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These stories were published Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 213
Jo Stuart
About us
Tourism domain name back in nation's hands
By Clair-Marie Robertson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The domain name for Costa Rica’s troubled tourism Web site has  been changed to show the true owner.

A check of an Internet registry showed that had been transferred to the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo.

The change of the domain name, a routine procedure on the Intgernet, was done without public announcement. A reporter had asked tourism officials about the strange setup Friday.

Despegar.Com, Inc., the Argentine company that was paid $833,000 to set up and maintain, the institute’s Web site, had listed itself as owner.

A reporter checked the domain ownership of the site as part of a routine preparation of a news story on the troubled site.

A legal adviser at The Registry at Info Avenue,

where the domain was set up, said that to have a contractor’s name as owner was a bad business practice. Despegar.Com, Inc., said when contacted that it would transfer the site to the institute.

In a meeting with a reporter Friday tourism officials had no theories why the domain ownership was placed in the name of the contractor when the contract to set up the site clearly says the tourism institute is the owner.

A committee was set up by the institute to investigate the ownership of the Web site as well as complaints that the Web pages do not work properly. The site only logged 80 reservations in two years.

Saul Ruiz, the Web site manager at the institute, initially contacted both the registry and Despegar.Com, Inc. last week to request that the name be amended. 

For two years officials at the tourism institute were unaware of the ownership of the valuable domain name, they said.

No sense in shopping for a deal to buy colons
By Joe Medici
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Using the right local bank can help consumers get the most colons for their dollars.

A study conducted by a reporter Tuesday found that many of the banks in San José offer very similar rates. The study also found that many of the banks do not have commission charges either. 

Banco Promerica rated the highest in the survey. The bank offered a 449.70 exchange rate and did not charge a commission. That means bankers would give you 449.7 colons for each dollar.

Most of the other major banks offered similar rates that varied only in the tenths of colones.

Banex was unique. The exchange rate there was just under one-tenth of a percent higher then the rest of the banks, at 452.75. Banex, however, was one of the few banks that charged a commission fee. Their fee of $5 evaporates their otherwise favorable exchange rate unless the consumer is looking to exchange more than $700. 

The colon has been devalued daily for several years now. Last year at this time, $1 was worth 

Promerica free 449.70
Bano Nacional free 449.65
Banco Popular free 449.65
Banco de Costa Rica free 449.63
BAC San José free 449.46
Interfin free 449.45
Banex $5 452.75
Scotiabank $2 448.14
Del Rey free 440.00

410.87 colons, according to statistics provided by the Banco Central de Costa Rica.

Consumers would be wise to follow the colon’s path in local banks to ensure that they always receive the best exchange rate. The Banco Central page is linked to the upper lefthand corner of this newspaper.

One thing that tourists and locals alike should avoid is hotel and casino exchange rates. One example was the Hotel Del Rey. There the exchange rate was lower than that of any of the banks, 440. That’s a little more than 2 percent less than at the banks. rates at other hotels and casinos are similar.

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Rock-throwers attack
police over dividing wall

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers battled rock-throwers and dodged an occasional bullet at a confrontation between the poor and the middle class.

Eight suspects have been detained and policemen have been injured. Some policemen have been hospitalized.

The violence is in Alajuela where a wall was used to separate the middle-class subdivision of La Rotonda from the informal settlement of Erizo.

The wall was constructed to keep residents of the slums from visiting the subdivision. Monday the wall was destroyed, and fighting has raged since.

Residents of Erizo claim that the wall blocks a road to their living area. Subdivision dwellers say the wall blocks thieves and worse from the subdivision.

Violence flared several times Tuesday when police in riot control formation came at the rock-throwers. Police carried Plexiglas shields.

Officials said they found several casings from bullets in the area suggesting that someone was sniping at the police formations. 

Four of the arrests were made Tuesday afternoon when subdivision residents tried to erect a new wall.

The structure is steel-reinforced concrete, and it has been reduced to rubble, apparently by a piece of large construction equipment.

Press freedom index
goes up but rank dips

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Reporters Without Borders just released its third annual worldwide press freedom index. The ranking for Costa Rica is lower than last year.

