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(506) 223-1327     Published Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 257          E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Tourist bus rolls over and 42 visitors are hurt
By José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff
(Posted at 3:10 p.m.)

A tourist bus rolled over in late morning today between La Fortuna and San Ramón. Some 42 occupants suffered injuries and six were hurt bad enough to be flown to San José.

The bus was contracted to the tourism firm Expediciones Tropicales.

The majority of those hurt were believed to be North Americans. One woman was trapped
inside the bus for more than an hour while rescue workers used mechanical devices to free her. She was believed to be the most seriously hurt.

The passengers were going to a canopy tour location near La Fortuna, which is in north central Costa Rica.

Those victims taken to San José went to Hospital CIMA in Escazú and Hospital México in La Uruca. Both are institutions highly rated for trauma care. No names have been made available.

Culture conspires against trade treaty
The basic question is 'Can Costa Rica compete'

By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

The key to success under the free trade treaty is to be competitive, and for Costa Rica this is the major problem.

Culture and tradition conspire against the citizens to make them sitting economic ducks if the treaty is ratified.

In addition, the average Costa Rican, as has been reported here in the past, has a skewed vision of a legal agreement. They look to take advantage, an impulse that will result in frequent administrative actions under a trade treaty.

An analysis of the news

The industries that are poised to take advantage of the free-trade treaty include many that are foreign owned.  The ideas of competition and of building a better mousetrap are not high priorities here where family connections, life-long friendships and avoidance of confrontation are the route to success.

In addition, the country has a rigid labor tradition, one that penalizes managers for experimenting.

The basic point of a free trade treaty is to encourage nations to do what they do best while purchasing from afar products other nations produce best. Costa Rica's problem is finding what it does best.

Certainly multi-national agribusiness companies can produce pineapples and other delights by the carload, and Intel continues to break records manufacturing computer chips. But these are not Costa Rica companies, for the most part, and the profit does not necessarily flow to the citizens.

Gold deposits here are being exploited by Canadian firms, not Costa Rican consortiums. Tourism has a heavily foreign investment. Pacific coast real estate construction is bankrolled by U.S. or Colombian cash. Large retail chains like Carrion have their corporate roots in Guatemala, Panamá. Honduras or El Salvador.

It is with reason that workers at the Instituto Nacional de Seguros, the insurance monopoly known as INS, or the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, the telecommunications monopoly, fear foreign competition. Has anyone ever really worked late selling insurance in Costa Rica? Probably not, because compensation of public employees at INS is based on the organization of their work and not their production. In other words, pushing papers ranks over sales.

An aggressive insurance company using First-World tactics and advertising could corner the market, because marketing is another skill not exercised well here.

When expat managers get together the talk usually turns to the inability to locate highly motivated local employees. The suspicion is

that the public educational system promotes form over function. But the socialistic Costa Rican state also seems to rob citizens of incentive.

The week-long Christmas vacation and the Semana Santa break at Easter are traditions that erode productivity. Some public offices are closed for two to three weeks at a time. The phones are not even answered. Private merchants are not that generous to employees, but they still must award each a month's pay or alguinado at Christmas whether or not the employee deserves the bonus.

The workplace is highly stacked against the employer. Even high-profile Intel has been trying for years to get a change in the labor code to permit four-day work weeks with 10-hour days. Without a change in the law, the company continues to pay two hours overtime a day.

The idea of a contract seldom is considered a mutually beneficial way to conduct business. As a story a year ago said, Costa Rica is a win-lose society.  This means to win, someone else must lose. Harken Petroleum is seeking indemnification from the country now for canceling its exploratory drilling rights in the Caribbean.

The free trade treaty is an extraordinary complex contract with many facets not yet explicated. Good faith is a necessary ingredient.

For example, will the Costa Rica government give up the lucrative 89 percent import duty on foreign automobiles or simply create another tax or surcharge outside the range of the free trade treaty?

Such attitudes will cause problems for a country that really has only just become a player in the globalized economy. And discussions like this are taking place all over the country as decision-makers wonder "Can we compete?"

And that is why Costa Rica is delaying a decision on ratifying the free trade agreement and may ultimately decide to avoid it.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 257

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A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Agents take away the bike ridden to the bank by Agustin Rafael López Prado moments before the holdup try.

Was the man with bike
one of the criminals?

By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

If you are a bank robber, riding to work on your bicycle probably is not a good idea.

