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Thee stories were published Monday, Aug. 30, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 171
Jo Stuart
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A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas

The Partido Liberación Nacional was picking party representatives in voting held all over Costa Rica Sunday. This scene was at the Escuela Central in San Francisco Dos Rios. A visit to this and two other polling places suggests that turnout was low. General elections are in 2006.

More protests blockades are planned for today
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The coalition of protestors promised Sunday to set up 17 separate blockades at key points around the country today.

In addition, the public employee affiliates plan another major march through the downtown starting at 9 a.m.

The probability is that transportation in Costa Rica will be tied up for at least another day. Protestors plan to continue the blockades through the week, although police and legal action is anticipated.

Blockades last week caused serious damage to Costa Rica’s export and import businesses.

The blockades turned fatal Friday when a high school teacher suffered injuries when his windshield was shattered by a rock thrown up by a truck wheel. The man, identified as Pedro Villalobos Race, 26, of Batten, died in the Hospital de Guápiles after the ambulance carrying him was tied up in a protest roadblock for 45 minutes. A landslide also may have had a role.

The ambulance eventually had to go to Guápiles instead of Hospital Calderón Guardia in San José. The man died there. The Judicial Investigating Organization is looking into the case. The teacher was on his way to visit his parents in Heredia.

The protest coalition is called Movimiento Cívico Nacional, but the roadblocks are mostly the product of truck drivers and taxi drivers. 

Public employee union leaders, unhappy with a less than overwhelming turnout in a march Thursday, have been working all weekend to improve the participation for today. More

Fear of future fuels protests

Argentina faces crime explosion

public offices might be closed or working with limited staff members today.

President Abel Pacheco has said marchers will not be paid for the time they are out of work, and this has cut down participation.

Public employees are more concerned with a 4.5 percent pay increase stipulated by Pacheco. They want more. Truckers and taxi drivers are more concerned with the vehicle inspection process that is being handled by Riteve S y C, which they see as a foreign firm exercising an illegal monopoly.

For much of last week, traffic was stalled around Juan Santamaría airport and main roads in and out of the Central Valley. Tourists have been frustrated in traveling. Many cut short vacations elsewhere in the country to spend an extra day near their departure airport.

There were few reports of blockades over the weekend. University of Costa Rica students continue to block lanes of a highway that passes near the San Pedro campus. University students elsewhere have been assisting at the highway blockades.

There is a possibility that negotiations between the government and protestors will resume today. Pacheco already has made several concessions on the vehicle inspection process.

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Democrats here register
some 600 U.S. voters

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Democrats Abroad of Costa Rica reports that it has registered some 600 U.S. citizens here to vote in the November U.S. presidential elections.

Some 40 of those were registered Saturday at a picnic in Aserrí at which Diana Kerry, sister of U.S. presidential nominee John Kerry, attended.

In all, Ms. Kerry received 60 completed registration forms to bring back to the United States for mailing, said a spokesperson for the organization.

The spokesperson credited organization members Pat and Willy Piessens for spearheading the registration drive. Both political parties have been hard at work registering voters.

Ms. Kerry was here as a representative of Americans Overseas for Kerry. She has spent years living overseas herself.

British drug smuggler
gets prison time

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A British woman will spend five years and four months in prison for trying to smuggle cocaine through Juan Santamaría Airport. 

The 30-year-old woman identified by the last name of Haskari was detained April 27. The quick sentence is a result of her accepting an abbreviated legal process and admitting her guilt.

The case was brought before the Tribunal de Juicio de Alajuela. Anti-drug agents found that the woman had ingested or otherwise had on her person 668 grams of cocaine. She was caught as she was about to leave the country for a return flight to England.

Current gets woman
and causes her death

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 21-year-old woman died in a water accident near Orosi Sunday, police said.

She was identified as Katherine Cortés Sánchez. She was swimming with two cousins, Cristopher and Jennifer Sánchez Sánchez, near Paso Molina, when she was caught by the current. Rescue workers found her body an hour later.

Police said she was part of a group on an excursion from La Union. 

Lightning kills man on boat

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 23-year-old man, Wainer Briceño Batres, died Saturday when he was struck by a lightning bolt while piloting a small boat near the community of Puerto Palito in the Isla de Chira, Puntarenas, police said.

From our readers

RACSA’s satellite link
draws a comment

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Comment on your RACSA satellite deal. What a steal (deal).  I had the same service in the States but a bit cheaper. RACSA charges $400/mo and the States charge $59/mo. 

Oh, yes, you did not mention the price for the dish.  Sit down when you  ask them for the dish and installation. There are a few differences.  Many companies offer the satellite service in the States so you have a choice.  Secondly, the speeds offered by RACSA are dismal.

U.S. service             Home            Small Office

Download Speed     500 Kbps          1000 Kbps 

Upload Speed            75 Kbps           100 Kbps

RACSA quotes 65 Kbps.  And in the U.S. you can get faster if you want to pay more.

This is competition vs. a monopoly.  Questions students.?

