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These stories were published Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2002
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2001 tourism was up 4 percent, officials say 
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The minister of tourism reported a 4 percent increase in the number of international visitors for 2001, a year that saw the start of a worldwide recession, terrorist attacks and a war.

The minister, Walter Niehaus, also said he and his staff were so pleased with the results of an emergency promotional campaign that they were keeping the general idea and the slogans for 2002.

The minister made his points to newsmen in a conference at the Real Intercontinental Hotel in advance of a session Tuesday night with owners and tour operators.

The emergency campaign featured the slogan "no artificial ingredients" to promote Costa Rica internationally. In-country, the slogan was and will continue to be "Rediscover your country. It’s incredible," in Spanish.

Niehaus said that total tourists increased from 1,088,075 in 2000 to 1,131,598 in 2001, some 4 per cent more. However, the totals released by the ministry showed a 9.3 percent increase in tourists from South America, including 47,289 Colombians and also171,045 Nicaraguans from Central America. Colombians were up 16.9 percent in 2001, and Nicaraguans were up 19.5 percent over the year before.

Tourists from the United States showed just a 0.2 percent increase to 430,713. That’s 988 tourists more. Tourism from Canada was down 2.9 percent to 51,172 visitors. Tourism was running at a clip nearly 9 percent greater than the year 2000 before Sept. 11.

The $1.5 million promotional campaign set up to counter the impact of the U.S. terrorist attacks focused on the beauty, diversity, peace, tranquility and friendship that tourists would find here, the minister said. The campaign included 43 insertions of newspaper ads in 10 major U.S. cities.

A public relations aspect involved personal visits that generated interest and newspaper articles in other publications, he said. The campaign was a success because the number of monthly unique visitors to the ICT Web site went from 24,030 in September to 72,354 in January, Niehaus said.

The tourism institute also has set up a toll-free informational line that fields calls generated by advertising.  The calls are up, too, according to the institute. These are the two principal measures of the advertising and public relations campaign’s effectiveness.
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ICT's Niehaus shows new ad

Tourism officials were particularly proud of the $70,000 full-page ad that ran in the Sunday, Jan. 13, travel section of The New York Times.

The $9 million campaign planned for this year involves a series of 10 ads, each focused on a single tourism theme, such as "comfort." "friendship," "color" and others. The international marketing firm of Porter Novelli of Barrio Escalante in north San José is handling the campaign.

The institute will get more bang for the buck by placing advertisements less than a full page in some newspapers, said a Porter Novelli executive.

Solís would make
institute private

As tourism officials were presenting the numbers for 2001, Ottón Solís, a presidential candidate, was telling tourism leaders that he would privatize the Costa Rican Institute of Tourism if he is elected.

Solís, candidate of the new Partido Acción Ciudadana, is neck-and-neck with Rolando Araya of Partido Liberatión Nacional for second place in the polls. He has a good chance of making a two-candidate runoff with Abel Pacheco of Partido Unidad Social Cristiana or Araya if no candidate gets the required 40 percent of votes  in the first round Feb. 3.

Solís said that the tourism institute spends 40 percent of its budget on administrative expenses and that the job could be done better by those in the tourism business. He made his comments at a meeting of the Chamber of Tourism.

Solís also repeated his statement that he would like to rid Costa Rica of casinos, something he also said last weekend. A number of casinos are associated with hotels all over the country, and casinos represent a major investment and a major income source, as well as a source for jobs.

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Coordinated, hemispheric anti-drug strategy urged
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States believes that the problem of illegal drugs in the Western Hemisphere is best tackled by a comprehensive regional approach that encourages close partnership with neighboring countries, says William Brownfield, deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs.

Speaking to the World Affairs Councils of America's conference last week, Brownfield offered his assessment of the so-called "war on drugs" that presents the region with one of its most pressing challenges.

 "I would like to adjust the way we usually address this issue," he said. "We usually start with a mind-numbing series of statistics."

Instead, he argued, "we need to ask six questions -- first, why do we care? Second, what is the threat to the Western Hemisphere? Third, what was the response? Fourth, has it worked? Fifth, where do we go from here? And sixth, is legalization the solution?"

The first question, he said, has a fairly straightforward answer. No country can afford to be indifferent to the scourge of illegal drugs, Brownfield declared, because the ramifications of trafficking are so far-reaching and profound. And those ramifications, he added, exist on many levels.

