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These stories were published Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 218
Jo Stuart
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The Internet server just doesn't like snow!
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Somewhere in Costa Rica is an Internet server that doesn’t like snow.

Perhaps it was brought up in the harsh Minnesota winters. Or worse yet, somewhere in snowy Canada.

Somehow this Internet server made it to Costa Rica. But even today, in the balmy universal springtime, the computer gags whenever it meets the word snow.

At least that is the best we can figure out. Radiográfica Costarricense S.A., the beloved RACSA, says that it is not blocking e-mail. But a reader alerted A.M. Costa Rica to the fact that an e-mail message with snow in the subject line just will not go through.

We tried it multiple times. From servers in Maryland to RACSA here. From RACSA here to servers in the States. Any message with snow in the subject line simply vanished into cyberspace..

We sent messages with hello in the subject line. No problem. Then we said porno. Surely that would get them. Nope. The messages arrived on the dot.

We even got nasty and sent messages with child porn in the subject line. They went through without a hitch, too.

But the multiple messages with snow and snow job in the subject lines are missing and presumed dead.

Mario Zaragoza, the RACSA spokesman, says that the Internet monopoly blocks certain Web pages that are cited in mass e-mailing and are the subject of user complaints. But he steadfastly maintained that RACSA does not filter e-mail messages. Costa Rica law does not permit this, he said.

But somebody or something is. Try it. Send yourself an e-mail with snow in the subject line. See what happens. Better yet, if you have multiple e-mail accounts, send messages back and forth.

Latest financial scandal: U.S. mutual funds
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A U.S. Congressional panel Monday heard evidence of massive fraud in the management of mutual funds, which millions of Americans use to indirectly invest in publicly traded companies. The scale of the abuse appears to be far greater than had been thought. 

A government regulator told the Senate Government Affairs Committee that mutual funds routinely violate securities laws. 

Stephen Cutler of the Securities and Exchange Commission said 25 percent of the biggest brokerage firms have admitted to trading violations. The most common abuses are late trading and market timing — practices that allow traders to get better prices than the public at large. 

Elliot Spitzer, the energetic attorney general of the state of New York, is demanding that guilty firms refund all fees charged to investors during the period in which fraud occurred. "There is absolutely no room for the receipt during the period of time in which funds are violating a clear [financial] duty. This number will be big, it will impose pain, and it should," he said. 

Ninety-five million Americans in 54 million households own shares in mutual funds, an industry that holds $7 trillion in assets. Mutual funds pool the investments of many and then buy large holdings in dozens, or even hundreds 

of companies. There are thousands of mutual funds. 

John Bogle, the 74-year-old Philadelphia financier, has long campaigned against the excessive fees charged by fund managers. Bogle told the committee that the drive to draw in more investors and boost profits caused mutual funds to become reckless. However, he sees a certain benefit to the current scandals. "They call attention to the profound conflicts of interest that exist between fund managers and fund shareholders. Conflicts that arise from an inherently flawed governance structure, in which fund owners, in practice, have little, if any, voice. The trading scandals are just the small tip of an enormous iceberg of conflict," he said. 

Spitzer agreed that the mutual fund industry charges excessive fees and has an ownership structure, in which it is accountable to neither shareholders nor government regulators. "There is no question at all that the boards of directors of the mutual funds have been inert," he said. "They have been passive. They have failed. They have utterly failed the investor. They have misunderstood their role. They have not been responsive to the appropriate parties. This must change." 

The disclosures of fraud in mutual funds is the latest in a series of scandals that have exposed widespread fraud in corporate accounting and other management abuses that have badly tarnished the American model of corporate governance. 

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Costa Rica wants more evidence of Chavez plot 
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica has asked Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez Frias for more evidence that a political refugee here is plotting against his government.

President Abel Pacheco was drawn into the controversy Monday morning at a press conference in Panamá City.  Pacheco was attending the 100th anniversary of that country’s independence.

