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These stories were published Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 164
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Directors get just one free phone each, ICE says
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In a brief press release Tuesday, the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad said that each member of its board of directors only has one free cellular telephone, not the 19 that deputies claimed.

And the telecommunications monopoly invited the deputy, Federico Malavassi to verify the facts for himself. His political party, the Movimiento Libertario, had criticized the state institution Thursday.

The press release from ICE, as it is known, said nothing about the Libertario claim that some 2,000 employees also have free or cut-rate telephone service with various levels of service paid for by the financially strapped monopoly.

In all, the Libertario statement estimated that the cost to Costa Ricans each month for the free phones comes to about 12 million colons or nearly $30,000.

The ICE release was not very detailed and consisted of about 14 lines of type. However, it did say that each of the six members of the board of directors gets a free cellular telephone as a working tool to fulfill their function and that this has been done for many years.

The lawmakers said Thursday that the Consejo Directivo of the institute has 135 cellular lines in its names. That’s 19 cellular lines for each of the seven (not six) directors, the political party’s release said. Directors, of course, are suppose to keep an eye on the finances and the operation of the giant monopoly.

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Photo by Contance B. Lentz 
Just what is this little guy anyway?
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

It is furry and likes sweet syrup. But is it an olingo or a kinkajou?

Both are shy forest dwellers, and both have been known to raid hummingbird feeders.

But reader Margret Hereras raises the question after she saw the creature in the winning photo in the Wildlife category published Monday in A.M. Costa Rica.

"We believe that the ‘olingo’ in your winning picture is a kinkajou (Potus flavus) or martillo, in Guanacaste at least," she wrote.

"The kinkajou is a small tropical American mammal related to the raccoon and distinguished by its long, prehensile (grasping) tail. Your winning picture does not show that he is holding him/herself by its strong tail."

"It is nocturnal and arboreal and has a round head, a short face, and a slender body covered with soft, yellowish-brown woolly fur. Gentle in disposition, it can be readily tamed as a pet."

But there are consequences. Ms. Hereras relates an unhappy encounter:  "I forgot my limits one night and startled ours with a flashlight, and I was promptly and severely bit. He wouldn't let go until I grabbed him at his neck and tore him off me. Well, another clinic trip . . ."

However, there is no certainty without further investigation. Said Ms. Hereras: "There can be no certainty unless I go there myself and luck out  to see the creature doing its stunt. The grasping tail would be the primary give-away, as are the dark-brown rings on the olingo's tail."

Ms. Hereras accompanied her opinion with several photos of olingo and kinkajou. They all look the same to desk-bound editors. They are both brown and furry and cute. Both photos are copyrighted, so they cannot be published here.

Dr. Constance B. Lentz, the Massachusetts physician who took the winning photo, still thinks the critter is an olingo. The photo was taken at Galleria Colibri in Monteverde in January. "I took many pictures of the creature on a few different occasions," she said in an e-mail message.

". . . Although I can't find one with the whole tail (it was very long) I think from the facial structure that it IS an olingo.  It tended  to appear in the late afternoons, climb down from the trees and spend a few  minutes slowly drinking before climbing back up." 

"This is one thing that  makes Costa Rica so much fun —  the biodiversity!"

Absent any conclusion, we welcome any authoritative input. Otherwise, we are comfortable with yet another Tico uncertainty.

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Judicial aide rebuts idea of academy's military use
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The deputy director of the Escuela Judicial told a legislative committee Tuesday that a proposed international police academy here has no military goals despite what some opponents say.

The speaker was Mateo Ivancovich, who appeared before the Comisión Permanente de Asuntos Internacionales y Comercio Exterior.

The United States and Costa Rica have signed an agreement to place the law enforcement training facility here, but the legislature must agree.

Ivancovich said that he studied similar academies around the world and found that they offer good training that does not have a military emphasis. Such training includes anti-drug trafficking and money laundering techniques. Such crimes are common here, the deputy director said. The existing academies also train police to counter terrorism, which is not common here, he added.

