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These stories were published Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 9
Jo Stuart
About us
Stolen cars from U.S. coming here, cops say
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica has become a market for thieves who steal vehicles in the United States.

Investigators confirmed this fact Tuesday when they recovered a 1996 Toyota Land Cruiser that was stolen in Los Angeles, Calif.,  May 15, 1997.

The fact that the vehicle was here and that alterations had been made to hide the vehicle’s past raised suspicions that a gang that steals cars in the United States was bringing them to Costa Rica. That was the opinion of Paul Chaves, director of the Unidad Contra el Robo de Vehículos of the Ministerio de Gobernación,  Policía y Seguridad Pública.

The driver of the stolen vehicle apparently did not know that the Toyota had been stolen, according to officials. The vehicle is valued at 12 million colons, some $28,500. Police officials stopped the car in Pavas.

México, El Salvador and Honduras often have been criticized as being destinations for 

vehicles stolen in the United States. But Costa Rica with its high import tariffs and modern vehicle registration system presents challenges to car thieves.

An organized ring here would have to depend on access to the vehicle registration system and other inside knowledge. Thieves also are known to use the license plates and identification papers from wrecked cars. 

That was the case last week when officials recovered a Mitsubishi Montero that had been stolen in Curridabat Oct. 31. The 1993 model was worth some 6 million colons, about $14,300, said officials. Robbers took the car by sticking a gun in the face of the driver.

When this car was recovered, certain vehicle aspects had been altered to conform more closely to the wrecked vehicle, officials said.

The arrest may have provided a lead to the gang that is importing vehicles. The driver of the Montero went into police custody when officials found that he was carrying an unregistered .38-caliber pistol in the vehicle.

U.S. begins trade talks with Dominican Republic
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and wire service reports

The top U.S. trade official will be in the Dominican Republic today to kick off free-trade talks with that island nation.

The talks are designed to integrate the Dominican Republic into the recently completed negotiations for a Central American free trade treaty, according to the office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

Working with the United States to achieve shared goals in the Free Trade Area of the Americas and the Doha Round of the World Trade Organization negotiations, the Dominican Republic has really stepped up to the plate, and demonstrated a strong desire to leverage its economic strengths and take full advantage of open markets," said the trade representative, Robert Zoellick.

The initial discussions in the capital city of Santo Domingo will be the first of three scheduled rounds of talks.

The Dominican Republic is widely seen as a replacement for Costa Rica, which has been dragging its feet on free-trade negotiations. Many of the agricultural products the Dominican Republic exports are similar to those gown in Costa Rica.

The Dominican Republic, due to migrations of citizens to the United States, has a power base there among elected representatives.

The markets of the Dominican Republic and Central American combined would create the second-largest U.S. export market in Latin America after Mexico, the trade office said. In addition to his meetings, Zoellick will tour the port of Caucedo, a major trade access point for the Dominican Republic.

Many developing countries such as the Dominican Republic already enjoy duty-free access to the United States for their products through preference programs such as the Caribbean Basin Initiative. Slashing tariffs and reducing other trade barriers will open opportunities for U.S. exporters, as well as lower barriers that Dominican goods face, the trade office said.

The Dominican Republic and the United States will negotiate market access for government procurement, investment services, financial services, textiles, industrial and agricultural goods. These are many of the same areas that caused a hang-up for Costa Rica.

Government monopolies in insurance and telecommunications are staffed by politically active employees who seek to retain their unique status without outside competition.

The Frente Interno de Trabajadores (as) del ICE reiterated its total opposition against any outside access to its monopoly market Tuesday. ICE is the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, which controls telephone and Internet service.

The union called opening up telecommunications to outside investment an attack against the country. The statement was signed by Jorge Arguedas Mora, coordinator.

The union said that the government monopoly could not compete against multinationals, that costs would rise if foreign companies took over and that ICE was working in the social interest of the country. The union statement was circulated by ICE's press relations department. 

Meanwhile, Costa Rican negotiators have scheduled one more session with their U.S. counterparts this month, but the sides still seem far apart.

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Alajuela woman dies
from gunshot wound

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A woman died Tuesday, the apparent victim of a dispute with her boyfriend. She was the third victim in little more than a week in situations where a companion or husband is a suspect.