Chavez on Sunday accused Carlos Ortega, former president of the Confederation of Venezuelan Trade Unions. Ortega sought asylum at the Costa Rican embassy in Caracas in March and eventually ended up in San José.

Pacheco said he was aware of Chavez Frias' reference to Ortega, but will await confirmation of the specific complaint, adding that if a  beneficiary of political asylum is involved in any such activity, he or she will immediately lose the privilege.

Later in the day, the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto released a statement in which Roberto Tovar Faja asked for more evidence.

"If the government has some proof or indication of illicit activities on the part of a Venezuelan who has asylum, we invite it to present it to us in an official manner for a corresponding investigation and to take pertinent measures," said Tovar in the statement.

Chavez Frias said in his Sunday speech that he has tape recordings of telephone conversations incriminating Ortega.

Venezuela has a strong hold over Costa Rica in that it supplies the country with petroleum at a price below world market.

Opposition elements in Venezuela are, however, already attempting to exacerbate the diplomatic situation in claims that Chavez Frias is considering an immediate suspension of oil shipments to Costa Rica in parallel with a similar suspension ordered against the Caribbean Dominican Republic last month when Santo Domingo refused to take action against Venezuelan ex-President Carlos Andres Pérez who had sought refuge in the Dominican Republic under similar terms of political asylum, according to V-Headline News, a Caracas-based publication.

Police get stoned
by angry crowd

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Anti-drug police had to call in the riot squad after they raided several homes in the tough Los Cuadros de Goicoechea neighborhood Monday.

Policía de Control de Drogas arrested four persons and confiscated money, crack rocks, marijuana and a .38-caliber pistol.

As the arrests and search of the premises took place, neighbors gathered in an angry mob and began to heave stones at the officers. That is when the Unidad de Intervención Policial was called in to keep order. The riot squad used tear gas to break up the mob.

Officers said that the operation was a principal supplier of drugs to the neighborhood.

Arrested was a man described as an undocumented Nicaraguan with the last names of González Dávila. Also arrested was a 21-year-old man with the last names of Araya Padilla, Two women also were arrested. A 35-year-old has the last names of Umaña Morales. A 31-year-old has the last names of Umaña Granados.

The raid was based on complaints from the neighborhood, police said. Some 795, 650 colons in cash was found. That’s about $1,930. Also found, said police were 338 crack rocks and 56 baggies of marijuana. A small box contained three grams of crack cocaine, police said.

Small plane crashes
at Golfito airport

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A small plane being used as an air ambulance crashed Monday seconds after takeoff from Golfito airport.

Injured were the pilot, Elfer Arrieta Guevara, 30, and a passenger Steven Garbanzo Vargas, 24. Both were in Hospital San Juan de Dios in San José Monday night.

The 10 a.m. crash took place just as the aircraft lifted off. Arrieta was returning to Puerto Jiménez from where he had transported a patient to Golfito. The aircraft, which was destroyed, was a 200 series Cessna.

Legion plans feast
for Thanksgiving

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

American Legion Post 16 of Heredia is inviting veterans, family and friends to an early Thanksgiving dinner, Saturday, Nov. 22, at Club Castillo, Country Club.

The 12:30 p.m. event features a full turkey dinner. The cost is 4,000 colons (about $9.75) per adult, and 2,000 for children under 12. 

Reservations are being accepted at 265-6505 with Bob or Jim, the legion said.

Mexicans protesting
murders of women

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Demonstrators across the United States and Mexico have demanded that the Mexican government do more to solve the murders of scores of women in the State of Chihuahua since 1993. 

The protests Saturday coincided with Mexico's Day of the Dead, when families traditionally gather and visit the graves of their relatives. 

Protesters held marches and sent letters to Mexican President Vicente Fox criticizing his government for not doing more to solve the murders. They called the investigation of the murders up to this point "inept and corrupt." 

Similar protests were held in Spain, France, Britain, Japan and Yugoslavia. 

