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These stories were published Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 4
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Inflation rate is in the eye of the beholder
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican financial authorities have reported a 9.87 inflation rate for 2003, but the actual devaluation of the currency has been 10.48 percent.

On Jan, 2, 2003, the buy price of a dollar was 378.39 colons. The same price a week ago was 418.04 colons, a difference of some 39.65 colons.

But that is not the whole story. The colon is pegged to the U.S. dollar. As the dollar goes, so goes the colon. And the dollar went down against other world currencies and gold.

On Jan. 1, 2003, one euro cost $1.05. Seven days ago, the same euro cost $1.28. That’s a plunge of 22 percent.

The plunge in the dollar and the colon is great 
news for tourist operators here who service European visitors and for Costa Rican exporters to European countries. Tico products are cheaper. Tico hotel rooms are cheaper.

The ultimate standard of value still is gold. On Jan. 1, 2003, a Costa Rican with 127,670 colons ($337.40) could buy an ounce. Seven days ago, the same Costa Rican would have had to spend at least 170,173 colons (407.07) for the same one ounce of bullion. That’s a 20.6 increase.

Costa Ricans can expect to see adjustments in prices of foreign products as the rate of exchange catches up with the ticket price.

The 9.87 inflation rate was determined by the Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Censos and included prices of locally and imported  items.

Calypso dispute is being sorted out in court
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The two stockholders of Calypso Tours S.A. can agree on at least one thing; Neither wants to do anything to disrupt the operations of one of Costa Rica’s best known tourist attractions.

But behind the scenes, David Reed, the company’s president, and Garland Baker, the former financial adviser, have traded allegations.

The disagreement came to a head last August when Reed showed up with guards at the company’s offices in the Los Arcadas building adjacent to the Gran Hotel Costa Rica and began moving the operation. The company now is located 400 meters north of Paseo Colón closer to the Escazú home of Reed.

Baker remains in the Las Arcadas building where he continues to run a reservation business, among others.

Reed said Tuesday that he moved to more spacious quarters in a former residence to save money. The house is distinctive because a local artist has painted scenes of the company’s famous 70-foot Catamaran Manta Raya on the exterior walls.

Reed also said that he fired Baker as financial manager that same day because Baker had not provided financial reports for two years, a statement that Baker denies. Baker later showed a reporter extensive paperwork that appeared to be financial reports of that period.

Baker has carried his complaints to the Ministerio Público and issued a faxed bulletin Friday to local business owners and tourist operators warning them that prosecutors are investigating the way Reed took control of the company. Judge Francisco Sánchez Fallas of the Juzgado Penal de San José issued an order Dec. 16 prohibiting Reed from leaving the country. He did this on the strength of Baker’s complaint unbeknownst to Reed.

Both Reed and his wife, Cecelia, are U.S. citizens but also have Costa Rican citizenship. They have run the tour operation for 28 years. Baker has been involved since 1992.

Undisputed is that each man owns 50 percent of the company’s stock.

One result of the judge’s action was that Reed could not board a plane just after Christmas to attend a memorial service in the United States 
for his father who had just died. Baker said he

A.M. Costa Rica photo
David Reed pictured in front of exterior mural of the company’s famous craft.

filed his complaint long before the father died.

Reed has been unable to respond to the criminal complaint or other civil actions because the courts have been closed. However, he and his wife said Tuesday that they would be in court the day judicial employees return to work. However, Reed tends to downplay the complex situation as a "dispute among partners."

Reed, himself, issued a statement Tuesday in which he said that Baker’s earlier fax was issued to cause damage to the company and to blacken his name and reputation. He said he was confident that justice would prevail and that Baker, not him, would face legal sanctions.

Thousands of residents and tourists have taken trips set up by Calypso, including voyages on the Manta Ray to Isla Tortuga and Punta Coral. A.M. Costa Rica reported on one such trip in December 2002, HERE! 

