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These stories were published Monday, Dec. 22, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 252
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High court favors one of four residency appeals 
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Association of Residents of Costa Rica has won one of four Sala IV cases it filed because foreigners were being turned down for residency renewals.

Ryan Piercy, general manager of the association of mostly English-speaking foreigners, said that news of the victory came in a brief message Friday before the courts closed for their month-long Christmas holiday.

The case is of an individual who was denied renewal because the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería objected to the way documents in the residency file were authenticated.

Applicants for residency usually have to have their birth certificates and other documents authenticated by a Costa Rican consul in their own country. Lilliana Torres, a lawyer who is on contract with the association, received permission from the Instituto Costarricense de 

Turismo to authenticate the documents with just a notary stamp, Piercy has said.

The tourism institute was the sole arbiter of qualifications for pensionado and rentista residency under the law, Piercy has argued. Ms. Torres obtained a letter from the institute verifying her position. The actual reasons why the court found in favor of the association and its client are not yet known.

If three other cases filed by the association turn out the same way, more than 1,000 foreign residents who hold pensionado or rentista status will not have to get their documents redone, according to Piercy.

In addition to Ms. Torres, other lawyers who are not connected to the residents association also had the same arrangement with the tourism institute. The residents association was told last October that from that date all authentication had to be done by the consuls. But it was not until current residents tried to renew their status that they were turned down.


 
Even the Corte Supreme de Justicia, the nation’s highest judicial body, has a pair of spheres on the front lawn. At least the stones are ornaments that the casual thief will not carry off.
A.M. Costa Rica photo
No lawn is complete without an ancient sphere
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica’s greatest archaeological mystery is also a popular lawn ornament.

The stone spheres found in the southwest section of the country are varying sizes up to eight feet in diameter, and hardly an upscale home would be complete without one.

That upsets archaeologists who complain that the mystery deepens when the spheres are taken out of their natural surroundings. 

The spheres have been associated with ancient astronauts, Atlantis and UFOs. The Internet has been host to a number of theories, mainly because the level of proof needed for an Internet article is much lower. However, even mainstream radio talk shows have touted the spheres as something close to supernatural.

A recent Internet publication claimed the spheres were arranged so that they would resonate broadcast messages for ancient civilizations. Considering that most of the spheres have been moved and their original arrangements are uncertain, this theory lacks experimental support.

The spheres are found at the delta of the Río 

Térraba and on the Isla del Caño. The Museo Nacional is trying to establish a national park in Palmar Norte where the spheres could be returned from upscale San José lawns. A couple of the spheres are in the United States, too, according to an Internet search: One at Harvard’s Peabody Museum and another at the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C.

For a University of Kansas archaeologist, there is little mystery about the stones: "Whatever ‘mystery’ exists has more to do with loss of information due to the destruction of the balls and their archaeological contexts than lost continents, ancient astronauts, or transoceanic voyages," said John Hoopes.

A current exhibit at the Museos del Banco Central under the Plaza de la Cultura shows a stone sphere in association with an ancient burial. But no one knows if the spheres were some form of funeral device or ancient cultures put second-hand spheres into important graves.

Stone can only be dated when an object is in association with something of a known date, and when the spheres were made still is in doubt, although most authorities agree that they were not being made when the Spanish arrived.

 
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Starving dogs rescued
from Heredia kennel

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Dogs that appear to have been left without food for nearly two weeks have been taken from a Heredia kennel and placed in better temporary quarters.

Those who rescued the animals are seeking homes for them.

At least one of the dogs, a Maltese, had to be put to sleep by a veterinarian due to her deteriorated physical state.

As many as 30 dogs, mostly poodles and Maltese, were saved. Those who were involved characterized the kennel as a puppy mill. It was not clear why the operator allowed the animals to experience such poor care. The location was on a finca or farm.

Charlene Fertig, one of the persons involved, said that she personally took four of the dogs into her care. It was she who reported that she had to take one animal to the veterinarian to be put to sleep. She said that dogs were so weak they could not stand up, hair was matted and many animals suffered infections.

Those who would be interested in adopting one of the animals can contact Carlos Chavez at 262-7675.  He was credited with discovering the condition of the animals.

Hanukkah celebrated
until next Saturday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A religious census of Costa Rica estimates that about 1 per cent of the population is Jewish. 

Many of these residents observe their faith and are celebrating Hanukkah, the eight-day commemoration of the rededication of the Temple by the Maccabees after their victory over the Syrians.

