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These stories first were published Monday, Dec. 10, 2001

Candidates' Web pages highlight their differences 
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two of the four major candidates for Costa Rica’s presidency are promoting their cause with Internet servers in the United States. Two others seem to be using the services offered by companies here.

Piszk talks to Dems, BELOW

The Web pages provided by the candidates gives a good look at the contrasts among them.

Liberation Party candidates Rolando Araya Monge has a pretty straight forward Web page called www. rolandoaraya.com. Despite the dot.com name, the page is handled by CyberFuel, an Internet provider at the Forum Office Park in Santa Ana, according to an electronic search. The page also seeks to have a visitor register for future contacts.

The page contains news, the party platform, a discussion forum and a chat room where times are designated to discuss issues with party candidates.

Abel Pacheco, candidate of the United Social Christian Party, has been working the folksy angle in his campaign, and his Web site is appropriately called www.donabel.com. Only in a few obscure places on the Internet setup does the candidate mention his party affiliation. The pages are laced with warm photos of the candidate, and the pages are self-deprecatingly titled "¡Que tal, amigos:  Welcome to my little Internet corner!"

The major campaign story on the page Sunday was of a meeting by the candidate with employees of the Costa Rican Electrical Institute, which also runs 

Radiografica Costarricense, S.A., Racsa, the government Internet monopoly. Nevertheless, an electronic search shows that Pacheco’s Web pages are being handled by DellHost.com, a Round Rock, Texas, Internet provider.

Despite Racsa’s monopoly on Internet connections, the government agency inexplicably has never provided the service of hosting Web pages on its computers. So all the candidates have their pages hosted by private companies.

Another candidate with his Web page in the United States is Otto Guevara of Movimiento Libertario 

(www.libertario.com). It is with Burlee Networks in South Burlington, Vt. This candidate is running fourth of the four major candidates, but he is the only one to have a portion of his Web page in English. 

Clearly he is seeking donations from the North American Libertarian community. And the campaign has provided a secure Internet server to accept credit card donations. 

The Web page is probably the most philosophical as the Costa Rican Libertarians seek to explain that hands-off political idea to their countrymen who are more familiar with a more paternalistic form of government. 

The page also has a place for visitors to sign up to receive more information from the party.

The Citizens’ Action Party and candidate Otton Solís has the only Web page with a clear Costa Rican address: www.pac.or.cr

But the page is hosted by inet.com of Richardson, Texas, and it is unclear from the Costa Rican information registration exactly where the server

is located. However, one Inet Web page lists a San José address. The content is pretty standard with a very long biography of the candidate, a discussion forum and a place for visitors to register.

Some interesting aspects:

Pacheco’s Web site provides a second-by-second countdown to the elections. When checked Sunday it said elections were 55 days, 5 hours, 14 minutes, and 28 seconds away.

The Liberation Party had an incorrect spelling of the last name of vice presidential candidate Sandra Piszk as "Pinsk."

The party of Otton Solís had a number of broken links on its web page.

The other parties missed a bet. The Internet has a long tradition of phony political pages, including the long-running www.whitehouse.com, which is a porno site frequently confused with www.whitehouse.gov, which is where President Bush lives. Still available for purchase and use in Costa Rica is www.rolandoaraya.co.cr.

It appears that www.ottonsolis.co.cr and www.ottoguavare.co.cr also are available, but someone has snapped up www.abelpacheco.co.cr, although the Website is inactive.

get far
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Two tourist from London didn’t get very far out of their lodgings Friday night. They were held up by drive-by robbers on the sidewalk outside the Hemingway Inn where they were staying.

The robbery took place about 9:30 p.m. as the men stepped out to do a little touring. A car pulled up to the curb and three men with handguns jumped out and demanded money.

The men, who would not give their names, said they gave over two credit cards and the equivalent of about $50 in cash. Then the car and gunmen drove away. The victims spoke to a reporter just minutes after the event while they were awaiting the arrival of police in the lobby of the inn.

