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These stories were published Friday, Aug. 23, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 167
Jo Stuart
About us
U.S. sailor, 24, dies
in Puntarenas pool

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 24-year-old U.S. sailor died in a Puntarenas hotel swimming pool Wednesday night, according to investigators.

The Judicial Investigating Organization identified the man as Ralph Buchanan. Other sources said that his first name was Ralph and that he lived in Peoria, Ill. 

The sailor was found lifeless abut 6 p.m. in the pool at the hotel Fiesta by shipmates, said investigators. The men are crew members of the U.S.S. Fife, a destroyer, that patrols the Pacific Ocean looking for drug shipments. The ship is in the Puntarenas harbor for supplies for a few days under an agreement that the United States has with Costa Rica.

A spokesman for the Judicial Investigating Organization said that alcohol was a factor in the death of the sailor. He was found about 6 p.m. at the hotel located in el Roble de Puntarenas. The spokesman for the investigators said that the sailor had eaten just before getting into the pool.

In addition to the Costa Rican investigation, U.S. Navy officials also will investigate the death, but there is no evidence of foul play.

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Debit card, prototype of new driver's license (complete with chip) and a hand-held computer transit police will use to read the license.

'Smart' driver's license
will give cop your info

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

All the details are not yet in place, but within a year when you renew your Costa Rican driver’s license you will get a "smart" one containing information about you.

Police will be able to check the license with a small hand-held computer because the license will contain a microchip. The chip will allow the policeman to call up your driving record and to determine if you have avoided paying traffic fines.

Transit police will be able to update their own computer at the start of each shift by downloading information from a main data base.

This was one initiative that Javier Chavez Bolaños announced Thursday as he outlined the strategic plan for the next four years by the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transporte.

Later an aide said that no bids have been sought yet for the smart licenses, but that work probably will take place early next year. What officials have now are prototypes.

Chavez said that the small computer would give traffic police more credibility when confronting motorists on the highway. With the facts at hand, there will be less suspicion that the policeman is merely looking for a bribe.

Also planned are debit cards that will allow motorists to electronically pay their tolls without using coins. The cards will be on sale at local banks once the project gets off the ground, said Chavez.

Bridge may be gift,
but it won’t be free

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Costa Rican government plans to charge a toll for motorists crossing the new Tempisque River bridge even though the bridge itself is a gift of the government of Taiwan.

Javier Chavez Bolaños revealed this Thursday in discussions about national highway projects. He is minister of Obras Públicas y Transporte.

The bridge, which will be inaugurated Nov. 15, replaces the Tempisque River ferry that took an hour or more from the travel time of motorists. The bridge is expected to open up many areas on the Nicoya Peninsula.

However, Chavez said that Costa Rica still has to spend $5 million for access work to the bridge and that Costa Rica will have to maintain the bridge even though it is a gift.

Motorists already have shown their willingness to pay by using the ferry, he said. The alternate route is through Liberia to the north.

No amount was specified for the toll.


Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

Why are peeves called pets, anyway?

Being out of touch with the pulse of the United States, I don't know what the current pet peeves of U.S. Americans are, but, thanks to my friend Jerry, I have a list of things that annoy Ticos. A lot of them seem to be connected to modern technology and the proliferation of cars on the streets.

Here are some of them. You may find yourself identifying with the annoyed (or the annoyer).

Drivers who have their radios at full volume. Yes!

Women who put on short, short mini skirts then keep pulling them down.

People who ostentatiously place their cellular phones on the table in a restaurant.

Parents who give cell phones to their kids under 15 to take to school. (apropos of this, I remember a teacher telling me that one of her third graders with a cell phone called home and said, "Mami, come get me. The teacher was mean to me.")

People who pay for purchases of under 1,000 colones (about $3) with a credit card. Yeah, yeah.

Street corner avocado venders who display a cut one that is perfect, and you discover a bag full of rotten ones when you get home.

The fat doctor who urges you to diet.

Drivers who honk a nanosecond after the light has turned green, or those who move before the light has turned. Always annoying.

