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These stories were published Monday, Oct. 7, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 198
Jo Stuart
About us
What's important
and what's not
 A survey of news events 
that will really matter

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A curious situation took place at a recent meeting of North Americans. The topic was the International Law Enforcement Academy, and several U.S. citizens blamed the news media for not reporting on the issue.

In fact, there have been many stories in both the Spanish press and in A.M. Costa Rica. What
happened was an example of selective attention. People have a tendency to pay attention to those news events that are of interest to them at the moment.

Newspapers and television stations cater to this human characteristic. They emphasize transitory events at the expense of those that shape our world. Does it really matter if Saprissa wins a soccer game? Probably not. 

Although the International Law Enforcement Academy is controversial, the hemispheric school for police officers that may be located here is less important than other situations that make the news.

What follows is an attempt to list those situations that will shape the destiny of Costa Rica and the English-speakers who live here:

No. 1: The Brothers: North Americans await clues to the future of the high-interest investment firm called "The Brothers" and run as a sole proprietorship by Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho. The government continues to investigate the firm, although there probably is no legal link between it and the adjacent Ofinter S.A. That firm had Canadian customers who turned out to be suspected money launderers and drug dealers.

So many North Americans have invested in this firm that its frozen bank accounts are causing a significant negative impact on the economy.

No. 2: The general Costa Rican economy: The country is broke, notes President Abel Pacheco, and he wants more taxes to offset a growing annual deficit. Deputies are considering an interim plan that does not tax North American pensions. A final plan may do that as well as create a value-added tax far broader than the current 13 percent sales tax. Meanwhile, the country really cannot afford the social rights guaranteed to the public in the constitution.

No. 3: The real estate market: A weakening economy means weakening real estate prices. Since Sept. 11 and the terrorist attacks in the United States, real estate has been a buyer’s market. Further weakening is possible, except perhaps on the Pacific coast.

No. 4: Crime and security: As the economy shows, signs of stress, more street crime and break-ins are likely. More sophisticated crimes, such as so-called express kidnappings are being imported from other countries.

No. 5: Property ownership: For North Americans who buy a home here, the uncertainty of real estate records in the Registro Nacional is a concern. Despite new computerized systems, some homeowners fear they will be scammed out of their property with forged documents.

No. 6: Corruption: Pacheco wants to fight it, but he, too, is involved in an investigation of who donated to his presidential campaign. One $30,000 check came from a company in the free trade zone in Panamá.

No. 7: The environment: The government has proposed constitutional amendments that would place environmental protection ahead of much development. Approval will change the face of Costa Rica. No one knows if the change will be good or bad, thanks to the law of unintended consequences.

No. 8: Mineral extraction: Pacheco has put the breaks on oil drilling and open-pit gold mining. He believes that the country should sacrifice potential income in favor of the environment. Courts may eventually rule otherwise.

No. 9: Tourism: North Americans are heavily involved in tourism. New taxes on lodgings and at the airport as well as new international competition might have negative impacts. Pacheco wants to nearly triple the number of tourists within the next 10 years, but plans to do so are vague.

No. 10: The weather: Population increases mean construction in risky areas and 

subsequent tragedies as nature obeys the law of gravity. Lack of building and zoning enforcement means such problems will continue.

No. 11: Drugs and guns: Costa Rica continues to be a transit point for illegal guns going south and illegal drugs going north. This trade has the intense focus of the United States and 
causes the country to insist that Costa Rica maintain a high state of enforcement, perhaps taking resources away from other criminal investigations.

No. 12: Money laundering: Connected with the drug and arms trades are international attempts, urged by the United States, to keep track of the money flow. Coupled with this is the intense U.S. desire to tax every penny possible. Such pressure might result in changes in the law here.

No. 13: Free trade pacts: Costa Rica has approved a free-trade agreement with Canada. The United States seeks a free-trade agreement with Central America, and negotiations already have started. By 2005, the Western Hemisphere is supposed to be united in one free trade zone.

Some see this as U.S. imperialism. Others welcome the reduction of import duties and predict higher employment. Costa Rica generates much revenue from customs duties. That’s also considered the most corrupt branch of government, according to surveys of Ticos. Free trade agreements might eliminate many of the Costa Rican government monopolies, like telephone, Internet and insurance.

No. 14: Health: Closely linked to the economy is the personal health of citizens and residents. A government under financial stress cannot support adequately its hospitals. Yet Costa Rica with its stability and lower prices has an opportunity to be the nursing home to the world, an opportunity that is not being fully exploited.