In 2002, when the first index was released, Costa Rica ranked 15th in the world with a score of 4.25. Last year, the country moved several places down to 24th, but the score actually improved to 3.8. The lower the score the better.

This year, however, Costa Rica took another drop in the rankings to 35th  and the score rose to 7.63.

The index is compiled using questionnaires filled out by journalists, researchers, jurists and human rights activist. Some 167 countries were included in this years index. North Korea rated 167th with a score of 107.5. Cuba is 166.

From the documentation provided by the reporter group, Costa Rica seems to have been measured while a La Nación reporter still faced defamation charges for writing about a diplomat.

That case has since been resolved in favor of the reporter.

Banana growers face
dislocation in south

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A lawyer for banana producers estimated a loss of $483 million in the southern zone.

The lawyer, Gonzalo Carrillo, was testifying before a legislative commission set up to study the result of a fraud by an international company.

The company, Noviliti, purchased the entire production of bananas in the southern zone and then did not pay the $14 million that was owed. That default triggered a long series of problems for banana growers, who also lost preferential rights to sell to Europe.

The 1994 deal was with the Corporación Bananera Nacional.

Carrillo said that the company has never paid a single coin from the deal that was made in 1994. As a result, banana farmers are in a bad way. Many have lost their land, the lawyer said.

New transport minister
named by Pacheco

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Randall Quirós is the new minister of Obras Públicas y Transportes. He was named Tuesday by President Abel Pacheco to replace Ovidio Pacheco, who left Monday.

Quirós served as vice minister to the Presidencia.

Pacheco, the 14th high official to leave the administration, said he did so for health reasons. But he also was named Sunday in La Nación as associated with a predatory financing company in Turrialba. The firm charged 5 percent a month to the poor farmers and others.

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A romanticized Che Guevera on a motorcycle trip
The Motorcycle Diaries (2004)
2 hours and eight minutes 

"The Motorcycle Diaries" is based on the journals of Ernesto "Che" Guevera. Directed by Walter Salles, the film documents a journey by Guevara and his sidekick Alberto Granados across Argentina, Chile, Brazil and Peru. The first part of their journey is made on a 1939 Norton motorcycle that’s on its last legs. Their fuel for this journey is idealism. 

Gael Garica Bernal ("Y tu mama tambien") takes on the role of Guevera and does well. Though Rodrigo de la Serna as Alberto Granado is outstanding and steals the show. Granado is portrayed as a lusty character that punctuates the film with witty remarks and makes watching the film very enjoyable. Yelling matches of name-calling and several motorcycle crashes are the highlight of the first half. 

The film attempts to capture the atmosphere of Ernesto and Alberto's 1951-1952 odyssey from the original literary works and succeeds brilliantly. The cinematography of the film is breathtaking. It is important to note that the film is very much an artistic portrayal and is not intended to be controversial. 

There is a consciousness that Guevera is being portrayed in an ideological way. Guevera is shown as a man who has to be honest with everyone he meets, even if the truth hurts. At times the film seems to focus too much on the romanticized myth of Guevera. Costa Ricans who saw the film commented on the fact that it made them want to do something meaningful with their lives. 

"I don’t think it’s possible to make a bad film about Che Guevera." Said Rudy Chinchilla Valverde. 

Guevara was a revolutionary who fought for social justice, and his legend is an inspiration to thousands who languish under oppressive regimes. Yet beyond the myth is a complex and driven man capable of ruthlessness and hard line loyalty to an ideology that trampled on human rights. 

Adriano Rojas Acosta is a Costa Rican who has visited Cuba. He is interested in going to see the film and said he expects it to say how Guevera became a revolutionary and what his motives were. "I think that he fought for a good cause, but I am not such a fan of his because of the methods he used. He would be considered a terrorist today." 

The leper colony scenes in particular portray Ernesto as a Christ-like figure, in stark contrast to the naughty boy we see earlier. The travelers volunteer for three weeks at San Pablo, a leper colony deep in the Amazon where nuns enforce a

Gael Garcia Bernal and Rodrigo de la Serna in Focus Features' 'The Motorcycle Diaries - 2004.'

strict separation between patients and staff and refuse to feed anyone who does not attend Mass. 