Rod Strange 
high speed engineer
Dutch couple dies
in Sunday blaze

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fire broke out in a home in San Isidro de Heredia early Sunday and killed the Dutch couple living there.

The Judicial Investigating Organization will be involved in uncovering why the fire broke out and establishing the identity of the couple.

The alarm came in about 25 minutes after midnight, but firemen said they could do nothing when they arrived because the home was ablaze.
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Straw takes on another meaning when Ticos talk
Hablando Paja

"Talking straw."  Since straw is considered to have little or no value, this expression has to do with foolish or meaningless talk. Of course, for those of us who are connected with the raising of cattle, straw can have considerable value. 

Nevertheless, bovine exigencies notwithstanding, hablando paja or hablando pura paja is the expression you should use when you do not believe a word of what someone is telling you, or you know for sure he’s making the whole thing up. Of course, politicians everywhere are expert at hablando pura paja. It’s part of the job description.

A pajoso(a) is someone who talks pura paja. We say No seas pajoso or "don’t be a pajoso" when we think someone is pulling our leg about something they are supposed to have done and are now bragging about just to impress us. Eso si es paja or "This is nothing but straw" is what we say, for example, when we see some piece of advertising that we know is not true or that we simply do not believe.

Sometimes we might even encourage or goad someone into saying something that we know is paja just to see how far they will go with it. This is because we believe that by talking we get to know each other beyond the mere meaning of the words we speak. In this way we can get an idea of just how pajoso the other person might be. And believe me, I’m not hablando paja when I tell you this. 

So don’t let sweet talk full of paja fool you. It’s better to be somewhat skeptical at times because 

way we say it

By Daniel Soto

in our little Costa Rica you will encounter many pajosos. 

A scarecrow is a muñeco de paja. We do not use these much anymore to scare the crows away from the corn, but during Holy Week on Holy Saturday before Easter Sunday kids often still make a muñeco de paja to represent Judas. They carry this effigy all over the neighborhood with tambourines collecting coins that symbolize Judas’s 30 pieces of silver. 

At the end of the afternoon they burn their straw Judas symbolically destroying the betrayer of Christ. The coins, on the other hand, are often used to by soft drinks because, as many of you know, Holy Week is usually the hottest time of the year in Costa Rica, and the kids need some refreshment to cool them off after the hard work of exorcising the despised deceiver.

Venezuela joins Cuba in pulling envoy in Panamá
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuela has recalled its ambassador to Panama to protest comments by the outgoing Panamanian president regarding her reasons for pardoning four men convicted in a plot to assassinate Cuban President Fidel Castro. President Mireya Moscoso said she feared the men could be executed if they were extradited to Venezuela or Cuba by her successor. 

The latest diplomatic crisis follows a presidential pardon for four Cubans convicted of plotting to kill President Fidel Castro during an inter-American summit in 2000. 

President Moscoso said she released the four Cubans for humanitarian reasons because she feared the new administration, headed by Martin Torrijos, son of the late Gen. Omar Torrijos, a close friend of Castro, would extradite them to Venezuela or Cuba, where she said they could be executed.

Flavio Granados, Venezuela's ambassador to Panama, said that he was ordered home because Mrs. Moscoso´s statement was a "serious and false accusation" against his country. He said there is no death penalty in Venezuela, even "for terrorists that have been pardoned." 

Granados also said Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez would not participate in the swearing in ceremonies for President-elect Martin Torrijos, which are scheduled for Wednesday.

Luis Posada Carriles, who is considered the ringleader of the anti-Castro group, escaped from a Venezuelan jail, after being blamed for the destruction of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 passengers in 1976. He denied any involvement in that incident, but has admitted to having conspired to topple the Cuban regime since it took power in 1959. 

Venezuela provides key petroleum shipments to Havana in exchange for teachers, doctors and academic scholarships for hundreds of students.

Following the presidential pardon, the Cuban government severed diplomatic relations with Panama, and unleashed a torrent of television and newspaper reports accusing President Moscoso and her government of protecting international terrorists and caving in to pressure from Cuban exiles in the United States.

Panama is the main source of goods and services for Cuba's tourism industry, with exports of more than $200 million per year.

Argentina thrilled by gold medal victory in Olympic soccer
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUEANOS AIRES, Argentina — The country has won its first Olympic gold medal in more than 50 years in Athens, and here people are in the streets celebrating the Argentine men's football team's 1-0 victory over Paraguay. 

The men's football team brought home its first-ever Olympic gold medal in the sport and the first gold for Argentina during the Summer Games in Athens. 

Argentina had twice been runner-up in men's Olympic football. The team vowed to make up for Argentina's embarrassing first-round exit from the 2002 World Cup. 

The gold medal match started at 4 a.m. Saturday Buenos Aires time, so many of the notoriously-nocturnal Argentines just stayed up all night to watch the match in bars, cafes and nightclubs.

Thousands of football fanatics flocked to the city's landmark Obelisco Saturday morning to celebrate the victory. 