Challenges include control of dengue and other insect-born diseases, the quest for pure water, the fight against venereal diseases, including HIV/AIDS and better maternal care.

No. 15: Casino and sports gambling: One of the few sectors of the local economy that is doing well is that composed by sports books and online casinos. Such firms employ thousands of multilingual Costa Ricans. Naturally, the government wants to levy confiscatory taxes, and the United States would like these firms to disappear in favor of taxable gambling within the 50 states.

No. 16: Child welfare: Homeless children are fixtures in Costa Rican cities. Some efforts are being made to take the youngsters from the streets, but personal liberty and a life of petty thefts and drugs has its allure. The youngsters are the result of drug traffic, prostitution and broken families. The government has little money to help. Some of the country’s future probably will be lost.

No. 17: The world economy: Financial developments elsewhere have a big influence on Costa Rica, its principal exports, tourism and spendable income of foreigners here. As the U.S. economy stagnates, so will some sectors of the economy in Costa Rica.

No. 18: Agriculture: Local products and imports dictate the way Costa Ricans eat. Challenges include competition in the world market for exports, genetic modification of plants, management of killer bees and control of coffee diseases and other forms of plant plagues.

No. 19: Immigration: War, famine and other tragedies cause greater immigration to Costa Rica, some legal and some not. Nicaragua, Colombia and Argentina are strongly represented among the new arrivals. North Americans gripe about new residency rules, but most were imposed to curb immigration from elsewhere.

No. 20: Terrorism: No nation is immune to the type of tragedy that hit the United States a year ago. There is no reason to believe that the terrorist plague will not spread to Costa Rica for some political reason or other. Already guerrilla groups are making incursions into Panamá from northern Colombia. That’s not that far away.

What have we missed? Send your suggestions to the editor.

Police grab pair involved in deadly shootout
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators have arrested two men, including a 16-year-old, as suspected members of a kidnapping band that engaged agents in a shootout Friday. Two men, one a Judicial Investigating Organization agent, and the second a presumed kidnapper, died in the shootout near Guápiles.

An intense search in the area for two men who fled ended early Sunday when agents raided the house of one of the men and found both suspects there. The house was near Guápiles.

The second man was 24 years old, agents said. Both are Costa Rican.

The dead agent is José Rafael Gómez Aguilar, who worked as a judicial investigator in Guápiles for nearly 15 years. He was buried Saturday in a ceremony attended by the first vice president, Lineth Saborío, a former director of the Judicial Investigating Organization. He left a wife and five children.

Agents have identified the dead kidnapper as Carlos Ortega Medrano, 29, a Nicaraguan and the presumed leader of the gang of kidnappers.

The events leading up to the shooting are complex. Three men tried to kidnap the son of the owner of a ranch a week ago. They failed because the boy was not there, but they managed to threaten some hired hands.

Friday they were spotted presumably on their way to try again, and Gómez was nearby warning other farm owners of the possibility of kidnapping.  When employees alerted police, Gómez came to the farm where he confronted the man now identified as Ortega, who was threatening to kill a farm worker.

Both died in the ensuing shootout and two other members of the band fled.

The shooting of the investigator reverberated through the country and even to Los Angeles where President Abel Pacheco was awaiting a flight to Taiwan. He expressed his outrage.

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Creepy crime museum unsettles the stomach
By Christian Burnham
and Bryan Kay
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Museo de Criminología has all the markings of a sleepy museum filled with dusty relics that time forgot. A sweet lady stationed at the door greets visitors and encourages them to sign the registry while knitting a doily and humming to herself quietly.

But what lies beyond the entrance is an expansive collection of the macabre, some of which would make even the late P. T. Barnum queasy. Step right up, ladies and gentleman, for the most gruesome show in San José.

Located on the second floor of the Office of Judicial Investigation building, the Museo de Criminología is chock full of illicit material straight off the crime scene. The tiny museum displays a battery of firearms and other weaponry as well as other evidence of wrongdoing, including a collection of confiscated drug paraphernalia.

One case contains an aging human skeleton to illustrate how forensic scientists establish dates. Another shows grim proof of an arson case.

Zulay Henesel, the museum’s clerk, said the bulk of the visitors come on school trips. Despite its educational intentions, very little information accompanies the oddities housed in the museum’s display cases.

