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These stories first were published Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2001
The rains are moving out, and winds are moving in
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Residents of the Central Valley were basking Monday in the third day without afternoon rains and thinking that it might be time to put away the umbrellas until next summer.

But the winds have moved in, and there were some registered by the National Meteorological Service up to 34.1 kilometers (20 mph). Winds are a typical indication of the change in the season.

The national weathermen and women may have been correct when they predicted three months ago that the rainy season would end in the Central Valley and in Guanacaste at the beginning of December. However, they are hedging their bet and saying now that there still is the possibility of a few downpours during early December in the Central Valley.

More clouds and only a hint of rain were in the forecasts for today. Meanwhile, the arrival of the dry season probably will be delayed on the south Pacific coast. The meteorological service said that the rains there will continue through December and into January, as usual.

Coincidental with the diminishing of rain in the Central Valley, the service released its predictions for the period through February. Weather experts anticipate a period that is very close to normal with the possibility of slightly more rain on the Caribbean slope and the northern zone, areas that traditionally are wetter and where January still can be a wet month. They attributed this to slightly higher temperatures this year in the Atlantic Ocean, which is the major weather engine for that area.

The weather service said that it has conducted its predictions using seven separate climatological models. It also said that the weather phenomena El Niño and La Niña did not seem to be significant or likely to produce any major changes in Costa Rica during the next three months.

From Tuesday and until the end of the week in the northern zone and on the Caribbean slope there will be an increase in clouds and intermittent rains, the weather service said Monday, adding: 

The Central Valley will have an increase in clouds, especially over the capital. The Central Pacific and the south are no exception. In the afternoon hours there will be isolated precipitation. Guanacaste is the only region of the country where the sky will be nearly free of clouds. The minimal temperature in the county will gradually increase.

For today, the meteorological service said the Central Valley will have partially cloudy skies with the possibility of drizzle, particularly in the 

A.M. Costa Rica photo
A newly planted palm near the justice complex in San José defers to the wind late Monday afternoon.

mountains. San José should have a normal temperature with a low of 15 to 24 degrees centigrade or 59 to 75 Fahrenheit. Alajuela will be a degree or two warmer.

The Pacific north will experience clear skies with an occasional cloudy condition in the mountains with isolated drizzle. Temperatures will be between 20 and 30 degrees in Puntarenas (68 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit)

The central Pacific will have mostly clear skies in the morning with clouds forming by afternoon. Quepos, too, will have a low of 20 and a high of 30 on the centigrade scale.

The south Pacific will be variable from partial to total cloudiness with isolated afternoon rains. Golfito will have a low of 21 and a high of 30.

In the Caribbean slope and the north zone, there will be partially cloudy to cloudy skies with some drizzle. Limón is looking at a low of 20 with a high of 29 degrees. (about 84 degrees Fahrenheit)

Mystery of  missing U.S. citizen prompts an offer of $3,000 reward
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There is a reward of $3,000 for anyone who finds Leo Widicker and brings him to a police station. But the missing U.S. citizen is rapidly being converted into another Costa Rican legend.

He was the 86-year-old U.S. citizen who vanished at the Tabacon Resort west of La Fortuna de San Carlos more than two weeks ago on Nov. 18. 

A more improbable person to take off on his own could not be imagined. He has hearing aids in both ears, wears eyeglasses and does not speak Spanish, according to the U.S. Embassy, which renewed its publicity about the search Monday. The man also had health problems.

The Tabacon Resort is far from other settlements, and initially the search concentrated on the land nearby which is in the shadow of the Arenal Volcano. There is only a limited number of roads, and La Fortuna,  the nearest town of any size, is about 10 kilometers (6 miles) to the east.

The embassy release said that there have been unconfirmed reports of Widicker being in the 
Moravia, Los Yoses and San José areas, and posters have gone up in the Central Valley over the last week.

