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These stories were published Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 212
Jo Stuart
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Map prepared
by transport ministry shows passenger routes using existing trackage.

Rail plan would link much of Central Valley
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The transport ministry has plans to add additional passenger routes to the metropolitan train system.

These include a route from Pavas west to San Antonio de Belén, a route from Estación al Atlantico to Tibás north of San José, a route linking Tibás with Heredia and a link between the Universidad Latina in Lourdes de Montes de Oca east to Tres Rios.

The current route runs from Universidad Latina to Pavas and involves just one train, which makes morning and evening runs.

The fact that the train routes would expand is an option found in the executive decree, issued by President Abel Pacheco Sept. 30. The major thrust of that decree was to authorize a six-month trial of the metropolitan train that has been running for two weeks.

Further details of the prospects for the train came Tuesday as officials evaluated the contingency plan to save fuel. That was the plan under which officials barred 20 percent of motor vehicles from the central commercial core of San José each day, based on the last digit of the license plate number. It also was the plan that reactivated the train.

A report was given by Randall Quirós Bustamante, the minister of Obras Públicas y Transportes, and Carlos Manuel Rodríguez, the minister of Ambiente y Energía.  The bottom line is that reducing the number of vehicles downtown cut delays by 15 percent in the morning rush hour and 20 percent in the evening, based on public works ministry studies.  Officials hope by decreased traffic jams the nation's motorists will save fuel.

The study determined that there would be no benefit in expanding the downtown plan because alternative routes do not exist outside the core for vehicles that might be barred on a given day. Rodríguez said that the use of gasoline decreased 1.1 percent in the first nine months of 2005 when compared to 2004. World oil prices have soared.

As part of the report, officials produced a map showing the new rail routes which would
link the major population centers of the Central Valley. The train is run by the Instituto Costarricense de Ferrocarriles, and trackage exists for the proposed passenger routes. For more than a decade rail passenger service has not been available in Costa Rica except for special occasions and tourist trips. But freight trains have used the proposed routes which seem to be in good shape. Ministry workers only needed a few weeks to prepare the path for the Pavas-Universidad Latina route.

Rodríguez said that an obvious change would be to use electric power to run the train instead of diesel that is used now.

According to the plan, rail passengers from Heredia would travel south through Tibás to connect with the east-west line at the Estación al Atlantico, which is a block south of Hospital Calderón Guardia in northeast San José. The two other new routes would simply be extensions of the existing pilot project. Budget is the major obstacle for the new train routes.

Quirós also said that officials would try to make changes in the traffic patterns in west San José and invest nearly $500,000 in repaving, marking lines and installing traffic signals. Bus shelters would have to be relocated, too, he said.

Public works ministry technicians are conducting studies on the traffic flow in other parts of the city to draw up other plans to improve traffic flow, the ministry said.

A new proposal is being considered to regulate truckers on the Autopista General Cañas and to cut down on the number of hours trucks can be loaded or unloaded in central San José, Heredia, Alajuela and Cartago.

Officials also suggested maintaining the change in work hours for public employees, who now arrive at the job at 7 a.m. Traffic technicians want to extend this idea to private firms.

Officials also noted that they would be producing gasoline containing 8 percent alcohol to be sold by some 62 service stations along the Pacific coast, Guanacaste and the Nicoya Peninsula starting Nov. 15. By using alcohol from local sources, the need for imported oil is reduced.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 212

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Our readers' opinions

He says our letters
are good for a laugh

Dear AM Costa Rica:

