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These stories were published Friday, Sept. 19, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 186
Jo Stuart
About us
New Heredia hospital is a do-it-yourself project
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Faced with at least a 10-year wait before the government could construct a new hospital in Heredia, a coalition of citizens and organizations there will build it themselves.

That was revealed in a legislative hearing over a bill that will allow the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social to contract with the group.

The Heredia initiative is under the name of Fundación Nacional para la Salud. Lawmakers said the group includes a wide range of Heredia supporters, including the Universidad Nacional, medical associations, provincial and municipal authorities as well as the chamber of commerce.

By using private fundraising to build and equip the hospital, organizers hope they can do the job in three years.

The current hospital there, San Vincente de Paúl, is in a 100-year-old structure and does not have the space or the facilities to provide top-of-the-line medical care, officials said.

Once the new hospital is constructed and equipped, the foundation will turn it over to the Caja, under the plans that were outlined to the legislative Comisión de Gobierno y Administración.

The country’s fiscal watchdog, the Contraloría General de la República has already been consulted on the project and has lodged no objections, legislators said.

The Caja will transfer land to the foundation and contract for services which will allow the group to find financing. Once all the construction costs are paid off, the new facility will be deeded to the Caja, under the proposal.

My plans to become an un-drug magnate
When expats get together, if they are still not at the stage of discussing the conditions of their various organs, there are two topics of conversation always available to them. One is how many umbrellas each of us has lost during this rainy season. The other is our personal experience with muggers or pickpockets. 

In Costa Rica, if it hasn’t happened to you, you know someone who has been robbed on the streets of (usually) San Jose. The other day eight of us got together, and four of us had stories to tell about being accosted on the street and divested of our money.

But sometimes the subject IS health. My friend Bill and I were talking the other day, and he said that ever since I told him my theory on placebos, he has felt much better and cut down on various medicines. 

The current proliferation of commercials on TV for various prescription medications, combined with a law that says that side effects must be mentioned, is a great argument for using placebos to treat ailments. Some of the side effects of prescribed drugs are worse than the ailment you have. Some cause the very problem you are treating. And some can kill you. 

That is one reason we have the word, iatrogenic, which means "symptoms, ailments or disorders induced by drugs or surgery." A placebo, on the other hand, (based on the Latin, "I shall please.") is a "harmless, unmedicated preparation given as a medicine to a patient merely to humor him or used as a control in testing the efficacy of another, medicated substance." 

There are 7,000 deaths per year caused by medication mistakes in hospitals. Some 106,000 die from adverse reactions to medications, according to the Veterans Administration. Placebos were not involved, as far as I know.

So, first off, we know that placebos are harmless. Secondly, research shows that medications are often no better or only slightly better than placebos. Thirdly, doctors

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

have told me that about 85 percent of ailments are cured with or without treatment. And finally, it has been documented that placebos given to people thinking they are being medicated often work. 

You can’t argue about the difference in price between medicine and placebos. Remember that song, "A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down"? Bill and I have decided that if we put that sugar in a pill, we can dispense with the medicine. 

The price of a packet of sugar is pretty low. So the next great breakthrough in medicine will be a reasonably priced sugar pill that we will sell to treat a vast array of ailments. (Placebos will not replace surgery). We will have different colors for different problems. 

Now the beauty of selling these pills is the advertising. The worst possible effects we have to list are the same side effects from the problem you are treating. About the only other side effect would be a slight gain in weight if taken over too long a period of time. 

I am thinking that our slogan may be "A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down the drain." But we may come up with a more pithy one. We are debating right now what to call these magical pills. If we liquefy the sugar and put them in capsules, perhaps we will call them "snake oil." That sounds pretty potent. 

I know I am being foolish writing about this. We have yet to patent our idea, and somebody is sure to steal it. 

I certainly hope not. I need the money. I have been pick- pocketed three times since I came to Costa Rica and I am down to my last two umbrellas, one too big and one too small.

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Some hope seen for resolution of Limón strike
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There is a general sense of optimism that a strike by refinery and port workers in the Limón area will move to negotiations this weekend.

There was little change in the situation Thursday as police continued to guard the facilities and operations were described as normal at refinery facilities and the important Moín cargo port.

