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These stories were published Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 200
Jo Stuart
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Man fights downpour on Avenida 2 as vehicles turn lights on early
If the rains don't get you, the high tide will
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Nature was playing a little con game with Costa Ricans over the weekend. Friday was a spectacular day, followed closely by Saturday. Only a little rain fell Sunday. Monday was another dry day, not typical for early October.

Even some Ticos began to talk about an early arrival of "summer," the dry season. Hope springs eternal. Alas, dry season arrives along with Santa Claus.

So Tuesday the skies opened up, and more than three inches of rain (77.1 millimeters) fell in the Central Valley during the afternoon and early evening, according to the Instituto Meteorológico Costarricense. Similar downpours hit other sections of the country.

Meanwhile, rescue officials are warning that another extra high tide will hit the Pacific coast about 6 a.m. today. The tide is being driven by the arrangement of the sun and the moon. Some damage took place earlier this year with a similar solar juxtaposition.

A.M. Costas Rica photo
Buster has a raincoat fabricated from a plastic bag by owners Saul and Daniela.

Readers clash on our quality of life BELOW
Free trade pact called vital for Latin growth
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Concluding a hemisphere-wide trade agreement by the target date of 2005 is critical to economic growth in Latin America and the Caribbean, says the Inter-American Development Bank.

In a new report, the bank said the Free Trade Area of the Americas  "promises to provide more secure market access to North America, reduce trade diversion within sub-regions of the hemisphere, improve productivity, stimulate foreign direct investment, and strengthen cooperation with North America."

The report also observes that the increasing number of two-country trade initiatives under way in the region can function as building blocks for the larger agreement "so long as agenda-setting countries take into account the needs and preferences of all countries" in the trade pact that is designed to stretch from Canada to Argentina.

The development bank said regional trade initiatives, reductions in tariff barriers, and trade pacts between North and South America are important development tools that will help Latin America and the Caribbean become more competitive in the 21st century.

The report argued that regional integration has helped create an environment for growth of intra-regional trade, and increased specialization and productivity. Integration has also helped to attract foreign investment, "lock in" policy reform, enhance international bargaining power, and induce cooperation in non-economic areas such as peace and democracy, according to the report entitled "Beyond Borders: The New Regionalism in Latin America."

The report noted that the 1990s saw a surge in regional integration initiatives, ranging from free-trade areas to sub-regional customs unions with the intent to form a common market. During that period, the region's governments also concluded that the benefits of regional integration could be enhanced by linking up with industrialized countries in reciprocal free-trade agreements.

The report said Mexico led the way in forming regional pacts with industrialized nations by joining with the United States and Canada in the North American Free Trade Agreement. The report said several other countries in the region struck bilateral accords with Canada and the European Union, and nearly all the hemisphere's countries are participating in negotiations leading toward the Free Trade Area of the Americas.

However, the report observed that "the easy stage of integration is now over," and that countries will have to work on "multiple fronts in order to preserve and expand the benefits of recent regional initiatives."

Also discussed in the report are the consequences of inadequate infrastructure in Latin America and the Caribbean. It points out how problems in road networks, for example, have prompted 12 South American countries to launch the Initiative for the Integration of Regional Infrastructure in South America, and that Central American countries and Mexico have launched the Puebla-Panama Plan to strengthen both infrastructure and overall integration.

More information about the new report is available from the Inter-American Development Bank at: http://www.iadb.org/exr/pub/index.asp.

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A 'new wave' AIDS risk threatens world population
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C — U.S. officials from several key agencies have identified new activity they are pursuing to address predictions that the global HIV/AIDS epidemic will escalate dramatically through the remainder of this decade.

A report released in late September by the National Intelligence Council forecasts that HIV/AIDS cases are about to climb steeply in five populous nations — China, India, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Russia.

"The Next Wave of HIV/AIDS" focuses on these five countries because of their strategic importance to the United States, and because of their large populations. Together, they comprise 40 percent of the entire world population.

