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These stories were published Thursday, Jan. 22, 2004, Vol. 4, No. 15
Jo Stuart
About us
Friendship Bridge will be a highway cash cow
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The La Amistad de Taiwán bridge toll will generate substantial income for the government, and the money will be used for bridge maintenance and extensive road work on the Nicoya Peninsula, according to a transit official.

The official, María Lorena López, vice minister of Obras Públicas y Transporte, defended the proposed 400-colon toll in a release from her office Wednesday. That amount is about 95 U.S. cents.

Not only will the money collected go to keep the bridge in shape, but the cash will be used for the 69-km. highway corridor from Limonal to the administrative center of Nicoya on the peninsula, she said.

An estimated 2,400 vehicles are using the bridge over the Río Tempisque each day, according to ministry estimates, and a 400-colon toll would generate 960,000 colons a day, some $2,285 at the current exchange rate. Vehicles larger than passenger cars will pay a higher toll, so the daily income would be higher.

The annual collection will be more than $800,000.

Minister López said that the 780-meter bridge is just one component in what she called an integral project.

The government of Taiwan spent about $27 million to build the bridge, but Costa Rica had to spent $6.6 million for some 12 kms. of access roads, said the vice minister.

In addition to bridge maintenance and maintenance on the highway, two narrow bridges on the route to Nicoya from the bridge need to be rebuilt at a cost of $373,333, said the vice minister. Road work in Nicoya that will allow direct access to the roads to the Pacific beaches will cost about $1.4 million, she said. All this will be paid for by the toll.

The vice minister also said that work needs to be done near the bridge to protect the mangroves because the area is listed as a national park.

All this was taken into consideration when highway officials met last year to fix the amount of the toll.

The bridge replaces a ferry that was run on concession which took vehicles and passengers across the Río Tempisque. The new bridge, which is still free to motorists, is expected to provide a strong economic boost to the Nicoya Peninsula because it provides a faster route to the center of the peninsula. 

A highway route from Liberia to the north is the second access to the area. Ferries from Puntarenas still service Naranjo and Pacuara further south.

Taxista Carlos Guzmán is visible in his rearview mirror above his collection of tiny taxis.
A.M. Costa Rica photo
Long-time taxi driver is a collector, too
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

For 40 years and five months, Carlos Guzmán has worked as a taxi driver in San José. He may be one of the best known, thanks, in part, to his collection of miniature vehicles on his dash.

They call him "El Trafico" as he patrols the city in the Guaria taxi with the license plate No. 30. 

But there is more to the story than just a good humored dirver. Guzmán drives one of a number of taxis that have been converted to run on low pressure gas. The use of gas means economy for this driver.

But don’t worry about an explosion. His system contains an emergency release that vents the gas in case of an accident, he said.

The rear end of the car bears stickers showing that the car had low pressure gas for a fuel. The exhaust is less polluting than the fumes from gasoline vehicles.

A number of legal taxis in Costa Rica also are fueled by gas. Guzmán said that he loves the system but that the taxi does have less pickup than a gasoline-fuled vehicle.

The little cars glued to his dash began with his children.  They gave him the models as a present, and it was his wife who glued them down, he said. The collection began with just three but kept growing.

That’s why he now has around 25 different kinds of taxi replicas from all over the world. 

"Every time I service somebody, they wonder, and these cars are always a good excuse to begin conversations especially with tourists who always ask for a photograph to bring to  their own country," said Guzmán.

So now his photo and shots of his little cars are all over the world, including Spain, France,  Germany, the United States and Venezuela, he reports with pride.

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Casa Alianza seeks
to annul adoption

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Casa Alianza says it wanted to annul the adoption of a Guatemalan boy who has since become a U.S. citizen and lives in Pennsylvania.

The organization said that it soon would bring the case of Osmín Ricardo Tobar to the Inter American Commission of Human Rights because the adoption procedure was flawed.

The announcement comes at the same time that Bruce Harris, the San José-based director for Latin America of the organization, goes to trial in Guatemala on a charge of criminal defamation. The trial starts today.

Case Alianza has been engaged in a media campaign to aid Harris. Amnesty International on Wednesday said it was alarmed that criminal proceedings were being brought against Harris. 

"Amnesty International is concerned that the case of Bruce Harris demonstrates that the use of criminal defamation charges against those who expose human rights abuses and issues of social concern in Guatemala is yet another form of persecution of human rights defenders," said a release from Casa Alianza.

In September 1997 Harris participated in a press conference with Guatemala’s Solicitor General’s Office. During the press conference, a Guatemalan lawyer, Susana Maria Loarca Saracho de Umaña, was accused of influence peddling. She is the wife of the former president and current magistrate of the country’s supreme court.

