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These stories were published Friday, Oct. 3, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 196
Jo Stuart
About us
Costa Rica and oil company will negotiate
Harken withdraws its arbitration claim for now
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
posted Saturday 1 p.m.

President Abel Pacheco announced Friday night that Harken Energy has agreed to drop its request for international arbitration of the cancellation of its Limón oil drilling contract.

Pacheco made the announcement at the Teatro Melico Salazar where he was speaking at an unrelated event.

Costa Rica is now expected to enter into negotiations with Harken.

Legal experts said the Harken arbitration request before the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes was premature because the Houston, Texas,-based company had not exhausted all its options under Costa Rican law.

If negotiations fails, Harken is expected to seek a local court action, although the company may be prepared to renew its international arbitration request if its Costa Rican options do not bear fruit.

The energy company has spent about $15 million here. However, it sought an arbitration award of $57 billion, a number that drew instant reaction from Costa Rica.

Earlier story below


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Abel Pacheco asked for international support Thursday night in what he characterized as the threat to the country from Harken Energy, a Houston petroleum firm.

Pacheco said that Costa Rica wold not submit to international arbitration as the petroleum company seeks. The company’s claim is not legitimate, Pacheco said, but he also said that other foreign investment was safe in Costa Rica within a framework of legality and environmental sustainability.

The president was preaching to the choir. The group was The Nature Conservancy, which for the first time in 51 years is holding its Annual Meeting and Global Leadership Summit here at the Hotel Herradura west of San José. The conservancy works towards nature conservation and wildlife preservation.

The Virginia-based non-profit organization has been working with Costa Rica for years. In 1975, the organization helped Costa Rica create the 100,000-acre Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula with one of the first international, assisted land acquisitions of 86,485 acres, it noted in its announcement of the meeting.

Pacheco said that his administration had the courage to declare peace with nature and present to the Asamblea Nacional the text of constitutional reforms in a magna carta of environmental guarantees.

In his discussion of Harken Energy, Pacheco based his arguments on being environmentally friendly and national sovereignty. Although he mentioned international arbitration, he did not note that Costa Rica has signed an international treaty under which it seems to have agreed to this form of arbitration with foreign companies.

Harken has filed a request for arbitration with the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes, a Washington, D.C.-based World Bank affiliate. The firm alleges that its contract was cancelled arbitrarily and they were not allowed to fix deficiencies.

Pacheco said that Harken failed to comply with requirements of the Secretaría Técnica Nacional Ambiental and stipulations of its contract and now seeks the "exorbitant sum of $27 billion." 
Pacheco was incorrect on the amount. The company seeks $57 billion.

Harken sought to sink an exploratory well a little over a mile deep about three miles off the Caribbean coast near Limón. It signed the agreement in 1997. However when Pacheco took office, he proclaimed a broad prohibition against oil drilling and open pit gold mining.

"Before the demand of this petroleum company, the government of the republic has asked the most solid national unity in defense of our sovereignty and of our environmental policy," Pacheco said.

In his talk, Pacheco cast his decision to shelve the Harken contract in the same league with Costa Rica’s historic decision to eliminate its army and its decision to provide broad social welfare to its citizens. "For each forest that we protect, each aquifer that we protect, each river basin that with grand effort we restore, each ton of coal we keep is an act of solidarity with the survival of the human species," Pacheco said.

However, the president did not specify exactly what kind of international support he was seeking.   The Nature Conservancy itself is under investigation, triggered by articles in The Washington Post.

A letter from the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance posted to the organization’s Web site, said that the newspaper had raised serious questions about "practices regarding land sales, purchases, and donations; executive compensation; and corporate governance, among others." The government can ask questions because of the organization’s non-profit tax status.

If Pacheco is correct and the cancellation of the Harken contract was done for legitimate reasons and in compliance with Costa Rican law, an arbitration panel, if one is created, most certainly would side with the country.

Also scheduled to speak to The Nature Conservancy is Carlos Manuel Rodriguez Echandi, minister Ambiente y Energia, and Steve McCormick, the group’s president, who will provide an overview of the Conservancy's accomplishments and announce the completion of the $1.25 billion Campaign for Conservation. 

Two U.S. citizens found dead in San Pedro
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
as of 1:45 p.m. Friday

Authorities said Friday that they are investigating the death of two U.S. citizens who were found dead this morning in an apartment not far from the Roman Catholic church in the center of San Pedro de Montes de Oca.

The pair were identified as Clayton Alexander Saka, 22 and Caldwell Cushman, 23.  Their hometowns could not be verified. The circumstances of the deaths have not been 
determined, according to a statement from the Judicial Investigating Organization.

The bodies were taken to the judicial morgue. An employee said the scene suggested that the deaths were caused by some form of overdose, although an autopsy is expected to determine the reason with more precision.

The location is just a few blocks from the University of Costa Rica, although it could not be confirmed if the pair were students. 

The area also is populated by young, English-speaking employees of nearby sportsbooks and on-line gambling enterprises. The area is one of many restaurants and bars, plus an active nightlife.

