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Jo Stuart
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These articles were published Monday, Dec. 17, 2001

The line was long Friday afternoon at the Tempisque Ferry that takes motor traffic over the wide river of the same name to the Nicoya Peninsula.

The solar eclipse attracted a host of travelers because the popular wisdom was that the moon blotting out all but a small circle of the sun would be better seen on the peninsulaís Pacific coast.  But the sky there was obscured by clouds that grew just as the moon nibbled at the sun. Turns out Puntarenas and Liberia were good places to see the eclipse, but not the Nicoya Peninsula. 

But they still had eclipse parties.

A.M. Costa Rica photo

Nosara residents feeling
bad about terrible road

By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

Nosara is one of the crown jewels of Costa Rican tourism, but the folks there were embarrassed Friday. And it wasnít because the eclipse was all clouded over.

The embarrassment stems from the condition of the 15 miles (25 kms.) of allegedly gravel road that connects the town to the nearest hard-surfaced road.

The road is pockmarked with holes, soft spots and nearly impassable small rivers. And this is the road many guests traveled to be on hand for the non-eclipse in Nosara.

The only people happy about the road are those who work at the Servicentro Sámara, a few hundred meters from the junction of the gravel road with the asphalt road that runs from Nicoya to Sámara, another beach town. The service station personnel have been hard at work repairing flat tires (sometimes two at a time), mechanical defects and just plain damage visited on vehicles by the unforgiving road.

The road condition predates the heavy rains that hit the Guanacaste area last week and represents a serious decline since last June when Nosara boasted easy automobile access. The tourist area is made up of a handful of fine beaches on the Nicoya Peninsulaís Pacific coast. 

Jorge Sirias, a Nosara native and businessman, is the secretary of the Association for Local Sustainable Tourist Development (ALDETUS from its initials in Spanish). He also chairs a committee that is trying to get the road fixed.

Town residents have approached the Nicoya office of the Ministry of Public Works and Transport only to find that the gravel road is considered a major highway out of the control of the local office. The route is part of an anticipated beach route.

Plus there is no money, the government representatives said, according to Sirias. And that raises a few hackles, too, because town residents were under the impression that a high percentage of the tax money collected there was supposed to return to the town in the form of public works and education. Nosara became a district in the Canton of Nicoya in 1988, but residents complain they have seen little of the tax money that was promised at the time the town joined Nicoya.

A.M. Costa Rica photo
New signs decorate the corners in Nosara, but that's because government officials tore down non-standard signs and left the area without directions for several months.

"If you visit my house and it is dirty, itís the same with the roads," said Sirias, as he expressed his embarrassment.

The town has several civic associations, and individuals from each have been meeting this week to try to get something accomplished. Sirias knows about good roads because he lived in the United States for year, returning to Nosara only four years ago.

He attributes part of the problem to local and regional politics. And "Everybody in Nosara is so passive and tranquillo," said Sirias. But no more. The Costa Rican residents and the foreigners who run major destination and tourist support services are ready to go as far as contacting high government officials.

They have gone so far as to invest $5,000 in gravel and labor to fix the roads in and around the town and the outlying hotels and homes of foreigners. But to fix the whole road would be prohibitive, plus engineering needs to be done to stem the constant flow of water onto the road.

To estimate the damage visited on vehicles is only part of the loss. Certainly some tourists have turned around at the first giant hog wallow. And word of mouth is the best advertising medium.

A survey can be wrong, too ó It's guaranteed
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The tempest swirling around a political survey about the presidential race is based on a misunderstanding of what constitutes a survey. Such a political pulse-taking has a very definite probability that the survey is incorrect.

The survey hit the streets last Sunday in the Spanish-language newspaper La Nación, and it shocked the Partido Liberation Nacional because it showed the partyís candidate, Rolando Araya Monge, running neck-and-neck with upstart Otton Solís of the Partido Acción Ciudadana for second place, each with about 22 percent of the electorate supporting them. The survey reported that Abel Pacheco of the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana was ahead with 29.5 percent.

The Liberation Party officials took strong aim at Unimer RI, the company here that did the survey for the newspaper. Then the general manager of the public opinion polling firm gave a defensive interview, published Sunday, in La Nación.