The Museo de Criminología opened 22 years ago. What the general idea is behind the museum is anyone’s guess. Probably not education. One good reason why: any parent who takes their kids there had better know a good psychologist.

One corner of the museum resembles the laboratory of a mad scientist replete with organs floating in jars of formaldehyde. That’s where an entire wall is plastered with gruesome snapshots of murder victims. One depicts human limbs being pulled out of an alligator’s stomach.

Manuel Alonso Arriola Locoyo contemplates just saying no.

The museum’s most shocking attraction is a display of two baby fetuses. Anyone entering shortly after eating is advised to carry a small bag.

Visitor Manuel Alonso Arriola Locoyo, 14, who attends Liceo de Calle Fallas, a school in Desamparados, said: “There’s a lot of strange things in this place.”

So if you’re the kind of person who slows down to check out the carnage of traffic accidents, this museum is right up your alley. The Museo de Criminología is open from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Admission is free.

Ailing Costa Rican boy to be aided by Shriners
By Bryan Kay
of the A. M. Costa Rica staff

A boy from Ciudad Neily, near the Panamanian frontier, has been given the chance to have his congenital birth defect moderated by specialists in the United States. This came about as a result of a chance meeting with a former New York police officer.

Carlos G. Verela, 7, who suffers from a congenital birth defect whereby he has no fingers on his left hand, met Robert McInnes, while the ex-policeman took a trip to Panama. He was introduced to the 7-year-old through an intermediary, McInnes said.

The meeting took place two years ago, and McInnes said he decided he wanted to help Verela. He started by speaking to a doctor in New York, who referred him to Shriner’s Hospital in Philadelphia, Pa.

McInnes, who lives in Santa Ana, has now taken steps to have the boy’s situation remedied. He has contacted Shriners Hospital, that specializes in orthopedic problems in children. The hospital has a team who will work on Verela’s case.

The operation involves the removal of several of the boy’s toes, and then placing them onto his left hand, said McInnes.

There are a number of individuals and organizations involved in the boy’s trip in addition to McInnes and Shriners Hospitals. They are Health Visions Corp., Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 11207 and McInnes wife Greetl.  Ms. McInnes will accompany Verela, said McInnes. The boy’s mother can’t travel with him because of other family commitments, he said.

McInnes, originally from New York, is now looking to garner more donations and sponsors to cover the cost of the rehabilitation period.

McInnes, a qualified nurse, said that he also has a verbal agreement with an unnamed company who has offered to cover the cost of air travel to Philadelphia. 

Host for Hospitals, a recovery unit, has also been contacted as the possible location where Carlos would be housed for his recovery period. His traveling companion, Ms McInnes, would also be housed there. The period of recovery is as yet unknown.

“The one concern we have is that the boy will be traveling sometime this winter. Harsh weather then might be a problem,” said McInnes.

Shriners Hospitals have locations throughout North America. The Philadelphia branch where Varela will receive his treatment specializes in children’s orthopedics and spinal cord injuries. It opened in June, 1924. 

There are 22 Shriners Hospitals in total. Anyone can refer a child to the Philadelphia hospital. 

Procedures are completely free. Additionally, the specialists who work on the procedures are volunteers.

According to a posting on the Shriners Hospitals Web site: “The committee named to determine the site and personnel for the Shriners Hospital decided, after months of research and debate, that there should be not just one hospital but a network of hospitals throughout North America. It was an idea that appealed to the Shriners, who liked to do things in a big and colorful way.”

The Shriners is a branch of the Masonic Lodge. According to their hospitals’ Web site, they have always been dedicated to charitable endeavors.

McInnes can be contacted at rwmcin@racsa.co.cr or at 203-3227.

Bush to address nation
on Iraqi threat tonight

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

CINCINNATI, Ohio — George W. Bush, the United States president, will make a speech on Iraq to the nation tonight, from Cincinnati, Ohio.

Bush will deliver the speech at 6 p.m. (Costa Rican time) from the Cincinnati Museum Center.

The President will talk about the threat Saddam Hussein and Iraq present to world peace, said Ari Fleischer, the press secretary for the White House, adding that Bush "thinks the nation and the Congress will benefit from a discussion of the issues involved and the important moment our nation faces." Fleischer said, "It will be a notable and newsworthy speech."

Bush will give the speech to a seated audience of some 400 to 500 people at an event hosted by the Chamber of Commerce, in conjunction with the United Way and the World Affairs Council of Cincinnati.

