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These stories were published Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 228
Jo Stuart
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Plagued by virus,
Ticos try shots or

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Is there anyone here who does NOT have a cold or gripe, as they call it in Spanish?

The locals blame a change in the weather, and recent cold spells are partly responsible for a minor prolonged plague of sneezing, coughing and upper respiratory problems.

This particular seasonal virus seems to have a way of returning once the victim is convinced he or she has beaten the illness. Initially a dry cough turns into a full-blown head cold that seeks out the sinuses.

For most, the illness is a bother and the reason some work time is lost. For those with asthma and other pre-existing ailments, the virus can be life-threatening.

The usual Costa Rican response to such ailments is to purchase an injection or two at the local pharmacy. You can buy the shot, bend over and have it administered in a one-stop shopping expedition.

Others trust in overnight liquids and pills. Nursing mothers, for obvious reasons, have to face this flu without medicines. A sick, gasping child is an additional concern.

The Costa Rican custom of obligatory cheek kissing and similar greetings furthers the spread of the virus, as does the traditional handshake.

Two weeks of wet, unseasonable cold weather have converted some head colds into more serious chest infections.

Castro supporters strongly protest Cuba meeting
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Supporters of the Fidel Castro regime demonstrated at the Asamblea Nacional Tuesday over what they perceived as an anti-Cuban meeting.

The disruption and protest was encouraged earlier by Rafael Dausa Cespedes, the Cuban vice chancellor, who expressed unhappiness at a press conference with what he said was an anti-Cuban provocation.

Costa Rican officials replied that the assembly had merely rented the room to a meeting of the International Forum for Democracy in Cuba, a private group.

President Abel Pacheco noted earlier in the day that Costa Rica is a democratic country where people can meet and speak their mind on a multitude of subjects.

The issue is a sensitive one because 17 heads of state from the IberoAmerican countries will be meeting in Costa Rica this weekend.

The pro-Castro protesters held signs that urged an end to the U.S. economic boycott of the island. Some had to be removed physically from the late afternoon meeting.

Roberto Tovar, Costa Rica foreign minister, said he had exchanged notes with his Cuban counterparts. The protest was seen in some quarters as a preemptive strike by Cuban officials who are likely to come under intense criticism this weekend for the way Havana has jailed dissidents.

Among those involved with the Forum for Democracy is former Costa Rican president Luis Alberto Monge.

Cuban dancers seeking
asylum in United States

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LAS VEGAS, Nevada — At least 41 members of a Cuban dance troupe have sought asylum in the United States in one of the biggest mass defections of artists from Cuba. The singers, dancers and musicians of the Havana Night Club show filed for asylum in federal court here.

They had performed at a Las Vegas casino briefly in late August. The group's director said the Cuban government hampered the troupe's efforts to travel to the United States, and had threatened to make life difficult for the performers upon their return.


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U.S. gives grant here
to study violence

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A group in Costa Rica is one of 17 that will receive a grant to battle violence against women, the United Nations said Tuesday. The United Nations Development Fund for Women is in charge of the grants, which total $900,000.

The group in Costa Rica will use the money to investigate the scale of gender based violence in the country. The grant will also be used to influence reform of legislation and public policy, the U.N. said without naming the recipient. 

The development fund was set up in 1976 during a U.N. General Assembly in Mexico City. Since that time, the group has dedicated itself towards building stronger women’s organizations throughout the world so that women have the power to negotiate new and better policies with their governments.

The grants are given out to support innovative community efforts that help to end violence against women worldwide. Since 1996, the fund has awarded $5 million in grants to 127 projects in 71 countries. 

Amnet Cable to change
its rate structure

By the A.M. Costa Rica Staff. 

Amnet, one of Costa Rica's cable television companies, will be offering more packages to Amnet Digital customers starting Dec. 1 but not without some hidden costs.

Jorge Cordoba, the manager of customer services at Amnet, said, "We will be offering a wider choice of channels at affordable prices. Our customers can choose whatever channels they want."

From Dec. 1 customers that subscribe to the Basic Amnet Cable Digital package will pay $5 per month instead of $8.  This is because Amnet is removing three channels from this package, HBO Plus Oeste, HBO Este and Cinemax Este. If viewers enjoy watching these channels and want them to remain within the package, they will have to pay the $8.

