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Jo Stuart
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These stories were published Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2001, Vol. 1, No. 71
Major bridge work will improve travel to the south
A.M. Costa Rica photos

Four bridges

being installed


the main drag

north of

Quepos and

Manuel Antonio

Big construction is going on from south of Parrita to Quepos. Four bridges are being replaced. 

The old, rickety structures were vulnerable to flood damage, not to mention the stresses caused by modern transportation.

In the photo above, two workers spend a Sunday afternoon putting concrete on the deck of what is being called the Colegio Bridge just north of Quepos.  They are Roberto Vargas Gutierrez and Miguel Leon, who are working an accelerated schedule to get the work done.

The bridge is the last in a string of projects covering the 20 kilometers (12 miles). And it is the least complete.  Traffic still has to make a bumpy detour around the four bridges, but all that remains for three of them is final grading work and blacktop.

Now if they could just do something about the one-lane steel bridge just south  of Parrita, the road from Orotina to Quepos would be one of the best in the country.

The road is a principal access to Manuel Antonio National Park.

Hotel business seems improved for Thanksgiving
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Tourism seems to have snapped back in San José after some declines and considerable hand-wringing among hotel operators.

A spot check of upscale hotels Tuesday afternoon found few wide open and able to accommodate stays of more than two days at a time.

The hotels were asked if they could accommodate a party of two for three days straight.

All hotels said they had vacancies for the period from Tuesday night until Friday morning. But none in the downtown area could handle the three-day stay.

An employee at the Grano de Oro Hotel said that a number of groups had descended on the city. The welcome turn of events for hotel owners might have been a result of the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States. This is one of two periods with the heaviest travel of the year. 

Although reports from the United States say that travel is not as heavy this year as it had been in previous years, the long holiday weekend gives travelers the chance to add on a few vacation days and wrangle a week or more off of work.

Several people-to-people exchange groups were noted staying in some of the beach hotels earlier in 

the week, and these likely returned to San José for an overnight the day before their return flight.

Other downtown hotels have been reporting relatively high occupancy rates, up to 90 percent, for the last two weeks.

Even less than luxury hotels were jammed Tuesday. Aparthotel La Sabana was unable to handle a three-day stay, and the clerk had a reservations chart that was nearly full.

Hotel occupancy became an issue after the Sept.  11 terrorist attacks in the United States and the subsequent decline in foreign tourism here in Costa Rica.

Even hotels distant from the center of the city said Tuesday they might have vacancies but that the week was a good one for occupancy.

Closed for thanksgiving

The U.S. Embassy will be closed for Thanksgiving Thursday, and the section that issues tourist visas will be closed Thursday and Friday.

The embassy will reopen at 8 a.m. Friday, said an embassy announcement.

Despite the holiday, the embassy maintains an after-hours contact number for emergencies: (506) 220-3127

Benefit concert here for abandoned seniors is set for Dec. 2
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

More than 100 persons are expected for a concert Sunday, Dec. 2, at 3 p.m. to benefit a home for abandoned adults.

The concert, featuring El Grupo Elbano, five string professionals from the Costa Rican National Symphony Orchestra, will be at a private home in Bello Horizonte.

The home for adults is in Guapiles, and the concert represents a major effort by the English-speaking community to continue the support it has given for the last four years.

The concert as a fundraiser has a twist. The is no ticket price, and audience members simply are encouraged to consider making an anonymous donation by placing money in an envelope after the concert, according to Donlon Havener of Santa Ana, one of the organizers. The home is supported by The Angel of Love Foundation to which donations should be made.

Last year, the emphasis was on foodstuffs, and audience members were asked to bring a contribution of rice, he said. The result was 200 pounds of rice.

The Tom and Norman Home is named after Tom Johnston and Norman Brown, who founded a refuge first as a home for AIDS patients in Heredia and later as a home for abandoned seniors after Costa Rica began providing support for AIDS patients. 

The Guapiles facility is an abandoned horse stable 

that has been redone with considerable effort by the local community, according to Havener. Some 11 abandoned seniors live at the facility.

Havener said that each resident has a story. The latest is a man found ill sleeping under a piece of tin on a mountainside. He was treated for his illness by the Costa Rican medical system, but when it was time to leave he had no where to go. Although some of the elderly there receive a pension, the amount is not significant, and the largest pension is about 10,000 colons ($30) a month, Havener said.

"This is the biggest one we’ve attempted," he said of the concert. The rice benefit drew 36 persons. 

The home is that of Mrs. Ana Carcedo. Bello Horizonte is an eastern suburb of Escazú. Coming from the east, concert goers would take the old road to Escazú along the south side of La Sabana Park. They would take the first left about 100 meters after crossing the Los Anonos Bridge. This is the eastmost entrance to Bello Horizonte.

