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These stories were published Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 244
Jo Stuart
About us
Have you
got a light?

The Christmas tree at the Hospital Nacional de Niños has plenty.

The tree that is turned on each evening at 5:30 p.m. is a continual landmark. And the tree is a live evergreen that gains a little height each year.

So send out for more lights for 2004!

A.M. Costa Rica photo
A.M. Costa Rica photo
Poder Judicial workmen put the finishing touches on the portal there.
There is no battle of the portals this year 
among the various elements of Costa Rica’s judicial branch. There is just this one portal
or manger scene for the entire court complex between Avenidas 6 and 8 at Calle 19.

Last year there were three elaborate outdoor scenes and a contest among the various court 

agencies. The most elaborate was on the lawn of the Corte Suprema de Justicia, the Sala IV constitutional court. But that is one of the casualties this year.

The reason is more budgetary than philosophical, because Catholicism remains the nation’s official religion.

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Woman dies in Nosara,
and cocaine suspected

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 41-year-old U.S. tourist died Tuesday morning in Nosara from what investigators suspect was a cocaine overdose.

The woman was identified as Elaine V. Fielding, who had spent three days in the Hotel Casa Toucan in the company of another woman, also a U.S. citizen. 

The Fuerza Pública said officers were called to the hotel just before noon. A physician had been attending the woman, they said.

Investigators said they found a white powder in the small cabin occupied by the two women and that the powder would be subjected to a test. The Judicial Investigating Organization is in charge of the case.

Official put on leave
in canopy investigation

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The head of the industrial property section of the Registro Nacional has been suspended from her job while an investigation is carried out over her role in destroying canopy tour operations.

She is Liliana Alfaro. She was a principal participant at a meeting last week with canopy tour operators. She has adopted the cause of the Original Canopy Tour, a company that claims it has the exclusive right to operate the zip line tourist attraction in Costa Rica. The property section registers such inventions and innovations.

Four other persons in the same office also were suspended, all with pay.

When officials met with canopy tour operators last week, Rogelio Ramos, minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública, ordered that the raids on tour operators be stopped. At least three such operations in Jacó had been raided and their facilities damaged beyond use.

Tour operators claim that the idea of sending people in harnesses on wires through the forest canopy is not new and not subject to registration.

Pacheco and Zamora
meet in Florida jail

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Abel Pacheco paid a call on Ronnie Zamora Tuesday, according to Casa Presidencial.

Zamora is the Costa Rican who was convicted of killing an elderly neighbor in 1977 when he was 15. Pacheco, a psychiatrist, served on his defense team.

The defense was unsuccessful but managed to make the history books because Zamora claimed that exposure to television made him kill the woman.

Zamora now is in the Everglades Correctional Center and is expected to leave custody next year, based on a decision taken earlier this year by officials. Pacheco is attending a meeting of the nations of the Caribbean basin.

"Today I met with a mature Ronny," said Pacheco. "The pain has obviously left its mark, but there is no rancor or resentment in this boy. He accepts his failing and is a model of rehabilitation of a human being. He is a model of how justice sometimes can make an individual reconsider an attitude and change."

Pacheco said he promised Zamora he would come and see him. Zamora said he was reminded of the residents of the Philippines when Gen. Douglas MacArthur said "I will return" and did.

Despite his age, Zamora was adjudged an adult and stood trial as such, in part due to the brutality of the crime. He will return to Costa Rica when released.

Costa Rican man dies
in Canadian mishap

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An English-language student from Costa Rica died in Toronto about 10:30 a.m. Monday when the wall of a building collapsed on him.

He was identified as Augusto Cesar Mejia, 27. Costa Rican sources said he was from Heredia. He was a student in Canada at the Yorkville English Academy.

Some 14 other persons were injured. The wall collapsed because part of the adjacent Uptown Theatre building being demolished fell on it.

Police say band
shipped cocaine

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police grabbed five men at two locations about 7:30 a.m. Tuesday and said they were a band dedicated to shipping cocaine into the United States.

Four men, two from Honduras and two from Guatemala were arrested at a toll booth in Naranjo by Judicial Investigating Organization agents and Fuerza Pública officers.

At the same time a man identified as Jimmy Mang Chen, 41, was arrested in Guápiles. Officers identified him as the suspected leader of the group and said that the operation was run out of an auto repair store in Guápiles.

Agents said that two kilos of cocaine were confiscated at the toll booth.

