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These stories were published Thursday, Oct. 30, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 215
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Halloween here prompts warnings and a counter event
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Halloween is becoming more and more of a Costa Rican custom, but officials this year are issuing a special warning that people in disguises may be crooks or worse.

Oct. 31 is the fiesta de brujas here, and some youngsters have adopted the North American custom of putting on costumes and seeking candy from neighbors.  However, Rogelio Ramos, minister of Seguridad Pública, said that everyone should share the job of protecting minors from unscrupulous characters who might take advantage of costumes to commit crimes.

Officials are worried about sexual offense against children and also the use of costumes to gain access to homes or businesses.  On any other day, a masked man would draw police attention.

Walter Navarro, the commander of the Fuerza Pública, urged adults (without costumes) to accompany children who might be seeking candy, and he warned about the possible use of sweets to lure or poison children.

In addition, he noted that sometimes crooks 

distract store operators by getting youthful accomplices to ask for the use of a bathroom. He urged citizens to call 911 when they have the least suspicions.

Navarro also pointed out that household pets, such as dogs, frequently do not recognize children when they are in costume and may attack.

Meanwhile in Aserrí the community is holding a night of traditional masks to counter the creeping Halloween custom. Residents have been doing so since 1996. The event is known as the Día de la Mascarada Tradicional Costarricense. A parade of traditional costumes will leave the town cemetery for the municipal hall about 7 p.m.

This year the event is being dedicated to Rafael Angel Corrales Durán, an artist and mask maker, and José Fabio Ortega, a fireworks expert. Both have contributed to events in the past.

The event Friday night is a warm up for a national gathering a year from now in Aserrí. so the Ministerio de Cultura, Juventud y Deporte is asking the youth of the community to forego vampires, ghosts and monsters in favor of traditional Costa Rican masks.


 
A.M. Costa Rica photo
Christmas is here already at Vanidossa, a furniture and gift store on Avenida Principal near the Plaza de la Democracia in San José. Ana Solano Briceño and others hand made the bows and decorations
Noriega warns Latins
about corruption

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MIAMI, Fla. — The top U.S. diplomat for Latin America says corruption in the region must be curbed or it may threaten any economic benefits arising from the creation of a hemispheric free trade zone. 

Roger Noriega, the assistant U.S. secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs, made the comments at a conference of business leaders here.

Noriega told the group that corruption threatens to undermine the region's governments. He said that moves toward a Free Trade Area of the Americas could be hurt unless those administrations do more to address corruption and mismanagement. 

The U.S. official said that absent the rule of law, corruption, dishonest deals and arbitrary policies will choke off economic growth and undermine confidence in the marketplace. 

Noriega's remarks come as officials in Miami prepare to welcome finance ministers from 34 countries in the region. They will be gathering at the end of November for trade talks aimed at creating the hemispheric zone by 2005.  The planned zone is a top policy priority of the Bush administration. 

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Excessive regulation
rapped in legislature

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica is 103 out of 132 countries in how long it takes to get official approvals, and this is affecting the climate of investment, according to business leaders.

That was the message brought to the Comisión Permanente de Asuntos Económicos Wednesday. The message was delivered by Isabel Araya and Ileana Cruz of the Ministerio de Economía Industria y Comercio.

They were urging passage of a law that would cut down on the approvals needed to set up businesses.

When a company decides to invest in a country it takes into account situations such as the social stability, the politics, the economy and the judiciary as well as the quality of regulation and its transparency, said Ms. Araya. She cited figures from the World Bank that said Costa Rica rates high (63 of 132 countries) in the cost of obtaining official approval. 

It is important to show that Costa Rica has lost ground in relation to its climate of investment and has been overtaken by other countries of the region, she told the committee.

Ms. Cruz said that although there have been efforts made to avoid excessive regulation to obtain permits and set up companies, there still remains changes to make regarding the duplication of functions of the public institutions.

