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These stories were published Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 174
Jo Stuart
About us
A.M. Costa Rica photo
Flooded 4x4 is a spectacle after downpour in Barrio Cristo Rey Monday. 
Telephone deals hold promise of better service
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Contraloría General has signed off on two contracts that will allow expansion of the national telephone system.

The contracts are with Ericsson for land-based telephones and with Consorcio Lucent, which will provide 50,000 more cellular telephones.

Approval by the Contraloría is necessary for public contracts in Costa Rica. The government agency is the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, which also runs the phone service.

Ericsson will provide 8,000 new fixed telephone lines and help modernize the central systems in San Pedro, Pavas, San José south and San Rafael de Desamparados. There are more than 100,000 subscribers in these areas, ICE said.

New subscribers will have a choice of additional paid services like call waiting, caller ID and call forwarding, said an announcement by ICE. Officials predicted the work would be done in two and a half years and would also solve problems in the areas outside the capital and eventually offer all these additional services to the whole country.

The Ericsson contract is for $11.5 million, said the Contraloría. Officials there said the 

contract also would provide better connections to the Internet and allow digital connections.

The Lucent contract, valued at $28.8 million will result in a major improvement in cellular coverage, said ICE. And the contract will allow the changeover from the current cellular system to the GSM system in use in other countries. The demand for cellular telephones is about 250,000 more telephones than ICE can provide.

The investment would create 50,000 new cellular telephone lines and also allow cellular connections at 9.6 kbps., sufficient to allow a low-speed modem connection with the Internet, ICE said. The contract also would allow a much higher call traffic and also expand the service into the country and into some tourist areas.

The tourist areas would include the Pacific beaches of north Guanacaste, the central and south Pacific and Limón on the Caribbean, said ICE.

The new contract also would open up the capability to send short messages to the Internet and also from one cellular telephone to the other, said ICE. 

Lucent is supposed to deliver the appropriate equipment in five months, according to the contract, the Contraloría announcement said.

Can you believe: It's beginning to look a bit like Christmas
A.M. Costa Rica
Festival de la luz sign in La Sabana 
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Well, if it is the day after Labor Day, it must be time to start thinking about Christmas. At least in Costa Rica.

Absent a Thanksgiving Day on the last Thursday of November, Costa Ricans have no towering holidays to anchor the Yule season. Plus Christmas is so great here that locals find it hard not to think about the season even in early September.

Some "Navidad" signs are showing up in shops, but the most visible kickoff to the holidays is the neon sign on the northeast corner of Parque la Sabana that announced the Dec. 14 Festival de la Luz. That’s when thousands wrap themselves in lights and march up Paseo Colón amid floats and bands. This year, the night is Dec. 14.

Christmas also is a time when workers receive a 13th month of pay, which is reason enough to be jolly.

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Why they call it
 the rainy season

From south to north and from east to west, the land masses of the Americas are covered with storm activity in this photo from space taken Monday at 3:45 p.m.

Costa Rica, hidden by activity but circled in red, is buried by storms. Only the Baja Peninsula of México (upper left) a bit of Nicaragua and Honduras seem to be free of storms.

Courtesy of the Instituto Meteorológico Costrarricense
More rain predicted for today as Orosi digs out
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The downpours continued and the streets of Orosi are knee deep in a muddy slick, a reminder of the early morning tragedy Saturday.

Meanwhile the town has become a focus for Costa Ricans and, particularly, politicians who turned out in force Monday to promise aid to the stricken town near Cartago.

About 45 homes were damaged or destroyed when the side of a nearby mountain sheared off about 2:30 a.m. Saturday and poured down into a ravine leading to the town. A cluster of homes were buried along with some residents.

Emergency workers reported that the death toll now stands at seven. 

Lineth Saborío, acting president, visited the town for a public meeting Monday and promised government aid. Affected residents will get about 100,000 colons (about $275) to help rebuild and about 40,000 colons (about $109) to purchase food.

President Abel Pacheco is in Johannesburg, South Africa, at the World Summit on Sustainable Development.

Some government officials are blaming the rain and rugged geography of Costa Rica for the disaster. Channel 7 Teletica reported on roadbuilding that had taken place along the ridgeof the mountain that collapsed and interviewed the man who built the road. But they stopped short of saying that road development was the cause of the mudslide.

