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These stories were published Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2004, Vol. 4, No. 164
Jo Stuart
About us
An anaysis on the news
What defines 'documentary' and 'propaganda'?
By Jay Brodell
editor of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Friday the Michael Moore film "Fahrenheit 911" opens at three theaters in San José, much to the delight of those who hope George Bush does not win the U.S. presidency again in November.

The movie is heralded as a documentary that denounces the errors of the Bush government's policies. But is it?

Or is it instead a propaganda film that uses selective material to drive its audience toward a certain conclusion.

One of the newspeople who saw the film in a sneak preview for journalists last week said the film was as much a documentary as "60 Minutes," the CBS Network investigative show. Indeed, some victims of "60 Minutes" reporting have called that show propaganda.

But with Michael Moore viewers get a clue that his film is closer to "Saturday Night Live" than "60 Minutes." That clue is on the official Web site of the film where Michael Moore, the portly producer-director, is pictured sharing a joke with George Bush. That never happened, and the photo is a montage. 

Nevertheless, the Web page describes the film as a documentary, which Merriam-Webster says is "factual and objective." 

David Kopel, a conservative writer for the Independence Institute, has cataloged what he says are 56 deceits involving the film. Says Kopel:

"Some of them are outright lies; some are omissions which create a false impression. Others involve different forms of deception. A few are false statements Moore has made when defending the film. Judge for yourself the credibility of Michael Moore's promise, ‘Every single fact I state in "Fahrenheit 9/11" is the absolute and irrefutable truth . . . Do not let anyone say this or that isn't true. If they say that, they are lying.’" 

In one instance which has made news in journalistic circles, Moore shows a large headline and nameplate from the Pantagraph, a Bloomington, Ind., daily newspaper. The headline says "Latest Florida recount shows Gore won election." The impression is that the newspaper is reporting objective information. What Moore does not say is that the statement came from a reader’s letter to the editor and not from a news story.

 Moore and his buddy, or so it would 
 appear, on the official movie Web site.

Bill Flick, a Pantagraph columnist, said July 23: "Illogically, if not inexplicably, a page apparently was ‘pasted together’ to look like an actual Pantagraph page for the movie shot."

"Instead it was the headline atop a letter to the editor, significantly blown up to make it look like a news story."

Moore has not responded to an explanation demanded by the newspaper.

Kopel said that key points of Moore’s movie were taken out of context. In one scene, Bush is shown addressing a high-fashion audience. "Some call you the elite; I call you my base," Bush says. 

This gives the impression that Bush is talking to a group of big Republican political donors. Instead, Bush, with Al Gore sitting just a few seats away, is deliberately making fun of himself, as is the tradition at a fundraiser for a Catholic charity, said Kopel.

The movie Web page praises Moore for "his characteristic humor and dogged commitment to uncovering the facts." But either one of the scenarios above, if true, and the composite photo are firing offenses on any major newspaper, including this one.

A lot of movie viewers will accept Moore’s version of reality uncritically because it agrees with the point of view they brought to the theater. 

George Bush has done a lot that is worthy of criticism. A.M. Costa Rica has done its share. 

But democracy is not served by propaganda, particularly when the stakes are as high as they are this November.

Love him or hate him, Moore and his movie can be seen at the Colonial in Escazú, the Outlet Mall in San Pedro and the Cariari Mall west of San José. For those who can't make it, the DVD will appear in mid-October.

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Canadian sentenced
for big cocaine haul

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Canadian drug runner who languished in jail for more than a year finally was sentenced to 12 years in prison Tuesday.

The man is Westley Trimble, 52, a one-time resident of Paquera on the east shore of the Nicoya Peninsula.

Trimble was the operator of a sailboat, "Sin Rumbo," when it was boarded April 12, 2003, in Colombian waters in the area of the Galápagos. Investigators found 1,360 kilos of cocaine they said was bound for Canada. That’s nearly 3,000 pounds.

The arrest triggered 14 raids and 17 arrests by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Four arrests were made in Colombia. The investigation involved Costa Rica, Canada, Colombia and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Trimble was brought back to Costa Rica after his boat was confiscated.

In addition to his prison term, Trimble loses the boat which will be turned over to the Instituto Costarricense Contra las Drogas.

Vandals damage site
of possible Pacuare dam

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Vandalism and threats are being directed at the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad as it conducts studies for the possible construction of a hydroelectric plant on the Río Pacuare near Siquirries.

The institute, known as ICE, says it had filed complaints with the Judicial Investigating Organization and has posted guards around the site. In addition, the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública has become involved.

ICE said unknown persons have slashed tires and set fire to an excavating machine rented to do work on the site. In addition, employees are subjected to continual verbal abuse by persons using the river.

The river is well-known for its whitewater rafting and kayaking.

ICE said it would proceed with criminal and civil cases against those who harass employees.

The river flows from Siquirres east to the Caribbean and enters the sea some 20 miles north of Limón.

Shrimp fishermen seek
delay on turtle escapes

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Several groups of shrimp fishermen have asked the United States to give them one more year to revise turtle excluding devices on their nets.

The fishermen sent the letter Aug. 6 to the U.S. Department of State.