However, the judicial official suggested to lawmakers that they study the proposed curriculum of the academy to avoid duplication with the Escuela Judicial that he helps supervise. The course of studies will be developed if the academy is approved, officials have said.

Ruth Montoya, a deputy from the Partido Acción Ciudadana, said that the Poder Judicial should play a greater role in the negotiations for the school which have been mostly in the hands of the Ministerio de Seguridad Pública. She said that she and her party members still oppose the estimated 80 million colons, about $200,000, that Costa Rica will have to pay to support the academy. She said the money would be better spent in the budget of the Escuela Judicial, which trains investigators and others here.

The Partido Acción Ciudadana has steadfastly opposed the police training facility that would attract students from all over the hemisphere to high-level training. 

Another sticking point that was not mentioned Tuesday was the U.S. proposal that provides 

immunity from local prosecution for U.S. nationals that work at the school. The director and the deputy director are to be U.S. citizens.

Other deputies have suggested that locating the academy here would compromise the county’s sovereignty and perhaps open up the country to terrorist attacks.

Others have said the matters that interest the United States, drugs, money-laundering, gambling, child prostitution and arms shipments, are not such high priorities here.

United States officials here, except for one press conference, have kept a low profile. Some position statements, articles and the text of the school agreement is on the embassy Web site. 

The school would be run by the U.S. State, Treasury  and Justice departments, and the U.S. Drug  Enforcement Administration. The San José school  would be the fifth such U.S.-run academy. Other academies are in Budapest, Hungary; Bangkok, Thailand; Gaborone, Botswana;  and Roswell, N. M. These are the schools that Ivancovich studied.

Another concern was raised by Francisco Cordero, an adviser to the Partido Liberación Nacional, in a speech several months ago. He said Costa Ricans fear that Tico police officers who go through the training programs at the academy would develop loyalty to the United States at the expense of loyalty to their own country. 

The fight against the academy comes mainly from the students and faculty at the University of Costa Rica. Some have suggested without proof that the United States has hidden reasons for setting up the school or that the school has the potential to do bad things. Opponents are active on the Internet promoting their cause. Much of the opposition is simple anti-U.S. sentiment. And some is simply local politics.

Some youthful protestors showed up at the Asemblea Nacional Tuesday morning to voice their opposition, although the turnout was well short of what prior Internet messages suggested.

Man killed in Moín crash was retired Army officer
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man who died Friday night near Moín in a car crash was a retired U.S. military officer.

He was identified by a friend there as Edward Norman Russell, 60. A.M. Costa Rica reported the name incorrectly Monday.

Russell went off the road in his car Friday night while on his way home, and the vehicle fell an estimated 45 feet into a rain-swollen creek. Police reported that the man drowned. The location is adjacent to a subdivision called Villa Cacao. The area is just west of Limón.

The friend, Perry Edwards, a Limón businessman, said that Russell had lived in San José for about six years before moving to the Moín area and buying a house a few months ago.

Russell lived just a few kilometers from the accident site where the road makes a turn and there is no guardrail. He retired on disability believed incurred in the Vietnam war, Edwards said. Friends thought he held the rank of first lieutenant in the U.S. Army.

Russell is survived by a daughter, Kieva Anane of Virginia; his mother, Vivian Russell from near Boston, Mass; and three brothers, Samuel, Arthur and Kenneth, all of the Boston area.

Photo by Perry Edwards
Wrecked car still is in creek where the water was much higher Friday.

Russell was born in Boston and attended Hampton University in Hampton, Va., Perry said the man’s mother told him.  Burial probably will be in Limón.


 
Resurfacing highway
will closes it nightly

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Reconstruction has started on the General Cañas highway from San José to Juan Santamaría Airport.

Resurfacing work will close the road from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. until the job is done, according to the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transporte.

Work began Monday night in the highway intersection just east of the airport. Several alternate routes have been suggested include travel through Santa Ana to the Próspero Fernádez highway.

Suggested alternate routes will change as workmen make their way east to the intersection that is just west of Parque La Sabana.
 

