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These stories were published Monday, Sept. 2, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 173
Jo Stuart
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Tourism executives will consider 3% bed tax
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Tourism executives begin their two-day annual meeting tomorrow with a proposal on the table to set up a special organization to handle international promotion of Costa Rica.

A proposed law would set up such a joint governmental and private industry group and assess a 3 percent tax on all hotel stays in the country. The tax likely would be passed on to tourists along with other taxes.

The meeting at the Hotel Real Intercontinental west of San José Tuesday and Wednesday is of the Camera National de Turismo, known by its initials Canatur. The slogan for the session is "A new path of tourism in Costa Rica."

The tourism officials will discuss, among other topics, a 10-year development plan drawn up by the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo, that generally predicts a glowing future for tourism.

The plan predicts annual increases in international visitors between now and the year 2012 ranging from 2.1 percent to 15.5 percent. The difference is gigantic.

Under the conservative scenario, the present 1 million tourists a year would grow to 1.4 million in 2012. The more aggressive prediction sees tourism growing to 5.3 million visitors a year 10 years from now.

The latter projections are in keeping with the goals of the Pacheco administration which has embraced ecotourism as a driving force for the country’s economy. The administration has rejected offshore oil drilling and gold mining as revenue sources.

The tourism plan predicts an increase in tourism sector employment from the current 300,000 to 472,000.

In 2001 there were 2.5 million total tourists of whom 1.13 million were international and 1.4 were Costa Ricans. One development 

scenario sees 3.9 million international visitors in 2012 and 1.6 million Costa Rica tourists.
Tragedy from the rain
See Below

The plan predicts an increase in hotel rooms from 31,706 to 49,842 during the same period.

The proposal to create a Promotora de Turismo as a joint private and governmental agency managed by the minister of tourism has not yet gone for approval to the Asemblea Nacional. Now advertising Costa Rica is the job of the tourism institute.

The new organization would be jumpstarted with $20 million of government funds, according to the proposal. A system of incentives would eliminate property taxes and 50 percent of the income taxes for a period of eight years for hotels. They also would get accelerated depreciation on investments for tax purposes and a 30 percent break in electric rates.

To be eligible the hotels would have to be located in the right place and be approved by the tourism institute and have a certificate of sustainable tourism.

Other tourism-related industries also would have incentives.

The tourism executives are meeting just a week before Sept. 11, a day that dramatically changed Costa Rica tourism. The economic recession in the United States also is taking a toll. Tourists seem to come in about the same quantity but spend much less money, tourism businessmen say.

One souvenir vendor said a week ago that he usually took in about $400 a day at a stand he operated near the cruise ship docks in Puntarenas, Now he says he is lucky to bring in $100. 

Photo provided by Tex-Mex
bike night

Maija Tanker tries out a Harley Davidson motorcycle that the local owners’ group displayed Saturday night at Santa Ana Tex-Mex Restaurant.

The charity night raised money for the local Cruz Roja as folks turned out to see the 50 or so vehicles.  A 1969 classic was there  with the Costa Rican plate number of 3.

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Rain-sparked mudslide buries homes, people
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Rescue workers trying to find six people in a giant mudslide near Orosi de Cartago had tough going Sunday as the weather failed to cooperate.

More than an inch of new rain fell in and around the Central Valley since 7 a.m. Sunday, and work was difficult atop hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of mud that swept down a hill about 2:30 a.m. Saturday.

The giant mudslide was the logical result of more than a week of heavy rain. Many other areas of Costa Rica suffered weather-related problems, but nowhere was the human damage so great as in Orosi.

Missing was Isabel Sánchez, 55, her daughter and son, Idaly, 20, and Fabián, 10; Rosa Brenes, about 40, and sons Shirley, 2, and Andrey, 10.

The mud poured 800 meters, nearly a half mile, down a gorge, engulfed homes and buried them under more than 100 feet of shifting mud.

Saturday was a good day for rescue work because little rain fell. But Sunday the Instituto Meteorológico Costarricense said 27.4 milimeters (some 1.1 inches) fell in the Grand Valley. Orosi, also called Paraíso, is just east of Cartago in Cartago Provience and usually gets more rain than the weather station in San José.

Rescue workers said that they found the plastic identity card, the cédula, of Mrs. Sánchez, but their work was slow because they were few and their tools mainly were shovels. A total of 13 homes were buried, said neighbors, but many persons heard the noise of the slide and fled safely.

