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These stories were published Friday, Oct. 11, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 202
Jo Stuart
About us
Sportsbook employees protesting proposed tax
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Sportsbook employees have been protesting in front of the Asemblea Nacional for two days, and they said they plan a big protest this morning.

The employees and sportsbook operators are upset that deputies are considering a tax on the industry as part of President Abel Pacheco’s financial plan to eliminate deficit spending.

The sportsbook operators said that if the proposed taxes pass "all of Costa Rica will pay for this error of the government. The cows will go to Belize, Nicaragua and Panamá," they said of the betting operations.

The government proposed a $1,000 a month tax on each computer at each sportsbook. The computers are used to take bets on sports actions over the Internet. The government also proposed monthly taxes on each gaming table at casinos and a $500 a month tax on each slot machine.

A special committee is considering the possible taxes for submission to the entire chamber. In discussion Wednesday, committee members agreed to cut the per computer tax from $1,000 a month to $500 a month, but sportsbook operators and employees still are upset.

A sheet distributed to passers-by outside the assembly Thursday estimated that the government would get $18 million in new taxes a year from just the 10 leading sportsbooks. The opponents said that the 10 largest companies have about 3,000 computer stations. That amount is 6.6 billion colons in proposed taxes each year.

These same companies employ 3,000 students and 2,500 sportsbook professionals, said the figures provided by opponents. That’s an estimated salary to employees of 180 billion colons ($487 million) each year, based on average salaries of 210,000 colons ($570) per month for students and 350,000 ($950) per month for professionals. Sportsbook supporters also said that the companies pay 1.6 billion colons each year for utilities, Internet hook up and telephones. That’s about $4.3 million.

In addition to these expenses, the sportsbook companies also pay standard Costa Rican corporate tax on their earnings.

In exchange for trying to get 6.6 billion colons in tax each year, the lawmakers risk losing 175 billion colons in salary, taxes and other payments, said the opponents.

In all, there are about 10,000 employees in sportsbooks in Costa Rica, said a spokesman for the group. There are an estimated 100 companies doing business primarily on the Internet. 

Most of the employees are bilingual Costa Ricans, as were several of the representatives in front of the assembly Thursday. One man was Dutch.

The Pacheco tax plan targets activities and items that are easy to tax, like luxury cars, cigarettes and alcohol. The proposals and estimates by his staff and from the Ministerio de Hacienda, the tax ministry, do not seem to take into account the changes in consumer patterns likely to be caused by such tax.

Initial proposals also call for hefty surcharges on taxable income greater than $2,000 a month.

The sportsbooks do nearly all of their business outside Costa Rica, so a change of location would not affect business, although few Costa Ricans will move with the companies.

The sportsbooks are under attack from other quarters, also. The United States is trying to prevent citizens there from betting via the Internet and are seeking agreement from major credit card companies to eliminate payments overseas to sportsbook bankers. New York State has moved against the major credit card companies located there, too.

Unknown hands

The craftsman who did this Jaguar god before the arrival of Europeans is unknown. But he or she still ranks with the best. Our tribute to these long-dead geniuses are BELOW!

A.M. Costa Rica/Christian Burnham
Raquel Reyes, 6, models an Indian mask from the Raza Cubeccar tribe from southern Costa Rica.

Tribes gather here
to show traditions

By Christian Burnham
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Indian tribes from the southern region of Costa Rica gathered at the Ministerio de Cultura, Juventud y Deportes Thursday afternoon. The exhibition was an early kick-off to the Day of Cultures, a national Costa Rican holiday that takes place Saturday.

The holiday is one that Indians take great pride in being recognized and celebrated as a part of this country’s cultural heritage.

The event comprised of an inauguration of the festival by the director of Cultura. Representatives of various regional tribal groups travelled great distances to exhibit crafts here in the San José.

One table representing the Quitirrisí de Mora tribe featured a selection of medicinal plants and natural delicacies, including a pungent alcohol, fermented from corn, enjoyed by the area’s natives. The Chirripó, a Bribri tribe, showed off their hammocks and bags constructed from the sinewy fiber of the cabulla trees that are plentiful in the region.

This event is a prelude to the cultural festival of the Rey Curré and Yimba tribes taking place in the Buenos Aires region Friday and Saturday. The cultural festival will feature an exhibition, titled "Curré, Yesterday, Today and Always," of maps and illustrations depicting the Pre-Colombian as well as the land where the Rey Curré currently reside.

These activities are sponsored by the Association of Desarrollo Integral de Curré, an organization working to preserve over 200 acres of sacred lands of the Térraba region. For the past 30 years, the group has been fighting off developers as well as tomb hunters looking to make off with the riches buried within ancestral grounds.

Since the area suffers from a lack of income, pot growers and arms dealers have flocked to the area, enticing the natives to take part in illicit deeds.

