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These stories were published  Friday, Sept. 10, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 180
Jo Stuart
About us
Country facing double whammy from storms
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country is facing a one-two punch from Mother Nature, and this time it is the Pacific coast that is the target.

A strong low-pressure area about 280 kms. (170 miles) southwest of Guanacaste is drenching the Pacific coast. Already some 300 homes have been evacuated in Puntarenas.

The lashing Thursday is just a setup for Hurricane Ivan that will dump more rain on the country today through Sunday, according to the Instituto Meteorológico National. Ivan is still in the Caribbean level with northern Nicaragua and headed northwest. But the long arms of the storm will have indirect effects here, the weather experts said. 

For a change, the Caribbean slope got little rain Thursday and Ivan is expected to dump more rain in the west instead of the east.

The Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias issued an alert Thursday afternoon and said that people who live in areas prone to flooding or in areas where landslides are possible should be extra vigilant. The includes much of the country.

The weather institute said that boat operators should be aware that strong winds will lash the area and that high waves are likely.

Although the Pacific is expected to bear the brunt of Ivan, most other areas of the country, including the Central Valley will experience heavy rain, the institute said.

Bush haters in the U.S. might be coming here
My friend Ellen called me from Washington this weekend. We haven’t talked in a while, and I was delighted to hear from her. She told me that she is starting a club to help people who plan to leave the United States if President Bush is re-elected. 

I laughed but she said she was serious . . . that she already has a list of people planning to leave should Bush be re-elected, and her organization would furnish information about different countries so that people could decide where to move. And would I be her information source for Costa Rica? With some trepidation I said I would.

I suppose many of the people who will join her club are among the millions who marched against the decision to go to war with Iraq. They are people who cannot face four more years of decisions that will keep the U.S. continually at war with one nation or another in order to democratize them or to prevent them from using weapons of mass destruction that they might have. 

Meanwhile, the numbers in the ranks of terrorists grow — as one person in the administration has said, "Al Qaeda has metastasized." And meanwhile the government deficit grows and the dollar weakens. The "ownership society" that Bush forecasts is, in fact, becoming a bankrupt and foreclosed society. Letters I read from people in the United States, show that a surprising number are simply looking for a place where they can get medical care for a reasonable price, where they can obtain the medication they need and still pay the mortgage. 

Some people are paying more for medical insurance than I live on each month. I have been told that Medicare, the price of which is going up 17 percent next year, is going to stop covering treatment for diabetes. In a country where diabetes has become pandemic, this is terrible news — except for the drug companies. Perhaps people will discover that maybe they don’t need all of those expensive pills that the drug companies spend so much money advertising.

None of this is good news for U.S. citizens in the States, or for us expats living in Costa

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

Rica. Nor is it good news for Costa Ricans whose colon is based upon the dollar. Things are not going too well here. The country is in debt, not because it has been waging war, but because, among other things, of the corruption surrounding its social programs. 

The United States is dealing with corruption connected to military suppliers. I guess an interesting philosophical discussion would be which is more palatable, a government getting into debt with programs to help people or programs aimed at killing them. Either way, debt is debt. And the wellbeing of Costa Rica is closely related to the success or failure of the United States.

I don’t read the Bible nearly as much as either the President or many of his faithful Christian followers. Nor do I try to interpret God’s motives like Rev. Jerry Falwell who blamed the 9-11 attack on the ungodly behavior of many Americans. I wonder what he would say about the terrible hurricanes bombarding Florida, where Jeb Bush is governor? Mere man is not behind them, so it must be God.

And how do they interpret "The meek shall inherit the earth?" I used to think it meant the Bushmen of the Kalahari, the Aborigines of Australia and the Eskimos of the far North, all people who were pushed to or left alone in lands considered uninhabitable by "civilized" people. I figured no one would bother to drop nuclear bombs on their lands and they would be left after the final holocaust. 

That was during the cold war. Now I think that countries like Costa Rica — "meek" in the sense that they have no military and thus do not attack anyone — will inherit the earth. At least, if Ellen is right, and things get really bad, they will inherit a lot of the people of the earth. 

