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These stories were published Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 197
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They are actually grading the road between Santa Elena and Monteverde. Rough spots will get asphalt.
This gravel hill on the main road will be paved soon.
Monteverde fights to keep
its unique atmosphere

Monteverde, Costa Rica’s crown jewel as a remote, cloud forest tourist location, is about to get a hard-surface access highway. The present 40 kms. of rock and gravel keeps the tourist trade at manageable proportions. But what will happen when visitors can zip right in on an asphalt road?

Monteverde officials and residents are trying to come up with some plans to prevent being overwhelmed.

Our story is HERE!


 
Rodríguez, in Washington, digs in his heels
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Legislators and the president of Costa Rica took separate actions Monday to insist that Miguel Ángel Rodríguez Echeverría step down as secretary general of the Organization of American States.

Rodríguez has been staying out of the public eye in Washington and seeking support by relying on the fact that he has not been charged with any crime. 

The legislators voted, 43-4, Monday night to tell Rodriguez that he should leave the OAS job and return to Costa Rica.

Neither the request by President Abel Pacheco or that of the legislature have any force in law. Rodríguez was put in his position by a vote of the foreign ministers of the 35 nations that make up the organization. It has a five-year term.

Rodríguez has been accused by one politician here of seeking the lion’s share of an undisclosed payment by Alcatel, the successful bidder on a $260 million cellular telephone contact, to upgrade the system. Other disclosures seem to support the politician’s allegation.

As long as he can keep his hemispheric job, Rodríguez would seem to have diplomatic immunity in the United States, where the organization is based. That would not be the 

case here. Top officials only have immunity while they are in office.

Many Costa Rican politicians consider the situation with Rodríguez to be a major embarrassment for the country. Winning the secretary general’s post at the OAS was a major diplomatic coup for Rodríguez and his supporters here.

That his name now is tarnished by scandal after being in office less than two weeks is a national disgrace, many feel.

The concept that someone is innocent until proved guilty is not strongly accepted here. If someone is under investigation by the Ministerio Público, the independent prosecutor’s office, most Costa Ricans assume that there is a basis in fact.

Regardless of what Rodríguez does, many politicians say they believe that the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana, the party of Rodríguez and Pacheco, is mortally wounded.

Since June one scandal after another implicated members of this political party. And it now appears the $9 million commission paid to politicians on a $39 million loan to purchase medical equipment is linked to the current troubles facing Rodríguez. Some of the same individuals are involved in both scandals.

Rodríguez was president from 1998 to 2002. Pacheco took office in 2002. 

 

 
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Convention center still
in early stages of design

By Clair-Marie Robertson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Experts from the government of Taiwan are still reviewing soil samples from the spot where the new international convention center is to be built in Cariari, Heredia. 

The plot of land is located near the Centro Nacional de Distribución de Alimentos and the Real Cariari Mall and has been donated by the Programa Integral de Mercadeo Agropecuario. That is west of San José.

The Instituto Costarricense de Turismo is still awaiting confirmation from the contracted Taiwanese architects to establish the exact design layout of the building and to determine when construction will begin. 

The Taiwanese government has donated $25 million for the study into the construction of the convention center. This international convention center has been created with a view to improve the marketing of Costa Rica as a product and will not be run by the government but by people who have had extensive experience working in the tourist industry in Costa Rica, officials have said. 

It has also been created to generate increased business with companies from the United States, Europe and of course Asia. 

The decision to locate the convention center in San José and not on the Pacific Coast grew out of uncertainties regarding the airport in Liberia. 

"The airport in Liberia has many flaws and, at the moment, there are not enough people working there. In its current state the airport would never cope with such a large influx of people, said Alberto Lopez Chavez, executive director of the Camera Nacional de Turismo de Costa Rica. The location was picked because of its easy accessibility from Juan Santamaría Airport. The area is also populated with well established hotels, he said. 

Monica Gutierrez Greco, adviser to the minister at the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo,  said she hopes that the international convention center will work. 

Ms. Gutiérrez Greco said that the only public funding that had been requested from Costa Rica’s government was to create access to the convention center as well as to install electricity and water. 

Ms. Gutierrez Greco foresees the project as being a highly profitable venture for all those involved in the tourism business in Costa Rica. She does not believe that current allegations of corruption within the government will hamper a project that she sees as fundamental to the progression of the tourism industry in Costa Rica. 