Widicker is not a big man. The embassy said he weighed 145 pounds (66 kilos) and was about 5 feet, 6 inches tall (1.65 meters). At the time he vanished he was wearing a white baseball cap, blue jeans, black shoes, a red and blue plaid shirt and a blue jacket



Widicker of North Dakota was here with his wife with Marantha Volunteers International, a Christian group that builds churches and schools. The man was left alone on a tour bus at the hot springs resort and was not on the bus when his wife returned to be with him.

Because searchers have found no trace of him near the resort, the best guess of investigators is that someone, either by mistake or design,  picked him up on the roadway outside the Tabacon Resort and took him elsewhere in Costa Rica. 

But that theory is just a guess because the only supporting evidence is that guards at the resort said they saw him leave the grounds on foot, something that is not unusual there because people frequently walk from the hotel complex parking area along the public road to the hot pools.

Republicans in U.S. ready to move on trade authority for president
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON — Republican leaders in the U.S. House are stepping up their campaign to pass Thursday a contentious bill granting the president trade negotiating authority, variously called trade promotion authority (TPA) and fast track. Democratic opponents of the bill argue that Republicans still lack enough votes to pass it.

The measure has broad implications for Costa Rica and the negotiations toward a Free Trade Area of the Americas.

The Republican leaders' bill sponsored by Rep. Bill Thomas, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, will likely be amended to attract support from anxious members in districts with  import-sensitive steel-, textile- and citrus-producing industries,  Thomas said.

At a press conference Thomas said that the House Rules Committee, which crafts the rules for debate on bills in the House, was working out those amendments as well as others. He said the  amendments could elaborate administration intent to enforce trade agreements.

He said members like himself from agricultural districts were getting weary of supporting trade negotiations and agreements without realizing many benefits. The World Trade Organization (WTO)  ministerial meeting in Doha, Qatar, has now bolstered the agenda for agricultural trade negotiations in a round scheduled to start in January and end in 2005, though, he said.

Opponents might argue that the president does not need trade promotion authority until the end of WTO negotiations in 2005, but he needs it as participants start shaping the negotiations in a few weeks, Thomas said.

"Time has run out," Thomas said. "The president 

and his negotiating team need TPA by January 2002."He said that Republican leaders would not postpone the Thursday vote. He predicted the bill would pass.

Rep. Dick Armey, Republican majority leader, said the president needs the authority as part of his campaign to promote freedom and security around the world. He indicated that opening markets through  trade negotiations would improve job security for people around the world.

"The president can't be limited in this area," Armey said.

Under the fast track authority, Congress restricts itself only to approve or reject a negotiated trade agreement, within strict time limits and without  amendments. 

Since the previous grant expired early in 1994, attempts to reauthorize TPA have failed over labor and environmental issues.

Last week a senior administration official said President Bush and many of his top advisers were  working daily to raise House support for the Thomas bill, aiming to get commitments from "significant blocs" before the end of the week.

Besides attempting to help ease concerns of members from steel, textile and agricultural districts, the official said, the administration was working to attract support more generally with some sort of legislation aimed at assisting displaced workers and their communities.

Secretary of State Colin Powell was making an argument with some House members that a defeat on TPA would harm President Bush's leadership ability in foreign affairs.

If the House passes the Thomas bill, the Senate  would come under pressure to pass its own version quickly.

Debate continues over Bush plan to try terrorists
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON — The Bush Administration, leading U.S. lawmakers and the U.S. press continue to debate whether President Bush's proposal to try suspected terrorists in military tribunals violates traditional U.S. civil liberties.

President Bush affirmed the U.S. is an open society that values freedom, but cautioned, "we must not let foreign enemies use the forums of liberty to destroy liberty itself."

"If I determine that it is in the national security interest of our great land to try by military commission those who make war on America, then we will do so. We will act with fairness, and we will deliver justice, which is far more than the terrorists ever grant to their innocent victims," the president said last Thursday.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said any suspects to be tried by a military tribunal would be chosen by the president on a case-by-case basis.