Then concert goers would travel 200 meters south to a Y intersection where they take the left road. From there they would travel about 200 meters east to a T intersection in front of the playhouse of the Little Theatre Group. They would turn left there and travel two blocks and turn left again into a dead-end street. At the end of the street is the Carcedo home.

For more information Havener may be reached at 282-7794 or by e-mail to:


Noriega praises role of OAS in ensuring safety
Special to A.M.  Costa Rica

WASHINGTON — The role of the Organization of American States (OAS) in ensuring the safety and stability of the Western Hemisphere has been amplified by its swift response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks against New York and Washington, said Roger Noriega, U.S. ambassador to the OAS.

Speaking last week at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based policy institute, Noriega emphasized the hemisphere's importance to the United States and praised the OAS member states' commitment to democratic governance throughout the region. This commitment, he suggested, is increasingly vital to the well-being of all countries throughout the Americas.

"More prosperous and stable democracies make better partners in protecting our interests and confronting new challenges close to home," Noriega said. Moreover, "at a time when serious people in this town are going to work on "homeland security' and 'perimeter security,' it is only natural to expect that simple geography will accord the Western Hemisphere considerable attention" from the White House, he added.

Yet "even before Sept. 11, the region was moving toward the center of our thinking," he said. "One practical reason for that is because President Bush personally cares about the region. A second is that we share a commitment to representative democracy and free-market economic policies."

Noriega had accompanied Secretary of State Colin Powell to Lima, Peru, where Powell was attending an OAS conference of regional foreign ministers on Sept. 11. "It is poetic, I suppose, that on the very day that terrorists launched horrific, devastating attacks against our core political and social values, the nations of the Americas reaffirmed those values by approving the Inter-American Democratic Charter in Lima," he observed.

The charter vividly illustrates the necessity for multilateral action in defense of such principles, Noriega said. "If there is a clear interruption of democratic order or if an undemocratic alteration is not remedied, the charter calls for a General Assembly that may, among other things, suspend the offending government from the inter-American system -- which requires a two-thirds vote of the member states," he explained.

The Inter-American Democratic Charter "builds on a practical legacy in which the OAS advances values that will make all of our nations stronger [collectively] by making each of our nations stronger [individually]," Noriega asserted. "We pursue these goals as a community not because one 

government or another is imposing an agenda. We do so because we are compelled by our shared values to do so. And that solidarity has shone through since Sept, 11."

The United States has applauded Brazil's leadership in prompting the invocation of the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (better known as the Rio Treaty), which recognizes an attack on one OAS member as an attack on all the others, and which directs the signatory parties to provide mutual assistance against international terrorism. 

Several other Western Hemisphere countries have demonstrated initiative, as well. Argentina, El Salvador, Colombia, Peru and Mexico are actively spearheading the OAS' efforts to thwart terrorist objectives by assuming responsibility on counterterrorism-related committees and subcommittees, and by helping to draft and develop "a regional accord for fighting terrorism that is both forward-looking and practical," the ambassador said.

In sum, "the OAS member states have collectively answered the call to confront global terrorism, pledging solidarity and cooperation and mandating specific actions from the inter-American community," he declared. "Notably, the Rio Treaty members have unanimously approved a resolution that puts the hemisphere foursquare within the global coalition confronting terrorism."

The Bush Administration, in its campaign against terrorism, will work closely with its neighbors to help address the security needs of the entire region, Noriega concluded.

Former ombudswoman
will talk to Democrats

This year’s annual Holiday Fiesta for members and friends of Democrats Abroad will be held at the Hotel Villa Tournon Saturday afternoon, Dec. 8, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Sandra Piszk, former ombudswoman and current Liberation Party vice presidential candidate, will share her insights on Costa Rican campaign realities and the Feb. 3 elections.

The Fiesta will also include seasonal, Costa Rican and classical music presentations, a Holiday boca buffet with cash bar, and door prizes. Ample parking will be available, said an announcement.

For reservations (3.000 colons for members and guests) and additional information is available from Ruth Dixon at 494-6260 or Yvette Karl at 232-7048. All in the community are welcome.

Menem set at liberty
in arms smuggling case

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Former Argentine President Carlos Menem  has been freed from house arrest and cleared of charges he ran an arms smuggling ring while in office.

The Argentine Supreme Court ruled in Menem's favor Tuesday, shortly after it dismissed similar charges against a former top aide, Emir Yoma. 

Jubilant Menem supporters hailed the decision by celebrating at the luxurious villa near Buenos Aires where the former president was confined. Menem was arrested in June and subsequently charged with running the ring that sold weapons to Croatia and Ecuador in the 1990s. At the time, both nations were under an international arms embargo.

The former president has maintained his innocence and says he does not know how the weapons ended up in the two countries, which were involved in separate wars at the time.

Tuesday's decision is seen as a blow to efforts to prosecute the flamboyant Menem, who led Argentina from 1989 until 1999.