Immigration grabs
10 women downtown

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Immigration officials and police are sweeping the center of the city for young women who do not have the proper legal paperwork to be in Costa Rica. So far 10 have been apprehended in what officials say is a new, vigorous enforcement of the law.

Meanwhile, Wednesday officials deported five Filipinos who left their ship in Limón without permission. The men went to Panamá by airplane to rejoin their ship.

Police from the Dirección General de Migración said they arrested the women who were working downtown at night. Four were Rumanians, four were Nicaraguans and two were Colombians, police said.

The arrests were made at night and were the result of new policies of strict enforcement of immigration laws with regard for human rights, said a statement from the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

How to Live a Happy Life

When people have asked me if I am happy living here, I have said that it is easy to be content in Costa Rica. And quite possible to experience moments of joy, but that happiness is an individual matter. Recently there was a conference of positive psychologists and one of them — Dr. Martin Seligman — was being interviewed on Voice of America.

Some time ago Dr. Seligman said he realized that most of psychology deals with hang-ups and habits and what makes us miserable. (Have you ever noted that each decade seems to have its pet disorder? Like, whatever happened to the Oedipal Complex, to Multiple Personalities?) Psychology was all about correcting what was wrong, not about scientifically studying what makes for positive people and institutions. He decided there was something useful to learn from exploring what it is that makes people happy. That is one of those ideas that, if you are like me, when you hear it you say, "Of course!" 

During the interview (and answering questions from people from all over the world), he mentioned some interesting findings: 

— People in the East and Middle and Far East are happier than those in the West. 

— People in traditional societies that emphasize family and relationships tend to be happier than people in the more modern world. 

— Poor people, unless they are abjectly poor, are not necessarily less happy than rich people. (It was found that after a couple of years, people who had won the lottery were emotionally in the same boat they had been before winning.)

— The highest rates of suicide are in Japan, the U.S. and Austria. (I grew up thinking it was Norway and Sweden.)

— Fundamentalists of all stripes are happier than agnostics. (Oh dear.) When you think about it, it makes sense because Fundamentalists are so sure they are right they don’t suffer from a Hamlet complex or worry about what life is all about. They know.

—  Curing clinical depression does not make a person happy. It puts the person back to zero, so to speak. Becoming a happy person involves something more. That something more has been compressed into three ways of living that lead to happiness.

First, there is the pleasant life — This is enjoying the pleasures of life and having the skills and means to amplify and share them. This includes things like travel, yoga, working out, enjoying cruises, just having fun.

Then there's the good life — This life is one that is involved in pursuing some endeavor that so totally captures the mind that one becomes part of the process — or flow, as psychologist call it. In a way it is time out of mind, when time stands still because one is lost in what one is doing. This includes creative activities like writing or painting or doing research or cooking to name a few. Actually, any activity that you get lost in. 

And finally, the meaningful life — This is the life led by people who attach themselves to something larger than themselves, a charity, religion, political movement, devoting oneself to helping others. The "do-gooders" and Mother Theresas of the world are in this category.

It seemed to me, listening to Dr. Seligman, that something these three ways of living have in common is living in the present. Positive psychology stresses that showing children their strengths is what develops an exemplary child and future adult. If you want to find out what your strengths are, click on www.authentichappiness.org and take the test.

Steve Martin said, "It's funny how important the weather becomes as you get older." I must agree. But to my surprise, Dr. Seligman says that weather and climate have little to do with happiness (however light is important to people who suffer from depression, and I think nice weather lifts the spirit).

Fortunately, Costa Rica, besides having a most desirable climate and lots of light, has plenty of opportunities to live any one of these happy lives. 

More Jo Stuart: 


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Investors beginning to get testy over interest
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investors with Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho are becoming increasingly restive, and some are seeking legal advice in an attempt to recoup their money.

Villalobos has not returned telephone calls to A.M. Costa Rica for a week, and judicial officials who are investigating the case have been equally unavailable or tight-lipped.

Villalobos is the businessman who borrows money from a heavily North American clientele and pays nearly 3 percent a month in interest. Usually he pays the monthly interest during the last week of the month or in the first week of the next month.

This much is known of the current situation:

Villalobos employees have promised investors that they will begin to receive late monthly interest payments shortly. Originally, payments were to begin Monday. They were to be made in alphabetical order.

Later, employees told some investors that a subcontractor had been hired to distribute the money to individual bank accounts. There is no clear explanation why a third party was chosen.

The company said it will now make payments in check or via bank deposit instead of the frequent payments in cash and checks.

No one has reported receiving interest payments, although some could have. Several persons contacted by A.M. Costa Rica who have last names beginning with early letters of the alphabet said they had not been paid.

Villalobo’s office appears to be under the daily management of David Mathieson, and some investors have talked to him. No one contacted has talked to Villalobos himself for much of the week.