 
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Morning quake rattles most of country
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
posted at noon Wednesday, Jan. 7

A 5.0-magnitude earthquake hit northern Panamá early Wednesday, and the shock was felt in nearly all of Costa Rica.

The Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica placed the epicenter at 2 kms. west of Puerto Armuelles, Panamá, close to the place where a stronger Christmas morning quake was centered.

No damage was reported. The early morning quake Christmas killed two persons and damaged at least 70 homes across the border in Costa Rica.

The quake hit at 4:42 a.m., said the observatory. As with the Christmas quake, the source was a local fracture, a report said. The observatory said the quake took place at a depth of 20 kms., some 12 miles.

Sources in Panamá said the quake was slightly stronger.

The area has been hard hit by earthquakes, and the Christmas quake that hit at 1:14 a.m. generated more than 100 aftershocks.

One Desamparados resident said she was awakened by the quake, which she described as of long duration.


 
 
Courts are available
for plate recovery

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

If a motorist failed to pay the annual circulation fee, the marchamo, chances are that the Policía de Tránsito flagged down the car in one of the many New Year’s roadblocks. 

To get the motorist’s attention, transit officers usually confiscate the license plates.

The judiciary announced Tuesday that motorists who got caught will not have to wait until next week to pay up and recover their license plates.

The Juzgado de Tránsito de San José is in session this week in the vicinity of Santa Teresita Church in Barrio Escalante, according to a spokesperson for the Poder Judcial.

The Consejo Superior del Poder Judicial anticipated the problem caused by the lengthy vacation of court personnel and authorized the traffic court to work this week in a decision made Oct. 24, said the spokesperson.

Motorists in other parts of the country should find similar service in principal cities. Of course they have to pay their marchamo fees first and be prepared to pay a fine to recover the license plates.

Meanwhile, the transit police are going around with red faces. Officials there have admitted that some 102 vehicles of the 155-vehicle fleet have not paid marchamo fees. So these vehicles are grounded until officials pay up.
 

Brazil’s entry rules
target U.S. citizens

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

U.S. citizens trying to enter and leave Brazil via the Rio de Janeiro international airport have been subjected to delays of up to nine hours.

That’s because Brazil instituted a traveler fingerprint program when the United States did the same thing. While U.S. officials are using electronic imaging to capture the swirls on left and right index fingers, Brazilian immigration officials are taking copies of all 10 fingers in ink.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher stopped short of calling the Brazilian program "sour grapes" in his daily press briefing Tuesday, but he was critical:

"I would leave it to them to describe why they're doing it, whether it's punishment or reciprocity or what. What we have seen is a program that was quickly instituted, not well prepared and which results in significant delays, which are not in the interest of the United States, of American travelers, or, frankly, in the interests of Brazil, in terms of attracting business and tourism."

Meanwhile, the State Department released a news bulletin titled: "New U.S. Entry Procedures Enhance Security, Preserve Welcoming Spirit."

Although the U.S. fingerprint program is supposed to target terrorists, the first handful of persons nabbed by it were wanted on non-terrorism charges, officials said Monday.

In the U.S. program, foreign travelers from most countries are photographed digitally as well as fingerprinted. The identification information is especially useful in screening travelers with the same names and similar biographical data as known and suspected terrorists and criminals, U.S. officials say. 

The U.S. program applies to all visitors with nonimmigrant visas between the ages of 14 and 79, with exceptions for specific classes of diplomats and some other officials. U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents do not need to provide prints. Citizens of the 27 visa waiver countries who visit for 90 days or less also are exempted.

The United States will soon institute an exit system on a trial basis at several airports to obtain information on foreigners as they leave the country. Eventually this program will be expanded nationwide.

Meanwhile, in Washington, Boucher said that the United States spent more than a year setting up the system and that a foreign traveler only needs to spend an extra 15 seconds to provide fingerprints.
 

Pacheco off to summit
then to Guatemala

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Abel Pacheco will be among the heads of state attending the Summit of the Americas in Monterrey, México, Jan. 12 and 13.

