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These stories were published Friday, Dec. 5, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 241
Jo Stuart
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Drugs that look like

These are about 1,000 red, green and yellow doses of ecstasy, the powerful and popular drug that is beginning to show up in Costa Rica.

Our story: 


A.M. Costa Rica photo

I never throught I would appreciate potholes
Among primates, so the belief goes, it is a strategy of older males to send the younger ones off to fight so that they can get the females, and then in proper evolutionary behavior, get to pass their genes along. Costa Rica has managed to short circuit this evolutionary ploy.

Monday Costa Rica celebrated the 55th anniversary of the abolishment of its army. Perhaps I should say armies. In1948 after a six-week civil war, Jose "Pepe" Figueres was head of the winning faction, and therefore declared president. But he was left with two armies, one of them a part of the faction which had opposed him. Not wanting a coup, he made a decision, one worthy of Solomon. He abolished the institution of the military altogether. (And in another brilliant move, gave women the vote.)

President Bush has said more than once that democratic countries do not go to war with one another. Costa Rica has done him one better: it has not gone to war with ANYONE since 1948. 

I attended the celebration on the 50th anniversary five years ago. It was held in the Plaza Democracia in front of the National Museum, a bullet pocked fortress that used to be barracks for soldiers. On the 50th anniversary there were a couple of ex-presidents present, and the ceremony ended with the opening of a box which released dozens of butterflies. I had to laugh, butterflies instead of overhead Air Force jets showing the country’s strength. 

This year the celebration was held inside the museum perhaps because it was raining. First Vice President Lineth Saborio was there, but most of the speeches by a number of important people (I only recognized former President Oscar Arias), were on a screen. It was still inspiring. When the military was first abolished a large portion of the money that would have gone into preparing for war was invested in schools, hospitals, clinics and universities. In a short time Costa Rica surpassed its neighbors in education, and medical and social services. Sadly, more and more money is being diverted to other projects. 

The benefits of not having a military are practically endless. Without a military, we 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

have no young men who have been maimed, both physically and mentally by the experience of war. No body bags and funerals for young people who were in the prime of Life. No disabled veterans struggling to make a life or living homeless on the streets. No families separated and broken by a member going off to war. No children left orphans, or worse, killed or crippled by bombs and weapons, or themselves carrying weapons and learning to kill before they have learned to read well. This part of the earth is not being polluted by the waste products of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. We humans make enough waste without adding even more non-biodegradable poisons. 

And think of all the money that is saved by not having to rebuild buildings and infrastructure that is demolished rather senselessly (in my opinion). And then there are the illnesses suffered as the result of water that has been contaminated or the downed electrical power, or the famine that comes with war. 

Then there are the other casualties, the refugees who flee their countries and way of life in order to survive. Refugees outnumber every other kind of traveler. And I am told that over 90 percent of refugees are Muslims. 

There are some downsides to no army. I became aware of one when I visited Nicaragua a few years ago. It soon became apparent that the roads, and especially the highways in Nicaragua were in much better condition than those in Costa Rica. When I commented on this, I was told that the roads were well-built, thanks to help from the U.S., so that tanks could travel on them more easily. If that is the trade-off, I’ll take the potholes.

Costa Rica still has the problems faced by many so-called "developing countries," But it does not have to try to solve them faced with the dilemma of whether to put their money in building their community or tearing down someone else’s. 

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Bruce Harris case
to trial in January

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Casa Alianza said Thursday that its regional director here, Bruce Harris, will go on trial in January in Guatemala.

Harris is charged with criminal defamation, perjury and slander. He appeared at a 1997 press conference and said that Susana Maria Luarca Saracho de Umaña had used undue influence in facilitating international adoptions.

Casa Alianza notes that Ms. de Umaña is the wife of a former president and a lawyer for a group that encourages adoptions.

The case has a long legal history. Harris claims he was simply exercising her right to free expression. The Twelfth Tribunal of the Criminal Sentencing Court said this week it would proceed with the case.

Casa Alianza generally disapproves of private adoptions. It has been active in making public what it sees as improper adoption practices. 

