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These stories were published Friday, Jan. 9, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 6
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IMF warning on U.S. economy troubling news
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and wire service reports

Expats here who rely on a North American pension or businessmen who sell to the north have had some troubling economic news this week.

The news also is a concern for debt-strapped Costa Rica which may soon be faced with jumps in interest rates on external debt. The country already pays half its annual budget for interest.

The International Monetary Fund warned Wednesday that the $500 billion U.S. fiscal deficit combined with a $135 billion trade deficit could undermine the world economic recovery by pushing the dollar lower and interest rates higher. The fund is better known for making pronouncements on the struggling economies of Third-World nations.

Specifically, the fund said sustained U.S. government budget deficits may eventually lead to a sharp drop in the value of the dollar and higher interest rates both in the United States and abroad, thus crowding out private investment. In addition, the Monetary Fund said, those deficits will make impossible the planned reduction of federal debt, thus aggravating the burden put on the public pension system and health care programs by an aging population.

A lower U.S. currency also would reduce the value of expats’ dollar-denominated pensions, savings and investments. Plus, the Costa Rican colon is pegged to the dollar.

The U.S. Treasury Department Thursday rejected the Monetary Fund warning and called the report breathless hyperbole. U.S. Treasury 
Secretary John Snow, acknowledged Wednesday

that the growing fiscal deficit is a problem. But he promised to cut the deficit by half within five years. Snow outlined several reasons why the deficit is higher than anticipated. 

"The war in Iraq: It is a one-time thing. But it had to be dealt with. Afghanistan had to be dealt with," he said. "But they created a bulge in  spending. And then we had the tax reductions." 

The International Monetary Fund has for a long time been worried about the burgeoning U.S. trade deficit. Its concern about the U.S. fiscal deficit is more recent, as the United States went from having a budget surplus in 2000 to having a very large deficit just three years later. 

Alex Beuzelin, a currency specialist in Washington for Ruesch International says the downward adjustment in the exchange rate of the dollar is a useful way to bring down the U.S. trade deficit. A cheaper dollar makes U.S. exports cheaper and imports more expensive. But Beuzelin says a more expensive yen and euro will cause problems for Japan and Europe. 

"As the dollar weakens and their currencies strengthen, this could undermine their recovery prospects and, of course, that would diminish the outlook for overall global economic growth," he said. "In addition, when you've got a record high current account deficit and a record budget deficit, down the road this could put upwards pressure on U.S. interest rates." In other words, inflation.

The dollar registered significant gains against other major currencies from 1995 to 2001. It has now given up most of those gains and is at an 11-year low against the British pound, a record low against the euro, and a seven-year low against the Swiss franc. 


There really are attractions outside San José
It is difficult for me to admit, but not everybody who decides to move to Costa Rica wants to live in San José. There are many happy expats in outlying towns and even places quite far from the Central Valley. And when readers write to me asking about life near the beach or in some mountain town, I haven’t a clue. 

I know something about the suburbs of San José, like Escazú (gorgeous mountain locations, terrible roads), Pavas and Rohrmoser (warmer and less breezy than San José and without the eclectic energy of San José) and Moravia, where friends live and love it. But those are suburbs, close to the amenities of San José. 

I am curious about what it is like to live in Atenas or Grecia, or a beach town or "up north or on the Atlantic. So I am inviting readers in Costa Rica to write me about their life outside of San Jose. Tell us what day-to-day living is like, where you shop, what pastimes you enjoy and the schools and other public facilities available, your relationship with your neighbors. To begin with, I asked my friend Sandy Shaw what it is like living in Tilaran, and this is what Sandy has to say:

"People in San José wonder how I can live so far away from the cultural heartbeat of Costa Rica. "Tilarán is almost in Nicaragua!" they wail. And they don’t visit often either. The four-hour bus ride is daunting, and in a car, the InterAmerican Highway, with its potholes and elephant trains of buses and trucks, is flat-out dangerous. The schools are under-equipped, the shopping is limited, Internet connections are antediluvian and, while there’s a substantial foreign community around the lake, the cultural events are mostly pleasing to horse- and cattlemen. For art galleries, theater, music (other than marimbas), fun stores and medical specialists, to San José we go. And not often.

