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These stories were published Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 247
Jo Stuart
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A.M. Costa Rica/Joe Medici
This little guy was at the Rocking J’s hostel in Puerto Viejo.

Look who's dropped in
for a long, slow visit

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A sloth in a tree is almost unidentifiable. Their dark fur and slow movements make them difficult to pick out. When they take to the land, however, they become nothing short of celebrities.

The three-toed sloth can be spotted in trees throughout much of Costa Rica. The little guy above lives in Puerto Viejo. The creatures slowly move from branch to branch in search of food and shelter. Once in a while they come down the trees onto the sand, and instantly tourists flock to them. 

Tourists fall in love with the cute smallish faces, long arms, and gentle movements. They gather around to take pictures, to watch the creatures move and to remark about their Spanish name, perezoso, which can be translated as the lazy bear.

Sloths are generally very cordial about all of the attention. They stick around long enough for tourists to take a few pictures. Sometimes they even let a tourist touch them. And then they slowly make their way back up the tree.

— Joe Medici
Lawmakers fire Solís,
will notify prosecutor

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Asamblea Legislativa fired Alex Solís Fallas from his job as contralor general Monday and then ordered that the investigative file be shared with the nation’s prosecutor, the lawyer’s association and the association of notaries.

The vote, 39 to 12, came after discussions and parliamentary maneuvering by Solís supporters. 

The final motion said that Solís lost his job because he lacked fitness to discharge his duties.

For Solís, it was the end of a six-month ordeal. He was named to the position in June. The contralor general heads the financial watchdog agency that reports to the legislature. The agency reviews every major government contract.

Almost immediately Humberto Arce, a legislator, began questioning actions Solís had taken as a private citizen. The issue centered on signatures Solís had validated in his capacity as notary. He admitted on national television that he signed some of the signatures himself and then applied his notary’s validation.

There were no allegations of fraud. The signatures were those of Solís family members, who are presumed to have known  about the various legal transactions being done.

Politics entered into the mix, too, because Solís is the brother of Ottón Solís, a likely presidential candidate for the Partido Acción Ciudadana.

Notaries have great power in Costa Rica. All notaries are lawyers but not all lawyers are notaries. The Dirección de Notariado will get a copy of the file compiled by lawmakers during a six-month investigation. So will the lawyers’ group, the Colegio de Abogados.

The file contains a report from experts at the Judicial Investigating Organization stating that a number of signatures validated by Solís are false.

Now the legislature has to begin the search for a new contralor.

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Handel’s sacred work
gets three performances

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

This weekend is time for the Messiah.  The Coro Sinfónico Nacional will present the 1741 sacred work by George Frideric Handel Friday, Saturday and Sunday at three places in the Central Valley.

Friday the work will be presented in the Basílica de Santo Domingo de Heredia at 8 p.m. Saturday the chorus and invited singers will be in Cartago for a 7:30  p.m. presentation at the Basílica de Los Angeles.

Sunday, the setting will be the Iglesia de San Miguel de Escazú for an 11:30 a.m. performance.

In addition to the chorus, a chamber orchestra will be involved in the presentation under the direction of Ramiro Ramírez, conductor.

The invited artists include two U.S. citizens.  Tenor Larry Gerber is a professor of voice at Florida State University. Baritone Scott MacLeod is also from Florida where he is a Ph.D. candidate. Soprano María Marta López and mezzo-soprano Raquel Ramírez round out the cast of soloists.

Car inspectors add
extra hours to shift

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Riteve SyC, the vehicle inspection company, says it is getting too much business in the metropolitan area to continue reduced hours.

The company started working from 8 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Dec. 1, but a spokesman said Monday that as of Wednesday four inspection stations in the metropolitan area will revert to a 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. schedule. They are the stations in Heredia, Alajuela, Cartago and San Miguel de Santo Domingo. The fifth station, the one in Alajuelita in south San José,  will be open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The annual marchamo or circulation fee is due on vehicles by Dec. 31. Some 29,000 vehicles still have not been inspected by Riteve, said the spokesman, noting that inspection is required to pay the fee. So the company is anticipating a rush. The rest of the facilities elsewhere in the country will continue with the reduced holiday schedule.

Inspections are by appointment, so employees making the appointments can help motorists unsure of the time of operation.

