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These articles were published Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2001
Does 'Betty' say
something about
Latin lifestyle?
Betty as seen last night on Channel 11
By Jay Brodell
A.M. Costa Rica staff

What is the attraction of the so-called ugly woman who has transfixed Costa Rican television viewers?

Is it just another Cinderella story or does the popularity of "Yo soy Betty la fea" say something about Latin culture?

"Fea" means ugly in Spanish, and Betty la Fea is the daily hour-long travails of an allegedly ugly woman working the beautiful world of a modeling agency.

The Colombian telenovela aired in the United States on the Telemundo network. It ended May 11 with a dramatic and happy conclusion. Here the show is carried by Channel 11 at 9 p.m. each week night, and the show shows signs of ending.

Betty is Beatriz Aurora Pinzón Solano, played by Ana María Orozco. But the show is more than one woman's battle. A cast of characters maintain developing subtexts, mostly love-related.

Despite strong viewer interest and a happy selection for No. 2 Latin network Telemundo, the show has not been without its detractors. Colombian freelancer Sandra Hernandez called Betty a traitor to her feminists fans in a Salon.com article July 1. She pegged the audience at 80 million.

"'Betty,' however, was unlike anything I had seen," said Hernandez. "I was hooked. I 

tuned in nightly. I watched as Betty was treated cruelly because she was ugly. The show's creators never spared her an insult or avoided a joke. Everything was fair game. 

"The soap offered some of the most realistic portrayals of race and class in Latin America that I have seen on Spanish-language television, including a single mother struggling to eke out a living, a black secretary who insists her blind dates be informed of her race and a cast of wealthy personalities whose lack of empathy made them seem like Leona Helmsley clones."

Hernandez was unhappy because, after struggling to succeed, Betty falls for her boss, the president of the company, who is a jerk by most standards. The message, then, was that a woman can't find true happiness without a man, said the writer.

The real problem with "Betty" is beauty. Despite the show's premise, Betty just isn't ugly. Victor Hugo's Quasimode is ugly. The witch in The Wizard of Oz" is ugly. But it would take more than a couple of hours in make up to turn Orozco ugly.

Betty simply is what one Tica described as a nerd.

With phony braces on her teeth and horn-rimmed glasses, Betty hardly is archtypically ugly. Her hair sports funky banks. Her clothing choices are thrift store chic. But that is not ugly.


Another logical flaw is that brilliant Betty, the top student from a university economics program, totally failed to learn about dress and makeup, something that is taught in the cradle in Latin America.

Other viewers here said that, despite the Cinderella tendencies, the show is successful because it breaks from the storyline of many Latin telenovelas which feature a young innocent girl from the country facing dangers and finding wealthy love in the big city.

Certainly the show draws viewers because every evening they expect duckling Betty to transform into a beauty. The scriptwriters plan on that fact. In one recent episode, Betty visited a top clothing store and a hair dresser. The camera took Betty's point of view as she returned to her office to astonish coworkers. Only later did viewers find out that Betty had plumbed new depths of nerdiness with a dress that truly was ugly and an unflattering hairstyle.

Such toying with the view demonstrates that the allure of Betty in not a Latin phenomenon but the same chord played artfully by Walt Disney with Cinderella and the Brothers Grimm with the Ugly Duckling. Chances are that if the show were in English, they would be transfixed in Dallas, Hoboken and Calgary.

Kind of a female Revenge of the Nerds.

Another electrical problem puts out the lights

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Electricity in San José went off for about two hours Tuesday night during the height of a major thunderstorm. However, the cause, if known, still had not been made public late last night.

The outage might have extended throughout most of the country.

As usual during such outages, traffic was slowed because signals did not work, and life generally was put on hold. Radio stations continued to broadcast, and hospitals and some other agencies got power from backup generators.

The lights went off about 7:30 p.m. and stayed off until about 8:15 p.m. or later in some places

Computer network servers, including those of the government of Costa Rica, were affected by the outage, and some did not work correctly afterwards. Radiografica Costarricense (RACSA)  did not seem to have problems once the power went back on.

Nor did the server of Costa Rican Electrical Institute, the national electric company, although nothing was posted on the website about the outage. 

A nationwide blackout four months ago resulted from agricultural burning that toasted major power transmission lines, but the problem last night probably was storm-related.

The National Meteorological Institute predicted more of the same for Wednesday afternoon and evening in all parts of the country.

In another storm-related development, workers finally opened the Braulio Carrillo Highway route from San José to Guapiles about 4 p.m. Tuesday.  At least four major landslides closed the route Saturday forcing vehicles, including heavy truck transport, to take alternate and more hazardous routes. The route connects the Central Valley and San José with eastern Costa Rica and the major port city of Limón.


The landslides happened because heavy rain hit the area Wednesday, Thursday and early Saturday morning.  The area, just east of the  Zurquí Tunnel is mountainous.