Officials said that the investigation began a month ago with the arrest of a man from Honduras who was carrying eight kilos of cocaine. A kilo is 2.2 pounds.

Meanwhile, also Tuesday, three members of the Policía de Control de Drogas suffered stab wounds when they confronted a band of young people who were protecting suspected drug locations in Hatillo Centro.

Four persons were arrested after the Unidad Intervención Policial, the Fuerza Pública S.W.A.T. team arrived to restore order.

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Predictions of earth's population contains surprises
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A groundbreaking United Nations study concludes that the earth's population will increase by three billion, to around nine billion, over the next 300 years. The figures are substantially lower than previous estimates, largely because of a projected decline in developing world fertility rates. 

In announcing the results of the new study, U.N. Population Division chief Joseph Chamie cautioned that no one knows the future. Even small shifts in birth, death or migration patterns can have enormous effects on the size of the population. 

Some 50 years ago, Europe made up 25 percent of the world's population. Today it is half that. 

Still, planners and many others need the best guesses about what the earth will be like hundreds of years from now. So Chamie and his staff set to work on three models — high, low, and medium scenarios. 

The result was a high variant in which the population jumps to 36 billion, and a low variant of around two billion, if birth rates decline. Chamie, however, said a medium course of slow, steady population growth seems most likely. 

"These projections are less than we've had in the past. So there's a bright side of the news. That the world's population that we anticipate according to our medium scenario, if you assume these assumptions of about a two-child norm, which we see most people expressing, we'll end up with a world less than 10 billion by the 24th century, 2300," he said.

Chamie said among the most interesting findings is that Europe's population is shrinking fast. Some 50 years ago, Europe made up 25 percent of the world's population. Today it is half that. He said European leaders are concerned at figures showing that the decline will likely continue far into the future. 

"In many of the industrialized countries, reproduction, fertility levels are well below replacement. Some countries such as Japan, Italy, 

the Russian Federation, Germany, France, Spain have expressed concern about these low levels and what they mean in terms of a declining and aging population," he says. 

Chamie predicted that China, where fertility dropped from six children per family to two in one generation, will be forced to abandon their one-child policy or face a rapidly declining population. 

"I think they're moving away from a strict one-child policy to a bit more flexibility. Because if China keeps its current level of 1.8 children, it would decrease from approximately today, 1.3 billion, it would go down to 400 million people, if it kept its current fertility of 1.8 children for 300 years, it would be more than halved," he says. 

At the other end of the spectrum are countries such as Niger, Yemen and Pakistan, which are experiencing astronomical growth. Many of these rapidly-growing countries are Islamic, prompting some to wonder if there might be a Muslim population explosion. But Chamie expressed confidence that the natural laws of economic prosperity will act as a control. 

Today, for instance, the median age in the world is 26. Three hundred years from now, it will nearly 
double, to 48. 

"I'd like to dispel right now that Muslims don't have higher fertility because they're Muslims. Iran's fertility is two. Tunisia's fertility is two. And we see all over the world, Indonesia, Malaysia, it's coming down. The same forces that operate on a Christian, a Hindu, a Jew, are operating on Muslims," he says. 

Chamie says the study revealed a few other interesting predictions. Today, for instance, the median age in the world is 26. Three hundred years from now, it will nearly double, to 48. 

And the population of the United States, which has shot up from 76 million in 1900 to nearly 300 million today, will taper off somewhat. According to Mr. Chamie's prediction, the U.S. population in 2300 will be about 520 million. 

U.S. key federal funds rate is kept at 1 percent
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The policymaking group of the Federal Reserve, the U.S. central bank, has voted unanimously to hold its key interest rate at a 45-year low as the U.S. economy showed more signs of rebound.

In a statement Tuesday the Federal Open Market Committee said it decided to keep the federal funds rate, the rate banks charge each other for overnight loans, at 1 percent.

The committee said the probability of an "unwelcome" fall in inflation has diminished since its last meeting on interest rates in October and now appears "almost" equal to the possibility of inflationary pressure increasing. This assessment 
contrasts with the previous 2003 Open Market Committee statements in which the committee 

expressed concern about deflationary pressures when interest rates reach historic lows.

The committee noted recent market data suggesting that production is "briskly" expanding and the labor market "modestly" improving.

In the third quarter the U.S. economy grew at an 8.2 percent annualized rate, according to the Commerce Department, and the unemployment rate fell in November to an eight-month low of 5.9 percent, according to the Labor Department. However, the U.S. economy is still operating at about 75 percent of capacity, according to the Federal Reserve.