Investigators are trying to figure out if that is what a Nicaraguan man did Tuesday. They wonder if he might not just be someone in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Two men in a car drove up to the Banco de Costa Rica branch on Paseo Colón about 9:15 a.m. A few minutes later they were in conversation with the third man, the one who had biked to the bank and chained up his bicycle outside.

One of the men who came in the car gave a teller a note demanding money and pulled a gun. A bank guard responded by shooting him once in the leg and once in the stomach. The wounded man was identified as José Antonio Ortiz Prado, 35. His companion from the car fled.

But also taken into custody was the bike rider, Agustin Rafael López Prado, 39. Investigators were checking to see if he had any kind of criminal record.

Comisario Walter Navarro Romero, director general of the Fuerza Pública, said that the wounded man went to Hospital San Juan de Dios. He praised the quick response of his men in securing the scene.

Agents unchained the bike and took it away in a pickup.  Agents were puzzled by the identical last names of both men and that they seemed to know each other before the robbery attempt.

Planting trees can deplete
ground water, study says

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and special reports

Planting trees is not always the panacea for the environrment. A U.S. study suggests that tree plantations deplete ground water, increase soil salinity and use up nutrients.

The study looked at growing tree plantations to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to mitigate global warming — so called "carbon sequestration."  The study concluded that this activity could trigger environmental changes that outweigh some of the benefits, a multi-institutional team led by Duke University suggested in a new report.

"We believe that decreased stream flow and changes in soil and water quality are likely as plantations are increasingly grown for biological carbon sequestration," the 10 authors wrote in a paper published Friday in the journal Science.

Tree planting for eventual harvesting and reforestation are major environmental activities in Costa Rica.

Assessing the impact of converting land to trees, the study showed that the larger water demands of growing trees rather than crops or pastures dramatically decreased stream flow within a few years of planting, the authors wrote.

Water use within existing tree plantations of all ages resulted in average stream flow reductions of 38 percent, with losses increasing as the trees aged. Moreover, "13 percent of streams dried up completely for at least one year," the study said.

Overall, about 20 percent more of the water provided by precipitation was removed by current tree farming, the study estimated. Of course such biological activity could also reduce dangerous runoff.

The researchers added that more of these plantations would also release more moisture into a region's atmosphere as tree roots removed water from the soils and discharged some portions as water vapor emanating through leaf pores.

Economic incentives for planting trees are provided under so-called “carbon trading exchanges” encouraged by the Kyoto Protocol and the European Union’s Greenhouse Gas Emission Trading Scheme, the study noted.

More moisture released into the air seemed to be more likely in tropical regions than in temperate zones, the study said, because the sun is stronger and more energy is created to disperse the water.

Trees, by using surface ground water also can help brackish and salty water flow up from subsurface deposits, said the report. “These mechanisms have been linked to more than five-fold increases in groundwater salinization in southern Australia and in the Caspian steppes of Russia,” the study’s authors wrote.

In temperate areas, the use of evergreens which drop needles can increase acidity of soils, said the study.

However, the study noted that tree plantations can lower water tables in areas contaminated by substandard subsurface water.
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 257

Sebastian León Marchena, 6, dances to the music. His mother is Karen Machado Cordero.

Jaquelyn Pérez Alvarez of Los Cuadros de Guadalupe helps recycle beer cans.

The Barva group Los Chapetanos has masks of Abel Pacheco, television personality Mr. Bean and Óscar Arias.

Carnival takes its time to weave through downtown
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Thousands of persons stood and sat through the longest carnival on record Tuesday.

The first contingents of antique automobiles began moving at 1 p.m., and the last marchers passed through the downtown at 8 p.m.

All took place under occasional showers and mostly cloudy skies.

Photos By
José  Pablo Ramiez Vindas

The carnival with its bands, floats and scantily clad young ladies may not be the biggest crowd of all the San José parades but because the line of march covers less distance spectators are packed in.

Avenida 2 was lined with spectators and bleachers from 9:30 a.m. on. Marchers assembled near Parque La Merced and traveled to Plaza Víquez in south San José.

The Cruz Roja had 70 persons mobilized and operated seven aid stations during the carnival. Police

Raquel Pérez Garcia and Yolanda Pérez Vega of the 60-person Alajuelita Imperio del Sabor have participated in the carnival for five years. The feathers of their outfits come from México.

also were very visible with a heavy show of force.
The Cruz Roja emergency personnel took care of six persons even before the parade began, said Eddy Orozco, who was in charge of operations. Later, a 37-year-old woman who is two months pregnant had to be taken to Hospital Calderón Guardia, from the vicinity of the Plaza de la Cultura.