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Costa Ricans protest
murder of women

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 20 Costa Rican national deputies from several political parties have sent a letter to Mexican President Vincente Fox expressing their deep concern for the murders of at least 300 Mexican women near Ciudad Juárez.

The deaths have not received the police and judicial attention they should have, the letter said.

The wave of serial killings has gone on for at least a decade, the deputies said in the letter, noting that this creates social instability.

Martha Zamora, a deputy of the Partido Acción Ciudadana initiated the letter effort, said an assembly aide.

The border area around Ciudad Juárez attracts many women from the countryside to work in the small manufacturing plants there. Periodically Mexican police announce arrests and say they have solved the killings, but the deaths go on and on, according to news reports.

Typically the victim is a woman returning home in the dark after working a second shift in an assembly plant.

Chinese government
sent cash, Fishman says

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Luis Fishman, the second vice president of Costa Rica, told lawmakers Thursday that he understood that some money for the Pacheco presidential campaign came from the government of Taiwan.

He was testifying before the special commission set up to investigate campaign funding.

Fishman said that when $300,000 came from the Chinese to the campaign in December 2001 "everyone breathed easily and said that they were going to await the day of the elections."

Fishman is of the same political party as President Abel Pacheco, the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana. But he broke with Pacheco before the second round of elections, the runoff. He is now a vice president with a title but little to do officially.

In his testimony he said that Roberto Tovar, the current foreign minister, was in control of the campaign resources and watched over the expenses. Tovar has not described his role as quite so comprehensive.

Fishman said he loaned the campaign $15,000 to get started but the party never paid him back. He said he held some meetings with possible contributors in his home and that Pacheco outlined his political platform. The checks arrived later, Fishman said.

Grant to improve
rights of workers

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The United States has awarded a $6.75-million grant to the Foundation for Peace and Democracy to help improve working conditions in those Central American nations engaged in free-trade talks with the United States, according to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

The U.S. Department of Labor will fund and manage the four-year grant, the press release said. The funds will be used to educate workers and employers in the region about labor laws and to ensure that workers' rights are respected. 

"As the United States and our Central American partners work to complete our free-trade agreement, we want to ensure that the benefits of trade and openness are shared by workers in all our countries," said U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick. 

Zoellick added that the grant also addresses concerns of U.S. congressional leaders who have emphasized the need to combine free trade with support for workers' rights. 

Catholic clerics
meet with rebels

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Two Colombian Roman Catholic Church officials have met with imprisoned rebel commanders as part of efforts to secure the release of seven kidnapped foreigners. 

Church officials say Monsignor Alberto Giraldo and a priest, the Rev. Dario Echeverry, held talks Thursday with the two members of the National Liberation Army, or ELN, at the high-security Itagui prison outside Medellin. 

The meetings with Francisco Galan and Felipe Torres took place one day after the government's peace commissioner, Luis Carlos Restrepo, held similar discussions with the rebel leaders. 

The ELN is Colombia's second-largest rebel group. It has admitted kidnapping the seven tourists Sept. 12 in the northern Sierra Nevada mountains. An eighth hostage, 19-year-old Matthew Scott of Britain, later escaped and has since been reunited with his family. 

In another development, news agencies report ELN guerrillas claim they shot down a U.S. fumigation plane in northeastern Colombia Sept. 21. 

The pilot, Mario Alvarado, a Costa Rican national, was killed when the plane crashed in Colombia's Norte de Santander state.  U.S. officials said Sept. 23 that the plane had been shot down. They were unsure of which guerilla group did it.

The plane belonged to the U.S. government and was on a routine coca-spraying mission in Colombia, the government said. Coca is the raw material used to make cocaine. 

Washington has been helping Colombia organize crop-spraying flights as part of Plan Colombia, a multi-million-dollar program aimed mainly at ridding the country of the drugs that fuel armed insurgencies. 

Chinese day Monday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Day of Chinese Culture will be celebrated Monday by lawmakers. At 10:30 a.m. in the legislative complex there will be expositions, food and music. An exposition of art done by Chinese-Costa Rican artists will be inaugurated at the Rotonda de la Patria in the assembly at 6 p.m.

Seat belt sweep

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Transito officials said that police on the highways will be enforcing a seat belt rule starting today. Not wearing a seat belt is not illegal, although a measure in the legislature would make it so. However, police will be stopping motorists and warning them of the danger of not wearing a seat belt, officials said.


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You gotta have heart for a trip to the hospital
This was the week that almost wasn’t. 

It was an ordinary week until last Friday when I was preparing lunch and felt my heart was not behaving normally. It was a pretty subtle abnormal: a few stabs of pain in the vicinity of my heart, a little difficulty breathing, and then a totally erratic pulse. That is when I decided it was time to get myself to the Clinica Duran. My neighbor Ulisis took me.

It is nice in Costa Rica, even if you are a woman, if you are having what seems to be heart problems, you get immediate attention. (This has not been my experience elsewhere.) As soon as I explained my symptoms, I was taken into the examining room and given an electrocardiogram and a blood test. Then I had to wait almost three hours for the results. I always take a book with me whenever I go to emergency. That is my standard emergency equipment. 

