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These stories were published Thursday, Sept. 15, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 183
Jo Stuart
About us

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Students at left hold the torch aloft as the Himno Nacional is sung at Parque Central.

Johnny Araya, mayor of San José, at right, ignites a cauldron of flame at Parque Central.

A.M. Costa Rica photo

The symbol of liberty gets an official blessing
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There will be parades and civic ceremonies all over the country today as the nation celebrates its 184th year of independence. Today, of course, is a national holiday.

As a tribute to the Antorcha de Independencia, President Abel Pacheco declared it an official symbol of the nation. However, the 17,000-plus high school students who carried the torch from the Peñas Blancas border crossing all the way to Cartago already knew that.

The torch reached Cartago about 8 p.m. Wednesday where Pacheco and some of his cabinet waited with the new decree.

In San José, municipal and educational officials turned out to receive the torch and ignite a larger flame at Parque Central precisely at 6 p.m. Wednesday. After the torch arrived, the national anthem was sung and patriotic speeches were delivered.  As the torch left, first for a short stop in Zapote, fireworks lighted the sky.

School children will march today in nearly every community with a school. At 9:30 a.m. the ceremony at the Monumento Nacional will be the official national independence event.

A.M. Costa Rica photo
The next stop is Zapote for students from there who took over running duties in San José.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Sept. 15, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 183

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U.N. chief cites progress
in Central America

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Central America has made significant progress in economic development, but the region needs to improve its efforts in the areas of human rights, ensuring democracy, public security and judicial reform, Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary-general, said.

Summarizing the progress that Central American countries have made towards building peaceful, democratic and equitable societies, Annan says that economic activity was positive, with growth averaging 3.35 per cent in 2003-4, driven in part by economic recovery in the United States, strengthened debt sustainability, growth in exports, especially of garments, and a significant rise in remittances from foreign workers.

Incomes from family remittances reached $6,862 million in 2004, 16.2 per cent more than in 2003, an amount almost equivalent to 35 per cent of regional exports of goods, and significantly larger than the amount of foreign direct investment, he says. The recent implementation of the Central America Free Trade Agreement should continue to help the area remain competitive, he added.

But economic growth could be affected by rising global competition, especially from China, price increases of important commodities such as oil, and unforeseen natural disasters, he warned.

Noting that El Salvador and Guatemala made improvements in their electoral systems, Annan is nevertheless critical of the region's record in democratic reform, and notes that "throughout the region, the political systems are weak. Most political parties serve mainly as electoral platforms; they lack ideological foundation or a meaningful base of support within the population . . . and do not articulate the needs of the citizens at large."

Country gets high marks for peace

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican officials are pleased because a French magazine has listed Costa Rica as the 11th nation in the world that contributes most to peace.

The list is headed by Iceland and included a number of smaller European states in the top 10.

The magazine, GEO Un Nouveau Monde: La Terre, was reporting on a study by the Brussels-based Grupo de Investigación y de Información Sobre la Paz y Seguridad, which made the ranking. In all, some 150 countries were studied. The United States was ranked 33rd.

Parmenio Medina trial Oct. 18

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The trial of those accused in the murder of radio commentator Parmenio Medina Pérez will be held in San Jose starting Oct. 18.

The usual setting for such a trial would normally be the province where the murder took place. Medina was gunned down near his Heredia home. But court officials said Wednesday that for reasons of space the trial will take place in Sala 12 of the Tribunales de Justicia de San José. Security also was a likely consideration.

The Rev. Minor Calvo, a Catholic priest, and businessman Omar Chávez are the prime suspects in the case and are considered the intellectual authors. Seven other persons also are facing trial from the 2001 murder of Medina.

Calvo and Chávez directed the operations of Radio María, a religious radio station that was heavily criticized by Medina in his own radio show on another station.

