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These stories were published Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 206
Jo Stuart
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Country braces for the backlash from Wilma
By Jesse Froehling
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

After a nearly four-week long bombardment of rain that has chased thousands from their homes and done untold damage along the Pacific Coast, another hurricane may be touching Costa Rica.

The depression off the Caribbean coast has officially been upgraded to Tropical Storm Wilma.  The 21st storm of the Atlantic Hurricane season ties the record set in 1933.  The season doesn't officially end until Nov. 30.  The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional predicted that Wilma will become a hurricane sometime today. 

The United States National Hurricane Center forecasts Wilma creeping slowly up the Caribbean Coast, where by 9 p.m. tonight it should be dumping rain on Cape Gracias a Díos on the border between Honduras and Nicaragua. 

The hurricane center shows the storm veering right of the Yucatan Peninsula, wrapping around the eastern tip of Cuba and by 8 p.m. Saturday, it should be over the Florida Keys. 

Monday night, Wilma was located off the coast of Gracias a Díos and moving at only 2.5 mph slightly southwest.  By this morning, it should have begun veering north and become a hurricane.

Predictions to the contrary, the full moon broke out of the clouds over the Central Valley late last night,perhaps suggesting that the impact from Wilma might be less than expected.

A map provided earlier by the Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias shows nearly all of the northern Nicoya Peninsula and the region around Aguirre and Quepos on the central
Pacific under red alert.  People living in those areas should be ready to evacuate should the need arise, said Alex Solís of the commission.  Heavy rain is expected there and in the Central Valley until at least Wednesday the weather institute said.   

The rest of the Pacific Coast was under yellow alert and the entire country was under green, meaning residents should be ready for floods and landslides, Solís said. 

Walter Navarro, director general of the Fuerza Pública, said his agency is coordinating plans with several others to help people evacuate who can't do so themselves.  In conjunction with the emergency commission, local first-response committees are soliciting more personnel, especially in Guanacaste where rescue crews have been working for the past 15 days, the commission said.  Emergency committees are also working to insure that suitable shelters are open should more persons have to evacuate their homes, the commission said.

Currently, 2,091 persons in Guanacaste alone have been forced from their homes the commission said.  1,420 of them are in 22 shelters spread throughout the region, the commission added.  Of the 205 damaged homes in the province, most are in Bagaces.  In addition 22 roads and 13 bridges have sustained significant damage. 

The catastrophe in Central America generated by the hurricanes is gaining international attention, though Guatemala and El Salvador are getting most of it.  Though the situation is serious in Costa Rica, the country's neighbors to the north are in harder times.  The German government announced that it plans to donate 300,000 euros ($360,000) to Guatemala, El Salvador and Mexico.  In Guatemala alone, Rita and Katrina have forced more than 40,000 persons from their homes, the German Embassy in San José said.   

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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 206

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Store owner blasts
two armed robbers

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A video store owner in San Pedro pulled a gun on two would-be robbers, killed one and sent the second to the hospital, Fuerza Pública officers said. 

According to the owner, identified by the last names Mantén Sánchez, two men entered the San Pedro store, Magic Video, at approximately 8 p.m. Sunday and demanded all the money in the cash register.  Mantén said he then whipped out a 9-mm. pistol and shot them, police reported. 

The two suspects were identified by the last names of Solano Serrano and Vargas Canessa, officers said.  Vargas, 22, was shot three times in the neck, throat and right leg and Solano, 27, was shot once in the throat and once in the head, said police.  Solano died on the scene, police said. 

In the exchange of shots, an employee, Nicole Fernández, was also shot in the face, police said.  She was able to walk to an ambulance with a gauze pad over her face and was taken to Hospital Calderón Guardia.

Bus rates are rising
on 257 routes

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 257 bus routes will have higher rates after the new fares are published in the official government newspaper.

The Autoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públicos said last week that it had approved an average of 6.97 percent hike for the 511 routes that include service all over the country.  Not every bus operator who applied got an increase, the authority said, adding that increase ranged from five colons to 340 colons.

The Sabana-Cementerio route went from 80 to 85 colons. San José-Grecia increased from 455 to 490 colons. San José to Playas del Coco went from 2,365 to 2,545. The colon today is valued at 489.1 to the U.S. dollar.