The results of the tests were not reassuring. They mentioned something about a blockage, so they handed me their report (which I couldn’t read) and told me to get myself to Calderon Guardia, which is a full-scale hospital with a much larger emergency section. Unlike the clinic, which had few people when I arrived there at noon, at 4 p.m. the waiting room at Calderon was wall-to-wall people. Most of them were standing in line to sign in. I took my referral paper to the guard at the door, and he let me go into the crowded treatment section while my friend Betty, who had joined me there, waited in line to register me.

There they did another electrocardiogram and took some more blood. I felt this was an unnecessary duplication of effort, but I am not in the medical profession. My job as a patient was to wait. I am not even very good at that. Waiting involved being crammed into a very uncomfortable padded pew with one too many people, all of us in various stages of attention. Most of the others had preparatory needles in their arms in case they would have to be fed something through them. Others were on oxygen. 

The place was getting too crowded for guests so I asked Betty to please meet my friend Grady at the pizza restaurant in my stead. I was never going to make it. Even in Emergency they bring food around for the people who have been there through a meal. Since I didn’t arrive until 4 p.m., I didn’t qualify when the meal wagon came around. 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

They didn’t know I hadn’t eaten since morning. I was hungry, but had no appetite. So I didn’t mind.

By 8 p.m. Betty returned with Barbara, another friend. I was ready to leave with or without the results of the blood test (which is what I was told we were waiting for). My friends talked me into waiting ‘just a few more minutes.’ Barbara, who speaks fluent Spanish, stayed with me while Betty waited in the still crowded waiting room. 

While I had been sitting crammed next to a girl, I asked her what her problem was. She said that she had hepatitis. I sympathized through the hand that was now covering my mouth and nose as casually as possible. I couldn’t remember how hepatitis was caught. That is when I decided that standing off by myself was a good idea. 

But I had lost all patience (a big no no in Costa Rica) and I told an assistant, a technician, or whatever, (you cannot tell who is a doctor who is not, unless it is only doctors who wear stethoscopes), that if I was going to die I did not want to die a hungry sardine. He had no idea what I was saying, I am sure. Barbara, who has lived here so many years she has adopted the Costa Rican gracious, non-confrontive manner that is the only way to get heard, took over. She asked about my tests and explained my plight, and after each response she thanked them profusely while I muttered,"Let’s go."

At 9:45 p.m. we left the hospital with a prescription which took another half hour to fill. I’m not sure what the problem was except that I was told my pacemaker was working, my heart might not be. 

None of this, I figured was worth sharing or writing about. Then I turned on the new Ellen Degeneris show and listened to her talk for 10 minutes about crush/cutting her finger in a gate. I found her very entertaining, so I figured, what the hell, sharing the little mishaps helps — usually to make others feel lucky.

Ornamental fish industry has up and down sides, U.N. says
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

NEW YORK, N.Y. — Supplying small aquariums in homes and businesses with colorful fish has become an almost $300 million business, with the potential of becoming a sustainable industry that can both ease poverty and protect the threatened coral reefs where the fish are harvested. 

A U.N. Environment Program  report is called the first accurate estimate on the number of ornamental fish, corals and other animals being taken from the wild. 

"From Ocean to Aquarium: The Global Trade in Marine Ornamentals" finds that most species are 

being taken from waters in Southeast Asia and sold in Europe, Japan and the United States. A press release describes the trade as "a legitimate industry," though a minority of fishermen uses techniques that could be harmful to both the reefs and the fish. 

"If managed properly, the aquarium industry could support long-term conservation and sustainable use of coral reefs in regions where other options for generating revenue are limited," said Mark Collins, director of the program’s World Conservation Monitoring Center. "Some collection techniques have minimal impact on coral, and the industry as a whole is of relatively low volume yet of very high value."

Scientists agree on exact meaning of 'El Niño' and 'La Niña'
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C — The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration  says it has achieved agreement among experts on an operational index and definitions for El Niño and La Niña — disruptions of the ocean-atmosphere system in the tropical Pacific leading to important consequences for weather around the globe.

According to a press release, experts in the federal government and academia reached a consensus on the index and definitions after more than a year of study. "Before now, no widely accepted operational definition of El Niño or La Niña existed," said agency Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher.

The index is defined as sea surface temperature 

departures from normal, averaged over three consecutive months, for a critical region of the tropical Pacific that scientists call the "equatorial cold tongue" — a band of cool water that extends along the equator from the coast of South America to the central Pacific Ocean. 

Based on the index, El Niño is characterized by a sea surface temperature increase of 0.5 degrees Celsius or more above normal, and La Niña by a decrease in sea surface temperature of 0.5 degrees Celsius or more.

Departures from average sea surface temperatures in this equatorial Pacific region are critically important in determining major shifts in the pattern of tropical rainfall, which influence the jet streams and patterns of weather worldwide.

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