The robbery location is near several major restaurants and at least one other upscale hotel. It is at the northwest corner of the Costa Rican Insurance Institute building in Barrio Amon, Avenida 9 and Calle 9.

Women face 'positive discrimination' this election 
A.M. Costa Rica photo
Sandra Piszk watches while Emily Morales translate her words

Argentina may have deal with IMF

By A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON — Argentina has reached an agreement with the International Monetary Fund following two days of emergency meetings in Washington on the country's economic crisis.

Economy Minister Domingo Cavallo said the agreement centers on reforms Buenos Aires must implement to qualify for IMF aid. He returned to Argentina late Saturday to work out details with President Fernando de la Rua and other government officials.

The development comes days after the IMF refused to clear Argentina's next loan installment worth $1.3 billion. Cavallo described his Washington meetings as productive.

IMF officials have said Argentina's economic woes are due partly to 2002 budget problems and the nation's inability to comply with its zero deficit law. Analysts say without the IMF payment, the country may not be able to meet its financial obligations on its $132 billion foreign debt.

Argentina has been struggling to implement various economic reforms in an effort to avoid a default on the debt, while trying to end its crippling 41-month recession.

The financial condition of Argentina has been watched closely by goverment officials and other policymakers all over the Western Hemisphere because the concern is that a default by the country's government would spark a domino-like reaction in some of the weaker Latin economies. A major rating agency recently downgraded the country's loan repayment capacity.

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 40 percent of the candidates in the February election will be women, thanks to a 1996 rule that is just coming into effect, noted Sandra Piszk, the Liberation Party first vice presidential candidate.

That means at least 11 and maybe as many as 27 deputies of the new 56-member chamber will be women, she said Saturday to a gathering of Democrats Abroad.

This addition of women to the political process was one of several major changes that Piszk said was unique to the coming election.

The Supreme Electoral Tribunal has refused to accept the original slate of candidates for at least one party because not enough women had been nominated.

Piszk seemed more concerned with the idea of quotas for women candidates than did the Democrats she was addressing.  She said that the quotas would effect a fundamental change, yet she hoped for a world where such a rule could be repealed because there would be harmony between men and women.

This "positive discrimination" would allow women’s vision to help direct political developments, such as equal salaries for women who do the same work as men and possible changes in the daily work hours for the benefit of women. She said that such quotas need to have a time limit so the rule can be discarded when men and women reach equality.

The elections Feb. 3 also are different because deputies are being elected by direct vote, she said. Therefore, deputies will be more independent of their political parties because they will have to represent the people who elected them, she said. As a result, future governments will have to deal with this more independent legislature, she added.

She also noted that there is an emergence of minority forces, and some 13 political parties have candidates for president, and at least two parties, The Citizens’ Action Party of Otton Solís and the Libertarian Movement of Otto Guervara have become important.

She said that only two parties have the strength to pull the 40 percent of the vote needed to elect a president: her party with Rolando Araya Monge as candidate, and the United Social Christian Party with Abel Pacheco as candidate.

Despite her comments, a poll of Costa Ricans released Sunday shows Araya neck and neck with Solís of the new Citizens’ Action Party, each with about 22 percent of the anticipated vote. The poll also showed about 30 percent of the respondents supported the rival of Piszk’s party, Pacheco. About 7 percent favored the Libertarian candidate.

She likened Pacheco to the Republican Party of the United States, suggesting that her party, Liberation, was more like the party of the Democrats she was addressing.

Piszk said that her party promises a team approach to government and criticized Pacheco for having distanced himself from his own party to which the incumbent president, Miguel Angel Rodríguez, belongs. "We feel that the party is more important than the candidate himself," she said.

Piszk, who speaks English, was more comfortable in addressing the group in Spanish, and her words were translated by Democrats Abroad member Emily Morales. She left before accepting questions.

She criticized Rodríguez for not being as aggressive as he should be in promoting Costa Rica as an oasis of peace after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States. Costa Rica, she said, has to take advantage of its peaceful reputation to promote international tourism, she said.