Three homes and a church were buried Friday in Arenal Viejo and about 50 persons fled the area of a another slide. Other damage came in nearby Tilarán, also adjacent to Lake Arenal.

A Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transporte spokesman said that all national primary and secondary roads were open Sunday, but other reports said that some local roads were blocked.

Weather officials were less than optimistic. The official forecast noted that the heavy rainy season was just starting for the Pacific coast and the Central Valley. Frequent systems of low pressure in the Caribbean cause a considerable amount of rain that can accumulate in big quantities in just a few days, the forecast said.

One such system was off Cape Canaveral in Florida and the other was north of Panamá moving slowly toward Costa Rica. The new system would increase the rainfall, the forecast said.

The weather officials urged caution and awareness toward the possiblity of flooding and mudslides.

Investigators make credit-card ring arrests
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A credit card scam ring that targeted North American tourists as well as Costa Ricans suffered a blow last week when investigators detained three suspects.

Among them was a manager of Farmacia Fischel who helped the gang ring up false credit card charges, according to agents. The manager, a woman, has the last name of Duarte, said agents.

Officials of the Judicial Investigating Organization have known about the credit card ring for at least a year. The group would work with pickpockets, primarily Colombians who would use a squeeze technique to lift money and credit cards from victims.

Within a short time the credit cards would be used for major purchases at local outlets. The mystery always has been how Spanish-speaking crooks could negotiate credit card transactions without proper identification or additional material such as passports, particularly when the name on the credit card was obviously North American.

Investigators said Friday that was because at least one person at the outlets where the cards were 
used was in on the scam. The gang went all over 

the Central Valley from Cartago to Santa Ana.

Investigators finally conducted coordinated raids early Friday at Higuito de Desamparados, Mozotal de Guadalupe and in Tibás. Also arrested were two men with the names Soro and Fonseca. All are Costa Rican.

Agents said the gang may have got as much as 50 million colons (about $136,000). The main victims were the credit card companies in Costa Rica because pickpocketed shoppers usually would quickly report their loses, thus stopping charges to their accounts.

More than 40 complaints believed linked to the gang are on file with investigators. As a result of the frauds, credit card companies have tightened up their identification requirements.

Agents claim that the persons arrested would exchange goods for vouchers later and then exchange the vouchers for cash.

The gang began to suffer from arrogance, because on one occasion it passed a credit card at Fischel for more than $500, an unusual amount for a drug store. Other businesses where police suspect complicity are gasoline stations, restaurants and upscale gift stores.

Writer finds that entry to paradise is difficult 
By Chantal Bertrand
special to A.M. Costa Rica

I was 18, fresh out of high school in Canada when I read my first book on Costa Rica. This was back in, oh my! 1973. It was an old edition that expounded the benefits of retirement in the Switzerland of Central America. 

I still wonder if this was the book written by John Howells. I had no trouble selling my dad on the idea of moving to paradise, but my mother simply would not co-operate. So it was not until 1995 that I finally made it to the small Central American nation. 

I had built it up so much in my mind over the years that I was sure that I was in for a letdown. But I was not disappointed. It was everything I had hoped for and more. Between 1973 and 1995, it was my good fortune to travel to many Caribbean islands including numerous long stays to Cuba. I lived for a while in Cancun, Mexico, in the days when Cancun was a paradise of small cozy hotels, no TV and friendly Mayas. 

Costa Rica could easily have fallen short of my expectations in many respects but it did not. The panoramic views of the surrounding mountains as we landed were magical and the magic never ceased from that moment on. 

Many people try to compare Costa Rica to other nations such as Mexico but that is like comparing Jamaica to India. Mexico fills most people with romantic notions because of its glorious past and magnificent colonial architecture. Its people still in some areas live much as their ancestors did hundreds of years ago. 

Many of Mexicos beaches and jungles are pristine, untouched and unrivaled in beauty. All in all, a great place to visit. Despite all this, Costa Rica has its own charms and attractions for those who are looking to put down roots. 

Costa Rica is a small nation with a small population. These are the first clues that this nation’s problems are manageable and probably solvable —  or at least they should be. One does not feel powerless and vulnerable as one does when facing the tremendous social and economic woes of a huge nation like Mexico. 