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Sept. 11 fast becoming a day for volunteering 
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Tens of thousands of Americans are commemorating the third anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks with volunteer and charitable efforts. The Web site, onedayspay.org, is serving as a link for volunteers and spearheading an effort to declare Sept. 11 a national day of voluntary service.

David Payne began the Web site onedayspay.org a few months after the 2001 attacks. The website invites people to register on the site and make a non-binding pledge to help others on or around Sept. 11 and links people to hundreds of groups around the country. Payne views the website as a bit of a matchmaker, linking those who want to give with those in need.

"The idea was to establish September 11 as a national day of voluntary service where we would all take time out of our busy lives to, in effect, rekindle that spirit of unity and compassion that we all felt right after 9/11 by helping others in need, however we decide to do that," he explained.

Last year, more than one million people responded to the group's call to "give back to the community at least a day's payment of service." This year, Payne hopes the figure will more than double as people participate in a variety of voluntary activities. 

"There is a group of people in Memphis from BellSouth who are planning to build wheelchair ramps for the handicap," he says. "The actor Gary Sinese is supporting a group 'Operation Iraqi Children,' which is collecting school supplies for children in war-torn Iraq, and he is going to be putting together school kits. There are some children in Georgia, who are putting together supplies for children who are going into foster care

Our ceremony is Saturday

San Jose's obervance will be in inaugurating a monument to the victims at he former Parque General Cañas in Sabana Norte adjacent to the Centro Cultural Costarricense-Norteamericano. The place now is called Parque11 de Setiembre de 2001.

The ceremony will be at 10 a.m. Saturday.

center. There is even a group of flight attendants [who] have been raising money to donate an ambulance for a town in Mexico."

Many of the efforts are sponsored by companies and organizations. But the Web site also helps individuals who want to make a contribution, people like George Angus, a car salesman in Alaska who plans to donate his commissions on Sept. 11 to a group he found through the onedayspay Web  site.

"[It's] absolutely important that we don't ever forget that day," he says. "Rather than look at it with hatred and pain in our hearts as much as possible I think we should try to look at it as a great opportunity to build and rebuild people's lives who were effected by September 11 and that spreads."

Onedayspay founder Payne says the tragic consequences of 9/11 are not limited to the United States. Last year, people from 60 nations used the onedayspay Web site to link up with volunteer efforts. It is a sign, he believes, of the role the Internet can play creating a global community of compassion.

Public school calendar
proposed for 205 days

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The proposed 2005 public school year will be 42 weeks and 205 days, according to the draft calendar that the minister of Educación Pública has submitted to teachers unions for study.

The minister, Manuel Bolaños, wants the school year to start Monday, Feb. 7 and run through Dec. 15. The mid-year vacation will be July 4 to 15. The calendar also includes five days when students will be off because teachers are having their union congresses.

The school year is a political issue. In the first year of the Pacheco administration, officials tried to save money by cutting the school year short. The Sala IV constitutional court said that children need at least 200 days. Discontented teachers wanted to be paid for the extra days, and the government said it had no money.

Weekend concerts
dedicated to victim

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Orquestra Sinfónica Nacional will be honoring a murdered member during the seventh concerts of the 2004 season. They will take place Friday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 10:30 p.m. in the Teatro Nacional.

José Manuel Ugalde, a clarinet player, was gunned down near his hone in Lourdes de Monte de Oca Tuesday night by robbers who thought his instrument case contained money.

Kimbo Ishii is the featured pianist, and Katsunori Ishii is the invited director. Works by Strauss, Ravel and Brahms will be presented.

Guachipelin Baptists
set special sermons

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

For the next five weeks the International Baptist Church in Guachipelin, across from Multiplaza, will dedicate a special sermon series to the topic "Hope for the Home."

In spite of the almost miraculous marvels of Third Millenium technology, we live in a world where so more than ever before, families must struggle to stay together and to raise their children to be healthy, responsible adults, a release from the church said, adding that divorce is at an all-time high, and our children, often left with no guidance, face innumerable temptations. 

Pastor Paul Dreesen says, "There is hope for the home!  We can learn from God, our Creator’s instruction manual how each couple and each family can find hope for their home." 

