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These stories were published Friday, Oct. 15, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 205
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Rodríguez returns to face questions about financial dealings 

Saray Ramírez Vindas
Vans arrive with ex-president
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
6:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 15, 2004

Ex-president Miguel Ángel Rodríguez Echeverría returned home in disgrace Friday to catcalls, insults and boos. 

He was handcuffed when he arrived on a commercial flight at Juan Santamaría airport and rode in a police van to the Tribunales de Justicia in the San José court complex. There the caravan drove through an unhappy crowd that assembled to see the fallen leader. But they did not. 

Investigators took the vehicles into an inside parking area. Citizens beat on the overhead doors as security guards closed them.

Rodríguez was still talking to prosecutors Friday night, but the probability is that he will be confined.

Earlier story, BELOW!


 
Expensive Web page makes few tourism deals
By Clair-Marie Robertson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica’s premier tourist Web page system, authorized two years ago for $833,000, has logged just 80 reservations since it started operating.

The operator of the Argentine-based Web site and call center did not want to talk publicly about the situation. He characterized his contract with the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo as an agreement between private parties. 

Meanwhile, a check of the domain listing on the Internet shows that the valuable name, visitcostarica.com, actually is owned by the contractor and not the Costa Rican government. This is a critical point because the controversial marketing agreement is up for renewal in two months.

Locally, a tourism institute Internet expert said part of the problem is hotels here do not have fax machines or telephones for reservations.

The expert, Saül Ruíz, agreed that the on-line reservation facility has not been as successful as the institute had anticipated.  The Web page gets between 32,000 and 80,000 hits per month. It was he who said reservations had totaled only 80 in the last two years.

To put this in perspective, A.M. Costa Rica in comparison gets approximately 1.3 million hits a month. 

The Web site contains photos and articles about Costa Rica and its regions. But the heart of the project is a data base that includes many of the commercial tourism operations in the country. Many of these are incomplete because no photos are visible of the various hotels and resorts. The listings contain spaces for photos.

The contract for the Web site was awarded to a consortium headed by an Argentine company, Despegar.com, Inc. Ruíz said that there were seven companies in the running including a business from Costa Rica. 

An employee from a Costa Rican company that submitted a bid said the bid requirements were such that only one bidder had the ability to provide all of the specifications that the tourism institute requested. 

Soluciones Globales del Norte S.A. is a subsidiary of Despegar.com, a major travel agency in Latin America, and Global Bay, Inc., a New Jersey Web developer. Despegar.com has locations in Miami, Fla., and Buenos Aires, Argentina, as well as other Latin capitals.

"A lot of people thought that it was just the site that was in the budget of $833,000, but, in fact, there were several other factors such as the call center, and the on-line reservation facility," said Ruíz. "The exact cost of the Web site on its own was $216,000." 

The call center and toll-free number from North America for tourism was put in place to help answer any queries would-be visitors may have about Costa Rica. Ruíz did not have any statistics available to demonstrate how frequently tourists call. The contract for the deal said that the tourism institute will have constant access to reports obtainable from the Web that will let officials know how many calls have come in.

The contract drawn up in August 2002 between Soluciones Globales and the tourism institute shows that the waiting time is not supposed to exceed two minutes. Ruíz said the current waiting time is eight minutes.

Several attempts have been made to contact technical assistants and officials at Despegar.com, Inc., the parent company. Once 

Site gets traffic

The Web site of the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo attracts a reasonable amount of Internet traffic. Alexa.com, the rating company associated with amazon.com, said the Web page, www.visitcostarica.com, is ranked No. 82,464th of the most-visited Web sites in the world.

By contrast, La Nación is ranked 6,688th. A.M. Costa Rica is ranked 75,481st. The Tico Times is ranked 153,788th, according to statistics available Thursday.

reaching the call center a reporter found difficulty in finding someone who spoke English. Still more difficult is to get in contact with someone who is prepared to talk about the agreement. A woman who answered the telephone said the call center was in Argentina.