Radio María was ordered off the air May 30, 2001, by the conference of bishops. Parmenio Medina died a short time later. He had exposed irregularities in the operation of the station and had meetings on the topic with church officials.

Fugitive nabbed at airport here

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
An Australian who faced a life sentence in his own country tried to enter Costa Rica at Juan Santamaría Airport but he was deported back to Guatemala where his flight originated, officials said.

The man is Andrew R. Hyde, 48. Police agencies credited immigration for detecting the man's name in a data base.

Hyde was convicted of trying to smuggle eight tons of hashish into Australia by boat in 1996, officials said.

Our readers' opinions

He advises relaxing

Dear AM Costa Rica:

I love the Customs story by Mr.Bandoletti and the responses it has received.

I lived in CR for four years. I imported a container or two, and had a child at the Hospital Mexico. Every official document I received had an error. Job security ?
Old fashion Yankee tongue lashings won’t help. They may think its funny and continue on with your displeasure. Leave the emotion at home, anticipate the documentation, and understand the transaction.

Scott Bartlett
Atlanta, Ga.

A clarification on dengue

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

In your recent article on dengue fever in the Central Valley you stated “many residents have immunity to one or more of the strains of the disease, but children are particularly hard hit”.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe this represents a dangerous misunderstanding of the disease. It is my undestanding that there are actually several strains of the disease. When a person contracts one strain, then the body builds up an immunity to this SPECIFIC strain. Unfortunately, many people when they contract dengue fever for a second time, harbor a different strain of the virus. The body then mobilizes it’s antibodies to the FIRST infection, which are not adequate to fight the second strain.

Therefore, it is precisely this “partial immunity” that produces the cases of the potentially “hemorragic” dengue in people infected by a second strain.

David Balsam
Nyack, New York

EDITOR'S NOTE: Mr. Balsam is correct that immunity to one strain is necessary for hemorragic fever to develop, although many people are reinfected by a second strain and do not develop the more severe form.  His letter was instrumental in generating a more detailed news story that ran Wednesday.
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Although some fruit weigh in at over a kilo, typical examples like these are in the area of 800 to 900 grams.

Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería photo

Imported variety of guayaba becomes a big success
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An imported variety of guayaba has proved to be a boon for farmers in the Nicoya area. The fruit sometimes reaches more than a kilo (2.2 pounds) in weight and are the key to the successful exportation of some 96,000 kilos to Europe.

It has been nine years since farmers in the area of Jicaral, Lepanto and Canjelito began growing the variety that was imported from Taiwan.  The project was jointly supported by the Taiwanese mission here and the Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería.

It is Sergio Obando Rodríguez, manager of the  Asociación de Fruticultores de Jicaral, who estimated the amount of current exports to Europe. The total production is about 2 million kilos, much of which is sold in Costa Rica.

More than 40,000 trees are grown by an estimated 60 small producers in the region.  Producers estimate that some 80 hectares are planted in the trees. Each tree can produce up to two kilos of the fruit every week year round.

Tomas Jiang, who is with the Taiwanese mission here, said that the original idea in 1992 was to offer options to farmers in the vicinity of Paquera. The fruit is of American origin, and the area along the east coast of the Nicoya Peninsula has a climate and elevation of less than 1,100 meters above sea level that are perfect for the trees.

Another key reason for success is that the peninsula is certified free of the Mediterranean fruit fly which plagues growers elsewhere and prevents shipments of the fruit.

Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería photo
José Angel Delgado Delgado, one of the successful growers, shows off a good example of the fruit on his farm.

The trees begin producing within a year after being planted. The fruit is eaten fresh and also turned into juice.

Obando of the association said that plans are afoot to export the fruit to Canada and Holland. However, growers are expanding cautiously to avoid oversupplying the market and causing prices to fall.

Delta Air Lines seeks protection under bankruptcy act
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Delta Air Lines, a major air carrier servicing Costa Rica, filed a voluntary petitions for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code Wednesday. The company said it did so to address its financial challenges and support its efforts to become a simpler, more efficient and cost-effective airline.

