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These stories were published Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 189
Jo Stuart
About us
 So many machines . . . 
. . . so little time 
By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

"Hi, Honey, did you miss me?"

I said this as I caressed the brightly colored metal skin of the object of my infatuation. My baby is a 100-colon slot machine stuck back near the cashier’s window at the Fiesta Casino.

Not that I don’t fool around a little. There are a whole line of the smiling beauties at the Gran Hotel Costa Rica. There are even a couple of cheap dates: machines that takes a maximum of two coins instead of three.

Some folks are attracted to the highly available young women in downtown San José. But my tastes run to the babes with one arm, called tragamonedas in Spanish. They call to me as I pass the casinos.

For those who like both machines and human company, a visit to the Del Rey Casino will quickly result in meeting any number of young ladies who are anxious to help a stray tourist play the slots.

Others, including some A.M. Costa Rica staffers, have different addictions. The Casino Colonial roulette table would seem vacant without the presence of a certain columnist.

They say that a gambler has a better chance at roulette or at nearly every other casino game than with slot machines. 

The computer-controlled one-arm bandits can and are rigged to provide fat returns to the house.

No downtown casino advertises the return as casinos elsewhere do. A good deal for gamblers would be machines that return 96 to 98 percent of their income as winnings. Sometimes it seems here that the machines are programmed never to pay off.

Although slot machines are a bad bet, they are perfect for people who want to really test their luck. But each machine seems to have its own personality. Some are real teasers who display the perfect winning combination continually on the space BELOW the payout line. And it seems as your money runs low, the machine realizes this and tempts you with results closer and closer to jackpots. Others spin balls and wheels when a certain combination comes up. 

A jackpot on a 100-colon machine can bring serious money. A top bet of three 100-colon coins (75 cents total) can bring a prize worth $1,000. But that hardly ever happens.

Slot machines, like beautiful blondes, can be an expensive passion. Although the casinos are full of 25-colon machines, the Fiesta has installed two 10-colon machines. Just think of gambling at about 2.5 cents a pull! Plus they give you free drinks.

That’s a great relationship for a battered, broke old newsman.

Costa Rican pilot was shot down, U.S. says
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — U.S. officials say a U.S. drug fumigation plane that crashed in northern Colombia Sunday apparently was shot down. 

State Department officials speaking on condition of anonymity in Washington, D.C., said Tuesday that preliminary information indicates the aircraft was fired on. The pilot, a Costa Rican national identified as Mario Alvarado, was killed when the plane crashed in Colombia's Norte de Santander state. 

It is not known who fired on the aircraft, but authorities have reported fighting in the region between Colombian government forces and leftist rebels.  The plane belonged to the U.S. government and was on a routine coca-spraying mission in Colombia. Coca is the raw material used to make cocaine. 

The pilot worked for a firm subcontracted by 

the Reston, Va.-based firm, Dyncorp, which in turn has a contract with the State Department to fumigate Colombia's cocaine-producing crops.

This Andean nation produces at least 80 percent of the world's cocaine and most of the heroin sold in the United States. 

Washington has been helping Colombia organize crop-spraying flights as part of Plan Colombia, a multi-million-dollar program aimed at ridding the country of the drugs that fuel armed insurgencies and boosting the nation's economic development. 

Military officials say the planes fly low to spray the crops with herbicide, but become vulnerable to hostile fire. Several other U.S. contractors have been killed in similar shoot downs over Colombia. In one case, three Americans were captured by leftist rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the nation's largest guerrilla group. 

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Whoops! New child trafficking raid is a mistake
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican officials thought they had more evidence of an alleged child trafficking ring Tuesday morning, so they raided a house in Tres Ríos and took three children into protective custody.

Rosalía Gil, the head of the child welfare agency, announced the raid as a blow against trafficking at the regular Tuesday Consejo de Gobierno press conference at Casa Presidencial. 

"We are going to detain these scoundrels," chimed in President Abel Pacheco.

But the situation was not as officials thought. The home was occupied by an employee of a Roman Catholic non-profit social agency who had adopted two Guatemalan youngsters in his native Guatemala. The man, Carlos Arlicha, later showed official adoption papers. Two other youngsters were children of a woman working in the house. 

Agents of the Judicial Investigating Organization and the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia took the youngsters away anyway because they found a small discrepancy in the social worker’s adoption papers. He said he was confident that he could get the children back soon.

The raid came as the result of a telephone tip to investigators and Ms. Gil, minister de Niñez and director of the Patronato, said that many such tips had been received.

The public and officials have been deeply concerned about child trafficking since agents found nine children, two weeks to 20 months old, at a La Uruca home Sunday afternoon. Six persons have been detained and the children have been placed in protective custody.

However, there still is no official explanation of why the children were there. Most were from Guatemala with legitimate passports. At least one had been born in Costa Rica.  Judicial Investigating Organization agents are not giving out much information. 

