing their investments for years, and they are a powerful financial force to deal with. "Once the law gets repealed and these hard-working girls are allowed to work with dignity, they are planning to buy the Del Rey hotel and Key Largo and kick all of the foreign girls out of there," he said in our interview.

*Still our loyal reader. 

Sometimes a border agent is an illegal's best friend
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

SANTA TERESA, New Mexico — The summer has been perilous along the U.S.-Mexico International Border. The scorching heat in the southwestern states of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas has claimed the lives of more than 200 suspected illegal immigrants this year. 

That makes the job of a border patrolman as much about rescue as it is about law enforcement. In this town which borders El Paso, Texas, and Mexico, a reporter accompanied a border patrolman on his duties to see what a typical day was like.

——————————

Within five minutes of getting in his SUV  supervisory Border Patrol agent Edmund Hirales' radio is abuzz with urgent messages from fellow patrolmen. They are on a high-speed chase after two drug runners who have crashed their truck through a fence at the Mexican border and escaped back into Mexico on foot. Hirales speeds down the highway to meet them. 

Arriving at the site of the abandoned truck are about a dozen border patrol officers who have gathered to inspect the situation. "Ok, there was two of them in there," asks agent Hirales. "And they ran up the mountain so they were able to get close enough to the river, abandon the vehicle and then they ran south across the river. So they left the vehicle. Was it '46?' 

"Yeh, it was '46' it had narcotics, it had marijuana. It was loaded with marijuana." 

The collapsed barbed wire fence is a few meters away from the Rio Grande River which, at this point, separates the United States and Mexico. Across the river are small, adobe structures from which several people begin to emerge. One of those people is the juvenile who led the high-speed chase, who unabashedly stares at the officers who stare back at him with binoculars. 

"To him, he got away," says Hirales. "He might have lost what he was carrying but he got away. I was looking at him to see if he was a familiar customer, but no, he isn't. And he doesn't appear to have any tattoos, no cuts or abrasions, so he's not hurt or anything."

"So you're looking at him now, standing there plain as day. And he's not afraid to be on the other side of the river with you looking at him through binoculars?" the reporter asks.

"No, he knows that once he crosses a river there's nothing we can do. So there's no threat now," says Hirales.

Supervisory border patrolman Ed Barerra, one of the officers who has come to the scene, assesses the suspects.

"They're more likely to be 'mules' hired young kids," he says. "A few thousand dollars to them, it's just an easy job. If they get caught, they're juveniles, they know they'll probably be released."

What 'mules' have to fear perhaps as much as law enforcement, are the drug lords who hire them, 

adds Barrera. An unsuccessful job such as this one may result in the youths being forced to smuggle drugs across the border again, only the next time, for free. 

Apprehending drug smugglers is routine for the U.S. Border Patrol, but does not constitute the majority of arrests. Most often it is apprehending undocumented immigrants. More than three million were detained at the U.S.-Mexican border in the last three years. This is in spite of the well-known danger of trying to walk 40 kms. (about 25 miles) through the desert, or the risk of death by suffocation to ride in an air-tight truck provided by a coyote, an individual secretly hired to transport people. 

Agent Hirales says those smugglers, who are paid thousands of dollars to do the job, may be ruthless once they get their money. 

"Sometimes they are unprepared for this journey," he says. "A lot of times the smugglers will bring them to the border and say, 'Wait here for a day or two and I'll pick you up' and then they never come back. A lot of times they're abandoned, and they try to make it on their own, and they're wandering around trying to find the nearest town or nearest civilization to get to, and many times they're dehydrated or on the brink of being exhausted or other ailments. And many times you are the life saver because they put themselves in a situation where they do need help."

Back at the patrol station, a heavily-armored truck is being unloaded of its cargo. Patrolman Edmund Hirales unzips one of 30 Adidas sports duffel bags that have been crammed into the truck.

"It's a typical duffel bag with cellophane wrapping - the smell of it is marijuana," explains Hirales.

There are about 450 kilos of it, with a market value of more than $1 million. That’s 990 pounds. 

Hirales has been a border patrolman for 15 years. He loves his job because it is never routine. But he says he never lets his guard down. Border patrolmen are hired from throughout the United States and are trained in the southwest. According to Hirales, new officers are often surprised to see what the border actually is.

"A lot of people think when you talk about the U.S.-Mexican border that there's this big barrier that separates the U.S. from Mexico and then they get down here and say, 'Well, where's Mexico?' Well, it's there. 'Well, where's the border?' That's it," he says. "Sometimes the only thing that's separating the U.S. from Mexico is just a marker or just two strings or a barbed wire fence. And a lot of times they're shocked. 'That's the border?' That's the border."

The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 resulted in more funding and support for the U.S. Border Patrol. On March 1, of this year, it became part of the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection under the Department of Homeland Security. And in July it was announced that 375 experienced border patrol agents from the southwest will be transferred to the understaffed north, making it the largest-ever redeployment to guard against terrorism on the U.S.-Canada border. 


 
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