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(506) 223-1327        Published Friday, Dec. 1, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 239        E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Workmen place a statue of Mary at the Teatro Nacional portal. This year the theme is First century Mideast housing of the time of the birth of Jesus. A
Christ Child statue will be placed tonight in a ceremony starting at 6 p.m., complete with presentations by three choirs. There are choirs Saturday and Sunday evening, too.

A.M. Costa Rica/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas

Lawmakers move to kill car inspection monopoly
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The legislature has a chance to break the monopoly on vehicle inspections now held by Riteve S y C.

A committee approved a change in the transportation laws Thursday that would allow officials to approve all inspection services that meet certain requirements. The measure now goes to the full Asamblea Legislative for consideration.

The vehicle inspection program, started under the Abel Pacheco administration has been controversial and hated. Truckers and taxi drivers have conducted multiple blockades opposing the program.

For its part, Riteve has constructed a number of inspection stations around the country with unusual machines that shake and measure vehicle functions like breaks, suspensions and emissions.

The Sala IV constitutional court ruled that Riteve is not a monopoly in the meaning of the  constitutional clause that prohibits such ventures.  So lawmakers are seeking to change the law and not the constitution.

Although the Sala IV said that Riteve is not a
monopoly, all the Costa Ricans know that it is," said Mario Nuñez of Movimiento Libertario. He called on his colleagues to rupture all the monopolies, both public and private.

The original measure came from José Miguel Corrales, who held office in the last legislature.

The proposed new language in the law would authorize the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes to allow any mechanics shop to conduct the inspections as long as the shop had the tools, insurance and did a good job.

The measure generated unusual agreement among the various political party members on the committee, the Comisión de Gobierno y Administración, although Alberto Salom of the Partido Acción Ciudadana said his party was very clear in its desire to protect public monopolies like the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad but not private monopolies.

The president of the committee, Patricia Quirós Quirós, said that approving the measure would allow shops, technical colleges and other educational institutions to offer the service. She is an Acción Ciudadana member from Cartago.

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Costa Rica
Second newspage

Real estate
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Dec. 1, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 239  

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A.M. Costa Rica/Noel Dekking
Costa Rica is strictly a First World country when it comes to political advertising. Here Johnny Araya, San José mayor on leave, stars in a television commercial seeking votes in Sunday's municipal elections. The scene is in Parque Morazán.

Our reader's opinion

A lot of the progress hinges
on the local government

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

The writer who wrote concerning the government abandoning Manuel Antonio makes many good points. The government of Costa Rica has all but abandoned the entire Canton of Aguirre, which Quepos is the capital. Although I will say that after so many years, it does appear that extensive progress has been made on the coastal highway construction, which is good news.
But I will be the first to suggest that the problem lies mostly with terrible municipal government. In one recent article in the Spanish press, our alcalde was ranked in the 10 worst of 81 alcaldes in the country. One year (possibly two) he FORGOT to solicit government funds that were available for road maintenance (I believe he was out of the country, which was pretty common when he first got in office). He and only a handful of other alcaldes forgot, and since they didn't submit their requests, we got no money for road repair whatsoever.

There are funds for such things as bridge repairs which were received over 18 months ago and only one bridge is being repaired, by a private firm, donating the work to the community. But as is often the case, where did the money go? There are also funds for making much of the country more accessible to the handicapped sitting in a bank somewhere with no action taken. There are funds, and there is no real interest on the part of the current administration to even bother spending them, I guess that sounds like real work.
Normally it would be the alcalde and the municipalidad who would solicit such things as improvements in water supply or electrical service. I can tell you that when these topics come up and concerned citizens, both Ticos and foreigners, get active to try to change things, the local government representatives show up at one meeting and make one speech and that is the end of their involvement. They simply do not care. And they always make mention of the fact that they will provide moral support, because they have no money.
I heard on the radio the other day that there are 42 incumbent alcaldes that are running in the current election, almost every single one, including our own in Aguirre are looking at charges against them that range from irregularities to outright corruption. 42 incumbents in 81 posts and almost every incumbent has charges being brought or already brought against them on the part of the Contraloria. If our alcalde was ranked among the 10 worst, I shudder to think what handful of allegations have been made and why he would even consider running again.
We have had no real municipal leadership in many years in Aguirre. And if the local government doesn't take action with government institutions, that leaves private citizens to do it. Unfortunately things don't really work that way here!

