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These stories were published Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 185
Jo Stuart
About us
Pacheco vows to put
government on Web

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Abel Pacheco wants government institutions to move ahead with electronic services and to use open programming that is not closely held by some software company.

Pacheco made his comments at the official inauguration of the two-year-old interbank payment system run by the Banco Central. The recently upgraded system was developed by the central bank with the aid of Artinsoft and Microsoft.

Pacheco said that he wanted some 30 procedures between the private sector and government to be put online in a short time. Called the Digital Government, the system will allow the following transactions: 

Tax payments, bid submissions, customs applications, payment of social charges, bank and financial negotiations and payments for employee checkoffs.

The interbank system now clears checks in just a few hours. However, the system is prone to any number of input operator errors.

Pacheco said that the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad and Radiográfica Costarricense S.A. have developed the infrastructure for the new digital systems. Pacheco said that in no more than a year and a half, the first 30 forms of payments and transactions could be made over the Internet.

In doing so, Pacheco said he wanted government institutions to use open systems, not some software closely held in secret by a single company. 

He said his government wanted to end the system of bidding in which only a few companies could participate and that would result in high maintenance costs. Such programs and hardware quickly become obsolete he said.

With him was Rogelio Pardo, minister of Ciencia y Tecnología.

Easy come, easy go
the electronic way

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Internet payments are efficient and easy, but sometimes there is a glitch.

Like two weeks ago when Banco Nacional by mistake sent A.M. Costa Rica a daily account statement that showed a balance of about $1.4 million.

On the same page was a promotional message on how to send money quickly and easily to Nicaragua.


The account actually belonged to the rural credit division of Banco de Costa Rica. Each day’s message would reflect deposits, mostly by international agencies, into the account.

And then as mysteriously as it arrived, one day the electronic statements stopped. A computer tech must have caught the error. Or perhaps Banco de Costa Rica noticed a slight $1.4 million discrepancy.

RACSA moves to verify all e-mail messages
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Radiográfica Costarricense, S.A., the Internet monopoly, has taken steps to protect customers’ e-mail addresses and avoid bulk junk messages.

The company, known as RACSA, told customers over the weekend that they had to enable e-mail authentication in their mail programs.

"This change intends to reduce the possibility of sending massive messages
that block the domain racsa.co.cr internationally," the company said in the English version of its message.

RACSA has been on block lists all over the world because of the profusion of unsolicited e-mails (so-called SPAM) that seems to originate in its servers.

Authentication provides an encrypted link between the sender and e-mail servers to avoid someone forging an e-mail header. This is called "spoofing," and is used frequently by mass e-mailers who do not want to use their own names.

The RACSA instructions for various e-mail programs can be found here:

Frequently, e-mail users will get unwanted 

messages which have their own return address. All this is done on the sly 
electronically. Servers all over the world are being changed so that each immediately requires an authentication from an incoming e-mail. The authentication at least shows that the message originated from where the header says it did.

In the case of unwanted mass mailings, the next step would be to approach the server whose customer is distributing the unwanted messages to seek some kind of action.

Each night a handful of A.M. Costa Rica digest subscribers do not receive their overnight message because their accounts are "over quota." In many cases that is because their in-box has been stuffed with unwanted e-mail.

The Hotmail free e-mail service is almost unusable now because each account may get up to 150 unwanted e-mail messages each day.

The messages may be the old Nigerian scam in which a stranger outlines a way to get a lot of money. Sometimes the messages promote a XXX Web site. Other times the messages are for cheap mortgages, diet pills or personal hygiene products.

Authentication will not stop the junk, but at least the return address should be correct. This is critical now that many countries have passed laws regulating junk e-mail.

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High Court awards land to Indian communities 
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica Indians won a big victory when the Sala IV told the government to transfer vast tracts of land into the ownership of the people who live there.

The decision by the Corte Supremo de la Justicia was announced by the Centro para el Desarrollo Indígena. The decision, a long time in coming, directly affects the Indian communities of the Boruca, Térraba  and Rey Curré in southwestern Costa Rica.