The woman brought charges of defamation, perjury and slander against Harris. Casa Alianza said that truth is not a defense to the charges. In addition, the courts there have said that free expression is not a defense for Harris because he is not a journalist. He could get five years in prison, if convicted.

The same woman figured in the news release Wednesday from Casa Alianza. In fact, the news release raised a similar allegation. It said of the Guatemalan courts: 

"The State Attorney General contested the adoption and several different judges refused to take the adoption case due to threats made against them by the lawyer processing the adoption, Susana Loarca Saracho de Umaña."

The boy was removed from his home after allegations of abuse, and Casa Alianza suggested in its release that the child was adopted by fraud to U.S. parents over the objections of the biological parents. Said Casa Alianza:

"We are sure that the adoptive parents had good intentions in offering their home to Osmin, however, we cannot forget the biological parents who continue to suffer greatly for not having their child with them. The only person who benefited was the lawyer. Casa Alianza is going to press forward with these cases and the Guatemalan and American Tribunals must now decide what is best for the child. We are going to have to correct the corruption of past adoptions which currently are causing great pain and anguish to many people".

Chavez picks brother
to be Havana envoy

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — President Hugo Chavez has appointed his brother as ambassador to a key ally, Cuba.

Venezuela's foreign minister, Roy Chaderton, said Tuesday that Adan Chavez, the president's older brother, would replace Ambassador Julio Montes, who has held the post for about three years.

Adan Chavez is a university professor who has held important positions in the ruling party. Observers say he is a close confidant of the president.

Since he was elected in 1998, the president has turned his oil-rich country into a strategic economic partner of Cuba. Venezuela sends about 53,000 barrels of oil a day to the Communist-led island.

Havana, meanwhile, has sent thousands of teachers, doctors and other experts to Venezuela to support social programs.

Critics accuse President Chavez of using the Cuban experts to indoctrinate poor Venezuelans and of steering the country towards a Cuban-inspired dictatorship. Chavez insists he is working to improve the lives of the country's impoverished majority. 

Brothers object of search

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police and residents were seeking two brothers, 7 and 10 years, Wednesday night because they had been missing since about 3 p.m.

The search was centered in Tambor de Alajuela on a 200-hectare finca there.

The boys were visiting their grandmother in the area, according to officials.
We now accept
other currencies

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A.M. Costa Rica is now able to deal in four more important world currencies, thanks to its association with Pay Pal.

Until now, the newspaper accepted payment internationally in U.S. dollars. Colons were accepted in Costa Rica.

However, now the newspaper will accept Canadian dollars, euros, pounds sterling and yen via the Pay Pal Internet system.

The U.S.-based company does all the math and either converts payment to U.S. dollars at the current rate of exchange or places the money in the newspaper accounts denominated in the correct currency.

The exchange is invisible to advertising customers who simply make payments in their own national currency.

Pay Pal is a handy, secure system that allows customers to send or receive money with a few strokes on the computer keyboard once an account has been established.



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U.N. food agency will try to help Nicaraguans
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A food agency of the United Nations will work with the government of Nicaragua to help small-scale coffee growers adversely affected by the global crisis in coffee prices.

In a statement Tuesday, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization said it will assist Nicaraguan government authorities to prevent food shortages among the worst-affected coffee growers and, at a later stage, help them diversify their crops and produce more competitive varieties for the international coffee market.

The Food and Agricultural Organization said that falling international coffee prices have hurt Nicaragua's economy — which is largely dependent on coffee — by reducing income, employment, and food security for thousands of rural families in the Central American nation.

With production expenses currently higher than commercial value and a credit system riddled with debt, many farmers have been forced to abandon their coffee plantations, the statement said.

Loy Van Crowder, the organization's permanent representative to Nicaragua, said that coffee cultivation in Nicaragua accounts for almost a third of the country's agricultural employment. 

"The consequences of this crisis are devastating for a country where external debt is 10 times larger than the total value of export earnings," said Van Crowder.

For its part, the U.S. Agency for International Development  has responded to the current coffee crisis in Nicaragua and Central America by leveraging resources through partnerships with allies in the coffee industry, non-governmental organizations, local producer groups, donors, and financial institutions.

In 2002, the agency signed an agreement with Nicaragua and other Central American nations to provide $8 million for a market-based program to assist small and medium-sized coffee producers to improve coffee quality, form new business linkages, secure longer-term contracts with the specialty coffee industry, and identify and implement diversification options for producers who cannot be competitive.

Meanwhile, Nicaraguan authorities have requested Food and Agricultural Organization assistance to safeguard the food security of some 3,000 of the worst-affected coffee-producing families in the Matagalpa and Jinotega regions of Nicaragua, where much of the country's coffee is grown.