I have spoken to many in the political arena who suggest that the central government has a lot of interest in helping Manuel Antonio and all of the Canton of Aguirre, but since they have to deal with an apathetic municipal government, they cannot get anything done either. I do believe that we will see some positive changes if there is a new local administration elected that shows some leadership. If not, the local government remains an obstacle to progress, rather than a partner for the people who live in Aguirre.
God help us in the upcoming election on Sunday. That will be the determining factor if we get 4 years more of the same apathy on the part of the local government or if we get people in office who actually have a commitment to the area. It has been an interesting campaign to say the least.
Everything hinges on the local government. If it is weak, we are facing some harsh realities in Aguirre. Let's hope that people get out and vote. Aguirre was one of the cantons with the worst record of absenteeism in the country for decades. I hope that changes and that people are ready for a change.
Robbie Felix
Manuel Antonio/Quepos

U.S. citizen held after gunplay

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A U.S. citizen with the last name of Forty and a Costa Rican taxi driver were jailed after shooting broke out near a bar in Barrio Cristo Rey.

Police said the object of the dispute was a woman in the bar and that police received a report of two men shooting it out in the street. No one was wounded.

Fuerza Pública officers detained Forty and then found that the other man, identified by the last names of Caravaca Matarrita had an unlicensed .38-caliber handgun in his public transportation vehicle.

Adulterated alcohol found

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Dirección de Investigaciones Especializadas of the security ministry busted up a bootleg operation Wednesday in a commercial center in  Desamparados. Some 200 liters of alcohol were confiscated, and it appeared that the bootleggers were packaging their product under known brand names, including Ron Centenario. This is why the case was in the hands of the Unidad de Propiedad Intelectual.

A spokesman for the Fabrica Nacional de Licores, the government alcohol monopoly, said that the adulterated alcohol would represent a major health risk if it entered the public distribution system.
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third newspage

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Dec. 1, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 239  

Web site entrepreneur files honor suit against Panamá editor
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Central Valley financial consultant is bringing a criminal action against the editor of an English-language weekly newspaper in Panamá.

The consultant is Mark Emory Boswell, who uses the name "Rex Freeman" in his online financial operations.

The editor is Eric Jackson of the Panama News. Jackson said in an e-mail Thursday that he had been served with legal papers.

Boswell, who has lived and operated his business in Costa Rica since 1999, appears to be upset with a story Jackson wrote in August, titled "'Patriot' militia radio personality to expat investment hustler."

In the article Jackson chronicled how Boswell left Colorado where he had a right-wing weekly radio talk show and then set up business in Costa Rica.

Boswell has written extensively on how he escaped from the United States on Web sites, so much of the background information for the story came from Boswell himself.

In his suit, Boswell charges a "crime against honor," Jackson said.

Jackson also reported that Boswell appeared to be moving his investment and foreign currency exchange business from Costa Rica to Panamá. Jackson wondered if the businesses were registered with the relevant financial authorities in Panamá.

A former associate of Boswell said Boswell spent a month
in Panamá trying to get the suit started. Boswell also gives seminars on investing abroad.

The former associate said that the business caters to those trying to hide assets offshore. The ex-associate displayed a credit card that had no name imprinted on it, just numbers. The card said it came from Continental Trust in Switzerland.

Boswell had a business location in Plaza Colonial in San Rafael de Escazú but at last report was closing that office to consolidate at an office in Plaza Mayor in Rohrmoser. The ex-associate, a Costa Rican, said he has filed a Ministerio de Trabajo action in order to receive salaries and benefits owed him by Boswell. He said that Boswell was venturing into the online casino business.