The contract between Soluciones Globales/Despegar.com and the tourism institute says that the operators will all speak fluent English, Spanish and French. Many telephone numbers listed on the contract and supporting documents have been disconnected and some e-mail addresses cause messages to bounce. Global Bay, Inc., the New Jersey partner, was unreachable because the numbers provided the tourism institute were disconnected. This was the company in charge of the technical aspects of designing the site.

Federico Fuchs is the manager for Despegar who negotiated the contract.  He was not willing to answer any questions when finally reached by A.M. Costa Rica Thursday.

When asked about the agreement between Despegar.com and the tourism institute, he said he was otherwise occupied. He suggested that another Despegar official should speak with reporters. But that official said a confidential agreement exists between the tourism institute, a government body, and Despegar. The original contract contains no such agreement.

A  check of Internet records shows that the domain is owned by Despegar.com until 2012. The contract says the domain should be in the name of the tourism institute.

Only last week the institute  was awarded the prize for the best Web site in Costa Rica by a panel of judges from the Asociación Hispanoamericana de Centros de Investigación y Empresas de Telecomunicaciones. 

The Web site was judged the best of 200 entries. "Each site was revised meticulously. The most important criteria that we judged the sites on were its content — above all of national relevance and the quality and the structure of the site." said Fernando Gutiérrez, the minister of Ciencias y Technologias.

The prize awarded to the tourism institute Web site was welcomed by Ruíz. "I feel that the cost of this project was and will continue to be a good investment for Costa Rican tourism."


 
 
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Taiwan is sucked 
into growing scandal

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica’s corruption scandal took a political turn this week when allegations arose that former president Miguel Ángel Rodríguez Echeverría got $1.4 million from the government of Taiwan.

Until now, the scandal had been one of kickback allegations on government purchases. But the Taiwanese claims, made Wednesday, generated calls that the country break relations with the Asian island.

Rodríguez, himself, is expected to return to Costa Rica today after ending his short-lived tenure as secretary general of the Organization of American States. He is expected to go right to the Ministerio Público and the offices of the prosecutor investigating the ballooning case. There is a probability that he will be arrested.

Taiwan has been generous to Costa Rica and has donated public works, including the Puente de Amistad in Guanacaste that bridges the Río Tempisque. However, some money from that country also found its way into President Abel Pacheco’s campaign accounts.

The latest allegation suggests that Rodríguez took the money covertly in exchange for unspecified support. The Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto Thursday strongly denied allegations that money from Taiwan was used to finance the campaign of Rodriguez for the position at the Organization of American States. The former president took over that job Sept. 23.

Diario Extra published copies of checks made out to a handful of ministry officials by a local corporation, the Asociación para el Desarrollo de la Politica Exterior de Costa Rica S.A.

The ministry said that the Chinese did not finance the candidacy and that many of the checks were as much as six years old.

Earlier this year other newspapers reported that the Taiwan government was making payments that were being used to enhance the salaries of those working at the ministry.

The week featured an on-air confession and a suicide by a former president of the embattled political party.

A former director of the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad went on Channel 7 Teletica Wednesday and admitted taking $800,000 from Alcatel, the French telecommunications firm. Then he said he would surrender the money. And the man, Hernán Bravo Trejos, apologized and said the money did not affect his decisions at the government communications company.

The man who shot himself was Mario Quintana Musmanni, a well connected lawyer who was president of the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana from 1990 to 1992. He was found dead in his home in Piedades de Santa Ana west of San José Wednesday afternoon. Despite the man’s political connection, there was no indication that he was under investigation.

Prosecutors continued to work on the case Thursday and searched six locations and made two arrests, including that of the former manager of Acatel here, Edgar Valverde. That took place at his home in the upscale Los Arcos subdivision west of San José.

A lawyer, Luis Adrián Quirós Carmona, was the second person arrested. He is a member of a San Ramon legal firm through which much of the money alleged to be payoffs passed. He told reporters he thought the money was just normal payments for services and professional fees and that he issued checks as directed by Alcatel officials.

Ex-president Rodríguez is the second former chief of state involved in the investigation, Rafael Ángel Calderón Fournier went before a legislative committee Thursday and denied he had done anything wrong. But he declined to explain in detail.

