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These stories were published Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 184
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Costa Rica is a work in progress
Shake, rattle and roll, but there's no damage
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica showed again Tuesday that it still is a work in progress. Some ill-aligned geological structures many miles below Barbacoas de Puriscal shrugged, and the whole Central Valley and most of the country felt the result.

Buildings shimmied and shook a bit, but no serious damage was reported.

The U.S. National Earthquake Center said the magnitude was 5.0, but the Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica said the force was 5.2 in magnitude. The depth of the 2:03 p.m. quake was from 70 to 100 kms., depending on who did the measurement. That’s 44 to 62 miles and probably the main reason that damage was limited.

Arenal Volcano, which has been active again since 1968 is another indication that Mother Nature is not finished yet with Costa Rica. The volcano dumped molten rock and ash out of its northwest side last Sept. 5. 

Those who live here for awhile know that at least 59 volcanoes and volcano systems exist in the country. However, only four, in addition to 
Arenal, have shown activity in the last 250 years, according to experts: Rincón de la Vieja, Poás, Irazú and Turrialba. 

Rincón de la Vieja is some 24 kms. (15 miles) north and east of Liberia. Poás, Irazú and Turrialba ring the Central Valley.

One of the better shows began in March 1963 when Irazú, the tallest in Costa Rica at 3,402 meters (11,161 feet) above sea level blew its top. The volcano, northeast of Cartago, watches over the Central Valley from the east. This eruption dumped ash on visiting U.S. President John Kennedy in San José and was easily seen from the capital.

But to see Mother Nature at work one does not need explosions or quakes. The three days of rain that Costa Rica has experiences brought landslides, river flooding and other events that changed the country’s contours. Each year there are about a dozen quakes but many more heavy rains.

Because the country is rugged in most places, rain is an invitation for landslides and the kind of mud flows that killed residents near Orosi last year.

Sometimes volcanoes and mudslides go together. Last Feb. 8 scientists noticed that the lake in the crater of Irazú Volcano had changed color from dark green to a yellow brown. Was this a hint that the volcano again would blow its top? Scientists hurried to find out the answer.

Several from the Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica were lowered down the inside of the Irazú crater. There they discovered that the change in color was not volcanic but just the result of a massive landslide that had dumped tons of soil from the crater wall into the lake, thus stirring up the sediment. The landslide was the result of heavy rain.

What happened along the west side of Arenal earlier this month is bound to happen in all of the Central Valley, according to a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

NASA photo 
Irazú Volcano with Turrialba behind it guard the eastern end of the Central Valley (in photo center). This computer-generated perspective is from the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration based on satellite data.

Phillip B. Gans, a geologist, said that it might take 500,000 years or five years, "But it's inevitable (that there will be) another pyroclastic flow like the last big one in Costa Rica, (and it) will make the Mount St. Helen's eruption look like nothing." 

Pyroclastic flows are high-speed avalanches of hot ash, rock fragments, and gas that roar down the sides of volcanoes during explosive eruptions, or when the steep edge of a dome breaks apart and collapses. These flows, which can reach 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit and move at 100 to 150 mph, are capable of knocking down and burning everything in their paths. 

Gans determined that volcanism in Costa Rica has been occurring for at least 24 million years. He discovered that major pyroclastic eruptions have occurred many times over the past million years in the vicinity of the Central Valley of Costa Rica, with the most recent about 324,000 years ago. 

The cities and towns of the Central Valley, including San José, were built on the vast flow deposit that was produced by that eruption, he said in an article reported here last June. 

Far from being a land of tranquility and peace, at least geologically, Costa Rica has had its share of historic upheavals. When President Abel Pacheco was lighting the Torch of Liberty Sunday night in Cartago, he was standing in front of the so-called Ruins of Cartago, a church so badly damaged by a 1910 earthquake that the place was abandoned. It was the fifth time the church was destroyed by an earthquake.

Meanwhile, about 10 kms. (some 6 miles) northwest of the epicenter Tuesday at the west end of the Central Valley is the main market town of Santiago de Puriscal. The church there bears the marks of another quake that has rendered it unusable.

On a more positive note, it is the streams falling through the rough landscape of Costa Rica and the existence of geothermal energy that are two sources for cheap electrical generation. 