Passport OK now needs
to have notary stamp

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The U.S. State Department has tightened the rules involving passports for minors under age 14.

Before Nov. 1 a parent who would not be present to apply for a child’s passport had to supply a signed statement giving approval.

Now the State Department wants the statement to be notarized.

"This new requirement is being implemented to enhance the accurate identification of applicants and aid in the prevention of international child abduction and substitution," said the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs in a release.

So if a mother seeks to obtain a passport for a child, she must also bring a notarized statement of approval from the father.

There was no indication if consular officials overseas would accept the acknowledgement of local notaries or if the document must be sworn to in front of a consular notary.

Pinochet faces charges
in ‘Condor’ murders

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

SANTIAGO, Chile — Retired Gen. Augusto Pinochet has been charged with killing and kidnapping opponents during his 17-year military rule and briefly placed under house arrest Monday. 

Pablo Rodriguez Grez, lead lawyer for Pinochet, immediately appealed the house arrest ruling Monday. Hours later an appeals court accepted the defense arguments and suspended the arrest order against Pinochet. A ruling on that appeal is expected in one to two days.

The case is now likely to go before the Chilean Supreme Court for a final ruling.

Judge Juan Guzman charged Pinochet in connection with the murder of one person and the kidnapping of nine others during what was known as "Operation Condor," a plan by a number of South American dictatorships to execute and kidnap hundreds of left-wing activists in the 1970s.

Court documents state that "Operation Condor" was largely organized by the DINA secret police, working under the direct control of Pinochet, then commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

Monday's decision reverses earlier court decisions, both in Chile and Britain, which had determined that a series of minor strokes left the former dictator mentally incapacitated and unable to stand trial.

Judge Guzman, told reporters that Pinochet demonstrated "extraordinary subtlety" and coherent mental capacity during a 2003 interview given to WLDP, Channel 22, a Miami TV station.

British resident murdered

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A British citizen became a murder victim sometime over the weekend.

Police confirmed that they found the body of Thomas Purvis, 44, at his Sabana Sur home Monday after friends reported that he had not kept scheduled appointments.

Little more is known about the death, although investigators are believed to be seeking information on the victim's last hours.

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The icon of Che has large impact on the young in Cuba
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Cuban American author Teresa Doval knows very well what it means to come of age in communist Cuba. 

Her memories of tilling fields of tobacco with her schoolmates in the 1980s to prove their dedication to the revolution inspired her novel, "A Girl Like Che Guevara."  Ms. Doval explores why her generation wanted to be like the Marxist revolutionary and the contradictions that that desire forced most of them to live with. 

Lourdes, 16, the book’s principal character, is a proud revolutionary Cuban, excited about leaving her comfortable home in Havana for a four-month work camp in Pinar del Rio.

"Lourdes starts out very committed to the revolution," explains Ms. Doval. "She is a daughter of a scientific communism professor at the University of Havana."

Ms. Doval says Lourdes is a typical Cuban teenager. She idolizes Che Guevara, the Argentine-born revolutionary who fought to build communism in Cuba. But at the same time, she longs to wear smuggled Jordache jeans, watch American cartoons and eat steak whenever she wants to. Ms. Doval says Lourdes' experience at that summer work camp highlights the contradictions in her life.

"She sees things that don't look right to her," the author explains. "And things that happen between students and teachers are not the things that should happen. She is finally expelled from the camp because she finds out the principal is doing something inappropriate, and she denounces him. So by the end, she was ready to reconsider her values. . . political values and even moral values."

Gregorio Candelrio can relate to that feeling. The 41-year-old Cuban American has been living in Miami since 1993. He says it was hard for him — as for many of his generation — to realize that the ideology they believed in couldn't solve real world problems.

"We started to realize that the system was falling apart," he says. "The socialism or the communism was not what we were told. Nothing was functional. So after the end of the Soviet Union, around 1989, Cuba was left alone. We didn't receive anymore the free supply from the Soviet Union or other communist countries and the 

economy went down. In everybody's eyes the solution was, ‘O.K. Castro is neither going to change nor going to introduce any major reform. So the solution is to get out of the country.’"

But Candelario says he never felt that he didn't want to be like Che.

"That never happened to me, even to this day I still believe that his message is still needed and the world still needs people like him," he says

Like Candelario, Ms. Doval joined her classmates in the daily pledge to be like Che Guevara. Unlike him, she stopped believing that.