Adoptions are big business in Guatemala where many persons live in poverty. Casa Alianza said in a press release Thursday that some nations have prohibited the adoption of Guatemala children by their nations for fear that the process is not in the best interest of the child.

Italy accepts deal
to end long dispute

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica entered into an agreement with Italy Thursday to pay back some $15 million to eliminate a 20-year-old point of friction between the two countries.

Alberto Dent, minister of Hacienda, and Gioacchino Carlo Trizzino, the Italian ambassador, agreed that Costa Rica will have 17 years to pay back the money at 1 percent interest.

Italy gave the money to Costa Rica years ago for port renovations, but the money was not used for that. Italy took Costa Rica to international arbitration and won a settlement that was the basis for the agreement Thursday.,

The agreement still has to be approved by the Asamblea Nacional.

Italy and Costa Rica will mark 140 years of diplomatic relations next February.

Border area rattled
twice in 11 hours

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two earthquakes hit the area around the Costa Rican-Panamá border within 11 hours of each other.

The first took place three minutes before midnight Wednesday and registered a magnitude of 4.0.

AT 10:49 a.m. Thursday a second quake hit in the same area. That registered about 4.6 magnitude.

Both quakes were near Puerto Armuelles in Panamá.

Christmas festival
gets municipal OK

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Municipalidad de San José approved the Festejos Popular Thursday. The event runs from Dec. 25 to Jan. 4 in Zapote. The municipality said that the event was something that attracted many visitors, including foreigners and tourists.

At the same time the commission in charge of the fair made a belated request for permission from the Ministerio de Salud. Somehow, that necessary health ministry approval had been overlooked.

There still is doubt that a temporary bull ring can be erected in time for the traditional bull baiting that is a televised spectacle here. The existing bull ring was demolished after concerns were raised about its structural soundness.  A new bull ring is planned but not for this year.

Benefit concert hosts
El Grupo Ebano

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A fund-raising concert to benefit the Angel of Love foundation will be held Sunday, Oct. 14, in Bello Horizonte.

The foundation supports the Tom and Norman Home for Unwanted Adults in La Rita near Guápiles

El Grupo Ebano, four musicians, members of the national symphony will donate their talents as they did last year. The program will include traditional Christmas music, excerpts from the classics, plus a selection of Costa Rican music with Mercedes Rodriguez and Catherine Hayes (violin), Ana Lorena Alfaro (viola), and Gabriela Alfaro (cello). 

Admission is free, but a cash donation, or gift of non-perishable food, cleaning materials, toilet paper, soaps and laundry detergents, plus a few tempting Christmas treats such as sweeties and cookies would be accepted, the organizers said.

The location is the theater of the Little Theatre Group and the time is 3 p.m.

The home is for abandoned penniless older adults. The foundation relies entirely on private donations and receives no government funding, a spokesman noted. 

Information is available from Donlon Havener at 282-7794, Ann Antkiw at 282-5164 or the Little Theatre Group box office at 289-3910.

Late storm heading
toward Hispanola

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

U.S. weather officials say a tropical storm named Odette is forming in the Caribbean Sea, although the 2003 hurricane season has ended. 

The National Weather Service says Odette is moving in a northeasterly direction at 17 kms. per hour (10 mph) and is likely to reach Haiti in about 24 hours. The storm is packing winds of 65 kilometers per hour. 

Weather officials say Haiti and Jamaica have issued tropical storm warnings. They also say a tropical storm watch remains in effect for the Dominican Republic (west of Santo Domingo), the southeastern Bahamas, and the Turks and Caicos islands.  The Dominican Republic shares the island of Hispanola with Haiti.

Odette is the 15th tropical storm of the year and the first one to form in the Caribbean Sea in December. The hurricane season runs from June to November.


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Police officials concerned by presence of ecstasy
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An investigator pretending to be a buyer lured two Cubans to the Centro Comercial de Sur Thursday afternoon and caused  their arrest for investigating of distributing ecstasy.

Jorge Rojas, director of the Judicial Investigating Organization, called the arrests very, very important for the country. He said the drug, which is well known in the United States and Europe, is a newcomer to Costa Rica.