The speech will come at the start of the week the U.S. Congress is expected to vote on the proposed Bush compromise resolution on Iraq that authorizes the use of force in Iraq.

President Bush "looks at the debate that is about to begin in the Congress and the vote that is about to take place in the Congress as a part of the great tradition of America's democracy, in which the people's elected representatives speak from their heart, speak on the basis of principle" Fleischer said. "And whether they agree or disagree with the president, they inform the public about their views and why they hold those views.

"And the President sees this as his role as President to similarly speak to the country through this audience in a way that is thoughtful, that is deliberative, so that the issues that the country is asking itself can be addressed by its elected leaders, including the president," Fleischer said.

In a speech in Boston to supporters of Mitt Romney, the Republican Party nominee for governor of Massachusetts, Bush said he wants the United Nations to be effective in disarming Iraq.

Combating corruption
tied to international aid 

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

BRISBANE, Australia — The United States is working with other governments to integrate anti-corruption, accountability and transparency measures into the financial evaluations, aid programs and lending practices of the International Financial Institutions and regional development banks, says a State Department official.

Addressing the International Institute for Ethics Conference Friday in Brisbane, Australia, David Luna, director of anti-corruption and governance initiatives, said an increasing number of people around the world "are clamoring for their governments to break the cycle of corruption, for real reform and accountability, and for a better way of life."

Many countries are moving to address the underlying roots of corruption, he said, singling out Mexico, Singapore, Hong Kong, Botswana, Morocco and several countries in Europe as examples.

He said recent U.S. anti-corruption efforts have focused on:

• establishing internationally accepted anti-corruption norms.

• encouraging governments to do self-evaluations of corruption within their borders.

• enhancing the recognition of corruption as a disincentive to development with domestic and international implications.

• promoting international cooperation.

He added that the United States continues to support several regional anti-corruption efforts in Africa and expects to work on governance issues with the New Partnership for Africa's Development.

Luna said the Bush administration's Millennium Challenge Account will include money for anti-corruption efforts in countries committed to ruling justly, investing in their people, and encouraging economic freedom. The United States also will engage businesses, nongovernmental organizations and independent media in fighting corruption, he said.

U.S. to promote more
free trade in Americas

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Robert B. Zoellick, a United States trade representative, yesterday formally notified congressional leaders of U.S. objectives and goals for the ongoing negotiations in the Free Trade Area of the Americas, saying it was "crucial that we move forward on hemispheric trade negotiations."

Zoellick's letter fulfils the requirements of the recently enacted Trade Act of 2002 and highlights the strong intent of the United States to continue its leadership role in the hemispheric trade negotiations.

 "The FTAA negotiations offer the United States an opportunity to lead the Americas toward stable and continuing economic growth, improved living standards, and higher paying jobs in all FTAA countries. 

By reducing and then eliminating hemispheric trade barriers, the FTAA will provide substantial and growing foreign markets for U.S. goods and services," wrote Zoellick. 

"The FTAA agreement will also strengthen the rule-of-law, solidify economic reform throughout the hemisphere, and reinforce the democratic principles that unite FTAA countries."

Last Monday Zoellick provided Congress with the formal notification for the administration's intent to enter into free trade negotiations with Morocco and five nations of Central America. In addition, Zoellick also notified Congress of the U.S. goals and objectives for completing the final stages of ongoing free trade negotiations with Singapore and Chile.

Costa Rica may forego
Miss World pageant

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Asemblea Nacional has asked Channel 7 not to send Costa Rica’s candidate to the Miss World pageant in Nigeria.

Deputies said they were responding to the decision of the Justice Supreme Court of Nigeria to condemn to death by stoning a woman, Amina Lawal, 31, who had a baby after her divorce. According to the Muslim law of this African country the birth is considered evidence of adultery.

Channel 7 did not respond to inquiries about what it would do as sponsor of the local Miss Costa Rica pageant.

The Miss World event was scheduled to be held Nov. 30 in Nigeria, but protests from Muslim groups have caused organizers to postpone the event until the end of the holy month of Ramadan, according to news reports from Nigeria.

In addition to the date, some Muslim groups are protesting the very basis of the event: women displaying their bodies.

Some groups have vowed to disrupt the pageant, which is now scheduled Dec. 7 after the end of Ramadan.

Shirley Alvarez is Miss Costa Rica Mundo. Channel 7 has the franchise for both the Miss World country finals and the Miss Universe. 