The Cruz Roja said that those treated earlier fell victim to the strong sun, but

Parade watchers, among them Maria Cortez Calvo and Edson and Nathali Rodrígues Céspedez, are entertained by the mascarada Los Chapetanos of Barva de Heredia.
as the skies clouded over there was less need for emergency action. A total of eight persons were treated at the carnival, and three more were treated at the Zapote festival, said the Cruz Roja. Those 11 persons brought to 67 the number treated over the first three days of the festival.

The carnival helps promote the Zapote festival, so it takes place right after Christmas instead of right before the religious period of Lent that leads up to Easter when most other carnivals take place.

The parade is strongly supported by beer distributors and producers of guaro, the uniquely Costa Rican white lightning.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 257

Pothole foils abduction of Cañas restaurant owner
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A big pothole foiled the abduction of the owner of a Cañas Chinese restaurant, investigators said.

They reported that the man received a call for the delivery of food Monday night, and he took the dinner by motorcycle to a place in Barrio Vergel in Cañas.  There he was confronted with kidnappers who tied him up, gagged him and put him in a van.

The idea was to seek some $80,000 in ransom, agents for the Judicial Investigating Organization said.

The criminals fled for the Nicoya Peninsula but three
kilometers (about 1.8 miles) east of the Puente de Amistad over the Río Tempisque the tires on the right side of the van fell into a long pothole and the rear tire blew.

The kidnappers fled from the van and left the restaurant owner tied up inside, He was discovered about 5 a.m. Tuesday when a passer-by called police to report a vehicle abandoned with its doors open.

Agents and police rounded up five suspects at various points in Cañas. They included four Asians and a Costa Rican who was born in Panamá, they said. Agents said kidnappers had reduced their demand to $30,000 by early morning.

Bolaños aide Ernesto Leal dies of pneumonia in a Florida hospital
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Former Nicaraguan foreign minister Ernesto Leal, 60, died Monday of pneumonia in a Miami, Florida, hospital.

Leal had been serving as chief of staff to Nicaraguan President Enrique Bolaños in a position called secretary of the president.

Born in Managua in 1945, Leal was politically active in Nicaraguan politics for four decades. He was also heavily involved in working with the Organization of American States.
Earlier this year, he competed for the post of assistant secretary-general of the OAS, but lost to former Surinamese ambassador Albert Ramdin by five votes.

OAS officials say Leal worked tirelessly for reform of key institutions, including the Central American Parliament and the Central American Court of Justice.

They also say he took part in the 1993 special OAS Mission to Guatemala and Haiti, countries undergoing constitutional crises at the time.

The Nicaraguan government said a memorial service was held Tuesday in Florida.

Leaders of social movements will be invited to inauguration in Bolivia
By the A.M. Costa Rica wires services

LA PAZ, Bolivia — President-elect Evo Morales says he plans to invite leaders of South American social movement groups along with Nobel Prize laureates and heads of state to his Jan. 22 inauguration.

A spokesman for Morales said the future president has sent invitations to the leaders of Brazil's landless movement, Argentina's unemployed workers' groups and several Ecuadorian Indian groups.
Also on the invitation list are Nobel laureates Nelson Mandela of South Africa, Rigoberta Menchu of Guatemala, Adolfo Peerez Esquivel of Argentina and Gabriel Garcia Márquez of Colombia.

Heads of state on the guest list include the presidents of Venezuela, Cuba, Paraguay and Peru.

The spokesman said Morales plans a traditional inauguration ceremony followed by a traditional Indian ritual.

Chile's high court won't drop human rights charges against Pinochet
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

SANTIAGO, Chile — The Supreme Court has again refused to drop human rights charges against former dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

In Santiago Tuesday, the court rejected an appeal made by  Pinochet's lawyers that he is too ill to stand trial. A day earlier, the court rejected similar appeals in other cases against the former dictator, who ruled Chile from 1973 to 1990.

Pinochet is charged in connection with a series of
alleged human rights abuses related to Operation Colombo, in which some 119 political opponents disappeared in the mid-1970s.

He also has been indicted for tax fraud and other crimes related to some $27 million he allegedly hid in foreign banks.

In recent months, Chilean courts have steadily stripped Pinochet of immunity from prosecution on a case-by-case basis.

He has been under house arrest since late November.

Jo Stuart
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