Three police raids
nail 5 on pot counts

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Anti-drug police arrested five persons in the Precario Las Tablas in Concepción de Alajuelita Tuesday and said they had broken up the ring that controlled marijuana distribution in the area.

One person, identified by the last names García Chaves, was said to be the leader who had been sought for two months since neighbors started to complain, said a spokesman for the Policía de Control de Drogas.

Four persons identified as salesman also were arrested, and one was just 16 years of age.

According to a release from the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública, drug police raided three houses to make the arrest and to confiscate 40 ounces of marijuana and 200 cigarettes as well as 200,000 colons, some $500, and a .38-caliber revolver.

Also there was the Unidad de Intervención Policial, the tactical squad, because police were not sure what type of reception they would get. In the past such arrests in the area have resulted in rock-throwing and other disturbances, police said, adding that Tuesday there were no problems.

In addition to marijuana charges, those arrested also face an organized crime allegation which punishes illegal activity by groups of more than two persons. In addition, there are allegations of sales to minors.

Animal treatment
to be discussed today

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Humane society of the United States and the Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería are holding a seminar today about the protection and treatment of animals.

The program that begins at 8:30 a.m. at the Hotel Radisson Europa is wide-ranging.  In addition to the general topic of humane treatment of animals, a release from the U.S. Embassy said that discussion of a new certification program in the U.S. of the humane treatment of animals will be included.

Also to be discussed is a new program of aid to veterinarians who work in rural areas.

New price regulator
named to vacancy

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Aracelly Pacheco Salazar has been named the new public services regulator to replace Herman Hess, who resigned to go into private business.

The designation was announced Tuesday at the weekly Consejo de Gobierno meeting in Casa Presidencial. She is a lawyer and a former employee and subdirector of the Contraloría General de la República, the fiscal watchdog of the country. She currently is on the board of directors of the agency, the Autoridad Reguladora de los Servicios Públicos, which she will head.

The nomination has to be ratified within 30 days by the Asamblea Nacional. The agency sets rates for utilities and other public services.

Ruins in Cartago
will be fixed up

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The stabilization of the so-called Ruins of Cartago will begin next week and continue until December, according to Guido Sáenz, the minister of Cultura, Juventud y Deporte.

The 95 million-colon job (some $235,000) will seek to arrest the deterioration and dangerous condition of the former church that was a victim of the 1910 earthquake. The site is considered a national historic site.

Hepatitis is topic of meeting

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Health Visions in conjunction with Roche Pharmaceutical is inviting all war veterans to a conference on "The Risk of Hepatitis C." 

The guest speaker is Dr. Hernando Gonzalez, a gastroenterologist. The event is held Saturday, Aug. 30, at 10 a.m. at the Hotel Corobici  (Room  Corcovado 4-5). Free screening and testing will be available, the organization said. Those who wish to attend can confirm at 260-0535 or 367-3251.

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Diet, light keys to avoiding dementia, studies say
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

As the average age of the world's population increases, so does the incidence of dementias such as Alzheimer's disease. New research shows that lifestyle factors such as diet can influence the chances of dementia. Good smells and bright lights can improve the quality of life for those who suffer from it.

The group Alzheimer's Disease International says 18 million people around the world currently live with dementia — brain disorders characterized by confusion, memory loss and an increasing inability to function in daily life. Two-thirds of the patients are in developing countries. 

While pharmaceutical companies seek drugs to control the disorders, other researchers have found that several lifestyle factors affect them. 

Among them is diet. At the recent Chicago meeting of the International Psychogeriatric Association, Dr. Antonio Capurso of the University of Bari in Italy recommended the so-called Mediterranean diet, which has already been shown to help prevent heart disease. It uses a lot of healthy fats, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated oils. Dr. Capurso says that, in a study of 550 elderly adults, those who consumed a lot of those oils did better on tests of brain function than those whose diets were low in them.

"The fats were almost exclusively derived from olive oil, and particularly from extra virgin olive oil," he explained. "So in our population, roughly 30 percent of daily calories are derived from fats, of which more than two-thirds were from olive oil."

