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These stories were published Thursday, Oct. 6, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 198
Jo Stuart
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A.M. Costa Rica/Joe Taylor
These Friends School students make the most of 15 consecutive days of rain in Monteverde by participating in the slippery business of mud sliding. By late
Wednesday afternoon, the rain had subsided, as it had elsewhere in the dreched country. See our story,

Revived rail commuter train begins as freebie
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The long-awaited commuter train between Pavas and Montes de Oca will open to the public Friday and the first day will be free, said Miguel Carabaguíaz, president of the Instituto Costarricense de Ferrocarriles.  

Carabaguíaz also announced plans to start a train between Cartago and San José and another between Heredia and the capital, but he didn't stipulate when the public can expect to see those. 

For the whole route from Tropigas in Pavas to Universidad Latina in San Pedro, commuters can expect to pay 300 colons.  Half the route from either station to the centro will cost 150 colons and smaller trips will cost 100 colons, Carabaguíaz said.

The stops from Pavas to San Pedro are Tropigas in Pavas, Villa Esperanza, La Jack's,
 La Sabana, Cemeterio, Estación Pacifico, Plaza Víquez, Museo Nacional, Universidad Estatal a Distancia and, finally, the Universidad Latina in San Pedro.  There is no stop close to the downtown, although the Museo stop will be just a block from the courts complex.

Carabaguíaz said that each stop will have a 50-meter covered area for passengers to wait.  Tickets will be bought on the car, and officials hope that they will eventually be able to sell weekly and monthly passes. 

Carabaguíaz also said tránsito officers will be posted at each one of the 53 road crossings  during the first few days and that at least one Fuerza Pública officer will be in each car for security. 

The trains mix with motor traffic on Avenida Principal in east San José, and previous experiments have led to collisions with vehicles.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 198

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Zoellick sees creeping coup
Nicaragua's Bolaños

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

An alliance of corrupt politicians seeking to gain power by undermining the democratically elected president of Nicaragua now threatens the future of the Central American nation, said Robert Zoellick, U.S. deputy secretary of state.

During his visit Tuesday to Nicaragua, Zoellick — the United States' second-ranking diplomat — met with Nicaraguan President Enrique Bolaños and other senior officials to discuss the country's ongoing political crisis. Zoellick also spoke with reporters at press conferences in Nicaragua's capital city of Managua, where he warned of stark consequences if undemocratic forces are allowed to prevail in Nicaragua.

Voicing strong U.S. support for the embattled Bolaños administration, Zoellick aimed his remarks at Nicaraguan opposition leaders who are attempting to force passage of new laws that would strip Bolaños and his cabinet members of their constitutional immunity from prosecution. Such measures, says the U.S. State Department, are intended to allow Bolaños' political opponents to bring him to trial on bogus charges, thus enabling them to seize control of the government.

Nicaragua's "promising future is threatened by a creeping coup," said Zoellick. "It is threatened by corruption. It is threatened by a clique of caudillos."

The caudillos referenced are Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega and Nicaragua's former right-wing president, Arnoldo Alemán, along with their followers. Alemán was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2003 for looting the national treasury, but recently was released from confinement. Analysts explain that Ortega and Alemán formed a left-right alliance against Bolaños in response to Bolaños' efforts to crack down on government corruption in Nicaragua. Ortega heads the Frente Sandinista para la Liberación Nacional.

Denouncing the "corrupt pact" between Ortega and Alemán, Zoellick emphatically rejected any notion of U.S. accommodation with an authoritarian regime in Nicaragua. "There's going to be no deal here with Alemán on the part of the United States," he said, describing the former president as a convicted criminal.

Under the Alemán-Ortega pact, which dates from the 1990s, the two men agreed to have their parties split control over the courts, legislature and other agencies, freezing out small parties in Nicaragua. While many polls show that Alemán and Ortega are deeply unpopular with Nicaraguan voters, they have managed to maintain control of their parties and have encouraged laws to keep most of their rivals off the ballots.

