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These stories were published Thursday, Nov. 13, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 225
Jo Stuart
About us
RACSA releases its listing of poison pill words
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

After denying for more than a week that certain words in the subject line would doom an e-mail message, Radiogáfica Costarricense S.A. released its poison pill list Wednesday.

Released were 44 words or phrases that trigger a fatal filter if included in the subject line of an e-mail message. The company, known as RACSA, ashcans the message whether the transmission is coming into Costa Rica from international sources or if it originated here. The company sends no notification that the message has been trashed. Nor, does it appear, that a human being actually reviews the message before deleting it.

The words that offend RACSA include free, sale, thank you! and other words that at one time may have been in the subject line of virus messages.

A spokesman for RACSA said that if an Internet customer wishes to sent a message in which the subject line corresponds to the company’s fatal words, the client simply has to change the words slightly. However, until Wednesday the company refused to acknowledge that such a poison pill list existed or to provide the list of words.

The spokesman said that messages with the words hello and the word hola also are being filtered. Previously, the same spokesman said that for the company to filter e-mail messages based on content would be unconstitutional and criminal.

The spokesman said that the phrase child porn was being filtered, but an experiment last week by A.M. Costa Rica showed that this was not the case.

A.M. Costa Rica became involved when a reader pointed out that any message with snow in the subject line would never go through. The newspaper experimented and found out that snow and variations such as snow job would doom an incoming e-mail message.

Another reader reported that he had asked RACSA about the situation a year ago but never got a satisfactory response.

The RACSA spokesman was unclear when asked if the fatal words expire after a period of time.  He said that the number of e-mail messages being filtered was trivial, perhaps 20 a day since the practice was begun in March 2002.

The small number would seem to defeat the purpose of the filtering process which is to catch viruses and messages offering child pornography. Experience by A.M. Costa Rica staffers and readers suggest that the number of messages filtered and destroyed is far greater.

One reader correctly pointed out that a Costa Rican resident with an internet domain 

 Words that kill
your e-mail message

 your account
Re: Details
Re: Thatmovie
Re: Wickedscreensaver 
Re: Youraplication
Cinco ejemplos malos
Planilla de Los Sueños
Farm girls naked
heraldos negros 
hola como e
hi! how are yo
Uncensored Newsgroups
[Fwd: de paquetes ____]
Stephen King - the hand 
Thank you!
Your Details
Re: Approved
Re: Details
Re: That movie
Re: Wicked screensaver 
Re: Your aplication

Regalo para nuestros usuarios de Internet.

Regalo para nuestros clientes selectos. 
Un obsequio para nuestros clientes de Internet.
Re: Details
Re: That movie
Re: Wicked screensaver
Re: Your aplication 

elsewhere could avoid the filtering process. Bysending messages to and from the domain server elsewhere, the RACSA e-mail server is circumvented.

However, both A.M. Costa Rica and others transfer messages from their domain server to RACSA accounts for convenience.

There is a high probability that words others than those listed by  RACSA are being filtered, but getting precise information from the Internet monopoly is difficult.

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Coffee drying plant
runs on local waste 

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A British company has devised a coffee drying system that uses waste husks and pulp as fuel.

The company will be showing off the project at  Coop Dota in Tarrazu a week from today, and Georgina Butler, the British ambassador, will inaugurate the system.

The so-called wood-free drying plant has been in operation, and the Instituto de Cafe de Costa Rica already has inspected it.

According to the manufacturer, Bioflame, Ltd., on its Web site, institute representatives were so amazed by the results that they thought their  test equipment was faulty having checked their equipment they concluded that the Bioflame device was the cleanest and most efficient burner system they had ever tested. 

"The Bioflame solution gives Coopdota the competitive edge in the speciality coffee market. I am known for making bold advances in coffee  production and with Bioflame as a partner I have taken my biggest step forward ever,"  said  Roberto Mata of Coop Dota, as quoted on the Web site.

The device is being touted as more than just a British product. Instead, it is a revolutionary, renewable energy coffee-drying system that will save rainforest trees, cut costs and deliver a better coffee with constant drying temperatures, said a release forwarded by the British Embassy.

Fireworks enforcement
is serious matter

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police, fire and health officials say they are serious in enforcing a law against mixing children with fireworks.

The governmental organizations announced a publicity campaign Wednesday aimed at equally last year’s record in which no child suffered burns or injuries from fireworks during the Christmas season.

