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A.M. Costa Rica

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These stories were published Monday, Oct. 18, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 206
Jo Stuart
About us
Ham radio hobby alive and well in Costa Rica
By Clair-Marie Robertson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Radio aficionados in Costa Rica are known as "radio locos," according to Johnny Gomez Bremes (or TI2APM in ham radio terms), a member of Radio Club de Costa Rica since 1986: 

"We wake up thinking about it. We eat thinking about it, and we go to bed thinking about it. I guess that’s why they call us crazy." 

Ham radio is a hobby in which everyone can participate no matter what age or what physical condition. Enthusiasts use two-way radio stations from their homes, cars and boats.

Mauricio Odio (TI2MOT), another member of Radio Club de Costa Rica, said. "What is exciting and addictive is that you never know who you are going to speak to next and where about they are in the world. In the space of 10 minutes it is possible to make contact with people in Japan, Argentina, Venezuela and Australia. Believe it or not, it is also possible to communicate with the international space station too." 

When a ham radio enthusiast makes contact with someone, it is a courtesy to send a QSL card with their country of residence and ham radio identification. Odio has been a ham radio enthusiast for 16 years and in this time he has amassed a collection of thousands of QSL cards. 

"When everything is calm, we get the opportunity to make great friendships and practice the skills we need. But there is also a more serious side to ham radio," said Odio.

Odio’s enthusiasm for helping people and his interest in ham radio led him to join the search and rescue unit of the Red Cross in Costa Rica. "In 1988 there was a risk that Hurricane Joan was going to hit Costa Rica," said Odio. "So the decision was made to evacuate a large section of the population in Limón back to San José. 

"I was part of the group that made this possible. I also worked in Limón for a week and was in charge of informing the Red Cross in San José what medication and supplies were needed. Power lines were destroyed, and in these situations ham radio is the only way to get important messages in and out of the affected areas." 

The Radio Club de Costa Rica is located on the Zapote circle. There is a vast selection of ham radio magazines, which are all in English. They include copies of QST, and CQ from the 70s up to the present day. The magazines give advice about how to construct antennas and in what events and expeditions ham radio enthusiasts can get involved. 

A.M. Costa Rica/Clair-Marie Robertson
Johnny Gómez Bremes in action on the air

Two ways to get license

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Control National de Radio is responsible for issuing ham radio licenses. The agency is part of the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública. 

There are two ways someone can acquire a radio license in Costa Rica. 

• A temporary license can be obtained in Costa Rica if the applicant has a license from another country. Officials will ask about intended stay in the country, the location where the applicant will be staying and also what radio equipment the applicant has in his or her possession. 

• Applying for a permanent license is more complicated. Two exams need to be completed, practical and theoretical (which have to be completed in Spanish). 

An applicant need prove he or she has permanent residence here in Costa Rica. The cost of the license is no more than $2 at the current rate of exchange.

Annual membership for the Radio Club de Costa Rica is $13. A license is not required for Citizen Band Radio. If an expat or a tourist already has a ham radio license from another country, a consul there will need to authenticate the document in order for it to be used to obtain a license here.

For newcomers interested in ham radio as a hobby, the Radio Club de Costa Rica gives courses on the basics and advice about the procedures involved in getting a ham radio license. A theory examination must be completed about ham radio rules and regulations before a license can be issued. 

Rodríguez gets to live in a condo under house arrest: BELOW!
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Major study on coffee
involves 16,000 persons

Bristol University news service

One of the largest studies in the world looking at how caffeine in the diet may affect health, well-being and sleep patterns starts in Bristol, England, this week. The study is being carried out by researchers in the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Bristol. 

The results may have long-term implications on the use of coffee and other drinks.

The Dietary Caffeine and Health Study is funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, which is one of the leading funding agencies for academic research and training in biosciences at universities and institutes throughout the United Kingdom.

The study is particularly important because caffeine, found mainly in coffee, tea and cola, is the most widely consumed drug in the world, yet little is known about the amount of caffeine consumed and the implications for health.

Some 16,000 men and women will be chosen at random from the electoral register within two Bristol postcodes. Participants will be sent a pack asking them to take part in the study, whether or not they consume caffeine. The pack contains information about the study together with a questionnaire.