The reporter asked the pollster in the interview: "If the elections were to be held today, can you guarantee that the results would be identical to those of the survey?" 

The manager, Dr. Carlos D. Paniagua, went out on a limb to reply in a way unsupported by the statistics. He said: "I can guarantee that it would reflect the same tendency, that is to say first, Abel Pacheco, next Araya and very close behind, Solís."

"Guarantee" is a pretty big word in the survey business. Unimer has published the entire survey methodology and results on the La Nación Web site, and that methodology contradicts the manager.

Analysis of the news

The Web site says: "The sample had a size of 2,412 subjects, that allowed us to work with a level of 
confidence of 95 percent and a maximum error of two percentage points."

The level of confidence means that 95 times out of a hundred, the survey results will be within the two percentage point range. But maybe this is one of those five out of a hundred cases where the survey is just totally incorrect. With survey technology there is a statistical certainty that some surveys will be flat incorrect. A certainty. Thatís why they call it a probability survey.

A census is when you talk to everyone. A probability sample is when you talk to a defined group, in this case 2,412 persons and from their responses you speculate that within a certain range the sentiment you detected in the smaller group is similar to the sentiment held by the public at large. It is unlikely but possible that the pollsters talked to the only people in the country who will vote for Solís. Or Araya. Or Pacheco.

There is no doubt that the Liberation Party has its pollsters at work, too. Their response has been characterized as sour grapes. But there also is a strong possibility that party members have a good idea of what is going on in the electorate as Paniagua. And if the results of Liberation pollsters differs dramatically from that of Unimer, it is no wonder that party officials are irked and feel that the poll results La Nación published were simply a political ploy to promote the Solís candidacy, as unlike as that may seem to those unconnected with party politics here.

Zero tolerance urged against child sex exploiters
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

NEW YORK ó Calling for zero tolerance of the sexual exploitation of children, officials of the U.N. Children's Fund  introduced a major new publication which details the growing international problem affecting millions of children around the world in both developed and developing countries.

"Millions of children throughout the world are being bought and sold like chattel and used as sex slaves. There are few more shocking examples of the violation of children's rights than the exploitation of children sexually," Kul Gautam, the fund deputy executive director, said last week. 

Zero tolerance, Gautam said, "means ending the trafficking of children, their sale and barter, and imprisonment and torture. It means stamping out every horrible facet of the commercial sexual exploitation of children."

The two major ingredients needed to do that are leadership at both the government and local level and education, he said.

"Education can keep children out of exploitation. When children are educated they can help themselves," Gautam said.

In terms of leadership, laws are needed to promote children's well-being and protect them from abuse. The laws must be enforced with tough criminal penalties against abusers and there must be alternatives that enable children and families to live in dignity, U.N. officials say.

"The 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states very clearly that a child has a right to be free from abuse, to receive an education, to play ó all of which are very important," Gautam said.

The report, entitled "Profiting from Abuse," was released in conjunction with the Second World Congress against Commercial Exploitation of Children which is scheduled for Dec. 17 to 20 in Yokohama, Japan. The Childrenís Fund is one of the co-sponsors of the session. The 39-page report provides an in-depth look at commercial sexual exploitation of children and details the scope and toll it takes on societies.

Through testimonials from abused and exploited women and children, the report presents a heartbreaking picture of what happens to boys and girls from Nigeria to Cambodia and from Albania to the Dominican Republic. For example, Michael, who was taken from Albania to beg on the streets of Greece when he was 5 years old, said "I must work to make money for my mother." 15-year-old Srey Kanya was lured away from her Cambodian village with the promise of a good job that pays a high salary in town only to find herself in a brothel in Phnom Penh.

Chidrenís Fund officials said that because the commercial sexual exploitation of children is largely hidden, accurate data is difficult to collect. Nevertheless, the surveys that have been done and the exchange of information among those trying to help exploited children show that there is a serious and growing problem.

"We don't have specific and exact estimates, but we 

know that the sex trade is a multi-billion dollar industry and we know that more than a million children are trafficked every year for the purpose of sexual exploitation . . . It is a huge industry," Gautam said.

"The important thing is not the precise numbers but the magnitude of the problem and the problem seems to be growing," Gautam said, ". . . because paradoxically and ironically of the progress in the area of transport, communication, and the Internet."