Weather officials at the Meteorological Institute said Sunday that the rains were not the result of Tropical Storm Chantal that passed by Costa Rica in the Caribbean Saturday enroute to Mexico. But that storm did cause some slides and flooding in the central Pacific coast.

In Mexico, Chantal, packing near-hurricane strength winds, came ashore at Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.  Meteorologists say the storm swept ashore early Tuesday and was centered near the city of Chetumal, just south of the seaside resort of Cancun. Most of its impact was well out of Costa Rica and to the north, according to satellite images.

A hurricane watch remains in effect between Cancun and Belize City.
Forecasters say the storm should weaken while over land and regain
strength when it again reaches the Gulf of Mexico north of the Yucatan.

From A.M. Costa Rica wire services 

IMF Offers Argentina $8 Billion

The International Monetary Fund is offering Argentina $8 billion in emergency loans to help the country stave off a feared economic collapse. 

IMF Managing Director Horst Koehler made the announcement late Tuesday in Washington. A delegation of Argentine finance officials met with the IMF for nearly two weeks, seeking the financial bailout. 

The announcement marks the latest effort by the IMF to stabilize a severe economic crisis in Argentina. The South American country is in the midst of a three-year recession and there have been fears it could default on its $128 billion foreign debt. Only eight months ago the IMF organized a $40 billion loan package for Argentina. Most of that money is gone now.

U.S. officials have said Argentina needs to restructure its foreign debt to make sure it does not need to keep asking the IMF for help in repaying the loans. 

The decision comes as Argentine President Fernando de la Rua introduces an economic austerity plan to balance his nation's budget. The plan has triggered widespread anti-government protests because it calls for cuts of up to 13 percent in salaries and retirement benefits for government workers. 

Court to look at Pinochet again

The Chilean Supreme Court has agreed to review an appeals court decision to suspend human rights abuse charges against former dictator Augusto Pinochet.

Last month, the appeals court ruled the 85-year-old retired general cannot be tried for the alleged violations because of his poor health. The Supreme Court said Tuesday it would study that ruling.

Prosecutors allege the former strongman covered up the abduction and murder of 75 suspected dissidents shortly after he seized power in a 1973 coup. General Pinochet denies responsibility for the deaths. 

The ailing general held power until 1990. 

Grammys to avoid Miami

Organizers of next month's Latin Grammy music awards decided to move the event from Miami to Los Angeles. 

Cuban exile groups had been granted permission to demonstrate near the arena where the show was to have been held. Organizers cited security concerns for the move.

The Latin Grammys will feature Cuban artists who work within the island-nation's Communist system and, therefore, are viewed as lackeys of Cuban President Fidel Castro by much of south Florida's exile community. More than 100 exile groups successfully petitioned city leaders to demonstrate on the corner directly opposite the American Airlines Arena in downtown Miami. 

That was apparently too close for Latin Grammy organizers. Michael Greene, who heads the Latin Recording Academy, said the arrangement would have forced artists and guests to pass directly in front of protesters to enter the arena. "I can't guarantee the security of our people," he said. "And we have people coming from all over the world."

European Union visits Cuba

European Union officials are in Cuba Wednesday for a three-day visit aimed at improving relations. 

 The EU delegation is led by Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency. During the visit, Michel meets with his Cuban counterpart, Felipe Perez Roque, and other officials.

Helms may not run again

U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina, one of the most conservative Republicans in Congress. will not run for re-election, news reports said Tuesday.

Helms is expected to make his official announcement Wednesday on a Raleigh, N.C., television station. This is the station where he once worked as a political commentator.  The Republican senator, 79, suffered a variety of health problems over the past few years.

He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1972 and was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 1995 until this year, when Democrats took control of the Senate. 

State Department looks to armed services

The U.S. State Department will try to recruit 1,433 new employees next year and many of them from the armed services.

Over 500 former servicemen and women have entered the department in the last two years alone, an announcement said.  State Department recruiters are targeting military personnel through on-site visits to military installations, participation in military career
fairs and employment panels, expanded cooperation with transition programs and targeted advertising, the announcement said.

More information on Foreign Service careers is available at http://www.foreignservicecareers.gov, or by calling (202) 261-8888. 

Foreign Relations committee seeks secrets

The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee scheduled hearings on John Negroponte's nomination to be U.S. representative to the United Nations for early September, when the Senate has returned from its August recess, a committee statement said Monday.

The committee wants certain secret Executive Branch documents declassified. These are pertinent to the committee's review of Negroponte's service when he was U.S. ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985, the statement said. 

The documents that the committee will seek to have declassified relate to events that occurred more than 15 years ago, according to the statement. The Committee will honor requests to maintain classification of documents relating to intelligence sources and methods, but it will press for declassification of other materials, it said.

The committee is controlled by Democrats. Negroponte is an appointee of President George W. Bush, a Republican.

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