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These stories were published Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 238
Jo Stuart
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A.M. Costa Rica/Clair-Marie Robertson
An early morning gathering of telephone seekers at the Escazú branch
It's a choice between the bed and a new phone
By Clair-Marie Robertson
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

If you have seen long lines of miserable looking people snaking along the streets of  San José, the chances are those in line are some of the unfortunates who decided to attempt the purchase of a GSM line.  The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad had 17,000 cellular lines up for grabs, and by the end of play on Monday approximately 8,000 lines remained. 

Upon hearing that so many lines had been sold in the first day, a desperate Tica friend called for help. Her idea was simple. I had been nominated to join the queue in the early hours of Tuesday to make sure she kept her place. At 6 a.m. in Escazú there were already around 50 persons present with cushions and food rations. 

Stefani Fonseca, 18,  a student, had been there since 3 a.m. She said that she felt very tired but was here to hold a place for her brother.  So I wasn't alone.  As I joined the back of the queue, zombified, my thoughts turned to my bed which would have still been warm.  The mood was subdued. Facial expressions were punctuated with the odd eyebrow being raised by someone who had just heard a bit of gossip. Alexis Murillo Muñoz said that having to wait for so long was madness. 

As the sun started to rise, things turned nasty. By about 7 a.m. tempers began to flare and a ruckus broke out just in front of me. An elderly woman had been elbowed by a man in the queue. Angered at the thought of losing her place, the woman adopted the only defensive tactic she could think of and began waving her umbrella in close proximity to the mans head. The Fuerza Pública arrived soon after that. The man eventually withdrew, and things became quiet again with the exception of the odd heckler who drove by honking the horn and laughing. 

At 8:10 a.m. the doors to the Escazú branch of  ICE opened. Documents needed for the GSM line, once crisp and neatly folded, were now dog-eared, ripped and crumpled up in sweaty hands.  The line began to slowly shuffle forward. 

What I couldn't understand was why there seemed to be more people in front of me than there were earlier in the morning.  By 8:30 I had barely moved forward a few meters and was relieved when I saw my replacement walking towards me.  My job was done. My stint was over. Hers was just beginning. 

Later Tuesday, about 12:40 p.m., my Tica friend told me that she had gotten her beloved GSM line. After waiting four hours more. 

A mini-editorial

A silly

We have a question. The phone company sells rights to cellular lines to retailers. 

Normally, to get a cellular line, one must first purchase a telephone. When there is no shortage, many retailers will complete the process for a buyer by carrying documents to the local telephone company office so that a new cellular chip may be installed by phone company employees.

Here’s the question: Why doesn’t the telephone company just distribute the chips to the retailer and let the retailer install a chip? A child could do that work, and chip, telephone number and instructions come in one package.

Here’s the answer (we think): But then people would not have to stand in line, and supply and demand would operate to maximize the efficiency of the market.

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Basketball camp here
to feature NBA figures

By Joe Medici 
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Several former National Basketball Association figures will host a basketball camp for children this month in Costa Rica. The National Basketball Association and the International Sports Academy sponsor the camp. 

NBA alums coaching at the camp, include Craig Hodges, Johnny Doyle, and Laurian Watkins. Each coach will be in charge of specific activities and will act as an ambassador to the game of basketball in Costa Rica. 

The camp begins on Dec. 13 and runs through Dec. 18 at Gimnasio Nacional in Parque La Sabana. Admission to the camp is $250, which includes 30 hours of instruction, an autographed basketball, a uniform, and a T-shirt. The camp is for youngsters ranging from 8 to 18 years old. 

The camp is being put on in conjunction with the Eventos Deportivos Internationales and the Youth Basketball Organization of America. These groups hope to use this camp as a stepping-stone towards other international sports projects in Costa Rica.

The International Sports Academy is a division of the Milleni@ Foundation. The foundation’s goal is to contribute to the integral development of children through sports. Pier Paolo Sinigaglia, from the academy, said that "The only way to save the world is through children, and sports offers us a special chance to reach them." The foundation uses sports to emphasize the importance of teamwork and dedication in everyday life.

The academy has a four-year contract with the National Basketball Association, as well as contracts with the National Football League and Major League Baseball. They hope to use these contracts to provide educational camps and meetings for the children in Central America. 

Previous to their work in Costa Rica, the academy helped to produce a soccer camp in Milan, Italy, that was put on by the local team, A.C. Milan.

National soccer team
back in action Feb. 9

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Federation Internationale de Football Association, soccer’s world governing body, announced Tuesday that Costa Rica will begin the final round of the 2006 World Cup qualifying tournament at home against Mexico Feb. 9.

The assocaition held a drawing on Tuesday to decide the scheduling for the six teams that made it to the final round in the North and Central American and Caribbean Nation region. The drawing was held in Zurich, Switzerland. 

The top three teams in the region will advance to the World Cup and the fourth place team will have a chance to play a home-and-home series against the fifth place team from the Asian regional final.

After Costa Rica opens its bid for a World Cup birth in February the team will travel to Panamá for a match March 26 or 27. Then on March 30, the national team will host Trinidad before hitting the road to play against the United States June 4 or 5 and Guatemala June 8. 