"He'll use his judgment about what best protects the national security for those limited cases, if any develop, where he chooses to exercise the option of convening a military tribunal," Fleischer said.

In a Friday New York Times op-ed piece, White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales outlined the administration's argument of why the tribunals would provide important advantages over civilian trials.

"They spare American jurors, judges and courts the grave risks associated with terrorist trials. They allow the government to use classified information as evidence without compromising intelligence or military efforts. They can dispense justice swiftly, close to where our forces may be fighting, without years of pretrial proceedings or post-trial appeals," wrote Gonzales.

Criticism has intensified against the proposed military tribunals from several Congressional leaders from both the Republican and Democratic parties. Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, a Democrat and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, began hearings last week on whether the proposed tribunals and other recent law enforcement measures have exceeded U.S. legal bounds.

"Secret trials and lack of judicial oversight can breed injustice and taint the legitimacy of verdicts. Our procedural protections are not simply inconvenient impediments to convicting and punishing guilty people. They also promote accurate and just verdicts," said Leahy in a prepared statement before the committee met.

The hearings will resume today. Attorney General John Ashcroft is expected to testify before the Committee Thursday.

New York Times writer Anthony Lewis described the president's order creating the tribunals as "the broadest move in American history to sweep aside constitutional protections."

"There is the greatest danger of the Bush order. It was an act of executive fiat, imposed without even consulting Congress. And it seeks to exclude the courts entirely from a process that may fundamentally affect life and liberty," wrote Lewis in a New York Times column entitled "Wake Up, America."

However, the U.S. public seems to have given its support to the president's military tribunal plan. A Nov. 29 poll by the Washington Post and ABC News found that 59 percent of those surveyed thought non-U.S. citizens charged with terrorism should be tried by military panels, rather than in the U.S. court system. Seven in 10 also believed the government was doing enough to protect the civil rights of suspected terrorists.

The results were not surprising to political scientist George Marcus, who pointed out to the Washington Post that during periods of crisis and high stress, "support for civil liberties goes down," when compared to security concerns.

Meeting held on dangers

About 400 government officials from all over the Americas are meeting today at the Hotel Meliá Cariari for the Hemispheric Conference for the Reduction of Risks. Featured speakers this morning will be U.S. Ambassador John Danilovich and Andrew Natsios, adminsitrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development. The session is a continuation of discussions initiated at the Third Summit of the Americas in Quebec.

U.S.-Canada pact
reached on border

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON — An agreement between the United States and Canada to bolster security along the two countries' shared 4,000-mile border "underscores our mutual commitment to ensure the safety of all Americans and Canadians while at the same time preserving the political and economic freedom our two nations enjoy," Attorney General John Ashcroft said Monday..

Following the signing ceremony for the accord, Ashcroft described the agreement as a key step in the war on terrorism that also will help protect the profitable trade relationship between the United States and Canada. He emphasized that border security is now a top priority for the Bush Administration.

"With the conclusion of this agreement, border security and enforcement cooperation between the United States and Canada will undergo a sea change — from local, state and provincial law enforcement to the highest levels of our two federal systems," Ashcroft said. "The North American front of the war on terrorism is more secure today as a result of this agreement."

Only over the weekend had it been learned that 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.

Ashcroft, is asking the military for aircraft and 400 soldiers to help monitor the border. Ashcroft said U.S. troops would relieve civilian immigration inspectors who were reassigned to the frontier from around the country after the Sept. 11 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."

Newspaper reports
another big month

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A. M. Costa Rica showed a 13.6 percent increase in electronic visitors during November when compared to the month before, according to an independent statistical program installed at the newspaper’s Internet server.

During November, which has 30 days, 63,256 "hits" were registered at the Internet server. During October, which has 31 days, 55,696 hits were registered. Both numbers were up substantially over the 44,617 hits registered in September, the first full month of operation.

The November figures show an average of about 2,100 hits a day.

In addition, nearly 400 Internet users have asked for a daily delivery of a news digest abstracting the contents of the daily Web site.