The drug can quickly lead to death if a user ingests more than the body can handle. The drug is much favored in the dance club scene and its mood altering duration is about six hours. Generally the drug causes a relaxed upbeat mood and feelings, reduced anxiety, increased sensitivity to others and a high energy level. However, the drug also can cause brain and liver damage, paranoia and aggression.

Rojas said the two Cubans were suspected of distributing the ecstasy pill during nighttime trips to the center of San José. Police raided their homes after their arrests. one lived in Hatillo 7 and one lived in Calle Blanco.

A Judicial Investigating Organization spokesman 

said that the pills were probably imported from 
Europe. The two men have been objects of an investigation for at least a month.

The pills are red, green and yellow, easily mistake for a form of candy by youngsters. Rojas displayed 1,000 of the pills at a late press conference Thursday evening. Each pill retails for about 8,000 colons or about $19.

Both suspects are legal residents of the country, he said. The last time 

Jorge Rojas
investigators made a haul of ecstasy, they only grabbed 280 does, Rojas said. so the 1,501 doses confiscated Thursday represent the biggest haul of the drug in history.

Although ecstasy is little used in Costa Rica, its frequency is growing, Rojas said. The two men were identified by their last names and ages: Ivañez Arias, 27, and Jaikes, 47.

Solar wind takes advantage of earth's cracks
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Scientists have found prolonged weaknesses in earth's defense against storms on the sun. Our planet's magnetic shield normally deflects most of the effect a solar storm's blast would have on us, but researchers have found lasting cracks in the barrier that allow charged solar particles to threaten satellites and electrical systems on the ground. 

The sun has been very active lately, with storms on its surface spewing tons of hot, electrically-charged particles in our direction. This so-called solar wind interacts with our planet's magnetic field and can induce damaging surges of voltage in electrical systems, like power grids, spacecraft, high frequency radio communications and television. 

Space weather forecasters using satellites that measure the particle bombardments have issued several warnings recently so managers of these systems can turn them off to protect hardware. 

The magnetic field extending tens of thousands of kilometers above Earth prevents most of the solar wind from reaching our atmosphere, although some of it slips through to wreak its occasional havoc. The particles pass through cracks in the magnetic field that scientists have known about since the 1960s. 

Now, researcher Harald Frey of the University of California at Berkeley and his associates have found that these cracks can persist several hours instead of opening only briefly as previously thought. "It is rather like a drafty old house with the windows stuck open during a heavy rainstorm. The house will still deflect most of the storm, but the couch inside is still ruined," he says.

Frey's team reports in the journal Nature that it saw what it considered a clue to persistent solar wind leakage into earth's atmosphere. 

A U.S. space agency satellite named Image observed an ultraviolet aurora the size of California for several hours in the upper atmosphere above the Arctic. It was generated by solar protons hitting the atmosphere and causing it to glow in light invisible to the human eye. 

"So that told us that the process that formed this crack must have been continuously active for many hours. We suspected that the proton spot was created by this process that can break up our magnetic shield in small regions and can allow solar wind particles to flow through this crack," says Frey.

The researchers' suspicions were confirmed by measurements of a group of four European satellites called Cluster flying directly through the crack. 

They found that a bright proton spot in the atmosphere indicating a crack occurs only under certain conditions. Research team member Tai Phan says the Earth's magnetic field and that surrounding the solar wind must connect, with the solar wind's magnetic field pointing north. 

"Once we know that a spot is the footprint of the crack in the magnetic shield, we now have a new and powerful tool to detect cracks on a global scale. By looking at proton aura images taken by the Image spacecraft, we can tell where the cracks are and for how long they remain open," he says.

That could mean fewer power outages, lost communications, and disabled spacecraft during a solar eruption. 

Venezuela struggles to keep the oil flowing
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela —  One year after a crippling strike shut down Venezuela's oil industry, as well as its economy in general, the political divisions remain deep and the effects of the strike continue. 

The continuing battles between President Hugo Chavez and his opponents have inflicted an especially heavy toll on Venezuela's state-owned oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela. Officials in the Chavez government say Petroleos de Venezuela has almost fully recovered from the strike that all but completely shut it a year ago. Not long after workers returned to the oil fields in February of this year, they say, the process of recuperation got under way and production returned to levels close to what they had been before the strike.