The rates will not go up until the official notice is published. The document is 102 pages.

Suspects in Medina case
go to trial today

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A complex trial begins today in a San José courtroom involving kidnappings, the murder of a radio commentator and money laundering.

This is the long-awaiting trial of the Rev. Mínor Calvo Aguilar and Omar Chávez Mora, who operated the popular Radio María religious radio station.

They are in the dock along with the men prosecutors say they hired to negotiate or murder Parmenio Medina Pérez, the host of the show La Patada. Medina exposed dark parts of the Radio María story.

Medina was murdered by gunmen July 7, 2001, when he drove from his radio station to his Heredia home. The trial is made more complex because the persons alleged to be the contract killers are facing unrelated charges of kidnapping that will be tried at the same time.

Prosecutors will present nearly 150 witnesses and boxes of documents.

Also in the dock is a reporter for El Diario Extra who is charged with giving a cell telephone to one of the suspects while the individual was in jail.

In a Costa Rican trial there is no jury. Three judges will decide the case.

New school, cemetery
approved for towns

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

As a sign of a growing population, Parrita will get a new school and Nicoya will get a new cemetery.

The Asamblea Legislative has acted to allow the  Municipalidad de Parrita on the Pacific coast to donate a plot of land to the Ministerio de Educación Pública. The location is near where the Ministerio de la Vivienda y Asentamientos Humanos has constructed 167 houses for low-income residents.

Lawmakers were told that children would have to walk at least two kilometers (about 1.2 miles) to attend another school if the donation was not approved.

In Nicoya, the municipal cemetery is just out of room, but the local government did not have the funds to purchase the required land. So the land to be used will come from the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes.

Nicoya officials blamed a population boom on the need for more cemetery space.

U.N. report absolves
deforestation for floods

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

No scientific evidence exists to link the recent flooding in Central America, China, Thailand and Vietnam to extensive deforestation in those parts of the world, says a new report by the United Nations.

The United Nations faulted claims that deforestation would cause excessive runoffs from heavy rains.  Deforestation refers to the removal of trees from a region, meaning the conversion of forested areas to nonforested lands.

The report found the sharp increase in economic and human losses attributed to floods is caused not by deforestation but mainly by "the simple fact that more people are living and working in flood plains."  As a result, said the report, "many floods that previously would have been only minor events now become major disasters." 
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San Pedro and north San José are spots to go dancing
By Selleny Sanabria Soto
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Proximity is one of the factors foreigners consider when they pick dance clubs in the metropolitan area. And the most popular are in San Pedro and in north San José.

Tourists who come to Costa Rica may not even visit the Central Valley. But those who do, may look for ways to meet new people and enjoy entertainment. The bars and dance clubs are visited most by foreigners between 20 and 35 years who look for good location, good music, excellent environment and especially good food. They also want to feel secure.

La Calle de la Amargura in San Pedro de Montes de Oca is one of the places foreigners choose. The 300-meter strip fills up evenings and weekends.

The nightspots preferred by the foreigners are The Villa, Terra U, Tavarúa, Mosaicos and Caccio's.  Each of the bars is popular for different reasons. 

In the case of the bar La Villa, the manager Danny Ramírez said that the great difference is the Peruvian food, and the cocktails that they offer. The music that they play is what calls the attention of the public — rock in Spanish or in English. There is no policy of double pricing for foreigners. If someone has problems with Spanish, they will find that the staff is qualified in English, Ramírez said.

Starting this week national groups will appear live on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday, he said.

Some foreigners note that La Villa is very spacious, the food is very good and the location is near San José.

Another of the bars that attracts tourists and locals is Terra U, whose name means La Tierra de los Estudiantes. It was born with the idea of giving the university students what they were expecting from a nightspot. The Universidad de Costa Rica main campus is just down the street.

Terra U is 2 years old and hosts hundreds of persons, many even during the week. The fabulous nachos are one of the main food attractions. Safety is maintained with a system of 23 cameras that scan the business.  The electronics let the staff keep firm control of what happens inside the bar.   
La Calle de la Amargura has a reputation of assaults and fights, including a shootout that killed a passing student. That’s why Rodrigo Fulmero, manager of Terra U, has created a plan for the safety of the foreign and local customers. The plan, with the support of the others managers, consists of putting a system of monitors in the street, with 10 high-resolution cameras like banks use and employing private security personnel, said Fulmero. He also said that employees who handle vehicles wear uniforms for clear identification.