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart
jostuart@racsa.co.cr

"So what’s the attraction of Lake Arenal? It’s one of the most beautiful places on the planet. We live alongside a jungly gorge, deeply green and mysterious, and filled in their seasons with toucans, oropéndulas, jewel-like hummingbirds, chattering parrots. Howler monkeys roar everybody awake precisely at dawn. The white-tailed deer sneak out of the woods at night to drink at the water trough. Once two baby armadillos scooted out of the woods to frolic on the grass and brushed right up against my husband’s legs. The sloths travel back and forth on the telephone line along the road, moving laboriously hand-over-hand, upside down.

"And we have "weather,"  wind and rain sometimes severe enough to make for landslides and service outages.

"If all this naturaleza doesn’t strike you as magical, then the country life in Costa Rica is probably not for you. I don’t think my dear friend Jo Stuart could stand it. But if you want to connect to what’s left of our beautiful natural world, then, welcome."

Well, thank you, Sandy. It sounds wonderful for the deer, but can YOU drink the water? Even though I have hummingbirds that visit my balcony, I would like to visit you and your zoo one day soon. However, given my penchant for landing in the hospital, I guess I’d better stay in San José.

Tell Jo about your town: 
jostuart@racsa.co.cr

 
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Bandits raid hotel,
but police get pair

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Three men held up an Alajuela hotel late Wednesday and escaped with the office safe that contains money and guest valuables, according to the Fuerza Pública.

Less than 90 minutes later, police in San José spotted what they thought was the getaway car, gave chase and captured two men and recovered the safe.

According to the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública, three armed men in ski masks entered the hotel before midnight Wednesday and tied up those they found there. The safe contained 6 million colons (some $14,300), about $2,700 in cash and guest belongings, the ministry said.

Someone at the hotel managed to get a look at the license plate of the getaway car, so police all over the Central Valley were alerted, according to Eduardo Guzmán, chief of the Policía Metropolitana of the Fuerza Pública. Officers correctly guessed that the robbers would be headed for San José.

Just before 1 a.m. Thursday, a police patrol saw the vehicle on Avenida 10 and gave chase, eventually capturing two men, one a Costa Rican with the last names of Reyes Espinoza and the other a Nicaraguan with the last names of Vargas Vega, said police.

Inside the car officers said they found ski masks, gloves, a firearm and the small safe. The case has been turned over to the Judicial Investigating Organization.

The Hotel Pura Vida is popular with tourists because it is convenient to Juan Santamaría International Airport.

Former U.S. official
to keynote for Unity

Dr. Robert Muller, former U.N. assistant secretary-general and co-founder of the U.N. University for Peace, will kick off the Season for Nonviolence Sunday, Jan. 18, at Unity-Costa Rica at 10 a.m. 

Muller’s subject will be "Creating a World of Nonviolence." Douglas Gillies, author of Muller’s 
Dr. Robert Muller
biography, "Prophet the Hatmaker’s Son" will be present for a book signing. 

The morning presentation is open to the public on a donation basis. Unity is in Piedades de Santa Ana.

A Season for Nonviolence, Jan. 30-April 4, is an educational grassroots campaign, endorsed by the U.N., that demonstrates nonviolent principles are a powerful  way to heal and 

empower  lives and communities, said Unity. Inspired by the 50th and 30th memorial anniversaries of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., this international event honors their vision for a nonviolent world, said a unity release. 

The campaign encourages each person to move the world toward peace through their daily nonviolent choices and to build communities that honor the dignity of every human being, Unity said. 

Unity-Costa Rica initiated the Season for Nonviolence in Costa Rica in 1998, which resulted in the government sponsoring it each year. This year, Unity-Costa Rica has invited Muller, whom they characterize as a renowned peacemaker. 

Muller, born in Belgium in 1923 and raised in the Alsace-Lorraine region in France, experienced constant political and cultural turmoil during his youth. His grandparents had five successive nationalities (French, German, French, German, French) without leaving their village as a result of three wars (1870-1871, 1914-1918, 1939-1945). 

Muller knew the horrors of World War II, of being a refugee, of Nazi occupation and imprisonment. He was a member of the French Resistance. After the war he returned home and earned a doctorate of law from the University of Strasbourg. In 1947 he entered and won an essay contest on how to govern the world, the prize of which was an internship at the newly created United Nations.