The United States is demanding certain changes and widening of the net escapes by Sept. 1. The country cut off shipment of Costa Rican jumbo shrimp for a time last August because inspectors the previous June determined that the turtle excluders were not in widespread use.

The fishing groups say that the changes the United States demands are not consistent with practices in Costa Rica. They are conducting a study to prove their point.

The turtle escape lets the turtle swim free while keeping shrimp in the net. It is like a trap door. Otherwise turtles, which are air breathers, are caught in the net and drown.

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A.M. Costa Rica
Consultantes Río Colorado S.A.

James J. Brodell.........................editor
Saray Ramírez Vindas.... associate editor

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Police win two and lose a big one with robbers
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

San José endured a day and night of bank and armored car robberies. Police chased down three suspects through a hail of bullets in the most spectacular arrest.

The first of three incidents took place at the Banco de Costa Rica branch office in Barrio Amón about 11:10 a.m. Police responded in force within 30 seconds creating the impression that they had been tipped off and were waiting.

Four armed men were involved in that robbery. Police arrived so fast that three robbers had to jump on the same motorcycle to flee. The driver of the waiting getaway car got away.

Patrol cars and at least four policemen on motorcycles pursued the fleeing suspects to Llorente de Tibás near the Colegio Saint Anthony. 

Two of the three men have records of robbery, said

 the Ministerio de Gobernción, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

Two Costa Rican suspects were identified by the last names of Ugalde Elizondo and Jiménez Jiménez. A Nicaraguan suspect was identified as López Fernández. Robbers got away with 17.6 million colons, but police said the money was recovered after the chase. That’s about $40,000.

In another bank incident, a woman distracted a messenger in a bank in Rohrmoser in west San José while men nearby took the messenger’s briefcase that was full of checks. The thieves fled, but police stopped a vehicle containing five suspects near Plaza Mayor a short time later and recovered what they said was the briefcase.

Tuesday night robbers made the biggest haul of the day when they stuck up a lightly armored panel truck also in Rohrmoser, and got away with 90 million colons, some $204,000. That heist happened about 9:30 p.m.

Police say they are breaking up gang preying on tourists here
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A band of crooks who have quietly preyed on tourists for at least a year was the target when police arrested six suspects in downtown San José Tuesday afternoon.

The six are believed to be members of a gang of at least 15 who have stolen from tourists in a number of different ways. Some gang members are responsible for grabbing items from the backpacks of tourists. Others create a diversion in local hotels while their associates walk off with luggage.

In one case that appears to have led to the arrests Tuesday, they use the technique of puncturing a tire on a rental car and then coming to the aid of the tourists who are wrestling with a flat.

Police said in nearly all cases the crimes were thefts and not robberies where force was used or implied. Some 24 crimes are attributed to the gang, but many more incidents are believed to be unreported.

Police grabbed the six suspects Tuesday as it appeared they were about to steal from more tourists.

Oil crunch has officials thinking about what to do to avert crisis
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica is the land where reasonable motorists can justify buying massive four-wheel-drive vehicles due to the condition of the roads and highways.

Costa Rica also is the country that pulled the plug on Harken Energy Co. and its plans to drill exploratory wells for petroleum offshore in the Caribbean near Limón.

So no one is surprised that the country is facing a crunch as oil prices approach $47 a barrel, twice the price before the Iraq war began.

The government’s response Tuesday was to name a commission to analyze and propose actions that can reduce the consumption of fuel. That was 

announced at the press conference following the weekly Consejo de Gobierno by Carlos Manuel Rodríguez, minister of Ambiente y Energía.

Rodríguez said the petroleum situation was serious but not dramatic and one that required immediate action but not an emergency. He also said that the new commission should look at problems in the short term and also over a period of eight to 10 years.

Costa Rica gets some of its oil at a cut-rate price from Venezuela as part of a special agreement between the two countries.

Asphalt also is made up of petroleum products, so increases in oil results in comparable increases in asphalt, thereby raising the price of roadbuilding and repair.

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Fraud blamed on computer program
Venezuela will audit 150 selected ballot boxes 
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Cesar Gaviria, secretary general of the Organization of American States, said election officials have agreed to conduct a sample audit of the vote in Sunday's recall referendum. This follows a meeting with opposition leaders, who say they have evidence that the election results were manipulated through a computer program that limited votes to remove President Hugo Chavez and augmented votes in his favor.

Carter says he and Gaviria have no reason to question the integrity of the electoral process in Venezuela or to doubt the accuracy of the results announced Monday that gave the victory to President Chavez. But, Carter says, they recommended the audit in order to address concerns raised by the opposition.

"This audit will remove any doubt about the accuracy of the electronically transmitted data, election results, as compared with the actual ballots that each voter looked at and deposited in the box at the time of voting," he said.

Carter said the audit, which will take place over the next two days, will not involve a count of all votes, but will rely on a random sample of 150 vote boxes, which are now being guarded at military garrisons around the country. He says both government and opposition representatives will be present when the paper ballots are removed from each box and counted.

Earlier Tuesday, opposition leaders presented the international observer mission with what they described as evidence of irregularities. Various 

opposition leaders also took to the airwaves denouncing what they called fraud.