Parents who say their 7-year old is an expert at navigating the Internet.

People who take advantage of their "ciudadanos de oro" to get privileges like getting in front of others in lines at the bank, etc. (Ooops, up until now my record was clean.)

Right now my big annoyance is having an appointment with someone for 9 a.m. and then being told they will be two hours late because their car is in the shop and won't be ready until 11, and you know when they call the shop, they will be told that their car won't be ready til 1, and so on until you discover you have spent the whole day doing nothing but wait.

The car in the shop is like the computer being down: everything stops.

I am having this problem at the moment because they are going to retile my apartment and I have spent two days putting all my possesions into the kitchen and the "maid" room that were retiled when I moved in. I had this nightmarish thought that they were going to chip out the old tile before putting in the new. The dust, I thought, would permeate everything. Forever. 

But I was informed that they simply clean the old and glue the new on top. This means they have to redo the molding and all the doors because the floor is higher, or put another way, my ceiling is lower. I love high ceilings so much that when I lived in New York, I cut down the legs of all my furniture, dining room chairs, table, couch, everything so my ceiling would seem higher — at least when I was sitting down.

So with help from my landlord I moved into a studio apartment they have in San Pedro. He gave me two sets of keys and off he went. I put my stuff away and wrote down all the things I forgot to bring, and fixed myself something to eat. Later, after the rain stopped, I decided to go to the store and COULDN'T FIND MY KEYS! I tore the place apart. Three times. 

I couldn't leave to find Henry, the caretaker because the door automatically locked when it closed. I couldn't call anyone because one of the things I had forgotten was my phone book. I began to feel as if I were in a Hitchcock movie and the plot called for me to eventually go mad and throw myself out the window.

Finally I managed to call my friend Lillian who called Darrylle who called Danny, the caretaker of the other building, who called Henry who came upstairs and helped me scour my apartment again — to no avail. It was now 6:30 and I had a dinner date, so we closed the door on a towel to keep it from locking and off I went with his assurances that he would check on my apartment from time to time.

When I got home I had to ring the bell for Henry and he came out smiling. He had found my keys! They were right in the kitchen on the counter where I thought I had put them, but I had put my toaster oven on top of them! Rule No. 2 about finding things: Always look under other things.

I certainly hope that this happy ending means that the dark cloud of bad luck that has been hovering over me for the past month and a half is drifting away because one of my really big pet peeves in someone who is always complaining. 

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A trio warm up for a soccer match in San Rafael de Escazú as afternoon clouds threaten. Skies nearly always are threatening this month.
Trip here from Europe
put on ice due to winter

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The weather is pretty good in Costa Rica, but "The Drive for the Forest" ran into early winter problems in Russia.

Karl Jaeger of the Slovene Association for the Protection of the Environment said he has postponed for this year his effort to drive 25,000 miles from Maribor, Slovenia, to San José by Volkswagen.

Jaeger said he left Slovenia too late this year and realized after experiencing the Russian roads that he would need two months just to cross Siberia. that would have put him in a town north of the Arctic Circle by the time winter really hit. But he would have been stuck there, the association said. He left in late July.

". . . we are still continuing our efforts with saving the forests, by planning on providing international eco tours, both in Europe (multiple countries) and in Central America," said Jaeger in an e-mail message. He is a former resident of San José.

The purpose of the trip was to raise awareness and also funds to save endangered forests both in Slovenia and in the Americas. 

Pacheco brings bishops into his fight for new tax
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Abel Pacheco has been drumming up support for his new tax plan, and now he has the church on his side.

The president had lunch Thursday with nine Roman Catholic bishops, and afterwards Casa Presidential issued a statement that said the church leaders would plead for economic solutions in the Catholic Mass.

The president also had a meeting with Carlos Avendaño, the only deputy of the Partido Renovación Costarricense in the morning. And he was supposed to meet with leaders of the Partido Liberación Nacional in the afternoon.

Román Arrieta Villalobos, the archbishop of San José, came close to supporting Pacheco after lunch. He called upon lawmakers to pass whatever laws that would favor and contribute "powerfully and decisively" to solve the fiscal problem of the country.