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Police take over port and refinery from strikers
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The government sent out nearly 1,000 policemen early Tuesday to take control of docks and refining facilities and even a section of the country’s major airport in order to frustrate strikers.

As expected, some 1,000 port workers and about 500 refinery employees did not show up to work Tuesday, mostly in Limón Province. However, efforts by the strikers to block access to the docks in Moín and the refinery nearby were frustrated by a show of force by officers 

Fuerza Pública officers fired tear gas canisters and made 10 arrests. Strikers hurled rocks and in two cases, firebombs, according to a report from Casa Presidencial in San José.  The arrests were for blocking the public right-of-way. Moín is just a few miles west of Limón and the docks there handle about 80 percent of the country’s exports, including agricultural perishables.

About 16 persons were reported injured after about 80 tried to block the access to the docks. Later in the evening youths probably not connected with the strike roamed the streets outside of Limón and set fire to vehicle tires and other combustible materials.

Ovidio Pacheco, the minister of Trabajo, announced early in the day that the government would not continue to pay individuals who joined the strike. Although that seems obvious, striking communications workers got their salaries while they were on strike earlier this year.

The refinery is Refinadora Costarricense de Petróleo, often called RECOPE. La Junta de Administración Portuaria y de Desarrollo de la Vertiente Atlántica, called JAPDEVA, runs the ports.

Rogelio Ramos, minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública, said in San José that the government has received the aid of 10 engineers from Colombia who were experts in oil pumps. These individuals were in charge of seeing that fuel was off-loaded from tankers into the tanks for the refinery. The country has at least seven days of fuel for transportation, officials said.

In addition to the refinery near Moín, police 

occupied the refinery facilities in El Alto de Ochomogo in Cartago.

Javier Chavéz, minister of Obras Públicas y Transporte said at midday that conditions were normal at Juan Santamaría Airport in Alajuela and the Daniel Oduber Airport in Liberia. However, Fuerza Pública officers had taken control of fueling facilities at the Alajuela airport.

The government said that the management of the refinery and also the port administration were about to file requests with the courts to have the strike declared illegal.

The government response to the strike caused some muttering among Costa Ricans, and President Abel Pacheco issued a statement in which he denied that the government had brought in foreign police to act against the strikers.

"This is a great lie as is the lie that we want to privatize RECOPE and JAPDEVA," said Pacheco. "We are going to maintain order. The country is not going to be paralyzed on a whim."

The strikers claim the government has not lived up to an agreement made with them in May. Plus they seek additional jobs and government investments in the province.

The president grew up in the Limón area and has always spoken fondly of it.  He said that in the last 16 months the province has received 30 billion colons in support. That is some $74 million.

However, a lot of the money went to rebuild roads, bridges and schools damaged or destroyed by the May 2002 storms that ravaged the area and subsequent periods of heavy rains.

Ships continued to discharge their cargoes at the port Tuesday. And other ships were loaded with pineapple, yucca and bananas. Trucks continued to arrive with containers.

After their confrontation with police at the docks around 10:30 a.m., the strikers withdrew under a cloud of tear gas while police grabbed those who seemed to be ringleaders. The whole situation was heavily televised, and officials in San José kept television sets turned on even as they received first-person reports from commanders in the field.


 
 
U.S. Feb rate kept
at mere 1 percent

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Federal Reserve's policy-making group has voted to keep its key interest rate, the federal funds rate, at 1 percent, the lowest rate in 45 years.

The 12-0 vote by the central bank's Federal Open Market Committee announced in a press release Tuesday fell in line with private economists' predictions.

The federal funds rate is the interest rate banks charge each other for overnight loans.

While the risks to sustainable U.S. economic expansion are balanced, the committee said, "the risk of inflation becoming undesirably low remains the predominant concern for the foreseeable future."

The committee continued to avoid citing any threat of actual deflation. Core consumer inflation, excluding food and energy, went up in the 12 months ending in August at only 1.3 percent, the lowest rate since 1966.

The group said that its previous rounds of interest rate cuts plus robust increases in productivity should work to keep the economy expanding although it noted that jobs were still disappearing.

Intel backing trend
of PC convergence

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

SAN JOSE, Calif. —  The convergence of computing and communications is being rapidly embraced by individuals and has become a mainstream trend, according to Paul Otellini, president and chief operating officer of Intel Corp. He credited, in part, the efforts of his company for this trend.