The United States and its allies in the hemisphere recognize that the illicit narcotics trade provides a fertile breeding ground for corruption, which significantly undermines democratic institutions in the countries most affected by trafficking operations. Without being specific, Brownfield cited the case of a regional government "that was managed by individuals who were, at best, on the payroll" of drug lords. He noted that the country soon experienced a total breakdown in law enforcement, as well as the corresponding paralysis of its judicial system.

On the subject of whether— and how — drugs affect regional economies, Brownfield said: "There is no question that they do." These effects can easily be measured by examining the dynamics of a small community of subsistence farmers in Latin America, he suggested. "The impact of drugs, even a small amount of production, completely distorts their way of life," he said. Commerce and trade is subverted when drug traffickers offer farmers hefty financial incentives to plant coca instead of maize, for example.

According to Brownfield, the impact of illegal drugs on the United States is equally severe, if less dramatic. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy reports annually on the estimated street value of illegal drugs entering the United States, the number of deaths and crimes attributable to drugs, the cost to the U.S. economy in terms of lost productivity, and the percentage of the U.S. prison population whose offenses are drug-related. 

Brownfield observed that the threat to the Western Hemisphere from drug trafficking is most vividly illustrated by its effects in source countries, such as Colombia, and in transit countries, such as Haiti. He 

acknowledged that the primary consumer nation in the hemisphere is "us, of course — the United States."

Colombia "is one of the United States' oldest and most reliable democratic partners in this region," Brownfield said. "And Colombia has confronted economic and security crises, and even drug crises, before — sometimes simultaneously." He said that in recent years, however, the proliferation of drug trafficking in Colombia has sharply exacerbated the country's problems.

"In essence, Colombia was the victim of the success of U.S. anti-drug policies" elsewhere in the hemisphere, he explained. "When we dramatically reduced [illicit] drug production in Bolivia and Peru, drug manufacturers moved their operations to Colombia."

"Has the strategy worked?" Brownfield asked rhetorically. He concluded that it was probably too early to judge, since "U.S. support for Plan Colombia is just over a year old." In fact, he said, "we began implementing [the plan] about 14 months ago."

Brownfield reiterated that drug trafficking is, demonstrably, a huge security problem. "After Sept. 11, we can no longer draw distinctions between various issues affecting our national security," he said. "These issues blend together. That lesson was graphically illustrated by the events of Sept. 11 in New York, in Washington, and in Pennsylvania." Many terrorist cells, he observed, are financed by drug trafficking and other forms of organized crime.

"How about legalization? Is that a solution?" he asked. "It will not surprise you to learn that my answer is no. I will not bore you with a lot of moral arguments, although I think we could have a very valid discussion in that context."

But "pragmatically speaking," Brownfield said, "we cannot legalize drugs if we are to maintain a civilized society." For example, he argued, no society can tolerate drug-addled bus drivers or airline pilots — or drug-addicted children, or anyone else, for that matter. Of course, "there will still be a market for illicit drugs, particularly among the inner-city underclass," he added. "The poor, who are often badly educated, and unemployed or working in low-paid jobs, who may come from broken families and have little in the way of a safety net, are the most victimized" by drug traffickers.

"A long-term, integrated and balanced approach that brings together national and international drug policies" from around the hemisphere, and that stresses both "law enforcement and security, and drug treatment for addicts" is the most promising counter-drug strategy, Brownfield concluded.

Most importantly, a coordinated hemisphere-wide response must recognize that "this is a law-enforcement issue, involving police and federal prosecutors, and it's also a development issue," he said. "We're talking about a global campaign, a generational effort."

He admitted that Americans might not "like the concept of a war that will take about 25 years to win, but I suspect that will be the case." Just as it took a generation "to get into this mess, it will take a generation to get out," he said.

Organization for men getting a lot of interest, founder says
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An organization to help men having troubles with the Costa Rican judicial system is attracting a lot of interest, according to the founder.

He is Ralph Stumbo, and he reported that his group, the North American Consul For Justice, has formed an alliance with Dr. James Marshall and his
Foundation for Fathers of Separated Families.

"I can hardly keep up with the e-mails that I am receiving from troubled fathers, and not just Gringos. Half the mail I receive is from Ticos," said Stumbo.

He is the man who is involved in a bitter battle with his Costa Rican wife for custody of his son. The woman took the child from Florida to Costa Rica contrary to a judicial order and that action is now being studied by police officials in Florida, according to documents in his possession and comments by Stumbo.

Because of his troubles here when he and his family lived in Costa Rica and the more recent events that 

originated in Florida, Stumbo said he believes that Costa Rican family law is heavily slanted to the interest of whatever woman is involved in a court case

He said that he held a gathering for fathers over the weekend, and he was surprised that a number of the guests were professionals, including journalists.