The Roman Catholic Church is the official religion of Costa Rica.

Avendaño said after his meeting that the fiscal problem is not just a political problem but something every Costa Rican has the responsibility to solve.

Deputies are being asked to pass a temporary tax plan while a committee studies a long-term plan. In both cases, a central element is a value-added tax that would replace the existing sales tax. The value-added tax would raise much more money because it is designed to cover services as well as sales of items. 

Visits to physicians, lawyers, mechanics and other service vendors would be taxed. They are not now.

Pacheco and his administration have been on a campaign to get action from the deputies. Some lawmakers are nervous about passing new taxes in hard economic times. Pacheco says the country will go bankrupt if they do not.

U.S. study weighs
use of biotech animals

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The National Research Council released a study Saturday identifying concerns that surround the use of biotechnology in animal populations. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requested the study from the National Research Council as it prepares to begin regulation of these new developments in animal husbandry.

The possibility that a genetically engineered creature might escape and introduce its genes to wild populations is the most significant potential problem identified by the panel of scientists who studied the issues. The risk is that the genetically engineered species might be more successful at reproduction, or become competitive for food with the natural population, the panel reported.

"By identifying these concerns, we hope we can help this technology be applied as safely as possible without denying the public its potential benefits," said John G. Vandenbergh, committee chair and professor of zoology at North Carolina State University.

The committee found no evidence indicating that cloned livestock would be unsafe for human consumption, but indicated that further research is necessary.

Colombia recruits 
to stave off rebels

By A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — The government here says it plans to recruit and arm 20,000 peasants to support the military's fight against outlawed leftist rebels and right-wing paramilitaries. 

Officials said Thursday the peasants will receive military training, uniforms and a small salary, and could be deployed by the end of the year to patrol their villages. 

Human rights groups say arming peasants could cause more bloodshed in the country's 38-year civil war, which pits the rebels against the paramilitaries and government. The human rights groups say arming neutral civilians risks turning them into targets. 

The government announcement came just days after newly-installed President Alvaro Uribe decreed emergency powers to crack down on rebels blamed for deadly inauguration day attacks on Aug. 7.

The decree enables the Uribe government to impose a war tax to boost security forces. 

In a related development, rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia have criticized President Uribe's efforts to obtain United Nations help in ending the war. 

In an open letter to President Uribe, the group known as the FARC said issues to be resolved must be negotiated directly with the state, not the United Nations. 

Andres Pastrana, Colombia's former president, attempted U.N.-mediated talks with the FARC, but called them off in February because they were not working. Since then, rebel violence in the Andean nation has intensified.

Fisk against lifting
U.S.-Cuban tourism ban

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The U.S. tourism ban preventing Americans from legally visiting Cuba should not be lifted. That’s the opinion of Dan Fisk, deputy assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere office. Fisk recently wrote an op-ed piece that appeared in The Jacksonville, Fla., Times-Union.

Fisk argued that American tourism dollars should not support Castro's repressive system. His column bashed the Castro regime, blaming its allegiance to socialism as a reason for the country’s poverty. "Castro has kept in place a top-down, plantation-style command political structure and economy that ill-serves Cuba's impoverished citizens," said Fisk.

The deputy assistant secretary of state also cited Castro’s denial of human rights as a deterrent for doing business with the country. He said that there are virtually no political rights in Cuba, no freedom of expression, assembly or movement.

Fisk warned of the country’s continued close ties with fellow rogue states, as a safe haven for cop-killers and other fugitives from U.S. justice, links to terrorist organizations, and a biotechnology development effort that could be turned against the United States.

While some political leaders argue that lifting the ban would revitalize the U.S. tourism industry and promote a democratic transition on the island, Fisk strongly disagreed.

"Travel to Cuba would contribute neither to the economic revitalization of the beleaguered U.S. airline and travel industry nor to sparking a political transformation on the island itself," said Fisk.