The killings took place in or around the city of Ciudad Juárez, near the border of the U.S. state of Texas. 

Officials say 258 women were murdered over the past 10 years. Most of the victims, most of them under 25 years old, have not been identified and their cases have not been solved. 

In an interview Saturday, the Mexican President Vicente Fox denied allegations that the investigation has been corrupt and inept. He also rejected charges of police torture in connection with the cases. 

U.S. says more countries
agree to ignore court

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The United States has announced agreements with seven more countries that exempt American citizens from prosecution by the International Criminal Court. 

Antigua and Barbuda, Botswana, East Timor, Ghana, Malawi, Nigeria and Uganda are the latest to sign a promise not to hand over U.S. citizens indicted by the court. In return, Washington lifted military sanctions it had imposed on those governments. 

The White House announced the agreements Saturday in the southern U.S. state of Mississippi, where President George Bush made a campaign appearance. It also said Romania has been given a six-month extension to sign an agreement. 

The United States opposes the International Criminal Court because it fears the court could become a forum for politically motivated trials of U.S. soldiers and other citizens stationed overseas. The accord grants them immunity from the court. 

Washington is seeking bilateral immunity deals around the globe, and has cut off military aid to countries that refuse to sign the accord.

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U.S. official says turning point reached in drug war
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The war on drugs has reached a crucial stage, in part due to the positive performance of a U.S.-sponsored aerial eradication effort in Colombia to destroy illicit crops such as coca, said Robert Charles.

He is U.S. assistant secretary of State for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs.

In a State Department briefing here late last week, Charles said a "tipping point" has been reached in the war on drugs, with victory in this global campaign possible with continued commitment and effort. He suggested that this "tipping point" is a result of the convergence of leadership and circumstance. 

"In the drug war internationally, right now, we have a constellation of human leadership that is unprecedented," Charles said. He commended the vision and commitment of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and cited the efforts of Mexican President Vicente Fox and President Bush as examples of strong leadership in the drug war. 

Among the circumstances that have contributed to the tipping point, Charles said, are a post-Sept. 11, 2001, focus on the links between narcotics and terrorism, emerging regional self-interest in ridding the hemisphere of narcotics and terrorism, and improved technology that has facilitated greater information-sharing. 

Charles said that statistics support his "tipping point" assertion, citing the 2002 downturn in potential cocaine and heroin production in Colombia as evidence. 

He said there is a direct correlation between this drop in illicit cultivation and U.S.-sponsored eradication efforts. The Air Wing, or aerial eradication program, which is managed by the 

State Department, has flown 2,919 spray sorties, spraying 104,078 hectares as of the end of September 2003 — an average of 10 daily missions.

In the past year, these and other aggressive counter-narcotics efforts took an estimated $5 billion in cocaine and $200 million in heroin off U.S. streets, Charles said. 

These results, he added, demonstrate that the Air Wing program "is delivering . . . [and] it is delivering incredibly difficult-to-attain results." 

The program, however, is not without risk. In fact, Air Wing eradication efforts are conducted in an essentially hostile and combative environment in Colombia. The over 300 hits from hostile fire absorbed by Air Wing aircraft in the year 2003 illustrate that the program is "an incredibly dangerous operation," according to Charles. 

To enhance the safety of the aircraft and individuals carrying out Air Wing operations, numerous safety provisions are in place. 

Charles said that each spray package of between two to seven spray aircraft is accompanied by a search-and-rescue helicopter, two helicopter gunships and troop carriers that include 10 to 15 fast-reaction forces. 

Individual aircraft protections include Kevlar fabric, thick steel, and ballistic plate, all of which are used as under-armor. Pilots are also provided with bulletproof vests, blankets, survival radios, weapons and signaling devices. 

As a result of these safety precautions, Charles said, the Air Wing operation, although risky, is not operated in an unsafe manner. "We are doing everything possible to protect [pilots], and I think we are doing a pretty good job," he added.