Pacheco will leave Sunday with Roberto Tovar Faja, the foreign minister, for the trip. Afterwards, the pair will visit Guatemala for the inauguration of Oscar Berger, the new president there.

Miguel Angel Rodríguez, the former president, also will be part of the delegation. He will be continuing his campaign to be secretary general of the Organization of American States.

Gunmen spring convicts
at Mexican prison

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MEXICO CITY, México — Gunmen dressed in military fatigues have stormed a prison in western Mexico, freeing about 25 inmates. Mexican officials say at least one inmate was killed as he tried to escape. 

A government spokeswoman Lorena Cortes says about 40 or 50 gunmen dressed in paramilitary uniforms burst into the Apatzingan prison Monday.  She says the raid may have been aimed at freeing a man jailed in November on suspicion of kidnapping and murder. 

Several of the freed inmates are members of one of Mexico's most violent drug cartels, the Gulf cartel. 
 

O-negative blood sought

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A journalist, Doris González, is asking for persons with O-negative blood to donate a pint to help her father.

The man is in the hospital de Puntarenas, and his name is Valdemar González Cruz. Persons who donate should ask that the donation be in his name. The Banco de Sangre de San José, the local block bank, is accepting donations at its Zapote location.  The telephone number there is 283-7321 from 1 to 3 p.m. weekdays.

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A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.


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Bush plans immigrant worker program for illegals
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President George Bush is preparing to announce a new immigration program that could have an impact on millions of immigrants now in the United States illegally. 

The president will announce a new temporary worker program. The goal is to match up people from other countries looking for work with U.S. employers who can not find Americans to fill available jobs.

The millions of illegal immigrants who are already in the United States will be eligible for the program. But senior administration officials stress the president is not proposing an amnesty for those who came to America illegally.

These officials say participants in the temporary worker program will not automatically receive permanent residency status. They will simply be able to work in the United States for a certain period of time before returning to their homes. 

Many details of the proposal must still be worked out with the U.S. Congress, where there is significant opposition to any effort that seems to reward illegal immigrants.

Anticipating a possible tough sell in the legislature, the White House is framing the president's initiative as an economic measure, one that will 

help employers fill vacant low-level jobs. Officials also note that illegal immigrants who become temporary legal workers will be paying taxes, and contributing to the nation's economic growth.

No one is sure exactly how many illegal immigrants are in the United States at the moment, though most estimates are in the eight to 10 million range. Officials involved in drafting the president's proposal say there is room for all of them in the temporary worker program if enough jobs become available.

They say workers who participate in the program are not precluded from applying for permanent residency or a green card. But these officials make clear participants will have no advantage over would-be immigrants applying from abroad. 

Mexico has been pushing hard for the United States to adopt some sort of temporary worker program, and the announcement from the White House comes just days before President Bush meets with Mexican President Vicente Fox. They will confer on the sidelines of a regional summit in the Mexican city of Monterrey next week.

The announcement should help repair relations with Mexico that were strained by the war in Iraq and other matters. The temporary worker program is also likely to be welcomed by Hispanic voters who could play an important role in this year's presidential election in the United States. 


 
 
Surprise! Experts say trafficking based on demand
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

GENEVA, Switzerland — Research announced by the International Organization for Migration said that demands of the marketplace are a factor in causing human trafficking. Conducted by two British researchers in selected nations of Europe and Asia, the study suggests that the unregulated labor conditions of sex workers and domestic workers, and the abundant supply of such workers are factors behind the exploitation of migrants.

In the sex industry, for example, poor regulation and stigmatization could lead to an increase of abusive labor practices, said organization spokesperson Niurka Pineiro in a press briefing here Tuesday. "In this sense, growing consumer demand is undoubtedly one of the factors" that drives forced labor in the sex industry, he said. 

Racism, xenophobia and prejudice against foreign workers were also cited as important factors in fueling trafficking in illegal labor. "The racially/ethnically different worker is not perceived as an equal human being and so can be used and abused in ways that would be impossible in respect to workers of the same race/ethnicity," Pineiro said. 