Operators of predominately North American restaurant and entertainment facilities report a drastic decline in clientele as a direct result of the delay in Villalobos interest payment to local investors.

A number of North Americans who have nearly all

their assets with Villalobos are suffering a cash crisis.

The current situation happened this way:

A judge froze the local bank accounts of Villalobos July 4 as part of a search of his office and the Ofinter S.A. money exchange house he says is operated by his brother. Both facilities are adjacent on the second floor of the San Pedro Mall. Ofinter started operating normally a few days later changing colons for dollars and dollars for colons. A second  Ofinter operation on Calle Principal in downtown San José also continues to operate. It, too, was raided.

Canadian police sought local help in a drug and money laundering investigation, which prompted the raid. At the time it appeared that Villalobos was an innocent victim of overzealous police because the Canadian suspects seemed to have had contact only with Ofinter.

The delay in unfreezing the Villalobos accounts makes it clear that a more complex investigation is under way.

When investors deposited money with Villalobos ($10,000 minimum) they were given a personal check they were supposed to hold as security. All parties knew that the funds to cover the check were not in the account, and the check was never actually supposed to be presented to a bank.

Now some investors said they want to cash in their check when the judicial freeze is lifted. One said he was told by Mathieson that he would forfeit interest if he did so. Others said they would try to embargo the bank accounts while they sought legal recourse.

In addition to the accounts here in Costa Rica, Villalobos maintains an account in New Orleans where many investors made initial payments. 

Such payments made to a U.S. banking institution on behalf of Villalobos would seem to subject him to U.S. investment and lending laws.

Villalobos generally is believed to be doing business as a private individual, but some of his accounts are reported to be in the name of coporations.

A parade of golden javalinas chronicle the presence of wild pigs in the Americas
THE ART BEAT: A tribute to the unknown craftsmen
Spheres were everywhere and mysterious
A.M. Costa Rica photos/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Metates became works of art
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica’s pre-Colombian ancestors carried the goldsmithing technology to a metallurgical art.

And they did wondrous things with jade, wood, stone and ceramics.

This column today is dedicated to all the long-dead Indians who transcended mere craftsmanship to become equal to anyone today who claims the title "artist." They are anonymous but not forgotten.

The pieces on display here are photos of the outstanding collection of the Museo de Oro under the Plaza de la Cultura in downtown San José. Shown are examples of the many types of art, not just gold.

There also were artists who made the sometimes giant spheres that populated the southwest of the country. There is jade and carved stone in the form of ceremonial metates, far removed from the simple devices Indian women used to grind corn.

These were extraordinary cultures that evolved sufficiently to support an artisan class. Gold was 

This frog is made of jade

mainly in the south, and ceramics were a specialty in what is today Guanacaste.

The art was appropriate for cultures in the beautiful land now called Costa Rica.

U.S. ambassador pushes
free Guatemalan vote

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — It is essential that Guatemala's national elections in November 2003 are free, transparent and fair, and that the Guatemalan constitution is strictly adhered to, says John Hamilton, President George W. Bush's nominee to be U.S. ambassador to Guatemala.

Testifying Wednesday at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Hamilton said the United States would "of course" work with whichever candidate wins in a fair contest.

Hamilton said the United States would also continue to help Guatemala strengthen its judicial system and the national police, and to support and defend the members "of its courageous human rights community."

Hamilton said the most important goals for the United States in Guatemala are to strengthen democracy and respect for human rights, and to refocus attention on the 1996 Guatemalan peace accords. U.S. goals, he said, include strengthening the rule of law and combating all forms of terrorism, organized crime and corruption — such as drug trafficking, smuggling, and trafficking in persons.

Energy consumption,
global pollution to rise

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Worldwide economic growth will help spur a 60 percent increase in international energy consumption between 1999 and 2020, with much of the demand increase coming from the developing world, according to a top U.S. Energy Department official.

In a presentation yesterday to a conference sponsored by the Alliance to Save Energy in Washington, Guy Caruso, administrator of the Energy Information Administration, said the agency projects adequate resources to meet demand for the next two decades.

Developing countries in Asia and Central and South America will account for approximately half of the total increment in energy demand, Caruso said. Overall, he said, gross domestic product growth will be most rapid in the developing world — at 5 percent a year — compared to 2.7 percent in the industrialized world.

An improving economic outlook for Russia and the other former Soviet states will lead to modest yet steady annual growth in energy demand in the region over the next two decades, reversing a decrease in demand during the 1990s, Caruso said.

Oil will continue to account for most of the world's energy consumption, he said. Most of the increase in oil demand in industrialized countries will be in the transportation sector where there are few economically competitive alternatives to the fuel, he said.

But oil's share of total energy consumption will not increase, Caruso said, because some countries will switch from oil to natural gas and other alternative fuels for electricity generation.

A projected increase in worldwide oil use — by an expected 2.2 percent annually through 2020 — will mean that countries will continue to rely on supplies from Gulf members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Caruso said. 