According to the scenarios current in the Spanish press and on television both Calderón and Rodríguez received portions of any payoffs that were made by Alcatel. The company won a cellular telephone contract two years ago. Rodríguez served from 1998 to 2002.

Calderón also is linked to the payment of some $9 million as a commission for Costa Rica’s approval of a $39 million loan from Finland that was to be used to purchase medical supplies from that country.

Nearly all those involved in the scandal are members of the Partido Unidad, the same party to which President Abel Pacheco belongs. Many, like Hernán Bravo, held high offices. He was minister of the environment under Calderón in 1990 to 1994. That was before he got the director’s post at the telecommunications monopoly.

As the scandals grow in complexity and the number of people involved increases, prosecutors are suggesting that it might take years before the investigation is completed and any suspects are brought to trial. 

One complexity is that some of the companies and bank accounts that show up in the chain of various payments are in other countries. Three prosecutors have visited Panamá specifically to examine bank account records there.

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This flu shot has a knockout punch included
Deciding it might be prudent to get a flu shot while they lasted, I walked into the pharmacy around the corner from my bank on the Paseo de los Estudiantes. 

The doctor on hand (I assume he was a doctor since the clerks called him "Doctor") was the same person who from time to time has taken my blood pressure. He asked if I wanted something to fight the flu or to prevent it. I said I wanted to prevent it. 

No problem. He gave me a shot in my upper arm, and the charge was 4,200 colons (about $9.40). I did some shopping and went home where I felt like someone (as my mother used to say) had slipped me a Mickey. I could barely make it to my bedroom on my aching joints. 

Some four hours later I woke up, still feeling woozy and sore of joint. I couldn’t remember if I had eaten. A visit to my kitchen and a look into the sink told me I had, but I had not done the dishes. I couldn’t remember fixing lunch or eating it or what I ate, but I wasn’t hungry. I barely managed to stand up long enough to wash the dishes. I began to wonder about that doctor — did he actually think someone with a full-blown case of the flu would be able to walk into his pharmacy?

It was another full day before I began to feel normal again. 

In the United States there is a woeful shortage of flu shots because one of the few producers of this vaccine, a California company with a factory in England, found some contamination in their batch. The shot I got was from a company in Lyon, France, with the comforting name of Aventis Pasteur, S.A. 

I called my friend Bill to ask if he had had his flu shot. He said that he got his locally in Ciudad Colon and it cost him 3,700 colons (about $8.25). He didn’t feel so great right afterwards, but he was feeling fine now. 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart
jostuart@racsa.co.cr

I decided to check another pharmacy in town. The one on the corner, across the street from the Automercado on Third Avenue was a good comparison, I thought, because they took my blood pressure for free while the pharmacy on the Paseo de los Estudiantes always charged me 100 colons. They had two types of flu shots. The Imovax, which I had received, was 3,600 colones (hmm), and the Fluarix cost 3,750. There seemed to be no difference in effectiveness. They, too, were unaware of any shortage. 

Meanwhile I hear on the news that people in the United States are making the rounds of all possible suppliers to get flu shots. There are very few producers of the vaccine because it is not a very profitable business for the drug industry. 

It doesn’t take a mathematical genius to tell you which is more profitable — one shot per year at a cost of perhaps $20 versus taking a pill every day for the rest of your life. But now there are rumors that price gouging is occurring and some companies are charging as much as 10 times the cost of the vaccine. 

If the price continues to go up, I can imagine some enterprising travel agency advertising a double deal — "Come to Costa Rica for dental work and a flu shot — recover in a luxurious hotel room (no sink full of dirty dishes for you). Side trips to a rainforest and a visit to an active volcano (Save yourself a trip to Mount St. Helena)."

Gee, if I hadn’t already had my flu shot I would take them up on the offer.


 
More readers talk about politics, real estate
 
Election pamphlet
demeans retarded

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Those of you who know me personally recognize the fact that I am physically challenged. No complaints. In life, we all must play the hand we are dealt. 