"Firstly we do not know if these allegations about the government are true or not but what I can assure 100 percent is that no one will touch money that is intended for other purposes. The convention center is going to have very transparent procedures." 

Lopez Chavez from the camera is sure that the international convention center in Costa Rica will succeed where others have failed. "Our main focus for this convention center is tourism. I believe this is where other convention centers have failed. Costa Rica’s convention center has a focus."

Delta restricts bags
for holiday season

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Delta Air Lines will begin its Christmas luggage restrictions Nov. 15, the company said Monday.

The airline has limited the number of carry-on luggage allowed and also the number of checked items.

In addition the company has special rules for boxes.

The rules apply just to cities in Latin America through Jan. 15.

For flights to San José the company is premitting two checked suitcases and one carry-on in addition to a personal bag, it said.

The company also has size rules. Items such as golf clubs and surfboards count as one item, the company said.

Articles sent in boxes must be in the original box and appropriately wrapped, said Delta.

Embassy sets garage sale
for two days in October

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The U.S. Embassy is having another garage sale. This one is Oct. 25 and 26 at the embassy storage facilities in Pavas.

The announced contents of the sale include furniture, computer equipment and home furnishings, said an announcement.

As with past sales, interested buyers submit bids on predetermined lots of goods. The high bidder gets the goods. A 20,000 colons deposit is required on every bid, the embassy said. That’s about $44.60. Bids will be announced Oct. 27. The successful bidders can pick up their purchases that Friday and Saturday, Oct. 29 and Oct. 30. Losers can pick up their deposits at the same time.

The storage facility is on Avenida 4 some 200 meters west of the Fábrica de Alimentos Jack's factory.

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Potholes in Santa Elena turn into deep puddles during rain.

 
Monteverde's new road will mean tourist onslaught
By Mike Lynch
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Several local roads in Monteverde are being paved for the first time ever, and they may be followed in next year by a much larger project — the paving of 40 kilometers of road between Monteverde and the Pan American Highway. 

Monteverde Mayor Marcony Suarez said that representatives from the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes told him they are planning on paving the road to his district in the near future. "They told me they are going to finish the whole thing next year," Suarez said.

Paving the whole road to Monteverde, located in the mountainous cloud forests of northwest Costa Rica, is likely to have a major impact on the area that is home to about 6,000 residents. The better road will allow much easier access to an area that is relatively difficult to get to because of the narrow and winding pothole-filled access roads. 

¨We are worried about it," Suarez said. ¨Because we will have a lot of people. For our business it´s very good, but we have to be a little more prepared.¨

Not that Monteverde’s tourism is suffering as a result of the poor access road from the Pan American Highway, which takes about two hours to drive. Monteverde is home to the Santa Helena and Monteverde Reserves, along with canopy, coffee and cheese factory tours, and draws an increasing amount of visitors every year. Eduardo Venegas Castro, president of the local tourism bureau, said Montverde expects to have 264,000 visitors by the end of this year and that number has been growing for the last 20 years.

¨We´ve been growing at 15 percent per year for the last 20 years,¨ said Castro, noting that 3 or 4 percent increase is normal. Using those projections, Castro estimated that in the next eight years Monteverde will need another 2,500 hotel rooms, or 375 per year. If the entrance road were paved, he estimated that those numbers could quadruple.

But local officials aren´t likely to let that happen. They hope to implement some changes to local laws in order to put a reasonable cap on tourism and development.

¨We are trying to work (to) regulate tourism,¨ Castro said. ¨That is a big project, but it is necessary.¨ He pointed to the regulations already in place at some of the local reserves as an example of what the district of Monteverde could do. For instance, the Monteverde Reserve only allows in 160 people at one time. The district of Monteverde could implement a similar system. One proposal for regulating local tourism that has already been discussed is creating a local visitor center a mile from downtown Santa Elena, which has the highest population of the three villages in Monteverde.

The visitor center would have an information booth and include a parking lot for people with out-of-town vehicles. Tourists would then be bused to their preferred destination, whether it was one of the local reserves or a hotel. A preliminary design for such a project was prepared last year by a group of landscape architects participating in the Sustainable Futures Program at the Monteverde Institute.