The electronic newspaper is published Monday through Friday shortly after midnight. About two Web pages contain news of Costa Rica and of Latin America. Additional pages contain various types of classifed advertising, a daily calendar, readers’ letters and a food page.

Newcomers seek gifts
for orphan children

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Newcomers Club is still seeking gifts for the party this Saturday for orphans in the San José area. A release by the club said that 125 gifts still were needed from members.

Patricia Reich is coordinating the gift drive. She may be reached at 249-2596. She said the gifts could be dropped off at The Cafe de Artistas in Escazú. The restaurant’s phone number is 228-6045.

In addition, volunteers still are sought to work at the party. Also coordinating this aspect of the event is Barbara Nace, who is at 282-9476.

$100 million for El Salvador

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON —The U.S. Agency for International Development announced Monday that the United States will contribute $100 million to assist ongoing recovery efforts in El Salvador in the wake of devastating earthquakes that struck that country in January and February 2001.

Volcano eruption study
supports global warming

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

An international team of researchers has discovered that large volcanic eruptions cooled the lower layers of the earth's atmosphere over the past 20 years, masking the effects of global warming.

According to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, the latest findings help explain the apparent difference in warming rates at the Earth's surface and in the lower troposphere — the layer of atmosphere that extends from the Earth's surface to roughly eight kilometers above it.

While the earth's surface has warmed markedly over the past 20 years, temperatures in the lower troposphere have shown little or no increase — a discrepancy that has resulted in considerable scientific and political debate.

The team of scientists found that aerosol particles thrown out by the 1982 eruption of El Chichon in Mexico and the 1991 eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines cooled the lower troposphere and masked actual warming.

The scientists say their findings, reported in the November edition of the "Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres," undercut claims by greenhouse skeptics that no warming has occurred during the last two decades. These claims are based on satellite measurements of temperatures in the lower troposphere, which show little or no warming since the beginning of the satellite record in 1979.

The research team was made up of scientists from the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany. The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is managed by the University of California for the U.S. Department of Energy.

New warning issued
on expected terrorism

By A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON — U.S. Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge has issued a fresh warning to Americans to be on high alert for terrorist activity. 

Ridge said Monday Americans should be vigilant and remember the country is still at war and still at risk. He says U.S. intelligence has detected an increased volume of credible information pointing toward a terrorist attack, but he was not specific as to any target or type of attack. 

The security director did not identify any group behind the threats, but other U.S. officials say they are related to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network.  Ridge said the convergence of upcoming religious holidays was also a factor in issuing the new alert. He said this time of year is when terrorists have planned attacks in the past. 

The Muslim holy month of Ramadan ends in about two weeks, the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah begins next week and Christmas is on Dec. 25.  U.S. officials have issued two other such warnings since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Ridge says the FBI is again asking 18,000 law enforcement agencies around the country to be on alert for suspicious activity.

Argentine investors
want word with banks

By A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Disgruntled Argentines have crowded banks in downtown Buenos Aires after the government partially froze accounts to avert financial collapse. Officials say many of the bank clients were confused and others had questions about the bank restrictions announced by Economy Minister Domingo Cavallo Saturday. They say the downtown area eventually calmed down. 

The government enacted the measures in response to massive withdrawals in recent days by panicked Argentines seeking to convert their pesos to dollars. Investors say the 90-day restriction on cash withdrawals undermines confidence in the government, which is seeking to restructure its massive debt. Argentines had been accustomed to spending pesos and dollars interchangeably because of the country's one-to-one exchange rate. 

Argentina's economy, the second-biggest in Latin America behind Brazil, has fallen sharply over the past three years, unable to compete with a flood of cheap imports from Brazil. Many companies have fired workers and moved operations out of the country.  A team from the International Monetary Fund is currently in Argentina to review the government's finances. The IMF is expected to decide by year's end whether to release more money to Argentina to help it through its financial problems. 

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