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These stories were published Thursday, Dec. 2, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 239
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Chopping
up the
guns

Fuerza Pública officers help British Ambassador Georgina Butler saw up a gun in a symbolic gesture Wednesday on the 56th anniversary of Costa Rica abolishing its army.

More BELOW!


A.M. Costa Rica/Joe Medici

 
A.M. Costa Rica photo
Up close
with the
portal

Television cameraman zooms in on the near life-size nativity scene in front of the Teatro Nacional. Inauguration of the display, called a portal in Spanish, was the major Christmas event Wednesday.
 

 

 
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High court rejects
appeal by Alex Solís

By  the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala IV constitutional court has rejected an appeal by Alex Solís, thus clearing the way for a vote on the future of the contralor de la república Monday in the Asamblea Legislativa.

The court made the decision Tuesday, but the result was not made public until Wednesday by the press office of the Poder Judicial.

Solís claimed he did not have adequate time to defend himself and that the assembly did not have facilities to conduct a proper investigation.

The judicial vote was 5-2, and two magistrates said they thought the court should consider more elements before voting.

Solís got the fiscal watchdog job through a legislative vote last June. But almost immediately he ran into trouble when a lawmaker revealed that a number of signatures notarized by Solís seemed fraudulent. In fact, Solís admitted in a television interview that he himself signed the names of family members and then applied his notary validation to various documents.

In his court appeal, Solís said that these acts were private ones and took place before his appointment. Experts of the Judicial Investigating Organization, at the request of the legislature, studied the signatures and found nearly three dozen that were suspect.

In no case, however, is there any suggestion that the persons involved would not have signed the documents themselves. They were routine matters of family business.

Lawmakers, many of them lawyers and notaries themselves, set up a committee to conduct an investigation. The discussion Monday will involve the full legislature.

U.S. Embassy plans meeting
for citizens near San Carlos

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The U.S. Embassy is having a meeting for U.S. citizens today at 11:30 a.m. in the Hotel Tilajari north of San Carlos.

The idea is to fill in U.S. citizens who live in the northern zone about services and give them basic information about what to do in case of emergencies.

For some reason, the embassy only sent out the announcement in Spanish and only to Spanish-language news outlets. A map to the hotel is HERE!

Our readers write

He defends ICE practice
of holding chips closely

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Re: A mini-editorial: Why doesn’t the telephone company just distribute the cellular chips to the retailer and let the retailer install a chip?

There are several reasons that come immediately to mind why allowing retailers to distribute the GSM SIMs in this country would be a really bad idea. There are probably others which I could think of, if I gave some thought to it.

First, simply allowing retailers to stock and install the SIMs invites the creation of a black market in the SIMs themselves, which are (as they should be) the property of ICE.

Second, ICE would have no control over the policies under which its SIMs are used. Anybody could obtain a SIM for use in any phone for any reason they saw fit, and ICE would not have any control over who was using the associated account. This would facilitate the use of phones for illegal purposes — organized burglary or drug running, for example, by known criminals already being sought by the police, etc. I am confident that this is why ICE requires a new subscriber to produce an original cedula before the account is created.

Third, By not being able to examine the paperwork accompanying the telephone, ICE would not be able to enforce the national policy of ensuring that only phones on which import duties have been paid, are allowed to use the national network on a non-roaming basis.

Fourth, By not being able to examine the paperwork accompanying the telephone before issuing a SIM, ICE would not be able to determine whether the SIM is installed in a stolen telephone. This would invite the creation of a black market for stolen telephones both domestically and across Costa Rica's borders. This does not happen now, because to use a stolen phone, a SIM would have to be removed from a legitimate one.

Fifth, ICE would not be able to control whether or not the telephone has been modified for purposes of tariff evasion, illegal roaming, etc. This would invite the creation of a black market in the modification of telephones for illegal purposes. Such a market exists in the United States, and is a major source of tariff fraud, causing the base rates for service in the U.S. to be much higher than they would otherwise be — nearly twice as high, in fact. ICE's policies for SIM management are one of the reasons that subscribers here enjoy rates far lower than in the U.S. at the same time that ICE is able to maintain profitability and reinvestment in its network.

As an engineer who has long worked in the cell telephone industry before retiring here, I can understand ICE's policies regarding the sale, distribution and use of subscriber equipment on the GSM network as well as the management of SIMs, and I find myself in full agreement with nearly all of them. 