The National Intelligence Council, an advisory panel to the Central Intelligence Agency, also selected these countries because the epidemic is at an early-to-mid stage in each of them, and because their governments "have not yet given the issue the sustained high priority that has been key to stemming the tide of the disease in other countries."

The report predicts that the number of HIV/AIDS cases in the five countries could increase from the current high-end estimate of 23 million to as many as 75 million by the end of the decade. 

While sub-Saharan Africa is the world region with the greatest number of cases today, cases in the five "next wave" countries will be more than double the number in Africa by 2010, according to the report’s estimates based on a consensus attained through consultations with a variety of experts in the field.

Though the report and the data it presents are new, the findings are no surprise to those who have been on the front lines of the battle against the epidemic.

A group of those U.S. officials assembled at a forum conducted in Washington Last Wednesday by The Center for Strategic and International Studies. Public health and government officials from each of the five "next wave" countries also attended the two-day session.

At the U.S. Agency for International Development, the goal is to insure that the predictions of a burgeoning HIV/AIDS population do not come true. "Our role is to prioritize that budget that Congress has given us to make sure that it isn't so, if we possibly can make a difference," said Dr. Anne Peterson, the assistant administrator in the 

Bureau of Global Health at the development agency.

U.S. officials also emphasize that Washington is the world's largest donor to HIV/AIDS prevention efforts globally.

It has made the largest contributions to the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and is also the world’s largest donor of bilateral aid to disease programs in other nations. 

The Bush administration is seeking an international HIV/AIDS budget in 2003 of more than $1 billion, a more than 50 percent increase over the allocation in 2001.

Peterson said the U.S. Agency for International Development commitment to addressing the global epidemic is also borne out by the numbers. The agency's health budget has increased by 500 percent in the last four years. 

The leading U.S. development agency already has well-established HIV/AIDS programs in four of the five "next wave" countries, and in each of them funding for those programs has almost doubled in the last three years.

"The programs are already being geared up so we have a better chance of intervening," Peterson said. 

The development agency has designated 23 countries as high priority for support in containing and treating the epidemic, and is operating a variety of programs emphasizing prevention, care, support and treatment of AIDS patients.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is another significant player in the U.S. government's global campaign against the HIV/AIDS epidemic. 

Like the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has had programs underway in four of the five "next wave" countries, and is currently launching new efforts in the fifth, China.

Programs like these will not be enough to stem the tide of disease, the officials agreed, unless national political leaders in affected countries are prepared to recognize the scope of the problem and work aggressively to counter the trends. 

The National Intelligence Committee report underscores the importance of this leadership in countries such as Uganda and Thailand, where significant success has been made in containing the spread of the epidemic.

Earthquake rattles central Pacific coast
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An earthquake struck the Pacific coast Tuesday about 6:40 a.m.

The location was calculated to be in the foothills east of Quepos about six miles (10 kms.) north and west of San Isidro de General. The magnitude was 4.7, according to the U.S. National Earthquake Information Center.

The quake was about 33 kms. about 20 miles, deep.

There were no reports of injury. The area is thinly populated.

The star indicates where an earthquake shook the hills around Quepos early Tuesday.

Guatemalan court vacates
murder convictions

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala — An appeals court here has thrown out the convictions of three military officials and a priest convicted of murdering human rights activist and bishop, Juan Jose Gerardi, in April 1998. 

The court also ordered a re-trial for the defendants Tuesday, citing inconsistencies in the testimony of a key prosecution witness. 

The ruling comes more than one year after the defendants were convicted of the bishop’s bludgeoning death and sentenced to 20- to 30- year prison terms. 

Gerardi was murdered two days after releasing a report that blamed Guatemala's military for hundreds of massacres and other abuses during the country's 36-year civil war that ended in 1996. 

Prosecutors and the Roman Catholic Church have long maintained that the bishop’s murder was a political assassination. The defense says the trial was politically motivated. 