A Costa Rican contract pilot, Mario Alvarado, died Sept. 21 when his craft was shot down.

Nicaragua's dry canal proposals
Oil spills would jeopardize Costa Rican beaches
By the Nicaragua Network

In Nicaragua, plans are being made for new interoceanic transportation routes, both water routes and rail lines, that would compete with the Panama Canal. 

This is Part II

However, the environmental aspects of a water route or the so-called dry canal are enormous. The obvious Caribbean port for any rail line would be Monkey Point.

A threat to the region's coastal habitats is posed by the potential for shipping accidents at or near the Monkey Point port, such as an oil spill. The impacts of oil spills on western Caribbean habitats have been demonstrated by repeated spills at Bahia las Minas in Panamá. 

Following the spills, reefs, sea grass beds and mangroves in the vicinity immediately died. Further damage ensued when oil was absorbed into the soil beneath the mangroves, and was slowly released into surrounding waters for several years. To date, there has been virtually no recovery of corals, sea urchins, or oysters at any of the most affected sites. 

The prevailing nearshore current along Nicaragua's southeastern coast flows from north to south. Thus, if an oil spill was to happen at or near Monkey Point, the areas most likely to be affected would be the beaches of the Rio Indio-Maiz Biosphere Reserve and farther down the coast the beaches of Tortuguero in Costa Rica. The beaches at Tortuguero are protected as the most important nesting site for green turtles in all of the Caribbean, and contamination of this vital stretch of coastline would drive the endangered turtles closer to extinction. 

The risk of an oil spill appears more acute when one considers the potential of the dry canal railway to help jumpstart a petroleum industry in Nicaragua. Although previous exploration has indicated that the continental shelves on both sides of the country hold commercially viable petroleum deposits, no production has yet resulted. 

Over the past few years, the Nicaraguan Energy Institute and transnational oil corporations, with assistance from the Inter-American Development Bank, have been negotiating toward a new round of exploration. Furthermore, the proposed canal would create regional demand for oil, and the board of the consortium Canal Interoceanico de Nicaragua has strong ties to the oil industry. These petroleum connections indicate another dimension of the environmental threat that the canal brings. 

The proposal promoted by C.I.N.N. and favored by the Nicaraguan government calls for construction of a brand new port and free trade zone at a relatively isolated spot on the Pacific Coast called Pie de Gigante. As with Monkey Point on the Caribbean coast, the site of the proposed Pacific port is in an ecologically sensitive area, both with regards to land and sea. To an even greater extent than the proposed Caribbean port at Monkey Point, a port built at Pie de Gigante would cause direct harm to endangered sea turtles. 

Pie de Gigante lies at the heart of a stretch of coastline that is used by sea turtles for nesting. Female turtles visit the region's beaches every year to lay their eggs in the sand. Most of the turtles land at a stretch of beach that lies within the Chacocente Wildlife Refuge approximately 20 miles north of Pie de Gigante. "The Chacocente beach is the third most important olive ridley sea turtle nesting beach in Central America. 

From June to December the female turtles come to Chacocente in synchronized arrivals called "arribadas," where as many as 10,000 turtles arrive within a few days to lay their eggs. Over 20,000 olive ridley turtles come there each year. The beach is also important for nesting of globally endangered leatherback turtles.

As with the proposed new Caribbean port, perhaps the greatest potential damage that the dry canal could bring to Nicaragua's Pacific Coast would be an oil spill. Nicaraguan scientists have pointed out that a spill of oil or other chemicals at the proposed Pacific port would get carried by the prevailing northerly current toward the beach at Chacocente. Such a disaster might entirely prevent the reproduction of the turtles that use the coastline north of Pie de Gigante, as sea turtles have a powerful homing instinct and return to the same beach to nest each year.