Before being nominated to seek the vice presidency, Piszk, a former deputy herself, was the ombudswoman for the country.

River pirates held
in yatchman’s death

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

SAO PAULO, Brazil — Brazilian authorities, citing lack of evidence, have released three of seven suspects arrested for the murder of New Zealand yachtsman Peter Blake.

Brazilian police released the men from custody Saturday, one day after arresting them and four others in a town about 1,800 kilometers northwest of here.

Authorities say four suspects who remain in custody have confessed to slaying Blake Wednesday during a robbery aboard his yacht Seamaster while it was moored near the mouth of the Amazon River.

According to one report, witnesses said Blake was gunned down as he faced the pirates (known locally as "River Rats") with his crew behind him.

Police have widened a manhunt for two other murder suspects. Authorities say they know who the men are and it is only a matter of time before they are caught.

The 53-year-old Blake was New Zealand's sporting legend, two-time winner of the America's Cup, and a world-renown environmentalist. He was leading an environmental expedition in Brazil when he was killed. The legendary sportsman led New Zealand to America's Cup titles in 1995 and 2000. He also won the Whitbread Round-the-World Race in 1989 and the Jules Verne Trophy in 1994. 

Blake was named goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Environment Program earlier this year. 

California firm indicted
in overseas sales fraud

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON — A U.S. federal grand jury has indicted a California company for defrauding a U.S. Agency for International Development program in Egypt.

Hossam Morsi and his company Morcon Technologies were charged with wire fraud, false claims and money laundering, according to the agency. Morcon exports scientific and technological equipment to the Middle East, primarily Egypt.

The alleged defrauded program — the Commodity Import Program (CIP) — promotes private-sector development in Egypt by providing financing for imports. CIP stipulates that the imports must be made in the United States and, to ensure against overpricing, that the importer obtain competing bids from at least two companies.

Morsi is charged with providing two fake bids to the importer, the Misr University for Science and Technology, which then included the phony bids in a package sent to USAID for approval of financing under CIP. This allowed Morcon to significantly inflate the price of its bid while still submitting one at the lowest cost.

"The type of fraud charged in this indictment diminishes the funding available to private companies in Egypt and prevents honest U.S. companies from legitimately competing for export business," said the agency’s Inspector General Everett Mosley.

Five nations laud
trade talks launch

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The United States and four South American nations — Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay — have expressed their satisfaction with the successful launch in Doha, Qatar, of the new round of World Trade Organization negotiations and reaffirmed their commitment to establish the Free Trade Area of the Americas by January 2005.

Trade coordinators from the five nations met in Montevideo, Uruguay, last week to review the progress that has occurred on a variety of trade and investment issues since a ministerial-level meeting held in Washington in September.

According to a joint statement released at the conclusion of the talks in Montevideo, the five nations have agreed to intensify efforts to initiate free-trade market access negotiations by May 15, 2002.

The statement also said the five nations would convene the meetings of three separate working groups, on industrial trade, electronic commerce, and investment development in the first three months of 2002.

Zoellick is pleased
with free-trade vote

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick says passage by the U.S. House of Representatives of Trade Promotion Authority gives the Bush Administration the momentum it needs to push forward with a broad-based agenda aimed at liberalizing trade on bilateral, regional, and multilateral fronts.

In a statement issued late last week following the 215-214 vote, Zoellick said the United States will press ahead with negotiations on a Free Trade Area for the Americas, free trade agreements with Chile and Singapore, and global trade negotiations under the auspices of the World Trade Organization.

"The House vote is only the first step, of course," Zoellick said. "We will now work closely with the Senate Finance Committee to bring Trade Promotion Authority to the Senate floor."

Venezuela’s Chavez
rejects resignation call

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has dismissed calls for his resignation and denounced the planned nationwide strike today organized by the opposition. Chavez made the comments in a speech Saturday, as the South American nation braces for the12-hour shutdown today. 