He also described new technologies Intel will bring to computing and communications devices that will add features in addition to providing more processing speed.

"Just two years after disclosing details on what was then codenamed Banias, the convergence of computing and communications has gone mainstream," said Otellini. 

"As one example, the addition of more than 76,000 wireless networking cards a day to the world's computing infrastructure makes it clear that convergence is here to stay. And this isn't just happening in the PC area. We're estimating by 2010 there will be more than 2.5 billion wireless handheld devices capable of providing communications functions combined with the processing power of today's advanced PCs."

Otellini's comments were made during the opening address of the Intel Developer Forum Fall 2003 here. In addition to reviewing the company's focus on convergence, Otellini also described new technologies Intel plans to bring to market.

"It was two years ago . . . that we committed to deliver fundamental technologies to enable greater productivity and better experiences for computer users," said Otellini. "We said we would continue to lead in microprocessor performance, and we've done that. 

"We also said we needed to create technologies specifically targeted to match the ways individuals use computing and communications devices," he said. "Hyper-Threading technology, with its innovative approach to enhancing the computing experience, and Intel Centrino mobile technology, which delivers breakthroughs in mobile computing, are the first outcomes of this effort."

"At a time when the 'virus of the week' seems to plague us all, making our computing devices more secure through the addition of hardware-based security must become a top priority for the industry in order to ensure future growth," said Otellini. "However, it's important to do this in a way that also respects the privacy rights of individuals. Intel is committed to achieving both goals."

Intel, the world's largest chip maker, is also a leading manufacturer of computer, networking and communications products.  The firm has facilities in Costa Rica.

Isabel weakening
but still threatens

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Hurricane Isabel weakened Tuesday as it approached the East Coast of the United States. With winds of about 160 kph (about 100 mph), forecasters say Isabel could strengthen on Wednesday as it passes over the warm waters of the Gulf Stream just off the U.S. East Coast. A hurricane watch is in effect for the U.S. states of North Carolina and Virginia.

Forecasters say hurricane force winds will begin affecting the states of North Carolina and Virginia by late today. Stacey Stewart, a hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, says a high-pressure weather system just off the East Coast of the United States will block Isabel from moving north and push it ashore.

"We do expect a hurricane landfall somewhere in the general vicinity of North Carolina, and certainly we could not rule out a lightly farther north landfall, but it does look like the East Coast of the United States is going to get hit by this hurricane," he said.

U.S. military authorities have moved ships out to sea from naval bases to ride out the storm, and military and other aircraft have been moved inland as Isabel approaches.

Forecasters say even areas not affected by Isabel's hurricane force winds will be hard hit by heavy rains and there could be heavy flooding across the mid-Atlantic region of the U.S. East Coast.

Even though Isabel has weakened, it is still considered a major hurricane and one of the strongest to affect the U.S. East Coast in several years. September is usually the most active month in the six-month Atlantic and Caribbean hurricane season that ends on Nov. 30. 

Gun discoveries
results in jail

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Three men investigators say were shipping illegal weapons have been given three months of preventative detention while the case is prepared.

They were identifed by the last names of Rivas Martínez, Anchía Valverde and Cascante Cascante.

Police said they found 38 assault rifles, 36 grenades and $40,000 when they stopped a vehicle near the Nicaraguan border. 

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Treaty on trade battered but not dead, officials say
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The collapse of talks at the fifth Ministerial Meeting of the World Trade Organization Sunday has led some observers to question the viability of the world body. But, insiders say the Cancun breakdown was a setback, but not a death blow.

The breakdown in the talks resulted from a standoff between the rich industrialized nations and a grouping of developing nations over the issue of agricultural subsidies. The poor nations want them eliminated because they make it difficult, if not impossible, for their farmers to compete. The industrialized nations, particularly the European Union, insisted that at least some issues from a previous round of talks in Singapore should be included, something the developing nations rejected.

The developing nations bloc was led by large nations like Brazil, India and China, and came to be called the Group of 21, or G-21. As this group grew, its members began referring to it as the G-20-plus. While many ministers left Cancun, México, disgruntled and unhappy with the lack of progress, leaders of this group expressed elation over their new-found clout. Among these nations was Costa Rica.