The Washington Post, in an editorial published Monday, recalled Ortega's "ruinous attempt to install a Marxist dictatorship" in Nicaragua 15 years ago, and noted that "allegations of corruption and child molestation" continue to haunt Ortega. But neither Ortega's two electoral defeats in Nicaragua, nor his "single-digit rating in opinion polls," has prevented him from insinuating himself into Nicaragua's political process, the Post said. "Thanks to the weakness of the country's new democratic institutions, Mr. Ortega is close to regaining power and to broadening the Latin alliance of undemocratic states now composed [of] Cuba and Venezuela."

In his comments to reporters in Managua, Zoellick observed that the machinations of Alemán and Ortega pose a grave risk to Nicaragua's prospects, and he was unflinchingly direct about the price to be paid if they succeed in overthrowing a legitimate president. A $175 million U.S. grant and other funding will be blocked if Nicaraguan leaders continue to support Alemán and Ortega in "a corrupt process where you remove a democratically elected president from power," he said. Zoellick added that the United States would work to halt aid from other sources, as well.
At the same time, Zoellick pronounced himself "heartened" by evidence that "the people of Nicaragua seem to be recognizing this threat to democracy," since "the ability to get tens of thousand of people, even hundreds of thousands . . . in the streets in vocal demonstrations, is to me an encouraging sign that the people of Nicaragua want the democracy that they fought so hard to achieve in the past."

Zoellick noted that the United States already has revoked the U.S. visas of Alemán and several of Alemán's relatives and allies, and he warned that others, too, could face international travel bans.

"The United States will not welcome corrupt people" to its shores, he said. Many leading members of Aleman's Partido Liberal Constitutionalista had been exiled to the United States during Nicaragua's Sandinista era of the 1980s, and have close business and family ties in the United States.

Finally, he said, Aleman and Ortega represent the corrupt policies of the past, while Bolaños represents a hopeful future of democratic governance and economic development for Nicaragua. Zoellick praised Bolaños's stand against corruption, stressing that "the corrupt and selfish interests" of the Aleman-Ortega faction lead only to "a dead end for Nicaragua."

Jews celebrate High Holy Days

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican Jews are celebrating the High Holy Days leading up to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which this year begings at sunset Oct. 12.

Tuesday was Rosh Hashanah, generally known as the Jewish New Year, this year being 5766. And just as it has for thousands of years, the blast of the ram's horn, or shofar, is heard in synagogues worldwide, calling all Jews to prayer and repentance.

Baby in hospital with fractures

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Officers with the Judicial Investigating Organization are looking into the circumstances that brought an 18-day-old girl to the Hospital de Niños from Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí.  The infant had bruises and 10 fractures in her head and body.  She remains in intensive care.   

U.S. Embassy closed Monday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The U.S. Embassy in San José will be closed Monday as that nation marks Columbus Day, a legal holiday.
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Flooding was bad but most businesses plan for rain
By Jesse Froehling
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The storm situation in Costa Rica, generated by hurricanes Stan and Rita, pales in comparison to much of the rest of Central America.  And while the central Pacific, Guanacaste and parts of the Central Valley were drenched by the storms, many foreigners here who rely on tourism for an income quietly ride out heavy seasonal rains.

Hurricane Stan killed at least 72 persons in Central America including two in Costa Rica, A.M. Costa Rica's wire services said.  The short-lived Category One hurricane slammed into Mexico's Gulf Coast Tuesday, knocking down trees and ripping roofs off houses with winds that reached 80 mph.  Rains from the storm caused mudslides in El Salvador that killed at least 49 persons.  Mudslides and flooding also caused at least 12 deaths in Guatemala, and nine more in Nicaragua, the wire services said.  Tuesday, the Río Sardinal swept away a young boy.  His body was found some 10 kilometers downstream.  Another woman in Naranjo de Alajuela died when a mudslide destroyed her home.

Like Costa Rica, thousands of persons throughout low-lying areas in the rest of Central America were forced to evacuate.  Stan also caused Mexican authorities to close all three of the country's Gulf coast crude-oil loading ports as a precaution and flooding devastated the southern-most state of Chiapas, the wire services said. 

However, foreigners here who depend on tourism said that although it's raining a little more than normal, this time of year is generally slow so their businesses haven't suffered much, if at all.