Thomas Porras, a customer service representative for Amnet, said that those who just subscribe to Amnet Clasico will still be able to view Cinemax Oeste. He also said that the changes have been made to improve the service that they are providing, not to charge more for less channels. 

Porras also mentioned that for the month of December only, the Disney Channel and the Turner Movie Classic channel will be available to viewers of Amnet Clasico. Porras also said that Amnet offers excellent security to ensure that children are watching programs suitable for their age range. 

Amnet services part of the Metropolitan area, Puntarenas, Nicoya, Santa Cruz, Filadelfia, Playas del Coco, Tamarindo, Guápiles and others.

Art festival starting
today in San José

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Peace, human rights and cultural diversity are the key words for the XV anniversary of the International Art Festival.

President Abel Pacheco and Guido Saenz, the culture minister announced the specifics of the event, which starts today.

The opening will be at 8 p.m. in the Teatro Nacional with the show "El gran banquete en el jardín del emperador" by the Hang Tang Yuefu Ensemble of Taiwán. The festival this year coincides with the Cumbre Iberoamericana,  which is Friday and Saturday in San José.

The festival will run through Nov. 27, and will bring  artists from more than 10 countries here. 

Among them will be the Odin Theater from Denmark, Le Deux Mondes of Canada and Feliz Nuevo Siglo Dr. Freud from Mexico. 

The festival will involve all forms of arts from the theater to sculpture to dance and music.

Lottery makes citizens
agents of tax collectors

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Tributación Directa, the tax collecting people, have set up a Christmas lottery to collect receipts or facturas from the nation’s retailers.

To participate, citizens have to submit five facturas and some personal information. The lottery has 10 prizes of 1 million colons ($2,222) and tow prizes of 5 million ($11,111).

Two drawings will take place before Christmas.

With the lottery, tax officials will be able to obtain a wide sampling of facturas and also encourage citizens to complain about firms that do not issue the legally required receipts.

Not using facturas to dodge the country’s 13 percent sales tax is a national sport.

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Free trade treaty vote likely in early 2005
Noriega outlines U.S. goals for Bush's next four years
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States has a very full agenda for the Western Hemisphere and will work to strengthen democratic institutions and generate economic growth in the Americas, according to Roger Noriega, assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs.

He also gave a progress report on the proposed free trade treaty between the United States and Central America and said it probably will go to a vote in the U.S. Congress early next year.

In an interview Monday, Noriega outlined the United States' hemispheric priorities as the Bush administration prepares to enter its second term. He expounded on ongoing efforts in the hemisphere, including the implementation of Summit of the Americas mandates, the advancement of the hemispheric trade agenda, the reconstruction of the hurricane-ravaged nations of the Caribbean, Andean counternarcotics cooperation, and an immigration accord with Mexico.

U.S. policy for the hemisphere, Noriega pointed out, aims to strengthen democratic institutions and generate economic growth in the region. To these ends, he said that the United States and its hemispheric partners have a "very full agenda ahead of us."

To advance this agenda, the assistant secretary said that the United States will continue to engage the region through the Organization of American States and Summit of the Americas process.

He noted that the plans of action crafted and implemented as a result of the various summits and related forums are multilateral plans reached by consensus after negotiation among all 34 free countries of the Americas.

One of the practical plans of action that hemispheric leaders agreed to at the January Special Summit of the Americas in Monterrey, Mexico, was to develop report cards for regional education systems so that countries could measure the effectiveness of their education investment.

Noriega said that the region is making "considerable progress" on this front. He explained that the initiative "is a lesson, really, on how effective the summit process can be" in that it challenges a country to do a better job in certain areas while the United States provides technical assistance and other forms of support to help nations meet these challenges.

Another commitment that regional leaders made at the Special Summit of the Americas was to make HIV/AIDS anti-retroviral treatment available to approximately 600,000 individuals in the hemisphere who need it by 2005. Noriega said that the region has met this goal and will consider setting future goals.

Other commitments that hemispheric leaders made in Monterrey included substantially reducing the amount of time it takes to start a business, increasing credit available to the private sector — particularly small and medium-sized enterprises — and making it easier for 

individuals to register private property and get titles to their land.