Muller devoted the next 40 years of his life behind the scenes at the United Nations focusing his energies on world peace and a better world. He rose through the ranks at the U.N. to assistant secretary-general. He has been called the "Philosopher" and "Prophet of Hope" of the United Nations. 

From his vantage point as a top-level global statesman, he has seen a strong connection between spirituality and the political/cultural scene. He is the co-founder of the U.N. University for Peace in Ciudad Colón where he lives half time.

Unity-Costa is in Quizur, 350 meters south of the Restaurant Shang Hai in Piedades de Santa Ana. Call 203-4411 for further information. E-mail: info@unitycostarica.org

Delta adds flight
to Liberia schedule

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Delta Air Lines says that it will add an additional flight each week between Atlanta, Ga., and the Daniel Oduber international Airport near Liberia.

The company said it was doing this because of the success of its current five weekly round-trip flights. The new flight will begin April 4, the company said.

The aircraft will be a Boeing 737 with 146 seats, it said.

"We are the first airline to offer during the whole year service to Liberia and this route has been one of the most successful in Latin America," said Leopoldo Hernández, manager of Costa Rican sales for Delta Air Lines.

Child’s death suspicious,
and pair are suspects

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A stepfather and a mother are suspects after an autopsy showed that a 2-year-old baby had suffered many injuries.

The baby, Omar Ramírez López, died Tuesday in Quebradilla de Cartago. The inital cause was given as a head injury due to a fall from a bed, but an  autopy showed that the child had a lacerated liver and fractures, suggesting that the child was subjected to continual aggression, said a spokesperson for the Poder Judicial.

The mother with the last name of Ramírez and the stepfather who has the last name of Céspedes were the subject of a court hearing Thursday in the Juzgado Penal de Cartago at which a prosecutor sought preventative detention, according to the spokesperson. No outcome of the hearing was available. 

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U.S. Plan Colombia criticized as too many guns
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

One week before President Bush heads to Mexico for a two-day Summit of the Americas, a Washington public policy group is calling for an overhaul of U.S. positions towards the Andean region, especially Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia.

In a report titled Andes 2020, the Council on Foreign Relations says, despite significant expenditures, U.S. initiatives in the Andean region have failed to boost prosperity, increase security or significantly reduce narcotics production. 

"There is serious political instability in the Andean region. In our opinion, it is the most significant security crisis in the Western Hemisphere," said John Heimann, co-chairman of the commission that issued the report. "Net export of cocaine from the region has been essentially unchanged since the year 2000. Per capita real income has not increased one bit. There are some 67 million people who live below their nation's poverty line. What is needed is a new U.S. strategy [for the region]." 

In 1999, the United States launched "Plan Colombia," which was designed to promote economic growth, strengthen the country's democratic institutions, step up the drug war and promote the country's peace process. Under the plan, Colombia became a major recipient of U.S. foreign assistance, with aid growing to more than $300 million a year. 

Has the money been well-spent? According to Andes 2020 commission co-chairman Daniel Christman, U.S. assistance to the Andean region in general, and Colombia in particular, has been heavy on military aid and light on economic help. Christman used the economic analogy of "guns and butter" - with butter referring to non-military U.S. assistance. 

"With respect to Colombia, since the year 2000, the ratio of guns-to-butter assistance is four to one," he said. "For the region as a whole it is two to one. It is predominantly a 'guns' approach." 

The commission, which includes a variety of academics and corporate representatives, has several recommendations. First, it says the United States should abandon a country-by-country approach to the Andean region, and adopt a unified program for the region as a whole. Second, the commission recommends focusing greater attention on economic development throughout the Andes. 

"Invest in infrastructure, public and private partnerships, sewer [systems], electricity, schools, water and roads," Heimann said. "If you live in the countryside, how do you get your products to 

where they can be sold? You need roads." Heimann says the Andean region would also benefit from increased trade with the United States. 

"People have to earn a living. Clearly they are earning a living now in the rural areas by producing coca," he said. "So trade becomes critically important. Trade and economic development. And the biggest market for these countries is not the EU. It is North America, and in particular the United States." 

Are the recommendations falling on deaf ears? Perhaps not. On the trade front, the Bush administration is already pursuing a hemisphere-wide Free Trade Area of the Americas. At a news conference Thursday, Secretary of State Colin Powell said trade will be on the agenda at next week's summit in Mexico. 