The study will investigate how much caffeine is consumed in the diet; how many caffeine free drinks are consumed; how people feel the caffeine in tea, coffee and cola affects them; what people think about caffeine, if at all; where people consume caffeine; how caffeine affects sleep and if people have any adverse effects after consuming.

"The consumption of tea is a national institution in the UK and coffee houses have sprung up all over. . . ," said Peter Rogers, professor of biological psychology and head of the Department of Experimental Psychology.

"However, ask anyone how much caffeine they consume in their diets and they'll find it hard to answer. We need people's help to increase our understanding of caffeine and the effects on health, well-being and sleep."

The Department of Experimental Psychology is well known for its research on caffeine and is one of the leading departments looking at caffeine and dietary influences. 

It’s another holiday here

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Today is a holiday in Costa Rica, el Día de las Culturas.

Traditionally the day is celebrated Oct. 12 on what used to be known as Columbus Day. But this year the holiday has been moved ahead a week, in part to accommodate the week-long carnival in Limón.

As with all U.S. and Costa Rican holidays, the U.S. Embassy will be closed today. Some Costa Rican government offices will be closed, but others will not be.

More reader comments

When did Liberal
become dirty word?

Dear A.M. Costa Rica: 

I am glad to see Mr. Leonowicz is so adept at repeating the Bush manifesto for Iraq. Just brand anyone who has an opposing viewpoint as a Liberal. Since when did Liberal become a dirty word?

I’m glad you see the U.S. operation in Iraq as a success. I don’t. Let me see we have pushed the deficit to an uncontrollable level and for what. The government has admitted to not finding any weapons of mass destruction, and of finding no direct links to Al Quaida. Of course Saddam was a brutal dictator, one of many that exist in the world. Are we now going to emancipate other people being oppressed by similar governments? 

Also there seems to be regimes that are of a greater threat to U.S. security than Iraq will ever be. Do we now go to war with them? I think you missed the point of Ms. Stewart’s article. That to me was that we are wasting a great deal of taxpayers’ money to rebuild Iraq. The materials and labor could be done for much less than we are spending. Also by allowing the Iraq people to actually profit from the reconstruction, we may in fact quiet some of the discontent. 

But I suppose you think it is better that large American companies line their pockets at tax payers expense. Very sound thinking. I know you will just write this off as more rantings by another "Liberal". Be my guest. But whoever is elected the next president is going to have to raise taxes in order to pay for this war. And I personally don’t see an end in sight. I recommend you start to think for yourself.

I believe it is the duty of all Americans, Republican and Democrat to question the action of our government. That is what democracy is based on. Or would that be un-American? 

Thomas Humes 
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Reading someone the riot act, but Tico style
Decirle hasta de lo que se va a morir

This means to have a serious talk with someone and "tell him or her what they are going to die of." In other words, read them the riot act, so to speak.

Some people might also say "I’m really going to let him have it," but I think this indicates a bit more aggression than is implied by today’s dicho. 

Unfortunately, these days we hear more and more of people who are not satisfied with merely arguing, and violence — especially if the parties have been drinking — often erupts over the silliest confrontations. 

I still recall an incident that occurred more than 20 years ago, when I first went to live in Indiana: A woman cut in line in front of another female patron at a local supermarket’s checkout counter. Whereupon the second woman self-righteously pulled a handgun from her purse and threatened the first lady with lethal force if she didn’t step to the end of the cue! 

Now, there’s a long distance between that kind of behavior and decirle hasta de lo que se va a morir. Of course, I can hear a lot of you saying, "Ah, well that’s Indiana for you," but I don’t really think such behavior is unique to any given geographical area. Such deadly absurdities can take place anywhere these days whenever people lose respect for one another’s lives and property. I’ve even heard of similar things happening in that proverbial valley of contentment we call Costa Rica.

Another story: When I first came to the United States I was living in Berkeley, Calif. One day, a friend called to invite me to attend the opera with him in San Francisco. He explained to me how to get the bus that would take me into the city right to the place where he would be waiting to meet me. I thought I got it right, but instead I took the bus to Oakland. 

When I suddenly realized that the San Francisco skyline was receding into the distance rather than getting closer I asked the bus driver — in my very broken English — where my stop was. He halted the bus and told me to cross the street and wait on the other side for the next bus. While I was waiting I decided to call my friend to tell him I was delayed. I entered a near-by phone booth and while I was talking a young man approached me. He said something about money that I didn’t completely understand. 