Deputy Juan José Vargas told the legislative body that he already has been in contact with Channel 7 and that officials there said they would try to allow Miss Alvarez to participate next year if she chose not to go this year.

Channel 7 selects both a Miss World candidate and a Miss Universe candidate each year.

The motion in the assembly was presented by Gloria Valerín of the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana.

Computer virus
may be in your inbox

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Bugbear virus may be watching every stroke of the keyboard that a user makes on an infected computer.

Computers are infected by contaminated e-mails. 

The virus works on many levels.  It can access the e-mail addresses stored on a computer’s hard drive and then send itself to all of them.  It can also disable security on a system and allow hackers to attack the computer. 

The wily virus can even see what a user is typing.  It can record a person’s keystrokes, which can reveal important passwords a user typically does not want revealed.

That’s the assessment of computer professionals who even now are gearing up to fight yet another pesky virus. It was discovered a week ago.

According to Symantec Corp., a company that helps computer users combat viruses, the Bugbear virus has already infected over 1,000 computers and has been distributed over a vast geographical area.
Symantec has upgraded the threat level during the last few days.

Most Windows programs are susceptible to attack by the bugbear virus, but Macintosh, Unix and Linux operating systems are not.

Computer users are getting help combating the virus at www.symantec.com where they can download a removal mechanism for the bugbear. Other companies have similar virus protection programs.

The virus arrives as an attachment in an e-mail program. One e-mail mailed to A.M. Costa Rica said the attachment contained photos, but it did not. It contained the virus program.

The e-mail messages accompanying the virus are sophisticated and make you want to open the attachment, thus tiggering the virus.

Caribbean island to hold
third election in 3 years

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad and Tobago — For the third time in as many years, voters go to the polls in Trinidad and Tobago Monday to choose a new government. Trinidadians are facing yet another general election, because the results of the last two were inconclusive. At stake are 36 parliamentary seats contested by 100 candidates.

Over the years, voting in Trinidad has been along racial lines. Forty-one percent of the population is of East Indian descent, largely supporting the United National Congress. The People's National Movement is generally backed by Trinidadians of African descent, who make up 40 percent of the population. 

Over the weekend, the two major parties wound up their campaigns with massive rallies. Prime Minister Patrick Manning, leader of the People’s National Movement, urged uncommitted voters to go out and cast ballots for his party. 

He told a gathering of largely black supporters, his party is the party for all the people of Trinidad and Tobago. Addressing thousands at a competing rally, Basdeo Panday, former prime minister, who heads the United National Congress, expressed confidence his party will be swept back to office. Panday, who was the country's first leader of Indian descent, said one of his main priorities, will be constitutional reform.

In an interview, the 69-year-old lawyer said he was certain that his party will win 20 seats. "The only way the PNM can win," he declared, "is if it terrorizes and prevents constituents from voting on polling day."

While Manning, who is 57, is also optimistic about the results, he would only say: "There is a swing to the PNM and we are going to win." 

The latest published public opinion polls say the election is too close to call. However, over the past two weeks, other surveys have indicated the PNM was ahead in popularity and heading for victory. 

The last election, on Dec. 10 last year, produced an 18-18 tie between the PNM and UNC, deadlocking parliament and triggering a constitutional crisis, that left investors nervous and created instability.

Two weeks later, President Arthur Robinson appointed Manning Prime Minister instead of Panday, who had held the post for six years, beginning in 1995.

Two major issues — corruption in government and the spiraling crime rate — have dominated the five-week election campaign, which has been relatively incident-free. 

In this oil and gas rich two-island country, 40 per cent of the people live below the poverty line. But Manning has predicted that with recent natural gas discoveries, Trinidad and Tobago are on the verge of a new wave of prosperity. 

IRA suspects’ hearing
postponed in Colombia

By the A.M Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — A judge in Colombia has postponed a hearing for three alleged Irish Republican Army (IRA) members accused of training Colombian rebels, after the suspects refused to appear in court. 

Officials announced the decision Friday after Martin McCauley, James Monaghan and Niall Connolly refused to leave their prison cells, saying they feared for their safety. The new court date is for Oct. 16. 

The men were arrested at the airport here 14 months ago. They are accused of spending five weeks in a former stronghold of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and providing weapons training to the insurgents. 

Colombia is in the midst of a 38-year civil war. U.S. officials say U.S. Special Forces will head to Colombia this month to begin efforts to train Colombian forces in counter insurgency.