Dr. Capurso points out that the healthy dietary fats may help maintain the structural integrity and function of nerve cells in the brain.

Previous studies have shown that so-called anti-oxidant vitamins found in vegetables and fruits also protect against dementia, as do non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin. 

An American-Swedish study presented at the Chicago conference showed that the risk of elderly dementia increases if a person experiences a psychological or physical trauma early in life. These include child abuse or the death of a parent.

The Swedish scientists also found that small head size and, hence, a smaller brain, also boosts dementia risk. A smaller brain might be caused by traumas such as premature birth, birth injuries, genetic defects, and child abuse.

These studies add to ones that have found a variety of other factors increasing the chance of dementia, including obesity, heart disease, diabetes, education level, and occupation. People with higher education and professional office jobs appear to be at less risk. 

These brain disorders often leave patients depressed. But studies presented at the Chicago meeting reveal that alternative therapies can help improve their mood and quality of life.

Investigators at the Manchester Royal Infirmary in Britain found that patients exposed to a bright 

light box for two hours each morning for two 
weeks slept better and were less agitated than others who sat in front of dim light for the same amount of time. According to psychiatrist Harry Allen, the benefits are much greater in winter when days are shorter.

"Patients in nursing homes need daylight," he said. "Just having breakfast facing an easterly window could help your agitation, could help your sleep. It may be possible to delay the transfer of patients to nursing home care by reducing their agitation and sleeplessness with these small adjustments to daily activity or just with a light box."

Similarly, University of Newcastle scientists found that the smell of lemon balm also sharply reduced agitation in adults with dementia. According to researcher Elaine Perry, one-third of patients exposed to lemon balm were calmer after four weeks compared to only one-tenth of patients exposed to odorless substances for the same amount of time.

"We were seeing highly significant reductions in agitation, but in addition to reductions in agitation, there were improvements in the quality of life as indicated by reduction in social withdrawal and an increase in constructive activities," she said.

But therapies can proceed only if a person is diagnosed. Sadly, most are not, according to psychiatrist Sanford Finkel of the University of Chicago Medical School. He notes that U.S. physicians do not notice symptoms in 80 percent of their older patients who are experiencing early cognitive disorders.

"It's not a criticism of the physicians because they have an enormous amount to contend with in limited amounts of time, but it is a need that's not being picked up there and likely not picked up actually anywhere," he said.

Dr. Finkel says physicians should be alert to older patients who become listless and depressed, socialize less, lose weight suddenly, answer questions vaguely, or have trouble following instructions. 


 
 
Leaders mourn murder of U.N.'s top troubleshooter
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In New York, the U.N. flag is flying at half staff, as the world mourns the loss of United Nation's High Commissioner for Human Rights, Sergio Vieira de Mello, who was killed Tuesday in a car-bombing at the United Nations compound in Baghdad while serving there as the U.N.'s special envoy for Iraq. 

Sergio Vieira de Mello's death has come as a devastating shock to the international community and to his homeland, Brazil.

 Over a 33-year career with the United Nations, the respected Brazilian diplomat and humanitarian made an enormous impact on some of the world's most devastated nations. He was an instrumental figure in the United Nations, leading U.N. missions to rebuild Kosovo, East Timor, and most recently, Iraq. 

Costa Rica joined others in the world community expressing sympathy to the Brazilian government. That message was contained in a letter sent by Roberto Tovar Faja, the foreign minister here.

In New York upon hearing of de Mello's death, U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard read a statement from Secretary-General Kofi Annan. 

"The loss of Sergio Vieira de Mello is a bitter blow and for me personally," he said. "The death of any colleague is hard to bear. But I can think of no one we could less afford to spare, or who would be more acutely missed throughout the U.N. system than Sergio. Throughout his career, he has been an outstanding servant of humanity, dedicated to relieving the suffering of his fellow men and women, helping them to [resolve] their conflicts and rebuild their war-torn societies." 

De Mello was midway through a four-month assignment as Annan's special representative to Iraq. 

