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These stories were first published Thursday, Jan. 17, 2002
Jo Stuart
About us

Costa Rica praised
for its progress

White House photo by Paul Morse
President George W. Bush makes a point in a meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit in the Oval Office Wednesday shortly before he unveiled his plan for a free-trade pact for Central America.
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Bush announced Wednesday that his administration will explore a free trade agreement with the countries of Central America.

Using Costa Rica as an example, Bush praised the country’s progress. "Costa Rica's emphasis on education and attracting foreign investment has transformed its economy over the past decade," said Bush.  "Costa Rica's exports of computer products are now almost four times greater in value than its banana exports and nearly eight times greater than its coffee exports."

Bush said his administration will work with Congress toward the goal of creating the Central American free trade area. "Our purpose is to  strengthen the economic ties we already have with these nations . . . to  reinforce their progress toward economic, political, and social reform and to take another step toward completing the Free Trade Area of the Americas. 

But Bush interjected a note of caution. "All of these efforts depend on one thing: Congress must pass Trade Promotion Authority. The House of Representatives has acted. In the Senate, the Finance Committee has given its strong bipartisan approval. Now it is time for the full Senate to approve Trade Promotion Authority, so I can put it to work for the good of America  — and all the Americas."

The trade promotion authority, or fast track, restricts the ability of Congress to tinker with proposed trade treaties.

His talk to the World Affairs Councils' three-day conference on the future of Latin America was in the early evening. Bush said the future of the Western Hemisphere "depends on the strength of three commitments — democracy, security, and market-based development."

"These commitments are inseparable, and none will be achieved by half-measures. This road is not always easy, but it is the only road to stability and prosperity for all the people of this hemisphere."

Democracy and political freedom require transparency in government, he added. "Citizens and businesses must know that the town hall — the alcaldia — is free from bribery, cronyism, and all forms of corruption," the president said. "And by building governments that are more honest and fair, we will make freedom more meaningful for all our citizens."

Security "against acts of terror" and "against the lawless violence of drug cartels and their accomplices" must also be a top priority, Bush said. He praised Colombia and the Andean nations for "strengthening law enforcement, reducing illegal crops, and expanding legitimate business opportunities as alternatives to drug farming and trafficking," and pledged that "America will help all nations in the region in cutting off the supply of drugs." He vowed that the United States will work aggressively to reduce the demand for drugs within its own borders, as well.

He cited numerous instances of fiscal policies that lead to success in the global economy. "Countries that stay on the hard road of reform are rewarded," Bush said, pointing to recent economic gains in such countries as Chile and Mexico as well as Costa Rica.

The United States "strongly supports new global trade negotiations," and U.S. officials "are acting on a number of fronts," the president said. "We are working to build a Free Trade Area of the Americas, and we are determined to complete those negotiations by January of 2005. We plan to complete a free trade agreement with Chile early this year." 

In addition, Bush said he is urging the Senate to schedule a vote on renewing and expanding the Andean Trade Preference Act.

Bush spoke about improving the region's health care and education systems. He said that the United States is "also working to bring better health care and greater literacy to the nations of our hemisphere," and that U.S. funds for international basic education assistance programs will soon permit teacher training centers to open in Jamaica, and in South and Central America.

Ultimately, regional prosperity depends on regional integration and partnership, Bush said. "This hemisphere is on a path of reform, and our nations travel it together," he concluded. "We have a vision -- a partnership of strong, equal, and prosperous countries, living and trading in freedom." And together, the president declared, "we will build and defend this hemisphere of liberty."

Bush also discussed Argentina's economic difficulties. "We understand that sustained development depends on market-based economies, sound monetary and fiscal policies, and freer trade among our nations," Bush said. "Recent events in Argentina do nothing to change this reality. America is deeply concerned about the difficulties facing our ally and friend Argentina, and its great people."