I'm so proud of my oldest son that my chest swells with pride and a smile appears on my face every time I think of him and his lovely wife. They have proven what kind of people they are in raising their children. You see, my son's oldest daughter, my oldest granddaughter, is mentally challenged. 

Many folks would have placed her in a home somewhere, and let the State raise her. My son and his wife chose not to do so. They are raising her themselves. She'll soon be approaching her 20th  birthday. I love her so. I also have an abundance of love and affection for my second son and the rest of my grandchildren. 

The reason I point these facts out will become very clear farther on in this letter. However, allow me to digress for a moment. I correspond via e-mail fairly regularly with a little over 350 folks. Most of them are Bush supporters like I am. I can only identify six who are Kerry supporters. 

I wondered why this is true until I realized that five of the six Kerry supporters reside in La-La-Land, the Northeastern States and the population centers on the West Coast. 

One of the Kerry supporters sent me a flyer, which is being distributed from a Kerry-Edwards headquarters' office. The flyer depicts a child with disabilities with President Bush's face running in a track race. The headline states: "Voting for Bush is Like Running in the Special Olympics: Even if You Win, You're Still Retarded" 

The English language does not contain the words to describe the disgust, outrage and anger I felt and continue to feel right now. Don't expect John Forbes Kerry to admit that the flyer is a mistake and apologize. He's never apologized to the Vets who were prisoners of War in Vietnam for the extra pain and suffering they had to endure because of his Senate testimony concerning the "atrocities" he claimed were being committed by American troops. 

At least, Jane Fonda had the good grace to apologize to veterans for her part in the antiwar protests. No sir, not John. If the POWs suffered because of his lies, that's just tough. Even though his testimony before the committee was not true, he won't admit his testimony was a mistake. 

He's never apologized for his vote against the authorization bill to fund the body armor and equipment needed by our troops. His answer when called to account for his action is "I voted for it before I voted against it." Guess that makes it OK. No apology required, right? 

Don't expect the senator to apologize for the way he used the fact that Vice-President Chaney's daughter is a lesbian in his remarks on homosexuality in last night's debate. So don't expect John Forbes Kerry to admit the flyer is a mistake. Don't expect an apology from someone who's never made a mistake which required an apology, who won't even admit when he's made a mistake. 

Attacks on Republicans as being mentally handicapped is not a new phenomenon. Back in 1994 while in Virginia campaigning against Oliver North in his U.S. Senate bid, then-Vice President Al Gore attacked North supporters as "the extreme right-wing, the extra chromosome right wing." Down's Syndrome is caused by an extra chromosome. 

Don't expect to see the flyer story on NBC, ABC, CBS or CNN . Don't expect to read about it in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, USA Today or any of the other left-leaning, Kerry-supporting news media. It won't be there. 

Jim Edwards 


Real estate experiences
have been positive

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I was concerned by Mr. Dame's letter in that it received a sizable portion of an online newspaper's rather limited text. I feel certain that Mr. Dame has set the boundaries of reply by the insertion of information that he is not a sucker. What he seems to have communicated on his pained forehead to his intended audience, is that he'll never be a happy camper. 

My experience with realtors both Gringo and Tico has been nothing less than positive. Both groups have gone the extra mile. Perhaps the writer has not experienced or forgotten the fakes and sharks practicing stateside. Get a life, Mr. D. God forbid you actually buy and have to deal with the passive resistent Tico employee or vendor or the agitating guest in that shangri-la B & B of yours.

Ivan Marleaux
Miami, Fla. and Barva


His point is scope
of Jo Stuart column

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I am sure you don't want to have your paper used as a forum for me or any other reader to go back and forth on his or her views. However, in answer to Mr. Torbellino criticism of my lexically-challenged statement. Frankly, I guess I am so lexically-challenged that I don't know what that means, but surmise it is not complimentary. I think he, as an expert, could at least spell my name correct. 

Anyway, I have no agenda politically, but I suppose Mr. Torbellino does, however his letter was so rambling I am not sure what it is. I don't care if someone agrees or disagrees with present US foreign. My point is I don't think Ms. Stuart as an expatriate living in a foreign country should be giving her opinions U.S. policy in another country in her A.M. Costa Rica articles. 