However, judicial authorities reported Tuesday that the Juzgado Penal de Turno Extraordinario ordered six months of preventative detention against the adults detained Sunday, five women and a man.

The court also ordered three months of detention for Carlos Hernán Robles, a former lawyer and former manager of the failed state bank Banco Anglo. Robles is not going anywhere, however, because another court Monday rejected his appeal of a prison sentence for improprieties with public money while he worked for the bank 10 years ago. So Robles is in prison already.

As he was being arrested Sunday at his home, Robles told reporters that he was involved with a reputable adoption agency, M&M, which had offices in San Pedro.

Guatemala is the fourth largest contributor to the United States of children for adoption after China, Russia and South Korea.

Last March 5 Guatemala became a signatory to the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption. That meant the country eliminated the private adoption and the state asserted control over all adoptions.

However, the Guatemalan Embassy in the United States reported Sept. 12 that the country’s Constitutional Court had ruled the agreement to the adoption convention to be unconstitutional. A central authority for adoption was abolished, and the country reverted Sept. 16 to the former system and the Procuraduría General resumed full control.

This action further muddied the waters in Guatemala. In Costa Rica, too, the courts have held certain aspects of the adoption law here to be unconstitutional, so government and private actions are on shaky grounds.

Several readers have contacted A.M. Costa Rica expressing concern for the confusion. Two said they were in the middle of an adoption, one in Costa Rica and one in Guatemala.

A prosecutor from Guatemala is coming to Costa Rica to help in the identification of the babies and the investigation. One concern among officials is that the children might be kidnap victims, although two of the women detained here are each believed to be the mother of an infant. Child kidnappings happen regularly in Guatemala.

The legal adoption industry is estimated to be a $60 million a year industry. President Pacheco expressed concern when he said that children are purchased in Guatemala for $500 and sold to First World parents for $50,000.

However, local news reports and those from Guatemala tend to exaggerate the situation. The parents who contacted A.M. Costa Rica said they were confident that the child was protected at all stages of the adoption process.

Many times in other countries would-be parents turn to private adoption agencies because government agencies are slow and insensitive. Here in Costa Rica, homeless street children sleep in doorways within a block of the Patronato headquarters. 

Investigators think that the babies found Sunday will be returned to Guatemala.

Child-stealing bill
gets green light

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Asamblea Nacional has approved a bill creating a crime of kidnapping of children under 12 or of the handicapped.

The penalty will be from 10 years to 15 years in prison when the measure is approved by President Abel Pacheco.

Lawmakers were criticized in two recent cases of child abduction when the maximum penalty was found to be two years in prison. The law originally was crafted to cover parental abduction. They passed the bill unanimously Monday evening.

The new bill was proposed shortly after the death July 4 of Katia Vanesa González Juárez, 8, in the Quesad Duran neighborhood of San José. She was missing a week before police found her body under a neighbor’s floorboards.

RACSA cuts rates
for Internet use

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Radiogáfica Costarricense S.A.,known as RACSA, says it has cut the rates on two of its Internet services effective Oct. 1.

The services are the 900 dial-up line and the prepaid Internet access cards.

The 900 dial-up service will be reduced a penny from eight colons a minute to seven colons.

Prepaid telephone cards will cost from 6 colons a minute to 5.8 colons per minute in amounts of five hours (1,800 colons), 10 hours (3,550 colons) and 15 hours (5,300 colons).

Because Internet use is keyed to the U.S. dollar, adjustments are likely later on.

This is the second time in a month that the Internet monopoly has cut rates. But the reason is competition from Internet cafes and possible competition from its parent, the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad.

Ice shelf breakup
blamed on warming

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A team of American and Canadian scientists reports that ongoing and accelerated climate change in the North Polar Region has caused the breakup of the Arctic's largest ice shelf, which had been in place for at least 3,000 years.

According to a press release Monday, the scientists reported in the journal "Geophysical Research Letters" that a three-decade long decline in the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf culminated in its sudden breakup between 2000 and 2002. 

The Ward Hunt ice shelf, located on the north coast of Ellesmere Island and Canada's northernmost national park, fragmented into two main parts and created a number of islands, some of which are large enough to pose a danger to shipping and to drilling platforms in the Beaufort Sea. The scientists studied the ice shelf on site and through satellite imagery and helicopter flights.

An immediate consequence of the ice shelf's rupture was the loss of almost all the freshwater from the northern hemisphere's largest epishelf lake, which had been dammed behind it in 30-km.-long (19-mile) Disraeli Fiord. An epishelf lake is a body of mostly freshwater trapped behind an ice shelf.

The scientists from the University of Alaska at Fairbanks and Laval University in Quebec City attribute the breakup of the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf to the cumulative effects of long-term warming since the 19th century and a significant increase in temperature during the period 1967 to present.