Stumbo said that the founders and organizers will meet in private this weekend to put together a formal platform and agenda for the group. He said that one idea might be to create a shelter for battered men, similar to those operating for battered women. He said that in Costa Rica a man can be quickly evicted from his home on the unverified complaint of the wife and have nowhere to go.

As to his own case, Stumbo said that he still awaits the arrival of an authenticated copy of his divorce decree, granted by a Florida judge who awarded him sole custody of his 5-year-old son. When it arrives, he will begin a court battle here to take the boy from his mother, who lives in Heredia with her family, he said.

Rural institute
aims to improve
country life

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The new head of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture, a Costa Rican-based independent organization which focuses on the problems of those living in rural areas in the Americas, has pledged to carry out policies to help make life better for the estimated 177 million people in the region living in poverty.

The new head is Chelston Brathwaite. He called for an alliance between the institute and its partner agencies in the hemisphere to push for "poverty alleviation, free trade, democracy, and justice for the peoples of the Americas." These partners, he said, include the Organization of American States, the Pan American Health Organization, the Inter-American Development Bank and the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.

The institute board is composed of the region's 34 ministers of agriculture, including U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman.

Brathwaite, from Barbados, said the institute must also develop partnerships with the international financial community to obtain the necessary resources to follow up on mandates issued at the three Summits of the Americas, which stressed the importance of promoting agriculture and rural life in sustaining growth in the hemisphere. 

In his inauguration speech last week at institute headquarters in Coronado, Costa Rica, Brathwaite said his organization seeks to modernize the rural sector, promote food security, and develop an agricultural sector that is "economically competitive, technologically prepared, environmentally-managed, and socially equitable." 

He said his organization would work to "seize the opportunities" created by the advent of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). The FTAA is designed to create a free-trade zone in the hemisphere by 2005. 

Brathwaite succeeds Carlos Aquino of the Dominican Republic, who headed the institute for eight years. 

Airport exit tax increase
would be $8 for tourists

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Increasing the airport exit tax $8, from $17 to $25 will have zero impact on tourism, according to Walter Niehaus of the Costa Rica Tourism Institute.

He is one of the government ministers who has proposed the increase in legislation now before the National Assembly.

In addition to increasing the exit tax for tourism, the bill would decrease the exit tax for residents from $45 to the same $25.

Based on last year’s tourism numbers, the measure would raise a additional $6.7 million in taxes from tourists leaving at the nation’s two international airports. Exact figures of how much taxes would be saved by residents was more difficult to compute.

However, Niehaus was rather emphatic when questioned Tuesday afternoon. He said a similar exit tax on foreigners leaving from the United States is $29, and the proposed Costa Rica increase would still put the tax well below that figure.

Gunmen kill police
at U.S. cultural center

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CALCUTTA, India — Indian police are searching for gunmen who opened fire on a U.S. cultural center here Tuesday, killed five policemen and wounded 20 others.

Police say the attackers opened fire on the American Center as police guards were changing shifts at dawn. The gunmen fled the scene on motorcycles. The center, which houses a library and a cultural section, was not open at the time of the attack. No Americans were injured and no staffers were in the building.

Chavez accused
by former ally

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela's public prosecutor has begun investigating allegations that President Hugo Chavez mishandled public funds and allowed government corruption.

Authorities said Monday the opposition Movement Toward Socialism  triggered the investigation by accusing Chavez of using public funds to benefit his political party. Opposition officials also accused the president of allowing threats on the media and overlooking corrupt acts by government officials. The Movement Toward Socialism was allied with Chavez until recently. The public prosecutor will decide if the allegations are justified. If so, the case could come before Venezuela's Supreme Court.

Military repeals
order on veil

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Pentagon is reversing its order requiring U.S. women soldiers in Saudi Arabia to wear a traditional Muslim veil. 

In a memo issued by the U.S. Central Command late Tuesday, military officials say it is no longer mandatory that women soldiers wear the black veil, called an abaya, while off duty. But the memo says the women still are strongly encouraged to wear the veil. 

Military officials had ordered U.S. women personnel to wear the abaya over their uniforms to avoid offending Muslim sensibilities. 

But U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Martha McSally, the highest-ranking female American fighter pilot, sued the Pentagon six years ago for the right not to wear the veil. Colonel McSally said she was angered that U.S. military leaders forced her to wear the abaya, while she risked her life against the Taleban for the right of Afghan women to be able to shed their Islamic clothing. 