This $100,000 safety plan has gone into effect this month with the goal of allowing  persons to walk peacefully in the area.

Another place also preferred by the foreign public is “El Centro Comercial El Pueblo,” located in Calle Blancos in north San José.

Here a handful of dance clubs with different environments compete for customers. And they are open as late as daybreak on the weekends. El Pueblo also has souvenir shops and traditional restaurants. But it, too, has had its share of violence. A guard died in a shootout with unhappy customers this year.

“What I like more about coming here is meeting the Costa Rican women and the friends you find here," said Jerry Williams, a frequent visitor.   

And a new place opens

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Roadhouse Bar had its grand opening Saturday, and operator Glenn Tellier said that one of his major goals is to provide a secure environment for the dance crowd.

He had seven security guards working Saturday. The location is 12 kms. north of downtown San José on highway 32 to the Zurquí tunnel and Guápiles. He promises DJs every Friday and Saturday night.

Tellier, who lives in Heredia, said he hopes to attract the younger set who might go to El Pueblo. The bulk of those at the grand opening appeared to be in their 20s. Sometimes the dancing goes on until 4 a.m., he said. He also noted he is seeking to attract foreigners with special Gringo evenings and a substantial food menu.

Costa Rican surfers return home with experience at international event
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Despite advances to the second round by several competitors, the Costa Rica team has bowed out of the World Junior Surfing Championships at Huntington, Calif. with a 21st place finish. 

The team reported that even though it prepared thoroughly, they were still too green against seasoned international competitors from Australia and the United States.  For most of the Tico team, it was their first time in an international contest.  Many of them
had not even been on a plane before. 

“They were very intimidated, and  need to learn to be more aggressive, to just take away waves from others  legally. On the plus side, they had an
unbelievable experience, and got to see what international surfing and competition is all about,” said Antonio Pilurzu, Federacion de Surf head.

Team members hope that with a bit of international competition under their belts, they will fare better next year. 

Latin economic news depends mainly on the country
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — The International Monetary Fund projects a continuing positive economic outlook for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Anoop Singh, director of the fund's Western Hemisphere department, said at a symposium here that the region is projected to have a 4 percent economic growth rate in 2005 and a 3.75 growth rate in 2006, which he said are "well above historical averages." 

Singh added, however, that growth is moderating in the region after reaching a 24-year high in 2004 of 5.5 percent.

The continued economic expansion in Latin America and the Caribbean "appears more resilient" than in previous upturns in the region, said Singh.  He added that many countries in the area have "seized the opportunity" to reduce public debt by "implementing significant structural adjustments in their fiscal positions."

Mexico and countries in South America have gained, in particular, from a surge in fuel, food, and metals prices around the world, Singh said.  But the countries of Central America and the Caribbean have faced a more difficult growth challenge, in part because of pressures exerted by their higher oil import bills, he said.

Although the short-term economic outlook for Latin America and the Caribbean is generally positive, Singh pointed to "considerable differentiation" between countries in the region depending on individual economic and political circumstances.  Global events could also affect regional economic expansion, he said, such as the possibility of a "sharper-than-expected slowdown of growth in key trading partners or international trade, possibly triggered by a surge
in oil prices and/or rising protectionist sentiment."

Latin America and the Caribbean also remain vulnerable to an abrupt tightening of global financial-market conditions, said Singh.

The fund official said that despite the strong increase in world oil prices, inflation in the region is expected to drop from 6.5 percent in 2005 to 5.5 percent in 2006.  This decline partly reflects the region's "prudent stance of monetary policies," he said.  He cited Colombia as a case in point: inflation in that country declined from 6.5 percent during 2003 to 5 percent in September 2005 — the lowest in decades.

Inflation in Brazil is expected to drop to 5.1 percent in 2005 from a previous level of 6 percent, while Chile and Peru have kept inflation roughly in the 2-3 percent range.  However, inflation in other countries remains high, as in Venezuela, which has a 17 to 18 percent rate, said Singh. Costa Rica is at about 8.