Hurricane moves
north to Arizona

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CABO SAN LUCAS, Baja California — Hurricane Marty has hit Mexico's southern Baja California peninsula, killing at least one person and forcing hundreds to flee to local shelters. 

Meteorologists said Marty weakened as it passed through La Paz, Cabo San Lucas, and other cities on the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula. However, the hurricane still unleashed maximum winds of 140 kilometers an hour on the resort region. 

The high winds heavily damaged housing and knocked down power lines while heavy rains caused flooding throughout the area. Forecasters warned Marty would leave 10 to 20 cms. of rain (from 4 to 8 inches) along its path. 

Local airports remained closed while foreign tourists decided to wait out the storm in the region's resort hotels. Police say a local man was killed early Monday when a roof fell over his head. 

Marty passed over the mainland Tuesday and moved into the U.S. state of Arizona. The storm comes less than a month after Hurricane Ignacio toppled trees and forced the evacuation of thousands on Baja California.

Honduras recovers
ceremonial moon rock

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States has returned a moon rock to Honduras that for years was all but lost in space. 

The rock, given to the Central American country in 1973 by then-President Richard Nixon, had been missing since it disappeared from the Honduran presidential palace in the early 1990s. 

The stone, mounted to a plaque bearing the Honduran flag, was recovered in Miami in a sting operation coordinated by the U.S. space agency, NASA. 

NASA formally returned the plaque to Honduran Ambassador Mario Canahuati on Monday.  Canahuati said the rock would return to Honduras and be displayed in a safe location where it would receive "the respect it deserves." 

Volkswagen threatening
Brazilian job layoffs

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

SAO PAULO, Brazil — German carmaker Volkswagen says its Brazilian workers will be fired if they strike over the company's plans to cut 4,000 jobs in the South American country.

Volkswagen, Europe's largest auto company, made the threat Tuesday, after its Brazilian workers turned down a plan to cut the jobs through either voluntary layoffs or retraining. Volkswagen says it must cut production in Brazil, where car sales are down. 

Damage from rains

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Heavy rains Tuesday caused landslides and damage that blocked the highway east of Orotina and along the Pacific coast from Dominical to Quepos, said officials.

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Trade czar Zoellick warns 'won't-do' countries
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The United States will move forward toward world trade and leave the "won’t do" countries behind, the top U.S. trade official has warned.

The official, Robert Zoellick, made that promise in a column published under his name Monday in the Financial Times newspaper.

He is the U.S. trade representative, a cabinet-level position.

"For over two years, the U.S. has pushed to open markets globally, in our hemisphere, and with sub-regions or individual countries. As WTO members ponder the future, the U.S. will not wait: we will move towards free trade with can-do countries," he said. 

Zoellick said that representatives of many countries were dismayed to see the recent World Trade Organization summit in Cancun, México, become "a forum for the politics of protest."

The Cancun session of nearly all the world’s countries did not result in any agreements because "key mid-level developing countries employed the rhetoric of resistance as a tactic both to put pressure on developed countries and to divert attention from their own trade barriers," said 

Zoellick. He named Brazil, India and Egypt.

India's average bound agricultural tariff is 112 per cent, Egypt's 62 per cent and Brazil's 37 per cent, compared with a U.S. average of 12 per cent, the U.S. trade rep said. Agricultural subsidies and their elimination were a goal of the conference.

As an example of political grandstanding, Zoellick said that four African countries insisted on "compensation" of between $250 million and $1 billion annually as a price to be included in any trade deal.

He said that smaller developing countries resisted the reduction of U.S. and E.U. tariffs because they calculated that they would lose the advantages offered by special U.S. and E.U. programs that eliminate tariffs only for their exports.

"Unfortunately, these well-meaning trade preference programs have undermined the push for two-way openings, perpetuating dependency," Zoellick added.

The trade representative said that he hoped countries would reassess their position by Dec. 15. The trade representative is supposed to be visiting Central America soon, in part to give a lift to the Central American free trade negotiations. His exact scheduled has not been announced.

IMF official is high on Latin America's prospects
Special to A.M. Costa Rica staff

A senior International Monetary Fund official says that he is "cautiously optimistic" about the economic outlook in Latin America and the Caribbean.

"There are now clearer signs of an economic recovery in Latin America and the Caribbean region," said Anoop Singh, director of the fund’s Western Hemisphere department. "This recovery should gather pace next year, provided the political consensus for carrying forward key economic reforms remains strong."

Citing "an improving external environment and stronger policy implementation" by regional governments, Singh said that he and his International Monetary Fund colleagues "anticipate that the global recovery will broaden over the coming year." Just as importantly, "the countries in Latin America and the Caribbean are taking significant steps to strengthen their economic policies," he added. "Efforts are also continuing to reinvigorate structural reforms," considered critical "for longer-term prospects."