This year the holiday runs from sundown last Friday to sundown next Saturday.

Traditionally, another candle is lighted each night in the menorah until on the eighth night nine candles are lighted. The holiday also is celebrated with traditional foods.

Prisoners torch jail
as they depart

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 160 prisoners said good-bye to the Heredia prison Saturday, and a few of their number torched the place on the way out.

The prisoners were being taken to La Reforma prison en San Rafael de Alajuela when the blaze broke out. Some prisoners had stacked up mattresses and other flammable items in several cells, and the blaze burned out of control in the nearly 100-year-old structure.

Two prisoners and at least five guards and officials suffered from smoke inhalation.  Officials will investigate and try to bring charges against those who started the blaze. Damage was extensive.

Bush will attend
Monterrey summit

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The White House says President George Bush will attend the special two-day Summit of the Americas in Monterrey, Mexico that begins on Jan. 12. 

Friday's announcement says Bush considers the summit an opportunity for the hemisphere's democratically-elected leaders to discuss shared interests, strengthening democracy, promoting prosperity and economic development. 

The White House also said President Bush spoke by telephone Thursday with Mexican President Vicente Fox and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. The two leaders congratulated Bush on the recent capture of deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.  The White House said Bush thanked both leaders, and gave special thanks to Uribe for Colombia's continuing fight against terrorism and drug traffickers. 
 

Fusion reactor site
is France or Japan

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C.  — A decision on whether France or Japan will be the site for the world's first large-scale fusion reactor has been delayed until at least February. 

Envoys from the European Union, Russia, China, South Korea, Japan and the United States announced the delay after talks Saturday near here. 

A spokesman said the two competing sites are so excellent, more time is needed to decide. More questions about the sites will be sent to France and Japan at the end of this month. Claudie Haignere, the French minister of research and new technologies, says the $25-billion, 35-year project is an absolute priority for Europe. The stakes are high because the project would create thousands of jobs, government subsidies and prestige.

If successful, the international fusion reactor would mimic the sun by smashing together hydrogen atoms under great heat and pressure to produce energy that would be converted into electricity. Because the hydrogen would be drawn from seawater the electricity supply would be virtually unlimited. 

The proposed site in France is in the town of Cadarache on the Mediterranean coast. The site in Japan is on the northern tip of Honshu, that country's main island. The huge fusion reactor would produce very little radiation, no nuclear waste and no greenhouses gases that are destroying the Earth's protective, high-altitude layer of ozone.
 

European Mars probe
readied for landing

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

European scientists say the British-built Beagle 2 probe has successfully separated from its mother ship, a critical step in its journey toward a Christmas Day landing on Mars. 

The space experts say they are relieved and excited after the Mars Express orbiter sprung the Beagle 2 free for its rendezvous with the Red Planet.

The separation was triggered by 115 commands sent across 250-million kilometers of space to the unmanned orbiter from the European Space Agency mission control center in Darmstadt, Germany.

Beagle 2 is the brainchild of British scientist Colin Pillinger, who sees the mission as a historic opportunity.

"This was definitely a case of seize the moment," he explained, "because Mars is closer to Earth than it has been ever in the last 60,000 years and this was the one opportunity when Europe was going to launch a spacecraft to Mars and far be it for me to find myself in a position years from now and to say, 'I missed it.'"

If all goes as planned, Beagle 2 will land on Mars on Dec. 25, Christmas Day, to begin a six-month search for signs of life in a region once thought to have been a Martian sea.

This is Europe's first mission to another planet. It is being followed by two American mobile landers expected to touch down on Mars in January. 

Louisiana Purchase
was 200 years ago

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

NEW ORLEANS, La.  — French, Spanish and U.S. officials gathered here Saturday to help celebrate the bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase, the land deal that doubled the size of the early United States.

French Ambassador Jean-David Levitte told a crowd gathered for Saturday's event that France and the United States have enjoyed a long history of friendship rooted in democracy. 

In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson bought more than two million square kms. of North American land from Napoleon for only $15 million because France was running short of cash to wage war in Europe. It has been called the greatest land deal in history. 

The Louisiana Purchase included territory running from the mouth of the Mississippi River to what is now the Pacific coast of the northwest United States. The land has been divided into part or all of 15 separate states.

For people here
it’s really chilly

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Central Valley is getting a dose of frio as winds and cool temperatures combine to chill Costa Ricans to the bone.