In one of his Web site stories, Boswell said that he and his wife have been living on tourist visas in Costa Rica for five years and that he has made significant profits trading foreign exchange.

Boswell appears to have several Web-based businesses, registered in Panamá, including Venture Resources Group, which describes itself on its site as  "a membership based international business and investment club designed to do one thing: help VRG members achieve Freedom!" The site has been disabled by the Internet service provider due to allegations it was generating spam, said a notice posted there Thursday.

Boswell also operates the PCI Investment Club, another business registered in Panama but apparently operated out of Costa Rica. Club members buy in for $495 a year and get referral bonuses, said the Web site. The club also offers 200 percent interest at the maturity of certain certificates.

Truck full of smuggled liquor had policeman at wheel, Fuerza Pública says
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers intercepted a truck full of contraband liquor and said that one of their own had been behind the wheel. Officers stopped the truck near Paso Canoas at the border with Panamá. As officers approached, the driver fled, but the police recognized him because he, too, is a Fuerza Pública officer, they said.

Inside the truck, officers said they found 242 boxes of bottles bearing the brand name of well-known liquors. Among them were J&B scotch, Chivas Regal scotch, Sambuca, Frangelico, Malibu, Flor de Cana Nicaraguan rum and even Ron Centenario of Costa Rica.  Also there were cases of Corona Mexican beer.

Capt. Milton Alvarado, director of the Fuerza Pública in the southern zone, said the suspected driver had the last names of Díaz Obregón. He works in Río Claro de Golfito and had a day off Thursday.

Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública photo
Officers unload what could have been the making of a great Christmas party.

Security minister backs his top cop in probe of annoying telephone calls
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The security minister has given his full support to the head of the Fuerza Pública who faced allegations that he made threatening and annoying telephone calls to an Alajuela man.

The Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública released a statement Thursday from Fernando Berrocal Soto, the minister.

In it, the minister said that in his opinion the director general of the Fuerza Pública, Osvaldo Alpizar, was a good public official and that in particular his energy and his excellent management ability are factors  by which he was highly qualified to take on the job May 8.

Berrocal said that Alpizar was accused by Alexis Ugalde Cordero of making threatening telephone calls. Ugalde recorded the calls and the Judicial Investigating
 Organization confirmed that the calls came from cell telephones assigned to Alpizar. But Berrocal said that Ugalde himself has been accused of many annoying telephone calls.

Alpizar told Berrocal that he had answered some annoying telephone calls to investigate their source but denied making any, the minister said.  Therefore, Berrocal concuded that he has no reason to doubt Alpizar.

The national Comisión de Etica put the case back in the hands of the minister after an investigation. Alpizar had been suspended from his job.
Jo Stuart returns next week

Jo Stuart, whose column usually appears here Fridays, is taking some personal time off. Her column will return next week.

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A.M. Costa Rica
fourth news page

Real estate
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Dec. 1, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 239

As Venezelans prepared to vote, concern about process aired
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Before Venezuelans cast ballots in Sunday's presidential election, officials are attempting to reassure the public that voting will be free and fair. Many who oppose the reelection bid by President Hugo Chávez profess bitter memories from previous democratic exercises, and say they have concerns about the current election, as well.

In his final campaign speech in Caracas, Chávez went out of his way to welcome international observers that will be monitoring Sunday's balloting, and pledged to respect the final results when reported by Venezuela's national electoral council.

He said, "We will have complete respect for the independence and impartiality of our electoral arbiter. The arbiter will be recognized by the government and the people because we support the strengthening of our democratic institutions."

In a Caracas shopping mall, Chávez supporter Andrea Gomez says she has absolute faith in the integrity of the vote. "The vote will be clean, I am completely convinced of it. I have spoken with people who are involved and who are impartial, and they have told me that I can be rest assured. What is more, I am not afraid because I am completely sure of my vote. I will vote for the president," she said.