Thank You! Whenever I need a good laugh I turn to A.M. Costa Rica. Either the letters to the editor (most of which are obviously written by professional gag writers) or Jo Stuart’s rant (certainly written by a gifted satirist.  Is Lenny Bruce actually alive and now living in Costa Rica?) is sure to  bring a smile to my face. Both are sort of like the Daily Show but seem missing the sly knowledge that they are cynical and poking fun at the truly ignorant.
But, you’ve outdone yourself with today’s wonderfully  funny letters.
“Scott Pralinsky” is especially brilliant in capturing the  insipid jargon of “New Age” jive. I though I’d bust a gut reading that he was “a spiritual psychologist.” How do you folks come up with this stuff? Oh, didn’t he write under the pen name of Sahr Galloway the “Psychic Explorer” who predicted that Villalobos would return and give all of the suckers, er, Investors, their money back in early 2003?
Oh, and Bob Jones’ (Wink-wink. Got it.) angry man bit is a stitch. I’ve been in the investment banking business for almost 30 years, and I’d love to make 150 per cent a year profit lending money as opposed to 15-20 percent on invested capital.  You folks are obviously satirizing The Brothers scam and the idiots who gave them money with this laugh-out-loud piece.
Keep up the good work. I don’t know how you do it but, as I said, it always brings a smile to my face.
C. K. Hobbs
New York, N.Y.
He says criticism
of bankers is correct

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Bob Jones is right. I am Robert Kelly. You may remember me from two years ago when the banks in Costa Rica put me in jail for one month trying to extort money from me after I made them tens of thousands on the interest they charged me on my Viagra business. They got greedy and wanted more.

I told them we have a saying in the United States: “KISS MY ASS.” They do not take you to court. They try to keep you in jail for years until you pay. Costa Rica is bought and paid for by the banks. That is why there is no more Brothers. The banks bought this fool Pacheco and he has not stopped screwing the American backbone of the country yet.

I follow your paper and I see that the situation is getting worst. Costa Rica is broke as I predicted when they screwed the Brothers, and now like the crooks they are they are looking to make up for their lack of money management. Costa Rica is not the only place to live in latin America as I have come to know, so I say **** Costa Rica and the corrupt banks and government.

Robert Kelly
Somewhere in Central America

It's not the treaty,
it's the type of society

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Most of the letters and commentary found on this site regarding CAFTA are by Americans. And, I find it interesting that almost all of it is rhetoric. Nothing is really based on facts.

Usually, it is a self-proclaimed patriotic “Republican” who thinks that trade, commerce and money is the salvation of the world and that somehow it will lead to better roads and more efficient telephone service.

Or, a self-proclaimed liberal “Democrat” who thinks that all trade, commerce and money is meant to oppress and exploit the poor and weak.

How can the analysis by these two sides be so polarized and really very petty? As if there are not thousands of factors that play into what will be good and what will not.

To me, the issue is being looked at from the wrong direction. Nobody is asking what the big picture should look like. If CAFTA is ratified, certainly, some Costa Ricans will benefit. The question is: which Costa Ricans should and will benefit? Or rather, what sort of society are we trying to build and promote? If we (and I say “we” meaning from the point of those who live in CR) want to closely model and emulate our local society and environment on the model of the United States, then certainly CAFTA is the way to go. There can be no doubt. If, however, we want something else, then CAFTA needs to be reworked or scrapped altogether.

To add my own rhetoric to the pile: it seems to me naïve to the point of idiocy to think that CAFTA will correct or help alleviate what most Americans would deem the “third worldness” of Costa Rica and somehow bring all of the easy and fairly inexpensive creature comforts of home. Oh, how I long to be able to walk into a grocery store and have 200 different choices for soap and cereal.

Or better, I could walk out my front door and just around the corner from some protected Cloud Forest lies a Wal-Mart or Bestbuy with frighteningly low prices. Of course, my delicate conscience and American sensibilities won’t allow me to ask myself, “How in the world can they actually make those products that cheap?” I think if I knew the answer I would feel quite horrible and rather vacant. The answer can’t be very pretty. After all, I am an American, and I am defined by consumerism.

Anyway, I think the best piece of analytical commentary delivered by A.M. Costa Rica was an article by Kevin P. Gallagher entitled, "Studies Show Trade Pact does not Guarantee Investments." Of course, almost no one commented on it or wrote in to refute it. Who could? That would mean having to actually take a look to see what CAFTA really means and not what we hope it might mean.