The decision also puts more muscle in the case the Indians are bringing against the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad that wants to build a giant hydroelectric project and lake bigger than Lake Arenal on Indian land.

The Sala IV, the constitutional court, ordered the Instituto de Desarrollo Agrario to do the 

paperwork necessary within six months to transfer the Boruca-Térraba reserve lands into the hands of the Indian communities. The institute of development also was ordered to pay the cost of the work and additional damages, according to the centro.

Independent verification of the decision from court sources could not be obtained, but the centro has correctly reported court actions in the past.

The hydro project carries a $1.5 billion price tag. The plan is to build a 220-meter (715-foot) dam across the Rio Grande de Térraba in south central Costa Rica and cover 19,000 hectares (47,000 acres) with water to create a lake larger than Arenal in northern Costa Rica.

Many acres of traditional land would be below the proposed lake’s waterline. Additional articles about the project and the Indian lands can be found here. here, here and here.

Traffic tolls to stay put despite long lines
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Despite long lines at tollbooths, the agency that regulates prices is not going to raise the toll.

That was the word Tuesday from Herman Hess, regulador general of the Autoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públicos.

This is the same agency that raised the toll on major highways from 60 colons to 75 colons last week. The result has been traffic jams as motorists wait to pay the money.

The Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transporte had blamed the tieups on people fumbling and being unable to find 75 colons. The ministry suggested that there would not be any tie-ups if the tolls were raised to 100 colons, the amount of a popular coin.

Hess said that the tie-ups are not the result of the amount of the toll but the lack of information in informing the public and inadequate collections by ministry employees. The new tolls went into effect almost immediately after they were authorized.

The tolls cover the autopistas Florencio del Castillos, General Cañas and Próspero Fernández.

Hess said that the increase authorized amounted to 700 million colons or nearly $2 million over the course of the next year. The money should be used for road maintenance, he noted.

Hess suggested that the ministry put up more signs specifying the amount of the toll, recalibrate the automatic collection machines to accept all types of money and also consider methods of collection, including tokens and debit cards.

Gold firm offers ecological mining opportunity
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Mining does not have to be negative, and Costa Rica has an opportunity to participate in developing the most modern and ecologically oriented mine in the world, according to Vannessa Ventures Ltd., the Canadian gold firm.

The country also can set a standard for future generations of mining by balancing the interests of mining and the environment, the company said.

Vannessa’s Costa Rican subsidiary, Industrias Infinito, wants to develop the Crucitas project in northern Costa Rica along the San Juan River, and some residents are unhappy that the open-pit process will leach the gold with cyanide.

Erich Rauguth, a spokesman for Vannessa, said that his firm has never made a statement on the effects of any moratorium in Costa Rica. President Abel Pacheco instituted a moratorium on open-pit mining during the first week of his presidency.

Vannessa has been reported in the press to be ready to go ahead with mining an estimated 600,000 ounces of gold despite what the president says.

Rauguth said that his firm has made no statement on the effects of any moratorium. But, he adds, Infinito is in possession of the legal exploitation license, which constitutes the acquired rights for Vannessa to take all the steps to bring the project on line.

“Vannessa does not challenge the Costa Rican administration's resolve and authority and fully
recognizes that the government may have the

The Crucitas Project actually contains two separate gold deposits, according to this graphic made by Vannessa.

privilege to expropriate Vannessa's assets in Costa Rica if Congress agrees to approve such a step,” said Rauguth.

In the meantime, the company will work to show the government the positive side of the mining project and the long-term positive effects, he said. Any expropriation will be covered by international law and require just compensation.

“Vannessa is confident that Costa Rica's law makers will recognize that it would be counter productive for Costa Rica to undertake a large financial commitment to indemnify a corporation in order to avoid a considerable sum of foreign investments and associated benefits to be placed in Costa Rica,” Rauguth added.

