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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2001, Vol. 1, No. 81
It's strictly a bull market for unusual Tico holiday event
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

One unusual Yuletide custom here is the bull fights at the long-running festival in Zapote.

To call them bull fights is to stretch a point. It is sort of like Ernest Hemingway meets Abbott and Costello or perhaps The Three Stooges.

The whole idea is to get a bunch of people, perhaps 200, into the bull ring, some 150 feet in diameter, and then release the bull.

The initial moments resemble more of a cocktail party. 200 or so young people (You have to be over 18 to participate) are milling around the bull ring. Suddenly a fighting bull is introduced into the arena.

But El Toro seems to be a bit confused. "Who are all these people, anyway," he asks. "Is this a party? Am I dress correctly?" The bull stands transfixed for a few moments.

Then the braver of the crowd begins a slow approach at an angle to the bull and, more importantly at an angle to the curved horns. He may slap the bull on the hind end. If he is really brave, he will run toward the bull's face, and said bull will take off after the tormentor. Meanwhile, yet another person will run at the bull continuing the distraction.

The series of bull fights that last several weeks at the Festejos Populares are a staple on evening television. So much so there was a fight over the rights to air the event in other countries.

Telemundo, the big U.S. Spanish-language network hailed the combined Costa Rican television companies before the Commission to Promote Competition in October. Telemundo claimed that the television stations were engaged in price fixing involving the air rights to the bull fights.

The commission didn't see it that way and absolved the defendant television companies of any wrongdoing. But it said the festival would be better off in the future seeking alternative means to market its bull fights.

The situation still was unclear Tuesday whether 

Here are your Christmas exercise partners

the bull fights will be broadcast outside the country.
The festival starts Dec. 21 in the southeastern section of San José.

After watching the bull baiting awhile, even on television, the average spectator begins to root for the bull. Although the bull is not killed in this event, most begin quickly to show signs of fatigue and foam at the mouth.

The tradition is related to the Spanish and Mexican bullfights popularized by Hemingway in his 1932 novel "Death in the Afternoon."  But the bull and most of the spectators walk away in this uniquely Tico event.  There is no mano a toro showdown of the type much praised by Hemingway. Of course, the bull eventually ends up at the hamburger factory.

Sometimes the bull wins. More than one young man or woman has felt the tip of the horn.  Some have been injured seriously. And no one who saw it can forget the giant photo on the front page of the Spanish-language daily La Nación last December showing a two-ton bull doing the Texas two-step on the back of a prone Tico. Fortunately the young man was not injured seriously and became somewhat of a local hero.

The bulls have been part of the festival for so long that old men talk about having participated as youngster. They also say that given the perspective of age they probably would not have gone in the ring.

In addition to bulls, the festival features carnival type entertainment and many food and beer booths. Participants insist that beer is not a factor in the bull fights, although it might be used to diminish some pain later.

Another coin appears

If you thought you were a bit confused by the 50 colon vs. 100 colon coins, you have a new worry. The 500 colon coins are beginning to circulate.

These are designed to replace the 500 colon paper bill and are worth about $1.50. The face of the coin features the Bank of Costa Rica building on Avenida 2 with a notation that the bank was 50 years old last year.  The reverse features the seal of Costa Rica and the date.

So that taxi driver you stiffed by giving him a 50-colon coin last month can be generously rewarded when you accidentally give him 500 colons instead of 100.

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Both sides of new coin with an old 100-colon coin used as a reference.

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Itís continuing 
to seem like Christmas.

If you havenít checked out the Christmas festival in front of the National Theater in downtown San José, you should because every night about 6 p.m. a different group or groups tries to engender Christmas spirit.

Tuesday evening the Young Peopleís choir and the Seniorsí Choir of the National Symphonic Orchestra has the stage to deliver a repertoire of carols in Spanish and Latin.

Greenspan seems positive about the new euro
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON ó U.S. Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan says the euro, which goes into general circulation Jan. 1, clearly meets all the key qualifications for a major international currency, and investors will benefit from competition between the euro and the dollar as pressures toward portfolio diversification affect their relative positions on world markets.

However, Greenspan, in remarks here to the Euro50 Group Roundtable, said that labor market rigidities and regulatory differences among the EU member states have likely hampered the euro's acceptance in global financial markets.

"A resolution of these differences would add to the attractiveness and stature of the euro in the international arena," Greenspan said.

He further suggested that the relative strength of the dollar vis-a-vis the euro reflects market expectations that productivity growth in the United States is likely to be greater than in Europe in the years ahead. Still, the Federal Reserve chairman said that the euro will allow currency traders to diversify, adding that "the world can only benefit from the competition."

Greenspan recounted how currencies such as the Dutch guilder, the British pound, and the U.S. dollar achieved international dominance during different 

periods in history, and explained why he thinks the euro could achieve similar status.

"First and foremost, an international currency must be perceived as sound," he said, and the mandate of the European Central Bank to maintain a stable purchasing power for the euro "is doubtless firmer than that of the Federal Reserve or any other major central bank."

Greenspan defined soundness as deriving from "a strong, competitive economy open to, and active in, international trade and finance . . .the presence of an open and well-developed financial system [and] . . .deep and liquid financial markets that offer a full array of instruments and services." He said the euro zone could meet these requirements because of the size of its combined economies and because continuing advances in European telecommunications and payment systems "have resulted in financial systems that now have the potential to be highly integrated across borders."

Exactly how the euro's international role will unfold remains unanswered, Greenspan concluded.