Fireworks are traditional on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. So is a flood of cheap, illegal and perhaps dangerous fireworks smuggled into the country.

A 2002 law prohibits even parents from giving their children explosive fireworks and establishes regulations for production and sales. The penalty for violation cane be stiff: from three to seven years in prison.

The message from the Fuerza Pública’s director general, Walter Navarro, Wednesday was that the law would be applied aggressively.

Also involved were the Ministerio de Salud and the Hospital Nacional de Niños, the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social, the Instituto Nacional de Seguros and its firefighters, the Asociatión Proayuda al Niño Quemado and the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

The agencies, assembled as an interinstitutional commission will use radio, television, advertisements in movie houses, pamphlets and cable messages to get the word out. President Abel Pacheco will be appearing in some of the messages.

In previous years, from 11 to 18 children suffered burns or injuries from fireworks during the Christmas season.

Raids seek clues
to check forgeries

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators raided 18 locations at the same time Wednesday and arrested nine persons they said were involved in negotiating stolen and forged checks.

Raids took place in Desamparados, Aserrí, Tejarcillos, San Felipe, San Josecito de Alajuelita, Copey, Cinco Esquinas de Tibás, Pavas, Concepción de la Unión, San Sebastián and Heredia. The raids were carried out by the Judicial Investigating organization.

The gang bribed or threatened security guards to that the crooks could get nighttime access to companies or state institutions where check blanks were taken, said investigators. The amount involved in the forgers might be as much as 500 million colons, said investigators. That’s about $1.25 million.

Investigators said they confiscated check-writing devices and other equipment used in preparing the checks for use. Other persons may be arrested later.

Zoellick kicks off
free trade coalition

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — One week prior to meeting with hemispheric trade officials in Miami, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick hosted over 100 prominent Latin business and community leaders from across the United States at a Wednesday White House event to launch the Latino Coalition for Free Trade, according to a press release issued by his office.

Joining Zoellick were representatives from throughout Latin America, including many from the five Central American nations currently negotiating the U.S.-Central American free trade agreement .

"As President Bush has stated, the future of our hemisphere depends on the strength of our commitment to free markets, economic opportunity, and democracy. Latinos in the United States contribute daily to the prosperity of this country, and understand the promise that these values hold for the rest of the hemisphere," said Zoellick.

Two held in murders

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two persons are in preventative detention for up to a year in San Carlos facing investigation in the death of a couple gunned down in San Bosco de Birmania  near Upala in the northern zone early Sunday.

The suspects were identified by their last names of Chaves Baltodano and Jiménez Hernández.

Dead are David Molina Chévez, and Reyna Vílchez Cantillano

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Chilly nights stem
wave of dengue fever

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica still is wrestling with a record number of dengue cases, but health officials say that chilly nights in the Central Valley will stem the epidemic there.

About 16,500 cases of dengue have been reported this year, an increase over the 12,250 cases in 2002. 

Most cases were in the warmer zones, but a wave of the dengue-carrying mosquitoes was moving west in the Central Valley prompting fears of massive numbers of cases because of the density of population  here and the way most homes are not bug tight.

Cool temperatures at night seems to inhibit reproduction by the disease carrier, Aedes aegypti, mosquitoes, and the Central Valley has been having chilly nights.  However, the nights have been rainy, too, so there are plenty of places for adult mosquitoes to lay their eggs.

Dengue patients experience flu-like symptoms, but a few who have been infected previously contract possibly fatal hemorrhagic fever. Fewer than 100 have contracted the most severe form this year.

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Passers-by in Parque Central are amused and puzzled by the life-size statue of a street sweeper that has just been erected by the municipality to honor these workers.

Latin budget study finds minimal transparency
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A new survey of budget transparency in 10 Latin American countries finds generally poor results, including lax auditing of public funds and little public participation in budget decisions. 

Costa Rica was in fourth place among the 10 nations. The study also covers Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Peru.

"These findings are especially troubling in light of recent World Bank research showing that Latin America has the world’s largest disparities between rich and poor," said Helena Hofbauer, executive director of the Mexican nongovernmental organization Fundar, which coordinated the study. "If internal auditing institutions are weak, and if the public has little voice over how its tax dollars are spent, it will be difficult to make budgets more effective in reducing poverty and inequality."