Landmine use by rebels
concerns activists

By A.M. Costa Rica wire services 

GENEVA, Switzerland — Activists meeting here this week to discuss progress of the Mine Ban Treaty said they are concerned about the threat armed groups pose to landmine use. The International Campaign to Ban Landmines said rebels often resort to using land mines because they are a small, easily portable and cheap means of defense.

Noel Stott, the campaign's spokesman, said worldwide some 40 rebel groups, also called non-state actors, are using land mines in their conflicts.

"There has been a decrease in the use of anti-personnel land mines by non-state actors from 18 countries to 14 countries, however much needs to be done," said Stott. 

"We are concerned that, for example, three rebel groups in Burma, not previously identified as using mines, were reported using them. Other countries with non-state actors using mines were reported and include the Democratic Republic of Congo, Colombia, Somalia, India, Pakistan, Nepal, the Philippines and Russia." 

Stott said although three-quarters of the countries around the world have signed and adopted the Mine Ban Treaty, rebel groups couldn’t do so because they are not governments. But now, a legal mechanism has been set up in Geneva where rebel groups can sign a deed of commitment to ban mine use. 

"When a non-state actor signs this deed of commitment it means they will stop using mines, they will destroy their stockpiles, they will allow missions for verification, it's important," said Elisabeth Reuss-Decrey of Geneva Call. 

"And they will support mine activities, for instance, forde-mining and for victim assistance," said Ms. Reuss-Decrey. 

So far five rebel groups including the Sudan People's Liberation Army, the Moros Islamic Liberation Front in the Philippines and Kurdish parties in northern Iraq have committed to stop using land mines.

Peso crashes again,
no loan imminent

By A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS ARIES, Argentina — Newspaper readers here were greeted by one gloomy headline after another Tuesday. The retail value of the peso fell for the first time in months and there is growing speculation that the current government will not be able to secure an emergency loan from the International Monetary Fund. 

For the last three months, leaders, trying to put a happy face on the country's troubled economy, have pointed to the peso. It was holding steady against the dollar. 

But on Tuesday, the peso's retail value fell. The exchange rate slipped from 3.59 pesos to the dollar to 3.62.

It is a small loss, but its timing is important, because the decline in value comes at a time when international observers are losing confidence in the government here.

This week, Argentine officials are in Washington, trying to convince the International Monetary Fund that their country deserves a bailout. But Anne Kruger, the fund's deputy director, is giving them a warning: If Argentina does not repay its debt, and its leaders do not draft a solid economic plan, the country will be punished, not helped.

They defaulted on $141 billion in international debt last year, plunging the country deeper into its worst economic crisis in its history.

While the current government has repeatedly said Argentina cannot recover from the crisis without an emergency loan, the battle to win that loan has been uphill.

Argentines are looking with concern at recent comments from Paul O'Neill, U.S. Treasury secretary, who said the United States is not interested in putting money into businesses that do not make sense. O’Neill did not mention the country by name, but Argentines say the reference to their unstable political and economic situation was fairly clear.

Hans Tietmeyer, the former president of Germany's central bank, has been less diplomatic. “Argentina is no longer a significant part of Latin America's economy,” Tietmeyer said Tuesday. He asserted the country's leaders are "without direction," and they do not deserve a bailout.

Referendum sought
on Free Trade Area

By A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BRASILIA, Brazil — Representatives of trade unions, churches, and leftist organizations have called on the Congress to hold a referendum on Brazil's participation in the U.S.-backed Free Trade Area of the Americas. 

Tuesday's call here came as these groups presented the results of their own referendum, which showed overwhelming rejection of the proposed hemisphere-wide free trade zone. 

The organizations said their referendum was carried out over the past several weeks in almost 4,000 municipalities in the country. They said that of the 10 million votes cast, 98 percent were against having Brazil become a part of the Free Trade area.