With most polls heavily favoring the self-proclaimed socialist president, the tranquility of Miss Gómez is, perhaps, not surprising. Yet speak to virtually any Chávez opponent, and you get a different response.

"Conducting elections with electronic balloting systems allows the person who controls the data to manipulate them. Can I trust the results 100 percent? No, because I know they can be altered," said Andrés Esquivel, a computer programmer and supporter of opposition candidate Manuel Rosales.

For years, Venezuela's opposition has cried foul about the way balloting is conducted. In 2004, the opposition alleged widespread fraud in a recall referendum aimed at ousting Chávez from office. Official results showed 58 percent of the electorate rejecting the measure.

The following year, the opposition boycotted legislative elections, saying the vote was a sham. As a result, Chávez allies now occupy all seats in Venezuela's national assembly.

Just months ago, polls showed many Chávez opponents  
intended to boycott this year's presidential vote, as well. But the emergence of a strong presidential challenger, former state governor Rosales, has breathed new life into the opposition and prompted many to abandon thoughts of a boycott.

Yet voting concerns remain, a fact that forces the Rosales campaign to walk a fine line. On the one hand, staffers want all Rosales supporters to show up and cast ballots — and therefore must appear optimistic that voting will be free and fair. On the other hand, they cannot ignore the skepticism that exists within their ranks.

"We have clearly stated that if conditions exist that allow us to certify every stage of the election and we lose by just one vote, we will recognize Chavez' victory. But if we cannot verify the results, then we cannot recognize them," said Gerardo Blyde, a Rosales campaign advisor.

Chávez opponents well-remember that, after the 2004 referendum, the names of many who voted to remove the president were publicly divulged. Some of those identified later claimed to have lost their jobs, been denied credit, or faced other forms of retribution.

Weeks ago, the head of Venezuela's state-owned oil monopoly, Energy Minister Rafael Ramírez, was secretly videotaped telling his workers that anyone who did not support President Chávez should resign.

What some see as intimidation tactics by the Chávez administration have become a campaign issue for Rosales. "When I was a mayor and then governor, nowhere was anyone asked their political affiliation or how they voted. There was respect for the vote, and that is how it will be in Venezuela with a new government," Rosales said at a recent campaign stop.

Venezuelan election officials insist any concerns about Sunday's presidential vote are unwarranted. German Yepes, a director of the national electoral council, says opposition representatives as well as international observers will have complete access to every phase of the balloting process. "There is no danger of the secrecy of the ballot box being violated. There is no way anyone can find out who voted for whom. There is no way that the results can be adulterated. There is no way to interfere with the transmission of election results," he said.

Yepes adds that the national electoral council is investigating the directive by Energy Minister Ramirez that oil workers back the president. He says the probe will be completed next month — after the election.

Mexican officials brace for showdown from the left as Calderón takes oath
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

In Mexico, a standoff between rival parties continues in the lower house of the congress, which is to be the site of the presidential inauguration today. Some Latin American leaders have canceled trips to attend the event, citing concerns over security. A violent incident in the congress during the inauguration ceremony could represent a huge setback for Mexican democracy and the country's image in the world.

Among those who will attend is Costa Rican President Óscar Arias Sánchez.

In the hall where verbal debate and parliamentary procedure should prevail, there has been pushing, punching and shouting.

The standoff began Tuesday, when members of the ruling Partido Acción Nacional took control of the main platform where the new president traditionally takes the oath of office.

They did this after repeated threats from members of the Partido de la Revolución Democrática, and other leftist parties, to block president-elect Felipe Calderón from taking office.

In the July election, Calderon, of Partido Acción Nacional, won by less than half a percentage point over Andrés Manuel López Obrador, of the Partido de la Revolución Democrática, who immediately condemned the election as fraudulent and began a series of public demonstrations attended by tens-of-thousands of supporters. He has since
declared himself the legitimate president and chosen a shadow Cabinet.