Those countries currently account for nearly 80 percent of the world's oil reserves, he noted.  Oil producers not affiliated with the organization — especially in the Caspian Basin, Latin America and West Africa — are expected to also increase their oil production and keep their prices competitive with those of the organization, he said. 

Caruso said natural gas is the fastest growing part of world energy consumption. But, he added, "extensive investment" in infrastructure will be needed to expand consumption of the "relatively clean" fuel.

Electricity use will continue to grow — increasing by two-thirds between 1999 and 2020. Growth will be greatest in developing countries where standards of living are improving and efforts to develop national energy grids continue.

Coal has remained the dominant fuel for electricity generation but is being replaced, particularly in Western Europe, by natural gas, Caruso said.

The administrator said that as use of fossil fuels increases, so too will carbon dioxide emissions. By 2020, developing countries that still rely on fossil fuels will account for almost half of global carbon emissions, he said.

Nuclear energy and renewable energy sources, he added, are not economically competitive with fossil fuels, but international commitments to reduce greenhouse gases could change this situation, Caruso said. Growth in renewable energy fuels will grow by 50 percent over the next 20 years, but will remain at just 20 percent of total electricity generation, he said.

The Alliance to Save Energy is a consortium of business, government and consumer leaders that promotes energy efficiency.

Latin U.S. economies linked, diplomat says

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

LIMA, Peru — Strong, stable, and vibrant economies in Latin America benefit people in that region and in the United States alike, says E. Anthony Wayne, assistant secretary of state for Economic and Business Affairs.

Speaking Oct. 3 in Lima at an Andean Regional Investment and Trade Conference, Wayne said that for the United States, "nowhere is it more important for prosperity and progress to take hold than in Latin America."

Wayne said the United States sells more to Latin America than to the European Union, and that U.S. trade with its partners in the North American Free Trade Agreement is greater than with the European Union and Japan combined.

Regarding U.S. backing for the Andean region in particular, Wayne said President Bush has proposed, and is delivering, support across a number of fronts, with security "the most urgent and visible." But Wayne added that U.S. promotion of long-term economic stability in the region "can only be achieved with sustained effort and the right incentives."

To that end, Wayne said the U.S. Congress recently approved an extension and expansion of the Andean Trade Preferences Act, which he said has been good for trade, investment, and jobs since its inception in 1991. 

The official said that on Sept. 25 the United States announced that Colombia, Bolivia, and Peru will be granted new trade benefits available under the expanded program. In addition, Wayne said the United States is also working closely with the government of Ecuador in order to be able to recommend that Ecuador also receive trade benefits in the near future.

Protesters demand
early elections

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans marched through the streets here Thursday demanding that President Hugo Chavez hold early elections. While the protest was underway, a top member of Venezuela's joint chiefs of staff turned in his resignation - warning of deep splits within the military. 

Shouting anti-Chavez slogans and carrying blue, red and yellow Venezuelan flags, Venezuelans marched through the downtown area Thursday calling for the populist President to hold early elections, or step down.

Protest organizers billed their demonstration as the "Take-over of Caracas" and said one million protesters would participate to show their discontent with Chavez, who has governed the oil-rich nation since 1999.

On April 11, a similar opposition march of some 600,000 people led to violence between pro and anti-Chavez forces prompting some elements of the military to overthrow Chavez. However, he returned to power less than 48 hours later on the shoulders of his supporters.

This time, the march took place without major incidents reported. However, there was some violence reported on several highways leading to the capital where reports say Chavez supporters tried to block protesters from reaching the capital.

Chavez, who is in the midst of a six-year term, has offered to hold a referendum in August 2003 on whether he should step down. But for Thursday's protestors this is out of the question.

Luis Sayago, an English interpreter, says Chavez must leave office now. "It's a good demonstration of what the real feeling of this country is," he said. "The feeling of this country is that we're fed up with Chavez, we want no more Chavez here. We are fed up with this guy, and we're not going to take it any more."

Other demonstrators want the Venezuelan military to intervene. 

Jose Manuel Ranilla, a company administrator, says he does not want to see another coup attempt, like the one in April. But he does think the armed forces should force the populist president to hold an early referendum. "What we want, he says, is a democratic solution let us go and vote now whether we want Mr. Chavez or not, and not wait until next year," said Ranilla.

While the protest was underway, Rear Admiral Alvaro Martin Fossa, a top member of Venezuela's Joint Chiefs Staff, tendered his resignation. In a public announcement carried by several Venezuelan television stations, Admiral Fossa complained of irregularities, and warned President Chavez that the Armed Forces are disunited, unhappy and politicized.

However, he stopped short of directly criticizing the Venezuelan leader a former army paratrooper who led an unsuccessful coup against the government in 1992. 