The organizations, which staged a march here Tuesday, now want the Congress to hold a nationwide referendum on the question. They say the free trade area will allow the United States to dominate Brazil, and the rest of the Western Hemisphere.

Brazil, with a population of 170 million, will co-chair with the United States the next phase of Free Trade Area’s negotiations in November. The proposal, first adopted by hemispheric leaders in 1994, aims to create a free trade zone from Alaska to the Tierra del Fuego on the tip of South America by 2005.

Andean drug problem
tied to U.S. demand

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States has a responsibility to address the problems in the Andean region created by the U.S. demand for the illicit drugs produced there, according to Richard Armitage, deputy secretary of state.

"It is the U.S. domestic appetite for illegal drugs that helps sustain the Andean region's misery," said Armitage. 

Testifying Tuesday before the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, he noted that almost 90 percent of the cocaine and more than half of the heroin trafficked to the United States in the year 2000 came from Colombia alone.

In response to this problem, Armitage said, the United States has allocated $731 million for the Andean Counter Drug Initiative that is targeted at drug crop eradication, interdiction efforts, and alternate development programs.

Detailing the successes to date of the initiative in these three areas, Armitage said 90,000 hectares (222,300 acres) of coca fields in Colombia have been eradicated through aerial spraying in the first half of 2002, a figure greater than the entire amount sprayed in all of 2001. The goal in 2003 is to eradicate 200,000 hectares (494,000 acres).

Interdiction efforts have concentrated on the training and equipping of military and police forces in the Andean region, Armitage explained. 

Such assistance, he said, has contributed to the success in 2002 of Colombian security forces in "dramatically" decreasing the number of attacks by armed rebel groups on the oil pipelines there, seizing tons of cocaine and opium, and arresting more than 11,000 people.

Alternative development is the key third component of the initiative, Armitage said, because it addresses the underlying conditions that generate support for the rebel groups increasingly involved in the narcotics trade. 

In Colombia, such programs aim at voluntary eradication of illicit drug crops, public works projects, income generation and improved local governance.

Armitage said that local communities in Colombia have voluntarily destroyed more than 8,000 hectares of illicit crops in the last 15 months in order to participate in these alternative development programs. The United States has a "direct interest," he noted, in seeing that inhabitants of the often-remote areas where such crops are grown have a better way to support themselves.

"We can wipe out all the crops and jail all the farmers we want, but as long as it is the sole source of income in rural areas, coca will continue to grow like a fungus," said Armitage.

Although much of Armitage's statement focused on Colombia, he did note that a broader regional approach to the drug issue is necessary and that the initiative is meant to use U.S. funds as leverage "to motivate and sustain a region-wide commitment to the counter-narcotics fight."

Big storm affects
Pacific coast here

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Instituto Meteorológico Costarricense has issued a warning of heavy rains and high water due to a tropical cyclone that is developing from a low pressure area near Jamaica.

Although Costa Rica is out of the expected route of the storm, which may get more severe, the Pacific Coast is particularly vulnerable to indirect effects, said the weather staff.

They said they expected the wet weather to last until the end of the week especially if the storm built up into a hurricane.

Power company holdup
leads to two arrests

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Four men held up the power company Monday afternoon, pistol-whipped a guard and fled on motorcycles with 15 million colons, about $41,000.

Minutes later, Fuerza Pública patrolmen arrested two suspects at a traffic circle in Hatillo in southwest San José.

The Compañía de Fuerza y Luz is on Calle 4 between Avenidas 4 and 6 in downtown San José. The robbery took place at closing time.

The robbers hit the guard, identified by the last name Salazar Varela, in the head with a pistol. He was injured enough to go to the hospital later.

The suspects were identified by the last names of Vargas Vargas and Castillo Arias. They were arrested at the Rotonda del Rancho Guanacaste.

Two face charges
in Aug. 13 robbery

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators arrested two men Tuesday as suspects in a bank stickup last Aug. 13, and they said they expected to make two more arrests.