Costa Rica, while not possessing any great colonial residual architecture, does have a feeling of freshness about it. It does not feel weighted down with an intense and tragic historic past. The Ticos give off a feeling of light-heartedness that is both engaging and refreshing. 
A  personal view from Canada

So appealing about the Latin nations is that there seems to be a genuine respect for and a participation of the elderly and the adolescents in family and society. They are seen as important contributing members of everyday life. Adolescence and advanced age are not simply regarded as transitory stages in life. 

While visiting the Pacific coast a few years ago I was filled with wonder at the breathtaking beauty that surrounded me, yet not a single high rise in sight, no neons, no crowds, few rules! What a paradise. What a feeling of exhilaration at such a discovery. Wildlife abounded. Flocks of parrots, families of monkeys, mischievous coatis and hoards of insects heralded the fact that the jungle was still healthy. Here was life! I wanted to be part of it. I wanted to participate in this celebration. 

Years and a child later, I still want to be part of all this, and I am amazed at how difficult it is to be let into paradise. While Canada welcomes immigrants from around the world, I am not welcome in most countries unless it be to spend my dollars or create employment. While there is free trade of goods, there is no free trade of people. 

How about this; Canada will take 500 of yours and you'll take 500 of ours? Deal? I think not. 

I will visit Costa Rica again this winter and probably come away with dreams of pulling up stakes and relocating to paradise, but it will probably be just that — dreams. 

While my husband and I would like to be able to offer an alternative lifestyle to our son from the rat race here, we still have to earn a living. But the dream and the hope will tenaciously live on. 

Mrs. Bertrand is a writer who lives in Montreal, Canada. 

Theater group plans
open house tonight

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Little Theatre Goup has its first backstage open house tonight at 7 o’clock at the theater in Bello Horizonte.

The group puts on the event as a social and also to meet new persons who might be interested in participating in the English-language productions.

Also tonight the theater group will see a segment of "Chase me, Comrad," the production that will open Sept. 20. The British farce will run three weekends from that date with performances Friday and Saturday at 8:30 p.m. and on Sundays at 2:30 p.m.

The group also will be conducting open auditions for Authur Miller’s "Crucible," which is a political statement based on the Saken witch trials.

A spokesman for the group said that teenage girls are needed for the cast. The show is scheduled for late November.

Information is available at 289-3910 and 203-3672.

The theater is not far from San Rafael de Escazú but directions are needed for newcomers.

Bush urged work
as towers memorial

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President George Bush says Americans should honor the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks by volunteering more in their communities. 

In the year since the attacks, President Bush says the generosity and sacrifice of American volunteers shows a nation that is responding to acts of evil with acts of good. "As September the 11 approaches, difficult memories of planes and buildings will resurface," said President Bush. "But so will images of brave individuals coming to the aid of neighbors in need."

In his weekly radio address, the president called for a "September of Service" to honor those killed in the terrorist attacks. He wants more people to join local volunteer programs that teach children to read, or collect food for the poor.

After the attacks, Mr. Bush asked all Americans to dedicate at least 4,000 hours of their lives in service to their communities, the country and the world.

After promising to double to size of the Peace Corps, President Bush says applications for the organization are up 40 percent.

The president travels to New York Sept. 11, where he will take part in ceremonies at the site of the World Trade Center before addressing the United Nations the following day.

President Bush also designated Sept. 6 to 8 as National Days of Prayer and Remembrance for those lost in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

More violence feared
in southern México

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MEXICO CITY, México - Human rights activists here are warning of possible renewed violence in the troubled southern state of Chiapas, which was the scene of a brief, but bloody uprising in January 1994. 

The International Civil Oversight Commission on Human Rights is calling for continued focus on Chiapas because of fears of more violence in the impoverished southern state. Activists say visits to rural areas in Chiapas earlier this year produced clear signs of unrest that could lead to violent clashes.

The human rights advocates are calling on both the federal and state governments to take steps to address the root causes of the conflict, and to promote peace.

On Sunday, gunmen in rural areas of Chiapas killed three leaders of groups associated with the Zapatista National Liberation Front. The so-called Zapatistas launched a rebellion in Chiapas in 1994 that led to scores of deaths. Attempts to resolve the conflict peacefully have failed, although a cease-fire has been in place there for more than seven years. 

Last year, Zapatista leader Subcomandante Marcos led a caravan of several hundred supporters up to Mexico City from Chiapas, and addressed a huge crowd in the city's main square. Since that time, however, little has been heard from the colorful, masked guerilla leader, whose real name is Rafael Guillen. He was a leftist college professor, before he entered the jungles of Chiapas in the mid-1990s to organize a rebellion there among the poor indigenous people. 