Sunday services include morning Bible study at 9 a.m. and morning worship service at 10 a.m.  There is also Coffee and Fellowship at 11:30 a.m.following the worship service. The sermons in this special Hope for the Home series are:

Sept. 12: Raising Kids Who Turn Out Right; Sept 19, Building a Successful Home;  Sept 26, Romancing the Home; Oct. 3, Weathering Storms in the Family; Oct 10, Prescription for a Healthy Home.

Directions to the church are: going out of San Jose, pass Multiplaza and take the Autopista Próspero Fernandez exit to Guachipelin, turning right at the bottom of the access road.  Then turn immediately to the right (east) and then to the left (north).  You will see the steepled church in front of you to your left.  For more information, call Pastor Dreessen: at the church (215-2117) or cell phone (821-3594).

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Union declaring itself winner against 'neoliberals'
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Movimiento Civico Nacional, the group that staged marches and road blockades in late August, does not seem to be going away now that concessions have been made by the government.

In fact, the movement and its supporters are beginning to sound a lot like a political party in formation.

The Movimiento Civico said Wednesday that it was trying to form chapters in cities outside of San José. Then Thursday, one of the movement’s key groups, Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados, published its political position on the Internet.

The union came out again strongly against the proposed free trade treaty with the United States and what it called the neoliberal strategy of development. In fact, it blamed the neoliberal, including Grupo Nación, the newspaper publisher, for causing the social confrontations.

In contrast the union offered a return to the strong socialist state, un Estado Social de Derecho, which is said was the key reason that foreigners want to invest here in the first place.

The political tract was titled "The crises in the cabinet of President Pacheco," and it refrained from attacking the president. Instead, it urged him against installing new ministers who hold the "extremist neoliberal vision of development."

"This persistent civic resistance has transcended the mere scope of a union and converted itself, little by little, into an enormous coalition of laborers, businessmen, intellectuals, students and even politicians," said the statement. 

The manifesto was signed by Albino Vargas Barrantes, secretary general, and Edgar Morales Quesada, the deputy secretary general. Vargas also is considered the leader of Movimento Civico.

The extremism is the competitive capitalism that would be engendered by the free trade treaty with the United States and other Central American states. Many of the union members work for state monopolies that would face competition if the free trade treaty is approved. 

Vargas seems to be seeking friendly faces among 

the persons Pacheco will name to fill the half-dozen vacancies in his cabinet. Among those who quit Wednesday was the minister of Comercio Exterior and the free trade treaty negotiating team in that office.

The union and the Movimiento Civico have gotten an unexpected boost from the growing scandal surrounding the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social and former president Rafael Ángel Caldrón Fournier.

Pacheco has not been implicated in the scandal, but the union and the Movimiento Civico are quick to use the corruption issue as a sign of betrayal of the public trust by the government.

Vargas and Morales also overstated the impact and result of their blockades and marches. The best the unions could muster was about 3.000 persons. However, the manifesto speaks of winning the "referendum of the streets."

Pacheco has supported the free trade treaty. Alberto Trejos, the outgoing minister of Comercio Exterior, signed it. Now it must be approved by the Asamblea Nacional, as well as the U.S. Congress.

Several scandals have tarred both major political parties, the Partido Unidad Cristiana of Pacheco and Calderón, and the Partido Liberación Nacional. Many members of both parties generally support the free trade treaty.

The public employee union and the growing Movimiento Civico will have significant power to exercise in the 2006 general election if they can appropriate the role of political reformer.

Pacheco’s ministers began resigning after a settlement was reached to get truckers to unblock roadways and to provide the union headed by Vargas with an additional half of one percent pay raise.

Alberto Dent, the minister of Hacienda, the budget office, quit over the economics of the settlement. Ricardo Toledo, the minister of the Presidencia, quit Tuesday and resumed his job as a national deputy. He negotiated the settlement with the strikers.

Wednesday Javier Chaves, the minister of Obras Públicas y Transportes, and some associates quit, as did Trejos. Chaves was the man who supervised Riteve S y C, the hated vehicle inspection monopoly that was one of the key targets of the strikers.

Pacheco says there is no crisis in his government
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Abel Pacheco said Thursday that Gilberto Barrantes, the current minister of Economía, Industria y Comercio, would also take over as head of the Ministerio de Comercio Exterior.