The organization said that in order to prevent food shortages, it will distribute some 110,000 kilograms of black bean seeds, 270,000 kilograms of fertilizer, and 9,000 basic tools to 3,000 of the worst-affected coffee producers and their families.

Black beans are a diet staple in Nicaragua, the organization said. The agency said it hoped that each farmer will plant just under a hectare of black beans for their own consumption and sell the rest locally, a measure which aims to open the way toward much-needed agricultural diversification.

Major Cali drug, money laundering ring disrupted
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. —  The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has announced it has disrupted a major heroin-trafficking organization based in Cali, Colombia.

The DEA, working with other U.S., Colombian, and Argentine law enforcement agencies, said it had disrupted the operations of the Orlando Ospina group that smuggled each year more than 449 kilograms (990 pounds) of high-grade heroin into Miami, Fla., for distribution to New York City, New York; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Newark, New Jersey.

The organization also operated a check-cashing business in Cali that could launder about $25,000 a day in proceeds, officials said.

The DEA said those people arrested in Colombia during the investigation of the case (dubbed "Operation Streamline") will be extradited to face U.S. prosecution.

DEA Administrator Karen Tandy said in a statement that the "success of this multi-national, multi-jurisdictional investigation exemplifies the cooperation between law enforcement agencies throughout the United States and the governments of Colombia and Argentina."

The arrests mark "yet another step forward in combating the significant problem of narcotics 

trafficking in the United States," said U.S. Attorney Marcos Jimenez in Miami. "This effort has resulted in the seizure of multi-kilogram quantities of heroin and the prosecution of 11 individuals for their participation in a large-scale heroin operation. We will continue to prosecute such violators vigorously, focusing especially on organizers and other major narco-trafficking targets no matter where they are."

The DEA said the traffickers used both traditional and non-traditional smuggling routes and methods. For example, the traffickers smuggled about 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of heroin from Cali, Colombia, to Nicaragua over a three-month period, by secreting the drugs in drinking straws and placing them in boxes of seafood. 

From Nicaragua, the drugs were shipped to a seafood company in Miami, where they were received by the Miami cell of the heroin organization headed by Orlando Ospina, and transported to New York City for distribution. The organization used couriers to transport drugs from Cali and Bogota, Colombia, and Buenos Aires, Argentina, to major cities on the eastern seaboard.

The traffickers also used extraordinary means to transport their narcotics proceeds from the United States back to Colombia. For example, $100 bills were rolled into a cylinder shape, pressed, and then swallowed by couriers. Most of the couriers were able to swallow 1,000 such bills and thus could smuggle $100,000 per trip. 

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Author says that U.S. policy should look south
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Launching his latest book, "Greater America," at the Organization of American States headquarters Tuesday evening, L. Ronald Scheman, argued that Latin America and the Caribbean are very important to the United States. 

He is the director general of the Inter-American Agency for Cooperation and Development, the organization’s technical cooperation and training agency.

Scheman said it is in the interest of the United States that policy be more oriented to help those nations deal more effectively with poverty and other severe problems as they try to build their democracies.

"One of the key issues we have to deal with in this hemisphere is poverty," Scheman said, predicting that while the United States now "stands pretty strong," at the turn of the 21st century, that could shift with developments like the growing market power of China and the consolidation of Western and Eastern Europe. The author warned that "unless the United States makes this the century of all of the Americas together — with close to a billion people — this may not be the century of America, it may become the century of China or of Europe."

Subtitled "A New Partnership for the Americas in the Twenty-First Century," Scheman’s 300-page book consists of 15 chapters covering such subjects as poverty and the lack of education as "the dormant volcano;" corruption and narcotics; trade 

and integration; and investment and economic growth. In the final chapter, entitled "Building a Greater America," he states: 

"A strong relationship with Latin America and the Caribbean will promote the growth of favorable markets and ensure secure supplies of vital resources. The region’s predilection for building democracy and open markets was amply demonstrated in the 1990s. If it continues in this direction and is successful, it will open exciting new possibilities for economic growth and human development in this hemisphere."

He argues that the danger of backsliding is substantial, as the financial crisis in Argentina, social divisions in Venezuela and the violence in Colombia demonstrate. "Without a strong and credible U.S. commitment to collaboration, progress will be slow and subject to great uncertainties. Because of the progress made in the last decade, such collaboration can have a relatively nominal cost and an enormous cost-benefit multiplier."

A U.S. citizen, Ronald Scheman has been director general since April 2000.  He has been involved in inter-American affairs, has held various positions in finance, law and academia for over 40 years, and has served on the boards of several foundations and organizations. 

Earlier books authored by Scheman include "The Inter-American Dilemma" (1988) and "The Alliance for Progress in Retrospect" (1989). He is also co-author of "Foundations of Freedom" (1965), which deals with the interrelationship between democracy and human rights. 

Jo Stuart
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