‘Lili’ leaves behind a beleaguered industry

By the A.M Costa Rica wire services

HAVANA, Cuba — Hurricane Lili battered Cuba's tobacco industry when it roared across the western part of the island this week, destroying many of the buildings used to dry tobacco for the country's world-famous cigars.

Sources in Cuba said the hurricane's strong winds and heavy rains destroyed about 1,800 wooden curing houses in a tobacco-growing area of the western province of Pinar del Rio, leaving about 100 standing. The precise extent of the damage is still being investigated.

Tobacco leaves must be dried several months in curing houses before they are ready to be fashioned into cigars and are useless if not cured correctly.

Cuba's tobacco crop averages about 40,000 tons annually, exporting more than 100 million cigars each year.

Peruvian gunned down

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Killers executed a Peruvian man Sunday when he drove near his apartment in Trejos Montealegre in Escazú. The man was Guillermo Liederman, 46, who has lived in Costa Rica only a few months.

The killing was obvious planned because gunmen were waiting for the man, according to investigators. The gunmen shot through the windshield and the driver’s side window. The victim was hit at least six times, three of them in the face, said investigators.

The shooting calls to mind the execution of radio show producer and host Parmenio Medina Pérez more than a year ago and the execution of two Colombians while they sat in their car during a traffic jam not far from the University of Costa Rica four months ago.

Pacheco visits Taiwan

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Abel Pacheco left Costa Rica Friday afternoon for a state visit to Taiwan. He was accompanied by his wife and Chancellor Roberto Tovar and his wife.

The president is scheduled to return Saturday. 

While he is in Taipei Pacheco will visit a silk production farm and also discuss the investment environment with the Chinese. He also has a visit planned to the RSEA company, the firm building the Puente Amistad over the Río Tampisque in Guanacaste. The bridge will be inaugurated in November.

Taiwan does not have many international friends because of the hostilities beween it and the People’s Republic of China. But Costa Rica has maintained dipolomatic relations.
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Da Silva may be the winner in Brazil's election
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services 

BRASILIA, Brazil — Early partial returns from this country's presidential race Sunday show leftist candidate Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva easily defeated his three main rivals with 47 percent of the vote. This, though, is not enough to avoid a second round later this month. 

In second place is centrist former health minister, Jose Serra, with 25 percent of the vote. 

The returns show da Silva fell short of the absolute majority of votes needed to avoid a second round. The government's candidate, Jose Serra, finished second, thereby getting the chance to run again for the presidency.

Da Silva, a bearded former union leader, came into Sunday's election as a heavy favorite. Making his fourth run for the presidency, da Silva moderated his leftist rhetoric of the past that had brought about his previous defeats.

Instead, he campaigned on promises to revive a 

stagnant economy, and bring change to Brazil,
without a radical shift to the left. 

Serra, a former health minister in the current government, campaigned on promises to create jobs, and maintain the government's free market reforms.

But stagnant economic growth over the past two years hurt his candidacy, and kept his support low. The two candidates will face each other in a runoff election on Oct. 27.

Brazil has a $270-billion public debt. Da Silva has said that if elected, he would replace Central Bank leader Arminio Fraga, the man widely credited with stabilizing Brazil's economy after a sharp currency devaluation in 1999.

Meanwhile, Brazilians’ concerns are being registered as they illicit their votes.

Economic issues are the top concern as Brazilians go to the polls. Former laborer and union leader da Silva could win the presidency in the first round.

A movie review
Great acting saves sleepy gangster flick
“Road to Perdition” is a gangster movie set in the Depression directed by Sam Mendez. He’s the Oscar-winning director of “American Beauty.” The movie stars Hollywood legends Tom Hanks and Paul Newman. With this billing, one’s expectation of a film couldn’t get much higher.

Michael O’Sullivan (played by Hanks) is a hit man for the Irish mafia with ties to Al Capone. O’Sullivan is loyal to two families, his real family and the mob. In order to provide for his wife and sons, he handles the dirty deeds for crime boss John Looney (played by Newman).

The story begins with O’Sullivan’s eldest son, Michael Jr., trying to find out his father’s mysterious profession by secretly following him on a job. Michael Jr. witnesses a shooting by Looney’s backstabbing son, Conner. The man he executes was about to expose him for embezzling from his own family.

The rest of the film is Michael Senior’s attempt to protect his son while he seeks revenge for the murder of his wife and younger son. 