Meanwhile, the government has taken to the airwaves to build public support for its position. President Abel Pacheco is the subject of a spot in which he tells television viewers that the government has invested $30 billion colons in the Province of Limón.

A second television ad, this one without the president, said that "Costa Rica does not respond to threats." It promotes dialogue, instead.

In what may be a case of bad timing, The Festival Nacional de las Artes 2003 opens in Limón today and runs through Sept. 27. Also involved are Siquirres and Guápiles. Information is available on the Web site. http://www.festivalcostarica.org

The festival might have been one of the reasons crews were out picking up garbage in Limón Thursday. The lack of a convenient sanitary landfill is one of the complaints of the strikers, and Limón municipal workers also are on strike. 

The government gained some ground against the strikers Thursday when the Juzgado de Trabajo de Limón declared the strike illegal late in the afternoon. No details were available, according to a court spokesperson.

If the strike is illegal, employees may face discharge for participating, and this gives the government additional negotiating leverage. Already pay has been cut to the strikers.

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. There are about some 1,000 port workers and about 500 refinery employees on strike.

The Federación de Trabajadores Limonenses is the principal union in the strike, and workers are holding daily marches and demonstrations.

Government officials are miffed that the strikers have expanded their wish list from economic issues. Provincial development and a demand that the existing railway be reactivated as a tourist attraction are not negotiating points in a strike, officials contend.

Ovidio Pacheco, the minister of Trabajo, was concise when speaking about these broad demands: "These are not grounds for a strike."

Among other issues, the workers fear privatization. they also lost a key Sala IV constitutional court appeal that would have awarded them substantial sums of money. They thought they had a deal last May when their labor unrest was overshadowed by the strikes by teachers and communication workers. They say the government has reneged on the deal negotiated then.

In addition to a garbage plan, more development money and a working train system, workers said they want more airport investment, the creation of more jobs, aid to the agricultural sector and resolution to the continual problem of personal security.

The possibility of negotiations, in addition to the government’s television call for dialogue, came from local clergymen who are trying to mediate the strike by long distance with officials in San José. Catholic, Episcopal and Methodist clergymen were involved in this mediation.

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Young José is naturally photogenic.

His brother agrees
child is probably Roy's

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A child mentioned Thursday as the offspring of former Vault owner Roy Taylor has received validation from an unexpected source.

Taylor’s brother, Robert J. Taylor of the U.S. State of Wisconsin, contacted this newspaper to report that the child, José, 9 months, looks exactly like Roy when he was that age. Both brothers were blonds at that age, he said.

Robert Taylor was 6 when Roy was born, he noted. He also said he was convinced by the DNA test made public by the child’s mother, Yorlenny Vargas Alpizar.

Robert was not on good terms with Roy, but became involved in the case after Roy Taylor shot himself while in police custody last June 24. Roy Taylor operated the Vault Holding Co. and a large number of corporations that were used to entice investors into giving The Vault money.

Investigators still are trying to piece together the Vault structure in an effort to locate assets so that investors might get some of their money back.

Ms. Vargas and José were introduced to a reporter by investors who knew her before and during the time she was with Roy Taylor. The child joins a long list of claimants to any assets Roy Taylor may have left. The mother only has good things to say about Roy.

"Yes, Roy Taylor was often kind and extremely generous," said his brother from Wisconsin.  "He had a genuine affection for people. Unfortunately, he would use those qualities as manipulative tools to sell his ‘dreams’ to others."

"It does not surprise me that his assets are now difficult to find," his brother said.  "Roy really was not so interested in accruing huge wealth for himself, in my opinion. He was most interested in exercising his powers of personality over those around him. It was more stature than money."

Immigration law gets
provision for waiver

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Tourists from the United States who come to Costa Rica will be able to enter on the strength of documents other than passports, if a bill in the legislature passes.

The provision was contained in the new Ley de Migración y Extranjería that was approved on first reading in the Comisión con Potestad Legislative Plena Segunda.

As the law is written, all visitors would have to show a passport to enter Costa Rica. This is a security measure, but those in the tourist industry would prefer if U.S. visitors could avoid the cost and time needed to get a U.S. passport.

The proposed law also would require tourists to obtain a visa in their home country from a Costa Rican consul.