Throwing rocks at ICE's management of the cell telephone network in this country has become a national pastime here, but as an engineer who is intimately familiar with the problems of designing, building and running such a network, I must say that I am quite impressed with ICE's construction and management of the national network in this country, given the very difficult problems with which ICE is faced (most of which don't exist in the U.S.), and nearly all of which both Ticos and Gringos alike are quite unaware. And yes, I am a long-time GSM subscriber.

Scott Bidstrup 
Nuevo Arenal


EDITOR’S NOTE: The editorial was in response to the hours-long waits consumers experienced this week to obtain a cellular telephone.

Professional Directory
A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.


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Mixed crowd celebrates abolition of Costa Rican army
By Joe Medici
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Carlos Flores was 15 years old when he served under José Figueres Ferrer in 1948 during the Civil War. Wednesday morning, he joined several other veterans at the Museo Nacional to celebrate the 56th anniversary of the disbanding of the Costa Rican Army.

President Abel Pacheco, the British ambassador to Costa Rica, Georgina Butler, several students from local schools and demonstrators from the Centro de Amigos Cuaqueros Para la Paz were also in the crowd of about 200 people. 

The diverse crowd celebrated the anniversary, but small groups had different motives. 

Flores and many of the other veterans were very happy to celebrate the anniversary. For many of them, this date symbolized the end of a hard war. "We are celebrating the anniversary of the end of violence, the end of years of suffering," Flores said. 

Many of the veterans, however, insisted that Costa Rica needs to develop a new army. "We have thousands of police officers and no army," Flores said before the gathering began. "We need to have an army of 1,000 men in order to protect and care for ourselves." 

During the celebration, President Pacheco and several other governmental officials spoke. Many of the speakers talked about peace throughout the world and the hard work that lies ahead.

When Ambassador Butler took the podium, several members from the Cuaqeros Para la Paz began shouting and disrupting her speech. They carried pamphlets that read "Perdon Pueblo de Irak" and shouted that 100,000 people have died in the Iraqi conflict. Britain is part of the coalition fighting in Iraq.

The demonstration received mixed reviews as several people in the crowd asked them to be quiet while others loudly applauded their efforts. 

Gabriel Rivas, a Costa Rican native, led the Quakers’ cheers. "There is no reason for innocent children to die," he said. Rivas held up his own son while he cheered and

A.M. Costa Rica photo montage
Carlos Flores now and as a 15-year-old soldier

 continued to demonstrate against Costa Rica’s involvement in the Iraqi conflict. Officially Costa Rica asked for and was taken off the White House list of countries supporting the effort.

The gathering closed with a symbolic gesture of peace as police officers and several dignitaries, including Ambassador Butler, used large industrial saws to cut old guns in half. The pieces of the guns were then placed in a large pile of previously cut guns. The pieces are now part of a monument at the museum against armaments.

The Fuerza Pública said some 1,500 weapons were destroyed Wednesday. The guns were part of the 16,000 confiscated by officers since 2000.


 
U.S. expresses concern on pending Venezuelan TV law
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The U.S. State Department said Wednesday it is gravely concerned about a pending new media law in Venezuela that its critics say could silence dissent by opponents of President Hugo Chavez.

The State Department says it joins human rights groups in expressing grave concerns about the threat to freedom of expression in Venezuela posed by the new media law.

After some six weeks of debate, the controversial legislation was narrowly approved by parliament in Caracas last Thursday, and is now awaiting the signature of President Chavez. Among other things, the law would ban vulgar language on Venezuelan television and radio in daytime hours, and prohibit images and sounds related to alcohol, drug use and violence.

It would provide for heavy fines or the closure of broadcast stations found to have violated the standards, or broadcast messages that promote the disruption of public order. The measure also requires that a set portion of all programming be made in Venezuela. 

The Chavez government, which initiated the measure, says it will improve the quality of programming and democratize access to the airwaves. 

But domestic critics, joined by human rights groups, say they fear it will violate press freedoms and silence Chavez opponents.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has said the vague language of the law could be used to impose indirect restrictions on freedom of expression. The measure has also been criticized by Human Rights Watch and the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders.

A State Department official said the United States shares the concerns, saying the measure imposes unclear restrictions on media content, and allows the government to censor content it considers harmful to public order and national security.

The official said a free press and freedom of expression are a critical element of democratic governance.