Current President Fernando de la Rua says his administration had nothing to do with the decision to free Menem, who still faces lesser charges related to the arms case. None of the charges, however, requires confinement pending trial.

Now that he has been released, Menem is expected to return to public life. The former president has said he wants to run again for president in 2003. 

Colombian rightist set
mayoral hostages free

Colombian paramilitary forces have released six local mayors after holding them for two days to protest their contacts with leftist rebels.

The United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia freed the mayors Tuesday in the mountains of the northwestern Antioquia Department.

The right-wing paramilitary group, also known as AUC, seized the group Sunday in Antioquia to protest their contacts with Colombia's second-largest rebel group, the National Liberation Army, or ELN.

The AUC said Monday they would free the mayors if they acknowledged their contacts with the rebels posed what the AUC called a "high risk for the country." The paramilitaries, however, did not comment on the circumstances surrounding Tuesday's release.

The freed officials are part of a larger group of mayors involved in efforts to negotiate local peace agreements with the ELN.

As part of the talks, the mayors requested the police move their posts out of the area to reduce the chances of civilians being caught in rebel attacks.

Authorities have rejected the idea, saying only Colombian government officials should negotiate with the rebels.

The Cuban-inspired ELN, along with a larger guerrilla force, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, are battling security forces and the AUC in the nation's 37-year civil war.

The development comes as Colombian government peace envoys are attempting to initiate formal peace negotiations with the ELN. Both sides have been meeting in Havana this week for the first time since earlier negotiations broke down in August. 

Earthquake hits Colombia

An earthquake has hit parts of northeastern Colombia. It measured 6.0 on the Richter scale, but there are no immediate reports of damage or injuries.  Authorities say Monday's quake was centered in the town of Cevita, in the Santander Department. Officials also say the tremor was felt as far away as the Colombian capital, Bogota. 

An earthquake of a similar magnitude killed about 1,200 people in Colombia's western coffee-growing region in January 1999.

New anthrax letter
shows up in Chile

A letter containing the deadly anthrax bacteria has been discovered in Chile. 

Chilean Health Minister Michelle Bachelet Monday confirmed anthrax spores were detected in the letter, which arrived in Santiago last week. Ms. Bachelet says 13 people came into contact with the contaminated mail and are receiving antibiotics as a precaution. None has tested positive for the disease. 

The health official notes authorities became suspicious of the tainted letter because it was postmarked in Switzerland but had a U.S. return address. Ms. Bachelet refused to identify the sender or the recipient.

News reports say Chilean authorities put out warnings about suspicious mail following the discovery of anthrax-tainted letters in the United States. The letter was among 368 that officials tested since the first anthrax cases emerged in the United States following the Sept. 11 terrorist strikes. It was the only one that tested positive.

Venezuela expects
to get zinged by U.S.

Venezuela's foreign minister says he expects his country will not be granted duty-free trading privileges by the United States as it has requested. 

Foreign Minister Luis Alfonso Davila says a senior U.S. official told him last week that Venezuela will be turned down for admission to the Andean Trade Preferences Act (ATPA). The act comes up for renewal next month. The Andean pact grants preferential tariffs for the major exports of Peru, Colombia, Bolivia and Ecuador in exchange for fighting narcotics production. 

Foreign Minister Davila said Venezuela should be included because it cooperates in chasing drug traffickers even though it does not produce narcotics. 

The Free Trade Area of the Americas, FTAA, aims to establish a single, Western Hemisphere trading area by the year 2005. Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez — alone among Latin America leaders — has criticized the FTAA. He says the United States and Canada would dominate the pact and make Latin America's poverty worse. 

Coast guard seeks
Cubans in mishap

The U.S. Coast Guard has spotted an overturned speedboat in the Florida Straits believed to have been transporting some 30 illegal immigrants from Cuba. No survivors have been found so far. 

After two days of searching, a Coast Guard aircraft spotted the capsized vessel about 70 kilometers southeast of Key West, Florida. "Our C-130 plane located an overturned, 10 meter white vessel with twin outboard engines," said Coast Guard spokesman Gene Smith. 

The Coast Guard dispatched two cutters to the scene that are now searching waters around the capsized speedboat.

Brazil’s president
stresses poverty

Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso says the war on terrorism should not be allowed to overshadow the war against poverty. 

Speaking in Rio de Janeiro to a meeting of lawmakers from all over the Americas, the Brazilian president said it would be a big mistake to let terrorism be the only item on the world's agenda. He said the world still needs to reduce inequality, promote development and encourage democracy.

President Cardoso spoke to the third annual meeting of western hemisphere parliamentarians. 

The annual meeting of lawmakers came out of the 1994 Summit of the Americas, when leaders agreed to work toward a hemisphere-wide free trade area. 

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