Outgoing President Vicente Fox has made no secret of his disdain for López Obrador, and, in one of his last public statements before leaving office Friday, he condemned the Partido de la Revolución Democrática actions.

He said the situation in the house of deputies was shameful and foolish, given that more than 85 percent of Mexicans in recent polls back Felipe Calderón as the legal president-elect, and reject López Obrador.

But the drop in popularity shown in the polls is of little concern to López Obrador. But, in an interview, Mexico City-based political analyst Ana Maria Salazar, worries that Calderón may not be able to accomplish anything, given the divisions in congress evidenced by this week's violent clashes. The country's constitution requires him to take the oath before the congress.

"Friday is going to be a very important day, because it is going to give us a sense of the ability, or the inability of the president and the different parties to be able to resolve conflict," she said. "It is going to give us a sense of whether there is going to be any opportunity for negotiations among the political parties in Mexico."

Salazar says a lot depends on the Partido Revolutionario Institutional, which controlled Mexico for more than 70 years before being unseated by President Fox six years ago. The Partido Revolutionario Institutional, which has fallen into third place as an electoral force, can now exert great power in congress by swinging its votes to either party.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Dec. 1, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 239  

Fake notary stripped property from foreigners, agents say
By Arnoldo Cob
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two women used the documents and the identity of an ailing lawyer-notary to strip corporations of their real estate holdings, passed them through fake ownerships by vagrants and then mortgaged or sold them, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

Some of the properties were in the upscale Residencial los Arcos subdivision near the Hotel Cariari, and the bulk of the property owners defrauded were foreigners, U.S. citizens or Europeans, said agents.

Detained Thursday was Catallina Arias, 26, who was living in a house some 250 meters west of the los Arcos subdivision principal entrance. Agents are seeking Wendy Gyles, 34, who is believed to be the person who pretended to be a lawyer, investigators said. She may be out of the country.

The allegation is that Ms. Gyles used the identity of her cousin, Veryotte Gyles, 33, to pass herself off as a notary at the Registo Nacional. The cousin, who is hospitalized, is not believed to be involved in the crimes, said agents.
The scams may total more than $1 million the Judicial Investigating Organization said. Agents say that the woman pretended to be a notary and used special documents available only to notaries to transfer ownership of the properties. At least eight properties were involved.

To clear the title of four properties, papers were prepared to show that the properties were sold to persons later identified as street people. These fake owners then transferred the properties back to the suspects, agents said.

The scheme was designed to take advantage of a Costa Rican legal tradition that recognizes the property interests of innocent third parties. In countries with the English common law tradition, the chain of title is paramount. But in Costa Rica third parties declared innocent of involvement in a crime can end up owning the disputed property.

The key to the entire scheme was being able to pass off fake signatures to employees at the Registro Nacional, said agents.

Some of the owners of the stolen property are not aware of the case, they said.

Now U.N. says it's cows and not cars that are worst polluters
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Are the ranches in Guanacaste and the Turrialba dairy farms worse for the environment than the spewing vehicles in San José traffic jams?

The United Nations thinks so.

Cattle-rearing generates more global warming greenhouse gases, as measured in CO2 equivalent, than transportation, and smarter production methods, including improved animal diets to reduce enteric fermentation and consequent methane emissions, are urgently needed, according to a new United Nations report released this week.

“Livestock are one of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems,” said Henning Steinfeld, a senior U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization official. Steinfeld said “Urgent action is required to remedy the situation.” 

Cattle-rearing is also a major source of land and water degradation, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization report, "Livestock’s Long Shadow – Environmental Issues and Options," of which Steinfeld is the senior author.