Guevara, a medical student, rebels against the rules and refuses to attend Mass or wear rubber gloves when greeting patients. To show his solidarity with the lepers, he swims across a stretch of the Amazon to be with the patients on his 24th birthday. On this occasion, he gives his first political speech. 

"We believe, he said, "and after this trip even more firmly than before, that Latin America's division into illusory and uncertain nationalities is completely fictitious."

When Alberto goes to work in Venezuela, Ché returns to Buenos Aires, proclaiming himself a changed man. "I will be on the side of the people . . . . "

When the credit starts to role original photos from Guevera and Granado’s journey appear on the screen to give a certain amount of authenticity to the film. 

Cinemas in Costa Rica are showing the Motorcycle Diaries in Spanish. A.M Costa Rica staff are finding out if viewings can be arranged with English subtitles. 

— Clair-Marie Robertson

OAS to send observers to Nicaraguan local elections
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

MANAGA, Nicaragua —An observation mission by the Organization of American States will monitor Nicaragua's municipal elections, set for Nov. 7.

A spokesman for the U.S. mission to the hemispheric oganization said that the United States will provide up to $100,000 to the 30-person observation team, while Sweden has pledged to give $130,000.

The Nicaraguan Embassy in Washington said the elections will take place in about 150 municipalities in Nicaragua.

Meanwhile, OAS Permanent Council Chairman Aristides Royo of Panama said the council will continue to closely monitor developments in Nicaragua, as that may help "preserve the country's democratic institutions."

Royo made the statement after he and Acting OAS Secretary-General Luigi Einaudi led a high-level mission to Nicaragua Oct. 18 to meet with Nicaraguan President Enrique Bolaños and opposition leaders, among other sectors of Nicaraguan society.

The OAS emergency visit to Nicaragua came in response to a request by Central American presidents after Nicaragua's Superior Council of Comptrollers announced it would suspend Bolaños's salary and seek to impeach him, charging that Bolaños had refused to submit information on the origin of funds for his 2001 election campaign. Bolaños says the charges stem from his own anti-corruption campaign against the country's top political leaders.

The OAS said the visit to Nicaragua was intended to support democratic institutions in the Central American nation.

Cubans have to surrender dollars and pay 10 percent commission
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The U.S. Treasury Department, in response to Cuban dictator Fidel Castro's announcement that U.S. dollars will no longer be circulated in Cuba as of Nov. 8, has condemned Castro for attempting to "pool U.S. dollars for his own profit while "shaking down the Cuban people with a 10 percent penalty. 

In a press release issued Tuesday, Juan Carlos Zarate, the Treasury Department's assistant secretary for terrorist financing and financial crime, described Castro's decision as "an act of economic desperation and a clear signal that President George Bush's strengthened policies towards Cuba have hurt the Castro regime."

The decision announced late Monday means that Cubans wishing to spend the U.S. dollars they hold will have to exchange them for local "convertible" pesos, pegged to the dollar, with a 10 percent commission going to the Havana government. 

President Fidel Castro took part in the televised announcement, in the first public appearance for the 78-year-old Cuban leader since he fell and broke an arm and knee last week. 

Cuban authorities said the move was retaliation for steps by the Bush administration last May to put economic pressure on the Castro government by among other things curbing remittances by Cuban-Americans to relatives in Cuba. 

However, some U.S.-based economists say it is simply an effort by Havana authorities to gather in some scarce hard currency. 

The fee, which will also be paid by foreign tourists in Cuba, will apply only to U.S. dollars, and Cuban officials encouraged Cubans living abroad to remit other currencies such as Swiss francs or Euros. 

Dollars have been in wide circulation in Cuba since 1993, when Castro legalized the U.S. currency following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the loss of subsidies to Cuba from Moscow and its allies. 

As part of a package of steps aimed at speeding a political transition in Cuba, the Bush administration in May cut remittances by Cuban-Americans in half, limited family visits to the island to once every three years, and slashed the amount of money they can spend there each day from $165 to just $50.