The amendments to the law would give the executive branch the authority to waive the passport and visa provisions for certain nationalities in cases where other documents exist that would provide a sufficient identity.

The proposed law also would require foreign residents of Costa Rica to obtain a reentry visa from a Costa Rican consul to return to the country.

Now U.S. citizens can enter the country with a photo identification and get an instant tourist visa. But many abuse the privilege by over staying the 90-day limit and continually renewing the tourist visa with frequent trips to adjacent countries.

The new immigration law will crack down on these practices.

Would-be victim
shoots robbery suspect

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two men on  a motorcycle followed a bank patron home from San Pedro to La Florida de Tibás Wednesday and tried to rob him. But the would-be victim turned the tables on the bandits.

The bank patron, José Luis Segura, had taken out $300 from the Banco Nacional branch in San Pedro, according to police. He drove his Toyota Land Cruiser home.

The two men confronted him when he got out of the vehicle, but a struggle ensued, and Segura was able to wound one of the bandits twice. That man was identified by the last names of Franco Bejarano. He is 30. A second man with the names Sánchez Bolaños was captured. He is 25.

The weapon involved is a .44 caliber pistol, said police. They said a check of records showed that Sánchez Bolaños had prior encounters with officers on aggravated robbery and drug charges. He is a Costa Rican. His alleged partner, now wounded, is from Colombia.

Coffee award made

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Mary Williams, former senior vice president of Starbucks Coffee Co., was presented with the Costa Rica Coffee Merit Medal by the National Coffee Congress. Williams received the medal for her role in developing and supporting the Costa Rica specialty coffee industry, the firm reported. The recognition marks the first time a non-Costa Rica resident and woman received the medal, the firm said.

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Colombian rebels draft many children, report says
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Human Rights Watch says more than 11,000 children currently fight for Colombia's illegal armed groups and that many are forced to execute other youngsters who try to desert. 

The human rights group made the assessment in a new, 150-page report titled, "You'll Learn Not to Cry: Child Combatants in Colombia." 

Released Thursday, the report says leftist rebels and rightist paramilitaries have recruited increasing numbers of children in recent years. One out of four combatants is under age 18. 

The document also says that among these, thousands of youngsters are under the age of 15. Recruiting a child younger than 15 is considered a war crime under the Geneva Conventions. 

The report said that the rebels and paramilitaries threaten deserters with execution and often force the child combatants to carry out the sentences. 

The rights group also says the widespread recruitment of child combatants is undermining the fabric of Colombian society and that the youngsters will bear the scars of their experience for life. 

Human rights Watch is urging Colombia's leftist rebel and rightist paramilitary forces to end all recruitment of children under 18 and demobilize those already in their ranks. The outlawed groups are fighting in Colombia's long-running civil war. 

The rights group says many Colombians live in 

poverty, providing an enormous pool of recruits 
for the outlawed armies. Human Rights Watch says the youngsters join these groups for food or protection or because of promises of money. Others are forced to join at gunpoint.

26 sought in bribe,
murders after seizure

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

BOGOTA, Colombia — Authorities have issued arrest warrants for 26 people implicated in the disappearance of three tons of seized cocaine and murders of two informants. 

The attorney general's office here issued the warrants Thursday for the 16 police officers and 10 civilians. Authorities say they expect to arrest the suspects within days. 

The cocaine was seized months ago in the Caribbean coastal city of Barranquilla after informants tipped off authorities to the huge drug cache. But, investigators allege drug traffickers paid the suspects bribes to return the confiscated cocaine.  Authorities also said the traffickers paid a police captain and lieutenant $140,000 to leak the names of the two informants, who were later killed. 

Illicit growers in Colombia produce three-fourths of the world's supply of cocaine.  In recent years, the United States has provided Colombia with more than $2 billion in aid, mainly to combat drug trafficking. 

East Europe's anti-Communists want Castro out
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Three former Eastern European leaders are urging a concerted international campaign to end Communist rule in Cuba. 

In an open letter appearing in newspapers across Europe and the United States, former Presidents Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic, Lech Walesa of Poland and Arpad Goncz of Hungary call for the creation of a "Cuban Democracy Fund" to aid pro-democracy dissidents and promote peaceful change on the island.