"We have completed a number of free trade agreements. We are committed to the FTAA for our own hemisphere, a subject that will get discussed, hopefully, at the Summit of the Americas next week," he said. 

Separately, two months ago, the United States launched an initiative to negotiate a free trade pact with Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia that would mirror a recently-completed pact with Central American nations. 

Meanwhile, Plan Colombia is due to expire next year. What might replace the program? In a recent policy address, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roger Noriega offered no specifics for Colombia. But he stressed the Bush administration's commitment to freer trade and economic expansion as a means to greater stability and security for the Americas as a whole. 

Peasants in Colombia
killed in coca dispute

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA , Colombia — Suspected rebels in Colombia have killed eight peasant farmers in a dispute over their drug crops. 

Government officials say the massacre took place Thursday in a mountain village about 150 kms. (90 miles) northwest of this capital. 

Circumstances surrounding the killings are not clear. Media reports say the coca growers were killed either for refusing to pay a tax on the leaf, which is used to make cocaine, or for refusing to sell their coca crops to the attackers.  The suspects are identified as members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a guerrilla army known by the Spanish initials FARC. 


 
 
Haiti's politicians flirt with disastrous instability
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Opponents of Haiti's president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, called for several days of protests and strikes this week, to bring attention to what they describe as growing repression and a lack of economic progress in the impoverished Caribbean nation. Wednesday, two people were killed in violent clashes in the capital. and there are fears that if the violence worsens political instability could overwhelm Haiti. 

The sound of gunfire in the streets of Port-au-Prince is an almost daily occurrence these days. During this demonstration, police fired over the heads of protesters on New Years Day to disperse a crowd calling for the resignation of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Violence and instability are growing in Haiti. Since last September, more than 40 people have died in clashes between supporters and opponents of Aristide.

Jean-Bertrand Aristide has dominated Haitian politics over the past decade and a half. Elected president in 1990, the firebrand priest and champion of Haiti's impoverished millions, was overthrown by Haiti's military less than a year later and forced to flee for his life. Returned to power by a U.S.-led invasion in 1994, Aristide is now in the middle of his second term as President. Aristide's Lavalas Party swept national elections in 2000 and he has few political rivals. But two years before his term is set to expire there are growing calls for him to resign and call early elections.

A coalition of students, business leaders and journalists has mobilized over the past year with the common goal of forcing Haiti's president to step aside. Andre Apaid, a leading Haitian industrialist, who heads the coalition known as Group 184, says Aristide and his supporters are trying to turn Haiti into a dictatorship.

"You are not talking about a matter of a simple political difference," he said. "You are talking about the disturbing element of denying us fundamental rights and political liberties. When you obtain that level you are not talking about simple political differences anymore. In spite of trying to change it in a progressive way we have found it literally impossible."

Haiti's current political impasse dates to the 2000 elections, which Aristide won, but which international observers called flawed. The Organization of American States called on Haiti's electoral council to recalculate the vote in some Senate seats, which the government refused to do, and which led to an opposition boycott of the legislature. 

Opposition to Aristide has grown dramatically with opponents saying his supporters have recruited 

criminal gangs to attack opponents, and have usedgovernment agencies to harass those who do not support him.  Opponents also say the Aristide government has done little to alleviate Haiti's extreme poverty.

Government officials like Leslie Voltaire, a member of Aristide's cabinet responsible for Haitians living overseas, dispute the charges, saying Aristide is no dictator and that his opponents have nothing to fear from the government.

"I do not think they should be afraid of my government because a lot of people in the opposition were in exile under the Duvalier dictatorship, and they could not speak," he said. "Now you see all the media is talking about what they want to and there is no censorship or censorship on marching, except when you march and you are not given a permit to march, which is given in every democracy. I do not think they should be afraid, this is not a dictatorship."

Voltaire says Aristide has tried to reach out to his critics but they have rebuffed his efforts, in part because he says many also supported his ouster by Haiti's military in 1991. Voltaire says his government supports a plan proposed by Haiti's Catholic bishops to solve the crisis by creating a so-called council of "wise men" to try and mediate a compromise between the government and the opposition.