If she wants to write a letter to the editor like the rest of us, that's fine. I have written her to tell her if she wants to write about how U.S. policy effects Costa Rica, I have no problem with that. 

As far as I know this has more or less been the policy of The Tico Times. I think Ms Stuart is a talented writer and like her articles on things she has experienced. If she can't help but give her political views, I guess I will have to except that. Then I suppose we can also be expecting the food and Tico language writers will be giving their political views as well. 

Bobby Ruffín 
Guadalupe

EDITOR’S NOTE; Jo Stuart is a general columnist who can choose her own topics. Most readers also know she is president of Democrats Abroad of Costa Rica this year, and has a strong interest in U.S. politics.

Buyer broker concept
outlined for writer

Dear A.M. Costa Rica: 

Mr. Dame scores many valid points in your scathing indictment of real estate agents and organizations here in Costa Rica. From lack of professionalism to scams to hidden agendas, you have hit the nail right on the head, as your experiences mirror those of myself and many others. 

Finally, after seven years of living in Costa Rica and seeking the "fire sale" types of prices for attractive properties, I have found my little piece of family-suitable and affordable land here in Heredia. I used a buyer's agent, who so impressed me that I decided to join his firm and bring this same service to everyone.

I am absolutely proud and confident to announce to all that this buyer's agency stands ready and waiting to serve you. This agency owns no properties, no lots, no buildings. The agency exists for one purpose: to find affordable, attractive real estate, introduce seller and buyer, and direct both to honest, competent professionals to handle the sale. 

We do not condone two tier pricing. We check real estate values to confirm validity of pricing, and check for any legal snags that may affect the buyer. We do not accept payment from sellers nor do we act in their interests. Simply put, we work only for the buyer, PERIOD. We strive to be professional, competent and honest at all times and on all levels. 

And here is the kicker: Our  agency does not charge a percentage of any purchase, but rather a straight fee. Example: a purchase of a $200,000 property nets us a fee of just $3,000! We have numerous property owners looking to sell nice properties for under $50,000, not just one or two "teasers" that are always gone by the time you can respond. 

It is our pledge to you, our customers, to bring you the kind of properties you want, at the best possible price we can obtain. We work for you and no one else. Our motto: "You're going to get more than your money's worth . . . ." 

So, Mr. Dame, take heart, we are here to help!

In case you were wondering what I paid for the beautiful lot for my new family home, I paid about 5,000 colones ($11.18) per M2! 3,493 square meters (about 3/4 of an acre) for $38,486. 

Brian Smith 
Heredia


He does not feel
safer overseas

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Given AM Costa Rica's content over the last two days, it seems obvious that the editors mail box was flooded with responses to Mrs. Stuart's article. 

I suppose one more will not hurt then. Some of the responses agreed with the article, stating that the damage might be so severe that America's image may be permanantly tarnished in Iraq and throughout the world. Other responses defended the administrations actions and questioned Mrs. Stuart's ability to write about political topics. 

So let's cut through the middle of the responses. As an American, I am fully aware of the fact that the United States is willing to take actions to preserve the safety of its citizens, regardless of what foreign nations might object. So the simple question is, do we feel any safer? 

Living in a foreign country, I can tell you that the answer is a decided no. My fear of foreigners has risen since the U.S. embarked on its latest crusade and created an international policy that has everyone sitting on pins and needles. For those still living in the United States, the answer is not any brighter. 

Yellow, red and blue alerts cloud an already marshy picture and many of my relatives still living in the States aren't sure whether they should safe or worried. 

The point is that the U.S. has placed itself in a precarious position that is difficult to justify and has no clear end in sight. Regardless of whether you feel our actions are warranted or not, the only question you need to answer is whether or not you feel any safer. 

Jack McClure 
Boston expat 
San Jose, Costa Rica


An offer to writer
of real estate complaint

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Today I read with surprise that John Dame has had difficulty in finding property for a bed and breakfast. Seems he doesn't check many Web pages, or is it that he does but he cannot find anything in the price range he expects to find? Often, this is the basis for accusing realtors of inefficency and I note that he says "foreign" realtors tell sellers they can get two or three times the price the seller asks, which makes me suspicious. 