The report, the most extensive ever conducted for Latin America, also contains policy recommendations for each country on how it can improve its budget transparency. "Making the budget process more transparent is a critical way to strengthen democratic institutions and consolidate the rule of law," Hofbauer added.

Researchers from 15 groups surveyed legislators, academic experts, journalists and civil society organizations on a broad range of issues related to access to budget information, the willingness of officials to seek input from citizens on budgeting decisions, and the credibility of institutions such as internal and external auditors. Each country received an overall transparency rating from 1 to 100, with 100 being highly transparent.

Most of the countries received overall ratings between 40 and 50 points. Chile had the highest overall rating, 61.7 points, while Ecuador had the lowest, 30.6 points. Costa Rica was 48.8.

 "What stands out here is that even in Chile there is not a particularly strong view that important decisions about resource allocation are accessible to ordinary citizens," said Hofbauer. Respondents also were asked to evaluate other aspects of the budget process in their country. Their responses were combined into 14 categories. 

Findings include:

• Citizen participation in the budget process received extremely low ratings across the region. Brazil, the highest-rated country in this category, was rated positively by only 20 percent of respondents. Ecuador, El Salvador, Peru, and Costa Rica received positive ratings below 10 percent.

• The credibility of internal auditors also received markedly low ratings. Not a single respondent in Ecuador believed internal auditing to be credible, 

General Index of the Perception
of Budget Transparency*

Chile 61.7
Mexico 50.4
Brazil 50.3
Costa Rica 48.8
Nicaragua 46.4
Peru 44.6
Colombia 44.3
Argentina 44.1
El Salvador 40.3
Ecuador 30.6

*Score based on a scale of one to 100.
These results reflect respondents’
evaluations of their own country’s budget
transparency after completion of the
perceptions survey.

while positive ratings for Colombia and Peru were only 4 percent and 6 percent, respectively. Even Costa Rica’s 46-percent positive rating, the region’s highest, does not suggest an overwhelming level of confidence in internal auditors.

• The category with the most positive responses was the availability and quality of macroeconomic information. Leaders in this category were Chile (76 percent), Mexico (64 percent), and Peru (58 percent).

"The disparity between the countries is notable here," Hofbauer said. "The perception is that Chile, Mexico and Peru appear to have made some progress in ensuring that their revenue projections and other macroeconomic assumptions are realistic and available to the public. But Ecuador, El Salvador and Nicaragua are lagging far behind." 

Hofbauer said that it is a positive sign that in some countries respondents appear to have a degree of confidence in their government’s macroeconomic data, such as in Chile, Mexico government’s macroeconomic data, such as in Chile, Mexico and Peru. But all three countries had much lower ratings of the credibility of the internal auditor and of citizen participation. She added that this indicates a need for further progress in those countries to ensure accountability for expenditures, and inclusion of citizen’s voices in how spending is allocated.

The final section of the report presents detailed policy recommendations for each country to address its specific weaknesses. Recommendations involve such steps as:

• creating opportunities for public input during the legislature’s consideration of the budget;

• enhancing the authority and capacity of the internal auditor; and

• disseminating budgetary information more quickly, more frequently, and in greater detail.

Use of torture in Colombia called widespread
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — The Colombian Commission of Jurists and other human rights organizations says widespread and systematic torture is being committed by both government and rebel forces in Colombia. 

The report by the Colombian Commission of Jurists finds that between July 1996 and June 2003, at least 1,776 people were victims of torture. It said 242 of them were tortured, but left alive. The rest were killed. 

The commission says another 750 people were victims of cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment, most of them while detained in prison. 

The report says torture is on the rise in Colombia, and is used by all the combatants, the military forces and the police, the paramilitary groups and the guerrilla groups. 

The president of the World Organization Against Torture, Eric Sottas, says torture is unacceptable regardless of who is doing it. He says the government justifies torture as a necessary tool to fight against terrorism. 

"For instance, we have a lot of reports also on the attitudes toward the human rights defender," he said. "The fact that they are accusing the human rights defender to be in fact linked with terrorism 

and also the fact that they are trying to extract confessions in order to fight against terrorism. This is their official justification, if we can say so." 

The Colombian government told the U.N. Committee Against Torture the problem of torture in Colombia had to be considered within the context of the internal armed conflict. It said the guerrillas had intensified their terrorist activities, and accused them of kidnap and torture, as well as of abducting and recruiting minors. 

That argument did not convince the committee experts who said, whatever the context, torture is an international crime. 