John-Charles D’Imperio
Playa Zancudo, Costa Rica
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A.M. Costa Rica/Jesse Froehling
Young marcher, left,  carries sign that says signing the free trade treaty will result in bombing children in Iraq.

Two demonstrators, right, call out rude words to Juan José Vargas, who stands on a balcony of the Asamblea Legislativa building. They said he was selling the country out, apparently unaware that Vargas opposes the treaty.

A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas

Anti-free trade protest smaller and mainly peaceful
By Selleny Sanabria Soto
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Another day and another anti-free trade demonstration.

Tuesday students from the Universidad de Costa Rica trekked from the San Pedro campus to the Asamblea Legislative building in San José to express their opposition to the agreement that is now before lawmakers for a ratification vote.

But they also were joined by some 80 or so members of the Federación Nacional Campesina from the Golfito area. They claimed that they cannot compete with the higher technology used by U.S. farmers.

Franklin Fernandez Ledezma, representing the group, said that the news media has not informed them about the treaty and they know nothing. He is from Asientamiento Salamar de Osa

Alonzo Åraya, an employee of the Instituto Costarricense de Acuaductos y Alcantrillados, the water company, said he came to defend the rights of the Costa Ricans.

Felipe Venegas Vargas, a tránsito officer directing vehicles, said that the marchers had irked some motorists as they came from the campus. But the
march was peaceful and roads were not blocked, he said. As an aside, he said he was opposed to the treaty because Costa Rica does not have to give aid to the United States.

Evelyn Loisa, a student of social work at the Universidad de Costa Rica said the country would lose many things with the free trade treaty. She said protesters want to defend their rights to health and education and maintain the borders of Costa Rica.

At the university there are many forums and meetings on the free trade treaty and some professors have given students permission to participate in the march, protesters said.

Floribeth Lopez Ugalde, coordinator of the Asamblea del Pueblo, a group of unions, told the crowd that this is a fight and they will carry it to the end. In addition to marching, students distributed 9,000 fliers along the route, they said.

This morning Universidad de Costa Rica students will join with students at the Universidad Nacional in Heredia for another protest.

The crowd was far smaller than similar protests, but unions did not participate. The unions of employees in the national monopolies who oppose the agreement said they would begin their protests Nov. 7.

Orosi and Jucó try to deal with a gigantic earthslide
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Although a landslide of some 7 million cubic feet fell in the communities of Orosi and Jucó Monday, a monitoring system warned residents of the pending danger and officials evacuated the areas before the spill.  No one died. 

Once the landslide did occur – albeit safely, officials at the Comision Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias were faced with a slew of new problems, the most pertinent of which is preventing further spillage.     

After a flyover investigation of the site, Lidier Esquivel concluded that enough material is clinging to the side of the pile that another landslide is not unlikely.  Esquivel is the boss of prevention at the emergency commission. 

The towns are south and east of Cartago.

As a result, maintaining a constant vigil as a preventive measure is most important, the commission said.  Once the danger has passed, officials will use bulldozers, backhoes and other heavy equipment to begin to clean up the part of the slide that has spilled over into the main road in Jucó.  According to engineers with the commission, it is also important to drain the water from the spill to allow it to stabilize.

Another immediate problem is that Jucó and parts of Orosí were left without potable water.  This because of the loss of a structure created by the Instituto Costarricense de Aqueductos y Alcantrillados as
protection against such an event.  Rescue workers also reported the loss of a hectare of pasture land and a bridge completely covered in mud. 

Seven families totaling 26 persons were evacuated because their homes sit too closely to the local river, the commission said.  The emergency committee in Jucó said that these people are staying with friends and family members until conditions stabilize.  Until then, the emergency commission has placed the community under a yellow alert, it said.   

Schools in the community suspended classes for the rest of the week while the local high school and the school in Río Macho asked administrators to suspend classes Tuesday and today. 