Donations are being taken for 
victims of the landslide in Orosi 
at a Banco Nacional account, 
No. 041 - 000-265 - 0

The Instituto Meteorológico Costarricense had more bad news for today. The official forecast said that the rain would begin letting up Wednesday, but that residents should prepare for more heavy downpours today.

The institute said that 40.6 millimeters (some 1.63 inches) of rain fell since 7 a.m. Monday. That’s more than the 27.5 millimeters (1.1 inches) that fell from 7 a.m. Sunday until 7 a.m. Monday. Most of Monday's rain fell between 1 and 4 p.m. in San José.

The bulk of the rain arrived as an afternoon downpour that flooded streets and tested storm drainage in the Central Valley. The downpour added insult to injury in the coffee town of Orosi where the rain washed mud from the rubble of the landslide and distributed it as thick, brown liquid all over town.

In addition to construction work and some road repairs all over the country, officials are bracing for even more cases of dengue stemming from the downpours that provided mosquitoes with many more puddles in which to lay eggs.

The reports of dengue were believed to be having an effect on tourism, particularly in the Caribbean where current and past storm damage also was a factor.

Canadians were there first with their Labour Day
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Yesterday was Labor Day in the United States, and a plethora of readers wrote in to say that the holiday is also celebrated in Canada. In fact, some Canadians pointed out that they are, in fact, the true originators of the whole affair.

A brief lesson in history reveals that their claim is correct. One of the original central labor groups in Canada organized the first North American "workingman's demonstration" in April 15, 1872, 

in Toronto. There were also parades and rallies held that same year in Ottawa. According to the U.S. Embassy Web site, the first Labor Day holiday in the United States wasn’t celebrated until Tuesday, Sept. 5, 1882, in New York City,  with the plan of creating the Central Labor Union.

Peter J. McGuire, the American man widely credited as the founder of Labor Day had attended a demonstration and picnic in Canada the same year he proposed the idea for a national holiday to the New York Labor Party. Coincidence?

Summit officials make
clean energy pact

By A.M. Costa Rica wire services

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Earth Summit negotiators agree to promote environmentally safe energy, a giant step that leaves them only a paragraph away from a completed plan to cut global poverty and protect the environment. 

Taking more than a week to hammer out, energy was thought to be the final hurdle before the non-binding plan could be presented to heads of state for approval before the summit ends Wednesday. 

But a paragraph pertaining to women's health is causing a last minute snag. Canadian delegates are arguing that language should be added to protect women against harmful cultural practices like genital mutilation. Until this last issue is resolved delegates can not sign off on a final text. 

Monday's energy deal calls for an urgent increase in the use of non-polluting solar, wind and hydro-electric power. 

But it does not include timetables or implementation targets proposed by the European Union, and opposed by the United States and major oil-producing countries. 

Environmental activists blasted the energy sources deal, saying that without timetables it is worse than no deal at all. 

Renewable energy sources was one of several main issues delegates have been focusing on since the summit began last week. Others include agricultural subsidies, protecting biodiversity, and access to clean water and proper sanitation for millions of people in developing nations. 

A number of world leaders took the podium Monday — among them British Prime Minister Tony Blair, French President Jacques Chirac, and Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe. 

Mugabe slammed Britain for its criticism of his land redistribution act, telling Blair to, in his words, "keep your England and let me keep my Zimbabwe."

Earth Summit pledge:
Save biodiversity

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Officials at the World Summit on Sustainable Development cautioned that the world’s ecosystems and biodiversity — the variety of plant and animal life — would continue to erode unless governments take immediate action to address environmental degradation and the overuse of natural resources.

According to a report outlining U.S. government initiatives, the U.S. Agency for International Development has supported sustainable natural resource management and biodiversity conservation in more than 60 countries over the last nine years.

Perhaps the largest and most unique of these conservation efforts is focused on the Meso-American Biological Corridor, a network of rainforests and other pristine ecosystems spanning an area from Mexico to Panama. Although Central America accounts for only 0.5 percent of the world's total land surface, it contains an estimated seven percent of the planet's known biodiversity.