Foundation for free-trade pact was constructed in September
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D. C. — This is the background on the United States — Central America Free-Trade Agreement as prepared by Bush staffers in the U.S. White House:

By the White House staff

The United States is committed to proceeding with trade initiatives globally, regionally and with individual nations. These free-trade arrangements will strengthen the economy at home, benefiting American farmers, businesses, workers, and consumers. At the same time, these agreements will promote economic development and democratic governance among our trading partners.

By moving on multiple fronts simultaneously, this strategy will enhance America's world leadership on trade by strengthening its economic ties, promoting fresh approaches to international economic problems, and leveraging American influence to improve the quality of life at home and abroad.

The Administration has already made key progress toward expanding trade with Central America. During 2001, the Bush Administration discussed with Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua their interest in a free-trade agreement with the United States. These countries met in Managua in September 2001 to explore ways to forge closer economic relations and advance free trade. On the basis of the interchanges, the five Central American countries have expressed interest in pursuing a free trade agreement with the United States as a group, and have indicated their readiness for negotiations.

A U.S. — Central America Free Trade Agreement would:

• Promote U.S. Exports: The United States exported $8.8 billion to Central America in 2000, more than 

it sold to Russia, Indonesia, and India combined. Mexico and Canada have already recognized the potential of the Central American market and the need to support Central American reforms by pursuing their own free-trade agreements with countries in the region. Chile has done the same. 

A U.S.-Central America free trade agreement would ensure that American workers and companies are not disadvantaged, build on the $4 billion of U.S. investment in the region, and avoid erosion of U.S. competitiveness. U.S. duties for the region are already low, as these countries are beneficiaries of the Caribbean Basin Initiative. U.S. imports from Central America totaled $11.8 billion in 2000.

• Support Democracy and Economic Reform: During the past decade, Central American countries have established democratic systems of government and begun implementing economic reforms to promote privatization, competition, and open markets. The United States has supported the development of democracy, enhanced economic growth, and security for human rights through the Caribbean Basin Initiative, including the Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act. 

The proposed free trade agreement with the United States would commit these countries to even greater openness and transparency, which would deepen the roots of democracy, civil society, and the rule of law in the region, as well as reinforce market reforms. 

• Advance Free Trade Area of the Americas: This negotiation will complement the United States' goal of completing the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) no later than January 2005 by increasing the momentum in the hemisphere toward lowering barriers, opening markets, and achieving greater transparency. 

The United States already has a free-trade agreement with Mexico and Canada, and the Administration expects to complete negotiation for a free-trade agreement with Chile this year. 

Don't miss Patricia Martin's report on Manuel Antonio and Quepos

For Patricia's report on what to do with foreign visitors

U.S. citizen seeking his son files court papers here
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A U.S. citizen who is trying to get back his son has filed papers in a court in Heredia so that Costa Rica will recognize his Florida divorce.

The man is Ralph Stumbo, a long-time businessman in the Heredia and San José area. He announced two weeks ago that he was starting an organization to help North American men who have the same problem he does. He blames his problem on a feminist tilt in the Costa Rican legal system.

Stumbo’s case is complex. His Costa Rican wife called police to their Naples, Fla., home in late July to accuse him of domestic violence, he said. Police put him in jail for several days, and the woman arranged affairs so she could bring the couple’s son, Marco, born a U.S. citizen, back to Costa Rica while Stumbo was barred from the home because he was in jail and later under a no-contact order.

Because of the arrest, the woman, too, was under a judicial order not to leave the county. So it appears that she violated that order when she came back to Costa Rica with the son.

Stumbo said that the woman, Flor María Gaitan Tejada, has met with U.S. consular officials in San José, and the officials explained to her the gravity of the situation.

Stumbo denies committing domestic violence and says the arrest was simply a ploy by the woman. The charge was dismissed when the woman did not show up as a witness, and Stumbo subsequently obtained an uncontested divorce and child custody in Florida.