Fisk added that tourism in Cuba does little to benefit most Cubans and merely enhances the control the Cuban government maintains over its citizens. The government takes a nearly 90 percent cut of the salaries paid to the workers it provides on contract to foreign tourist concessionaires, according to Fisk.

Hubbard offers 
Latin economy advice

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Economic growth in Latin American countries is achievable by altering domestic policies, said Glen Hubbard, chairman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, in a column published by The Financial Times Wednesday. In his column, Hubbard advised three policy priorities. 

The first priority is to establish the rule of law, according to Hubbard. He argued that individuals must have confidence that their property rights will be respected. Without this confidence, Hubbard said, economic activity is stifled, and assistance from the international community will be ineffective. He cited Argentina’s current economic disaster as an example of what happens when public confidence breaks down.

The second priority, recommended by Hubbard, is a fiscal policy centered on limiting the size of government. "While the state should provide essential public services and ensure a social safety net, it should not enter into areas more efficiently handled by the private sector," Hubbard said. 

The economic adviser said that a third policy priority for growth is effective monetary control. "Individuals cannot form expectations for inflation without effective monetary policy — the resulting uncertainty depresses investment and growth," said Hubbard.

Half of Argentines
living in poverty

By A.M. Costa Rica news wire services

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — More than half of the population in Argentina is now living in poverty, as the nation slides deeper into its economic depression. That is just one of the alarming facts in a poverty report released Thursday.

The report shows 18.5 million Argentines are now living below the poverty line. That is 53 percent of this country's population. 

One of every four Argentines is considered indigent, barely making a dollar a day, too poor to buy the food he or she needs. And the report released by the census office also says 4 million children are living in poverty — almost three-fourths of all children in Argentina.

Every week the protests grow bigger and louder here, as the country sinks deeper into crisis. Argentina's unemployment rate recently hit 21.3 percent — an all-time high.

Those who do work earn pesos that have lost 70 percent of their value since the Argentine currency was devalued last year.

Most people who put their life savings into banks still can't touch the money, because it remains locked in the corralito, the nationwide banking freeze.

Last week, President Eduardo Duhalde and Economy Minister Roberto Lavagna sent a letter of intent to the International Monetary Fund. It was a formal request for a bailout, and the Argentine leaders are waiting for a response.

But critics say an emergency loan may do more long-term harm than good. The International Monetary Fund wants Argentina to cut spending. And less spending on social programs could mean more poverty.

Dobriansky hopeful
summit has results

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Paula Dobriansky, secretary of state for global affairs, says the upcoming World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg offers an opportunity for both developed and developing countries to work together on a shared vision for reducing and eradicating poverty and fostering sustainable development.

Ms. Dobriansky told reporters at the State Department Foreign Press Center Wednesday that this vision is predicated on a commitment to domestic good governance, sound economic policies and an investment in people.

Ms. Dobriansky said the United States views the Johannesburg summit as the continuation of a process that started with the Doha Trade Ministerial and the discussion on financing for development that took place in Monterrey, Mexico, earlier this year.

"The discussion that took place in Monterrey … was historic," she said. "An historic compact was embraced by the global community, which basically called upon developed countries to provide assistance, but at the same time to ensure that there is co-accountability, co-responsibility by developing countries to come forward and provide a foundation for that assistance, to have that assistance go to its targeted need and use."

In this context, Dobriansky said, developing countries would provide a commitment for domestic good governance, "ensuring that there is transparency, rule of law and accountability on the ground so that the resources coming in are, in fact, invested in people. This is what the Johannesburg summit is about. It's about people."

Dobriansky said the U.S. approach in Johannesburg will be action oriented, one that focuses on working to unite governments, the private sector and civil society in partnership to mobilize development resources more effectively.

"There are a number of areas where we need to step forward and ensure that action is taken by governments and by the private sector," she said. These areas include water, forests, and energy, and providing access to energy.

"There are other initiatives that … we have attached a great deal of importance to," she said. "In particular, combating infectious diseases, and education, ensuring that those sectors of the population that don't have access to education are in fact educated, and provided with the facilities and training and equipment toward that end."
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