Noriega said that progress is being made on all these fronts, and that continued progress on the commitments made at the Special Summit of the Americas is important because it will provide an important foundation for the 2005 Summit of the Americas in Argentina.

He noted that the theme of the 2005 summit will be "Creating Jobs and Generating Economic Growth." Noriega said that commitments to education, extending credit, and securing property rights are all important building blocks for the sustainable job creation that regional leaders envision.

As part of continued U.S. engagement with the OAS and Summit of the Americas process, he said the United States will host the OAS General Assembly in June 2005 and President Bush will travel to the 2005 Summit of the Americas in Argentina.

He said that the United States will also continue working to advance the hemispheric trade agenda, particularly the creation of a Free Trade Area of the Americas.

"We have put a lot of work into the FTAA because we think a region-wide accord is the best thing for all the countries in the Americas," he said. "It is important not only that they have access to our market and we have access to theirs, but it is important that we lower barriers across the board."

Noriega acknowledged that differences on agricultural policies have slowed progress on the FTAA thus far. Nonetheless, he said, "I don't give up hope, by any means, that we will reach that regional accord."

In the meantime, Noriega noted that the United States has in place or continues working toward trade agreements with much of the hemisphere. These agreements, he said, represent building blocks toward the free Trade Area of the Americas.

One of these building blocks is the U.S. trade agreement with the Dominican Republic and the Central American nations of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. If approved by Congress, this agreement would create the second-largest free-trade zone in Latin America for U.S. exports.

Noriega lauded the trade accord as a good agreement: "We have to note that stability in Central America and economic growth in Central America — consolidation of democratic, open, free-market governments in that region — has inherent benefit."

The approval of the treaty, Noriega said, will unfortunately be "sorely complicated" by the Dominican Republic's decision to impose a tax on U.S. products with high-fructose corn syrup.

He said that the United States is trying to address the issue and predicted that once it is resolved, the accord will likely be presented to the U.S. Congress for consideration in early 2005. The prospects for approval of the accord, he said, are "probably pretty good."

Rumsfeld carries flag in Ecuador for regional security
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

QUITO, Ecuador — U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who is attending a meeting of defense ministers here, said Tuesday countries in Latin America must cooperate in combating illegal drug trafficking and terrorism. 

Rumsfeld said the United States, in its plans for regional cooperation, would take into account Colombia's struggle against drug traffickers, leftist guerrillas and rightist paramilitaries. The United States provides training and logistical support to Colombia's government, but Rumsfeld said Washington does not want to interfere with the country's own policy and strategies. 

"The plan is Colombia's plan. And to the extent that they decide that circumstances change and they want to adjust the plan, that's for Colombia to do in consultation with the countries that want to cooperate with them," he said.

In Ecuador, the regional "Plan Colombia" has stirred 

controversy as a rising numbers of Colombians cross the border to flee violence. The recent attempt by the Ecuadorian Congress to impeach President Lucio Gutiérrez was, in part, a protest against his backing of Ecuador's involvement in the U.S.-sponsored regional security plan. Opponents of the plan argue it compromises the country's sovereignty and national security.

But during Gutiérrez's meeting with Rumsfeld, crowds of people surrounded the government palace, shouting pro-government slogans. Several anti-Gutiérrez protesters were removed by the police.

Rumsfeld is in Latin America for a conference of defense ministers from the Western Hemisphere, which is expected to address key regional concerns, including drug trafficking, terrorism and internal strife in several countries, including Colombia and Ecuador.

The defense secretary has said these problems are increasingly regional and can only be solved through regional cooperation.

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New broom Goss moves quickly to clean out CIA
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Central Intelligence Agency is reported to be in turmoil. The top two managers of the agency's clandestine service have quit, as have several other high-ranking career officials. The reasons for some of the resignations are murky. 

As a secret spy agency, the CIA always prefers the shadows to the spotlight. But it finds itself in the glare of publicity yet again as newly installed CIA director Porter Goss takes up his post. The agency's top clandestine services officer, Stephen Kappes, and his deputy, Michael Sulick, turned in their resignations Monday. The second-in-command at the CIA, John McLaughlin, resigned last week, citing personal reasons.

Michael Scheuer, who headed the CIA unit tracking Osama bin Laden and who had anonymously written two books, also quit the agency last week in order to speak publicly. In interview, he says news of the high-level resignations swept quickly through the corridors of CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, outside Washington.