But Elio Ohep, editor of the Caracas-based Petroleum World newsletter, said the production of nearly 3.5 million barrels a day that was normal several years ago is only a dream now. 

"The production now is around 2.5 or 2.6 million barrels every day and 50 percent of that is done by the third parties, companies that came in the first, second or third round, about 10 years ago," he said.

The third parties are foreign oil exploration and production companies that operate in Venezuela's oil fields under license agreements. Since many of these companies had foreign technicians on hand during the strike they were able to at least maintain their equipment and the wells where they work. But, Ohep said the state-owned company did not properly maintain some wells and, as a result, they are now unable to pump oil from some sites unless they drill again.

"It is very costly to drill a new well," he explained. "Who knows how much money you spent on that well through five or six years of exploration and now you have to do it again next door. Obviously, the oil is still there, but you cannot get it out with the existing well. You have to drill a new one and that is very costly." 

The situation in Venezuela is being watched closely by petroleum industry experts all around the world. Diminishing production in Venezuela could have an impact on the world market. 

Amy Jaffe, an energy studies professor at the James Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University says the damage to Venezuela's oil fields will be difficult to overcome.

"What we are seeing in Venezuela is that there are some reservoirs that were either over-produced after the strike or not maintained properly during 

the strike and there are some experts who believe that Venezuela will have a huge struggle over the next two to five years to even stay at two million-barrels-a-day, given the damage that has happened to their oil fields during this sort of unstable period," she said.

The Chavez government and some former Petroleos de Venezuela executives have traded charges over the past year as to who was responsible for the damage to oil wells. President Chavez has accused some striking workers of sabotage while strike supporters say the incompetence of workers who came in after the strike caused the damage. Amy Jaffe says the strike was only part of a larger problem that began when Chavez assumed office in 1998.

"President Chavez, when he came into power, asked very important people from the Venezuelan oil industry to step down, people who had been running that industry for decades," added Ms. Jaffe. "So you had a wave of very competent technical people who left the country at that time. Then you had a second wave because we had the strike and many, many of the most highly qualified people in the industry were fired."

The problem with maintaining an oil production industry, Ms. Jaffe says, is that highly trained technical people are needed from a number of fields. She says the political climate in Venezuela has kept many of these people from going there and that the people put into these jobs by the Chavez government are not as qualified as the ones they replaced.

Opponents of President Chavez recently succeeded in collecting signatures on a petition to hold a referendum that could force him from power. Chavez supporters, however, scoff at the effort to remove him and claim broad support, especially in poor communities across the nation. But observers say, whichever side wins the political struggle, a great deal of damage has already been done to Venezuela's once-mighty oil industry and it may be impossible for it to ever fully recover.

Clash over fireworks

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — Police clashed with rioting street vendors Wednesday in Caracas after officrs seized illegal fireworks.

Police fired tear gas, and rioters threw stones. Gunfire was also heard. Officials say at least two officers were hurt in the clashes.

During the violence, rioters stole a television camera belonging to a crew from private television station Globovision. 

Police raids of canopy tours protested by operators
By the A.M. Cost Rica staff

About 40 operators of canopy tours in Costa Rica had a raucous meeting with officials Thursday because Fuerza Pública officers have shut down three such operations.

The police were acting at the request of Lilliana Alfaro, head of the intellectual property section of the Registro Nacional. This is the office that issued a patent to the operator of a firm that calls itself "The Original Canopy Tour."

Ms. Alfaro and police descended on three such operations in Jacó, cut their cables, destroyed tree stands and placed closure orders on entries

The canopy operators claim that the technique of swinging tourist through the trees is ancient. In the past they have produced photos of 19 century logging operations that use similar techniques.

Operators met with Rogelio Ramos, minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública to protest the use of police to enforce Ms. Alfaro’s orders.

The meeting ended with an agreement to discuss the situation more and to delay any more physical destruction of the canopy operations. Operators lost a recent Sala IV constitutional court appeal, which prompted the police raids. 

Additional legal actions are pending.

Jo Stuart
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