I put the phone down and held out my hand-full of coins trying, as best I could, to indicate that this 

way we say it

By Daniel Soto

was all the money I had. He regarded my 
outstretched hand with a puzzled expression. I could hear my friend screaming into the phone for me to get away from the guy and run. I hung up the phone and the fellow was still standing there blocking my exit from the booth and continuing to demand money. I tried to tell him that I had just enough to pay the bus back into San Francisco. 

Suddenly a smile crossed his face and asked me where I was from. I answered Costa Rica, and he said he’d heard it was a nice place. He wanted to know where I was going, and I explained in my best English that I was headed to San Francisco to go to the opera with a friend. He said I didn’t have enough money for the bus fare, with a bemused glance at the coins in my hand. Suddenly the bus pulled up. He got onto the bus and told the driver exactly where I needed to get off, and then, to my astonishment, he paid my fare! So what at first appeared to be a threatening situation turned out to be an episode where a fellow human being, whose name I didn’t even know, extended a great kindness to me. 

When I arrived at friend’s office, he was very upset and tried to explain to me that the man in the telephone booth wanted to rob me. "Oh no," I said. "He was a good man. He even paid my bus fare because he realized I didn’t have enough." My friend laughed at my apparent naiveté and was pleased I had escaped unharmed. But I believe now that it was my failure to meet belligerence with more belligerence that really won the day.

Sometimes I think about that man in the phone booth and wonder what ever happened to him. When things are bad and I’m feeling down, the memory of his act of anonymous kindness never fails to raise my spirits.

New study reports some bad news on amphibians
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Extinction among the world's amphibian species over the last century is occurring at a rate normally experienced over tens of thousands of years, and their rapidly declining numbers are probably a sign of poor health for the planet overall, according to a new study. 

The Global Amphibian Assessment is described as the most comprehensive study of these life forms ever conducted, involving more than 500 of the world's leading specialists in the field. The research was sponsored jointly by the The World Conservation Union, Conservation International and NatureServe, with funding in part from the U.S. Department of State and the National Science Foundation. 

In the survey of the world's frog, toad and salamander populations, scientists took stock of the status of more than 5,700 known species and found that 32 percent are threatened with extinction. The health of amphibians is considered a harbinger for the overall health of an ecosystem because the 

permeable skin of these creatures makes them immediately sensitive to environmental changes and pollutants.

"Since most amphibians depend on fresh water and feel the effects of pollution before many other forms of life, including humans, their rapid decline tells us that one of Earth's most critical life support systems is breaking down," said Simon Stuart, the leader of this research. 

Besides the unusually high rate of extinction, the Global Amphibian Assessment also found 43 percent of all these species is declining in total population. In the Americas, an infectious disease possibly linked to drought is reducing the populations, but in other parts of the world, habitat destruction, air and water pollution and  consumer demand are major factors in the demise of the amphibians. 

Colombia has the world's highest numbers of species in decline, 208. In Haiti, 92 percent of amphibian species are threatened, the highest rate in the world.

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A.M. Costa Rica is now able to deal in four more important world currencies, thanks to its association with Pay Pal.

Until now, the newspaper accepted payment internationally in U.S. dollars. Colons were accepted in Costa Rica. However, now the newspaper will accept Canadian dollars, euros, pounds sterling and yen via the Pay Pal Internet system. 

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Unhappy crowd tries to keep overhead door open at court complex while one man whacks metal with an umbrella.
Crowd tries to thrust their views at Rodríguez
By Saray Ramírez Vindas 
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Former president Miguel Ángel Rodriguez Echeverría may still be facing legal actions, but the court of public opinion has found him guilty.

When the former president arrived in Costa Rica Friday, officials who arrested him at Juan Santamaría Airport were worried about his safety. They had concerns about snipers and enraged citizens. He declined a protective vest.

The concerns were well placed. When the former president arrived at the Tribunales de Justicia in San José, a crowd had gathered. Most were newspeople. As the van passed containing the president, cries broke out:



Privately, some newspeople wondered what would happen to them and their publications or television stations if Rodríguez eventually is declared not guilty. He would have a slam-dunk defamation case. In the current series of corruption cases, there is little room for innocence until proven guilty, particularly in the news media.

As the caravan of investigators and Rodríguez entered a basement parking area of the court building, agents quickly began to lower the overhead door. The crowd, again mostly newspeople, surged at the door and began pounding their fists.