"The rumors were flying in the agency," he said. "Did it have something to do with personal confrontations? Was it a housecleaning based on a perception that somehow the CIA favored the Democratic Party and not the Republican Party? I certainly hope that the latter is not the case because I think it's an inaccurate opinion."

A Congressional committee, headed by former congressman Goss, and the commission investigating the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, were both highly critical of the performance of the CIA and other agencies prior to the attacks.

Some accounts say an abrasive manner by Director Goss and his aides towards the clandestine service sparked the resignations. Others allege that Goss has embarked on a partisan purge for perceived agency bias against President Bush and his policies.

Sen. John McCain, a Republican, said Goss has every right to put his own imprint on the CIA, and that the new director is being unfairly demonized by entrenched career employees at the spy agency.

"He is being savaged by these people that want the status quo," said McCain. "And the status quo is not satisfactory. This is a dysfunctional agency and in some ways a rogue agency."

Rep. Jane Harman, a Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, says changes are needed at the CIA, but adds that Director Goss is going about it in a needlessly abrasive manner.

"He should be doing them in a way that sends positive signals through the ranks and doesn't have all kinds of people quitting and talking to newspapers," advised Ms. Harman.

However, former CIA official Scheuer says career spies are angry that the clandestine service has, in his words, been made a scapegoat for intelligence lapses on Iraq and the Sept. 11 plot.

"I think the main thing is an accumulation of frustration within the clandestine service over the way it's been condemned, first, by the Goss-Shelby Commission in the Congress, and then the 9-11 Commission," he said.

Scheuer's two books, published under the pen name Anonymous, were sharp critiques of U.S. anti-terrorism efforts and were perceived in some quarters as CIA-sanctioned criticism of President Bush. They were cleared by agency authorities before publication, and Scheuer had extraordinary latitude to give media interviews without prior permission.

But Scheuer says that not long before resigning, he found his free access to the media cut off after he successfully dispelled the impression his books were anti-Bush:

"As long as the book was being misinterpreted as an attack on the president, I was allowed free access to the media. But I worked very hard in interviews to turn that around, to try to explain what the book was about. 

"And, for whatever reason, once I was successful on that issue and the book was being reviewed and talked about in the proper interpretation, or at least the interpretation that I intended, they pulled the rug out," said Scheuer.

World Bank is bullish and predicts strong growth
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The World Bank says 2004 has been a very good year for developing countries, with their economies growing at the fastest pace in three decades. And it gave a strong prediction to Latin economies.

In its annual global economic report released Tuesday, the World Bank said developing countries will have registered 6.1 percent economic growth this year, with the fastest growth in China, Russia, and India. 

The report also says global economic growth is expected to slow in 2005 because of rising oil prices. The report said the global economy expanded at about 4 percent this year, but is expected to slow to 3.2 percent in 2005.

The World Bank classifies most of the nations in the world as developing countries, while identifying the following as high-income: Japan, Australia, the United States, Canada, and most of Western Europe.

The Bank estimates the regional economy of the Middle East and North Africa will grow 4.7 percent for 2004, and predicts similar increases over the next two years.

In its annual report, the World Bank says high oil prices contributed to robust growth in both oil producing and importing countries in the region.

But it says perceived increases in risk related to the war in Iraq reduced foreign investments in the region. The war also boosted activity in several countries because of the increased demand for logistics and heavier traffic through the Suez Canal.

The World Bank says that long-term success for the region depends on how well non-oil sectors function.

The Bank says economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa has improved since the 1990s, but is slower than almost anywhere else in the world.

The World Bank says it projects economic growth of 4.7. percent for Latin America and the Caribbean this year, ending three years of stagnation.  In its annual report, the World Bank says it upgraded its forecast from its prior estimate of 3.8 percent because most countries in the region have had a solid year — and growth has risen sharply in some of the region's larger economies. 

The World Bank's top economist for the region, Guillermo Perry, says higher commodity prices, increased capital flows, and stronger growth in the United States, Europe and Japan also influenced the 4.7 percent projection. But the report says major hurricane damage has hurt economic development in several Caribbean countries, and that it may take several quarters before those countries start growing again.

Jo Stuart
About us
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