My experience most often is to tell sellers that they won't get the price they ask because most potential buyers make offers, expecting overblown prices in general. Yet, most importantly, anyone fortunate enough to buy well has usually done plentiful homework as opposed to listening to a broker or sales agent or the buyer has much experience in what value represents or simply a good eye for investment (or real esate). 

Mr. Dame gives little information about what he wants to purchase as Costa Rica offers many locations appropriate for his investment. He instead prefers spewing angry comments at lots of folks, including A.M. Costa Rica.

I think this man needs help. Should he write to me with his preferences for size, climate, type of clientel he would like to appeal to, plus budget, I would attend his inquiry promptly. And, I would appreciate the opportunity to be of service. 

Thank you and have a good day. 

Frances 
A San José real estate agent

 
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Scientists try to establish markers for Alzheimer's
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Among the most important tools for understanding the brain are imaging technologies that take pictures inside the skull by scanning the head. A new U.S. government collaboration with the private sector is aimed at making brain imaging a definitive tool for diagnosing and tracking Alzheimer's disease, the degenerative brain disorder that is becoming more widespread as the world's population ages. 

In the last few decades, researchers have made great strides in understanding the biology of 
Alzheimer's disease, which the World Health Organization says affects about 5 percent of the global population. For example, scientists know that the patient's brain shrinks significantly because of the loss of nerve cells, causing dementia. Yet despite the 
biological progress, there are no cures for Alzheimer's or treatments to delay its onset. Some drugs reduce the symptoms, but an expert on the imaging of degenerating brains, Michael Weiner a physician at the University of California at San Francisco, says they are only short-term solutions. 

"These drugs temporarily improve memory function, but they do not affect the progression of the disease at all," Weiner says. "They are kind of like morphine for the pain of cancer. They reduce the symptoms, but they do not slow the progression of the disease. What we want are disease modifying agents." 

To speed progress in Alzheimer's research, U.S. government health agencies have teamed with private drug companies and Alzheimer's interest groups to develop biological standards to measure the disease's progression and determine its severity. 

Currently, researchers focus on behavioral measures of dementia, such as memory changes and the ability to perform daily tasks. But the physician who directs the U.S. government's National Institute on Aging, Richard Hodes, says scientists need additional, more objective, physical markers. Therefore, the project will focus on measuring the brain's deterioration through modern imaging techniques. 

Hodes says this will provide data about the nature of Alzheimer's and possibly identify targets for drug intervention. 

"If we can follow and track the progression of 

disease and can as sensitively as possible then determine the effective interventions to alter the course of disease, we have the real potential to accelerate and make much more efficient and effective our ability to design drugs and other interventions," Hodes says. 

Laboratories follow different procedures to image the brain. Some use a technique called magnetic resonance imaging that looks at brain structure. Others use a so-called PET scan, which looks at brain chemistry and function. One goal of the new project is to determine what the standard should be to determine the state of an Alzheimer's brain accurately. It will also seek other biological markers to measure the state of dementia, such as conditions in the blood and brain-spinal fluid. 

Project researchers will take various types of brain scans and blood and urine samples of 800 elderly people for five years. Some will be normal men and women, others with mild cognitive disorders who are considered at high risk for developing Alzheimer's, and the rest who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. The participants will also take standard clinical tests of memory and problem solving. 

The University of California's Weiner said the physical images of each person's brain will be compared to his or her mental test results to determine if brain shrinkage or other biological indicators are accurate markers for progression. 

"That is what we call the validation process — to determine the extent to which the rate of change on the imaging and the biomarker data correlates to clinical progression," Weiner says. "Hopefully we will find that it will because we have a lot of preliminary data that suggests that we will, but we need to do it on a large scale." 

The quest for physical markers to measure Alzheimer's is like the search for one for HIV. Researchers learned that the virus destroys disease-fighting immune cells called CD4 and that the number of CD4 cells a patient has determines the severity of HIV. The CD4 measure is a standard for treatment and AIDS research. 