Because of the court order, the woman is flirting with an international child stealing charge, and Stumbo has been in contact with federal agents in 

Florida on the matter. Among the papers Stumbo has is an international pickup order for the child signed by the Florida judge.

Stumbo said that his plight has struck a nerve among other U.S. citizens here. "As the result of your article, I am getting lots and lots of e-mail from men with similar problems," he said. "The e-mails are coming from Heredia, San Jose, Ciudad Colon, Puntaranes and Guanacaste. His organization is the North American Consul for Justice, which he said he is setting up as a Costa Rican corporation. The original article was published Jan. 7.

Stumbo and his former wife also were involved in legal problems when they lived in Costa Rica. They separated, signed a separation agreement and then moved back together before going to the United States last year.

The agreement has come back to haunt him because he now is prohibited from leaving the country because he is not up to date on child support payments called for in the outdated document. He could not leave from Juan Santamaría Airport shortly before Christmas, and he cannot leave now even though his mother is about to undergo an operation for cancer in Florida, he said.

His divorce was granted in an unusual conference call orchestrated by the U.S. Embassy with the family court judge in Florida, he said.

Stumbo said that part of his problem was because the Costa Rican courts were working with a reduced staff over the Christmas holiday.  He expects that his U.S. divorce decree will soon be authenticated by the Costa Rican consul in Florida and be ready for filing in Heredia.

Costa Rica is bound by international treaties to honor foreign divorce and child-custody decrees.

Shy Costa Rica missed boat on street kid program, Harris says
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica did not become involved in an international program to save street children because it suffers from the "ostrich syndrome" 
where officials ignore the festering social issues affecting children, according to Bruce Harris of Casa Alianza.

Officials on Tuesday announced the campaign to reduce the percentage of children in the Americas who spent the bulk of their time on the street  But Costa Rica is not included in the project.

The campaign will include Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Peru, according to the sponsoring agency, the Inter-American Development Bank.

Casa Alianza of which Harris is Latin American director is an advocate for children.

"My understanding is that Costa Rica was not interested in joining the IADB campaign," Harris said Wednesday.

"In the meantime, the numbers of street children in Costa Rica have grown from almost none some five or six years ago to several hundred in the capital alone," Harris said. 

He noted that a residential program for street children in Costa Rica, run by the Salvation Army, was closed several months ago after the Costa Rican government's 

child welfare agency did not make good on its contract to subsidize the services. 

He added:

"Whilst we are hopeful that the Costa Rican government will, once again, start financing programs for street children, they are reticent to publicly accept that homeless children - another indication of society's breakdown - could exist in this "Switzerland of Central America". But they obviously are not aware that there are many street children in Zurich and Geneva too . . . ."

The development bank said that throughout the Americas, the number of children and adolescents who spend the majority of their time on the streets is rising. The root cause for this problem is said to be poverty, which affects family stability and leads youngsters into low-paying jobs, petty theft, prostitution, or other survival strategies associated with the streets, said the Tuesday announcement. The development bank added that many of the children are victims of abuse, exploitation and sometimes murder.

Harris’ group is perhaps best known in Costa Rica for its fight against child prostitution, but in other Central American countries the organization fights against police brutality involving children and about other issues involving children. It is affiliated with the Catholic organization Covenant House in New York, and Covenant House is involved with the development bank in the street children campaign in other countries.

Money-laundering ring linked to drugs busted by Colombia, U.S. 
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The United States and Colombia have jointly pursued a two-and-a-half-year investigation into Colombian "money brokers" and their laundering organizations, the U.S. Customs Service announced on Wednesday.

Known as "Operation Wirecutter," the investigation has thus far resulted in the arrest of 37 individuals and the seizure of more than $8 million, 400 kilos of cocaine, 100 kilos of marijuana, and 6.5 kilos of heroin, according to the Customs Service.