The initial convictions were applauded by human rights groups as landmark victories in a country that had been plagued by thousands of atrocities during and after the war. 

The conflict left an estimated two hundred thousand people dead. 

Colombian judge puts off
hearing of rebel trainers

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — A judge in Colombia has postponed a hearing for three alleged Irish Republican Army 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 set for Oct. 16. 

The men were arrested in Bogota's airport 14 months ago. They are accused of spending five weeks in a former stronghold of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia 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.

Andean trade act
lackluster, ITC says

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The overall impact of the Andean Trade Preference Act on the U.S. economy and consumers in 2001 was "negligible," according to the International Trade Commission.

According to an Oct. 8 trade commission press release, the federal agency recently released its eighth report on the impact of the trade act, a program designed to promote the development of sustainable economic alternatives to illegal drug production in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru by providing preferential access to the U.S. market.

The report, "Andean Trade Preference Act: Impact on U.S. Industries and Consumers and on Drug Crop Eradication and Crop Substitution, Eighth Report, 2001," found that only a few U.S. industries, such as fresh-cut flowers, were identified as potentially experiencing displacement of more than 5 percent as a result of the Andean trade preference imports.

The International Trade Commission also found that U.S. imports of leading Andean Trade Preference Act products benefited U.S. consumers in 2001 and that the program contributed to drug-crop eradication and crop substitution efforts in the region and job creation in Colombia.

Honduran president
addresses child murders

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — Ricardo Maduro, this country’s president, has expressed regret about the more than 1,400 children and youth who have been murdered in his country since January 1998. 

After two weeks of intense international attention to the issue, as well as a U.N. report demonstrating the killing of homeless children by the police, the President promised to reduce "in the shortest time possible" the assassination of children in this Central American nation. He publicly promised Tuesday "all the resources that are necessary" to complete the task. 

Maduro's comments come as Casa Alianza statistics document the murder of a record number of 69 children and youth under the age of 23 in the month of September 2002 alone (38 percent of whom were children). One third of the murders were 15 to 18 year olds, 87 percent of them were male and 13 percent female. 

According to Casa Alianza, one of the most repudiated murders this month was of Oscar Emilio Santos Arias. The 11-year-old homeless boy was shot through the throat by a uniformed member of the Honduran military — one of the 6,000 soldiers ordered onto the Honduran streets by President Maduro to reduce crime levels.

The 18-year-old soldier, Jesus Manuel Sabillon, was later detained and accused of murder, arguing that “the rifle went off accidentally," according to Casa Alianza’s report.

"Casa Alianza is pleased that the President has finally spoken out about the growing levels of murders of children and we hope that his promise of all the necessary resources to stop the killings of children and youth and to investigate all the murders is truly forthcoming", said Bruce Harris, the executive director of Casa Alianza in Latin America.

"Casa Alianza is here to help street children and to defend their human rights. We want to stop the killings and will both help the government and ensure that they fulfill their obligations.”

Bush acts to end
port work stoppage

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Bush has decided to seek an injunction temporarily ending a work stoppage at U.S. West Coast ports that he said was hurting the entire U.S. economy.

In Tuesday remarks Bush said he was "directing Attorney General [John] Ashcroft to seek an injunction under the Taft-Hartley Act, ending the lockout and requiring work at the ports to resume at a normal pace."

Operators shut down the ports Sept. 29 in response to an alleged work slow-down by longshoremen. The two sides have been deadlocked since May over the operators' plan to expand use of computers and scanners at the docks.

While the administration would continue working to resolve the dispute, Bush said, "the ultimate responsibility for an agreement lies with the worker representatives and the port operators."

Man dies of wound

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man who suffered a gunshot wound Monday died that night in Hospital San Juan de Dios, said investigators. They identified him as Rogers Jon’s Campbell, 51. Earlier they had provided an incorrect name.