But Carter firmly rejected the use of the word. "There is no evidence of fraud and any allegations of fraud are completely unwarranted," he said.

Opposition leaders, however, persist in their condemnations. The president of the Democratic Action Party, Jesus Mendez Quijada, claims that the fraud was committed long before voters went to the polls Sunday.

He says there was a grand fraud planned in advance and that the election was fixed in favor of President Chavez through a software program that caused voting machines to misrepresent the votes being cast. 

A political consultant sympathetic to the opposition, Juan José Rendon, appearing on Venezuela's Globovision television network, showed copies of several vote counts from voting machines each showing the exact same number of votes in favor of the recall, while the totals of the no votes varied. He said it was mathematically improbable that this was a matter of coincidence, suggesting that it was the result of a computer software program that put a ceiling on the number of yes votes, while allowing no votes to accumulate without limit.

Meanwhile, the Chavez government is calling on opposition leaders to stop their complaining and accept the election results. Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel says he is disappointed in the opposition attitude. He says he and President Chavez have offered dialogue in an effort to foster reconciliation, but that opposition leaders have yet to accept their invitation.

After a delay, the U.S. falls in line over referendum
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States said Tuesday it accepts results showing that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez won Sunday's recall referendum and will continue to engage with his government. But the State Department says opposition claims of fraud in the vote should be investigated. 

U.S. officials had been hesitant to embrace preliminary vote returns showing Chavez easily winning the referendum, with opposition leaders claiming widespread election fraud. 

But after former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and officials from the Organization of American States, who monitored the vote, said they concurred with the outcome, the Bush administration fell in line and recognized the Chavez victory.

At a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli said the United States joined other members of the informal Friends of Venezuela grouping in acknowledging preliminary returns showing a 58 percent Chavez majority.

He said the United States had long held that the referendum, if conducted freely, fairly and transparently could be an important step toward a peaceful and democratic solution to Venezuela's political crisis, and that it appears those criteria were met in Sunday's vote.

"Those principles in our view and in the view of the

 Friends of Venezuela have largely been followed," said Ereli. "And the results are there for everybody to see: a peaceful referendum that was conducted transparently and that resulted in people expressing their will. Now it's time to respect that will, and move on."

Ereli called on the Venezuelan National Electoral Commission to work with the election monitors, the OAS and the Carter Center, to conduct a transparent audit of the returns to address the concerns of Chavez opponents as part of a process of national reconciliation.

The spokesman congratulated the people of Venezuela for the way they handled the election process. He declined under questioning to congratulate Chavez personally, though a senior official here said the United States is looking to engage with his government in light of the vote.

The Bush administration has had a difficult relationship with Chavez, a left-leaning populist who has been a strident critic of U.S. policies in Iraq and elsewhere.

But spokesman Ereli said the two countries have traditionally had close relations, and continue to share fundamental values of democracy and human rights and a mutually-beneficial economic relationship.

Venezuela is the world's fifth largest oil exporter and supplies about 13 percent of the oil consumed in the United States.

Super speedy murder trial acquittal draws criticism
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States expressed deep concern Tuesday over the acquittal of a former Haitian paramilitary leader and an ex-police official in an unusual overnight murder trial in Port-au-Prince. The verdict has also drawn criticism from Haitian human rights advocates. 

Officials here are questioning the credibility of the rapid-fire Haitian re-trial that ended with the acquittal of former paramilitary leader Louis-Jodel Chamblain and co-defendant Jackson Joanis, a one-time Port-au-Prince police chief.

The two men were cleared of the 1993 killing of Antoine Izmery, a businessman who was a key financial backer of former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. They had been tried in absentia and convicted of the crime in 1995.

Press reports of the new trial said it began late Monday morning and ended just after dawn Tuesday after jurors had heard only three witnesses, one for the prosecution and two for the defense.

The key defendant, Chamblain, was a co-leader of the paramilitary Front for Haitian Advancement and Progress, or FRAPH, a group blamed for thousands of killings following Aristide's ouster by the armed forces in 1991.

The trial outcome drew immediate criticism from Haitian human rights advocates, and in a written 

statement volunteered to reporters here, State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli said the United States is deeply concerned by the acquittal.

He also said the United States deeply regrets the haste with which the cases against the two men were brought to trial, saying it resulted in procedural deficiencies that call into question the integrity of the process.

Ereli said U.S. officials recognize that Haiti's interim government faces a continuing challenge from armed groups, and needs help from the international community in restoring the rule of law.

But he said the United States calls on Haitian authorities to ensure that trials involving charges of gross human rights violations and other such crimes be conducted in a credible manner.

Despite the not-guilty verdict, both men will remain in custody to face other charges stemming from the killing of Aristide supporters after the 1991 coup. 

Chamblain fled Haiti after Aristide was restored to power by U.S. troops in 1994, and was tried in absentia and given two life sentences for the murder of Izmery and a number of other Aristide supporters. Under Haitian law, he was entitled to a new trial upon his return to the country. 

Earlier this year, he led rebel fighters in the three-week revolt against Aristide that led to his resignation and exile in late February.

Jo Stuart
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