After a short break, the team will resume play at Mexico Aug. 17 and then travel home to host Panamá Sept. 3 or 4. Sept. 7 the team will be back on the road to play Trinidad and then will return home to play the United States again on Oct. 8 or 9. 

The tournament will end Oct. 12 when the team hosts Guatemala.

Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!
Figueres stays in Europe

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

José María Figueres Olsen, the former president, surprised hardly anyone when he notified legislators that he would not return to Costa Rica to testify.

A legislative committee would like to ask him about the estimated $900,000 he received from the French telecommunications firm Alcatel, which is in hot water here over corruption allegations.

Figueres remains in Europe, but sent the Comisión de Control de Ingreso y Gasto Público a lengthy letter in which he said he received the money as consulting fees.

Lawmakers had threatened to issue what amounts to a bench warrant for the former president if he did not show up, but there is some question as to how valid such a document would be outside the country.

The travel concerns of Figueres probably have little to do with the Asamblea Legislativa. The real concern is the Ministerio Público, the independent prosecutorial agency that is investigating corruption. That agency has real police powers, and this is the agency that has successfully requested the jailing of former presidents Miguel Ángel Rodriguez and Rafael Ángel Calderón Fournier.

Figueres is a member of the Partido Liberación Nacional. The other two presidents were candidates of the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana.

Credit card fraud case
brings four arrests

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Four women have been detained to face charges they targeted beauty salons and shops to steal credit cards. A fifth woman is believed to be in the United States.

The Sección de Fraude of the Judicial Investigating Organization swooped down on two houses in the urbanization of Bilbao in San Sebastian and others in Calle Fallas in Desamparados, Leon XIII and Cristo Rey. 

The operations in each of the areas recovered evidence related to a fraud of more than in $13,000 in purchases, agent said. The women involved included a mother and her daughter, Carmen Rey Rojas 46, and Ericka Rey Rojas 23. 

Investigators said the women were suspects in a case where thieves visited shops, beauty salons and other places where they were able to distract clients while they searched their bags, stealing wallets and credit cards. As soon as they stole the wallets the thieves immediately went to stores where they bought electrical goods. 

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Nativity scene at Teatro Nacional inaugurated tonight
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Christmas season has another major event tonight with the inauguration of the portal at the Teatro Nacional.

In a country where church and state are not separate, the portal is a major tradition. They represent the Christian story of the first Christmas with Mary, the mother of Jesus, caring for her newborn in a rude animal shelter. Frequently the Three Wise Men are just a few feet away outside with their gifts for the newborn Savior. Joseph, the stepfather of Jesus, also is depicted, as are animals and whatever else local creativity demands.

The judiciary, independent institutes and even various police stations set up their own Christmas scenes. Some are elaborate. Some are not.

The Teatro Nacional generally constructs the portal by which all others are judged. Each year it is different. One year the nativity scene was in a rainforest.

This year the portal has been moved off the front steps of the theater. Workmen have constructed a Costa Rican choza, a shack, from bamboo and cane. The statues will be placed today in time for the inauguration at 6 p.m.

Workmen were constructing tents and a stage for musical events in the adjacent Plaza de la Cultura.

The next big Christmas event is the Festival de la Luz, which will be Saturday, Dec. 11. This is probably the biggest parade of the year with 20 or 30 major floats and dozens of bands. The parade at nighttime is highlighted by hundreds of thousands of lights.

Around the same time the government and companies will be paying the annual algunaldo to their employees. This is the 13th month of salary which primes the workforce for a nearly two-week buying spree.

Christmas is Dec. 25, a Saturday. All but the most essential workers will be on vacation then. This is the opening day for the carnival and festival in Zapote. And there will be that Tico style of bull fighting again this 

A.M. Costa Rica file photo
A traditional Tica from the Banco Interfin Festival de la Luz float last year.

year. A new bull ring is being constructed. The old one was condemned by health officials and structural experts. The carnival runs through New Year’s.

Sunday, Dec. 26, is the day for the annual tope that brings thousands of horses and riders into the streets of San José. Anyone who can beg or borrow a horse will be up that day. The following day is carnival in San José with more bands and flashy outfits.

U.N. report predicts slight dip in Latin poverty rate
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

NEW YORK, N.Y. — Projections by the United Nations forecast that 2 million fewer people in Latin America will be living in poverty in 2004 than in 2003.

In a statement Tuesday, the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean says the poverty rate in the region will drop by 1 percent from 2003, bringing the number of people who are classified as poor to 224 million out of Latin America's total population of about 534 million.

According to the commission, the figures indicate that Latin America's poverty rate will be 43.2 percent in 2004. The United Nations defines the international poverty line in terms of people who live on less than one U.S. dollar per day.

The figures were released in a commission report called "Social Panorama of Latin America 2004," which said that the lower poverty rate is not large enough to offset the deterioration in the region's poverty levels of the three previous years. The report summarizes trends in poverty and income distribution, along with major demographic shifts, changes in family structure and conditions affecting youth.

The report also defines the characteristics of poverty and factors affecting effective social inclusion, such 

elements as household size and composition, the supply of human capital, participation in the labor market and access to housing and basic services.