The weather and the cold are the principal topics of conversation, particularly among Costa Ricans who do not have wind-tight homes. That’s probably most of them.

The rainy season is winding down. Less than two-tenths of an inch of rain fell Saturday and sprinkles rather than downpours dominate.

The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional clocked the strongest wind Sunday at 35 kph, some 21 mph.  Typically the wind was somewhat less and generally from the east.

The temperature is terrific by North American standards: a low of 16.9 degrees Celsius at the weather institute’s Barrio Aranjuez station in San José. That’s a bit more than 62 degrees Fahrenheit, a bearable condition except when the wind is blowing through the living room.

Temperatures were considerably higher on both coasts.

Quepos on the central Pacific coast, for example, had a high of 30 degrees (86 Fahrenheit) and a low of 23 (about 74 degrees Fahrenheit. Limón on the Caribbean had a high of 25 (77 Fahrenheit) and a low of 22 (72). 

The weather institute predicted continued cold air from the north and cloudy conditions for today with a good chance of rain in the northern zone and the Caribbean slope. Even with light rain some rivers are continuing to crest on the Caribbean side, the institute warned. A notice urged residents in high-risk areas to remain on alert.
 
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Colombian rebels promise to finally release tourists
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — Rebels holding five foreign tourists captive since September have promised to release the hostages today or Tuesday. 

The National Liberation Army, the ELN, has told Colombian radio that the hostages will be freed in what it described as a "high risk" environment. A rebel commander also was quoted as saying the ELN has committed itself and will honor its word. 

The development comes more than a week after the ELN said it had suspended plans to free the four Israelis and one Briton by Christmas. The leftist guerrillas cited ongoing military operations in the remote jungle area where the foreigners are being held. 

The hostages were among eight tourists kidnapped Sept. 12 in Colombia's northern Sierra Nevada mountains. One hostage, a Briton, managed to escape. A German and Spaniard were released in late November. 

Meanwhile, the Colombian army's new commander says he will resign, if within a year he does not capture or kill at least one top leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the country's largest rebel group. 

In an interview, Gen. Martin Orlando Carreno said that if U.S. troops managed to find Saddam Hussein in foreign, hostile Iraq, Colombian troops should be able to track down top rebel commanders in their own homeland.  Carreno said capturing or killing top rebel leaders is his number one priority. "If we

can cut off the head, the body falls down," he said. The FARC rebels control wide sections of Colombia's mountains and dense jungles, where they have hidden for nearly 40 years. Under President Alvaro Uribe, the government has started attacking rebel strongholds.

Meanwhile, four Venezuelan national guardsmen have been shot dead by gunmen who ambushed them near the border with Colombia. 

Venezuela says the soldiers were riddled with bullets as they drove a patrol vehicle, and then shot in the head at close range after they were dead. The patrol vehicle was pockmarked with more than 50 bullet holes. 

The deaths brought to seven the number of Venezuelan troops killed in the border region this week. 

Castor Perez, who heads the national guard, says he believes the attacks are revenge by Colombian drug traffickers. Venezuelan troops have seized about 10 tons of drugs in the border area in recent months. 

Venezuela's armed forces also clash frequently with Colombian guerrillas, right-wing paramilitary fighters, and kidnappers who operate along the rugged, 2,200-km. border. 

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has denied Colombian charges that he supports Marxist rebels in Colombia. Chavez counters that Colombia is not doing enough to keep its 40-year civil war from spilling over the border. 


 
Opposition files its petitions under guard in Caracas
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — Guarded by soldiers and police, officials of Venezuela's opposition turned in more than three million pro-referendum signatures to electoral authorities. 

The aim of the referendum would be to cut short the term of President Hugo Chavez, which ends in 2006. Petitions containing the signatures were crammed into more than 250 boxes transported by bus Friday from opposition headquarters in Caracas to the National Electoral Council. 

The number of signatures is far more than the 2.4 million required by the constitution to force a referendum on removing an elected official, in this case, the president, from power. Opposition lawmaker Julio Borges said the Chavez government must respect the will of millions of Venezuelans. 

The signatures must still be validated by the 

electoral council by being cross-referenced against the national electoral register and identification archive. If the council verifies that there are enough valid signatures, it will set a date for the referendum within 97 days. 