Steve Broyles sells real estate in Tamarindo.  He said that business is slow this time of year because people don't want to spend their vacations in the rain.  However, a savvy business owner can make the most of the rainy season by catching up on unfinished business.  Several large hotels close this time of year for repairs and cleaning anyway, he said.  So these rains don't hurt their business at all.  In his brokerage, although the number of new contracts that he writes is lower this time of year, he can close several that are pending, he said.  But no matter how much one prepares, the rain can still cause problems.

“I have a client who has been trying to get an air conditioner installed for a week,” he said.  “But it's always raining too hard.  No one wants to work with electricity in a downpour.”
Dave Corredor agrees.  He owns the Ripjack Inn in Playa Grande.  Grande lies a swim across the river and a half-hour walk along the beach north from Tamarindo.  He said that he does a lot of business with locals as well as foreigners so even if less tourists are coming to Tamarindo, it's worth it for him to keep his establishment open.

“Even if I lose money, it's ok,”  he said.  “I like giving people a place to go and it's fun hanging out with people during the rainy season.” 

However, some tourism operators haven't been so lucky.  Elena Ross owns Fina Amanecer in Londres about 10 miles east of Quepos.  She said that some of the nearby horseback tours have to take their clients to alternative locations because the waterfalls, which are large tourist attractions, have been destroyed.

“The rappelling tour, by Río Savegre, will be shut down for a while as the river jumped it's bank and destroyed lots of the forest, and 1.5 miles of their road is now a riverbed,” she wrote.  She is on the Naranjo River watershed and although residents there received rain, they were lucky to evade the beating that the Savegre watershed received.

The Quebrada Arollo, which is part of an 85-acre community based eco-tourism project, has closed due to the rain as has the Dream Forest Canopy Tour further down the watershed, she said.  

One area that does affect tourism is the durability of the roads.  Broyles said that he drove through Filadelfia last week and a foot of water stood on the main highway.  The land surrounding the town is mostly sugar cane he added, and therefore flat.  So when the surrounding rivers breach their banks even a small amount, the resulting overflows can seep far into the surrounding areas. 

However, the road may have improved since then.  Barry Lawson owns the Villa Alegre Hotel in Tamarindo.  Wednesday was sunny, he said and the whole town dried out, which he said is normal. 

He said he drove to Liberia and the drive was fine but Corredor said the road between Belen and Huacas is pretty ugly.  The big holes in the pavement can make a commute between those two towns twice as long, he said.  

In San José officials said that repairs were coming next week for another road to a beach resort.  They said holes in the road to Playas del Coco would be filled.

Mexican writer will give a presentation Oct. 17 on Cervantes' Quixote
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

To celebrate the 400th birthday of Miguel Cervantes' masterpiece, Don Quixote de la Mancha, Mexican writer Fernando del Paso will speak in the Teatro Nacional.

Paso, who has written much about the Idealistic horseman from La Mancha, is planning his talk for Oct. 17 at 5 p.m.  The title is “Nada es verdad ni es
mentira (Nothing is true or is a lie.”  Entrance is free.

The 70-year-old Mexican writer is known throughout Latin America for his narratives and essays, said organizers.  He published his first novel, “José Trigo,” in 1966.  Other works include “Palinuro de México” and “Noticias de Imperio.”  He has also written two short children's books.  In addition, he has worked in various literary positions in the United States and London as well as Mexico. 

Despite decreases, malaria still considered a concern
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Malaria remains a public health problem in the Americas despite an overall reduction in recent years in malaria cases around the region, says the Pan American Health Organization.

The health organization said an estimated 40 million people in the region live in areas of moderate and high risk of contracting malaria.  About 1 million cases of malaria in the Americas have been reported annually since 1997, said the organization,  Malaria is an infectious disease transmitted to humans by the bite of infected mosquitoes, and continues to be endemic in countries with tropical climates. 

The findings were made in a 20-page report presented at a September conference in Washington of health ministers of the Americas.  The report is "Malaria and the Internationally Agreed-Upon Development Goals, Including Those Contained in the [U.N.] Millennium Declaration." 

The Pan American Health Organization said that despite the reduction in the overall incidence of malaria, the disease "still constitutes a public health problem" in the Americas, "with a disparity in the outcome of efforts in different countries related to a number of factors."

Among those factors are variations in ecological conditions, diagnostic and treatment coverage, and
weaknesses in national health systems of various countries in the Western Hemisphere.
The Pan American Health Organization report said that of the 865 million people in the Americas, about 250 million live in areas at "ecological risk" of malaria transmission.