In addition to its impacts on coastal habitats, the dry canal megaproject would also undermine efforts to protect the endangered tropical dry forests of Nicaragua. The Pacific side of the nation experiences a pronounced dry season between October and May each. The region's forest is adapted to the annual dry season, with trees shedding their leaves in times of scarce water. 

The tropical dry forest once extended in a narrow belt along the Pacific coast from northern Mexico to Panama, yet because of concentrated human activity in this zone, this forest type is actually more threatened than tropical rainforests. Due to habitat destruction, only 2 percent of Central America's previous dry forest remains. Typical animals of a healthy tropical dry forest include white-tailed deer, peccaries, rabbits, agoutis, iguanas, coatimundis, white-faced monkeys, armadillos and coyotes, yet in Nicaragua's Pacific lowlands wildlife sightings have become increasingly rare. 

The proposed port of Pie de Gigante would be built on southwestern Nicaragua's Isthmus of Rivas, the narrow corridor of land that separates Lake Nicaragua from the Pacific Ocean. The low coastal hills of the Isthmus of Rivas are said to contain the largest remaining extent of tropical dry forest remaining in Nicaragua, including 12,000 acres protected in the Chacocente Wildlife Refuge. 

Construction of a port and free trade zone at Pie de Gigante would likely attract thousands of impoverished settlers to the Rivas region. This influx would be difficult to control, and would place enormous pressure on the region's forests for firewood and building materials, and also for clearing as agricultural plots. As in other parts of the nation, the resulting deforestation would lead to soil erosion and overall land degradation.

Ecological impacts along the route

Although the ecological impacts of the proposed Dry Canal would be felt most acutely in coastal regions at either end of the route, countless places along the 377-km. ( 234-mile) route would also be affected. A few examples of areas that would be impacted include the Laguna de Tisma along the Rio Tipitapa between Lake Managua and Lake Nicaragua. This lagoon is reported to be an important feeding and resting area for migratory birds on the flyway from North America, the natural corridor between Laguna de Apoyo and Volcan Mombacho. 

Efforts are currently underway to protect a forested corridor between the two protected areas. The dry canal would sever this connection. The extent of the damage incurred would depend largely on what type of additional development occurs along the route. If the route remained an "express", with no intermediate stops, then the impacts would be largely limited to those caused by the rail corridor itself. 

If, however, "exit ramps" were provided all along the route, the resulting development and settlement of previously natural areas would likely proceed unchecked. In fact, the dry canal consortium C.I.N.N. has claimed that a free trade zone with user and shipper services will be established "along the route," and the consortium has described the railroad as a "kind of a spinal 
cord across the country," along which development will occur. 

Canal Interoceanico de Nicaragua graphic
Costa Rica cannot help but to absorb some impact from the dry canal, if built.

In its eagerness to entice investors into the dry canal's free trade zones, it is difficult to believe that the Nicaraguan government, at least in anything resembling its present form, would make environmental protection a top priority. 

Impact on Nicaragua's indigenous peoples

If built, the proposed dry canal would fundamentally change the lives of Nicaragua's Rama Indians. Numbering approximately 1,000 people, the Rama are the smallest of Nicaragua's indigenous nations. The Rama have a distinct language, distinct cultural identity, and have traditionally had a distinct territory. Despite the proximity of Rama communities to southeastern Nicaragua's largest town, Bluefields (11 kms or about 7 miles away by boat), the Rama have managed to keep their cultural identity intact. 

The Rama have traditionally lived a subsistence lifestyle rooted in the rich coastal and rain forest habitats of southeastern Nicaragua. Depending on the season, fish, shrimp, sea turtle, and other foods are harvested from the coastal lagoons and near-shore marine waters. In the forest the Rama hunt a variety of animals including peccary, deer, tapir, and currasow. 

Along the rivers, Rama agriculture has traditionally been practiced in a low-impact manner, and is based largely on perennial root crops and a great variety of fruits, in addition to annual grains and beans. Although they now catch fish for the markets in Bluefields and beyond, for the most part the Rama still live a subsistence lifestyle, and are directly dependent on the surrounding sea, lagoons, and forest for food. Families that live inland along the rivers maintain a lifestyle quite consistent with that of previous generations. 