The navy officer was later placed under arrest Thursday when he turned himself in to the Defense Ministry, according to his lawyer.

Embassy closed Monday;
Museum fete Sunday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The U.S. Embassy in Pavas, where employees get off both for Costa Rican and U.S. holidays, will be closed Monday, according to an announcement.

The holiday is Columbus Day, which is being celebrated in the United States on a Monday so most workers get a three-day holiday.

The celebration here is Saturday, El Dia de las Culturas. 

The Museo Nacional will hold a celebration Sunday in the Bellavista facilities east of the downtown. There will be music and workshops. But there also will be a roundtable about the Sala IV constitutional court and Indian property rights, said a museum announcement. That is at 2 p.m.

The museum also will inaugurate a mural honoring the Rey Curré of the Boruca tribe.

Congress gives Bush
power to wage war

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Congress has handed President Bush a major victory, as both the House of Representatives and the Senate overwhelmingly approved a resolution giving him the authority to use military action — if necessary — to disarm Iraq. 

The Republican-led House was the first to pass the resolution, which gives the president broad authority to use force against Iraq, with or without United Nations support. The measure also encourages the president to exhaust all diplomatic means first and requires that he report to Congress every 60 days if he does take action. 

Bush immediately welcomed the vote. "The gathering threat of Iraq must be confronted, fully and finally," he said.

But more than half the House Democrats — concerned the measure would give the President too much power — voted against it, even though their leader, Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri, was a co-sponsor.

Gephardt reflected on the vote. "To our enemies, who watch this democratic debate, and wonder if America speaks with one voice, I say 'have no doubt.' We are united as a people defending ourselves," he said.

Hours later the Democrat-led Senate passed the resolution. 

Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, was a co-sponsor. "Our friends and allies must know that we do not target Saddam's regime simply because he is a bad man, although his continuation of his tyranny is a rebuke to every decent value of humanity," said Senator McCain. "We contemplate military action to end his rule because allowing him to remain in power with the resources at his disposal would intolerably and inevitably risk American interests in a region of the world where threats to those interests affect the whole world."

But some Democrats expressed concern that a possible conflict in Iraq would detract from efforts to fight terrorism. Others said Bush had not made a case for use of force against Iraq, while still others argued that unilateral action would set a dangerous precedent.

Sen. Carl Levin the chairman of the Armed Services Committee cited an example. "If China decided that Taiwan, which it has labeled a 'renegade province', is a threat to its security, then, with this precedence, it can attack Taiwan," he said.

 Efforts by opponents of the resolution to delay the vote or narrow the scope of the measure proved unsuccessful. 

Cuban player defected
for big league challenge

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MIAMI, Fla. — A star pitcher who recently defected from Cuba's national baseball team in Mexico has resurfaced here along with a baseball agent who is already touting his client's pitching prowess. 

Baseball observers say Jose Contreras could be the most talented player ever to defect from Cuba. Until recently, the ace pitcher of Cuba's national baseball team, the 31-year-old Contreras boasts a blazing fastball clocked at more than 93 mph.

His career record in Cuba was 117 wins and just 50 losses. He gained notoriety in the United States in 1999, when he gave up just two hits over eight innings in a nationally televised exhibition game against the Baltimore Orioles.

Contreras and a coach deserted the national team last week in Mexico. They entered the United States near Tijuana where they were picked up by U.S. immigration agents.

Cuban officials have expressed shock and outrage over the desertion, accusing the men of betraying their nation's trust. At a news conference in Miami Thursday, Contreras stressed that his defection had nothing to do with politics.

Contreras said he does not see his defection as a traitorous act. He said he, like everyone else, deserves to be able to apply himself in his chosen field. He went on to say the United States has the best baseball in the world and that he wants the chance to prove himself here as a pitcher.

In defecting, Contreras left behind a wife and two children. He says he does not believe his family will face reprisals from Cuban officials, but adds that he hopes they will be able to join him in the United States in the near future.

Jaime Torrez, Contreras' agent, indicated several major league clubs are already expressing interest in the pitcher. He didn't give details, but said Contreras is sure to succeed in the major leagues. 

In order to become a free agent, Contreras would have to establish residency in a third country, as several other Cuban defectors have done in years past. Otherwise, he would be subject to next year's U.S. amateur baseball draft and would be limited to negotiating with the team that selects him.

In Cuba, baseball players earn the equivalent of $20 a month. The new minimum salary for a major league player is $300,000 dollars a year.

Journalists honored
for Latin American news 

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

NEW YORK CITY — The winners of the prestigious Maria Moors Cabot Prize for international journalism are being honored here. The Cabot Prize is presented to reporters and editors in recognition of outstanding coverage of the Western Hemisphere, in particular Latin America and the Caribbean. 

Anne Nelson, who administers the prize for the Columbia University School of Journalism, home of the Pulitzer Prize, says the Cabot Prize does more than acknowledge individual journalistic achievement. 

