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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Sept. 26, 2002, Vol. 2, No. 191
Jo Stuart
About us
A.M. Costa Rica/Christian Burnham
Teacher Oscar Guerrero, 32, goes to the grave accompanied by his students
Nicaraguan city big draw for visa renewers 
By Christian Burnham
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Are your days numbered? If you are staying in Costa Rica on a tourist visa, they are to the tune of 90 days. According to the U.S. Embassy, officials are really cracking down on tourists who overstay their welcome, threatening large penalties, deportation and possible jail time.

Excluding illegal alternatives, a run to either border is preordained. Many foreigners living in San José choose Nicaragua for their mandatory mini-vacation because of the country’s affordability. Due to it’s proximity to the Costa Rican border, the city of Granada is a logical destination.

The city is between the Pacific Ocean and Lake Nicaragua about 45 minutes by bus from the border crossing of the InterAmerican Highway.

All the guidebooks characterize this city as a sleepy, colonial town with little to do and see — and that’s precisely its allure. Upon stepping off the bus, visitors from San José will immediately appreciate Granada’s tranquility.

It’s the kind of place where people still greet each other on the street. Every night around dusk, locals set up rocking chairs on their front porches to watch the day wind down. Old women perform impressive feats of gravity by balancing huge wicker baskets overflowing with goods.

Walking down the city’s cobblestone streets isn’t a near death experience here, like in San José. Instead of speeding taxis and kamikaze motorcycle messengers, the streets provide leisurely passage for horse-drawn carriages and bicycles. The streets are spotted with sidewalk vendors offering everything from knife-sharpening to homemade cheese.

The routine might be broken by a funeral procession, as was the case last Friday when primary students from the Escuela Lorenzo Guerrero accompanied their teacher, Oscar Guerrero, to the cemetery. The young teacher, only 32, died of an internal infection.

The town itself is centered on a large plaza surrounded by brightly colored Spanish colonial buildings. This provides a meeting place for the locals and a rest stop for tourists. It is also the site of La Noche de Serenata (Night of Serenade), a social function held every Friday night which offers live music, traditional food and cuba libres.

Two major nearby tourist attractions are the giant Lake Nicaragua, the largest fresh water lake in Central America, complete with fresh-water sharks.

The Volcan Mombacho is 10 minutes south of Granada, and features a nature reserve, bubbling hot springs and a 1,150 meter (3,740-foot) hiking trail that goes around a dormant volcano crater.  Frequently, rainy weather can defeat tourism attempts at the volcano.

Two San José-based bus companies, Tico Bus and Transnica, offer daily, direct routes to Granada from San Jose. The trip costs about 3,000 colons about $8. It’s a long bus-ride, some eight to 10 hours. 

The cost to enter Nicaragua is $11, and the return into Costa Rica is $4 for U.S. citizens. Ticos still pay a $30 fee to leave Costa Rica.

A.M. Costa Rica/Christian Burnham
The much-photographed fountain in the central plaza of Granada attracts many tourists.

How about this?
A five-star hostel

To the frugal traveler, the word "hostel" calls to mind a number of foul smells and unsanitary sights. Almost everyone can describe the worst one they stayed in with remarkable detail, right down to the over-crowded room, funky-smelling mattresses and the Volkswagen-sized cockroaches.

But when you’re on a budget and you need a cheap place to crash, you tend to overlook these things with the small hope that one day you’ll be able to afford to stay in that five-star hotel. 

The Hostal Oasis offers the traveler accommodations you probably didn’t think were achievable in your tax bracket. Located in central Granada, it is a spacious, colonial building with walls decorated by murals.

Opened in June, 2000, this hostel is already well-known in backpacker gossip circles as the Club Med for the budget traveler. Besides being cheap (dorm beds are $6 a night), the hostel offers a variety of amenities to it’s clientele: free, high-speed Internet access, a library of DVD videos and video-games are also available for a $1 rental fee.