China accounted for 7 percent of the increase in Latin American and Caribbean exports over the past two years, added Singh.  He said this "modest figure" masks the importance of China for some key Latin American exports, such as copper and soybeans.  Singh explained that China's robust economic growth has spurred higher prices for these products, benefiting exporters in such South American nations as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Peru.

China's "thirst" for natural resources has also boosted oil prices -- benefiting net oil exporters such as Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Venezuela, and Trinidad and Tobago -- and has the potential to raise China's investments in Latin America, he observed.

Global economic growth is projected to remain at 4.25 percent in 2005 and 2006, said Singh.  This reflects, in part, the resilience of the U.S. economy in the face of recent hurricanes and high oil prices, he said.

Trade pact strategy session held in Guatemala
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutiérrez was meeting in Guatemala City with proponents of the U.S. free-trade agreement with Central America and the Dominican Republic.

The trade and investment conference was aimed at how to make the trade pact work and what needs to be done to attract greater foreign investment in Central America and the Dominican Republic.  The U.S. Commerce Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development, a Washington-based group called Caribbean-Central American Action, and the Guatemalan Ministry of Economy organized the conference.

Conference organizers say the fact that the trade treaty has been ratified by the United States and the national assemblies of El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua signals "the dawn of a new and hopeful future for the people living and working in Central America."  The pact still awaits ratification by Costa Rica.

Gutiérrez is participating in the Guatemalan conference as part of his trade mission to Central
America.  Other scheduled stops on his trip include Honduras and El Salvador to promote the benefits arising from the free trade agreement.

Organizers for the Guatemalan event said the process of negotiating, signing and ratifying the pact required the public sector and the business community in both Central America and the United States to come together in an "unprecedented spirit of cooperation to achieve this once unimaginable goal," adding: "Our challenge is now to build upon this solid foundation and successfully implement the agreement . . . ."

The organizers said that the theme of the Guatemalan conference, "A Common Destiny," recognizes that the trade treaty can become a "catalyst for sustainable development" only if the trade pact has a positive effect on all segments of society.

The organizers also said the business community "must take the lead in reaching out to civil society and become forceful advocates with the public sector for the policy changes needed to successfully implement CAFTA-DR and aggressively pursue" what they call a "transformation agenda."  That agenda involves integration of trade markets, harmonization of standards and institutionalization of the rule of law.

For some writers, blogging is a very brave activity
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

With an estimated 18 million blogs chattering in cyberspace, some countries are putting up barriers to contain outspoken bloggers and curb political dissent.

Mojtaba Sainnejad’s crime was simple. Last February he criticized the Iranian government on his personal Internet journal or “blog” for arresting three fellow bloggers. He has since been sentenced to prison for insulting the country’s supreme leader.

According to the Committee to Protect Bloggers, Iran has arrested more than 20 bloggers during the past year for publicly criticizing the regime. Iranian student Omid Shaikhan is awaiting trial after speaking against the government on his blog site.

In Saudi Arabia, which routinely blocks more than 400,000 Internet sites, authorities only recently allowed access to some popular sites that host blogs and provide tools for would-be bloggers.

But Ethan Zuckerman, a research fellow at The Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, says blocking access to undesirable sites compares favorably to other practices employed by many restrictive governments. He adds, “This, in some ways, is much less scary than what happened in some other countries, including Iran and Tunisia, where people have been detained, arrested, held for days, weeks and longer for content that they had written on their blogs.”

In China, authorities recently introduced new regulations for Internet control, prohibiting what they call “material that goes against state security and public interest.”

According to Julien Paine, director of the Internet Freedom Desk for the Paris-based group Reporters Without Borders, China is the worst offender in Internet censorship. But he notes that bloggers in many other countries are also struggling to keep their voices heard.

“We have problems in Vietnam. We have problems in Burma, North Korea. We have problems in Zimbabwe, Cuba. Wherever there’s no democracy, where there are repressive regimes, you can be sure they will try to monitor the Internet and censor it.”
Ironically, the hazards of blogging under repressive regimes only encourage bloggers to do more. In Zimbabwe, for example, where Robert Mugabe has ruled for more than a quarter-century, bloggers openly discuss the prospects of rebellion.