“The environmental costs per unit of livestock production must be cut by one half, just to avoid the level of damage worsening beyond its present level,” it warns, adding:

When emissions from land use and land-use change are included, the livestock sector accounts for 9 per cent of CO2 deriving from human-related activities, but produces a much larger share of even more harmful greenhouse gases. It generates 65 per cent of human-related nitrous oxide, which has 296 times the Global Warming Potential  of CO2. Most of this comes from manure.
And it accounts for 37 per cent of all human-induced methane (23 times as warming as CO2), which is largely produced by the digestive system of ruminants, and 64 per cent of ammonia, which contributes significantly to acid rain.
With increased prosperity, people are consuming more meat and dairy products every year, the report notes. Global meat production is projected to more than double from 229 million tons in 1999/2001 to 465 million tons in 2050, while milk output is set to climb from 580 to 1043 million tons.

The global livestock sector is growing faster than any other agricultural subsector. It provides livelihoods to about 1.3 billion people and contributes about 40 per cent to global agricultural output. For many poor farmers in developing countries livestock are also a source of renewable energy for draft and an essential source of organic fertilizer for their crops.

Livestock now use 30 per cent of the earth’s entire land surface, mostly permanent pasture but also including 33 per cent of the global arable land used to producing feed for livestock, the report notes. As forests are cleared to create new pastures, it is a major driver of deforestation, especially in Latin America where, for example, some 70 per cent of former forests in the Amazon have been turned over to grazing.
At the same time herds cause wide-scale land degradation, with about 20 per cent of pastures considered degraded through overgrazing, compaction and erosion. This figure is even higher in the drylands where inappropriate policies  contribute to advancing desertification.

The livestock business is among the most damaging sectors to the earth’s increasingly scarce water resources, contributing among other things to water pollution from animal wastes, antibiotics and hormones, chemicals from tanneries, fertilizers and pesticides used to spray feed crops.

Beyond improving animal diets, proposed remedies to the multiple problems include soil conservation methods together with controlled livestock exclusion from sensitive areas; setting up biogas plant initiatives to recycle manure; improving efficiency of irrigation systems; and introducing full-cost pricing for water together with taxes to discourage large-scale livestock concentration close to cities, the report said.

Press group has interactive links urging politicians to solve murders
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Inter American Press Association has called on newspaper readers throughout the Americas to sign a public letter to Mexico’s president requesting his collaboration to solve the Feb. 22, 1988, murder of journalist Manuel Burgueño Orduño.

Burgueño, who worked as a columnist for the Mazatlán, Sinaloa state, newspaper El Sol del Pacífico, frequently denounced corruption and drug trafficking.

Unidentified armed and masked men burst into his home and shot him. The State Attorney’s Office accused contract killers Rigoberto and Humberto Rodríguez Bañulos of having carried out the murder and named seven others as accomplices.

Rigoberto Rodríguez escaped from jail, and his brother is
 being held in custody for other alleged offenses, without having been formally charged in the journalist’s murder, which remains unsolved.

The Inter American Press Association is waging an international campaign dubbed “Let’s Put and End to Impunity” so that the 308 murders of journalists committed in the last 19 years in the Western Hemisphere not continue to go unpunished. A total of 380 newspapers, radio and television stations throughout the Americas are carrying interactive ads inviting the general public to go to the Web site to sign a letter to the president of the country where each crime was committed.

The hemisphere-wide anti-impunity campaign, which is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, also includes investigative reporting programs, training for journalists working in hostile environments, and the monitoring of the state of press freedom in the Americas.

Early morning rattling was near Santa María de Dota, earthquake experts say
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The earthquake that struck shortly after midnight Thursday had a magnitude of 3.9 said the Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica,

The observatory pegged the time at 12:22 a.m. However, A.M. Costa Rica logged the time a few minutes earlier. No
damage was reported. Reporters were unable to determine the epicenter early Thursday, although sensors at the Heredia earthquake station showed a strong disruption.

The observatory said the quake was centered 8 kilometers (5 miles) east of Santa María de Dota due south of San José near the Pacific coast. The quake was of local origin, the observatory said, 17 kilometers (10.5 miles) deep.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Dec. 1, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 239

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