"The problem that many tourist investors face, for example," said Ms. Cruz, "is that they run into many obstacles put up by institutions such as the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transporte, the Secretaría Técnica Ambiental, the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo and the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía"

As an example of the problem that tourist developers face, lawmakers heard about the Hotel Aguila de Oro on the Osa Peninsula. Developers of this project have spent more than two and a half years in discussions just to find out what requirements they have to complete, according to another presenter at the lunch meeting.

Joyce Zürcer, the president of the commission, pointed out that too much regulation leads to corruption.

Administration pushing
new immigration law

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The administration is pushing to get a new law on immigration passed by the Asamblea nacional.

Randall Quirós Bustamante, vice minnister of Gobernación Policía y Seguridad Pública, appeared before a legislative committee Wednesday. He brought a U.N. expert on refugees and a representative of the Minsiterio de Trabajo.

Quirós is the senior member of the administration directly involved in immigration. He supervises the Dirrection General de Migración y Extranjeria.

Quiróos told the Comisión Permanente de Gobierno y Administración that a lot of gaps exist in the present law and that only a complete write-through can solve the problems. He was among the admininstration officials who presented the proposed law to the commission Feb. 19. 
Since then not much has happened and the law has a low priority assigned to it by lawmakers.

The law is very imporatnat to the government and the citizenry in general, Quirós told the committee. He said that the migration flow has increased considerably and the new law would help those who must enforce the rules.

The proposed law would, among other things, eliminate the residency category of rentista, a status that allows many foreigners not of retirement age to settle here legally. The major thrust of the proposed law is migration from Nicaragua and other Latin states, but expats fear that they may face some legal problems if the law is changed. Officials have tried to eliminate those fears.

Water outages hit
southeast communities

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

More than 40,000 residents of the southeast part of the metropolitan district went without tap water Wednesday due to at least three ruptures in the system.

The Instituto de Acueductos y Alcantarillados S.A. still was at work late Wednesday night trying to patch up the breaks.

The first took place Tuesday night in Tirrases, and a second took place in Desamparados Wednesday. Another outage was being repaired in Río Azul in Cartago.

Those affected most were in various sections of Desamparados, Curridabat and Río Azul.

Officials gave little information on the breaks, although some sections got water from tanker trucks.

Time to find out
how much you owe

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

In early December every agency from insurance dealers to supermarkets will begin collecting the fees Costa Ricans must pay to keep their vehicles on the road.

Readers can check out how much they will owe by visiting the Web site of the Instituto Nacional de Seguros. The Web page will search vehicles by plate number. 

This year, too, drivers must show proof that the vehicle has passed mechanical inspection, the dreaded revisión tecnica.

And drivers of luxury cars are being hit with a surcharge as part of the interim fiscal plan to save the country’s financial standing.

Mall to be inaugurated

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Another temple of consumerism will be inaugurated tonight, and high government officials will be there to do the honors.

The location is the Centro Commercial Terra Mall on the Autopista Tres Rios east of San José. Casa Presidencial reports that even President Abel Pacheco will attend.

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RACSA says e-mail problems are not its fault
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Costa Rican Internet service seems to be having e-mail troubles based on reader reports, but the company says other factors are at work.

The service is Radiográfica Costarricense S.A, known as RACSA. An increasing number of persons, including tourism operators, say they sense all is not well with e-mails but they have no real proof.

The company said that any e-mail problems are either the result of full Internet mailboxes or sunspots affecting a few satellite connections.

Several tourism operators, principally on the Nicoya Peninsula, report that they have lost business because their e-mails confirming reservations did not go through.

Internet users asked that their names not be used in news stories because some have been fighting long-term battles with RACSA and fear that publication would negatively affect their service.

A.M. Costa Rica has experienced problems with e-mail and the company estimates that about 10 percent of the outgoing e-mails never get to their destinations. The newspaper sends out a daily news summary to subscribers from a server in the United States. Last week RACSA inexplicably reported that more than 100 e-mail users did not exist. Some of the subscribers who RACSA’s computer said did not exist are known personally to newspaper staffers.

A Nosara hotel operator said she and others in the area have been getting nasty messages from potential customers wanting to know why they have not responded to e-mails. 

"I get notices of e-mails that are undeliverable and

two of them are people I communicate with on a daily business. (i.e. my business partner in the States)," she said.