He said the United States is disappointed to see a law whose spirit is contrary to longstanding Venezuelan traditions and institutions, and urges the Chavez government to review those aspects of the law that undermine freedom of expression.

Chavez can either sign the bill into law or send it back to parliament for revisions. The Venezuelan Foreign Ministry has accused foreign critics of the bill of meddling in the country's affairs.

The United States has had a difficult relationship with Chavez, a left-leaning populist who has maintained close ties with Cuban President Fidel Castro.

Among other things, Chavez has accused the United States of supporting a military coup that briefly deposed him in 2002, and of being behind the recent recall campaign against him — charges Washington has denied. 

Official returns said Chavez won the Aug. 15 referendum with nearly 60 per cent of the votes, but the Bush administration hesitated to accept the results for several days amid opposition claims of fraud.

The State Department subsequently did embrace the outcome, after observers from the Organization of American States and the U.S.-based Carter Center conducted a partial audit of returns and said they found no evidence of vote-rigging. 


 
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'Census of Marine Life'
Scientists trying to catalogue all life in the oceans
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Scientists involved in an unprecedented global effort to identify and catalog life in the world's oceans have presented a progress report at a meeting in Hamburg, Germany this week. Hundreds of researchers from more than 70 countries are now four years into a 10-year effort to create the first Census of Marine Life. 

The census database already contains 5.2 million records. Red dots on the computerized census map represent the location of 38,000 marine species — everything from microscopic plankton to large whales. Large patches of blue show where no samples at any depth have been recorded. 

Jesse Ausubel is a program director with the Census of Marine Life for the Sloan Foundation, a leading sponsor of the computerized marine research network. "The purpose of the project is two-fold," he says. "One is assembling the known. So it is trying to collate and collect and digitize all the information about marine biology that has been collected over many decades and centuries. At the same time, the census has these field projects that are working in the Atlantic and on the abyssal plains to collect new information." 

The Census of Marine Life has already added information on 13,000 marine varieties — including, in the past year alone, the identification of 106 new fish species and the sighting of vast, current-shaped concentrations of marine life along the ocean floor.

Jesse Ausubel says he was surprised by discoveries in the North Atlantic where "European and North American seafarers have traversed daily for 1,000 years." 

What he found so amazing was "the fact that we would discover these deep donuts of life, 10 kilometers in diameter, thousands of meters below us. We would find on the order of 50 new species." 

The voyage that made those discoveries involved 60 scientists from 13 countries working aboard the G.O. Sars, a Norwegian vessel. Fred Grassle of New Jersey’s Rutgers University, who chairs the Census of Marine Life International Scientific Steering Committee, says the two-month journey deployed high-tech equipment that explored the underwater mountain range dividing the North American and Eurasian plates. 

"The ship was equipped with acoustic survey equipment which enabled them to look at all the layers of life in the ocean throughout the water column and take trawl samples of the organisms found there," he says. "Those acoustic records themselves have revealed very unusual hydrographic features thousands of meters deep that relate to the distribution of the plankton in one particular layer. But also the collections are going to yield quite a number of new species of life, particularly the cephalopods." 

Another find in the deep South Atlantic was a large collection of octopods, including one new to science. A suspected new clam that draws life from methane hydrates was documented off the coast of Chile. And a 20-centimeter worm dubbed the "purple orchid" was discovered in the mid-Atlantic. 

The Census of Marine Life database is a work in progress. Its near-surface records account for 95 percent of all existing observations of ocean life. But, because microorganisms make up more than 90% of the ocean biomass, the Census has just initiated a project to catalog the ocean's single-celled residents.

Jesse Ausubel expects exponential growth of what he calls the information seaway. "All the different groups — whether it is marine worms, nematodes, sponges or jellies — they all have a place in the census," he says. "All the realms — the abyssal plains, the trenches, the margins — we won't only look at near shore and near the surface. 

"Of course it is a pioneering attempt and a sampling, but I think that the census can set a precedent and a framework." The researcher says he looks forward to efforts every 10 years to add to the scientific record of the oceans.

That work could bring unexpected results. Earlier this year, acoustic tags designed to follow the migration patterns in young salmon also detected a tagged green sturgeon from Northern California, some 1,000 kilometers north of its habitat. 

Scientists say the finding could prompt new protection strategies for the endangered fish, which is known to spawn in only a few western U.S. states. 

For a closer look at the undersea world, 

look HERE!

 
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