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Our annual
A.M. Costa Rica is happy to present this short story as No. 2 in our Halloween literary contest. So you say you want to go to the beach? But not at night!

A midnight encounter on a Costa Rican beach
By Ricardo Jiménez
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The story I’m about to tell you didn't happen to me but to a friend’s uncle who asked us not to tell the story to "just anyone" (his words). But, what the heck! Let's live a little. This was told to me one night when I was exchanging "weird stories" with this friend of mine, and his uncle happened to overhear us and told this certainly strange story.

As you know, Costa Rica has many national parks and virgin forests, many of them by the beach. Well, around the 50's when this happened, some of these beaches were still very much alone and there were only a few people who dared "rough it" and spend the night camping with only the stars as their cover. 

My friend’s uncle was one of those people. This happened around December 1959 and my friend's uncle was "camping" with another friend. They were about 21 years old at the time and had found this desolate beach after walking for about 5 hours from a small coastal town. 

Camp was made at sundown, and they started to talk about nothing and everything long into the night. You know how these conversations seem to bend time. So before they knew it they had talked almost 'til midnight (he knew the hour because he checked it after what happened happened). 
Everything had been peaceful and quiet until that hour, with only the surf murmuring to them, when they started to hear a rumble coming towards them from the forest. After a while they identified it as a truck. Apparently the forest wasn't that virgin after all. 

The rumble made itself even louder until it was almost on the beach. The uncle and his friend were a little disappointed since they wanted to rough it alone, but a little company wasn't bad after all. Suddenly the truck jumped onto the beach, about 150 meters from where they were, and made a frantic u-turn on the sand and came to a stop.

They both looked at each other wondering what this was all about, when a man came out of the front of the truck. Since it was a clear night (full moon according to the uncle) they could tell that the truck was some kind of an army truck, the kind they used in World War II to carry soldiers. 

This truck was sort of common since it had been used in Costa Rica's civil war in 1948. The man walked to the back of the truck and opened it. The uncle's friend was about to shout at the man to come over, when from the back of the truck small . . .  children started to come out, one by one, until there were about 25 standing on the beach. 

They were all the same height and had the same figure, thin and with rather round heads. The man said something to them and they made a circle 

with the man at the center, and started to dance around him. Obviously the uncle and his friend were speechless. After all, what were they doing? 

The small children seemed to repeat a strange chant, with a choir of voices that went from high pinched voices to low, almost bass-like voices. The two friends looked at each other, and without thinking it over, the uncle called out, "Hello there! Nice dance. What are you doing?" 

At this the children froze immediately and the man turned to them and uttered a shriek. The shriek, I was told, made the hairs in the uncle's spine rise, but apparently he hadn't seen nothing yet, for the children slowly started to turn around, broke the circle and made a wall between the two friends and the man. 

The uncle and the friend got up and sensing something wasn't going right, quickly headed for their things, just in case they had to run for it. In order to do this they had to turn their backs to the children. They picked their stuff up, and when they turned around they saw the man was lying on the sand, as if he was dead, and the worst of all was that the children's eyes started to shine a very dim green. 

At that moment the two friends felt a hum in their ears that started to get louder. Fearing for their lives and sanity, they turned around and started to run like hell, screaming prayers and pleading for God to let them leave that cursed beach. They ran for about 10 minutes, not daring to turn around. 

When they finally did stop and turn, nobody was behind them. The hum in their ears had lowered a bit, but was still present. Needless to say they walked back to the coastal town, scared to death and with their underwear not that clean. Before they arrived, they swore to each other not to tell the story, for they would be tagged as crazy. They never did rough it again. 

The humming continued for a week and a half, ". . .a hum that would drive you crazy. . . ." told my friend's uncle to me, but no other side effects did happen to them. 

They kept their secrecy promise for 10 years, until the friend told the story to his wife, who asked the uncle if it was true. Since then, the story has been kind of hush-hush in that family, but still known to most everyone. 

What did they stumble into? A strange cult or a celebration, maybe? What happened to the man? Who was he? And . .  . who where those eerie children? Guess we'll never know.

Copyrighted 2004 Ricardo Jiménez and Consultants Río Colorado S.A.

Jo Stuart
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