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These stories were published Friday, Dec. 12, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 246
Jo Stuart
About us
Caribbean slope hit again by stubborn storm
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The eastern and northern sections of Costa Rica are facing a disaster of major proportions.

A low pressure system parked itself over Limón from about 6 p.m. Wednesday, and flooding, landslides and structure and road damage followed. More rain is predicted for early today. 

At 11 p.m. Thursday Limón was still cut off from the Central Valley. Sarapiquí and Turrialba also are suffering from the storm. The main highway from San José has been cut by multiple landslides since mid-evening Wednesday. Some cars were damaged in one landslide prompted by the rain.

Also hit hard were locations in the northern zone, principally Guatuso, San Carlos, Upala and los Chiles.

The Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transporte closed the main highway, Route 32, from San José due to continuing mud slides. The lesser Route 126 through Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí and Heredia was still open but only for automobiles. Officials warned that the rains had dumped debris on the roads.

The government declared a disaster Thursday and said emergency money would be earmarked for the region.

At least one person, a cattle herder, is reported

missing after he fell into a rain-swollen river. Nearly 500 persons had to be evacuated from their homes, mostly in Matina, Batán and Siquirres.  Some 56 persons were being housed in the Iglesia Cristiana de Naranjal in Sarapiquí, and some 40 persons were in a school in Siquirres, according to the Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias.  Matina near Limón was cut off.

The Río Reventazón near Siquirres damaged a key bridge on Route 32, and passage is being limited for safety. Damage, slides  and flooding was reported nearby.

The Talamanca region to the south also was being hit by the storm, but the region is isolated and damage assessment are difficult to make quickly.

A smaller but also threatening set of low pressure areas is menacing the central and South Pacific coast, although there are no reports of severe damage there. 

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional said a change in the weather would begin gradually today. December is traditionally the wettest month in the Caribbean slope.

A similar storm in May 2002 knocked out bridges and made thousands homeless for a time on the Caribbean slope and northern zone.

The disaster commission maintains a Web site with up-to-date information by region. 

My kind of town: I sing the city eclectic
I recently read a review of a book praising the industrial charms of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The title of Laurie Graham’s book is "Singing the City." If someone can find enough delights in Pittsburgh to fill a book, I figure I can write a column about the things I like about San José. 

Like all cities, San José has many conveniences that just don’t exist in small towns or the country. Cities are where cultural and entertainment centers are located. And San José has the wonderful Teatro Nacional in the heart of the city where one can hear and see our great national orchestra. Also downtown is the Teatro Melico Salazar where even the cheap seats have a good view of the stage. In Los Yoses, not far from downtown, The Centro Cultural is coming into its own with a variety of programs featuring intercultural talent in its Eugene O’Neil Theater at reasonable prices. It also has art exhibits. 

And art is alive and well in the many galleries in the city. If it is museums you want, we have them, too. From the Jade to the Gold to the anthropological/historical Museo Nacional in the Bellavista Fortress that formerly housed soldiers.  All downtown. 

My friends in small towns often lament the lack of variety in their markets. Cities are where you’ll find the greatest variety of food. Whether you are shopping for your own kitchen or wanting to dine out, San José has a good sprinkling of supermarkets where fresh foods from all over the country are available, as well as imports. It is the cities where you will find the greatest choice of dining out possibilities. 

And did I mention that we, in the city, don’t seem to get the brunt of storms that flood the countryside? The streets are well-designed to drain the water quickly (if not for pedestrians who have to jump over the gutters). And when there is a storm or other disruptive occurrence, the city is seldom without electricity for any length of time.

People who live in San Jose often love the very things that tourists find off-putting. In the airport, waiting for my flight back to 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

Costa Rica, I talked with a woman who recently moved here. She lives in Grecia and rarely comes into the city. She said she found it scary and overwhelming. 

I have heard this from other expats and even locals from small towns. They add that it is dirty. Actually it is just different kind of dirt. On the other hand, I am aware of the wonderful energy I feel from the people in the city. There is variety in this city; and in San José one can enjoy an infinite variety of faces. It is the city where foreigners from all over the world first come (unless they are forewarned tourists who make a point to avoid it).

However, there is the complaint that the city is dangerous. I cannot counter this with denial or proof that it is not. Over the years it has become more dangerous, because once most of the crime was petty: pickpockets and unarmed muggers. 