Arrested at home in Santa Ana was a man with the last name of Quesada, 38. In his place of employment on Paseo Colón, agents arrested a man with the surname of Bermúdez, 25.

Four men stuck up the bank and took 7 million colons, about $19,000. Agents of the Judicial Investigating Organization also raided a home in Hatillo 6 where they confiscated a living room set, a dining room table, a refrigerator and other household appliances which they said were purchased with the loot from the stickup.

Honduran youth murders
continue to soar

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A total of 53 children and youth under the age of 23 were murdered in Honduras in August 2002, according to Casa Alianza’s monthly report.

This brings the total of children and youth murdered to 1,343 since January 1998, making Honduras one of the most violent countries per capita for young people in Latin America, said the child advocacy group.

According to initial investigations, 30 percent of the August killings are attributed to gang members, 10 percent to members of the police and 60 percent to as of yet unidentified murderers.

The report provided gruesome details of child executions, one involving the gang murder of Rembar Molina from Comayaguela. According to a police report, a local gang chopped the young man up into thirteen pieces. His body parts were scattered around the capital, including a hand and an eye thrown from a passing car into the basket of a bread seller.

Last month the Honduran Minister of Public Security announced the formation of a special police unit to investigate the murders of children. Since then, Casa Alianza has submitted 15 cases, none of which have resulted in prosecutions, said the organization.

The situation of the murders in Honduras will also be discussed in upcoming audiences in the Inter- American Commission on Human Rights in Washington in October.

Casa Alianza is headquartered in San José, Costa Rica.

Anti-marijuana campaign
focuses on the family

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — An "unprecedented" coalition of public health, parenting and drug prevention organizations are joining the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy in a campaign to better educate the public about the dangers of marijuana use. 

"The risks associated with marijuana have been trivialized and our kids are getting the wrong message," said John Waltersat, policy director, at a Tuesday news conference in Washington. 

The coalition will be publishing an open letter to parents in almost 300 U.S. newspapers today as a first step in a campaign to re-educate the public about the potential physical and mental consequences of marijuana smoking among youth. "Research shows that marijuana use can lead to addiction," said the letter. 

"More teens enter treatment for marijuana abuse each year than for all other illicit drugs combined." 

Walters characterized youth marijuana use as the nation’s most serious drug problem.

"Marijuana hurts young bodies and minds," said Dr. Steve Edwards of the American Academy of Pediatrics, representing 57,000 physicians who specialize in children’s medicine. He cited the potential for memory loss and violent behavior while other specialists emphasized that the drug can contribute to anxiety, lack of concentration, mental illness and suicidal tendencies.

The new campaign aims to better educate parents about these facts so they will warn their children about using the drug. Over the next several months, the initiative will include new advertising in other media, focused on the slogan "Parents. The Anti-Drug."

Advertising directed toward youth will be another component of the campaign to debunk what the policy calls the myths about marijuana: that it is harmless, that it is not addictive, that it won’t hurt users.

These myths are reflected in findings released earlier this month in the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, an annual study conducted by the federal government surveying about 70,000 people aged 12 and older about drug and alcohol use. 

The extensive survey polls respondents about "the perceived risk of using marijuana," characterizing those findings as a predictor of eventual drug use. Smoking marijuana once or twice a week was perceived as a "great risk" by 53.3 percent of respondents in the 2001 survey, a decrease of 3 percent from the year before.

As Walters opened his remarks, the news conference was briefly disrupted by an activist who threw leaflets into the assembled audience, dashed in front of the cameras and decried federal government actions to restrict the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. 

A handful of states have legalized marijuana for limited medical use primarily by people suffering from cancer, HIV/AIDS and glaucoma. Security officers removed the activist from the room and the incident was over in less than a minute.

The policy launches this anti-marijuana campaign at a time when efforts are underway in a number of jurisdictions to lessen the criminal penalties for marijuana use. In the upcoming election in November, five states will consider ballot measures to make penalties for possession more lenient, or to allow medicinal use.
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