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Jo Stuart
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These stories were published Monday, Dec. 3, 2001

A  choir serenades the crowd in front of the National Theater as the 'portal'  below is inaugurated as the holiday kickoff.

Norma Arguello and Ronald Alfaro

 A.M. Costa Rica photos
Lights go on and a drummer plays
Evening ceremony marks the official start of holiday season
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The lights went on as the culmination of a day long jam in front of the National Theater Saturday. 

And about the same time the lights went on all over the metropolitan area, from San Pedro to Escazú. Thatís the first time for this kind of coverage of the holiday light. By far the most dramatic displays were on downtown streets and the bright white lights that dominate Paseo Colon to the west of the downtown.

Several groups, including Claroscuro and the Orquesta International Lubin Barahona y Sus Caballeros del Ritmo kept the crowd moving well into the evening. Among the caballeros was Jorge Duarte, who has been singing in Costa Rica for nearly 70 years.

The inauguration of the National Theaterís "portal" 

or crèche was the job of Enrique Granados, culture minister, and Graciela Moreno, director of the theater. The theater is in the middle of a drive to raise funds for restoration, and this was one of the emphases of the event.

The crèche or nativity scene is housed in a wooden set on the steps of the theater. By Saturday, life-sized figures of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus were added to the pair of animal statues that had been waiting patiently much of the week. A small angel hangs from a rafter.

The scene representing one of the most significant events in the Christian religion was a magnet for youngsters all afternoon as it will continue to be until well after Christmas, Dec. 25.

The next big event of the season is the lighting of the Christmas tree at the National Childrenís Hospital on Paseo Colon Thursday at 6 p.m.

Tourist stabbed
in hotel room

A man identified by police only as a North American tourist suffered critical stab wounds and was left in a pool of blood.

The stabbing took place in the room the man rented in the Hotel Central near Banco Nacional in downtown San José.  The man suffered at least one knife wound to the stomach and cuts to his arms where he presumably tried to fend off his assailant.

The man was found by a hotel employee. He had been in the room for an indefinite time unable to call for help and in a pool of blood Thursday. 

With wine corks
and Ajax
she revives
old art form

Christiane Soto Harrison stumbled on an old art form, then she became a leading practitioner and now she has generated international interest. Her story may be found on BELOW

This is the transformed tabletop

Recaptured art form
transforms glass
into magical shapes

By Jay Brodell
A.M. Costa Rica editor

The key moment for Christiane was when her motherís glass-topped side table broke, and she accepted the slightly chipped slab that would serve as her canvas. 

Since then she has revived an old Bohemian art form, generated international interest and put together a haunting, magical show of her work at the Ministry of Culture.

The technique, called "tiefsehnitt." is so specific even the Internet has never heard of it. Christiane, the professional name for Christiane Soto Harrison, etches figures and scenes on glass in such a way that the result is illuminated in three dimensions.

A convex indentation in the back of the glass captures the light and projects it outward, giving depth and life to her works. The fingers, the feminine figures, a globe of the world  seem as if they are sculpted onto the glass. But that is just an illusion because the side facing the viewer is flat.

Christianeís Celtic heritage shows in her works. When she is not thinking of her family, she is creating in the world of magic. Sometimes the two worlds coincide.

A work called "Earth Mother," was based on Christianeís then15-year-old daughter who posed for a photograph. The artist added 20 pounds to the model because "You canít be the Earth Mother in a size 2."

The Earth Mother is holding the figure of the world in her left arm. The artist spent 72 hours polishing the world with Ajax and a wine cork. "The books say the old masters used pumice and a wine cork," said Christiane, who decided that the cleaning product would be a good substitute for the less easily available pumice. She is particularly proud of the fine details she worked into the hands of the figure.

One piece in the exhibit shows a work in progress, a portrait of her son Alejandro, 18, a musician. She has finished the lower part of the body and a guitar, but the top of the torso is just some ink lines. So visitors to the 1887 Theater at the Culture Ministry in Barrio Amon, just east of Parque Expaña, can see how she sets up her work.

The broken glass-topped table became a work of art 


A light behind the glass illuminates the detail and the workmanship of the hand of the 'Earth Mother.'

A.M. Costa Rica photos
A work in progress shows guidelines

with the help of a how-to book, Christiane said. 

There was little other information available. Now she uses dentistry tools,  a diamond drill, a copper wheel and other types of abrasive devises to make the lines she wants. She spent 18 months transforming the 18-inch by 30-inch tabletop, her first work. That was finished in 1997. 

Most pieces are on glass five-quarters of an inch thick. That gives her the physical depth to construct the valleys and ridges that play with the light and project a rich image to the other side.

The exhibition is dominated by four figures, the inspiration for which Christiane attributes to Czech poster artist Alphonse Maria Mucha, who was a leading proponent of the art nouveau style. These will be a highpoint of the familyís new downtown home.

It was the Czech connection that got her the exhibition, Christiane said. The Embassy of the Czech Republic became interested in her work because the technique was a tradition there in the 17th and 18th centuries. The exhibition runs until Dec. 20.