"It is this chance to keep Latin America and relationships between the Americas front and center for a new generation of journalists, and say, 'Wait a minute, just because we are not at war with these countries does not mean we should go to sleep and forget about them.'" she said.

One of this year's recipients is Michele Montas-Dominique, news director of Radio Haiti. She says the Cabot Prize is not just an honor it is a "shield" that can protect journalists from violent attacks led by groups or states that are hostile to the press. 

"My husband, who was also a journalist, was assassinated two years ago on April 3, 2000, while he was entering the radio station where we co-anchored the news program," she said. 

"From what was gathered in terms of information, there was a contract for two. I was supposed to be killed that day. So, I have had a bodyguard ever since, going around with protection all the time. But I think the best protection is that the spotlight be put on the conditions in which we work in Haiti, as journalists. A prize like this puts the spotlight on that."

Ms. Montas-Dominique is honored this year along with three other journalists: David Adams, Latin American correspondent for the Florida newspaper The St. Petersburg Times, Sergio Luis Carreras of the Argentinean daily La Voz del Interior, and Robert Rivard, editor of the San Antonio Express News in Texas. 

Giuliani set to foil
Mexican crime

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MEXICO CITY, Mexico — The government here has hired former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to help the city cut its notoriously-high crime rate.

Giuliani, who opened a consulting firm after leaving office last January, announced Thursday he will be a paid consultant to the government here for one year.

He compared this city to New York City in the early 1990s, when it was considered to be America's crime capital.

The mayor is widely credited for drastically reducing New York's high crime rates during his eight years in office. 

Hundreds of crimes, including rape, murder, and armed robbery, take place every day here — the world's second most populous city, home to 17 million people.

Vicente Fox, Mexican president, has made crime fighting a priority. He has pressured the city’s Mayor, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, to take action.
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More letters from our readers:
Setting a man straight or kicking a dead horse?

Mr. Rochard returns to stand by his words
It seems that I have managed to upset a few readers but since I am no stranger to controversy, I take back not one whit of what I said in my letter. However, some of the readers who wrote in made some good points of their own and I'd like to respond to them.

To Guillermo Jiminez writing from Fairfield, I am not saying that Costa Rica is the only place in the world where scams and the like exist. There are many con artists, as you have discovered, in the US. But I am not suffering from culture shock. I've lived in Germany, the Middle East and the Far East as well as 20 years in the US. I speak several languages and have a pretty good grasp of Spanish. 

I also don't behave like a rich gringo. I don't own a car here. I don't wear expensive jewelry or throw money about. The one thing I am is very observant and my letter contains my observations and opinions. Am I wrong in some of them? Possibly! Am I wrong in all of them? Absolutely not!

To Vickie Lansen from Quepos, we are going home. It would be hypocritical and inconsistent of us to make our comments and complaints and still stay here.  Within the month we will have permanently moved out of Costa Rica. Also for your information, I have had a pretty happy and fulfilled life. It is interesting that you chose not to rebut some of the things I said but merely make a personal attack for me daring to express my opinions. At least I have some!

From Martin Emanue from Heredia, another personal attack.  Why not enter into a debate about the remarks? Is it that you don't have anything to say? Or is it just that you are so vested in your decision that you are unwilling to admit to flaws in 'paradise'? 

By the way my comments on the level of IQ and common sense in Costa Rica are not random slams on the natives. It is a comment on the educational system.  In case you don't know, the standard way of measuring IQ is based on problem solving questions that require analytical ability. You find me a Costa Rican who scores above 100 and I will show you one who wasn't educated entirely in this country. 

Common sense is also a product of analytical ability and is in spite of, not the result of, education. Finally, I never said anything about dry
cleaning my shirts so you didn't even read my 

letter carefully. You just got hot under the collar and thought you would dash off a few hostile lines.

To Diego Hoffman in Atenas, if you can disprove anything that I said, I will be more than glad to listen. It's not slander, it's not half-truths and it's not verbal diarrhea. It's my opinion and I stand by it. You are welcome not to agree.

To Martin Rice, you make some valid points but I'm sorry, your argument that people buy one nail at a time because they are poor doesn't really hold water. While there is a lot of poverty here, there are also a staggering number of people driving vehicles, some new, some old. And many of those are people who do work in other people's homes. 

Driving to a store to buy one nail is not about being poor, it is about not thinking beyond the moment or the cost of the action. That indicates a lack of commonsense.

To all and sundry, those that wish I would leave on the next plane and those that wish I would give Costa Rica another chance and be more accepting of the limitations, we are leaving. So many people have told us that we need to lower our expectations. Maybe that is true but we don't see why we should. 

We are leaving and will never return. We wish that it were otherwise. We made a massive commitment to move here 2 years ago and hoped that it would be the place that we would spend the rest of our lives. It has been a great disappointment.