"The attraction of investing in dollar-denominated assets depends upon relative rates of return. To the extent that the capital flows we have observed from Europe to the United States are a critical piece of the story, the future will be determined, at least in part, by the success in Europe of matching the expected rates of return on U.S. assets."

Costa Rica called good place
to study risk reduction

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Natural disasters do not recognize national boundaries, so a regional approach is an appropriate course of action, the U.S. ambassador told attendees at the opening session of the Hemispheric Conference for the Reduction of Risk Tuesday.

"Our leaders recognized the importance of the subject of risk management," said John Danilovich, the ambassador, according to a text of his speech. "They saw it not only as a national matter but hemispheric, not only important in human terms but as the principal factor in the support of democratic, social and economic advances that define the quality of life of all our peoples."

The three-day session here is a spin-off of the April Summit of the Americas in Quebec where heads of more than 30 countries outlined risk management as one of the topics to be explored in more details.

Danilovich welcomed the estimated 400 delegates on behalf of the U.S. Embassy. He said it was appropriate to have the session in Costa Rica because this country recognizes the importance of risk management and the reduction of vulnerability. 

"Costa Rica always has been a leader in this field," the Danilovich text said. "The National Emergency Commission is a strong and innovative institution that has filled a relevant role in the advance of risk management not only in Costa Rica but in all of Central America."

He also noted that the Costa Rican Social Security Caja initiated a program of reinforcement of four principal hospitals in which $4.3 million was invested to reduce the vulnerability of these facilities.

Two grabbed in west
of cocaine charges

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police have made two sets of arrests in Puentarenas that targeted alleged sellers of crack cocaine.

One detainee, Manuel Antonio Jiménez Yaguas, 66, was identified by investigators as a major dealer in the area who had weekly sales of 1 million colons or about $3,000.

He was arrested Monday about 2 p.m. in Playón Barranca along with a girlfriend, Diganita Paniagua Ledezma, 26, said a spokesman for the Judicial Investigating Organization.

When they arrested Jiménez police said they confiscated 200,000 colons in cash (about $590), an amount that investigators said included marked money that an undercover agent had used to buy drugs from the man.

The third person detained in the same general area is Ricardo Santamaría Ortega, who was arrested Saturday in Ciudadela Fray Casiano de Madrid, a section of Puntarenas. After his arrest, investigators said they confiscated 350 grams of crack, 40 packages of cocaine, 35 crack rocks, 70 baggies of marijuana, a bar of cocaine paste and implements for preparing drugs. They also got 160,000 colons (about $470), they said.
This is a 1996 photo of Bernardo Miranda Morales, who escaped from prison over the weekend. Just about every policeman in the country is looking for him. They would like you to call them if you see this man. He's not really this green. The color is a fault of the reproduction process.

Many, many letters
may carry anthrax

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Senior U.S. officials say tens of thousands of letters processed weeks ago in the United States might have been contaminated with trace amounts of anthrax merely by coming into contact with intentionally poisoned mail.

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Jeffrey Koplan, acknowledged the possibility that thousands of letters with a low level of spores may have been widely distributed is an "uncomfortable situation."

But Koplan stressed that officials believe the risk of contracting fatal anthrax associated with cross-contaminated mail is still very low. Investigators are examining circumstantial evidence to determine whether cross-contamination is responsible for the anthrax deaths of two women in Connecticut and New York. Of the three other people who have died from anthrax in the past two months, two were postal workers.

Meanwhile, U.S. environmental crews have completed an anthrax decontamination procedure in a U.S. Senate office building. Test results are expected this week. 

Argentina awaits word
on new IMF bailout plan

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina ó The government is awaiting a decision by the International Monetary Fund on desperately needed aid, as the country struggles to avoid defaulting on its massive $132 billion public debt.

Argentina wants the IMF to release $1.3 billion this month in funds it will use to pay interest on the debt. The IMF is working closely with Argentina but has not indicated whether the funds will be released.

IMF officials are assessing the latest Argentine economic reforms, including banking rules limiting the amount of cash withdrawals per week.

President Fernando de la Rua enacted the measures to halt panicked Argentines from withdrawing all their deposits amid rumors the government could freeze accounts or devalue the peso, which is by law pegged one-to-one to the dollar.

Economy Minister Domingo Cavallo said the measures announced Saturday are to prevent Argentina from falling into what he calls "chaos." Argentina is in the midst of a crippling 41-month recession.

In other South American economic news, an international credit rating agency has revised its outlook for Ecuador's economy. Standard and Poor's has upgraded Ecuador's situation from "negative" to "stable," amid word the country could obtain additional IMF financing.

Ecuador is near completion of an agreement with the IMF that would entitle the country to loans aimed at helping finance its debt repayments for
2002.  Securing IMF loans is key for Ecuador, as it has trouble getting cheap loans from the international capital markets after defaulting on its debt in 1999. 

Meanwhile, in Venezuela, the country's largest trade union has called for its members to join a Dec. 10 strike to protest economic reforms on oil and land. The union, C.T.V., represents about 1 million workers.

Radio journalist killed
by mob ambush

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti ó A mob in Haiti has stoned and hacked to death a Haitian radio journalist. Police say Brignol Lindor, news director of the private station Radio Eco 2000, was ambushed Monday near the town of Petit-Goave, about 68 kilometers west of this capital city. 

There are conflicting reports as to who was responsible for the killing. A co-worker at the station says Lindor had received numerous death threats after inviting opposition leaders to speak on his radio show. 

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