Government opponents are wary of the plan saying Aristide cannot be trusted, but diplomats in the capital who refuse to be quoted by name, say the plan, with some modifications, could offer a way out of the crisis. However, those same diplomats also warn that time is running out and if a compromise is not reached soon violence could spiral out of control with disastrous consequences. 

New York area Haitians
get museum salute

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

NEW YORK, N. Y. — Saluting the 200th anniversary of Haiti's independence, the American Museum of Natural History is highlighting the country, its culture and arts as the subject of its "Living in America" series beginning Saturday.

Each year the museum's "Living in America" series showcases a different culture and community.

"The Haitian Experience" celebrates the rich and diverse arts and culture of the more than 500,000 Haitians living in the three states surrounding New York City — New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. The series offers a wide range of programs from performances and films to lectures and panel discussions.


 
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World travel rally for charity seeks savvy teams
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

SANTA MONICA, Calif — He’s won a race around the world on public transportation in 17 days. He’s stepped foot in over a hundred countries. He’s written a new travel book—number 974,663 on Amazon.com’s list, but climbing. In April 2002, National Geographic Traveler dubbed him the "World’s Greatest Traveler." 

His true love is raising funds for international humanitarian causes. Currently he’s organizing a global travel competition for the world’s truly greatest travelers.

He is William D. Chalmers. He is traveling the globe scouting out locations for this spring’s annual travel adventure competition, GreatEscape2004: The Global Scavenger Hunt. 

"If I can’t participate in it myself, and boy would I love to, what greater pleasure can I have than to actually put together the race course itself? So I’ve been traveling to Asia, Africa, South America and Europe, among other continents still too secret to mention, finding some of the most bizarre and unusual things for our travelers to see and do while participating in this years’ Global Scavenger Hunt," said Chalmers from somewhere out of the United States.

"I’m trying to certify that there are indeed seven wonders of the ancient, medieval and modern world still out there to be seen," said Chambers. "This event is all about adventure and the joy of travel. 

"I can’t wait to see the look on our travelers’ faces when they meet this unique performing artist I found in Africa, who’s, well, let’s just say, extremely dedicated to her craft! Or to locate a lively market I hit upon in Asia that specializes in insects. Or to visit a European museum that 

exhibits nothing but handmade animal art made out of a rather distinctive substance. The world is indeed stranger than fiction."

Travel savvy adventurers who want to take "A Blind Date With The World" over three weeks beginning April 16 and compete for $100,000 in prizes in this once-in-a-lifetime travel adventure competition need only:

• have travel skills, including: foreign language dexterity, 

• be able to overcome cultural differences and multiple international currency exchanges, 

• triumph over logistic snafus (hopefully few!), 

• learn to trust strangers in strange lands, along with 

• conquering potentially awkward team dynamics and the inevitable heat of the competition itself. The top three teams will split $100,000 in cash and prizes with the winners being crowned "The World’s Greatest Travelers" in New York City May 8.

GreatEscape2004: The Global Scavenger is open to just 50 travelers (25 teams of two) that will visit at least 10 nations on four continents over the three-week travel adventure competition that is designed more as a rally than a gruelling race. 

Travelers will also be helping to raise $1 million for global charities. Teams are required to pay or raise at least the $9,900 per-person entry fee that covers all international airfare, 23-nights in first class hotels and about 40 percent of meals. 

Travelers interested in the annual event should visit GlobalScavengerHunt.com to register or call GreatEscape Adventures at (310) 281-7809. 


 
U.N. would get unusual control in Guatemala
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The United Nations and Guatemala have signed an unprecedented agreement that will give the world body authority to prosecute suspects under that country's justice system. 

Guatemalan Foreign Minister Edgar Gutierrez and Kieran Prendergast, U.N. deputy secretary-general for political affairs signed the agreement Wednesday.

The accord establishes a U.N.-appointed commission that will investigate organized criminal groups and clandestine security services 

in the country. The commission will also prosecute those suspected of human rights abuses.  Guatemala's parliament must now ratify the pact. 

U.N. officials say the agreement marks the first time a member country has given the United Nations the power to prosecute under its national justice system. 

Gang violence and drug trafficking have been growing problems in Guatemala since the end of the country's 36-year civil war in 1996. The Central American country has been a transit point for the shipment of narcotics to and from other countries. 

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