For those expatriates who have made Costa Rica their home and love it, more power to you. If you can accept all of the things that we find unacceptable and unpalatable, it doesn't mean that you are right and I am wrong or that I am right and you are wrong. It simply means that your expectations differ from ours. If we were all the same, we would watch one TV channel and read one newspaper!

There is nowhere on this planet that is perfect. There are many places that are much worse than Costa Rica and there are many that are better.  The U.S. is far from perfect, especially in these times of heightened paranoia and war. 

Michael Rochard



One man's remarks sparks a heavy debate.

I believe there are many U.S. citizens living here who feel as I do, but are afraid to publicly voice their opinions opposing recent scathing views from newcomers to this country as posted in amcostarica.com.

I wrote my earlier response (to one of the most distasteful letters to the editor I have ever read) at 4 a.m. as I was heading out the door from my home in Quepos on my way to Panama for a pleasure trip. I said to the writer of that letter, "Go Home Already!"

My journey to Panama, on mostly "indirect" buses, took me through some of the most beautiful, breath-taking country I have ever seen, and afforded me some of the most generous and courteous traveling companions I have ever experienced. 

An odd thing happened.  At every single checkpoint, and at the border, I was stopped both ways and numerous times my papers and passport were requested while none of the German, Italian or French travelers were questioned. 

At first I was annoyed.  I felt picked on and "profiled" at every checkpoint!  But later, after much thought, I realized that I might be paying the price for my fellow Americans' egoism, elitism, and rude behavior.  I find that, without fail, every single Costa Rican I have encountered is gracious, decent and helpful, once they judge me by my behavior and demeanor. 

Yet the "whisper," and sometimes "scream," about this country is that it is horribly corrupt, expensive and dangerous.  In fact, it is a safer country per capita than the United States.  Albeit, sometimes corrupt, Costa Rica is changing.  And expensive is subjective, and only the purchaser can gauge the value of the purchase, whether it is land, quality of life, or food!

It's a huge hurdle we United States citizens face here in Costa Rica. We are a country of people who make much more money per capita than Costa Ricans do, and unfortunately so many of our countrymen come here and make sure they know that! 

Recent letters in amcostarica.com are testament to the attitude of arrogant newcomers to this country.  My credo is that it's their county, and I am a guest, here by choice, and I damned well better behave as such.

It's much cheaper to buy property and live in Panama or Nicaragua.  Why don't people go there? I chose living here because it is a country of peace, a country of incredible beauty, a country of humble, simple living.  And with great fear of repercussions, I would add that personally, I prefer to live in a country of 4 million people who elected a man whose intellect surpasses Jeopardy winners, rather than a country of multiple millions who elected a guy who couldn't make it on The Gong Show.

Vicki Lansen

Just read the letters — including my own — on the pros and cons of Costa Rica. I have to take exception with the schoolteacher/cop from Idaho who seemed to want to blame Costa Rica's problems on the United States, including inflation as evidenced by the declining value of the colon. 

Maybe in the course of her education she did not take a class in economics. The declining value of the colon can, in my opinion, be directly related to the inability of Costa Rican government to live within its means. I read that the government spends about 30 percent more money than it takes in.

Inflation and devaluation are inevitable under these circumstances. I also think that the benefits of having estranjeros who retire and visit here far exceed any problems their presence creates. They bring dollars, pounds, francs and lira. This cash inflow inevitably benefits the country in providing jobs and income to Ticos. I think that the foreigners contribute just as much as they benefit. 

To me the major things the Costa Rican government could do to improve the lives of Costa Ricans and foreigners would be vast. For instance, they could take serious steps to end corruption and the bribery that pervades the system. They could improve the performance of law enforcement officers and make them more aggressive when in comes to preventing and solving crime. 

Where my property’s location is makes police response to calls for help difficult as, according to them, their police car is broken down. This is ridiculous. Perhaps the idea of a police academy is a good one if the proper curriculum is utilized and the opponents can get over their nationalism driven opposition. 

Finally, in those institutions such as banks and government offices where waits and inefficient operation is king, bring in some people, maybe even retirees who have good business experience, and find ways to streamline their operations. I sometimes wonder if they are not intentionally inefficient as it lends itself to more individual opportunities to get a little 'mordida'. If banks and such can operate efficiently elsewhere there is no reason they cannot do the same in Costa Rica. That’s just my opinion. 

With respect from one who loves Costa Rica. 

Thomas C. Payne 
D.V.M.Dalton, Ga/Playa Matapalo


Wow, Mr. Rochard, and others who agree: I can only repeat what others have said — love it or leave it! 

Is someone forcing you to stay there? Or is someone forcing you to be bitter? Like you, we also have had so many of those "bad" experiences . . . but maybe you should take a detour from the path of bitterness and take life for what it's worth. 

