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These stories were published Monday, Sept. 26, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 190
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Pacific coast struggles with brutal downpour
Workman In Manuel Antonio tries to restore access to a driveway that was covered with a flow of mud.

A.M. Costa Rica/Jesse Froehling


A.M. Costa Rica/Jesse Froehling
A jumble of trees rests near the shell of a small home after the bulk of the storm left Saturday morning.



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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Sept. 26, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 190


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Our readers' opinions

Reader defends Chávez
against heavy-handed U.S.

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Edwin Dobner writes that "I believe it to be irrelevant whether or not the U.S. policies in Latin America, both past and present, have been noble or just."

I think this strikes to the heart of the problem. Extreme rightwingers refuse to acknowledge history. Brutal dictators such as Duvalier, Pinochet, Somoza, Batista, Peron, and many others have always received the full backing of the United States government. In the case of the Dominican Republic, the United States helped install the dictator of Generalisimo Doctor Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina, Benefactor de la Patria y Padre de la Patria Nueva.  Secretary of State Cordell Hull even proclaimed Trujillo "a splendid president, who is outstanding among all those in the American nations."

In Chile, the CIA, working behind the scenes, overthrew Allende and installed the dictator Pinochet (who finally may be about to go on trial for his crimes). In Guatemala, the CIA was directly responsible for the overthrow of the democratically-elected Arbenz in 1954. Aristide, the president of Haiti, was marched to a plane and forced into exile last year. Haiti has seriously deteriorated since then. The list goes on and on. There are many good history texts which can help Mr. Dobner to face the facts. If he prefers a more poetic version, he can read the great master novelist and poet Uruguayan Eduardo Galleano.

Mr. Dobner neglects to cite a source for his opinions about Chávez and FARC. I would point out that Chávez is the democratically-elected leader of Venezuela. I strongly recommend that Mr. Dobner view the superb documentary "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" which shows the failed coup against him in graphic detail and from inside the presidential offices. You can see for yourself how pathetically inept the opposition is when they briefly take power.

Despite what Mr. Dobner maintains, the United States can no longer overthrow democratically-elected leaders without consequences. Only those with blinders on can fail to acknowledge the contradictons between the American vision and its historical reality: Atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan, detention without due process in Guantanamo. The disaster in New Orleans which has highlighted the poverty of millions, the threats posed by global warming to the United States economy, and the fragility of both its ecosystems and its infrastructure.

The United States is highly dependent on Venezuelan crude. The converse is also true: Venezuela needs revenues from the United States. With the exception of Trinidad, there are no democratically-elected governments in nations which have oil. (I don't think that Nigeria has free and fair elections). The events in Venezuela are both a reaction to and the result of hundreds of years of colonialism. The United States government, along with the ruling elites of Venezuela, have failed to act in the broad national interest of that nation. Instead, they have been concerned with profit and profit only. Chávez has built his popularity by doing things for the poor (who are the vast majority). This idea of a "domino theory," where Chávez will infiltrate Nicaragua, etc. is categorically absurd. One very clever thing that Chávez is doing is challenging United States hegemony by loaning funds to Uruguay and Argentina and offering Caribbean nations oil at a discount and with a 1 percent annual interest rate.

Nigeria, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran and many other oil-producing nations face immense problems. Backing dictatorships and overthrowing democratically-elected leaders has historically been proven to be not the way to go. The United States needs to lead by example. Unfortunately, given the mentality of the current American administration, it will continue to set a bad example and make the wrong decisions. These decisions will further polarize and destabilize many nations of the world.

Harry S. Pariser
San Francisco, Calif.
Group plans to visit
to study Venezuela

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

In response to both letters to the editor regarding Hugo Chávez:
 
I , for one, feel that the press has a difficult time ever reporting the real truth and real facts on almost any issue where the words "Communist", "Socialist", "Marxist", "terrorist," etc. are used. The loaded words are like screaming "Nazi" in a Jewish Temple, they override people's ability to hear or see or evaluate the truth. Loaded words give a slant to all news. Ever notice how there is virtually never an article anywhere that doesn't remind us that Hugo is a friend of Castro? As though we all forgot?
 