The man died about 7 p.m. Monday from what investigators say was an apparent suicide in the man’s Sabana Sur apartment. He was a retired U.S. citizen without family here, investigators said.

Local pros updated
on child victimization

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

More than 50 professionals, including police and judicial officials, are taking classes from six U.S. F.B.I. agents on the topic of crimes against children.

A U.S. Embassy spokesman said the agents and professionals were providing information on the typology of sex offenders, sexual tourism involving children and more technical skills, such as how to interview children and how to handle young victims so they can be good witnesses. The session ends Thursday.

Visa plan delay impedes Mexican workers

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MEXICO CITY, Mexico — A delay in a proposed U.S. visa plan is preventing Mexican workers from temporarily crossing the border to find jobs. The program was intended to end illegal immigration to the U.S., but has been sidetracked by other pressing issues in the U.S.

Illegal immigration northward by thousands of Mexican workers has been a thorn in the underside of U.S.-Mexican relations for decades. The United States has spent considerable resources plugging gaps in the 2,000-mile border.

As clandestine crossing points become scarcer and more remote, hundreds of young Mexicans have drowned trying to swim the Rio Grande or succumbed to dehydration in the blistering heat of the desert in Arizona. 

Mexico and the United States have been working together to eliminate these dangers with the creation of hundreds of thousands of temporary work visas.

These would allow migrant laborers to stay in the United States up to three years, but then oblige them to return home for at least a year before returning. Relevant service industries would fund the plan. The plan would offer fair pay, decent temporary housing, and proper two-way travel arrangements. 

But this all fell by the wayside after September 11, and Harvard based U.S.-Mexico relations expert Dr. Barbara Driscoll explains the Bush administration now has much bigger fish to fry. "Right now, the Republicans are facing a really difficult challenge in the United States," she says.

"They are beginning to tie a war with Iraq into homeland security, and I can't help but think that any kind of migration politics, if it was on the back burner before, it will now be upon the shelf at least for a while." 

Gustavo Mohar, the Mexican government's chief negotiator on migratory matters, says that even though extraordinary and unforeseen circumstances have intervened and interwoven themselves around this vital issue, it is just too crucially important for both countries, to be allowed to stagnate still further.

"We always knew that making the American public, social fabric, Congress and government understand that this is an issue that is in the benefit of both, was going to be a big challenge,” says Mohar. 

He said, "In spite of Iraq, and we are not naive, we understand and we closely follow the political debate in the U.S. We know of elections coming in a few weeks in the United States. We understand the Congressmen are very concerned about being re-elected.

But we are going to be here forever, with the U.S. our neighbors, and these flows of people have continued regardless of September 11, even with a recession, even with a slowdown in the U.S. economy. The demand for Mexican workers has continued." 

Experts estimate that more than a quarter-million Mexicans annually make illegal crossings, but acknowledge the true number could be much higher, especially in current hard times.

Carnival kicks off
with bright hopes

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Limón Carnival kicks off today with fireworks and other festivities.

The carnival traces its roots to Panamá from where Alfred King brought the idea to Limón 50 years ago.  He generally is considered the originator.

The carnival always has been beset with problems, such as the case last year when municipal workers refused to collect garbage and the carnival took place amid that situation.

There are no obvious problems this year, allowing the carnival committee to argue over the presence of certain musical groups and the presence of a multitude of beer tents.

Most Latin carnivals precede Lent, the 40 days before Easter. The Limón Carnival centers on Oct. 12, the Day of the Indigenous or Columbus Day in North America. It is a day to display one’s cultural roots.

Limón and the Atlantic area always have been a foreign country to many Ticos, although the current president, Abel Pacheco, has roots there. The black culture has evolved by itself in a way that is different than the rest of Costa Rica.

Saturday is the day of a big international music festival.

Fireworks blast
kills one worker

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An explosion ripped through a fireworks factory in San Josecito de Alajuelito Tuesday, killed one worker and injured two others.