Sottas says Colombia's paramilitary groups are responsible for most of the cases of torture in the country. 

"When they are entering in a village for instance where they have suspicion that the guerrillas have received support from the different members of the community they kill in a very indiscriminatory manner, all the people," he said. "They are taking all the people out of the house and killing them, torturing and killing them. . . ."

The Colombian human rights groups say torture is spreading because the people committing these crimes are not punished and they are calling on the U.N. Committee Against Torture to penalize these practices. 

Mexico losing thousands of jobs to China and Asia
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico — In the past decade, Mexico has become an important exporting nation, thanks, in part, to the so-called maquiladora sector. Maquiladoras are factories, where products are partly assembled, and then trucked over the border to the United States. But this unique economic border arrangement is suffering, as many of these factories move to other low-wage nations like China.

The way it was supposed to work held great promise for both Mexico and the United States. Under special rules established for maquiladoras, products could be partly assembled in Mexico, and then shipped duty-free over the border for completion in U.S. plants. This system created thousands of relatively good-paying jobs for Mexicans and drew billions of dollars of foreign investment. But now, the growth has slowed, and even reversed. 

Over the past few years there has been an alarming exodus of factories and jobs to China and other low-cost countries. Mexico's electronics industry is down by more than 8 percent. Several high-profile operations, such as one factory owned by the Netherlands-based Philips Electronics, have gone to China. More than 170 factories have closed in Mexico and moved to China in recent years, and some remaining factories have moved part of their operations across the Pacific.

The impact has been hardest on large border centers like Tijuana, just south of San Diego, Calif., and hre in Ciudad Juarez, just over the Rio Grande River from El Paso, Texas. More than 100,000 jobs have been lost in Juarez alone.

Jon Amastae, director of the Inter-American Border Studies program at the University of Texas-El Paso says his community has felt the impact of job losses in Juarez. "If you have a tremendous reduction in jobs immediately across the river," said Amastae, "you have a reduction in everything in El Paso, in everything from retail trade — there is still a great deal of bi-national retail shopping — to the transportation industry, which is directly, not indirectly, but directly linked to the maquiladora industry."

Amastae says business leaders in El Paso and Juarez are trying to counter the attraction of China with strategies that are based on proximity to market.

"Apparently, the cost factors in China are low enough so that increased transportation is not a knockout feature," he said. "It is not negligible either, so one emphasis here is to emphasize not just the cost of transporting goods back to the United States, but the effects of being in closer contact with U.S. centers of production."

This proximity factor is most important for heavy goods production and the rapid operating system known as just-in-time production. Automotive parts manufacturers, for example, remain strong in Juarez and other parts of Mexico because of the ease of transporting products to the U.S. market. But many other industries are vulnerable to competition.

Workers in Mexico's maquiladoras earn around $2 an hour on average, while workers in China earn less than $1 an hour. This is a great concern for Mario Mora, director of the Juarez Maquiladora Association, who says that the loss of tens of thousands of factory jobs in Juarez is distressing, especially when you take into consideration that each job in an assembly plant generates two or three jobs in the community outside.

Mora says his organization is seeking help from the government.

But some economists say the Mexican government is partly to blame for what is happening. Mexico City-based economist and TV Azteca commentator Roberto Salinas de Leon says the failure to enact structural reforms has driven some companies away.

"Labor costs only represent 10 percent of total costs of exporting companies and of maquiladoras in general," said Salinas, "so clearly there is something beyond the labor issue that is making China a more attractive investment regime for transnational companies."

Companies leaving Mexico have cited factors such as taxes and regulations, the high crime rate and the uncertainty of future energy needs as reasons for departing. 

President Vicente Fox has proposed sweeping changes in areas such as energy, whereby more private investment could enter the state-owned sector. But political foes on the left have resisted any move that they believe would lead to privatization of the industry. Fox's party lost badly in July's mid-term election, giving him even less leverage in the Mexican Congress.

Still, Roberto Salinas says politicians may eventually put aside their differences for the good of the nation, once they fully recognize the danger Mexico faces. 

"There is a certain distant hope that this threat from China and other emerging markets will impose a so-called 'golden straightjacket' that will force the political process to come up with the reforms," he said.

But Salinas says he does not see that happening any time soon. For now, he says, the gridlock continues and the jobs keep leaving. 

Jo Stuart
About us
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