The owners, wife and husband Maria Morell and Carlos Marina, said they wanted to create a luxurious place for a reasonable price. Their guests include a range of Americans, Canadians, and European travelers who are making their way through Central America.

Since Nicaragua is also a popular destination for foreign residents of Costa Rica who enter the country to renew their 90-day tourist visa, the owners are expecting repeat business for these "perpetual tourists."

Hammocks hanging between the building’s column and comfy wicker furniture offer a place for weary travelers to rest up for their next journey. In addition to having its own restaurant, the hostel bar overlooks a mini-swimming pool. A true oasis, indeed.

More information about the hostel is available at their new Web site: www.nicaraguahostel.com.

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Latin economy is characterized as 'fragile'
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — While the economic condition of Latin America remains in a "fragile" state, the general upturn in the world economy should provide "some support" for the situation to improve in the coming year, says the International Monetary Fund.

In a new report that examines the economies of major regions in the world, the fund said much of the output decline in Latin America during the first few months of 2002 was accounted for by the economic crisis in Argentina and its spillover effects on some neighboring countries, especially Uruguay and Paraguay.

The fund said that while "direct contagion" from Argentina still appears limited, the crisis in that country has provided investors with a "wake-up call to underlying vulnerabilities that persist in the region."

Furthermore, the "deterioration in financial market sentiment toward Brazil may have exacerbated the problems being faced by other Latin American countries," the fund said in the report titled "World Economic Outlook: Trade and Finance."

Analyzing specific countries in the region, the IMF said Argentina is experiencing an economic contraction of "unprecedented magnitude" in its 

financial history. The country's gross domestic product fell 6 percent in the first quarter of 2002.

Exports have fallen in Argentina, the fund said, largely because of a cutoff in trade finance, while inflation rose significantly during the first part of 2002.

The IMF said Uruguay, Paraguay, and Bolivia have been adversely affected by the Argentine crisis through trade, tourism, and financial channels.  Banks in Uruguay have suffered a particularly severe run on dollar deposits, with heavy withdrawals by Argentine deposit-holders.

The fund said that like Brazil, many other countries in Latin America — including Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela — are experiencing a sharp rise in "risk perceptions" about their economies. 

This perception appears to reflect the "interactions among increased regional uncertainties, domestic political tensions, and underlying economic vulnerabilities that stem in most cases from the level and composition of public debt," the fund said.

Mexico and Chile have not escaped the region's difficulties entirely, the IMF said. The Mexican peso has weakened since the start of 2002, while Chile has been hit by a reduction of its exports to Argentina. 

Now there's a library where books speak English
By Bryan Kay
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Have you been stuck for a decent book to read lately? Well, fear not. In San Rafael de Escazú there is a small and thriving English-language library.

The Lexicon Lending Library offers a wide range of fiction, fact and reference books published wholly in English. 

Subjects vary, but there are vast sections dedicated to bestsellers, the classics, children’s books, children’s classics, business and the arts. There are over 2,000 books in stock, with new ones received daily, the operators say.

John Michael Garrett, founder, described Lexicon as the start of something bigger.

"We started this out of concern for the English-speaking community in Costa Rica, and out of concern for unhealthy literature.

"We want to expose people to good books," he said. 

Garrett’s insurance company, Garrett & Asociados nearby, supports the library. It is a non-profit organization.

Mary Wolfskill, the librarian, who runs the entire operation, said that the library offers a wide range of books catered to most people’s tastes. She added that people can come in and have a coffee while reading a book.

The library, which opened in May, uses an old-fashioned card-tracking system to register when books are borrowed. There is, however, a modern computer system used for backup just in case things go wrong. But this quiet place certainly evokes memories of a bygone era.

Garrett said that he eventually wants to play music in the lounge and coffee area to add to the atmosphere of the library. Here is where the contemporary feel of a Barnes & Noble bookshop creeps to the surface.

