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These stories were published Thursday, Nov. 6, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 220
Jo Stuart
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Says Sala IV decision jeopardizes industry here
Tourism minister defends use of tourist cards
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country could lose about 100,000 tourists and $120 million a year because the Sala IV constitutional court has rejected the use of a simplified entry system for North Americans, according to the minister of tourism.

The minister, Rodrigo A. Castro Fonseca, also said that no statistics exist showing that the system, the so-called tourist cards, have been utilized by pedophiles, abusers or drug traffickers.

The Sala IV specified protection of the country from such people as one of the reasons that the tourist cards were unconstitutional.

The court issued an advisory opinion at the request of the Asemblea Nacional where a revision of the immigration laws is being prepared. An earlier story is HERE. 

Castro Fonseca in a statement outlined the use of the tourist cards that have been a simplified way for Panamanians, U.S. citizens and Canadians to enter the country since 1955. He pointed out that a law passed in 1998 did not allow for tourist cards, but that officials have been using a tax law to permit their use. Each arrival generates $2 in tax for the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo.

Castro Fonseca said that some 80 percent of U.S. citizens do not now have passports and that a lot of the tourists who arrive on charter flights take the trip on the spur of the moment.  He said he was particularly concerned about the effect of the ruling on the northern Pacific beach communities which are served by Daniel Oduber International Airport in Liberia.

Other countries that compete with Costa Rica for

tourism dollars do not require passports, he 
said, specifying México, the Dominican Republic, Panamá, El Salvador and the Caimans.

The $1 billion tourism industry employs some 

What is needed now
12 percent of the country’s work force, he said.

Castro Fonseca said that he had high respect for the constitutional court. But his statement can be seen as an opening volley from the administration in an attempt to salvage the use of tourist cards. For one thing,

the ministry gets about $200,000 of its annual budget from the tax generated by their use.

The Procuraduría General de la República also has expressed concern about tourist cards and called them a danger to the security of the country.

The tourist card was included in a proposed immigration law to formalize their use in the country. The need for a passport adds about $85 to the cost of a trip here by a U.S. citizen who has to get one.

The identification process is less rigorous for a tourist card. Currently, a driver’s license or a birth certificate is all a visitor needs to enter the country for 90 days. The actual tourist visa application generally is filled out by a visitor just before reaching the immigration area of an international airport. An immigration clerk validates the tourist card.

Anti-porn controls sought for public computers
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Carlos Avendaño of the Partido Renovación Costarricense, wants to put controls and filters on public computers that may be used by minors.

The lawmaker, who heads a committee with responsibility for children, said that he has sent a series of notes to Rosalía Gil, the minister of Niñez and to officials at Radiográfica Costarricense S.A., the Internet provider. He proposed that filters be applied to computers in, for example, Internet cafes.

Avendaño said that in every corner of the capital city Internet cafes exist where minors can enter and either seek out pornography or stumble upon it by accident. He said he has 
been in discussions with José Miguel Corrales, a Partido Liberación Nacional deputy who is 

More on the words 
RACSA seems to filter

preparing a proposed law to regulate computers used by youth.

Avendaño said that statistics he has show that 90 percent of the boys and adolescents between 8 and 16 have visited pornography on the Internet. 

The deputy said that pornography plays an important role in furthering sexual abuse in that the typical sexual criminal molests up to 300 youngsters in his life

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List of censored words grows
RACSA problem may be greater than suspected
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The situation with Radiográfica Costarricense S.A. has moved from the amusing to the serious with the revelation by a reader that he has kept the Internet provider informed about the problem and the company has done nothing.

The Internet monopoly, known as RACSA, or an electronic device operated by the company has been discarding e-mail messages with certain words in the subject line. The practice continued through Wednesday night, nearly 48 hours since A.M. Costa Rica sought additional information from the company.

E-mail messages with the words snow, snow job, viagra and sex in the subject line vanish when sent to a RACSA address. For two days, Mario Zaragoza, the company’s spokesman, has promised additional information but has not delivered.

When the e-mail vanishes there is no notice given to the sender. The RACSA anomaly probably is one reason why e-mail users experience spotty service.

Although readers and A.M. Costa Rica have confirmed the fatal nature of the above words, no attempt has been made to determine what Spanish words might cause the same reaction.

However, this newspaper did determine Wednesday night that e-mail messages with the words Blanca Nieve, Pacheco, racsa and privatization arrive without problem.

Reader Bruce Zuckerman of Los Pinares de Curridabat said he learned about the problem a year ago:

". . . On Oct. 21, 2002, I tried to send an e-mail letter to my aunt in the States  with the subject, ‘Snow in October.’  Not only did the letter not go through, but there was no indication from RACSA that it was non-deliverable. 