Chief government negotiator for Chiapas Luis H. Alvarez says he believes Subcomandante Marcos may be ill. Others have speculated that the rebel leader may have slipped out of his jungle hideout, and may have even traveled abroad. In years past, the Zapatista leader would issue long communiques to news organizations, and also place them on the rebel Web site, but he has been silent now for more than a year.

More heavy fighting
reported in Colombia

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — Military officials in Colombia say 16 guerrilla fighters and three soldiers have been killed in the latest battle in the country's 38-year-old guerrilla war.

Officials say the fighting took place Tuesday in a mountainous zone of Cauca province, near the town of Totoro, some 650 kilometers southwest of here.

It was the biggest single rebel loss since President Alvaro Uribe took office on Aug. 7.  Uribe has vowed a stepped-up war against leftist rebels, including Latin America's oldest insurgency group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. Colombia's guerrilla conflict claims thousands of civilian lives every year. 

Art opening Thursday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Artist Hans Doller will be the featured guest at an art opening and reception Thursday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Cafe de Artistas in San Rafael de Escazú.

Doller, a German, lives here. His surrealistic works border on fantasy, but his portraits tend toward caricatures.

Quake hits Pacific

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A quake with a magnitude of 5.6 took place some 265 (425 kms) southeast of Costa Rica’s Isla del Coco in the Pacific about 1:27 a.m. Friday, according to the U.S. Earthquake Information Center. The event was 23.6 kms (14.5 miles) deep.

Summit aides rush
to finalize pact

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa —Negotiations to finalize the agreement to be adopted by heads of state and government at the World Summit on Sustainable Development are continuing at a frenzied pace as world leaders arrive here. 

A continuous stream of aircraft carrying more than 100 heads of state and government to the earth summit are arriving at Johannesburg International Airport. Across town, government ministers are working night and day to finalize the agreement their leaders are scheduled to adopt Thursday at the end of the summit.

But several important issues remain outstanding. Among them are: targeted deadlines on reducing by half the number of people in the developing world who lack clean water and sanitation, switching to renewable energy sources, and good governance. And some countries and non-government delegations are asking whether the focus on partnership agreements at the summit has overtaken the importance of setting targets.

Paul Nielson, the European Union commissioner for development and humanitarian health, says that both approaches are needed, and he sees no conflict between them.

As hosts, members of the South African delegation have been playing a pivotal role in facilitating negotiations, trying to bring opposing views together so that agreements can be reached. 

Trade and Industry Minister Alec Erwin told reporters that it would be unwise for anyone to underestimate the importance of the agreements being negotiated for the economies of the countries of the world. Erwin said it is therefore not surprising that negotiations are proving a challenge.

Stranded Cubans
rescue from cay

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. Coast Guard says smugglers have abandoned 17 Cuban migrants on a remote Bahamian island, leaving the Cubans with little food or water. 

Officials announced Friday that the Cubans were rescued earlier this week after a Coast Guard patrol aircraft spotted them on the island of Cay Sal. 

The Coast Guard says the 12 men, three women and two children left Cuba on Aug. 22, thinking they were headed for the United States. A smuggler dropped them off on Cay Sal, saying he would return after refueling his vessel. He never did. The rescued Cubans have since been transferred to Freeport. 

The Coast Guard says this case is not connected to the 20 to 25 Cuban migrants whose boat was reported missing off the South Florida coast. Four bodies believed to be those of passengers turned up off the coast several days ago. 

Under U.S. law, Cubans who reach the U.S. shoreline are allowed to stay in the country. Those who are intercepted at sea are generally repatriated. 

Raquel Welch goes
to father’s country

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LA PAZ, Bolovia — Famed American movie actress Raquel Welch is in Bolivia where she is to receive an award at the fourth Ibero-American Film Festival.

Dozens of photographers and fans greeted the 61-year-old actress upon her arrival in Santa Cruz Wednesday.  Bolivia is Ms. Welch's ancestral home. She says she wants to visit the country her father left in the 1930's to come to the United States. This is her first such visit.

Raquel Welch gained fame in the late 1960's. Over four decades, she starred in 60 movies and television programs, including "One Million Years B.C." and "Myra Breckinridge." But Ms. Welch was equally famous for her pinup bikini posters. 
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