I remember the first murder I read about was of a man who stabbed the thief who was trying to pick his pocket. His defense was that he was infuriated by the thought that someone should try to rob him. 

That was then. Now there are carjackings and kidnappings (not all in the city) and senseless murders added to robberies. But where in the world is it safer? A friend and I were wondering about this. President Bush says it is a safer more peaceful world. Yet the number of places U.S. citizens are told not to go is growing. People seem to be more fearful and more hostile. San José has changed, too. But it is my city, and somehow, the dangers I know are easier to handle than those I don’t. 

I have the feeling that "Singing the City," which was published in 1998, did not contain a paragraph similar to my last one. Alas for me and us.

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Saturday’s treat

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Festival de la Luz parade kicks off Saturday at 8 p.m. and will follow the usual route from Parque La Sabana, east on Paseo Colón and east on Avenida 2 to the Plaza de la Democracia.

For those who want a sneak preview in the daylight, the floats that will comprise a good part of the parade will be parked along the south side of the Parque La Sabana much of Saturday afternoon. 

Paseo Colón will be closed off to traffic by at least 3 p.m.

An estimated 1,300 reserve and full-time Fuerza Pública officers will provide security along the route. Buses from many parts of the Central Valley will use special stops near the parade route for delivery of passengers and pickup after the parade.

The grand marshal of the parade is Costa Rican sculptor Jorge Jiménez Deredia.

Parade officials said that two bands from the United States will participate in the event. They are the band from Mar Vista High School in San Diego, Calif., and the Salvation Army Band of Concord, Calif.

Police are on alert this year due to disturbances caused by young toughs at Christmas celebrations Tuesday on the pedestrian mall downtown.

Shootout results
in arrest of trio

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Three robbery suspects surrendered to police Thursday after a chase and a shootout.

The men are suspects in the holdup of the clothing store, Boutique de Mujeres in Curridabat. Three men took clothing from the store Thursday and then led a police chase to Zapote where the chase ended several blocks from Casa Presidencial.

Police blasted into the suspects’ car and wounded two of the men. One man, said to have outstanding judicial actions for robbery, suffered a bullet wound to the back.

Defensor criticizes
bad stretch of road

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

One section of the Interamerican Highway near San Isidro de el General is so bad that the Defensor de los Habitantes has issued a warning to the agency in charge of the nation’s roads.

The defensor, José Manuel Echandi Meza, said that the stretch of road is so bad that it is causing traffic accidents. He directed his complaints to the Consejo Nacional de Vialidad and urged the agency to speed up work in that area. The ruts in the road are so bad that they cause dangerous bouncing in passenger cars, and the absence of signals increase the risk of injury, the defensor said.

The defensor also criticized the executive branch for not providing the council with funds to fix the road.

Italy restricts use
of reproduction tools

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

ROME, Italy — After years of debate, Italy's center-right government has managed to push through parliament a new restrictive law on reproductive rights. Under the new law, such practices as donating sperm or eggs and surrogate motherhood will be banned. Only established couples will be able to use modern technology to help them have a baby, and only using biological inputs from themselves. 

Members of Italy's government praised the approval of the new legislation, which they say brings an end to what they call "Far West" practices used to help women have babies.

The bill was approved Thursday by a wide margin in the upper house of the Italian parliament, with many opposition deputies joining the ruling coalition in voting in favor of the proposal. Supporters say Italy finally has a law that protects the embryo and guarantees a child's right to know who his or her parents are.

The new legislation is among the most restrictive in Europe, and is believed to be a result of the strong influence the Catholic Church exerts in Italy on issues affecting the family and reproduction. 

Liberals are outraged at what they see as severe restrictions on the rights of women. Critics denounced the new legislation as medieval, and said the move could be a prelude to an effort to make abortion illegal in Italy. Many complained that the bill will force thousands of couples who can afford it to travel abroad to seek treatment, while others who cannot afford to go outside the country will not be able to get the services at all.

The bill allows assisted reproduction only to infertile married couples or those who can provide evidence of living together in a stable manner. Homosexual couples and single women will not be able to have artificial insemination in Italy.

The use of sperm or eggs of a donor are banned as is turning to a surrogate mother. Italy becomes the only country in Europe to have such restrictions.