"I subsequently determined that if the letters S, N,  O, and W are together either in one word or in part of another word  (i.e., "snowmobile"), an e-mail letter with those letters or words in the subject line would vanish.  The above anomaly applies to e-mail letters both sent from or sent to a RACSA address.  Interestingly enough, a letter sent to or from an AMNET e-mail address is not  affected unless it originates from or is sent to a RACSA address."

Zuckerman said that by experimentation he found 

that jok and sex generate the same result. He said he explored the problem with a RACSA technician:

"On March 11, 2003, I called RACSA technical support and spoke with  Ricardo Sanchez.  After I explained the problem to him, he did some checking and was able to verify that those three combinations of letters, ‘snow,’ ‘jok,’ and ‘sex’ were, in fact, being blocked.  I  then asked if there were any other words or combinations of  letters that were being blocked, and he said that he knew of no others."

But then Zuckerman discovered that viagra also voids an e-mail message when it is in the subject line. He said he sent an e-mail seeking more information from the Internet provider but never got a response.

Zaragosa denied in a telephone interview Monday that any e-mails were being blocked by the company. He said that for the company to do so would be criminal. He was contacted again Tuesday and Wednesday and asked to look into the matter. Both times he agreed to but never responded.

There has been some speculation that the word snow is being blocked because five or six years ago the so-called Snow White (Blanca Nieve) virus was making the rounds. E-mail users were tricked into opening the virus attachment with the promise of a compromising photo of Snow White and the seven dwarfs. The text of the virus message has also showed up in Spanish.

Some corporate e-mail servers have been triggered by daily digest messages from A.M. Costa Rica to subscribers when the subject line contains words the computer finds offensive. Child pornography would be one such combination even when the message reports an arrest of someone for that violation. However corporate filter software usually sent rejection messages to the persons who sent the offending e-mail, and there is a method for appeal to the Webmaster.

Because RACSA servers handle nearly all the e-mails from and to Costa Rica, the current situation compromises the integrity of the nation’s communication system. RACSA has never been forthcoming when problems develop, and employees generally deny responsibility when Internet servers develop problems. 

The filering problem may be more general than just RACSA. A bulk e-mailer sent a message Wednesday night that had an extra character in the subject-line word: viag(ra.

Major ocean initiative
urged on U.S. Congress

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A new report by a committee of the National Research Council recommends the United States initiate a large-scale ocean exploration program that would increase the pace of discovery of new species, ecosystems, energy sources and pharmaceutical products.

The council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, refers to the bottom of the ocean as "the Earth's least explored frontier," and says the new program to explore that frontier should be run by a non-federal organization and should encourage international participation. 

The council's committee report, requested by Congress, says recent discoveries of previously unknown species and deep-sea biological and chemical processes have heightened interest in ocean exploration. For example, researchers working off the coast of California revealed how some organisms consume methane seeping through the sea floor, converting it to energy for themselves and leaving hydrogen as a byproduct that could perhaps someday be harnessed for fuel cells.

The committee recommends the program include a flagship and a fleet of manned submersibles capable of diving to at least 6,500 meters and unmanned submersibles designed to reach depths of 7,000 meters or more. A meter is 3.3 feet.

Given the limited resources of many other countries, the committee concluded that it would be prudent to begin with a U.S. program that would include foreign representatives and serve as a model for other countries. Once programs are established elsewhere, groups of nations could then collaborate on research and pool their resources under international agreements.

The committee recommends that a non-federal contractor operate the program, citing the benefits of creativity, cost savings and performance incentives that can arise from competitive bidding.

Auto tax scandal
hits customs unit

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican customs officials have been letting vehicles enter the country from Panamá without collecting the required taxes, according to the Ministerio de Hacienda, the financial ministry.

As a result the nation lost $200,000 in taxes, officials said Wednesday at a press conference.

Five customs officers in the border town of Paso Canoas have been relieved of their duties, and tax police are seeking out the estimated 67 vehicles whose owners benefited from the deal, officials said.

The alleged acts took place between February and May of this year and involved most of the customs officials on duty at the entry point from Panamá, said officials. They have asked the Ministerio Público, the nation’s prosecutor, to open an investigation.

Girl, 13, fires gun
at her playmates

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 13-year-old girl appears to have been playing a game when she came upon other youngsters and shot one in the ear with her father’s pistol.

The 10-year-old victim, identified by the last name of Fernández, suffered a wound to the ear.

The  youngsters were playing Nintendo in a home in Tirrases de Curridabat when the incident took place.

The girl who did the shooting vanished after the event.