De Mello, a Brazilian national, was 55 years old. He is remembered as one of the world's top troubleshooters. 

De Mello led U.N. human rights missions in Mozambique, and Peru, and was appointed principal adviser to U.N. forces in Lebanon in 1981.

Later, following the genocide crisis in Rwanda, de Mello served as U.N. humanitarian coordinator there. 

He became the United Nations' special representative for Kosovo in 1999. The next year he led U.N. operations in East Timor. 

Last year, he became the head of the U.N. Human Rights Commission based in Geneva, a post he is said to have cherished. 

When de Mello began his work in Iraq, he made it a priority to listen to Iraqis, and to work with Iraq's new potential leaders. Speaking at the United Nations at the end of May, de Mello expressed his enthusiasm for helping Iraq rebuild. 

"Priority number one will be to establish contacts with representative Iraqi leaders, representatives of the media, of civil society, and there are many," he said. "Iraqi society is rich and that richness has been suppressed brutally for the last 24 years but they are there. They are there or they are returning as we speak and that is my priority." 

Ambassador Adolfo Aguilar Zinser of Mexico stresses that de Mello's passing will not bring an end to the work that he was doing in Iraq. 

"We know that the spirit, the vision, the optimism the courage, the energy of Sergio will remain in Iraq with the United Nations," he said. 

Those who knew de Mello say he had a leader's charisma combined with a compassion for people that made him truly effective. 

Ambassador William Luers, the president of the United Nations Association of the United States of America, a private group, maintained a close relationship with de Mello for many years. 

"It's that skill of knowing people, figuring them out and getting to them, which is what a lot of the basic work of peace building is all about, and he's the master at it," he said. 

Ambassador Luers, along with many longtime U.N. observers, believes that de Mello would have one day become secretary-general of the United Nations.


 
Argentines blame neo-liberalism for the decline
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Some 20 months after suffering through an economic meltdown, many Argentines are laying the blame for their country's woes squarely on the neo-liberal or free market reforms implemented during the 1990s. 

But some economists say Argentines are drawing the wrong conclusions from the recent past and risk putting their country on a path to further economic damage. 

Here in this city Fabiana Torres stands amid a throng of demonstrators in demanding government action to combat a national unemployment rate that stands at more than 20 percent. Her reply is swift when asked who is to blame for Argentina's current economic plight. 

Ms. Torres says, the fault lies with those who implemented the neo-liberal economic model, which concentrated wealth in a few hands while the rest of the people suffered and continue to suffer the consequences. 

Her words echo those of President Nestor Kirchner, who, in his inaugural speech in May, promised to plot a new economic course for Argentina. 

President Kirchner said in the 90s efforts to control inflation took center stage. He said gains from these policies were concentrated in a few groups without concern for the growing numbers of poor people, the fragmentation of Argentine society, or the enormous debt burden that was incurred. 

For much of the last decade, Argentina was widely regarded as an economic success story. Under then-President Carlos Menem, and with the blessing of the International Monetary Fund, 

Argentina limited the growth of its public sector, sold off inefficient state-owned enterprises, and pegged the peso one-to-one with the U.S. dollar. Argentines enjoyed several years of vigorous economic growth with minuscule inflation, an unprecedented feat in a country accustomed to regular currency devaluations. 

By the late 1990s, however, Argentina was in recession and was racking up foreign debt at an unsustainable pace. The breaking point came in late 2001, when Argentina defaulted on its debt and abandoned the one-to-one currency peg. 

"What went wrong? Agricultural prices fell very steeply, and oil prices rose," said Andrew Powell, who served as chief economist at Argentina's Central Bank from 1996 to 2001. "The dollar rose, and of course the policy was to peg the exchange 

rate to the dollar. And there was a very significant recession in Brazil. All of these things were bad luck — one factor piled on the other. A 'perfect storm.'" 

Powell insists the basic foundation of Argentina's economic policies during the 1990s was sound. He does, however, admit that government spending should have been further constrained to reduce the impetus for massive borrowing. Powell says, if anything, the Menem reforms did not go far enough. 