"I guess Iím the brave new generation to give it a whirl," the artist said.

The artist has roots in the United States. She was born in San Francisco of French and Costa Rican parents and lived there off and on until she was 14.

Her husband is José Rafael Echiverría Zeledón, who is a poet.

"I lead a very real life," Christiane said. "I am a mother. Iím a poetís wife. Iím a farmerís wife. I like magical stuff." So she sketches her ideas while she watches television at night.

What next? Christiane wants to be a teacher of the art form she has resurrected.  There seems to be interest. A recent interview on local television generated about 200 calls, she said.

And she wants to work with leaded glass instead of the plate slabs she has used in the past. She said that leaded glass is clearer and does not have a green tinge.

Federico, her oldest son, is the business manager for his mother. Among other duties, he set up the current exibit. So they will be looking for a workshop, the multiple furnaces necessary to produce the glass she needs and possibly equipment to make blown and shaped glass. 

And probably a couple more how-to books.

Peru says it stopped
U.S. Embassy attack

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LIMA, Peru ó Peruvian officials have arrested two suspected Shining Path guerrillas believed to have been plotting an attack against the U.S. Embassy here.

Interior Minister Fernando Rospigliosi said Saturday officials took the two into custody Nov. 20. 

Authorities say the suspected rebels possessed diagrams of the U.S. Embassy, and officials believe they intended to stage an attack today, the birthday of Shining Path founder Abimael Guzman. He was captured in 1992 and is now serving a life sentence in jail. 

The development comes as the U.S. State Department warned about possible Shining Path attacks in December against U.S. citizens and interests in Peru.  The Maoist Shining Path waged a brutal war against the government in the 1980s and early 1990s. Authorities say the organization has a few hundred supporters, vastly diminished from several thousand backers during its peak.

Argentina caps withdrawals
from the nationís banks

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES, Argentian ó The economy minister said Saturday the government would restrict the amount of cash depositors are allowed to withdraw from checking or savings accounts to $250 per week in an attempt to stem the steady drop in the country's reserves. The government expects to keep the measures in effect for 90 days.

Economy Minister Domingo Cavallo said the government took the drastic decision to limit cash withdrawals by depositors in order to stop what he called a speculative attack on the Argentine banking sector by foreign investors. 

"These are extraordinary measures that will be in effect for the next 90 days," Cavallo said. He added that the "tumultuous time" called for drastic measures. 

Among the measures is one designed to prevent the "unjustified capital flight" from Argentina. The central bank will only authorize foreign transfers for those companies with legitimate business needs while customs will only allow people to carry out $1,000 in cash at a time. Argentines traveling abroad will be expected to use their credit cards and debit cards.

In order to prevent a run on banks, depositors will only be able to withdraw $250 in cash per week. Larger purchases will have to be paid in the form of checks, debit cards, or credit cards. In a country where most people pay rent, utilities, and everyday expenses in cash, the move has generated a lot of concern and criticism. 

But Cavallo downplayed any inconveniences and said the measures were designed to protect ordinary Argentine savings. 

Argentina's reserves have fallen steadily since July when the country's long-simmering economic crisis reached a boiling point and the government decided to implement severe spending cuts in an effort to balance its books.

Argentines, fearful of a repeat of the past when the government froze accounts or seized deposits, began to pull their money from banks opting for safety deposit boxes or accounts in other countries. In the latest data available from Argentina's central bank, bank deposits fell $75 million on Wednesday. 

The Saturday announcement came on the heels of the first stage of Argentina's massive debt swap. 

Argentina has been stuck in recession since mid-1998 and without economic growth the government is finding the country's $132 billion debt load nearly unbearable. A fifth of Argentina's annual budget goes to debt payments.

Now the economic team is gearing up for the swap geared toward foreign bondholders that the government hopes to pull off in February.

Right-wingers blamed
in yet another massacre

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Columbia ó Government officials say a suspected right wing death squad has intercepted a bus in the northeastern part of the country and killed 15 passengers.

Authorities blame the paramilitary United Self Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC, for Saturday's roadside massacre. The outlawed group has not commented on the killings.

Military officials say the bus was traveling in central Boyaca Department about 175 kilometers northeast of here when several unidentified gunmen on motorcycles forced the driver to stop. The gunmen then took 15 of the 17 passengers and shot them execution style. The killings follow a recent statement by AUC commanders banning the group's fighters from massacring civilians.

The statement defines a massacre as any action outside of combat that kills three or more people at the same time and in the same manner. 

Colombia's land owner-backed paramilitary forces routinely target civilians suspected of sympathizing with the country's leftist rebels, who have been engaged in a civil war with the government for nearly four decades.

AUC has been blamed for carrying out some of the country's most brutal and gruesome massacres of civilians. Both the rebels and the paramilitaries finance their operations with proceeds from kidnapping and drug trafficking. The two sides often battle for control of Colombia's lucrative coca fields. Coca is the main ingredient in the illegal drug cocaine. The United States has placed AUC on its list of terrorist organizations.

Cuba celebrates the army

SANTIAGO, Cuba ó Cuba's Revolutionary Armed Forces has celebrated its 45th anniversary of its arrival in the island country with a parade. 