"I think that after 52 years, [this] is a very happy thing for us, a very great thing," said one of the fans. "The best. We are very proud of our country. This country needed this because of the actual situation, it is not very good economically, socially." "Yes, we need some, some happiness," said another.

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Fear of the future is the force driving the protests
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fear of the future, more than anything else, is the driving force behind the social protests taking place in Costa Rica.

The signs demand pay hikes, an end to the vehicle inspection monopoly and rejection of the free trade treaty with the United States. But the real reason for the demonstrations and blockades is that Costa Ricans feel their quality of life declining.

An analysis of the news

Taxi drivers have not had a real fare increase in years. Any increases approved by the regulatory agency just compensates the taxi operators for the devaluation of the colon.

Truckers and others are faced with big hikes in fuel and relative increases in imported products.

Public employees are being asked to take a little cut.

The Abel Pacheco government, awash in debt, is getting the blame.

Average wage earners are finding making ends meet to be more difficult. They look back some 25 years in recent Costa Rican history at hyperinflation and similar economic ills, and they fear what may come.

Student activists join the strike because they are students and many get a daily dose of 

anti-Americanism as part of their studies. But they, too, worry about the future even as they demonstrate to maintain the status quo.

Costa Ricans see the decay of the streets and roads, which are in the worst condition in years. They blame "corruption"  or bad government. But deep down they know that the bloated apparatus of government, the socialistic system and outside debt soak up the bulk of the cash.

They recognize the lack of logic of a government that cannot repair the highways yet insists on perfect condition of vehicles at inspection. The transportation industry, which is pressured most by the lack of logic, leads the current protests.

Whenever times are tough, crime increases, and that is happening here, in part due to the country’s inability to enforce immigration rules. Gangs are growing, too, and streets are becoming less safe.

The drug trade is rampant, and partly to blame for the rise in crime.

The social stresses can be seen elsewhere, including in the increases in domestic violence, including spousal murders.

Average Costa Ricans are not economists, but he and she can read the newspapers and learn from television. They know what is going on here and in the world. What they see is not comforting. A seemingly ineffective government with major problems buffeting the families.

And that is when the fear sets in.

Argentina feels the backlash of economic woes
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Crime rates have soared since the country's economic meltdown of 2001. Nowhere is that more true than in the areas surrounding this capital, where kidnappings quadrupled in the past two years. Angry Argentines are once again taking to the streets to demand change, thanks in large part to the efforts of one man who has become a reluctant hero in the cause. 

Juan Carlos Blumberg is a man of his word. After his 23-year-old son Axel was kidnapped and killed five months ago, Blumberg made a pact with his late son. He says he promised in front of Axel's tomb that "I would fight, so that what happened to Axel would never happen to any other child."

Blumberg has since become Argentina's best-known anti-crime crusader. He led a peaceful demonstration Thursday in front of the National Congress to demand increased police protection and political action. 75,000 people showed up. 

Protester María del Carmen Merago wants justice. Her son was killed during a robbery attempt. She said she was there to fight and to support Blumberg because he is a man who is brave enough to confront the mafia that is Argentine politics.

The politicians are feeling the pressure. They approved stricter laws to deter criminals after Blumberg held similar protests in April. But crime, especially kidnappings, in Buenos Aires' middle-and-upper-class neighborhoods, remains a daily threat in a city once considered one of the safest in South America. Other cities on the continent, like Bogotá and Sao Paolo have long struggled with violence and kidnappings, but only recently has Buenos Aires been confronted with this problem. 

President Nestor Kirchner has purged the notoriously corrupt police forces and appointed new security ministers. But 19-year-old demonstrator 

Pilar González is cynical about politics and even about the protests. "These marches make noise, but I don't think they are going to change anything because the people that change things are there and they don't care about the country, they care about having money. Maybe, I hope things change, but it's going to take a long time," he said.

In fact some Argentines are calling for outside help, and some outsiders are heeding the call. 

"I think we can offer, coming here, an example of how police can impact on crime," says John Timoney, a member of the New York Police Department for 29 years. He's currently the chief of police in Miami. Timoney recently visited Buenos Aires. 

The city reminds him of New York in the 1970's and 80's when one of the reasons for not engaging in aggressive policing was the fear of corruption, he said.  "And so we see here time and time again politicians talking about police corruption as if somehow that becomes the number one issue before you can deal with crime. It's my suggestion that you can walk and chew bubble gum at the same time. You should be dealing with police corruption, that does not relieve you of your obligation to also deal with other issues."

Juan Carlos Blumberg says he'll make sure the politicians and police continue to feel the heat. He says he owes it all to those affected by crime in Argentina. "People in the street tell me not to abandon them, to continue the fight and that they support me fully," he said.

Blumberg's protest concluded with a meeting with government officials and other crime victims like Carlos Garnil. 

Garnil marched because his teenage son was just held hostage for three weeks. After the anti-crime protesters dispersed, Garnil said he realized that someone had stolen his wallet.

Jo Stuart
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