It's not about having the best, the quickest, the most, the fastest, the richest . . . it is obvious that that doesn't make someone happy. Try to find a little tranquility and a little bit of empathy for all of Latin America. They have had a much longer and harder road to freedom and commodities than you or us fellow Americans have had. 

If you are unable to dig deep enough to discover who you really are or what Costa Rica really has to offer you, then perhaps you should leave and find a sell-out job somewhere in the US where your needs and wants can be met by our overflowing capitalism! 

Pura vida, I’m moving to Costa Rica April 2003!

Jennifer Ryan

With regard to the letters in response to poor, unhappy, culture shocked Mr. Rochard and his ilk, my sentiments are with Mr. Cahill’s answer: “A smart guy like you should be able to get to the airport . . .” 

But I suspect for many of us that it’s not that simple. Perhaps Mr. Rochard is one of those many ex-pats who, for private and personal reasons, cannot go back. Maybe this is even a main cause for his bitter discontent. For this, I have a suggestion. 

Since you are here, give something up for the effort. Trade off a piece of your anger for the children. You don’t have to take them off the streets and into your home to make a difference. They don’t have to be your children.

For example: Joe and Gail, over in Heredia (or my old friend, Gene, from Guachipelín,) who take it upon themselves to clean up and maintain the local play-ground/park in their neighborhoods. Or Ron Durham down in Punta Uva, who cleans and patrols the local beaches, and even got the municipality to provide and maintain regular garbage pick-up. 

These culture volunteers (fit and healthy for their efforts) in their own time and at their own expense, mow and tend and pick up trash, while greeting their neighbors and other curious onlookers. And they will all tell you, these involved citizens, that their efforts make a positive difference in the attitude of the locals. If you don’t think a small shift in attitude can make a big difference, ask anyone who rode the city buses ten years ago, before they had wastebaskets, or civic respect.

If we want the next generation to respect and conserve the treasures they (we) have here, then we must teach them why, including the importance and value of dignity and self-respect. Education is the key to improving every level of human society, if it includes this perspective. So do your own part.

If you don’t like how it’s being done in Costa Rica, pick your own little venue and show by example how it could be improved. Give something back, Mr. Rochard, for the good weather, the lax laws and the smiling faces (you don’t get that in L.A…). 

Make an effort to get along. Learn enough Tico Spanish to at least exchange polite greetings and social protocol, and you will have the opportunity to see a different face of Costa Rica — one you may like a little better than the one you see now, maybe even including the one in the mirror.

Susanna Dewey

I have just finished carefully reading the letter from Michael Rochard and have concluded either there are two countries named Costa Rica or Mr. Rochard is a very cynical, negative and unhappy man.

You find what you look for, and to find a lot of what he spoke of in Costa Rica you'd have to be delusional or have some incredibly bad luck.

I live and run businesses in both San Jose and New York. As a resident and a business owner, I come into contact with a tremendous amount of Costa Rica. Its people, it's institutions and it's customs. I will completely agree with Mr. Rochard on crime — it is getting really scary and something needs to be done. I feel as safe as I do in major U.S. cities, but I remember when occasional pick pocketing was the biggest thing to be concerned with.

However, to say the whole culture accepts theft is ridiculous. I have many, many Tico friends and acquaintances and they are wonderful, caring and nice people. They are extremely moral and respectful of other people and their property. They also take tremendous pride in their work and are renowned to be some of the finest craftsmen around. I have no idea what you're talking about on that one.

As to them detesting us, I could certainly see why. All the time I see North Americans being bossy, nasty and arrogant. They have no idea of what's around them and that they're in someone else's culture. They don't detest us, they detest nasty, arrogant people who, even though they have it all, are still miserable and treat people poorly. They will shun these types of people and stay away from them. This may explain why you don't have any Tico friends.

You also claim the Ticos are unhealthy. Where did you get that? They are much healthier than any country I visit and I visit many. How many overweight Ticos do you see? 

I also must ask you if the education system is so bad why did Intel, Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft choose Costa-Rica to start operations? Because, according to them Costa Rica has by far the best educated workforce of any third-world and even a lot of 1st world countries.

Costa Rica is not perfect, it is a foreign culture. To compare it to or try to make it fit your expectations is insanity. Most of what you experience will be the result of your attitudes and actions. I think it is a great place with some of the best people in the world, the best scenery in the world, a tremendous amount of opportunity and a great place to live. 

I have a lot of close Tico friends and business associates. I find Ticos to be much more respectful and pleasant to deal with than Gringos back home and actually prefer my time here. I have loaned money to Ticos and always gotten it back. I have had few problems with repair work. 

I think that in order to live well here you certainly have to adjust and lose some of your North American values. For example: that time and money are more valuable than people are. It's certainly not for everyone, and that's why there are a lot of different places to live. Than again, most happy than unhappy. 

T. Busse
San Pedro and New York

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