Delta’s Board of Directors, in a unanimous decision, directed the company to take this action after determining that a Chapter 11 reorganization is in the best long-term interest of the company, its employees, customers, creditors, business partners and other stakeholders, the company said.

Delta said it expects to continue normal business operations, including operating its full schedule of flights worldwide. The company said it also would honor tickets and reservations and provide refunds and exchanges as usual. For passengers, the company said it would maintain the SkyMiles program and continue to provide amenities like Crown Room Clubs and international lounges in select cities.

The company said it also would continue to provide employee their wages, health care coverage, vacation, sick leave and similar benefits without interruption; and, pay suppliers for goods and services received during the reorganization process.

Delta has two flights to and from Atlanta daily to Juan Santamaría Airport aand one dailiy flight to and from Atlanta, Ga., that lands in LIberia.

“The action we have taken is a necessary and responsible step to preserve Delta’s value for our creditors, customers, employees, business partners and other stakeholders as we address our financial challenges and work to secure our future,” said Delta CEO Gerald Grinstein. “Delta is open for business as usual and will continue normal operations throughout the reorganization process. Our customers can be confident that they remain our number one priority and that their travel plans and SkyMiles are secure.” SkyMiles is what the company calls its frequent flier program.

To help support its business during the Chapter 11 proceedings, Delta has obtained a commitment for $1.7 billion in  financing from GE Commercial Finance and Morgan Stanley. The commitment includes up to $1.4 billion of financing on an interim basis pending final approval of the full  financing at a later date.

The commitment for the new $1.7 billion financing replaces approximately $980 million in secured pre-petition financing from GE Commercial Finance and American Express. Delta has an agreement in principle with American Express to provide the airline with an additional $350 million of secured financing. Altogether, Delta’s post-petition financing arrangements now total up to $2.05 billion, an increase of approximately $1.07 billion from the company's pre-petition secured credit facilities. 

During the last year, Delta has developed and
implemented a transformation plan aimed at achieving approximately $5 billion in annual financial benefits by the end of 2006 as compared to 2002.  Persistent record-high fuel costs at unpredicted and unprecedented levels and the continued downward pressure on revenues within the airline industry substantially outpaced and masked these benefits, the company said.

Despite doing everything it could to preserve its liquidity, Delta has determined that it has no alternative but to utilize the protections and flexibilities provided by the U.S. bankruptcy law, the company said in its announcement. Delta said it intends to use the additional time and flexibility provided by the Chapter 11 process to expand its transformation plan and move the company toward a more secure future.

Delta said it has made great strides over the last few years to adapt itself to the new competitive environment, undertaking major cost-cutting initiatives and massive network, scheduling and operational improvements – without adversely impacting its customer service rankings. As part of these efforts to improve efficiency and bottom line results, Delta undertook the largest single-day schedule restructurings in its history, including the redesign of the Atlanta hub operation and the elimination of its hub operation at Dallas/Fort Worth.

The airline also restructured its domestic fare system with industry-leading “Simplifares,” rolled out extensive new customer-focused airport technology, and outsourced a significant portion of its heavy maintenance, among other steps, the company said.  Delta’s in-court business plan builds on these achievements and on its competitive strengths and is designed to return the carrier to profitability, the company added.

Delta said it plans to use Chapter 11 to reconfigure its fleet in a way that will enhance its revenues.  First, Delta plans to simplify and streamline its fleet by targeting four aircraft types to be removed by the end of 2006, so that only seven mainline aircraft types will remain.  Second, Delta plans to deploy smaller aircraft on many of its routes so that it utilizes the proper-sized aircraft for the route it is flying.  Delta also plans to increase its capacity on international routes with greater profit potential.