I am working with a group of social activisit here in Costa Rica, mostly Costa Ricans to try to make a visit with the Venezuelan government to see for ourselves how Hugo's social programs seem to be working for the poor. The delegation of people who will likely go are a mix of people with different opinions regarding Hugo Chávez, some of us are fans and some are not.
 
I , for one, would like to see it all first hand and make up my own mind. I get tired of all the loaded words that make people blind to facts, blind to truth and set them off on emotional tirades.
 
Listening to some of the speeches during the U.N. 60-year anniversary of various world leaders, I was saddened to think that we often have already made up our minds about people and countries and cannot ever really listen because our judgment has been jaded by emotionally dripping words that distract us from the pursuit of the truth.
 
If we ever want to learn to have peace in this world we are going to have to learn to really listen to both our friends and our enemies. We have to stop letting ourselves be distracted by labels and categories and actually investigate, examine and see the truth for what it is. Sadly, I believe that the press gets in the way of truth sometimes more than they report it because to "sell newspapers" and get your attention they do use a lot of words that are not even relevant to the story in order to influence your thinking.
 
"News" should never be an answer, it should raise questions, we need to think for ourselves and not let the media control our opinions. 
Robbie Felix
Quepos/Manuel Antonio

Calderón term extended

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Former president Rafael Ángel Caderón Fournier will spent at least two months more under house arrest. That was the decision by the Juzgado Penal del Segundo Circuito Judicial de San José.

The Ministerio Público, the nation's prosecutor, had sought five more months. Caderón is being held as part of the investigation into a $9 million commission from equipment purchases by the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social and the Corporation Fischel.
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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Sept. 26, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 190




This is what motorists faced all over the central Pacific coast Saturday and Sunday as thousands of shattered trees blocked highways, roads and trails.

A.M. Costa Rica/Jesse Froehling

Downpours destroy roads and homes along coast
By Jesse Froehling and Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Torrential downpours throughout the Pacific Coast region this weekend left at least one person dead, at least 11 missing and hundreds homeless. 

In many parts of the country, the power was out and residents slogged through the mud in search of lost appliances and personal affects that had been washed out of their homes by the rain and landslides.  Others waited for rescue helicopters in areas too isolated to reach by land.  And Sunday evening, it was still getting worse.   

By mid-afternoon Sunday, emergency officials had placed the entire Pacific coast – most of which is popular with tourists – under red alert.   

As a result, many of those travelers were also affected.  Some found they had paid hundreds of dollars to be trapped in five-star hotels without electricity, running water, or working toilets while others saved lives.  At least one foreigner fished someone out of a river with a rope as the hapless victim swept by. 

Another main industry on the Pacific Coast, agriculture, was hard hit as entire fields washed away under assault by the heavy rains.  Sunday morning, some coconut plantations were under water along the road north out of Quepos.

On the other side of that town, the Costanera – the road between Quepos and Dominical – was closed altogether for part of the weekend as bloated rivers washed away bridges and roads.  There was no indication when temporary bridges would be installed.

Cruz Roja officials pulled one man's body out of the Río Cañitas near Quepos.  He was identified as 47-year-old Mario Hidalgo Picado, said a report.  Hidalgo drowned when he was swept away by the strong current near San Rafael de Cerros, reports from the Fuerza Pública and the Cruz Roja said.

Earlier Sunday morning, a pick-up carrying three persons flipped in Lilas de Quebrada Grande en Liberia and fell into the Río Los Ahogados.  Rescue workers managed to save two of the victims, Jaustino Rodríguez Espinales and Michael Rodríguez Brisuela, but the third, 10-year-old Bayron Meléndez Suárez was still missing Sunday evening. 

Later, at 8 a.m., a 29-year-old woman identified as Gladis Lacayo Mendiola fell into Río Sarapiquí near Puerto Viejo.  She is still missing.  Sunday afternoon, an unidentified man in San Carlos de Tarrazú fell into the Río Paraíso while lining the shore with logs.  He was also missing Sunday evening, a Cruz Roja report said.   

Rescue efforts began Friday.  By Sunday, workers were using helicopters to reach those too isolated to help themselves with food, water and medical supplies, a report said.  That evening, the Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias estimated that at least 357 homes had been lost in Tarrazúm Dota, Pérez Zeledón, the Nicoya Peninsula and Aguirre where Quepos is located.  