The dead man was Gino Mora Falla, 20, said Fuerza Pública officers. Bernardo González, 17, and Iván Solano, 19, suffered injuries and were hospitalized.

The factory was in a wooden, residential-style  building set well off from other homes. The area is in southwest San José. Some residents blamed a lightning strike for setting off the explosion. Others said there was no storm at the time.
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Readers sound off about life here
Both letters are in response to letters addressing the standard of living in Costa Rica.
Gringo rains on
newcomer’s parade

By Michael Rochard
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Dear Paul DesRochers,

(Click HERE for Mr. DesRochers' letter)

We read your letter and found it interesting, if inaccurate. Costa Rica is a pretty nice place to visit, admittedly. We felt the same way when we made the decision to move here.

Bananas are very cheap and so is rice, but, trust me, you won't last more than a week on the local diet. As to the fine shirt you bought, it will fall apart the second or third time you have it dry cleaned.

Costa Rica is the land of thirds — virtually everything that is imported is substandard or faulty and, on the rare occasion that you buy something that really works or lasts you will, on average, have paid three times its “proper” price for it.

With any luck, you'll get to experience the joys of collecting something from customs in the not-too-distant future. The last time we did that we spent five hours picking up one box of contact lenses and, in the process, were sent back and forth from one office to the other for no other purpose, it seemed, than to see us get irritated.

Even with an interpreter it didn't help other than we knew where we had to go. By the time we got our lenses and had paid more duty than they cost, I was about ready to throw somebody through a plate glass window.

You say that murder, rapes and crimes of violence are rare. While they are nowhere near the level of the same in the U.S., they are happening increasingly frequently. They have had a number of kidnappings recently and a very large number of muggings and robberies.

You said that you need to watch your wallet. True, very true, and anything else that you own. Put something down for a second, take your eyes off it and it will be gone. Theft is an acceptable way of life. They don't see anything wrong in stealing something although they don't like it when somebody steals their stuff.

Paul, you are viewing Costa Rica through the eyes of a tourist and they are rose-tinted. After you move here, we give you six months before you start to detest the place and the people. You will be frustrated at the level of service and the quality of workmanship, which is pathetic.

The Ticos are a friendly people but they take no pride in their work or their country. If you think I'm wrong about that, just look at the piles of trash on the streets. If you have to have somebody come to your apartment or house to do some repair work, firstly, you must never leave them alone for a second or something will disappear and secondly, you must check their work in great detail before you pay them.

If you pay them and subsequently find out, as you will most times, that there is something wrong, you will never get them back to fix it. They are used to buying sub-standard items and sub-standard service and that is all they know.

Many people have wondered how come the Ticos will wait patiently for hours at a government office or in a line at the bank and yet, the moment they get behind the wheel of a vehicle, they become the most impatient people on the planet. My opinion is that they have no control in their lives and the car is the one place where they feel they are in control.

Unless you speak very good Spanish, you will have a great deal of difficulty.  The culture is one of “manana,” and it is pervasive. The Ticos don't think beyond the day, ever, and planning and forethought do not ever come into play. 

If a Tico workman needs a nail, he will get in his car, drive to the store and buy a nail. The idea of buying a box so that he will have some for next time is completely incomprehensible. In the same way, when you go to a store to buy anything the price of a ten pack is ten times that of a single item. Why? Because since nobody, other than us gringos, will buy 10 when one will do, what is the point of discounting? Where else have you been where you can buy a single cigarette?

You probably think, as we did, that you will have a lot of Tico friends and very few Gringo ones however, let me assure you, that you will not. The Ticos that befriend you will do so only for as long as they can get something from you, such as work, money, etc. (Don't ever loan a Tico money - you will never, ever get it back!)

The moment that you cease to be valuable, you'll be dropped like a hot potato. In truth, we are greatly resented by the Ticos. We come to Costa Rica with our vast salaries and big money and while they need us to keep their economy going, they hate that we have it and they don't. They would like us to leave but they want our money to stay!