Plans are in place to open two other branches, one in Cariari and one in Guanacaste. Garrett said that 

Colin and Denise Benner of Harvest Vineyard, the religious organization, above, take a few minutes in the afternoon to catch up on some reading. At left is Mary Wolfskill.  Photos are by Bryan Kay.

he would obviously have to acquire local help to make this a reality.

Ms. Wolfskill, a former assistant librarian at Country Day School in Escazú, pointed out that the library’s opening times have recently been adjusted. The library is now open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesdays, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fridays. The pair hope to open on Saturdays soon.

Lexicon Lending Library is 300 meters west of Mas X Menos, behind the Sabor Tico gift store. It costs 2,000 colons (about $5.40) to join.

Court orders children’s 
funds case to continue

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A Costa Rican appeals court has ordered that a criminal case should continue against an ex-minister of Hacienda, despite a lower court's ruling to close the case, according to Casa Alianza. 

The case involves the minister’s alleged failure to have transferred funds to children's programs.

In May the 1st Circuit Court of San Jose threw out a case Casa Alianza had brought against Leonel Baruch Goldberg, former minister of Hacienda.

The child advocacy organization brought the case in September 2001. The organization accused the minister of not respecting the law that requires that 7 percent of the income taxes collected be transferred to the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia to benefit children in need. 

Goldberg did not transfer any of the required funds during fiscal years 1999, 2000 and 2001 despite a March 2000 order from the Constitutional Court to do so, said Casa Alianza.

In the meantime, several programs for children were closed by the Patronato due to a lack of funds. This is the second case that Casa Alianza has presented against ministers of Hacienda or treasury who have not complied with the law. 

The appeals court judge ruled in the Baruch case that the lower court ruling "is comprised of a few sentences with little content or analysis of the case" and without a juridical basis and ordered the case returned to the lower court, said Casa Alianza in a release to newspapers.

"Many children who were in residential programs were literally thrown out onto the street as a result of the lack of funding for the PANI", explained Bruce Harris, executive director of Casa Alianza, who brought the lawsuit. 

"It is quite simple, the law says the taxes collected should go to the PANI and they did not. The person responsible for not respecting the law is the minister. If we are all equal under the law, then he has to face the consequences of his actions."

Funding for the Institute is still a major debate in the Costa Rican Congress as budget restrictions and lack of tax collection restrict funds for social programs. Many of the former street children were returned to the street when the only program for them was closed because of the Institute’s lack of funding. And many are still homeless, said Casa Alianza.

NASA says heats on
for world climate

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A new study funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) predicts that the world’s climate will warm over the next 50 years regardless of whether nations soon curb their greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.

A release said the study was based on the findings of a new computer climate model that used data from the last 50 years to project warming over the next 50 years. The research was a collaborative effort of 19 institutions, including universities, federal agencies and private industry.

The study found that global temperatures may increase by 1 to 2 degrees Celsius if no reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are made and they continue to increase at the current rate. But if the growth rate of carbon dioxide does not exceed its current rate and if the growth of true air pollutants — substances that are harmful to human health — is reversed, temperatures may rise by only 0.75 degrees Celsius.

"Some continued global warming will occur . . .  even if the greenhouse gases in the air do not increase further, but the warming could be much less than the worse case scenarios," said Jim Hansen, the study’s lead researcher at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

Hansen cautioned that the "alternative" scenario, in which air pollution is decreased and fossil fuel carbon dioxide emissions are stabilized, will not be easy to achieve. It requires that the world begin to reverse emissions of air pollutants such as soot, methane and carbon dioxide.

The study said achievement of stable carbon dioxide emissions is likely to require some combination of increased energy efficiencies, a growing role for renewable energies, capture and sequestration of carbon dioxide emissions, and/or increased use of nuclear power.