Together, the father and son hit the road on a bank-robbing spree to steal the mob’s money and try to buy back their freedom. The film’s only light-hearted scene is when O’Sullivan teaches his son how to drive the getaway car. 

“Road to Perdition” is a quiet movie, so much so that the crinkling of popcorn bags and people chatting on cell phones is much more audible than usual. The slow-paced beginning and the symphony music-laden score is enough to lull the audience to sleep.

But as the story develops, it starts to reel you in slowly. The movie picks up when a scummy assassin is contracted to kill the father and son. Jude Law’s portrayal as the creepy assassin/press photog who takes pictures of his victims and sells 


them to the local tabloids, breathes some much-needed life into the film.

Although the title promises an action-packed gangster flick, the plot is driven by the uneasy relationship between father and son. The quality acting by Hanks and the boy along with the stunning scenery are the movie’s saving graces.

Many critics predict Hanks is up for a fourth Oscar nomination. It’s worth the price of admission, if only to see Hanks finally shed his nice-guy image with a tough-guy moustache and tommy gun. “Road to Perditon” is currently playing at Mall San Pedro.

—Christian Burnham

From a reader
Future resident already a Costa Rica connoisseur
By Paul DesRochers
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

I had to drag my body out of Costa Rica Saturday. I didn't want to ever leave that peaceful place again, having spent another week with beautiful, friendly, happy people, I felt loved and welcomed. I woke up in the mornings to bright sunshine coming over the mountains and went walking in the cool dawn.

I spent mornings in the Costa Rica Language Academy, which helped me leap forward in speaking the beautiful language in a friendly environment. I tried my Spanish on people at my Apartotel Los Yoses, on waiters and cab drivers.

They all greeted my attempts with delight, and never laughed at me, as I had feared. They would often correct me in a friendly way, which I appreciated. 

I paid three cents for a "banano" and saw that a kilo of rice sold for about six cents. I bought a very fine shirt for about nine dollars. (Getting it dry-cleaned back in the States will cost me $4.50!)

With the help of a local lawyer, I started the process of becoming a resident of the country I already consider home. I heard stories about long lines in Costa Rica, something I’ve yet to experience, even in banks. 

The act of being fingerprinted at the police station for the Immigration records took ten minutes, working with very friendly officials. Getting proof of my Social Security income from the U.S. Embassy (staffed by friendly Ticos) took less than an hour.  I recall that it took me a total of 20 minutes to see a doctor in an emergency room during a previous visit.

Best of all, I had lunch with Jo Stuart! She’s a very gifted columnist for A.M. Costa Rica and a very thoughtful, brilliant commentator on life in the United States and Costa Rica.

A fellow lover of the arts, she offered to show me ways to support the symphony and an organization which helps street kids, when I finally get to be a resident.

It felt so good to be away from all the violence of the United States. They don't have wars here. They don't bear arms like they do in Texas. They don't

hurt bulls in bullfights. Murders, rapes and other crimes of violence are rare. 

Ticos don't worship property rights as people do in the U.S. One needs to guard one's wallet.  But they value more important things, such as family and life and freedom to be oneself.

There are no Ashcrofts to invade their privacy, to declare that people who commit crimes ought to be murdered by the government. 

As one yearning to be a resident of Costa Rica, I wonder about the complaints I read from North American residents about life there. One can understand the frustrations about traffic, roads, and crime. But those problems are worldwide. 

What troubles me are complaints about the culture. I’ve even read somewhere (certainly not in A.M. Costa Rica!) a complaint that Costa Ricans don’t speak English!

I tell my gringo friends that we have a lot to learn from the culture of the unique people of Costa Rica. They are happy, and don’t fuss all the time about stuff like depression and co-dependency.

They’re comfortable in their bodies and don’t fret about wrinkles and stretch marks. They’re very healthy and enjoy a balanced diet rich in un-irradiated, non-genetically-altered, natural non-hyper-packaged food. Women and men consider each other equals with different roles and without the need to compete.

They have an excellent medical care system available to all, as well as a superb educational system, also available to all.

Ticos show great respect for each other and for people who are different.  Sure, they honk their horns, but they don’t yell with rage or give the finger. And they are always eager to help and please.

They don’t commemorate wars there. But I often see fireworks from villages south of San Jose observing Saint's Days. 

It’s a land of incredible beauty with a superb climate. And certainly the most stunning women on earth!

Paul DesRochers lives in Dallas, Texas.

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