The Ticos are very unhealthy and have one of the highest incidences of diabetes in the world. The ones that can afford it eat the same groceries and foods as us gringos which is why there are many more Ticos in the markets than gringos.

Their educational system is one of the worst in the world. You must be thinking of the much-touted statistic that over 93 percent of the population can read and write. Unfortunately that does not make a good educational system.

Students in the schools are taught by rote, in other words, to memorize information. They do not understand anything that they are taught nor do they have any problem solving or analytical ability and the general level of I.Q. in the whole country is staggeringly low. Not one Tico we have met in two years has an ounce of common sense.

Michael Rochard lives in Lourdes, San Pedro.

Tico offers advice to 
foreign residents

By Guillermo Jimenez
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

I just spent two weeks home . . . Costa Rica that is. I live in the States and it’s been five years since I last saw my homeland. It is a very interesting experience because, like it or not, Americans are so rich spoiled — good for you — that they ever hardly understand the rest of the world.

Since I live in the States, I am afraid I have gotten spoiled rotten myself. So, I have taken it upon myself to answer some questions raised by some of A.M. Costa Rica readers in this section.

To Mr. Bobby Craig:

(Mr. Craig's letter is HERE!)

Mr. Craig wrote: “Wait until he gets the bill for dry cleaning his shirt here. Wait until he opens a bank account in a Costa Rican bank, has an account with the electric company, the phone company and RACSA.

My mom’s electricity bill was $9, her (actually drinkable water) bill was $6 and her phone bill was $7.”

Both Banco Nacional and Banco de Costa Rica offer phone and online banking. If you find that too slow, try one of the 15 plus private banks. If you don’t like Costa Rican banks then try ScotiaBank (Canadian), BanCrecen (Mexican), I even saw a Chase (though, I didn’t see a branch anywhere).

I obviously regret RACSA but the Internet café around corner from my house (and probably around the corner from yours, too) has an excellent connection starting with cable up to a T1, heck! I even connected to my company’s network over the Internet without a problem.

Mr. Craig wrote:  “Wait until he's a resident and goes to a Costa Rican emergency room on the Caja. When was the last time he saw a private security guard outside his local burger joint with an AKC-47? He's never been to Zapote at Christmas time and that's obviously no bull. I won't even start on the crime issue, property rights and personal freedom”

I went to the emergency room in Hospital Mexico, it was so crowded and there were people waiting in the hallway. My own mother had to wait 24 hours for a bed before finally being admitted.

She got one of six beds in an oversized dormitory with no TV and the vital signs monitor definitely needed an upgrade, she got all the attention that she needed — including an ultrasound, an EKG, blood tests, they brought in some weird looking machines. They stabilized her and then, diagnosed her problem. They also prescribed her several pills and gave her a new appointment for follow up. She was sent home on Friday feeling great — further treatment is necessary.

Last Christmas, I took my mom to Saint Vincent Hospital (Connecticut) and she got immediate attention. They drew blood, hooked her up to several machines (a new vital statistics monitor included). Then, they went away for four hours, then they sent her to a very nice section where she had a room and TV right all to herself. She was in pain so she didn’t enjoy it. 

Mr. Craig wrote: “Help the street kids”

Good advice if you can support the charitable organizations that help street kids please do so.

To Mr. Michael Rochard,
Click HERE for Mr. Rochard's letter

There are three things draining our already scarce security budget:

1. The fight against drugs going north, apparently successful because now the drugs are ending up in the hands of Costa Rican kids as opposed to American kids.

2. The fight against illegal arms trade going south to support the South American guerrillas fighting for control of the illegal drug trade going north.

3. The fight against terrorism — have you tried leaving the country, the Santamaría Airport security is as tough or tougher than JFK’s.

Whatever of the budget is left, we kindly spend on the Costa Rican issues. 

Sorry for the inconvenience.

Guillermo Jimenez lives in Fairfield, Conn.


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