Also discussed in the report is the fact that more than 20 million Latin Americans were living abroad in 2004, an "unheard-of figure that reflects the rising migratory wave of the 1990s." Of that number, 15 million Latin Americans are in the United States.

According to the report, almost two-thirds of Latin American emigrants send money to their families back home, making a substantial contribution to maintaining a growing number of households in several countries. The commission said that an estimated $35 billion flowed into Latin America in 2003, a figure that for some countries represented 10 percent of the gross domestic product.

The most obvious trend in the structure of the Latin American family is a rise in the number of households headed by women, especially in Bolivia, Costa Rica, Colombia, Honduras, Panama and the Dominican Republic, the report said. The traditional nuclear family with a provider father, housewife mother and children remains the most common family structure in Latin America, but it is not the prevailing model in the region's urban areas, said the report.

More information about the report is available HERE! 

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Electronic slander as an emerging political technique
By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

The uproar over a supposed transcript of a telephone conversation highlights the increasing use of the Internet as a vehicle for slander and falsehoods.

The jury is still out on the validity of a supposed conversation between Pilar Cisneros Gallo, a Channel 7 anchorwoman, and Francisco Dall’Anese Ruiz, the fiscal general. Channel 7 called the transcript false in an editorial Monday. Dall’Anese issued a statement Tuesday that said the conversation never happened.

Analysis on the news

The supposed conversation seeks to show that Dall’Anese has bugged 2,900 telephones in his investigations of corruption at the highest level and that he is using the media as a tool.

The transcript was published in Campanada, an online publication run by Carlos Roberto Loría Quirós, who has not said where he got the document or defended his reporting.

But Dall’Anese is not alone. In the last two weeks newspaper editors here have received several messages alleging wrongdoing. Some were sent directly as e-mails to editors. Others came from well-meaning individuals repeating the claims.

One message from a concerned environmentalist said that a major hotel was deliberately dumping sewage into the nation’s water. "Please help and raise the alarm about this ghastly act," wrote the sender.

However, the sender never bothered to check with the 

hotel before distributing the false message to many recipients. Reporters did check and found that the hotel has several sophisticated wastewater systems.

Another message claimed a former ambassador was somehow involved illegally with a gold mining company here in Costa Rica.

When asked for evidence, the person who sent the e-mail said: ". . . as an editor, I think you are aware that we can not provide you with that evidence." The evidence was supposedly locked up in some lawyer’s office. But the writer boasted how his distribution of the e-mail had caused the gold company’s stock price to dip.

Before computers, printers served as an ad hoc editorial board. When a customer brought in a defamatory message, the printer, aware of his own liability, simply refused to print it.

With photocopy machines, computers and the Internet, that first level of oversight has vanished. There may not be editors or a tradition of truth-telling. Now anyone can send any type of e-mail, and many do so for political purposes. The U.S. presidential election saw its share of half truths and no truths. Now that technique is filtering down to local political and development disputes.

The problem is that no matter what the truth turns out to be, Dall’Anese, Mrs. Cisneros, the hotel and the gold company are blackened because people remember the sensational allegation, not the disclaimer. That’s why we did not name the hotel or the mining firm.

That’s probably the whole point —  and  why citizens have to develop a critical mind to separate the truth from electronic slander.

World AIDS Day report highlights danger to women
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Today is World AIDS Day. This year, the campaign centers on women and girls. They now make up almost half of all people infected with the virus that causes AIDS. And HIV is spreading faster among women than men in most areas of the world. These findings are from the yearly report by the United Nations and the World Health Organization, a U.N. agency. 

The report says East Asia had the sharpest increase in the number of women infected with HIV during the past two years. Eastern Europe and Central Asia came next. HIV means human immunodeficiency virus. AIDS is acquired immunodeficiency syndrome

In Southern Africa, almost 60 percent of infected adults are women. In the Caribbean, young women are two times as likely as men their age to become infected. And, in the United States, 72 percent of women infected with HIV are African American. 

AIDS experts say there are several reasons why women are at greater risk. One has to do with the body. It is physically easier for women, and especially girls, to become infected during sex. Other reasons are cultural. Many women cannot demand that their partners use 

protection. And marriage is no protection if the husband has been with someone with HIV.  These reasons often combine with sexual violence, poverty and a lack of education for females. 

Worldwide, an estimated 39 million people are living with HIV. That is up from almost 37 million two years ago. An estimated three million people died of AIDS-related causes this year, and five million more became infected. These numbers are the highest yet. 
Southern Africa has more than 60 percent of all people with HIV The next highest area is the Caribbean. 

In East Asia, HIV infections increased 50 percent over the last two years. The report says this was largely the result of new cases in China, Indonesia and Vietnam. It noted progress in countries with large prevention programs, like Cambodia and Thailand. But the report says the two most populous countries, China and India, need to do more. 

Dr. Peter Piot leads the U.N. AIDS Program. Dr. Piot says prevention efforts alone are not enough to slow the spread of AIDS among women in developing countries. He says women not only need to be protected from violence, but also provided with education, jobs and the right to own property. 

Jo Stuart
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