U.S. terrorist threat
reduced to ‘code yellow’

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. terrorist threat level has been lowered to "elevated" — or code yellow — based on a review of intelligence assessments and because of the disruption of potential terrorist operations both in the United States and abroad, John Ashcroft, attorney general, and Tom Ridge, homeland security advisor, announced Tuesday.

"The lowering of the threat level is not a signal to government, law enforcement or citizens that the danger of a terrorist attack is passed," they said in a joint statement. "Returning to the elevated level of risk is only an indication that some of the extra protective measures enacted by government and the private sector may be reduced for the time being."

President George Bush approved the change in terrorist threat levels Tuesday after Ridge convened the Homeland Security Council earlier in the day and recommended the change, according to Ari Fleischer, White House press secretary. 

"All these factors, intelligence, recent arrests, and the passing of the September 11 period allowed the president late this morning to make the decision to lower the threat," he said at a briefing.

The announcement came two weeks after the president ordered the terrorist threat level raised to "high risk," or code orange — the second highest level. Ashcroft and Ridge, in their statement, said the decision to reduce the threat level was based, in part, on recent arrests of six men in suburban Buffalo, New York, who are alleged to have provided material support to the international terrorist network Al Qaeda.

Firefighters battle
blazes in California

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services 

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — A fast moving fire has burned 9,000 hectares of brush land northeast of Los Angeles and is threatening hundreds of houses. It is one of two major wildfires burning in the state.

The fire near Los Angeles has destroyed dozens of cabins and forced the closure of more than 26,000 hectares of the Angeles National Forest.

More than 2,000 firefighters are working to stop the blaze, which is burning in three directions.  Firefighter Clayton Roadhouse says hot weather and dry underbrush are making their job harder. 

"Very heavy fuel load, very dry. Normally a fire would lay down at night. That hasn't been happening because the humidity's been so low and the fuel moisture's so dry right now," he said. 

Police urged residents of Mount Baldy Village to evacuate Tuesday night. 

"At 8 o'clock, we're going to call for an evacuation.  It's your decisions to stay or leave," the police said. Some 900 residents remained out of their homes on Wednesday.

At nearby Palmer Canyon, 40 residents were ordered evacuated as bulldozers cleared the brush to stop the fire from reaching their houses.

One thousand firefighters are on the scene of a second major wildfire south of San Jose in northern California. That blaze has destroyed at least 15 cabins and is threatening 50 houses.

Tropical storm 
threatens Gulf Coast

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Residents along the U.S. Gulf Coast are bracing for Tropical Storm Isidore, which weather forecasters warn could drench the region with up to 50 centimeters (2 inches) of rain and cause isolated tornados. 

The U.S. National Hurricane Service said Isidore is moving north over the Gulf of Mexico and is expected to hit land early Thursday. 

Weather forecasts say wind gusts are expected to reach 105 kilometers per hour (68 mph). 

But officials said Isidore is unlikely to become a hurricane again.  For a storm to be classified a hurricane it must attain winds over 185 kilometers per hour (120 mph). 

Officials in the coastal areas of the southern U.S. states of Louisiana and Mississippi have issued a hurricane alert and evacuated more than 8,000 people as heavy rains lash the region ahead of the storm. 

Weather service officials say the storm is centered about 280 kilometers (183 miles) south of the Louisiana coast. Tropical storm warnings are in effect from Texas in the west to Florida in the east. 

Isidore, then a hurricane, slammed into Mexico's Yucatan peninsula, leaving at least three people dead and causing heavy material damage and the evacuation of more than 70,000 people Monday. 

Meanwhile, another tropical storm, Lili, appears to be weakening as it moves toward the southern coast of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The storm battered Barbados Tuesday, toppling trees and damaging about 140 homes. Reports say three people were killed. 

Bush and Uribe meet
to discuss drugs, terror

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President George Bush met with Alvaro Uribe, the Colombian president, at the White House Wednesday to discuss efforts to fight international terrorism and cocaine smuggling.