According to the constitution, to revoke President Chavez's mandate to rule, votes against him must at least equal the number he received in July, 2000, when he was re-elected for a six-year term. In that election, Mr. Chavez received 3.76 million votes, or backing from 60 percent of the electorate. 

But Venezuela's Supreme Court has ruled that if the number of referendum votes supporting Chavez is more than those opposing him, he will remain in office.

If Chavez loses the referendum vote, new presidential elections must be called within 30 days.


 
 
Blast is latest woe in crime-ridden Argentina
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — An explosion has injured at least 21 persons during a largely peaceful demonstration by thousands of jobless workers here.

The cause of Saturday's blast is unclear. It came at the end of demonstrations by workers who took to the streets to demand jobs. They were also marking the second anniversary of deadly job riots that forced President Fernando de la Rua from office and killed about 30 people. 

At Saturday's demonstration, the unemployed waved flags, beat drums and streamed around the presidential palace. It was the biggest protest since President Nestor Kirchner came to power in May. 

Police Chief Eduardo Proados said he thinks the explosion was probably from a large fireworks device. But he said the final determination will be made by forensics experts.

This month Argentines commemorate the second anniversary of the bloody uprising that ushered in a political and economic crisis from which Argentina is still recovering. 

Since the economic collapse in 2001, the country has experienced record poverty, unemployment and crime. Crime is so rampant many citizens are protesting in the streets to ask for more security. Some say that could become a serious problem for Kirchner. 

On a cool spring evening in Buenos Aires, 60-year-old Susanna Gonzalez and her neighbors hit the street to make their voices heard. 

Ms. Gonzalez and about a hundred others from the wealthy neighborhood of Recoleta staged a pots-and-pans banging protest earlier this month following the murder of a local restaurant owner during a robbery attempt. 

Violent crime and kidnappings in Argentina's capital have become an everyday part of life since the country's economic collapse in 2001. 

Clara Tadossi, 18, lives one block from where the restaurant murder took place. She moved to Buenos Aires earlier this year to start college and says that the constant feeling of insecurity here has been a big shock for her. 

"I'm from the interior of the country and I'm not accustomed to this type of violence, and I'm a little scared, so I want to try to help Argentina change, especially in the neighborhoods," she said.

The city's neighborhoods are where the violence is really taking hold. According to government numbers, the overall crime rate in Buenos Aires city has jumped an exceptional 900 percent in the past decade. But it has been the recent rash of kidnapping cases that have enraged the public. 

During the first half of 2003, six kidnappings per day took place in the greater Buenos Aires area, many involving the relatives of business 

executives, actors or professional athletes, who could afford to pay big ransoms for loved ones. 

"It's very complicated, the situation that we are suffering right now, very complicated," said Diego Canto, a security analyst for Kroll, Inc., a risk consulting company. He says that kidnappings have long plagued other Latin American cities like Bogotá and Sao Paulo, and that Buenos Aires is just now catching up with the rest of the continent. 

"The problem that maybe the Argentineans have is that maybe we cannot consider Argentina like an island in the middle of the ocean… We are a part of a very hot region. For example, you mention a lot of cities . . . Very, very dangerous in Latin America, and Buenos Aires is a part of it," he said.

So much so that security has become a booming business here. Some security firms, like Kroll, have seen business increase three fold in the past year alone. Buenos Aires now boasts at least half a dozen armored car factories and one of its fastest growing career choices is bodyguard. These new developments have clearly put many people in Buenos Aires on edge and altered the normally outgoing ways of some Argentines, such as Patricia Rocca. 

"We can't go out in the streets. All the women are afraid that our purses will be snatched. We can't even use earrings because they'll rip them right off your ears. For me, this isn't a problem with the police, this is a political problem," she said.

A political problem that is threatening to end the honeymoon of Kirchner. He has maintained a high public approval rating during his first six months in office as he purged the country's Supreme Court and armed forces and abolished laws that had protected former military leaders accused of human rights abuses. 

But Kirchner's decision to try and reform the notoriously corrupt provincial police force is causing a power struggle that political analyst Carlos Gervasoni says could eat away at both Kirchner's political power and his popularity. 

"I think this has become politically so relevant because Kirchner is obsessed with current high level of public opinion approval and he knows that security is a threat for that," he said.

Thousands more police officers are now patrolling the streets and President Kirchner's administration has promised to eliminate the corruption that has plagued Argentina for so long. But even with the increased police presence, Susanna Gonzalez does not think that Buenos Aires will ever return to being one of the safest cities in the world. 