Pacheco returns
land to Indians

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Abel Pacheco Wednesday witnessed a document turning over 33,000 hectares (some 81,500 acres) to Indians in southern Costa Rica.

The tribes are the Rey Curré, Térraba and Boruca.  In addition, the president participated in a ceremony in which the Instituto de Desarrollo Agrario turned over property to rural families. Pacheco delivered the deeds to the new landowners.

In addition, 66 families of former dock workers in Limón got 140 hectares, some 346 acres. 

Abducted man
shot four times

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An apparent effort at revenge may have been the motive when a 20-year-old man was grabbed early Wednesday in San  Pedro.

Men took the victim, identified by the Judicial Investigating Organization as Miguel Guevara Escalante, to the Parque de la Paz in southern San José. There they shot him four times, twice in the thighs and twice in the genitals, investigators said.

Guevara went to Hospital San Juan de Dios where he was said to be alert and conversant.

Kofi Annan visiting
four Latin countries

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

SANTIAGO, Chile — U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is here on the first leg of a four-nation South American tour.

During his two-day stay, Annan is scheduled to meet with Chilean President Ricardo Lagos. He will also meet with officials from various U.N. agencies, including the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Chile joined the U.N. Security Council this year as a non-permanent member. It is scheduled to take over the rotating presidency in January.

Annan will depart for Ecuador Friday. His trip will include a stop at the Galapagos Islands, which are dedicated to the study of ecosystems and the preservation of the environment. 

The U.N. secretary-general will also stop in Peru before heading to Bolivia for the Ibero-American Summit, which will bring together leaders of Latin America, Spain and Portugal. 

Dentist beat up
in Desamparados

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two men beat up a dentist Wednesday and then fled. Police arrested two suspects a short time later.

The dentist, who has the last names of Del Valle Monge, had to be taken to a clinic for treatment. The attack took place in Desamparados.

The two suspects were picked up in a police sweep and identified by the last names of Espinoza Garita and Ortega Sibaja.

Bills in bag were bogus

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two Fuerza Pública officers found two bags on the Interamerican Highway Tuesday, and the bags contained $100 bills and $20 bills. But the money, some $14,000, proved to be counterfeit. 
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Microsoft puts $5 million bounty on virus creators
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Microsoft, the world's largest computer software company, has announced a $5 million reward program for the capture and conviction of those who send malicious computer worms and viruses on the Internet. Microsoft is joining forces with law enforcement agencies to fight cyber-crimes.

Microsoft announced it is offering several cash rewards after two destructive computer programs, the "MS Blast-A" worm and the "SoBig" virus, affected millions of homes and businesses earlier this year.

Microsoft Senior Vice President Brad Smith said releasing a computer virus is not a harmless schoolboy prank but a very serious crime. "These are real crimes that disrupt the lives of real people. Every part of the Internet community suffers from the criminal act of releasing viruses and other malicious code - businesses, governments, schools, and families in their homes," he said.

Authorities estimate that viruses have cost companies billions of dollars in lost business. Computer attacks can also have much more serious

consequences when hospital and police computer systems are hit.

Microsoft is conducting its reward program with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Secret Service. Because Internet crimes know no borders, the international force, Interpol, is also involved.

Peter Nevitt, Interpol director of information and technology systems, said computer crimes challenge traditional law enforcement. "Criminals who perpetrate crimes such as launching viruses do so often from the safety of their own country, knowing that the damage that is going to be caused in countries far from them," he said.

Microsoft Vice President Smith said he believes offering a large reward to fight Internet crimes will make a difference. "We need these kinds of steps to help encourage people to come forward and share information. We can not afford to have these criminals hiding behind their computer screens," he said.

Microsoft and law enforcement officials say anyone with information about computer viruses or worm attacks should contact police or Interpol through the Internet at www.interpol.int.

Powell praises Nicaragua's Bolaños as leader
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

MANAGUA, Nicaragua — Nicaraguan President Enrique Bolaños has demonstrated leadership in addressing his country's corruption problem and debt burden and in advocating free trade and security reforms in Central America, says U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. 

In remarks Tuesday prior to a working dinner at Nicaragua's Casa Presidencial, Powell noted the progress made in advancing the agenda that the Nicaraguan president had previously outlined prior to his inauguration 22 months ago. 

"He told me what he wanted to do for Nicaragua, he told me how he wanted to end corruption, he told how he wanted to deal with the debt issue, he told me how he wanted to put Nicaragua on a firm foundation of democracy, he told me of his dreams to reform the economy, to [establish] free trade" and attract investment, Powell said. "And so much of what he talked to me about has really come to pass, in terms of his vision."