The dead woman is Teresa Rosario Minoya, 25. her body was found in an Alajuela apartment in Barrio San José in that city. She was shot in the left cheek.

Investigators are seeking her former companion, one Abel Ortiz, 22.

Ms. Minoya, who was from the Dominican Republic, joins a list of two other women who died in similar fashions.

Just Thursday, a woman died in San Pablo de Barva de Heredia at the hands of her husband of 10 years, according to police. She was Yorleny Campos Cascante, 31. She had just reconciled with Walter Corrales Marín. She died the victim of a kitchen knife.

Jan. 5, a woman in Barrio Los Angeles in San José died when someone shot her in the chest outside her place of employment. She was Elba Isabel Cruz Cardona, 36, an employee of a taco shop. Police suspect her former companion.

Software developers
plan big conference

By the A.M. Cost Rica staff

Software developers will have their own trade show here Jan. 29 through Jan. 30 at the Hotel Real Intercontinental in Escazú.

The event is being sponsored by Promotora del Comercio Exterior de Costa Rica and the local software chamber of commerce.

Speakers in the area of technology and software will analyze and discuss trends, emerging technologies, case studies and factors related to the globalization, said an announcement. Also the participants will have the opportunity to explore the benefits of software development and technology services in Costa Rica while forming relationships and strategic alliances, the announcement said.

Invited are local software developers and also executives from foreign firms. Some of the discussions will center on offshore possibilities for First-World companies.

Costa Rica is trying to define itself as a software center to put a 21st century spin on production and try to diversify from its heavily agricultural foreign exports.

Gold mining company
names new president

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Vannessa Ventures Ltd., the company that is involved in an open pit gold mine in northern Costa Rica, has a new president. He is John R. Morgan, a man who has been a director of the company.

The company made the announcement in a press release Tuesday. Manfred Peschke, who served as president, chief executive officer and chief financial officer, is being elevated to chairman of the board.

Morgan, who has a bachelor of science degree in geology, acquired extensive operational and administrative experience over 23 years with
Manalta Coal Ltd. including several years as vice president and general manager, said Vannessa. More recently, he served as vice president of operation for a large tonnage coal operation in Venezuela, the firm said.

The firm also announced that the company is moving its headquarters to Calgary next month. The firm now is in Vancouver, Canada.

A subsidiary of the company, Industrias Infinito S.A. has a concession to develop the Crucitas project in northern Costa Rica where the firm estimates some 1.9 million ounces of gold can be leached out of rock there. The project is controversial due to its size and the plan to use cyanide as a leaching agent.

Taxi fares likely
to increase soon

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Enjoy your taxi ride while you can. A rate hike is in the wind for the regulated taxi industry in Costa Rica.

No numbers have been submitted yet to the Autoridad Reguladora de los Servicios Públicos, but taxi drivers have not had a real raise in years. The increases approved for the taxis basically offset the devaluation of the colon but did not provide a real increase.

Taxi drivers are restless, and are seeking an increase that may be as much as 70 or 80 percent. Typically the Autoridad Reguladora chops away at any requests, but taxi users probably can expect an increase of at least 30 percent.

The downtown San José rate now, reflected in the electronic meters in cabs, is 240 colons for the first kilometer. That’s about 57 U.S. cents. The real rate has hovered around 60 cents for the first kilometer for at least three years, being adjusted only as the colon devalued systematically.

Taxi drivers and operators argue that fuel, tires and maintenance has skyrocketed and each taxi must be inspected in the revisión tecnica program twice a year at nearly $20 a visit.

Museums plan concert

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Museos del Banco Central plan a free concert at the entrance to the museum Saturday at 11 a.m. Featured will be Miriam Jarquín and Blues Latino. More information is available at these numbers: 243-4208/243-4214. The museum complex is below Plaza de la Cultura in the center of San José.
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Bank of England on the spot over BCCI failure
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LONDON, England — For the first time in its 300-year history, the Bank of England is facing accusations of deliberate negligence in a nearly $2 billion lawsuit stemming from the biggest bank fraud ever, the 1991 failure of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, known as BCCI. 