The bill also bans the freezing of embryos resulting from artificial insemination or their use for research purposes. Doctors will only be able to fertilize and implant up to three embryos at a time. And the new law bans examining an embryo for malformation before it is implanted. 

Jacó worker injured
as tank explodes

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 30-year-old workman suffered serious injuries Thursday when a tank he was soldering exploded in his face.

The Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública identified him as Abimalek Torres Salinas and said the mishap took place in a repair shop in Jacó.

The ministry became involved because its Servicio de Vigilancia Aérea carried the man from Jacó to Aeropuerto Tobías Bolaños in Pavas so he could be taken to Hospital México.

Pilots Juan José Quesada and Gustavo Abarca took only 20 minutes for the flight. The injured man was attended to by paramedic Ricardo Hernández during the flight.

Officials said the man was soldering the tank and the unknown contents exploded.

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Around-the-world team does it to fight Parkinson's
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A fundraising event that will take nine persons some 50,000 kms. (30,000 miles) around the world has hit Costa Rica.

The Drive Around the World participants want to raise $1 million for research into Parkinson’s Disease, according to Justin Mounts, a spokesman for the team.

The nine left San Francisco, Calif.,  Nov. 1 in four nearly new Land Rovers. The auto manufacturer is one of the 25 international companies sponsoring the drive. The participants themselves have kicked in about $10,000 each.

From San José the team continues south to the Osa Peninsula and then on into Panama and into South America. Eventually their vehicles will be shipped from Argentina to Australia and then to Asia.

The event is not a race. The team took 41 days to arrive at San José.   Mounts said that the team visited Nosara on the Nicoya Peninsula and Manual

Antonio in the Central pacific before entering San José.

The team members visited with Kids Saving the Rainforest, the well-known Manual Antonio environmental organization, as part of the trip. The education component also includes a drive-along program for health professionals involved in Parkinson research.

Almost all the team members have a personal association with someone affected by Parkinson’s disease, Mounts said. Michael J. Fox, the television and movie star, may join the drive-along as it nears its end, Mounts said. Fox has announced that he has Parkinson’s.

The team also is seeking individual sponsors who may pledge from $10 to $500,000, as did one individual. The pledges are based on the amount of distance covered. More information is at www.drivearoundtheworld.com.

The participants are looking at about nine months on the road and some 34 countries to traverse.

Tough time ahead for the EU draft constitution
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LONDON, England — Britain's foreign secretary, Jack Straw, acknowledges the European draft constitution will have a tough time passing at the European Union summit in Brussels, which starts today.

Britain remains optimistic that an agreement on the new EU constitution can be reached, but key issues remain to be resolved.

At a briefing here Thursday, Straw said Britain will continue to fight to retain control over its own form of taxation, its judicial system and its foreign and defense policies.

Straw called the wording of the draft constitution absolutely crucial, if Britain is to sign it.

"We aim to achieve our objectives, and if we do, then what we will see is that this convention text, far from establishing any kind of federal super-state of fantasy, will actually help to strengthen the role of nation states," said Straw.

The foreign secretary also reiterated he sees no 

need for a referendum in Britain, if a draft acceptable to the government is agreed.

"What we are talking about here, however, is an amendment to existing treaties, which, as the House of Lords committee themselves have said, an amendment to existing treaties, that is the practice of it, and a consolidation of the existing treaties, which are spread over a number of almost incomprehensible texts, and the net result of this, added all up together, it's House of Lords all party committee, not me, saying this, is that the balance of power is likely to shift from the central union, as it were, to member states," he added. "There is no case for having a referendum."

Asked about a possible veto by Poland, if its voting rights are downgraded, Straw said he feels there is room for negotiation. Poland and Spain want to keep the voting rights they gained three years ago, and Polish President Alexander Kwasniewski said he would veto a draft giving his country less.

Wednesday, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said he would submit a plan to break the deadlock, but he has not yet revealed it.

Bill would give Colombia's military more powers
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — The Colombian Senate has approved a controversial anti-terrorism bill that allows security forces to search homes, detain suspects without warrants and tap telephones. 

The measure is part of President Alvaro Uribe's strategy to defeat the country's armed insurgents and restore state authority to the country's lawless provinces. The bill must still be approved by the nation's Constitutional Court before becoming law. 