Sexual exploitation of children "is not a new phenomenon, but a number of new factors are complicating matters . . . child prostitution, child trafficking, and child pornography," he said. With the availability and use of the Internet now it has become so much easier to publicize and misuse the Internet for child pornography purposes as well as for mail order brides. The Internet also makes communication between gangs and trafficking networks easier.

"That did not exist 10 years ago...it is one of the bad aspects of globalization," Gautam said.

"With increased transportation and communication facilities now it is much easier to traffic children long distances. Whereas earlier much of the trafficking was from one country to the neighboring country, nowadays many, many children are trafficked very long distances," the Fund deputy director said.

"With the spread of HIV/AIDS many people are thinking that younger girls are safer, which, of course, is totally wrong," Gautam said. "In terms of visiting prostitutes, men are seeking younger and younger girls," particularly in Asia and Africa.

Fueling the demand for young girls is ignorance about HIV/AIDS transmission and myths about the curative powers of virginity, Fund officials say. Some exploiters believe that a child is more likely to be "clean" and unable to transmit disease. Whereas, in reality, children are physically more prone to bleeding, infections, and disease and are rarely able to negotiate safe sex.

The Chidrenís Fund estimates that in the Philippines 100,000 children and women are subjected to commercial sexual exploitation, about 400,000 in India, and 100,000 in Taiwan.

In Thailand the commercial sex industry is between 14 and 16 percent of Thailand GNP, the fund said. 

The report also highlights the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, passed by the U.S. Congress in October 2000, as an example of the kind of comprehensive legislation governments need to enact in order to punish traffickers, protect victims and prevent further victimization.

The act dramatically changed the way traffickers and victims are treated and was designed to help federal law enforcement officials track down and prosecute traffickers. 

It provides for punishment of up to life in prison for traffickers, provides shelter for victims, and authorized changes in immigration laws to allow relief from rapid deportation so human trafficking cases can be prosecuted.

Shootout ends with death
of suspect in robbery

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

San Rafael Abajo de Desamparados turned into a battleground Saturday afternoon when two robbers on motorcycles held up a couple riding in an automobile.

The driver of the car pulled out his own pistol, and a shootout ensued. One of the robbers died and the other was wounded, police said.

The dead man was identified by the last name Flores Meléndez. Police said he and an associate took jewlery worth 1 million colons ($2,950). Police identified the motorist who did the shooting as Luis Delgado Angulo, who was riding with his wife when they were intercepted by the two men on motorcycles.

Police found bullets and bullet holes all over the immediate area.

Time to check those numbers
in the big Christmas lottery

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

If you had purchased your lottery ticket near Parque Central in front of the cathedral in downtown San José, you could be rich now. Thatís where the winning ticket in the Christmas Lottery was sold, according to the Junta de Protección Social de San José, the group that runs the lottery.

The winning number was 83 in series 454, and it was drawn in public at the Plaza de la Cultura downtown last night. There are five possible winners to share the top prize of 1 billion colons (nearly $3 million).

The second place winner for 30 million colons (about $88,000) was number 29 in series 990. Third place of 15 million colons (about $44,000) went to number 46 in series 252.

Small plane crashes
in Colombian mountains

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MEDELLIN, Colombia ó A small plane has crashed into the mountains near here, killing all 16 people aboard. 

The Czech-made, two engine Let-410 plane was en route to the western city of Quibdo when it crashed just minutes after take-off Sunday. 

There were two crew members and 14 passengers on board, including three children. Passengers were family members flying to Quibdo to meet their relatives for the Christmas holiday. Officials of the Heliandes Airline that chartered the plane said bad weather was to blame.

Fighting between rebels
leaves 44 persons dead

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Military officials say at least 44 people are dead after days of fighting between leftist rebels and ultra-right paramilitaries in Colombia's northern mountains. 

The army brigade commander in the area, Jaire Ovalle, said on Sunday that 30 members of the leftist rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces and 14 members of the rightist United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia died in clashes in Taraza, northwest of Bogota. 

Reporters said the fighting was over cocaine producing plantations. 

Both the rebels and the paramilitaries use the drug trade to fund their war efforts. Colombia's 37-year civil war has claimed tens of thousands of lives. 