On that score, he gets no argument from researcher Mark Falcoff of the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. "The most important lesson is that you cannot borrow your way out of structural inefficiencies in a society. Eventually the numbers catch up with you," he said. 

"Obviously, Argentina's problems should have been perceived by the lenders. But it is also true that Argentina could have carried a heavy debt burden if it had restructured its labor market so as to make it a more competitive, productive country." 

Such advice appears to be falling on deaf ears in Argentina. 

In his public pronouncements, President Kirchner often strikes a populist tone, dismissing any suggestion that Argentina embrace austerity measures that would require sacrifice and inflict further suffering. 

The president's spokesman, Miguel Nuñez, says there will be no return to what he terms the discredited policies of neo-liberalism. 

Nuñez says neo-liberalism has a bad reputation the world over. He says, the International Monetary Fund showcased then-President Carlos Menem in front of the world as its best student and one to emulate. He says, Argentina ended up on the verge of national dissolution. 

Economist Powell says the Kirchner administration is making a mistake. "There is a danger of learning the wrong lessons from the Argentine crisis," he said. "Some people would like to interpret it as a failure of free market economics, privatizations, etc. And I think that is really wrong. I do not think one can say this is the failure of relatively free market economics. I think, in some areas, Argentina actually had some very good policies, on a micro level." 

Conventional wisdom holds that, as a condition for renegotiating its foreign debt, Argentina will have to embrace some painful economic reforms. But just how far President Kirchner will be willing to bend to satisfy creditors remains unclear.


 
 
Country suffers a gigantic blow to its self-esteem
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — People here have traditionally viewed their nation as separate and, in many ways, superior to other Latin American nations, thanks to higher living standards and educational accomplishments — not to mention historical and cultural links with Europe. 

Today, with Argentina's finances in ruin and unemployment nearing 25 percent, many Argentines say they no longer cling to romantic notions about their country constituting a chunk of European prosperity within South America. 

Fifty years ago, Argentina's gross domestic product rivaled that of France. Bountiful agricultural exports generated foreign revenue streams that were the envy of Argentina's neighbors and helped finance public educational and health care systems that were unmatched in the region. Conventional wisdom held that, among Latin American nations, Argentina had the best prospects for one day emerging as a world economic power.

But times have changed, and Argentines are now watching helplessly as their country endures hardships that would have seemed inconceivable just a few years ago. 

"The phenomenon of homeless people used to be viewed as a problem of the United States, or of some other place — but not of Buenos Aires, says political scientist Carlos Escude, who teaches at Di Tella University in Buenos Aires. "Now it is definitely a phenomenon of Buenos Aires."

Office worker Blanca Mauro stands at a street corner, unable to get to work. An unruly throng of 

protesters known as "Piqueteros", or picketers, blocks the street, demanding that the government provide them jobs and a basic standard of living.

Ms. Mauro watches the scene in front of her and shakes her head.

"We used to think we were a super-developed country that was the best of South America," she says. "But now, we realize we are just like other countries that suffer crises and where there is hunger."

To this day, many native-born residents of Buenos Aires can trace their family lineage directly to Spain, Italy or elsewhere in Europe. Some even maintain dual-nationality with a European nation, and point to it as a matter of pride. Ask an Argentine what language he speaks and he is likely to say "Castellano" or Castilian - a specific dialect of Spain — rather than the all-encompassing "Español" or Spanish.

Sociologist Graciela Romer says Argentina's status as a nation of largely "pure-bred" European descendants has engendered a certain conceit and an expectation of national progress and prosperity.

She says the country's economic woes have struck a dissonant chord with Argentina's historically-lofty collective self-image.

"The people of Buenos Aires never considered themselves to be Latin American," Ms. Romer says. "They always looked to Europe as a reference point, and viewed Europeans rather than Latin Americans as their kin. Argentina used to be the land of promise, and now it is a Third World country. Argentines have suffered a grave wound to their sense of pride and self-esteem." 

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