Brazilian Trade Minister Celso Amorim told reporters that the formation of this group represents a success that overshadows the failure to come to an overall agreement. "It is not now for us to seek who is to blame for that. That does not matter much to us," he said. "What matters is that, on agriculture, which was the issue on which we united, we were able to engage in serious negotiations. We were a respected actor." 

Amorim said he does not believe the breakdown in the Cancun talks really represents a profound crisis for the World Trade Organization or the future of world trade. 

The Brazilian trade minister said Cancun does not represent the end, but the beginning. "Many of us have been in this field for a long time. We know that this never stops. It goes on," he said. "This is a process and we emerge from this process stronger than we came into it. We are sure that, as it continues, in Geneva, in a new ministerial meeting, the G-20-plus will continue to play a decisive role in the agricultural negotiations."

World Trade Organization officials also reject the idea that Cancun was a total failure. They say some progress was made and that even if the self-imposed deadline of having a complete agreement by Jan. 1, 2005 is not met, the organization will continue to serve a purpose in resolving trade disputes and providing a forum for further negotiations.

But U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick accused developing nations of engaging in rhetoric rather than negotiations in Cancun. He expressed hope that the damage done to the World Trade Organization could be repaired, but he said that would require serious action and not just words. 

"You are not going to fix it with the sort of rhetoric I heard last night. It is easy to play to a home audience or to applause, but that will not do the hard work of negotiations," he said. "I think if you talk to the G-21, I think we made some good progress, at least for the United States in agriculture. We have always been willing to negotiate. We have some aggressive proposals out there. We can cut subsidies if we can get the EU to cut subsidies closer and if we open markets. We will open markets more than others will, but we have to open markets, which, by the way, will help the developing world as well with their trade."

Zoellick said the United States remains committed to free trade and will seek agreements either multilaterally through the World Trade Organization or with individual nations. On the immediate horizon is the attempt to form a free trade zone in the western hemisphere, known as the Free Trade Area of the Americas. Trade ministers from throughout the region will gather in Miami Nov. 20 to 21 to begin talks aimed at lowering trade barriers in the Americas. 

But several Latin American nations were part of the Group of 20 plus nations in Cancun who took a firm stand on the agriculture issue. This could also be a problem in Miami since countries like Brazil and Argentina want much greater access to the U.S. market for their sugar and citrus products. 

Sugar and citrus producers in the southern part of the United States can be expected to resist any lowering of barriers. 

So the stage for trade disputes is set, not only in the World Trade Organization, but elsewhere. 


 
U.N. seeks to extend its Guatemalan peace mission
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United Nations has recommended a one-year extension of its peace verification mission in Guatemala to help ease the peace process in the Central American country.

In a statement Monday, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said the coming year will be "decisive" for the future of Guatemala. The country is scheduled to hold general elections in less than two months, which will bring  about a third successive new government since 1996. At stake in the elections are the presidency, all 158  congressional seats, and positions in 331 municipal governments.

The November election in Guatemala, Annan said, will be held "in an increasingly tense and polarized atmosphere."

Annan spelled out his recommendations in a new report released the same day about the U.S.-supported  Verification Mission in Guatemala. Annan described a "complex and precarious"  political situation in Guatemala that has slowed implementation of the 1996 agreements that ended the last and longest of Central America's conflicts. That conflict cost about 100,000 lives.

Following consultations, Annan has recommended the mission’s extension until Dec. 31, 2004, the U.N. said.

Meanwhile, the White House said Monday in an annual process required by U.S. law that the Bush Administration has determined once again, as was the case in 2002, that Guatemala is one of 23 countries on its list of major drug-transit or drug-producing nations. 

President George Bush added, however, that "in the eight months since my January determination that Guatemala had failed demonstrably in regard to its counter-narcotics responsibilities, the government of Guatemala has made efforts to  improve its institutional capabilities, adhere to its obligations under international counter-narcotics agreements, and take measures set forth in U.S. law. 

"These initial steps show Guatemala's willingness to better its counter-narcotics practices, but the permanence of these improvements has yet to be demonstrated. I expect Guatemala to continue its  efforts and to demonstrate further progress in the coming year."

The U.N. peace mission in Guatemala was to be phased out by the end of 2003. But the U.N. said  that in light of the efforts to implement the 1996 peace agreements, which are being "repeatedly frustrated by false starts and failed expectations," Guatemalan President Alfonso Portillo requested that the mission be extended to cover the new government's first 12 months in office.


 
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