The case opened in London's ornate Royal Courts of Justice. In an opening statement, a lawyer for the plaintiff accused Bank of England regulators of purposely ignoring the fraudulent activities of the London-based BCCI, which collapsed 12 years ago with debts of $10 billion. 

BCCI was founded in 1972 by a Pakistani banker, Agha Hassan Abedi. It grew over the years to have operations in about 70 countries and assets of $20 billion. Its collapse revealed an elaborate international money-laundering network used by drug dealers, terrorists and other criminals. 

The financial services company, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, has brought the lawsuit. The company has been liquidating BCCI's assets and is pursuing its creditors on behalf of about 6,500 British depositors. 

The Bank of England has always denied any wrongdoing in the BCCI affair. In 1991, when the BCCI scandal broke, the then-governor of the Bank of England, Robin Leigh-Pemberton, said he owed nothing to BCCI depositors. "I do not have to apologize. We did our best by them. And the fact that we failed is not our fault, but the fault of the directors of bank to whom they committed their money," he said. 

Britain's treasury will have to come up with the money if the Bank of England loses the case. The current treasury chief is Gordon Brown. As an opposition lawmaker in 1991, he was highly critical of the Bank of England's oversight of BCCI. 

"Effective and tough regulation was never taken sufficiently seriously, with the result that the Bank of England's so-called light hand made it a soft touch for a crooked bank," he said. 

Legal experts say the trial will be extraordinarily complex. The plaintiff's opening statement is expected to take three months and the entire trial could last at least a year. The plaintiff's lawyers have gotten access to about 300,000 internal Bank of England documents. And three former Bank of England governors may be called to testify. 

Fatal bird flu outbreak raises fears in Orient
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The World Health Organization has confirmed that at least three people have died of bird flu in Vietnam, the same virus that first emerged in Hong Kong in 1997 and killed six people. Hundreds of thousands of chickens have been infected by the disease in Vietnam, South Korea and Japan. 

Tests carried out in Hong Kong confirmed Tuesday that a woman and two children in Vietnam were killed by a strain of bird flu. 

The World Health Organization says the virus, H5-N1, is the same one that suddenly jumped from chickens to humans in 1997, killing six of the 13 people it infected in Hong Kong. 

Peter Cordingly, regional spokesman for the World Health Organization, says the latest human victims probably caught the disease directly from sick chickens. "There's no evidence yet of human-to-human transmission, the poultry is likely to be the common element here rather than the virus being passed between members of the family," he says. "Humans are very susceptible to this disease." 

Samples from three other Vietnamese children who died mysteriously over the past four months are still being tested. But the World Health Organization says Vietnam health authorities have detected at least 14 possible cases. Most of them have died. 

Hundreds of thousands of chickens have been 

infected in Vietnam, and the government has asked the U.N. agency to help it contain the disease. About a 100,000 chickens have been culled there to prevent the virus from spreading. 

In South Korea, over a million chickens have either died from the flu or been culled. Japan on Monday reported its first outbreak of H5-N1, with about 6,000 chickens infected. 

Officials in Thailand say a form of bird cholera is killing chickens at some poultry farms there, but denied there has been a bird flu outbreak. 

When the link between sick chickens and the H5-N1 virus in humans was discovered in Hong Kong in 1997, the government ordered all chickens in the city killed. They also suspended imports of birds from mainland China. The measures apparently contained the disease then. 

Bird flu has sporadically reappeared and killed chickens in Hong Kong and southern China for years. Two people were infected in China last year and died after seeking treatment in Hong Kong. 

The WHO says H5-N1 is a fast-moving influenza virus, which can be deadly in just hours after infecting a person. 

This latest health scare comes as the region is bracing for a possible outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. At least one person in southern China is confirmed to have SARS recently — the first case in China since July, but there are a few other suspected cases. 

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Summit wraps up with a luke-warm declaration
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MONTERREY, Mexico — Leaders of 34 nations from the Western Hemisphere, including President George Bush, ended a two-day special Summit of the Americas here Tuesday with renewed commitments to fight terrorism, corruption and poverty. Bush used the venue to advance his proposals and to enhance relations with some regional neighbors.