The letter states that the government of Cuban leader Fidel Castro is "running short of breath, just as party rulers in the Iron Curtain did at the end of the 1980s." It adds that Cuba's internal opposition is getting stronger, that the Communist revolution is getting old, and the Cuban regime is getting nervous.

The letter says that both the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba and Europe's policy of engagement with Fidel Castro have failed to bring political reform to the island. It says Europe should make it clear that Fidel Castro is a dictator, and that dictatorships cannot become partners until they embrace political liberalization. The European Union recently broke with Castro.

The trio also says "it is the responsibility of the democratic world to support representatives of the Cuban opposition, irrespective of how long," as they put it, "the Cuban Stalinists manage to cling to power." 

All three authors of the letter are one-time dissidents who came to power after the fall of communism in Eastern Europe in the late 1980s. They say the goal of the Cuban Democracy Fund is to nurture Cuba's civil society so that it is prepared in the event of political change.

Downgraded Isabel continues to inflict damage
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Hurricane Isabel has left more than two million people without power in the U.S. states of North Carolina and Virginia. Isabel's winds have subsided to 120 kph (some 75 mph), but the storm continues to inflict damage as it moves on a northwesterly track after coming ashore along North Carolina's outer banks.

Isabel's winds stand at less than half the strength they registered just three days ago, when the storm ranked as a mammoth Category Five hurricane on a one-to-five scale. But although weakened, Isabel remains dangerous and continues to down trees and power lines, flood communities that lie in its path, and damage homes and businesses. At least three persons died in storm-releated incidents.

Isabel is heading further west than forecasters had anticipated, and it appears that Washington will be
spared a direct hit from the storm, which plowed
through southern-central Virginia early Friday.

Earlier, Isabel's extensive rain bands pummeled coastal communities from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, to Ocean City, Maryland. 

Officer Jimmy Barnes of the Virginia Beach police department says the damage he has witnessed is extensive.

"[There is] a lot of wind damage, trees on houses, trees on cars, widespread power outages. Obviously our beachfront is being heavily pounded with sand blowing over our boardwalk," he said.

President George Bush has declared a disaster in both North Carolina and Virginia, making the states eligible for emergency federal aid. Meanwhile, the American Red Cross has issued urgent pleas for blood and financial donations.

Thursday, Isabel forced the delay or cancellation of nearly one-in-five domestic U.S. flights. Further delays and cancellations are expected later Friday. For a second consecutive day, schools and federal offices in Washington are closed.

High-tech seen as best way to stem gas emissions
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham says revolutionary technologies that actually transform the way the world produces and consumes energy are needed to reduce heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions.

In remarks delivered Wednesday at the American Academy in Berlin, Abraham said that dramatic greenhouse gas reductions will either come at the expense of economic growth and improved living standards or breakthrough energy technologies "that change the game entirely" will allow emissions to be reduced.

"We can set targets and timetables for reducing emissions by certain percentages by certain dates," he said. "(But) unless we are prepared to accept the severe economic consequences of punitive taxes . . . treaties, timetables and targets alone won't be able to bring about sufficient greenhouse gas reductions."

Abraham said that dozens of U.S. government agencies — working with partners in academia, the private sector and other nations — are investing billions of dollars and countless hours to develop the kinds of technologies that will transform the way energy is produced and consumed.

"When those technologies are developed, we will all exceed our targets," he said. "If they are not developed, we will all fail."

In highlighting a few of these transformational technologies, Abraham said that research on carbon sequestration, which involves removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and permanently storing it in underground formations, has been given top priority in the United States recently.

At the U.S.-initiated Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum last June, 13 coal producing and consuming nations and the European Union signed an international charter establishing a framework for cooperative research and development of carbon sequestration projects.

Carbon dioxide, one of the main greenhouse gases, results from the burning of fossil fuels like coal or oil. The International Energy Agency projects a 50 percent increase in worldwide coal use for electricity generation over the next quarter century.

Abraham said hydrogen, which produces no pollution when used to create energy in fuel cells, also provides the basis for the creation of transformational technologies. Over the next five years, the United States has pledged $1.7 billion to fund the development of emission-free automotive operating systems that run on hydrogen.

Abraham said that taken together, these technology initiatives and others, if successful, "add up to what can only be described as a long-term revolution in our energy systems."

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