In a defiant speech Saturday, Chavez ridiculed the low turnout of Friday's opposition demonstration calling for his resignation. The protesters, numbering about a thousand people, attempted to march on the presidential palace. But they were stopped by police to prevent an outbreak of violence between the marchers and the large numbers of Chavez supporters who had gathered around the presidential compound.

President Chavez Saturday, in an address marking the symbolic burial of an Indian leader killed during colonial times, said he will not resign and went on to denounce Monday's planned strike. He said, "They're trying to paralyze the country, but those who think they can stop this revolution or sabotage it, are doomed to defeat."

The strike was called by the country's largest business association, and has gathered support from opposition-led labor unions, farm organizations and others. They are protesting a series of economic laws which Chavez passed by decree last month. They say these measures undermine the concept of private property, and give the state too great a role in industries ranging from agriculture to petroleum which is Venezuela's main export.

The land reform law is especially objectionable to Venezuela's private sector. The vice president of the U.S.-Venezuelan Chamber of Commerce, Antonio Herrera, says it violates the principle of property rights. 

"The project gives the government-appointed authorities the right to decide if the way you are using the land — what you are planting there — is productive, and if it is not, they can expropriate you without compensation," he added. "Moreover you have to prove every two years to the bureaucracy that you are using your land adequately, so this is a total violation of property rights." 

But Chavez, a leftist populist elected three years ago, says the laws are needed to reactivate the economy and address social injustices.

Monday's strike is aimed at shutting the country down for 12 hours. However, Chavez has appealed to Venezuelans to go to work as usual on Monday and has left the door open for negotiations to amend the controversial laws in the Congress, which is controlled by his party. The business association that has organized Monday's strike has expressed skepticism over this offer, saying it wants actions not words from Chavez.

Two policemen irked
by backammon, video

 By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two San José municipal policemen threatened to confiscate the video camera of a U.S. citizen about 1 p.m. Saturday while the man sat at the outdoor cafe of the Gran Hotel Costa Rica.

The incident became a spectacle as the policeman yelled at the man, who said he did not speak Spanish.

The confrontation started shortly after the same pair of policemen told two French tourists that they could not play bagammon on the public concrete seats opposite the National Theater. The French man and a blonde woman were quietly playing the board game when the police approached. They said later the police told them they could not play the game in public but could do so if there were seated at the tables operated by the hotel.

The police may have thought that the man with the camera made a video recording of their discussions with the French tourists. A few minutes later they confronted him while he sat at a table. He did not fully understand what they wanted, and a bilingual waiter was brought in to help.

The man, who was black, attempted to explain the operations of the video camera to the policemen, and there was no evidence that the man ever photographed the police. One policeman claimed that the man had shown a "lack of respect" by filming them without their knowledge, although it was not clear if he understood what they were saying.

Finally the police left to continue their patrol, and the foreigners and many of the spectators were left wondering exactly what had taken place.

Passport agency begins use
of digital passport device

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Passport Agency here began using its new digital system Friday. 

The system, called "TDIS-photo digitization," allows the processing of a new technologically advanced passport, according to the U.S. state Department.

The new system and its passports have many features that make it one of the most secure travel documents produced to date, the government said. The most notable feature is that the passport holder's photograph is printed as a digital image into the passport. The adoption of the digitized portrait, as well as other security features designed into the passport, is a deterrent to passport fraud, said the government.

The Washington D.C. Passport Agency at 1111 19th Street NW provides passport services to the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Northern Virginia. 

Lost city
found off
Cuban coast
down about
650 meters
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Underwater explorers say they have discovered mysterious stone structures on the sea floor off the western coast of Cuba that may be the ruins of an ancient lost city. 

The Canadian-based researchers say they used a miniature submarine equipped with a camera to locate the stone structures submerged about 650 meters (about 2,100 feet) below the surface of the Caribbean Sea. 

The researchers say the large, smooth cut, granite-like blocks appear to be some sort of urban center and could have been built by an ancient people some 6,000 years ago. That would be about 1,500 years before Egyptians built the pyramids at Giza. 

The explorers say the structures could have been built when the area was above the water, but emphasize that more research is needed before any conclusions can be made.

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