"It is terrible, I don't know… I hope everything changes," she said.

Some here have suggested that bringing in experienced law enforcement officials from outside Argentina may help to shake up the system and stem the growing crime wave. One name that has been mentioned many times: former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani.


 
Scientists say that tropical oceans are more salty
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Tropical ocean waters have become dramatically saltier over the past 40 years while oceans closer to Earth's poles have become fresher. These are relatively rapid oceanic changes that scientists say may reflect transformations in the fundamental planetary system that cycles fresh water around the globe.

An international team of scientists funded in part by the National Science Foundation analyzed salinity measurements collected over recent decades along a key region of the Atlantic Ocean, from the tip of Greenland to the tip of South America.

The researchers, whose report was published in the Dec. 18 issue of the journal Nature, observed that surface waters in tropical and subtropical Atlantic Ocean regions have become markedly saltier over the past 40 years. Simultaneously, much of the water column in the high latitudes of the North and South Atlantic has become fresher. 

The scientists take these changes in salinity as an indication that net evaporation rates over the tropical Atlantic have increased by 5 to 10 percent over the past four decades. The trend appears to have accelerated since 1990, when 10 of the 

warmest years since record-keeping began in 1861 have occurred.

The fresh water lost from the low latitudes under this scenario falls back to the oceans at high latitudes, explaining the fresher water in those regions. Considering other recent studies revealing parallel salinity changes in the Mediterranean, Pacific and Indian Oceans, a growing body of evidence suggests that the global hydrologic cycle has revved up in recent decades.

According to the study, an acceleration of Earth's global water cycle can potentially affect worldwide precipitation patterns that govern the distribution, severity and frequency of droughts, floods and storms. Water cycle acceleration would also contribute to global warming by rapidly adding more water vapor, itself a potent, heat-trapping greenhouse gas, to the atmosphere. Further, it could continue to freshen North Atlantic Ocean waters to a point that could disrupt ocean circulation and trigger further climate changes.

The study was conducted by Ruth Curry of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; Bob Dickson of the Centre for Environment, Fisheries, and Aquaculture Science in Lowestoft, U.K.; and Igor Yashayaev of the Bedford Institute of Oceanography in Dartmouth, Canada.


 
Frustrated families still in dark over Lockerbie
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LOCKERBIE, Scotland — On the 15th anniversary of the airline tragedy that claimed 270 lives, British families still want answers to the basic questions behind the country's worst case of mass murder.

On Dec. 21, 1988, Pan Am flight 103 was blown up over this small Scottish town. All 259 people on board the 747 died along with 11 on the ground.

A Libyan, Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, is now in a Scottish prison convicted of being part of the bombing.

But much more about the bombing remains unknown. Pamela Dix, the secretary of the U.K. Families of Flight 103, says this anniversary is deeply bitter for two reasons.

"It is hard enough when something like this happens, a catastrophic event that destroys a family in such a violent way is very hard to describe," she said. "What adds to the distress immeasurably is where relatives are left to try and find out answers to questions for themselves."

Ms. Dix, who lost her brother Peter in the bombing, says she will not rest until the whole truth is known. 

"We could not have anticipated that here, 15 years later, we would still be asking who was responsible for it? Why was it done? What was the motivation behind the bombing? We still do not 

know the answers to those questions," said Ms. Dix.

Pamela Dix and members of her group would like to see a full public inquiry into the matter. But in the years since the tragedy, they have asked three prime ministers for that and still they wait. Ms. Dix believes if people like the current foreign secretary continue to refuse to grant them their wish, then a thorough investigation in another form might be acceptable.

"To date, Jack Straw has said that he is not in favor of an independent inquiry," she said. "So, taking that on board, we would like him to consider what forms of inquiry might be able to work. We have proposed different ideas to them and we would like the government to sit down and work through the ideas and consider what might be realistically achievable."

She says a failure to learn from the past means that more tragedies in the future are inevitable.

"Part of our job is to demonstrate to the government how relevant the issues surrounding Lockerbie still are," explained Ms. Dix. "Following 911, the Bali bombing, we are fully aware that terrorism is alive and well and unfortunately thriving. So the issue in relation to the reasons why Lockerbie happened are still relevant today in the year 2003."

Ms. Dix says although times move on and for many the Lockerbie bombing now is a fading memory, the British families of the victims refuse to forget. 


 
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