Over the course of a six-year, $37.5-million program, the U.S. Agency for International Development is working in the corridor alongside a host of partners, including several governments, U.S. and others to provide technical assistance and financial support for improved protected areas management, promotion of environmentally friendly products and services, increased use of less-polluting technologies, sustainable tourism practices, and the development of marketing strategies for "green" products, such as biodiversity-friendly agriculture, organic goods and ecotourism.

Peter Schei, high-level advisor for the U.N. Environment Program, said Saturday that biodiversity could be seen as an insurance policy for life itself, and that the summit’s declaration and implementation program should contain the strongest recommendations possible for better ecosystem management.

The plenary was one in a series focusing on five thematic areas identified by Kofi Annan, U.N. secretary general, as key to progress at the summit — water, energy, health, agricultural productivity and biodiversity.

In a May 14 speech, Annan stressed that biodiversity is declining at an unprecedented rate — as much as a thousand times what it would be without the impact of human activity. "Half of the tropical rainforests have already been lost," he said. "About 75 percent of marine fisheries have been fished to capacity, and 70 percent of coral reefs are endangered."

A recent draft report outlining U.S. government initiatives in sustainable development says that not since the disappearance of the dinosaurs has the rate of species extinction been higher. It adds that an estimated 1,000 species per year are proceeding toward extinction, and that virtually all of this loss is caused by human activities, mostly through habitat destruction and over-hunting.

Schei told the summit plenary that estimates of the economic impact of protecting biodiversity could provide impetus for action. He said it was estimated that the value of overall ecosystem services is estimated at over $33 million.

While the figure could be debated, he said, "the extreme value of ensuring functioning ecosystems and the biodiversity interplay — at least in the economic sense — was undeniable." He added that the international community could not forget the scientific, recreational and cultural value of ensuring biodiversity.

Fox’s nation address
gets cool response

By A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MEXICO CITY, México — There has been mixed reaction to the state-of-the nation speech President Vicente Fox gave before the Mexican Congress on Sunday. The president's ability to promote consensus in the months ahead could determine the overall success of his presidency.

The day after President Fox delivered his second state-of-the-nation address, pundits and politicians were picking over his statements and looking to what comes next. The Reforma newspaper provided a front-page analysis of the Fox speech, questioning some of the figures used by the president.

In his speech, Fox said 263,000 new jobs had been created over the past 20 months of his presidency. But Reforma says independent sources indicate more than 500,000 jobs were lost over that period. The president said the Mexican gross domestic product grew 12 percent in the past year, when figured in U.S. dollars, but Reforma says when figured in Mexican pesos, it is has not grown at all. 

Political opponents, for the most part, have criticized Fox for failing to provide anything new. Marti Batres, a deputy with the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution, says the president needs to pay attention to his legislative agenda.

He says Fox needs to work more with Congress because much of his program remains stalled there. He says some 500 legislative initiatives are frozen at the moment and that the president needs to work with the Congress to move forward.

Beatrice Paredes, president of the Executive Committee of the Congress and a member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, sees an opportunity for such cooperation.

She says the president's speech was reasonable and that he should follow up by reducing friction with opposition parties and by seeking consensus.

In the days before the speech Fox seemed to be moving precisely in that direction, reaching agreement with PRI leaders to tone down rhetoric and to seek consensus on his energy reform proposal. 

Political analysts say the president will have to work hard at winning votes in the Congress since his own National Action Party lacks a majority. With almost a third of his six-year term at an end, President Fox says he is only beginning to work for change, but many Mexicans are growing impatient. 

Fox, whose election two years ago ended the 71-year-rule of the PRI, says his government has advanced democracy, human rights and economic stability. More than half of respondents to post-speech polls agreed that the president has brought change, but poll results in general show that most people agreed with the president's statement that much more needs to be done.
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A.M. Costa Rica
keeps getting
more readers
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Readership of A.M. Costa Rica continued to grow during August.

Statistics gathered by an independent program at the server site show that page views by visitors to the Web site increased 6.7 percent, from 92344 to 98,535 in August.

Sessions, that is a period where an individual spends time looking at multiple pages, increased 4 percent, from 24,436 in July to 25,426 in August.

Total hits were down slightly from 288,409 in July to 272,361 in August. 

The full statistical report is available on the Web at http://www.amcostarica.com/august02hits.htm

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