Citing underused resources and "quite low" inflation, the committee said its stance on monetary policy can be maintained for a considerable period.

Aleman conviction pleases foreign business owners
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Foreign business operators in Nicaragua report that the conviction of former president Arnoldo Aleman clarifies a complex political situation.

The action also gives a political boost to President Enrique Bolaños, who was facing a possible pact between those loyal to Aleman and the Sandinista Front headed by Danny Ortega.

Pressure from the United States contributed to the Sunday conviction of Aleman and the improved standing of Bolaños. When Judge Juana Mendez released Aleman to house arrest Nov. 26, the U.S. government suspended $49 million in aid to the judicial branch.

The same judge then found Aleman guilty of charges including money-laundering, fraud, embezzlement and electoral crimes. He got a 20-year sentence that he can serve at his El Chile home south of the capital of Managua.

When Aleman was released from jail, Ortega’s Sandinistas and Aleman’s backers appeared ready to join in a pact to change Nicaragua to a parliamentarian form of government in which they would have the upper hand at the expense of Bolaños.

Aleman was hostile to Costa Rican interests during his presidential years, 1997 to 2002, and Bolaños had developed friendships among Costa Rican political officials. Among the points of friction was 

free passage for Costa Ricans on the San Juan River.

Aleman’s Liberal Constitutional Party is conservative. The Sandinista Front led by Ortega was the party that fought a vicious civil war with U.S.-sponsored Contras, starting in 1979.

The judge Sunday also fined Aleman $10 million and ordered that he not engage in politics and that he be stripped of his position as leader of the national assembly.

Aleman, 57, is said to be ailing, in part from infirmities caused by his excessive weight. That was the reason the judge said she released him.

Business leaders in Managua said that they had received assurances from the Sandinista leadership that no major changes would take place in private ownership if Aleman and Ortega succeeded in taking power. However, the Sandinistas have not shown a strong respect for private ownership in the past, so business people were leery.

A number of major hotel and casino projects are on the boards in Managua, and more English-speaking retirees are considering towns to the west, principally Grenada, as places to live.

The national assembly still has to deal with economic changes urged by the International Monetary Fund in order to qualify for a $4.8 billion line of external credit that the country needs. Nicaragua is second only to Haiti as an economically depressed nation in this hemisphere..

Weekend is crucial period for EU negotiations
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

PARIS, France — France and Germany are urging other European Union members to reach agreement this weekend on a draft constitution for the bloc and are raising pressure on Poland and Spain to back away from their opposition to new EU voting rules enshrined in the document. 

It was billed as an informal lunch, but Tuesday's one-hour meeting in Paris between French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder was, more than anything else, a sign that Europe's two powerhouses have closed ranks behind the existing constitutional draft. 

France and Germany say the draft, as it stands, or with only a few minor modifications, is essential for the EU to function when 10 new members join next year. 

But Poland and Spain are threatening to block agreement on the document, which must be approved unanimously by all current and future members. 

Poland and Spain are fiercely resisting proposed changes in the EU's voting system and insist on keeping the current rules, which allow them an influence in decision-making that is disproportionate to their population. 

Standing next to Schroeder outside the Elysee Palace, President Chirac Tuesday said he could not imagine that one or two countries could "block the progress that others want to make." 

He said that he and the chancellor will not accept an accord at any price but want an agreement that reflects their idea of what Europe should look like in the future. 

French diplomats say the message coming out of the Franco-German meeting is that, if Poland and Spain do not yield, they will be blamed for the failure of the summit. 

But diplomats from smaller EU countries say France and Germany, which have long been the engine driving European integration, have lost influence among their partners in recent weeks by flouting EU budget rules. That has made some small countries wary of any move that would give France and Germany more power. 

Nearly all of the smaller countries want to be represented on the EU's executive commission, but France and Germany say a commission with 25 members would be unwieldy. 

French and German officials have in the past said that, if the constitutional negotiations fail, their countries and other like-minded nations will simply press ahead with closer integration and create a two-speed Europe, leaving those unwilling to join them behind. 

But Schroeder says the priority now is to get a deal in Brussels, not just any deal but one that Germany and France can live with. Though the summit is scheduled to end on Saturday, the negotiations are expected to continue into Sunday and even Monday. 

Jo Stuart
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