A unit of the Fuerza Pública moved in and pushed the crowd — now really a mob — back and established a police line with yellow plastic tape.

Rodríguez never really saw prison. He was kept in a holding cell at another court complex, this one in Goicoechea, Friday night. Saturday he complained of high blood pressure and spent six hours in Clinica Catolica in Moravia.

By then, Carlos Alberto Jovel Sánchez, a criminal judge who happened to be on duty, decided to let the former president go home under house arrest, a decision prosecutors will appeal.

This also was the wrong decision for many Costa Ricans. They wanted to see the former president doing hard time in San Sebástian or another infamous prison. Instead, Rodríguez went to a second-floor condominium at Vargas Araya, a section of Montes de Oca east of San José.

The gated condominium complex became a tourist attraction Sunday as Costa Ricans gathered briefly to stare at the place where Rodríguez was under detention. Police kept the nosy at bay.

Rodríguez faces allegations which best can be translated as graft, aggravated corruption, conspiracy and illegal enrichment. Under the procedures here, no formal charges will be filed until the end of the investigative process. That may be months or years.

Until Friday morning, Rodríguez was secretary general of the Organization of American States, a post that Costa Rican diplomacy had won him. He only served from Sept. 23. He was linked to the scandal investigations two weeks later.

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Young citizen vents his views for radio.

While in the court building Friday afternoon, Rodríguez gave an initial statement to prosecutors in which he said he was innocent. 

The charges he faces allege that a cabal of high officials systematically extracted payoffs from a series of public works projects and governmental purchases. Also implicated is Rafael Ángel Calderón Fournier, another former president.

All the public officials under investigation are members of the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana, which Calderón helped found. He served from 1990 to 1994.

More allegations of corruption crop up daily, and more names are added to investigators' lists.

Originally, prosecutors sought to establish if insiders shared a $9 million commission on a loan from the government of Finland. Typical of many loans from developed countries to the Third World, the proceeds could only be used to purchase goods from Finland. Costa Rica purchased medical equipment and supplies through the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social, the agency that runs the hospitals and clinics.

Allegations arose that much of the equipment was unneeded. Implicated early on in this scandal was a politician who was executive director of the Caja and also executives of the Corporación Fischel, a local drug and medical supply company.

As prosecutors dug into the web of Panamanian corporations and payments, they uncovered evidence that kickbacks had been paid by Alcatel, the French telecommunications company after it won a $260 million contract to upgrade the cellular telephone operations.

That later scandal involved employees and the board of directors of the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, which also runs the telephone service.

Now allegations are being made about a multitude of public works projects, including some recent ones. Rodríguez ended his four-year term in 2002.

In addition, the government of Taiwan has been drawn into the scandal. Allegations claim that Taiwan bankrolled Rodríguez in his campaign to be secretary general of the hemispheric association. 

President Abel Pacheco faces similar allegations involving his successful presidential campaign.

Nations line up to support Bolaños in Nicaragua
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Six Central American countries have asked the Organization of American States to stop efforts by Nicaragua's legislature to remove President Enrique Bolaños on corruption charges. 

Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Belize, Costa Rica and Panama said Saturday that efforts to impeach President Bolaños could threaten his country's democratic system. 

Nicaraguan lawmakers are looking into allegations of corruption surrounding Mr. Bolaños' 2001 election campaign. They say he has failed to fully explain where his campaign funds came from. 

The U. S. Government also said it stands firmly with the democratically elected government of Bolaños. 

"We deplore recent politically motivated attempts, based on dubious legal precedent, to undermine the

constitutional order in Nicaragua and his presidency, said a U.S. State Department release.

"Our government joins the presidents of Central America in expressing our support for President Bolaños and in decrying recent ploys which constitute a serious threat to institutionality, the rule of law, and democratic governance." 

"We join the call for the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States to meet in an effort to demonstrate hemispheric solidarity with President Bolaños and resolve to preserve democratic order in Nicaragua," it said, adding:

"As our government expressed earlier this week we unequivocally support President Bolaños' efforts to eradicate corruption and promote democracy in Nicaragua. These are goals which we share with all the people of the hemisphere. We are concerned that undermining democratic institutions puts at risk any efforts to promote economic development and fight poverty."

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 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.

Jo Stuart
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