Curt Hopkins, director of the Committee to Protect Bloggers, says President Mugabe’s tight grip on the media has backfired. “Mugabe went to such incredible lengths to shut down all independent print media, to monopolize all broadcast media. And now he’s got 50-to-100 Zimbabweans who are blogging, some of whom are former journalists who no longer have jobs. So they bring all their training, their eye and their ability to be professional, and they put them on these blogs. And these blogs, instead of being passed around Harare, are being passed around the world.”
Bloggers enjoy the option of writing anonymously and need only be reliable and consistent to establish credibility. Most experts, including Kurt Opsahl of the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco, urge

A guide issued by Reporters Without Borders tries to help bloggers protect themselves.
bloggers not to reveal any personal information on their web sites. Opsahl adds: “Blog anonymously. That’s their best protection. It’s to be able to put their voice into public debate, but not tie it to their identity so that they can reduce the risk of retaliation.”

Hopkins of the Committee to Protect Bloggers adds that unless bloggers want to draw attention to themselves, they need to do some very basic things before criticizing their countries’ policies.

“Never use your real name. Never use identifying details. Always register anonymously for your blogs as well as for your e-mail accounts. And then investigate some of the more technical options for anonymity, such as the Circumventor Internet software program and various Internet proxy servers.”

Ironically, many of the same technologies that allow bloggers to hide in cyberspace also allow governments to block Internet sites and muzzle free speech. For example, the OpenNet Initiative, a partnership between Harvard, Cambridge, and Toronto universities notes that Iran has been using U-S technology to censor Internet content.

And Reporters Without Borders says China tends to share its censorship technology, including phone-tapping equipment, with like-minded regimes, such as Fidel Castro’s Cuba.

But most analysts agree that blogs tend to flourish in more restrictive countries. And Ethan Zuckerman of Harvard University says blogs ultimately further the cause of democracy.

“Democracy,” says Mr. Zuckerman, “is about deliberation. “We tend to think that it’s about voting. But voting is the last step in the process. What bloggers are fighting for is that little step of allowing people to deliberate and debate before they get to a point where they’re capable of voting. And even in societies where voting is not an option at this point, deliberation is critical and blogs are great for that process.”

Despite concerns over Internet censorship in repressive countries, democracy and human rights advocates warn that the safety of bloggers comes first, no matter how valuable their work. Most analysts say that even though outspoken bloggers may be more effective working for democracy in their own countries, some are ultimately forced to flee their homelands and the wrath of their own governments.

In Costa Rica there is danger but no censorship
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Blogs and discussions lists are free of governmental prior restraint in Costa Rica, but those who write and maintain the sites are legally responsible for what is said.

Costa Rica still enforces laws against insult (desacato), although there is no known case of these being used against writers on Internet discussion lists or blogs. Such allegations are criminal offenses in Costa Rica and can lead to arrest and pretrial detention of the writers and those in charge of the blog or discussion list, if it is moderated.

As the political season heats up here with elections in early February, Spanish-language Internet content is likely to become sharper and more insulting. Already, those opposed to Óscar Arias Sánchez, the Partido Liberación Nacional candidate, have resorted to satire. One e-mailing pictured him as Mr. Burns, the predatory industrialist of the cartoon television show "The Simpsons."

Satire is not clearly established as permitted political speech here, but that does not stop its use.
Internet legal sources encourage those who write online to specify the jurisdiction in which they will respond to legal actions. Frequently writers here are published by Internet servers located elsewhere, such as the United States. For most legal suits and criminal actions regarding publishing, U.S. law is more friendly to the writer.

In the United States, any written opinion has strong legal protection as long as the facts on which the opinion rests are true if stated. Public officials usually cannot and will not sue in civil court.

So George Bush and Abel Pacheco are fair game, as is televangelist Pat Robertson and Madonna, all public officials or public figures.

Costa Rica has been criticized for not taking effective action to change its laws against insult after an international court exonerated a reporter for La Nación who had correctly reported allegations leveled against a Costa Rican diplomat in a European newspaper.

A new law of the press is in the legislature but without much hope of passage this year.

Jo Stuart
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