Rescue workers were concerned late Sunday night as rain started falling harder after 7 p.m., said Victor Mora of the Cruz Roja in Quepos.  By that time nearly two feet of rain had already fallen in a three-day span.  The towns of Portalón, Matapalo, La Laguna, Paritta, Pocari, San Cristobal and Silencio were hardest hit in that region, he said. 

Persons in Silencio with cell phones said that landslides had destroyed five houses, although earlier Cruz Roja reports said the number may have been as high as 13 with three families missing.  Rescue workers tried to fly in Sunday, but the heavy rains forced them back. 

Mora added that 12 persons were evacuated in Portalón to a local school and 45 were taken to a nearby one in Matapalo.  The destruction continued in Barú in Savagre.  Rescue workers there found 126 people hiding under barn roofs.  Workers brought them blankets and supplies sufficient for three days, the report said.

In La Fila de San Cristóbal, 25 families were forced to take shelter in the local church.  Cruz Roja workers said they had received reports that six homes were destroyed in that town.  Persons in Puntarenas, Parrita and Garabito also had to be evacuated, the report said.  At 10:40 Sunday
Rain gauge kept track
of heavy rainfalls

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A rain gauge maintained by Palma Tica, the palm oil producer, in a facility near Quepos registered 20.51 inches of rain Friday through Sunday evening, according to Arturo Salas, the security official in charge of maintaining the rain gauge.

The gauge is calibrated in metric units, and he said that 322.7 liters of rain were registered Saturday per square meter.

The Quepos area generally receives one of the heaviest doses of rain each year, and September, October and November are rainy months.

Rainfall in the mountains east of Quepos and the towns along the Costanera south to Dominical could have received significantly more rain due to their elevation. Water from these mountains fed the streams and rivers that did the damage.

morning, 736 persons had been evacuated from their homes, the emergency commission reported.

The situation wasn't much better in Guanacaste.  Parts of Filadelfia had to be evacuated, said the Cruz Roja.  In the Bambú sector, 95 persons were taken to a community center.  Hebrón, in the zona norte, was isolated after two bridges collapsed.

Those were not the only two.  The emergency commission said that in all, 53 roads were affected by the flooding and 27 bridges had sustained damage.  Bridges in storms are generally damaged when trees along the banks of the bloated rivers are swept from their roots and crash into the bridge pilings.  On the road out of Quepos, the normally shallow rivers were flowing only a few feet below some of the bridge trestles and the coconut plantations along the road were swamped.
  
Tourism was also affected, though many travelers found a way to make the best of the storm.

Phil Klink of Arizona and his buddies took a bus from San José to Quepos and were dropped off about a kilometer outside of town because the flooding prevented the bus from passing, he said.  They slogged their way into town, found the bus for Manuel Antonio and again were dropped off early when the road into Manuel Antonio was covered with fallen trees.  Most of the restaurants and bars were closed and fallen power lines had caused power to go out in the whole town.  So they barbequed. 

“It was awesome,” he said.  By Sunday evening, a worker at La Mariposa hotel said the power was back on.  This is especially convenient considering that workers at the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad are planning to strike today.  

The Chandlers from Bonney Lake, Wash.,  were stranded in their hotel Friday evening after landslides prevented them from leaving.  They had, what they all agreed, was one of the best meals ever.

“It could be worse," said George, the father with a smile.  “We could be out there.”  Other guests had heard that flooding in Quepos had reached waist height in some places though by Sunday morning, the town seemed dry.

Collection centers for donations are being set up in and around Quepos.  Officials said that shoes are also needed.  This is not the first natural disaster to hit the area this year.  Earlier, a major earthquake caused extensive damage in Isla de Damas.   

The rain problems started early Friday with flooding in the central Nicoya Peninsula in and around Filadelfia. But as rescue workers were headed to those locations, the skies opened up above the central Pacific.

This is not the first time the country has suffered from massive flooding.  In May of last year, 2000 people were displaced and at least one died when Limón was rained on heavily.  In early December of 2002, 6,000 people had to move from the Caribbean slope.  At least four died in those floods. 