"That was a big challenge to live up to the ideas of Che Guevara," she says. "And it was much more difficult later on when many of us realized that we really didn't want to be like Che. We didn't want to go to a foreign country and fight there or die there."

She says today's Cuban teens are facing the same contradictions.

"I mean they still have to say, 'We'll be like Che.' That has not changed," she adds. "We went to High School in the field camp from 45 days to three months depending on the agricultural needs. Now, the entire three years of the high school must be spent in the fields. And students go back only to visit their families twice a month. I think this is unfortunate because this is the time when kids are in a great need for guidance and support of their parents."

Candelario agrees that most Cuban teenagers today need more than a revolutionary.

"In my view, I don't think there are as many people as during my time, that think that Che is that great icon and that they want to be like him," he says. "I think the new generation wants change."

When Ms. Doval immigrated to the United States in 1994, she says she decided to leave Che Guevara behind. To her surprise, she found he didn't leave her. His face is displayed on T-shirts and posters sold around the United States. His journal of his motorcycle trip across South America as a young man has become a critically acclaimed new movie. 

So, 37 years after his death, on clothing, in theaters, and in bookstores, the legend of Che Guevara lives on.

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U.S. officials say that trade talks with Panama go well
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The recently concluded sixth round of U.S.-Panama trade negotiations made important progress toward a free-trade agreement, say two leading negotiators from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

Regina Vargo, assistant U.S. trade representative for the Americas, and Allen Johnson, chief U.S. negotiator for agriculture, briefed reporters via conference call Monday on the status of trade talks between the two countries. Last week when officials from Panama and the United States met in Washington to hammer out the details of a free-trade pact, "we made excellent progress," Ms. Vargo said.

At present, there are "very few text issues left" to resolve, she said, referring to the final wording of the proposed agreement. Vargo cited a wide range of subjects covered by trade negotiators — such as telecommunications, sanitary and phytosanitary issues, financial services, licensing for lawyers and other professional services, and investment issues.

Of course, "some selective issues remain" to be dealt with, mostly relating to unique aspects of the Panama Canal, she said. And while "our discussions on agriculture were constructive, this area still needs more work," Ms. Vargo added. "On most issues, we have some pending proposals."

Johnson said that both countries have "sensitivities" in terms of controlling market access for certain types of agricultural products and commodities such as poultry, pork, beef, dairy, corn and rice. Panama is also sensitive about potatoes and onions, he said, whereas the United States is particularly sensitive about its sugar industry.

Asked about any categories that might be excluded from the trade talks, Johnson said that market access is the goal. "We always start with the attitude that all issues should be included" for discussion, he said. Both sides are trying to reach an equitable arrangement to balance the interests of business sectors in each 

country, he explained: "They're stressing . . . what they want from us, and we're doing the same thing in reverse."

According to Johnson, the United States already allows a high degree of market access, and U.S. officials hope that talks with Panama will help to create more parity in terms of lowering trade barriers. Essentially, "we're trying to get access to markets that already have access to us," he said.

Ms. Vargo expressed optimism that any lingering differences between the two countries would soon be addressed by their respective negotiators. "I think we have good prospects of concluding [trade talks] in the next round, but we'll see," she said. "We have no firm deadline," however, she added.

Pointing to the recent achievements of U.S. and Panamanian trade officials, she said: "We've already concluded discussions on intellectual property rights," as well as labor and environment issues. The question of legal services has also been decided, she said. Under the terms currently being negotiated, "our lawyers would be able to compete in the Panamanian market, with regard to [practicing] international law," she told reporters. As to facilitating other professional services, "we agreed to handle them with temporary licensing," she added.

On the subject of investment disputes, "they've either been resolved, or they're on their way to being resolved, with the companies involved being satisfied with progress" thus far, she said.

Regarding government procurement issues relating to the Panama Canal Authority, Ms. Vargo applauded the manner in which Panamanian officials are administering the Panama Canal. "They're running quite a good and efficient program," she said. "It's a sensitive issue. We don't want any appearance of any U.S. ownership interest in the canal. . . . "

The next round of U.S.-Panama trade talks will take place in Washington the week of Jan. 10, Ms. Vargo said.

Jo Stuart
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