In addition, in an attempt to improve the way it deals with tourism and also to promote itself, Monteverde officials signed an agreement earlier this year with Estes Park, Colorado, making it a sister city. Estes Park officials will be offering advice to Monteverde officials and to those in the tourism industry. Estes Park is adjacent to the east entrance of the much-visited Rocky Mountain National Park.

Monteverde Reserve Director Ricardo Rodriguez Barth said that Estes Park administrators will help provide advice on dealing with the growing number of visitors, including advice on educational programs and dealing with issues such as garbage. The Monteverde Reserve is one of the popular park destinations in Costa Rica and received 67,518 visitors last year. Barth said he would be in favor of paved roads if the proper preparations were made. But he would like to see the last three kilometers leading to preserve have a gravel surface.

The main reason he would like that section to remain unpaved is that if vehicles were able to travel at high speeds within the cloud forest, it could result in a high number of kills among the local wildlife population. ¨We're looking forward to avoiding that here,¨ he said. Local officials are also working at implementing new zoning regulations to help control growth and protect natural resources. An uncontrolled boom in development could threaten local water supplies in the cloud forest region, in addition to affecting the local culture.

¨I don´t want gambling halls and casinos,¨ said Wendy Rockwell, a Quaker and member of the local 

Photos by Mike Lynch
Workmen prepare drains and curbs for new roads in Monteverde area.

city council. ¨I think there is a lot of zoning that has to happen so the community has some say.¨

But Ms. Rockwell said that change was inevitable and she ¨didn´t have a problem¨ paving the road to Monteverde. Though she did say higher populations have led to an increase in pollution. Local officials may have to deal with the fact that Monteverde’s tourism season is also its dry season, which means more water is being used when less is available.

"Is [water availability] a problem yet? I don’t think so," said Silvia Newell, who is conducting several local water studies through the Monteverde Institute. "Will it be a problem? Almost inevitably." 

Ms. Newell said that if the population increases and there is a significant increase in visitors that Monteverde may have to look into constructing a water tank for the dry season. Another option, she said, would be the larger hotels to construct their own. Newell said Monteverde residents and businesses will also have to come up with an effective way of dealing with graywater. Many residences and businesses are currently releasing untreated graywater into the environment, where it flows into roadside ditches, and eventually into local rivers and streams.

"Graywater is a significant polluter," said Jason Niebler, a teacher at the Monteverde Institute. Bernardo Pachecho, who owns Bernardo’s restaurant and the Pura Vida Internet Café, said he believes that better access roads will lead to a larger population and introduce more drugs and crime in this relatively isolated region. ¨People want the roads paved because they want more money,¨ said Pachecho. ¨I don´t think we really need it. It´s been unpaved for the last 50 years and it works.¨

In the meantime, construction crews from the ministry and Gavilan Corp. began work on local roads in early September. Suarez said that about 2.5 kilometers of local roads in Monteverde will be paved with asphalt by late October or early November. The roads were chosen because they receive a lot of traffic and are in hilly sections that often get washed out during the rainy season. 

By putting down asphalt on these sections the district could save money for itself and its residents who own vehicles. Suarez said that presently the district has to repair some sections as many as six times a year. He estimates that maintenance of local roads costs about 200 million colons annually ($445,000). Paving the 2.5 kilometers will only cost about 150 million colons ($335,000), Suarez said.

He said about 90 percent of that bill is being paid for by the ministry. In addition, paving the roads could cut down on dust during the dry summer months, a problem that some believe is causing health problems. ¨According to the clinic, there is a high rate of asthma and other breathing disorders,¨ Rockwell said.

One of the few concerns residents have about paving roads in Monteverde is that there will be an increase in local traffic accidents. With the potholes many drivers already approach a high level of speed, often passing cars and finding themselves on the left side of the road when driving between the villages of Santa Elena and Monteverde.

Still the paving of local roads is a reality that many might not believe until the job is completed. ¨When you talk about paved roads no one believes you,¨ Suarez said. ¨We have been talking about it for 25 years. Now it´s true.¨


 
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U.S. launches attack against counterfeit products
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services
and special reports

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States is launching a new crackdown on counterfeit goods that cost U.S. businesses hundreds of billions of dollars each year. 

Whether it is a fake Rolex watch or a cheap copy of a Zippo lighter, the trade in counterfeit and pirated goods is growing around the world and U.S. officials say they are determined to stop it.