Soon after President Abel Pacheco was elected, heavy flooding on the Atlantic slope caused him to seek international aid.  This week he is skipping a meeting of heads of state in Nicaragua to visit the devasted areas today.


Tourists had to spend the night in the dark when power failed Friday night along the Pacific coast. This scene of jumbled wires, busted poles and teetering transformers was in Manuel Antonio.

A.M. Costa Rica/Jesse Froehling






This saying encourages people to live a clean life
Que Dios nos agarre confesados

“That God might hold us to our confessions.” Like many dichos, this one is used in more then one way. When a child is very naughty, for example, his mother might apply this dicho to mean: "It would be better for God to catch you sinning than for your father to find out about this!”

I also relate this expression to those occasions when I’m afraid of something. In other words, I hope I’m clean in God’s eyes, because this could be my end. Of course one never knows exactly when God may call us, so es mejor prevenir que lamentar, meaning “it’s better to prevent than lament.” Which is to say, “we need to be ready for whatever comes our way.” So, then, today’s dicho is something of a warning.

There have been so many terrible disasters lately, that only a fool would not pause a moment to take stock of his life.  Have we made our peace with life? Are we ready for whatever may befall us? Are we in a position to provide aid and assistance to others should we be called upon to do so?

Recently a lot of displaced international students from Louisiana have been arriving on the campus of Indiana University where I work. Since many university campuses in and around New Orleans are now indefinitely closed, having been devastated by Hurricane Katrina, these students are hoping to complete their studies at other schools, like I.U., not affected by the disaster.

Many of these students have needs beyond the physical requirements of shelter, food, and clothing. Since everything seems to have been taken from them, they often also need emotional support and much encouragement to continue working toward their degrees.

It’s usually not too difficult for me to call around and find housing for a student, or used furniture and household items, or food, or small amounts of money to buy the basic essentials of life. But, the difficult part is when they need psychological and emotional support. Of course we do have a professional team of psychologists and psychiatrists ready to help. But most of these students seem most
comfortable hanging out at my office where there
The
way we say it

By Daniel Soto

are other international students around. I think this is because they feel like it’s a safe place. They trust the environment and our staff.

It’s not always easy to help these students with what amounts to psychological trauma, but our staff at the International Center does have some experience in these matters. For example the Croatian students who arrived just at the beginning of the war in the Balkans who looked to us for emotional and spiritual guidance and for help making sense out of what was happening back home.

Then there were the Japanese students whose homes where destroyed when an earthquake hit their region back in Japan. Often these students lost family members in addition to their homes.

I think such experiences have helped to better prepare us to assist the survivors of Katrina who have come our way. Whether or not we would be prepared to handle such a disaster ourselves I fear remains to be seen. Bloomington, Indiana, is right in the middle of tornado alley, and although many communities all around us have been nearly wiped out, Bloomington has not been struck by a major storm in several decades. Like New Orleans, our luck also may soon run out.

Que Dios nos agarre confesados is more an admonition than a statement of present reality because we are so seldom prepared for those events that will radically change our lives. But we are able to learn from the past, relate it to the present, and try to imagine how both might



Abduction in Heredia ends with rollover accident
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Bandits kidnapped three bathers from a swimming area on the Río Las Juntas Saturday stashed them in the trunk of their own vehicle and eventually threatened to rape the female hostage, said the Fuerza Pública.

The crime came to an abrupt end when the bandits overturned the vehicle and fled in Santo Domingo de Heredia.

The strange encounter started after two men, identified by the last names of  Monge Jiménez and Bustos Jiménez arrived at the swimming hole with a young woman identified by the last name of Mejía.

A short time later, a vehicle with five persons pulled up. At first the new arrivals said they wanted to be driven to Guadalupe.  When the trio refused, the five
pulled knives, ordered their victims into the truck and began to drive around. The trio made so much noise in the truck that the kidnappers ordered them in to the passenger compartment where the threats of rape were made to the woman, according to police.

Police caught up with the five suspects within two kilometers of the rollover accident. The four adults were identified by the last names of Quirós Arroyo, Gómez Torres, Gómez Flores and Olivos Arias. The fifth person, a 17-year-old, was not identified.