Powell indicated that Bolaños discussed the possibility of a Central American free-trade agreement during their previous meeting, and added that Bolaños has been a leader in pushing the region toward concluding the U.S.-Central American Free Trade Agreement. The secretary expressed hope that the agreement will be concluded this year and will be approved by the region's legislatures. 

In addition to advancing regional trade, Powell noted that Bolaños has also been a leader in dealing with regional security issues by encouraging regional leaders to reduce their defense expenditures and establish a reasonable balance of defense forces in Central America. Powell said this adjustment is a natural extension of the increased integration and cooperation in the region, as well as a recognition of the changing threats facing Central America.

"The Nicaraguan people and the people in other nations in Central America should be more worried about narco-trafficking and terrorists than they should be about being invaded by a neighbor," Powell said. He suggested that the security initiative that Bolaños presented to his Central American counterparts "reflects the new reality."

Powell said that Nicaragua's stockpile of shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles do not have a role to play in Central America's current political climate. He said they do not provide security for Nicaragua nor are they necessary for establishing the region's balance of forces. Instead, Powell said, the missiles are a burden on the nation's military and a potential danger -- and should be entirely eliminated.

Powell said the United States appreciates all Bolaños has done to bolster bilateral ties and thanked the president and Nicaragua's foreign minister for their support in the global war on terrorism and in Iraq.

U.S. officials expect more attacks against airliners
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Transportation Security Administration  officials say they believe that terrorists will continue to consider attacks against commercial airplanes in the United States and abroad and seek new ways to circumvent enhanced security measures.

In joint testimony Wednesday before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, Deputy Administrator Stephen McHale and two other agency officials reviewed the steps they are taking and the technologies they plan to employ to boost aviation security and counter new threats.

The officials identified the threat from terrorists equipped with shoulder-launched missiles, called man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS), as one of "credible concern." They said that MANPADS are widely available on black or gray markets around the world and that even an unsuccessful attack on a commercial airliner would have a devastating economic and political impact.

"This is a serious and complex issue with no single solution," they said.

The U.S. military has already started using an 

anti-MANPAD system, they said. But if that or a similar system is to be applied in the civil aviation, it has to be more affordable, reliable, safe and effective, they added.

The officials said the agency expects to select two private sector proposals on countermeasures in 2004 and test the one or two most promising prototypes later.

They said that cargo security on passenger planes also is a concern. The agency has focused its efforts in this area on a procedure that would involve pre-screening and identifying high-risk cargo for more intense scrutiny as well as creating a database of known shippers, the officials said. As part of this procedure, cargo from unknown shippers would be banned from passenger airplanes, they added.

In May the Senate passed the bill that would require the agency to develop a strategic plan for screening air cargo and inspecting both cargo itself and cargo shipping facilities.

Cargo in airline holds and air cargo planes was not covered by the aviation security bill passed by Congress in 2001 following the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

EU gives would-be members their report cards
By the A.M. Costa Rica wires services

The European Union executive body has given the green light to 10 countries that are slated to join the bloc next year but has warned them that they must address serious shortcomings before they become members. 

In its final report on preparations for the biggest EU expansion, the European Commission says all of the future members, especially the largest, Poland, still have to implement reforms in various areas to meet EU standards.

It says that, if solutions to these problems are not found before the 10 countries join the Union on May 1, the acceding states could find their products barred from the EU single market or be denied EU agricultural or regional subsidies. 

The commission is especially concerned about Poland, which it criticizes, among other things, for failing to bring its agricultural regulations up to EU standards and not doing enough to fight corruption. It also warns Hungary and Slovakia that they must improve their agricultural standards and tells the Czech Republic that it has to deal with deteriorating public finances.

Slovenia, a former Yugoslav republic, gets the best report card of the 10, followed by Lithuania.

Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, and Malta are being told they have to move faster in enacting reforms that will bring them in line with their richer western European neighbors.

The commission also reports on three countries that are seeking to join the union in the years ahead: Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey. Bulgaria and Romania are in negotiations with the European Union and hope to become members in 2007. Turkey has not yet begun talks. to become part of the union.

The European Union says Bulgaria must do much more to curb corruption and reform its judiciary. It casts serious doubts on Romania's readiness to join the bloc, saying the Balkan country is not yet a functioning market economy, a prerequisite for membership. 

But it reserves most of its criticism for Turkey, saying that, despite Ankara's progress in enacting reforms, it still has to implement many of the changes, notably improving human rights and ensuring civilian control of the powerful Turkish military.

And, in a warning that has miffed Turkish leaders, the European Union says Turkey's failure to settle the Cyprus problem could pose a serious obstacle to its bid to open EU membership talks. 

Jo Stuart
About us
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