Delta also is seekingfurther job reductions and changes to employee pay and benefits. The company said it will be communicating to employees more details about these changes as early as next week. Monday Delta presented the union that represents Delta pilots, the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), with pilot cost-saving proposals necessary to help address the company’s severe challenges, it sasid.

Delta Air Lines is the world’s second-largest airline in terms of passengers carried and the leading U.S. carrier across the Atlantic, offering daily flights to 502 destinations in 88 countries on Delta, Song, Delta Shuttle, the Delta Connection carriers and its worldwide partners.

Transparency urges summit to address corruption
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The nations of the Western Hemisphere must use the November Summit of the Americas in Argentina to address the issue of transparency in government and to fight against corruption in their own governments, says Transparency International, a nonpartisan organization with headquarters in Berlin.

Transparency International said governments in the region "now have in hand the tools to commit to the fight against corrupt practices and to increase democratic participation, should they wish to strengthen governance.  But their commitments to citizens must be genuine."

The theme of the Argentine summit -- the creation of jobs to alleviate poverty and strengthen governance -- also must "address the demand for transparency and good governance," said Transparency International, adding that "corruption constitutes a serious threat to the stability of societies, to their democratic development and, most of all, to their economic growth." The summit is Nov. 4 and 5.

The nonprofit group said poor allocation of public resources has a "direct negative effect on the most vulnerable segments of society, and is one of the main
obstacles in the fight against poverty and job creation" in the Americas.  Transparency International said that in the poorest countries of the region especially, "resource allocation must be closely linked to policies of transparency. . . . "

The "Final Declaration" of the Argentine summit, said Transparency International, "should not disregard the commitments relating to the fight against corruption already undertaken upon ratification of the Inter-American Convention against Corruption."

The group added that as 2006 will be the "Inter-American Year of the Fight Against Corruption," the summit in the Argentine city of Mar del Plata "can assume a role of leadership and ensure compliance with the provisions of anti-corruption conventions applicable to the hemisphere."

The anti-corruption convention, adopted in 1996, has been ratified by the United States and almost all other countries of the Americas.  The convention requires nations to adopt domestic laws criminalizing certain activities, including the acceptance or solicitation of bribes by public officials.  It establishes extradition requirements and calls for mutual assistance and cooperation in investigating and prosecuting acts of corruption. 

Press freedom group presses Cuba on journalist, 61
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

An international press freedom advocacy group has expressed great concern about the plight of Cuban independent journalist Oscar Mario González Pérez, who still is awaiting trial more than 50 days after the regime of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro arrested him July 22 in Havana.

The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said González has been held in four different police stations since his arrest and "still does not know what will become of him."

The group asked if "this is a new method the Cuban authorities are using to break a dissident?  It is just as absurd as arrest without good reason and constitutes harassment, especially as the victim is a 61-year-old man in frail health."

Reporters Without Borders reiterated its call for the unconditional release of González and "all the other dissidents who have been unjustly imprisoned" in Cuba.  Press advocacy groups say at least 20 journalists remain in Cuban prisons since the Castro regime launched a March 2003 crackdown on Cuban dissidents.
González, of the Grupo de Trabajo Decoro independent news agency, was arrested as part of a round up of 33 dissidents, said Reporters Without Borders.  Some 24 of those dissidents since have been released, while González and two others have been charged under a Cuban measure, called Law 88, that claims to protect "Cuba's national independence and economy." González and two other dissidents face up to 20 years in prison.

Reporters Without Borders calls Cuba the world's "second-biggest prison for the press," after China. 

Another freedom-of-expression advocacy group, the London-based International PEN, a worldwide association of writers, has said it is "particularly concerned" about the Castro regime's charges against González. 

Recent experience in Cuba, said the group, "indicates that those accused of violating" Cuba's Law 88 "are given a summary trial before being pronounced guilty and sentenced harshly, PEN said."

International PEN said it "repudiates the detention" of González, and called for the journalist's immediate release and the dropping of all charges against him.

Jo Stuart
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