The woman said she finally made a blanket mailing to everyone on her customer list telling them about the e-mail problems. It was she who reported losing at least two tourist reservations.

Another reader said "Like you, people I have written often were suddenly wondering why I never answered their mail, and worse, I had business clients that I never heard from again.  Mail that bounces is no problem. At least you can re-send it. But mail that simply vanishes is another matter altogether."

Apparently RACSA does not always tell senders when a recipient’s mailbox is too full to accommodate another message. Mario Zaragoza, RACSA spokesman, said that junk mail quickly fills up the e-mail space allocated to customers. 

Zaragoza said that some distant beach communities are part of a satellite relay, and sun spots can interrupt service there. However, the bulk of RACSA lines, including those to Internet hubs in the United States, are fiber optic cables that are not affected by atmospheric conditions. The company uses the Arcos and Maya cables for international contacts.

Although RACSA service has been a topic of discussion for years, the e-mail problems are recent, as are some unexpected server outages in the early morning hours.

The company has been accused in the past of hosting bulk e-mailers. But there have been few recent complaints. However, RACSA like all other Internet operations is receiving a daily flood of unsolicited e-mails pushing health products or porno sites.


 
Women said they were prostitutes out of fear
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

When police busted what it said was a prostitution ring Tuesday, they claimed that the women were forced to work there under threats.

This was a new twist for Costa Rica where many women are willing to work at such jobs for money.

The Unidad de Exploitation Sexual conducted the raid at two points in the metropolitan area. The first was in Paso Ancho where a house was being used by what was described as a massage parlor. This is where the women worked.

Officers, who are under the direction of the Centro de Información of the Fuerza Pública, said they found a quantity of documents there, including material linking the massage parlor with a unit of the Apartmentos Próspero Fernández in Barrio Cuba. That is where two persons, said to be the operators of the prostitution setup, were taken into custody. They were identified as a man with the last name of Castiglioni and a woman with the last name of Batista. He is the owner and she is the administrator, police said.

The investigation took three months during which police linked the location to advertisements that appeared in newspapers. Police also had complaints from women that they worked there only because they were threatened by Castiglioni.

Police said they found job applications, photos and 

Guillermo Solano, Ministerio de Seguridad Pública
A policeman, identity hidden by a ski mask, leaves the Paso Ancho massage parlor during the raid.

accounting information at the apartment. 

Despite the fact that an Italian flag flew at the massage parlor, police said both the persons arrested are Costa Rican.


 
Scary story deadline is today
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Remember those scary stories you heard while clustered around the campfire? And the strange forest sounds that punctuated the shivery tales?

Well let’s pretend your computer is a campfire, and let’s get cranked up for the 2003 annual A.M. Costa Rica Halloween story contest. Send us your fiction and non-fiction tales that are related somehow to Costa Rica. We’ll pick a winner and send the writer $25. The deadline is 5 p.m. today.

And we’ll publish the Halloween stories at the end of the month. We will try to publish as many as we can.

The stories must be original and relate to Costa Rica and also to Halloween, ghosts, specters, witches, goblins or at least a tingly feeling along the spine.

By submitting the stories, the authors give A.M. Costa Rica the non-exclusive right to publish them. Send your story to 

editor@amcostarica.com

Our staff example is HERE!


 
Bush is urged not to veto end of Cuba travel ban
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. lawmakers are urging President George Bush not to make good on his threat to veto legislation containing language that would effectively lift the ban on travel to Cuba by Americans. At issue is a measure that would bar the use of government money to enforce the travel ban. 

The text is contained in House and Senate passed versions of the Transportation and Treasury Departments spending bill. Congressional negotiators must resolve differences in the two bills before final legislation is sent to Bush, who has vowed to veto the measure if it contains the Cuba travel language. 

But many lawmakers, including those in the president's party, argue that the U.S. policy of isolating Cuba has not brought democratic change to the Communist-ruled island nation. Sen. Larry Craig, an Idaho Republican, spoke to reporters Wednesday. "A 40-year policy has demonstrated one thing: it did not work," he said. 