The legislation is described as a victory for President Uribe, whose father was killed by Marxist rebels. But Amnesty International says the bill could undermine human rights in Colombia. 

The human rights group says the decision will further contribute to what it says is the Colombian 

military's campaign to intimidate and discredit human rights defenders. 

Amnesty also says giving judicial powers to the military violates international human rights treaties which Colombia has signed. 

Meanwhile, the military said Thursday that soldiers had launched a massive operation against right-wing paramilitary forces in the Puerto Gaitan area south of Bogota. 

Officials say 24 paramilitary fighters were killed and at least 39 others captured during the offensive. Several soldiers were wounded.

Colombia is mired in a long-running civil war involving leftist rebels, rightist paramilitaries and the government. The conflict claims more than three thousand lives each year. 

Adventures in finding that important Form D-175
By John Wood* 
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Articles in the Nov. 10 and 27 issues of A.M. Costa Rica notified us of a new form, D-175, that must be filed by all business owners not later than Dec. 31. Owners who do not file or who file later than the 31st will be fined $185. It seems that the bureaucrats at the National Registry did not properly maintain their records, and many businesses are not listed. El Gobierno needs a complete list so that all can be taxed. 

CPAs should have the form. If not, ask why and why he/she did not inform you about this requirement. Because my S.A. is inactive, I do not have an accountant, but the author of the articles assured me that I could obtain D-175 "at any 
bank." Not true! Banks in my town, Atenas, had none and knew nothing about it. I was told to visit the contadora at the Oficina Municipalidad.

The municipalidad did not have it either. I was told to visit a farmacia. To my eternal joy, the pharmacy did have the form. I then had the temerity to ask where to file it. At the pharmacy? Wrong again! 

The clerk told me to file it in an office on the second floor of another store in town. Having a skeptical nature, I walked to the store to check it out. There was no second floor. The only thing arriba was the roof. Costa Ricans, in case you haven't noticed, prefer to give erroneous information rather than admit that they do not know.

To ensure that the Registro Nacional receives my form before the deadline I will personally deliver it. I have learned not to rely on the Costarricenses for anything, certainly not their punctuality. 

*John Wood, a reader, lives in Atenas. 

Flu spreading extra fast in the U.S. and Europe
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Influenza is spreading in Europe and the United States at an unusually quick pace for so early in the winter season. The prominence of the virus is causing U.S. health officials to look for extra doses of this year's flu vaccine both at home and abroad. 

The U.S. government's disease tracking agency, the Centers for Disease Control says that influenza has hit all 50 states at least sporadically, and is widespread in half of them, nearly twice as many as last week.

In Europe, the World Health Organization reports that flu activity has increased significantly in many nations, both those already hard hit by the virus and several where cases are still low.

The Centers for Disease Control says the U.S. outbreak began unusually early this year and is currently at a level of intensity not normally seen until much later in the winter. It has killed 11 children so far, and some experts predict that the number of deaths this flu season could exceed the annual U.S. average of 36,000. 

"Although we have not nationally crossed that threshold of officially calling it of epidemic proportions, it looks like it's heading in that direction," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government official in charge of infectious disease research.

The caseload is overwhelming U.S. vaccine supplies. The government ordered 83 million doses

from a manufacturer because health officials say no more than 80 million have been necessary in past flu seasons. Now, U.S. Health Secretary Tommy Thompson says the government is rushing another 100,000 doses across the country for adults and plans to have 150,000 new doses for children by January.

"We also will continue to look for other vaccines wherever possible. We're exploring all options for possibly purchasing, as you can well imagine, additional supplies," he said.

The problem is that this year's flu vaccine is imperfect. It does not contain the predominant strain in North America and Europe, the Fujian strain. But because of the genetic similarity among strains, Centers for Disease Control Director Julie Gerberding says the vaccine should offer some protection.

"We don't have scientific evidence to suggest that this year's influenza outbreak is worse than it has been in the past or that the strain is more virulent than strains that we have dealt with before," he said. "It's just simply too early in the course of the outbreak to say for sure how this will compare overall."

Because the flu vaccine is limited in its effectiveness and availability, Dr. Gerberding says people can take other steps to reduce the impact of the virus. These include rest, consumption of liquids, standard non-prescription medications, and anti-viral drugs.

Jo Stuart
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