Fuerza Pública officers said the five would be questioned about their possible involvement in a robbery that took place Saturday morning in Vásquez de Coronado. The five also face allegations of attempted rape and abduction.

The woman hostage was hospitalized with wounds to her face, police said.


U.S. condemns Nicaraguan assembly's immunity vote
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The United States has condemned a decision by Nicaragua's national assembly to lift the immunity of some senior officials in President Enrique Bolaños' government.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in a statement Friday that the legislature's actions could expose members of Nicaragua's democratic government to politically motivated persecution and harassment and weaken the rule of law. He said the legislators acted on "spurious political grounds."

The Assembly acted Thursday against Nicaraguan Interior Minister Julio Vega and another official. The move opens the way for trying them on campaign finance charges dating back to 2001.
José Miguel Insulza, secretary general of the Organization of American States, issued a statement voicing concern about the latest developments in Nicaragua.

He said the national assembly's decision acts against the possibility of resolving the country's political crisis.

President Bolaños has been increasingly isolated since leading an anti-corruption drive against his predecessor, Arnoldo Alemán.

"We call on the political forces behind these acts to reverse them immediately, allow the OAS-sponsored conciliation process to continue, and cease such illegitimate attacks on Nicaragua's democratic institutions," said McCormack in a press briefing.


Venezuela and Cuba among nations sanctioned under tafficking act
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The White House has determined Burma, Cambodia, Cuba, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and Venezuela should be sanctioned under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000.

In a memorandum to the secretary of State, President George Bush directed that the United States deny assistance -- ranging from participation in educational and cultural exchange programs to certain nonhumanitarian, nontrade-related funding -- to these five countries until their governments comply with the act's minimum standards to combat trafficking or make significant efforts to do so.

The act, enacted Oct. 28, 2000, is the most comprehensive U.S. law to address the various aspects of trafficking in persons both internationally and domestically.  It establishes measures to prevent trafficking, protect its victims and prosecute those accountable for trafficking.

The United States has condemned human trafficking as a form of slavery and an affront to the principles of human dignity and liberty.

Experts estimate up to 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders every year.  The United States government is at the forefront in battling this scourge.  In 2004 alone, the United States provided more than $96 million in foreign aid to help other countries strengthen their anti-trafficking efforts via tougher legislation, special law enforcement units and emergency shelter and rehabilitation programs.
Each year, the U.S. Department of State evaluates foreign governments on their efforts to fight human trafficking and produces a report based on information from American diplomats as well as nongovernmental organizations and other groups.  The report covering the year 2004, released in June 2005, examined 150 nations.

Countries are divided into three groups, or tiers. 

Tier One means that a country fully meets the requirements of the act.  Tier Two countries do not meet the standards fully, but are working to improve.  Tier Three countries face possible restrictions in American aid or other measures.

For 2005, the United States identified 14 Tier Three countries:  Bolivia, Burma, Cambodia, Cuba, Ecuador, Jamaica, Kuwait, North Korea, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Togo, the United Arab Emirates and Venezuela.

According to the White House memorandum to the secretary of State, six of the 14 Tier Three countries since have taken actions that averted the need for the president to make a determination regarding sanctions and waivers:  Bolivia, Jamaica, Qatar, Sudan, Togo and the United Arab Emirates.  These countries have been placed on the "Special Watch List" and will be re-evaluated in six months.

Ecuador, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are also on the Tier Three list for not complying with the act's minimum standards, but they have received presidential waivers for sanctions "in the national interest of the United States."  Those countries will be reassessed within six months.


Marchers in Colombia oppose free trade pact with the United States
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Thousands of people have marched in two Colombian cities to protest a planned free trade agreement with the United States.

The marchers massed in Bogota and Cartagena Thursday, saying the accord would worsen unemployment in the Andean nation. The demonstration took place as trade negotiators from Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and the United States met
 for a new round of talks in Cartagena.

The negotiations for the free trade deal began in May of last year and are supposed to conclude next month.

The Andean countries want to extend existing trade accords that allow them to export items such as fresh cut flowers without tariffs. The agreements, set to expire in 2006, were put in place to help countries on the front lines in the fight against the illegal drug trade.

 
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