That post became vacant Wednesday when Alberto Trejos quit.

Pacheco called an unusual cabinet meeting Thursday and afterwards said that all his remaining ministers were committed to stay in their jobs.

Pacheco has lost six ministers in the last two weeks because of disputes about how his administration settled a national strike Aug. 31.

Pacheco told reporters that he was getting assurances of support from all over, including chambers of commerce, unions, and other strong groups in the country. They all tell him "We are with you," he said.

He said there was no reason to believe that the country was in any kind of crisis.

Lineth Saborío, first vice president, however, asked the Costa Rican people to remain calm. The situation is not one that has gotten out of hand, she said, and that Pacheco has taken all the measures necessary .

Pacheco said that he still was studying the ministry situations and that he would make appointments to the vacant posts in the coming days.

Two men face child-sex charges in separate cases
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators arrested two Costa Ricans in as many days on allegations that they had been having sexual relations with minors.

The first was a 42-year-old professional engineer identified by the last name of Rodríguez. He was arrested Wednesday at his home in Guadalupe de Goicoechea.

At his home agents said they confiscated videos 

and photos of nude minors and also of sexual exploiters. They expect to follow up on the pictured individuals.

Thursday in  Paso Ancho, investigators arrested a 51-year-old man with the last name of Roldán. He runs a refrigeration business, they said.

Agents said he is facing allegations of abusing 10 neighborhood minors, ages 13 to 17. The raid was the 10th of the year, and Roldán was the 20th suspect apprehended.

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Annan urges more citizen involvement in politics
By A.M. Costa Rica wires services 
and the U.N. News service

MEXICO CITY, México — U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan says democracy in Latin America has made huge strides, but citizens deserve more involvement in the decision-making process.

Speaking here Wednesday at an international seminar on Latin American politics, Annan said countries in the region should aim not only for an "electoral democracy," but a "citizen's democracy."

While Latin America has a solid democratic tradition, its benefits have not reached the region's poor, Annan said.

Annan warned against the temptation among some — documented in a U.N. survey earlier this year — to turn away from more than two decades of reforms towards democracy.

"The vote has not produced a steady job, a full table, property rights or, for many indigenous people, even a sense of real participation in the political life of their country," he said, arguing that the popularity of democracy in Latin America will depend on citizens seeing actual material and social benefits from having a vote.

"They must have reason to be confident that their vote will translate into improvements in their daily lives, and enable their societies to build consensus on the reforms that are needed for further democratic progress," he said.

Corruption-free public institutions, investments in education, genuine public participation in decision-making and determined political leadership are critical to fostering not just an electoral democracy but a "citizen's democracy," he said.

U.N. file photo

Latin America needs more democracy, not less. 

In a report released in April, the U.N. found that just 43 per cent of almost 20,000 people polled across Latin America said they fully supported democracy, while 55 per cent said they would support an authoritarian regime if it could resolve their economic problems. 

And, since 2000, four elected presidents in the region have had to leave office before the formal end of their terms because of steep falls in their public support.

But the secretary-general emphasized that although democracy has not broken down the "barriers of exclusion" and is even viewed by some as being part of the problem, Latin America needs more democracy, not less. 

"The great challenges of building democracy, advancing development and promoting security are closely related - and all nations have an interest in working together to meet them."

U.N. agency picks professor here for educational rights position
By the U.N. News Service

GENEVA, Switzerland — A Costa Rican professor and adviser with a long record of advocating for the protection of human rights has been selected by the United Nations to serve as the world body's special rapporteur on the right to education.

The U.N. Commission on Human Rights, based here, announced that it has appointed Vernor Muñoz Villalobos to the post, which examines obstacles to the right to education and identifies ways to remove them. He will serve at least until 2007.

Muñoz Villalobos, who currently works in the office of the Costa Rican Defenso de los Habitantes, is a professor of civil rights at the Universidad Latina and a human rights adviser. The commission said he also has a long history of integrating human rights issues into mainstream planning in the field of education.

In his new post, Muñoz Villalobos will be required to frame recommendations on how to promote and protect the right to education, gather and analyze information about its current state, and review how the right to education relates to other human rights.

Jo Stuart
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