This lifestyle has served to keep the forests of southeastern Nicaragua among the most intact in all of Central America, and stands in sharp contrast to the western half of Nicaragua, which has been all but denuded of its forest cover by unsustainable agricultural practices. 

There will be radical changes for the Rama if the dry canal is approved and built. The proposed site for the eastern terminus of the dry canal, Monkey Point, lies 30 miles south of Bluefields, and is right in the heart of the Ramas' traditional lands. The likely route of the dry canal would cross Cane Creek, a quiet forest-lined stream where Rama families maintain a traditional lifestyle. 

The potential impacts of such a mega-development project to the landscape and marine environment, and thus the Rama culture, are hard to underestimate. Yet, rather than being approached in advance by the canal advocates, the Rama first learned about the proposed dry canal, a project that could forever change their land and culture, via radio and newspaper reports.

For many years, dating back to 1815 by one account, a mixed community of black Creoles, Mestizos, and Rama Indians has lived at Monkey Point. Along with the Rama, the Creoles and Mestizos are concerned about what will happen to their community as plans for the dry canal move forward. 

Recent events have demonstrated that these concerns are valid. These communities are under attack as titles surface from a railroad proposed 100 years ago. These titles were awarded through political patronage to land the title-holders never saw without alerting those who lived on the lands. 

Critics of these land claims point out that under Nicaraguan law a title is nullified if not exercised within 30 years. Furthermore, the alleged land claim violates the Nicaraguan Constitution and the Atlantic Coast Autonomy Statute, which has since 1987 recognized the validity and inalienability of the Atlantic Coast's indigenous and ethnic communal land rights.

Having received a glimpse of what will likely lie ahead if the dry canal is approved, the Ramas and the community at Monkey Point are fighting back. Legal actions cites numerous ways in which the proposed dry canal concession violates Nicaraguan law, the nation's constitution, and international human rights and environmental. 

Nicaragua and the global economy

There can be little doubt that some portion of Nicaragua's population would derive economic benefit from the nation's proposed rail and canal schemes. The question remains, however, of who would truly reap the profits from the megaprojects, and who would suffer. While Nicaraguans are unanimous in their desire for improvement of the nation's overall living standards, many in the country have become skeptical of development strategies that claim to be for the benefit of all but ultimately enrich only a select few, often foreigners, while degrading the nation's resource base. 

This pattern has characterized Nicaragua's development over most of the past 500 years, and there is reason to believe that the proposed transportation megaprojects might continue the trend, especially the dry canal. 

It is unlikely that any megaproject scheme such as the Dry Canal will suddenly launch Nicaragua into the small group of "winners". Thus, a better question still may be, "How can a nation such as Nicaragua best insulate itself from the profoundly exploitative, unequal, and unsustainable global economy?" 

If the global economy continues to be characterized by unsustainable capitalism, then there surely will be an enormous mass of "losers", for wealth and power are being consolidated within a smaller and smaller sector of the global population. 

If Nicaragua's central government chooses a development strategy that prioritizes pursuing dreams of affluence above meeting the basic needs of the nation's citizens, most Nicaraguans will surely remain clinging to the lowest rungs of the global socioeconomic ladder. 

The proposed dry canals may never materialize. Nicaraguan history is littered with proposed interoceanic routes that have never been completed. However, the potential impacts are too immense to not take the proposals seriously. 

This article is abstracted from a paper prepared by the Nicaragua Network, Washington, D.C. E-mail: nicanet@afgj.org. Web Address: nicanet.org  Materials for this paper came from "Canary for the World: A Nicaragua Environmental Primer" by Jerry Mueller and the Nicaragua News Service. This article is being reproduced with permission.

A footnoted version of the full paper is available HERE!

Part 1 was published Monday.

Jo Stuart
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