Now that the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico are hurricane-free for the first time since July, conditions in Guanacaste are starting to improve, the commission said.  Little by little, people there are starting to return safely to their homes, the commission said.

Now, 1,491 persons are staying in 22 temporary shelters.  The number was as high as 2,300 last week.  However, authorities at the emergency commission are not lowering their alert because a low pressure system off the Caribbean coast has them worried.

The commission has issued the following warnings:  Bagaces, Carillo, Santa Cruz, Hojancha, Nandayure, Nicoya and the cantón of Aguirre are still under red alert.  Abangares, La Cruz, Liberia, Tilarán, Upala and the district of Orosi are yellow and the Caribbean Coast, the northern zone, and the Central Valley are green.     

Push planned to put peace education in the Costa Rican curriculum
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Educators, government officials, and civil society organizations from across Costa Rica will gather in San José Nov. 8 for a national symposium aimed at international peace.

The symposium, “The Peace Army of Costa Rica,” is organized by the Rasur Foundation and the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress.  The Arias foundation is the brain child of presidential candidate and Nobel Prize winner Óscar Arias Sánchez.   

Organizers hope to raise the awareness of the need for peace education in Costa Rican schools. 

“These objectives are timely and important, given that educators and educational policy-makers increasingly
find themselves forced to set aside the topic of peace education to focus on issues such as standards, assessment and evaluation. This has been the emphasis, despite the clear need for schools to promote communication, tolerance and peace, values which are vital for the nation’s future,” the Arias Foundation said. 

Scheduled presenters include Dr. Rita Marie Johnson, founder of the peace army; David MacArthur of the Institute of HeartMath and Jim and Jori Manske from the Center for Non-violent Communication. 

The symposium is scheduled to run from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Radisson Hotel in San José. 

Further information is available from Michelle Kiso at michelle@rasurfoundation.org


Bird flu confab agrees that openness is required
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

OTTAWA, Canada — An international bird flu conference has ended here with a commitment to step up work to prevent a possible human pandemic. Health ministers stressed the need for early detection of outbreaks and openness by nations in reporting them.

Health ministers from 30 countries endorsed a broad plan to stop avian influenza at it source. The host for the two-day meeting, Canadian health minister Ujjal Dosanjh, declared it a successful session that builds upon the World Health Organization's strategic plan for pandemic preparedness and the U.S. international partnership on avian and pandemic influenza.

"This is another step in the direction of fully and adequately preparing for a potential pandemic flu," Dosanjh says.

The text of the final communiqué recognizes that not enough is being done to stave off such a health disaster and calls for corrective measures. The health officials say it is essential to monitor the bird flu situation more closely and accelerate efforts to prevent it from gaining the ability to pass easily between humans.

Canadian officials say a guiding principle all participants agreed to was the need for countries to be open and share immediate information about bird flu outbreaks so they can be contained. A top official with the country's Public Health Agency, David Butler-Jones, says this was the hard lesson learned from the deadly respiratory disease SARS, which China tried to hide but which spread and killed more than 800 people worldwide in 2002 and 2003, 44  of them in Canada.

"One of the lessons from SARS is that trying to hide these things — eventually they break out and it's very, very embarrassing for everyone and serves no one well. So transparency is actually in the interests of governments," Butler-Jones says.

The health ministers say key to such openness is improving early detection capacity and the exchange of information between animal and public health experts at local, national, and international levels.

Another focus of the communiqué is the central role of U.N. agencies like the World Health Organization, the World Organization for Animal Health, and the Food and Agriculture Organization. The health leaders call for the U.N. secretary general to appoint an influenza coordinator.

Because there is no vaccine for the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu spreading throughout the world and limited antiviral medicines, the ministers seek development as soon as possible of mechanisms to increase production capacity.

But U.S. Health Secretary Michael Leavitt says such low capacity is likely to continue for some time. He notes that drug companies have left the market because of low profits and restoring production cannot occur quickly.