Other lawmakers argue that U.S. funds could be better spent fighting terrorism than cracking down on American tourists in Cuba. 

The agency responsible for enforcing the travel ban is the Office of Foreign Assets Control, which also works to shut down international financial 

terrorist networks, and is seeking more money.

U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican, said "they need more resources to do it. Instead, they are bleeding off between 10 and 20 percent of their resources to station customs agents in Canada to look for Americans with suntans to basically try to figure out who has been to Cuba and who has not." 

Current law allows some travel to Cuba by Americans, particularly scholars and journalists. The Bush administration estimates as many as 200,000 Americans visit Cuba legally each year. But thousands of other Americans travel there illegally, by way of third countries, such as Canada. 

Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota says a majority of Americans favor lifting the travel ban. That, he says, will make it difficult for President Bush, who has yet to veto a bill, to use that veto power on this measure. "I do not believe the President will want to make the veto of an appropriations bill his first veto simply because the House and Senate, on a bipartisan basis, [have] said this travel ban makes no sense any longer," he said. 

But many in the large Cuban-American community in Florida have long pressed the Bush administration to take a tougher approach to the government in Havana, and Florida could be a crucial state for Bush's re-election bid next year. 


 
New oil drilling platform goes deeper in the Gulf
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

There are giants growing in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. They are giant oil drilling platforms set up in deep water areas of the Gulf that were, until recently, inaccessible for exploration and production. The Anadarko Petroleum Corp. expects to double its production once its record-breaking large platform is in place early next year.

At a point in the Gulf waters around 257 kms (160 miles) south of the city of New Orleans next week, construction crews will begin driving the pilings for the Marco Polo platform. The platform will be connected to the sea bed by tendons, in the form of 71 centimeter-diameter pipes (some 28 inches). The distance from the platform to the sea bed will be more than 1,300 meters, a new record for a tendon-based platform. That’s about 4,225 feet.

The Marco Polo platform will be operated by Houston-based Anadarko Petroleum, which already has large operations in more shallow areas of the Gulf. This will be the company's first deep-water venture and it is expected to nearly double its current production of about 60,000 barrels a day.

Mark Pease, vice president of Anadarko's U.S. onshore/offshore operations says this is part of an effort by the industry in general to use new technology to reach oil deposits beyond the more shallow water regions where most rigs operate today.

"We think there is a tremendous amount of potential out there," he said. "The Gulf of Mexico has been a very prolific oil and gas producing basin and this is just extending the Gulf of Mexico. The only reason we were not out there working before was because of the water depths. We have seen the potential for oil and gas prospects for a long time."

The Marco Polo platform will not be owned by Anadarko. It is being built by GulfTerra Energy 

Partners and Cal Dive International, which are also Houston companies. Under the contract agreement, Anadarko will pay them a monthly fee for use of the platform plus a fee based on the amount of production.

The platform has the capacity to handle 120,000 barrels of oil a day, but will only produce about 50,000 barrels a day from the Marco Polo site. Mark Pease says the lease arrangement and the capacity of the platform both favor expansion of Anadarko's operations in the same area of water in the future.

"It let us take our capital that otherwise would have been tied up building a facility and we can take that and explore elsewhere," he said. "The other thing it did was, with that additional capacity there, any other discoveries we make in the area we can bring in to that very easily, which is more efficient, you can bring them into production more quickly."

The total cost of the Marco Polo project is $224 million. Pease says that cost is justified by the size of the deposit discovered at the site. 

He says the same technology being used in the Gulf by Anadarko and other companies is also being used elsewhere in the world and could help greatly expand the amount of petroleum and natural gas on the energy market.

"It depends on what you find and what the actual economics will support, but the deep-water technology, if you will, not just drilling, but the production technology as well, has allowed more access and increased production in a lot of parts of the world, not just in the Gulf of Mexico," he said.

The Marco Polo platform is itself an example of international business cooperation. The massive hull for the platform, which is the size of a 20-story building, was built by the Samsung Corp. in South Korea and hauled in a heavy transport ship to a port near Corpus Christi, Texas. 

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