Sunday's colorful procession, held in this eastern city, opened with machete-wielding men on horseback and ended with three combat jets flying overhead.  In between, battalions of government support groups marched with regular troops, reserves and militia. 

Cuba's military dates its founding to Dec. 2, 1956, when 82 revolutionaries, who had organized in Mexico, landed in the country. 

Ecomarchamo now
is needed to renew

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

And you thought you were going to get away with not getting your ecomarchamo until later.

Well, the rules have changed. As of Saturday, to pay your marchamo, the annual fee to keep your motor vehicle on the road, you will have to present proof that your car has passed its emissions test, the ecomarchamo.

You must present the original and a copy of your emissions test at the same time you present your residency papers and vehicle ownership papers.

The government changed the rules because businesses that had been set up to administer the ecomarchamo complained. As late as two weeks ago, the Costa Rican Insurance Institute was saying that the ecomarchamo would not be needed until early January. Then the rules changed.

Lists of garages empowered to adminsiter the emissions test have been published in the Spanish lanaguage press.

Actually, the Insurance Institute has yet to catch up. The Web page of the insurance monopoly was saying as late as Sunday night that the ecomarchmo is not needed to renew. But that is now incorrect.

U.S. will deploy troops
along Canadian border

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Bush administration is moving to deploy troops along the U.S. border with Canada as part of its plan to foil terrorist plots against the United States. The government denies it is militarizing the frontier.

The top U.S. law enforcement official, Attorney General John Ashcroft, is asking the military for aircraft and 400 soldiers to help monitor the 6,500-kilometer (3,900-mile) Canadian border.

Canadian intelligence officials estimate that 50 terrorist groups operate from their territory, including al-Qaida, the group that carried out the Sept. 11 attacks against New York and Washington.

Speaking on Fox Television, Ashcroft said U.S. troops would relieve civilian immigration inspectors who were reassigned to the frontier from around the country after the attacks. "This is not militarizing our border with Canada," he said. "Just like we have some national guardsmen at our airports now, we need to relieve some of our folks to get back to their normal duties by having national guardsmen help with inspections at the border."

The attorney general says the 500 U.S. personnel on the Canadian border is small compared to the 9,000 immigration and customs inspectors on the frontier with Mexico. The border with Mexico is half the length of the U.S.-Canadian border.

Nevertheless, the extra personnel at the northern border have helped relieve border congestion that developed as a result of increased inspections after Sept. 11. 

Ashcroft says the slowed traffic between the United States and Canada affected the U.S. automobile industry, which receives parts from Canada. He says continuing to bolster the checkpoints with soldiers would avoid new congestion. "We do not want to be shutting down our automotive industry because we do not have a fast enough inspection process," he continued. "This is designed to accommodate that need for elevated levels of speed and inspection to avoid congestion, to allow the harmonious relationship between our countries to continue." 

Sources said the troop deployment to the U.S.-Canadian border would be phased in over 12 to 18 months. Ashcroft is expected to formally announce the deployment during a meeting today with Canadian justice officials.

Big changes by Fox
are still just talk

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MEXICO CITY ó Mexican President Vicente Fox completed his first year in office Saturday. After ending 71 years of one-party rule, by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, known as the PRI, Fox raised expectations that he and his National Action Party, known as the PAN, would start a new era in Mexico. But many Fox supporters are still waiting for that new beginning.

A year after seeing him sworn in, many Mexicans who hailed the election of Vicente Fox say they are still waiting to see profound changes. Some are more patient than others and, while the president's popularity in polls has dropped 20 points from its high of 90 percent a year ago, that still leaves him with approval ratings around 70 percent. As President Fox himself noted last week, many leaders around the world would love to have an approval rating that high.

Fox critics chide the president for continuing to promise more than he delivers, but President Fox and his supporters note that much of his program has been blocked by politics in the Congress. This week President Fox acknowledged that his government's budget is not sufficient to meet the needs of the nation.

He said the criticisms do not surprise him, but he asked "what can we do?" He said the Congress holds the power to pass his fiscal reform package in order to increase revenues and improve the national economy.

But the Mexican Congress has been slow to approve Fox proposals and the tax reform package remains stalled. The PRI, although defeated in a presidential race for the first time by Fox, remains strong in the Congress and since the PAN does not have a majority in either house, Fox needs a compromise with the old ruling party. The likely outcome of that will be a watered-down version of his proposed value-added tax, but financial institutions have indicated any reform would be better than none.

Critics have also attacked President Fox for failing to create the 7 percent economic growth he promised, but circumstances beyond his control have played a role in weakening the economy. The recession in the United States, exacerbated by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, has eroded the main pillars of the Mexican economy. Oil prices have fallen, tourism has declined and thousands of Mexican workers in the United States have lost their jobs and will not be sending home as much money in coming months as they had in the past. 

At a foreign trade conference in his home state of Guanajuato Friday, where he met with former U.S. President George Bush, President Fox addressed the challenges ahead but maintained his optimism. He asked once again for patience as he tries to fulfill the promises he made a year ago.

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