A.M. Costa Rica/Jesse Froehling
Pigeons at the Plaza de la Cultura have close contact with humans every day.

It can't happen here,
Costa Rica reports

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Though deaths are taking place in Europe and Asia, Costa Rican health officials guarantee that the bird flu won't reach here, according to a report by the Dirección de Salud Animal.

According to Dr. Alexis Sandí Muñoz, health officials, the government and private sectors all have been diligent about maintaining the necessary restrictions against importing birds and other avian products from regions that are battling the fever.  All the birds that do enter Costa Rica are subjected to a quarantine or laboratory analysis to be sure of their health, Sandí said. 

To prepare for the possibility that the influenza strain does reach Costa Rica, health officials prepared a simulation in April.  Representatives from the Servicio Veterinario Oficial de Costa Rica, academics, representatives from the Colegio de Médicos Veterinarios and the Organismo Internacional Regional de Sanidad Agropecuario, all participated in the exercise.

"What the H5N1 virus has provided is a wake up call that we are short and in danger as a result, and the objective is to change," he says.

Leavitt and his British counterpart spoke of a willingness to consider a Mexican proposal for wealthy nations to help middle income countries improve their vaccine making capacity — not only for bird flu but for all infectious diseases. 

But there was no mention in the communiqué of another Mexican proposal that industrial nations should set aside 10 percent of their flu vaccine stockpiles for developing countries.

In two weeks, the World Health Organization will host a larger grouping of health officials to continue working on an international avian flu prevention strategy.

Advanced research network connects scientists to colleagues elsewhere
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Providing close contact between scientists is the object of the Red Nacional de Investigación Avanzada, which was the topic of a presentation Tuesday.

Fernando Gutiérrez Ortíz, minister of Ciencia y Tecnología, talked about the project in a meeting with reporters after President Abel Pacheco's Consejo de Gobierno.

The center of the project is a private Internet system that connects the research locations in Costa Rica. This will permit researchers to take advantage of the infrastructure and human resources, said Gutiérrez. Contact with researchers elsewhere will generate advances in medicine, education and other areas of science and technology, he added.
Rodrigo Arias, rector of the Universidad Nacional Estatal a Distancia, was one of the academics who explained how this web works. He also stressed the importance of designing a budget that will
support these kinds of important technological projects.  He said current funding was insufficient.

In addition to the ministry and the Universidad Estatal a Distancia, the institutions involved in the project are the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, the Caja Costarricense del Seguro Social, the Universidad de Costa Rica, the Instituto Tecnológico de Costa Rica, the Universidad Nacional, the Academia Nacional de Ciencias, the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional and the Consejo Nacional de Rectores.

The research network has connections with a research network that covers all of Latin America and another network that extends to Europe.

Police make arrests all over in cases ranging from robbery to pot
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers throughout the country rounded up several wanted suspects, they said Tuesday.

Officers arrested a man in Santa Elena de Monteverde, who was wanted to face an allegation of aggravated robbery, they said.  The suspect, identified by the last names Barrantes Jiménez, was arrested as a result of an order by the Tribunal de Juicio in San José.  He was surprised on the main street in that town and offered no resistance, police said.

In Aguirre, Fuerza Pública officers arrested an unemployed man in the Quepos center with 30 marijuana joints, they said.  The suspect, identified by
the last names Gutiérrez Vargas, had been under investigation for his activities in the Parque Central in that town, officers said. 

Officers arrested a Paso Canoas man in connection with the rape of his 9-year-old nephew, they said.  The suspect, a Panamanian identified by the last name Fuentes, was arrested after the young victim's mother filed a complaint alleging that Fuentes had repeatedly raped the boy in the past, officers said.  When he was arrested, Fuentes had no identification, officers said. 

Lastly, officers in Caldera arrested a man and confiscasted half a kilo of marijuana, they said.  The suspect who was identified by the last names Marín Mesén, had been under investigation, officers said.  

Jo Stuart
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