In the end, the United States did not get all that it had wanted from this summit, but the meeting did provide the opportunity for Bush to meet with regional counterparts in formal sessions and in one-on-one encounters. There were obvious points of disagreement during the two days of meetings, but the host, Mexican President Vicente Fox, says the overall tone was constructive.

He said the discussions often included sharp differences of opinion and ideology, but that they were always characterized by respect for each person and each person's point of view.

One of the sharpest divides was over the issues of free trade and the fight against poverty. Bush and Fox extolled the benefits of free trade and referred to the expansion in commerce that has resulted from the North American Free Trade Agreement that unites their nations and Canada. 

Brazilian leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva argued that regional leaders must make the effort to reduce poverty their primary goal. He said the gap between rich and poor in Latin America is growing and that free trade alone will not resolve this problem.

There was also disagreement over a U.S. proposal to bar leaders of corrupt nations from participation in future summits. Some nations were concerned over what criteria would be used to determine whether a nation was corrupt.

In the final declaration, summit participants simply agreed to fight against corruption through consultations. The declaration also side-stepped the trade issue, leaving that for another time and place. The closing statement did include pledges of 

further regional cooperation in the effort to stop terrorism.

During the summit, President Bush also discussed his new immigration proposal with President Fox, who backed the idea. President Bush also invited his Mexican counterpart to his ranch in Texas for a meeting in March. 

Da Silva, speaking in the summit plenary session, said economic liberalization has created what he called a perverse model in which economic balance has not been matched by social balance. 

The Brazilian leader said the number of people living in extreme poverty in Latin America has grown by more than 10 million in recent years and that 26 percent of the region's population survives on less than $2 a day.

The issue of poverty was also the main theme for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. In a reference to Dante's Inferno, Chavez described all of Latin America as being in his words "at the Gates of Hell." He said nations in the Western Hemisphere need to take action now to reduce inequalities before it is too late.

Such rhetoric is expected from the firebrand Venezuelan leader, who has clashed openly with the United States over his friendship with Cuban leader Fidel Castro and who arrived at the summit saying that such meetings produce little more than a social event.

The heads of state of the 34 democratic nations issued a declaration following the summit. They reaffirming their commitment to economic growth with equity to reduce poverty, and to promote social development and democratic governance.

In the "Declaration of Nuevo Leon," named for the Mexican state where the Special Summit was held, the leaders of the hemisphere's democracies laid out a broad agenda for improving the lives of the region's 800 million people. The numerous subjects covered in the document, which was issued Tuesday, include the fact that overcoming poverty, hunger, and social inequality are major challenges facing many countries of the hemisphere.

Bush and Canada's Martin agree on contracts
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MONTERREY, México — U.S. President George Bush says Canadian companies will be eligible to bid on a second round of U.S.-funded reconstruction contracts in Iraq. The president made the announcement in Monterrey, Mexico, where he is attending a hemispheric summit.

It is another sign the Bush White House is trying to mend relations with countries that opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, or stood on the sidelines. "In the second round, in the second tranche of bidding, Canada will be eligible to bid," he said.

News of the shift in policy came as the president met over breakfast in Monterrey with Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin. Bush said Canada's leaders are well aware of the importance of building a free and peaceful Iraq. 

The Bush administration angered America's neighbor to the north late last year when it put restrictions on the first round of reconstruction contracts. Only countries that actively supported the war and were part of the coalition that toppled ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein were eligible, along with American firms.

U.S. allies such as Canada, Germany, Russia and France were told that they could only bid on subcontracts. But from the start, White House officials hinted that conditions could change.

At the same time, Bush and Martin say they will work together to deal with the mad cow problem facing both their countries. 

President Bush said it will take a lot of cross-border coordination to resolve the problem. "We've got a lot of beef going across the border. We've got beef on the hoof and beef in the box. And the cattle industries are very important for our respective provinces and states," he said. 

Martin agreed that the cattle industries of Canada and the United States are intertwined. "This is a North American industry and the solutions are science-based. And those science-based solutions are going to be arrived at between the two of us. And that is where the coordination comes in," he said. 

The first case of mad cow disease in the United States was recently discovered in the Pacific northwest in a Holstein that apparently came from Canada. 

Jo Stuart
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