The fund is encouraged by the fact that "inflation generally remains under control, and we have seen a further strengthening of external positions in many countries in recent months," Singh noted. He also pointed to other promising signals from around the region.

"In Brazil, the government's commitment to continue fiscal consolidation over the medium term and pursue key pension and tax reforms has re-established market confidence in economic prospects," he observed. "In Argentina, a recovery is well under way," he said, noting that the fund’s  executive board has approved a new three-year stand-by loan deal for the country.

And "in Uruguay too, the recovery is gathering pace following the successful debt exchange earlier this year," Singh said. In addition, the fund has been in contact with the new government of Paraguay, "and we are looking forward to their early development of a strong policy package," he said. He also praised efforts in Colombia, Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador to pursue fiscal reforms and higher growth rates.

Moreover, "market sentiment toward the region has been well anchored by developments in Mexico and Chile — countries with sound macroeconomic frameworks and open trade regimes — that have been largely immune to the financial difficulties affecting other Latin American countries over the past two years," Singh said. 

"Chile is already growing relatively rapidly and Mexico's economy should pick up steam in the months ahead."

Governments in Central America "are seeking the necessary political consensus for sustaining a growth-enhancing agenda that gives priority to fiscal strengthening, prudent monetary management, and building sound financial sectors," he said. However, Singh cautioned that "there is ... a need to push ahead with social reform programs to ensure that poverty and inequity are reduced over time."

Acknowledging that "the Caribbean region has been adversely affected by external shocks in recent years," Singh explained that the fund "has been stepping up its engagement in these countries to assist them in addressing these and other difficulties." 

He singled out the Dominican Republic, Dominica, and Jamaica for taking strong action to improve their overall fiscal health and investment climate.

Cell phone rapidly becoming the new newspaper
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

HELSINKI, Finland — Those great new mobile telephone services? Thank your kids.

That’s right, they’re not being developed for you, and you probably won’t use them anyway. You’re not a quick adapter, because YOU ARE TOO OLD.

That, at least, is a slight exaggeration of the message from Nokia, the world’s largest portable telephone manufacturer, delivered by Anssi Vanjoki, executive vice president, to a World Association of Newspapers conference here earlier this month.

Adults use mobile telephones to make their lives easier. Kids just want to have fun.

"Older people use mobile phones for efficiency. Have you ever heard a young person talk about efficiency? It’s not their concept," said Vanjoki. "For young people, it is more about excitement and fun. They develop incredible uses for these devices. They play with them."

And Nokia and other telephone manufacturers are providing the toys. And even if you don’t use the new services, you’re going to want to know about them because they are going to have very serious implications for information technology.

Vanjoki says that everything that can be digitalized will be digitalized and it will all be offered through mobile telephones, which he likes to call "media terminals."

Music. Sports. Traffic Updates. Movies. News alerts. Imagine walking into a store and having a discount coupon appear in your portable (it knows where you are).

In fact, much of it is already happening.

Vanjoki’s keynote address to the newspaper conference struck a cord with the newspaper industry audience, which included over 300 publishers, chief editors, marketers and young reader experts from 47 countries. 

Mobile telephones seemed to enter nearly every presentation.

"If we want to reach young people, we have to reach them as they want us to reach them," said Eivind Thomsen, vice president of Norwegian-based Schibsted and president of the International Newspaper Marketing Association.

In addition to owning the biggest newspapers in 

Norway and Sweden, Schibsted also owns free-circulation newspapers in Switzerland, Spain and France and offers a mobile phone service with news messaging — all aimed at the youth market.

"I think it would be wrong to consider the issue of young readers without considering the issue of mobile communications," said Jim Chisholm, strategy advisor to the World Association of Newspapers.

He said mobile telephones eliminate a major

disadvantage of the Internet that is perhaps the key reason it may never reach the potential predicted for it — it is relatively desk-bound.

Chisholm has studied the potential of mobile phones for the news business. His report examines the potential that new technologies and processes such as digital printing, personalised newspapers and mobile devices provide for newspapers. 

But perhaps nobody in the news business has done more with mobile telephones than the Asahi Shimbun, which is Japan’s — and therefore the world’s — second largest newspaper. It started delivering news through mobiles in 1999.

"The mobile phone in Japan is not primarily just for phone calls, but it is used also for mail and web access, taking pictures, as well as schedule maintenance," said Takashi Ishioka, project manager for the Asahi Shimbun Electronic Media and Broadcasting Division.

The Paris-based World Association of Newspapers  the global organisation for the newspaper industry, represents ‘8,000 newspapers; its membership includes 72 national newspaper associations, individual newspaper executives in 100 countries, 13 news agencies and nine regional and world-wide press groups.

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