National Institute on Aging director Richard Hodes says doing the same for Alzheimer's might help reduce the number of people who get the dementia, now expected to triple to perhaps 90 to 100 million worldwide by 2050. 

"The toll that would involve in terms of human suffering above all, but also the stress upon the medical system, the economy, and society at large is intolerable," Hodes says. "Hence the urgency in carrying through the studies that we are talking about." 


 
More endangered species get worldwide protection
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BANGKOK, Thailand — The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species has wrapped up here with conservationists and many of the 166 member nations pleased with steps taken to regulate the trade in rare species, even though most agree more can be done. 

Delegates at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species  voted to protect a range of species, such as the minke whale, the great white shark and the tropical ramin trees. 

Not everyone is happy with all the decisions made at the conference. Japan's delegation is furious it was unable to get the convention to expand the commercial hunting of the minke whale, which is considered a delicacy in Japan. Some African nations were disappointed that their proposal for expanded trade in elephant ivory was rejected. 

Overall, environmentalists came away pleased by the conference. Delegates generally voted to restrict trade, not loosen it. Several new species were added to the list of protected animals. 

Debbie Banks, with the Environmental Investigation Agency, a London group, says the delegates also put new emphasis on law enforcement. 

"I think one of the topics of discussion on the sidelines here has been political will," she noted. "And that is the political will of the governments to provide resources to the various ministries and agencies that deal with wildlife, but also, importantly, that governments having the political will to provide resources to the enforcement community." 

The delegates struggled with the issue of 

sustainable development — letting countries make economic use of wildlife, without endangering its survival. While many conservationists want to severely restrict economic uses of wildlife, many countries feel they have no choice but to do so. 

Beverly Wade, the director of fisheries in the tiny Caribbean country of Belize, which is known for its conservation efforts, says this is a crucial issue. 

"The reality is that we use our natural resources and you cannot just blanketly conserve things without looking at the social economic impacts that those decisions are going to have on people," she added. 

Ms. Wade said the convention should not arbitrarily group together nations merely because they are involved in a similar activity. She cites the queen conch shellfish, which is found throughout the Caribbean and is Belize's second-largest seafood product. 

Ms. Wade says the convention has put Caribbean nations on notice that trade in the queen conch could be restricted. But she says that her government has taken great strides in ensuring that its conch harvest does not threaten the survival of the species in Belizean waters. 

Ms. Wade says conservation efforts must take into consideration how they affect people. 

"The people factor," she said. "We cannot forget people in this whole equation." 

During the conference, Namibia and South Africa persuaded delegates to ease the ban on hunting the black rhino by showing that population is on the upswing. They pledged that the money raised from hunts will be used for conservation efforts.


 
Priest questioned on possible role in violence in Haitian capital
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — National police have detained a Catholic priest here to question him about recent street violence in the capital that has left at least 45 people dead.

Police say the Rev. Gerard Jean-Juste was taken into custody for questioning Wednesday after they 

received reports he helped organize the two weeks of violence by gangs the government says are supporters of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Those gangs are demanding an end to what they call an "occupation" by U.N. peacekeepers. 

A multinational force has been in Haiti since Aristide, a former priest, fled the country Feb. 29.


 
The time has come for more stories of spooks and banshees
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

If the local political and financial news are not scary enough for you, we invite you again this year to submit your efforts to our annual Halloween short story contest.

Once again the prize will be $25 and worldwide recognition though the pages of A.M. Costa Rica. After all, we are read in 89 countries each day.

The stories must have a theme that is consistent with Halloween: Spooks, witches, goblins, ghosts. 

By submitting a story to editor@amcostarica.com you are certifying that the story was written by you, that it is original and unpublished and that we may publish it. We will. Graphics are welcomed but will not be part of the evaluation. Deadline is Oct. 25 at midnight, of course.

Judging will be by the strange figure that inhabits the A.M. Costa Rica offices after hours. We’ll just leave the computer on for its decision.

Try to keep the stories around, 1,000 words or less and make sure that there is a connection with Costa Rica.


 
 
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