The report said that of 21 countries in the Americas where malaria is endemic, 15 reported decreases in the numbers of cases of the disease between 2000 and 2004.  However, the agency said six countries reported increases of malaria cases: Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Guyana, Panama, Peru and Venezuela.

The U.S. Agency for International Development has been a leader in the global effort to control malaria since the 1950s, and is the U.S. government's lead agency for implementing malaria prevention and treatment programs in affected countries around the world.  Between 1998 and 2005, USAID increased its annual commitment to fighting malaria around the world from $22 million to $89 million.

USAID in 2001 launched a five-year program called the "Amazon Malaria Initiative” to prevent the spread of malaria in the Amazon Basin region of Latin America.  The program has a budget of about $2 million per year and involves eight target countries: Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela.

The program was launched, according to USAID, in recognition of the fact that "there is little control over population migration between countries in the Amazon region."

U.S. high court hears case of doctor-assisted suicide
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday in a case involving the emotionally wrenching issue of doctor-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients.

At issue is a law in the western state of Oregon, the only state that allows terminally ill people to ask their doctors to prescribe a lethal dose of drugs.

Since 1997 when Oregon's Death With Dignity Act took effect, 208 people have requested medical help to end their lives.

The case before the Supreme Court is likely to hinge on the narrow legal question of whether the power to regulate physician-assisted suicide rests with the federal government or the individual states.

In 2001, then Attorney General John Ashcroft decided that the use of lethal drugs to help people in Oregon end their lives was a violation of federal drug laws. The Bush administration also argues that assisted suicide is incompatible with a doctor's role as a healer.

State officials in Oregon argue that the federal government has overstepped its authority. Mary Williams was among those arguing on behalf of the state of Oregon before the Supreme Court.

"Nowhere did Congress say that they wanted to make that kind of transformation of power from the states regulating medical practice to the U.S. Attorney General regulating medical practice," said Ms. Williams.

The assisted suicide law first won public approval in Oregon in 1994 by a narrow 51 percent majority. Some 60 percent of voters rejected an attempt to repeal the law three years later.

Right-to-life groups support the Bush administration's effort to stop doctor-assisted suicides in Oregon.
The issue often generates fierce debate on television and radio call-in programs.

"First and foremost, I do not think we have a constitutional right to murder ourselves. I have yet to find it anywhere in the Bill of Rights," said a listener.

Diane Coleman is with a group that opposes the Oregon law called Not Dead Yet. She says the states should be not in the business of encouraging sick people to end their lives.

"And instead of discouraging you and telling you how valuable your life is, we are going to agree with you and make sure you do not mess it up. We are going to give you the means to do it," she added. "That is a very dangerous message to people who have severe impairments, whether they are terminal or not."

Supporters of the Oregon law counter that it should be up to those who are terminally ill to decide when to ask for help to end their lives.

"A fraction of dying patients, even with excellent pain and symptom management, face a dying process that is so prolonged and marked by such extreme deterioration and suffering that for them having the choice for a peaceful and humane death on their own time, on their own terms, is the least worst alternative," added Kathryn Tucker, who is with a national group called Compassion and Choices.

In 1997, the Supreme Court found that terminally ill people do not have a constitutional right to physician-assisted suicide. But the court also gave states the option to experiment with the issue.

The case is considered the first major issue to come before the high court under the leadership of new Chief Justice John Roberts, who replaced the late William Rehnquist.

The Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling in this latest assisted suicide case sometime in the next few months.

George Bush will head south to visit three countries in November
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The White House says President George Bush will travel to Argentina, Brazil and Panamá next month.

A statement issued Wednesday said the president will visit Argentina from Nov. 3 through 5 to meet with President Nestor Carlos Kirchner, and to attend the Summit of the Americas in Mar del Plata.

That summit will bring together 34 democratically 
elected heads of state and government from North, Central and South America.

The White House says Bush will promote open markets, free trade and what it calls the "consolidation of democracy" in the region.

Afterward, Bush is to visit Brazil on Nov. 5 and 6 at the invitation of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. He then is expected to go to Panama to meet with President Martin Torrijos Espino.

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