U.S. officials praised the role of Colombian law enforcement agencies in ensuring the operation's success. Operation Wirecutter "shows what we can do when U.S. and Colombian agencies work together," said Michael Chertoff, assistant attorney general for the U.S. Justice Department's criminal division. "By identifying the financial brokers, we do more than freeze assets, we root out those who make the illegal money trail work."

The undercover investigation has thus far resulted in the arrest of 37 individuals, 29 in the United States and 8 in Colombia. Charges against the defendants in this case have been filed in the Southern District of New York, the Northern District of Illinois, the Southern District of Florida, and the District of Puerto Rico.

The primary defendants in Operation Wirecutter are 8 senior money brokers, also known as black-market peso brokers, located in Bogota, Colombia. 

Arrested Tuesday by Colombian authorities, these individuals are believed to have a combined 50 years experience laundering drug money for Colombian cartels. Each of these money brokers headed distinct organizations that provided money laundering services to several cartels on contract.

Each broker has been charged with money laundering violations in the Southern District of New York.

The eight accused money brokers are: 

Norberto Honorio Romero Garavito, 42, Bernardo Pelaez Roldan, 56, Maria Sara Lopez Varela, 45, Jorge Duran Duran, 46, Ramiro Mansano, 38, Hermes Romualdo Torres Suescin, 45, Luis Dario Torres Suescin, 43, Pablo Roberto Trujillo Devila, 45.

The brokers are accused of using a money laundering system known as the Black Market Peso Exchange (BMPE). Decades old, the BMPE is a trade-based money laundering scheme that handles billions in drug dollars annually. It is among the primary means by which cartels convert U.S-based drug dollars into "clean" pesos in Colombia. 

U.S. government will
meet airport deadline

By the A.M. Costa Rica wires services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said Wednesday the government and airline industry will meet Friday's deadline set by the U.S. Congress for airlines to make sure all luggage is screened for explosives.

Mineta also outlined federal guidelines designed to improve airport security in the country.

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration takes over airline security from the airline industry on Feb. 17. Under the new program, Mineta said all new screeners must have at least a high school education or equivalent work experience and must be an American citizen. 

Mineta said he hopes the new restrictions will be in place at 100 U.S. commercial airports this summer and at all 429 commercial U.S. airports by the end of the year.

Another Nicaraguan quake

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Yet another earthquake, at least the fifth in the last three months, took place off the Pacific coast of Nicaragua about 8:15 a.m. Costa Rican time  Tuesday. 

The U.S. Earthquake Information Center said the tremor was at 5.0 magnitude about 25 miles (40 kms.) west and northwest of Rivas, Nicaragua and at a depth of about 121 kilometers (73 miles).

A junction of two tectonic plates there keeps the area very active. 

Monetary Fund agrees
to delay Argentine debt

By the A.M. Costa Rica wires services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The International Monetary Fund has agreed to give financially troubled Argentina an extra year to repay a $933 million loan that had been due Thursday. 

IMF officials made the announcement here Wednesday, saying the extension is allowed under guidelines that enable the country to request a one-year reprieve. Managing Director Horst Koehler says the decision shows, in his words, the fund's desire to help Argentina overcome its difficult economic and social situation. 

Last month, the IMF withheld a $1.2 billion loan for Argentina after deciding the country did not have a sustainable economic program. 

The South American nation is in its fourth year of recession and in default on its $141 billion public debt. Argentines regularly take to the streets to rally against the government's handling of the situation. 

President Eduardo Duhalde met Wednesday with his cabinet to discuss the 2002 budget, as well as relaxing banking curbs that have triggered the widespread and sometimes violent protests. 

Under the restrictions, Argentines can only withdraw up to 1,500 pesos from their bank accounts per month. On Tuesday, rioters smashed cash machines and shattered bank windows in several cities to protest the curbs. 

The nation's economic crisis led President Duhalde to end the Argentine peso's decade-old one-to-one peg with the U.S. dollar. The newly devalued currency has lost nearly half its value since debuting on the international markets. 

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