Clients of sex workers in Denmark, Thailand, India and Italy were interviewed for the research, as were employers of domestic workers in Sweden, Thailand, India and Italy. 

The organization is intergovernmental and has 103 members "committed to the principle that humane and orderly migration benefits migrants and society," according to its mission statement. The United States is among the founding members. 


 
New longline fishing system will spare more turtles
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

U.S. government scientists, representatives from the fishing industry and environmental organizations are issuing a joint endorsement of newly developed fishing methods that are expected to better protect endangered sea turtles ensnared by commercial fishers. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced the new development Monday.

Administration fishery experts conducted three years of tests on the new methods and equipment with cooperation from the fishing industry. The methods can result in a 90 percent reduction in the numbers of turtles snared by hooks, according to the release. 

The leatherback and the loggerhead turtles are especially large varieties of the turtle family and both are considered endangered species under U.S. law. The United States prohibited U.S.-registered boats from fishing in certain Atlantic waters several years ago to prevent the incidental snare of the creatures, but foreign-registered boats continue to fish those waters off Newfoundland. 

In issuing the results of the equipment test, 

Administration Fisheries Director William Hogarth urged other nations' fleets to adopt the new methods also, calling them "a viable solution for meeting everyone's objectives."

The World Wildlife Fund endorsed the efforts and the Bluewater Fisherman's Association, which worked with the administration in testing.

"We are joining NOAA and Blue Water to advance these methods internationally so that we can not only stop unnecessary killing of these endangered animals but provide economic incentives for fishermen in the process," said Wildlife Fund fisheries expert Scott Burns. 

Longline fishing is a method using a heavy line that can be kilometers long and is strung with a series of baited hooks. The new methods call for a change to a different type of hook to which the large turtles are less vulnerable and less likely to swallow. NOAA and Bluewater have also developed new de-hooking and release techniques to increase survival rates of turtles that are ensnared. 

Further details about the tests of the experimental fishing methods are available at http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/mediacenter/turtles/


 
 
Mad cow animal came from Canada, tests show
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Department of Agriculture says genetic tests confirm that a Washington State dairy cow infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy or mad cow disease originated in Canada.

"We now have DNA evidence that allows us to verify with a high degree of certainty," the birthplace of the BSE-infected cow, Chief Veterinarian Ron DeHaven of the department said during a Tuesday telephone press conference.

Independent tests in Canada concurred with the U.S. results, Brian Evans of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency said during the teleconference.

The Canadian tests "fully complement and reflect those returned from the U.S. laboratory," Evans said.

The Agriculture Department began tracing the origin of the cow in late December after tests confirmed that the animal carried the first known case of mad cow disease in the United States. U.S. officials at the time said they believed the dairy cow had been born in Canada in 1997 and exported to the United States in 2001, but lacked definitive proof.

The DNA tests on the cow, on one of its calves and on semen from the cow's sire, as well as import 

records showing that the cow came from a farm in Alberta, make officials "confident in the accuracy of this traceback," DeHaven said.

Mad Cow disease is a brain-wasting disease that is believed to spread through cattle feed that contains brain or spinal cord tissue from other infected animals. Both Canada and the United States banned the use of ruminant material in cattle feed in 1997. The disease-positive cow was born months before the ban entered into force, making contaminated feed a possible source of infection.

U.S. officials banned imports of cattle from Canada in May 2003 when that country's first and only known case of mad cow disease surfaced in Alberta.

No links have been found between the two cases, but Evans said investigators would focus on possible common sources of feed. "We have not at this point got sufficient evidence to make any definitive feed link between the two farms" from which the infected cows emerged, Evans said.

Evans and DeHaven said the investigation of the U.S. cow would continue with both the United States and Canada tracking all animals related to the infected animal and examining common feed sources. Evans said cooperation "continues to be exemplary" and is based on the understanding that food safety is a hemispheric issue.

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