Monday, U.S. Commerce Secretary Don Evans and other top officials announced a new program called STOP, which stands for Strategy Targeting Organized Piracy, at a news conference here.

"We will stop trade in fakes at American borders," he said. "We will raise the stakes for international property thieves. We will work closely with the private sector to keep fakes out of the global supply chains. We will dismantle criminal enterprises that steal intellectual property."

The fake products trade has exploded in recent years and involves a range of goods, including fake parts for cars and planes, cigarettes, perfume and even birth control pills.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates the trade in fraudulent goods cost American businesses more than $250 billion last year alone. Worldwide, estimates for the sales of fake goods go as high as $600 billion or about 7 percent of world trade.

Zippo, the Pennsylvania lighter manufacturer, said that a flood of Chinese counterfeit lighters was hurting its business and costing jobs, Evans said. "One job for every 20,000 counterfeit lighters."

Some of the products are also dangerous. He cited faulty brake pads for automobiles that quickly deteriorate and batteries made so cheaply they could blow up under sunlight.

"Last year, law enforcement agents seized hundreds of thousands of counterfeit batteries, which contained unsafe levels of mercury and were so poorly manufactured that exposure to sunlight could result in the explosion of the battery," said U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft.

U.S. officials expressed particular concern about China, a leading producer of pirated goods. But U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick says that in the age of the Internet, there is worldwide potential for fraudulent products hitting the market place very quickly.

"This is now real time theft," he said. "A counterfeit operation can get a new design and produce copies, without regard to quality or safety, and ship them within 24 hours. And it is our small- and medium-sized businesses that have been most vulnerable and least able to defend themselves."

 The new crackdown on fake goods involves a task force from several U.S. government agencies as well as cooperation from private companies and from a host of countries around the world. 


 
Powell visits Brazil and praises peacekeeper role
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is in Brazil on a two-day visit that will include talks with President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva on key regional issues, including the crisis in Haiti and relations with Venezuela. On his way home on Wednesday, Powell stops in Grenada to underline U.S. support for relief and rebuilding in the storm-wracked Caribbean.

Despite seeming ideological differences with Brazil's leftist government, Powell says the Bush administration has established a close relationship with President Lula, underlined by his White House visit in June. 

In a talk with reporters en route to Sao Paulo, the secretary paid tribute to what he said is the leadership role being played by Brazil in the hemisphere, including its command of peacekeeping forces in Haiti and efforts with other members of the informal "Friends of Venezuela" group that helped ease the political crisis in that country.

Powell made clear the United States is looking forward to a better relationship with Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez following his victory in August in a recall referendum. 

He said he is gratified that the country's political conflict appears to have been settled in a constitutional manner, while again rejecting the idea the United States helped foment opposition to Chavez.

"The people of Venezuela have had their opportunity to decide how they wanted to move forward, and they did it in a constitutional means and we're supporting them," he said. "So the suggestion that somehow the United States is the cause of whatever difficulties exist in Venezuela, I don't think it's accurate. There were legitimate 

grievances that opposition parties had, and they were worked out, worked through, in a constitutional manner."

Under questioning, Powell said he looks for an early resolution to the dispute between Brazil and the International Atomic Energy Agency over inspectors' access to Brazilian uranium-enrichment facilities.

Brazil has said it is resisting full inspections to protect industrial secrets concerning its enrichment techniques. 

Powell said Brazil should work with the IAEA to "satisfy" its need for oversight, but that the United States has "no concerns" about Brazil becoming a nuclear proliferator, or moving in the direction of anything other than peaceful nuclear power.

The secretary had a series of meetings in Sao Paulo and goes to Brasilia today for his talks with President Lula and Foreign Minister Celso Amorim.

He disclosed in the airborne news conference that he will pay a brief visit to Grenada Wednesday to show support for the island state, where 90 per cent of the buildings were damaged and thousands left homeless last month by Hurricane Ivan.

The United States has delivered or committed nearly $five million in aid for Grenada, and the administration is asking Congress for $50 million in recovery assistance for the broader Caribbean, including flood-ravaged Haiti.

Powell said he had considered a stop in Haiti also, but noted that U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson had just completed a visit Sunday. He said he did not want to "overload" the storm-ravaged country with two U.S. cabinet visits in less than a week. 


 
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