Meanwhile, earlier Sunday, the Colombian government and the country's second-largest rebel group, The National Liberation Army, agreed to hold talks in January that could lead to a truce.

Chileís president fails
to win Senate control

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The latest election results from Chile show President Ricardo Lagos' party in position to hold the Chamber of Deputies, but lose control of the higher Senate.

With more than four-fifths of the votes counted, the president's coalition leads the right-wing opposition, 48 percent to 44 percent. The results represent a gain for the opposition, which garnered only 37 percent of the total vote in 1997.

The government will lose a handful of seats in the lower house but keep its majority. However, it appears the race for the Senate is likely to end in a tie.

President Lagos' coalition had hoped to win enough Senate seats to amend the constitution inherited from the rule of far-right-wing dictator Augusto Pinochet. All 120 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, and 18 of 48 seats in the Senate are being contested.

Although the country's economy is expected to grow 3 percent this year, some analysts believe the business elite is disappointed with the projections, and the public is concerned about the country's almost 10 percent unemployment rate. 

First food shipments
reach Cuba from U.S.

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The first commercial food shipments from the United States to Cuba in almost four decades have arrived in Havana. A container ship carrying 500 tons of frozen chicken worth about $300,000 arrived in Havana Bay around noon local time on Sunday. A second ship carrying 24,000 tons of corn arrived a few hours later.

The shipments represent the first commercial food trade between the two countries since the United States imposed an embargo on the Communist country in 1962.

About $30 million more in wheat, corn, soybeans, rice and chicken are expected to arrive in the coming weeks to help Cuba recover from the devastation caused by Hurricane Michelle.

Last month, the United States offered to provide humanitarian aid to Cuba in response to the devastation. But Havana declined the offer, and instead agreed to buy the food under a year-old law passed by the U.S. Congress that approved the sale of food and agricultural products to Cuba.

U.S. agriculture companies say they hope these shipments will open up trade between the two countries and result in an ongoing relationship. But Cuban-Americans who oppose Fidel Castro's Communist rule are against lifting any sanctions imposed on the island country.

Chavez tells bankers
nationalization possible

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS ó Venezuela's left-leaning president, Hugo Chavez, has threatened to nationalize banks and imprison bankers who refuse to comply with his new economic reforms. 

President Chavez made the warning Saturday during an address to the country's single-house National Assembly, which is controlled by his party. 

The threat comes just days after business and opposition-led labor communities held a one-day nationwide strike to protest Chavez's recent economic reforms. 

Last month, Chavez passed 49 laws by decree under powers given to him by the assembly. He insists the laws are needed to revive the economy and bring social justice to the country's poor. 

Opposition leaders call the new laws unconstitutional. They say the measures violate private property rights and give the government too much power over industry and agriculture.

Prisoners set blazes
that kill about 25

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services 

ASUNCION, PAraguay ó Officials here say rioting prisoners ignited a fire that killed at least 25 inmates and injured about 200 others.

Reports say the uprising started Saturday, after a prison guard and an inmate clashed in the facility in Ciudad del Este, about 300-kilometers east of here.

Authorities say the inmate was shot and killed after he pulled a knife on the guard. Hundreds of inmates began rioting and some set blazes that quickly swept through the prison.

Emergency workers say inmates were killed in their cells by the smoke and fire. Others were severely burned and taken to local hospitals.  Authorities say the fire has been extinguished.

The prison was built to hold 200 people, but reports say it housed more than double that number.

Ciudad del Este is a major trading hub in Paraguay's so-called "triple border" area with Argentina and Brazil.

Security officials have been closely watching the area, known for counterfeiting, smuggling and lawlessness, since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. 

Band of six car thieves
faces blame in robberies

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators said they have busted up a band that stole cars and held up legal and illegal taxi drivers.

The agents said that they had linked the band of six men to robberies of taxi drivers in Aserrí and Desamparados.  The six men were taken into custody by the Judicial Investigating Organization after a probe and surveillance of six and a half months, police said.

Investigators said they were able to recover a number of vehicles and return them to their owners.

Thieves get nearly all

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Thieves in a pickup pulled up to a store on Avenida 8 between calles 1 and 3 Sunday morning about 4:30 a.m. and cleaned the place out of clothes and store fixtures, leaving little but the walls and floor, said police.

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