Republican Sen. Bob Smith of the Armed Services Committee, who intervened with the Pentagon for Colonel McSally, said Tuesday he is overjoyed with the reversal. 

IMF admits errors
in Argentine effort

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The International Monetary Fund now admits it made mistakes in how it handled Argentina.

IMF Managing Director Horst Koehler made the remarks in an interview being published today in the French daily newspaper, Le Monde.

Koehler told the newspaper the lending agency did not pay enough attention to what he called the shifting policies of former Argentine President Carlos Menem toward the late 1990s. 

The IMF head says as a result, the economic crisis in Argentina has been a failure for the agency and the entire international community. 

President Menem held office from 1989 to 1999. In 1991, Argentina pegged its peso one-to-one with the U.S. dollar to end hyperinflation and revive economic growth. By the time Menem left office in 1999, Argentina was in recession and accumulating extensive foreign debt. 

Critics have charged Menem with fiscal mismanagement and blame him for Argentina's current problems. Argentina has been in recession nearly four years and is in default on its $141-billion public debt. It is struggling with 18 percent unemployment as well. 

Argentina's economic slump has triggered widespread protests that forced the resignation of President Fernando de la Rua last month. Current President Eduardo Duhalde recently devalued the peso in a bid to help the economy rebound from the brink of economic collapse. 

Last month, the IMF refused to clear a crucial $1.3-billion loan installment for Argentina. Officials cited fiscal concerns and said they could not recommend the payment. The IMF, however, recently allowed Argentina to defer for one year payment on a $933-million loan.

Meanwhile, Spain's biggest bank has taken a huge charge for potential losses in Argentina, while debating whether to continue operating in the bankrupt country. 

Santander Central Hispano set aside $1.1 billion last year to cover potential losses in its Argentine bank, Banco Rio de la Plata. The Spanish bank said the provision amounts to 100 percent of Banco Rio's value, which means it now values its Argentine unit at zero. Analysts say the move could be the first step before Santander walks away from Argentina. 

Berenson’s seeks
Peruvian reprieve

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LIMA, Peru — This nation’s top court is considering an appeal by an American woman to overturn a 20-year prison term for collaborating with leftist rebels in 1996. 

Lori Berenson's lawyer Tuesday asked the Supreme Court to drop the charges against his client, who describes herself as a political prisoner. The lawyer, Jose Luis Sandoval, said there was not enough evidence against her. But the prosecutor said Berenson knew what she was doing when she became involved with the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, known as the MRTA. 

Court officials said a ruling by the five-judge panel could come within a day or take up to two weeks.  Berenson, 32, was imprisoned for life in a 1996 military trial that convicted her as an MRTA leader. 

In a civil retrial last June, she was acquitted of being a member of the rebel group but was convicted of helping in an unsuccessful rebel plot to attack the Peruvian Congress. She was given a sentence of 20 years that includes time served from the 1996 conviction. 

Berenson, who was not present in court Tuesday, maintains her innocence. She has denied that she was a member of MRTA or knew of the plot to attack Congress. 

But the civilian court said Berenson knowingly sheltered members of the rebel group in a house she rented, and posed as a journalist to help them plan the attack. 

Last month, she was transferred from a prison in Lima to one high in the Andes, more than 500 kilometers away. She is due to be released in 2015. 

President Bush raised Berenson's case with then President-elect Alejandro Toledo last June, urging that humanitarian factors be taken into consideration in her case. But Toledo, who took office in July, has vowed not to interfere. 

Foes of abortion
take to the streets

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Anti-abortion activists have taken to the streets of Washington for the 29th annual "March for Life", a protest that seeks to overturn the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion. 

A rally on the national mall is to be followed by a march to the nearby Supreme Court and the Capitol. 

Meanwhile, abortion-rights activists are using the anniversary to call again for the election of U.S. lawmakers who support their stand. 

President Bush, who was in the U.S. state of West Virginia promoting his economic agenda, telephoned anti-abortion activists at their rally to lend his support. He spoke about the importance of respecting human life. 

The nine-person high court ruled in 1973 that a woman's qualified right to terminate her pregnancy is fundamentally protected by the right to liberty and freedom from unwarranted government intrusion enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. The Supreme Court, however, has the ability to reverse itself on earlier decisions. 

That is a prospect that activists who support legal abortion fear, if the composition of the court changes under President Bush's tenure.

Newsman wounded

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — A Canadian journalist has been shot and wounded while reporting on gang warfare here. Mathieu Prudhomme of Canada's Quebec Province was hospitalized Monday after being shot in the arm. 

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