Bush says he is impressed with the Colombian leader's vision for a peaceful and prosperous country that is fighting terrorists and drug traffickers. 

"The Colombian people believe him and so do I. And today I want to affirm our country's strong desire to help the Colombian government and the Colombian people prosper and to live in freedom," Bush said. 

Before Uribe's visit, the Bush Administration indicted three officials from a Colombian right-wing paramilitary group on charges of conspiring to smuggle 17 tons of cocaine into the United States and Europe.

Carlos Castano, the leader of the United Self-Defense Forces, said he will step down and defend himself against the charges. 

In a letter to the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, Castano said he will voluntarily hand himself over to U.S. authorities and prove that he has never been involved in drug trafficking. 

Human rights groups have questioned the Colombian government's joint operations with Castano's group, which the U.S. State Department considers a terrorist organization. They are cooperating in the fight against leftist rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

Uribe came to office promising to increase spending on the fight against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and cocaine producers who he says support them.

That effort could put his government into deficit spending, and he told Bush that he needs help restructuring the country's mounting debt. 

"We need the support of your country, the support of your government, your personal support for my country to solve problems of violence, economic and social problems," Uribe said. 

Bush told the Colombian leader that the United States looks forward to working with international institutions to help the country expand its economy and fight drug traffickers. 

Heroin and cocaine
result in arrests

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two different police actions resulted in the arrest of suspected drugsmugglers.

In Paso Canoas Tuesday, drug police searched two Panamanians who had just entered Costa Rica. They found more than two kilos of heroin hidden on their persons, police said. The suspects were identified by their surnames of Díaz Truque and Marshall Walden.

In the north in the town of La Cruz, drug police detained a Costa Rican man named Baranates Barantes, 50, as he was leaving his house. The man had been under observation for some time, they said.

The man carried a plastic bag that agents said contained three kilos of cocaine.

Both arrests were made by the Policía de Control de Drogas of the Ministerio de Seguridad.

U.S. ambassador praises
Nicaragua’s chief

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

MIAMI, Fla. — Roger Noriega, the U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States, has praised the president of Nicaragua, Enrique Bolanos, as a principled and honest leader who has earned the support and confidence of all friends of democracy and the free market.

Speaking in Miami at the Americas Conference on Corporate Social Responsibility, Noriega said that the Nicaraguan leader denounced corruption when some of his political allies "would have preferred that he look the other way." 

He also said Bolanos' commitment to honest government is such that he has asked that Nicaragua be among the first countries to be evaluated under the Organization of American States Convention Against Corruption.

The U.S. official said Bolanos is one of a new generation of presidents in the Americas who is committed to transacting government business in a transparent and open way, and to respecting and imposing the rule of law.

On Friday Noriega addressed hemispheric security cooperation initiatives for the 21st century before the Inter-American Development Bank.

He discussed the role of the Organization of American States in promoting security and combating terrorism in the Western Hemisphere, as well as its efforts to adapt to diverse and evolving threats.  Noriega said that the organization’s initiatives to combat terrorism, fight narcotics, respond to natural disasters, and strengthen democracy and economic development were among the efforts. 

Mexican crime fighter
promises big results 

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MEXICO CITY, Mexico — Mexico City's top crime fighter says he will work to cut crime rates in the sprawling metropolis by 40 percent within four years. 

Marcelo Ebrard, public security secretary in Mexico City, predicted Tuesday that by 2006 the rates will fall because of new, aggressive crime fighting measures. He says that currently, only seven percent of crimes are prosecuted. 

Ebrard blames surging crime rates in the capital city on economic problems, drug abuse and the lack of opportunities for Mexican youth.  He says he will soon send a bill to lawmakers that would modify the current civic justice law. 

Ebrard made his remarks to a group of Mexican and foreign investors at an event sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Mexico. 

Business groups say the crime wave is having a negative impact on investment in Mexico, and that as a result the country's economy has failed to grow more quickly. 
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