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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2002, Vol. 2, No. 20
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There 
is hope

The sun breaks through the cloud cover over the southern hills of the Central Valley this weekend, giving some hope. Clouds, chilly winds and some rain have made Costa Ricans wonder when will ‘summer’ really arrive.
 

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Major work planned for tourist zone highways 
By Saray Ramírez
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Three roads heavily traveled by tourists near Pacific beaches are getting face-liftings, according to the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation.

The work includes a project to improve the highway to the beach community of Tamarindo. Also involved is work on the road to Nosara and the road between Sámara and Carrillo. All four towns are on the western edge of the Nicoya Peninsula and washed by the Pacific Ocean.

The announcement follows complaints by business people and tourists that the roads were in bad shape and causing damage to vehicles. The situation around Nosara was the topic of an A.M. Costa Rica report Dec. 17.

Word that road improvements would be made came from Walter Neihaus, minister of tourism, at a press conference last week. He said he was aware that the roads were hurting tourism and that reconstruction had just been approved.

The public works ministry confirmed the projects Monday. 

Sámara

The most expensive project is the reconstruction of Route 160 from Sámara south 6 kilometers (3.6 miles) to Carrillo. The work will be $1.3 million plus an additional $600,000 for additional work, including the construction of three bridges and repair and reconstruction of roads in Carrillo and some 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) of roadways in Sámara, said the ministry.

About 60 percent of the project will be to put a light cap of asphalt over new roadbase. The company of Sánchez-Carvajal is doing this work, which should be finished in March, said the ministry.

The additional work includes putting down asphalt in adjacent streets, repair of 300 to 400 meters (900 to 1,250 feet) of roadway in Carrillo and constructing protection against the nearby ocean for roadways in Sámara, said the ministry.

Tamarindo

The project in Tamarindo is 5 kilometers (3 miles) on Route 152, and the ministry said it anticipates that a final go-ahead for the project will be given within a week. Sánchez-Carvajal already has graded portions of this road that runs from Villa Real west to Tamarindo.

Two more projects are planned. The first is the drainage and the laying of a sub-base for the road by Sánchez-Carvajal.  The company Raasa has the job of then coming in and putting down the final base and the finishing touches as well as ditches and other runoff-related work.
 

Nosara

The ministry said that a road grader already had done work on Route 934 between Terciopelo and Barco Quebrado and also on Route 160 from Barco Quebrado to Nosara in late December. In the next few days a rented grader will be doing additional leveling work, eliminating potholes and irregularities dug by heavy trucks during the rainy season, said the ministry.

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War forged first links of corruption, expert says
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The nature of official corruption has changed in Costa Rica, and the roots of the change go back to the civil war in Nicaragua in the 1980s, according to one of the few people who study that topic.

The secret shipments of arms and supplies in support of the Nicaraguan rebels who were fighting the Sandinistas established the channels for corruption today involving drugs, arms, white slavery and all those other social evils that require official complicity, according to Cristina Rojas Rodríguez. The war raged from 1984 to 1989.

The result was that money-greased links were forged between corrupt members of the Costa Rican elite in both major political parties to foster illegal activities, she said. The result is systemic corruption in place of individual, isolated cases, she concluded.

Ms. Rojas is one of two authors of a first-ever academic study of how Costa Ricans perceive corruption. The study has been the topic of news stories since it was done in the first quarter of 2001, and within a few months a book will be published with the title: "Corruption in Costa Rica: Causes, consequences and countermeasures," she said.

Ms. Rojas, a former Costa Rican ambassador to Japan, talked about her research with members of Democrats Abroad Monday. Her antidote to what many believe is increasing corruption in Costa Rica is more public participation and a national commitment to eliminate corruption.

Ms. Rojas also reported that the Costa Rican ombudsman’s office, the defensor de los habitantes, is setting up a special office to deal with corruption. She also is setting up an organization to help individuals fight against official corruption.

In addition to her academic work, Ms. Rojas was involved in working with officials of the Partido Liberación Nacional and presidential candidate Rolando Araya to develop an anti-corruption strategy as part of the party’s election platform.

Ms. Rojas said that broad descretionary powers by public officials foster corruption as do ever-changing laws, weak public institutions, low salaries, lack of ethics and personal advancement not connected with performance in the public sector. Plus, hardly anyone gets punished, she said.

She noted that corruption has hidden costs in both currency and in negative changes in social systems, such as lack of respect for the law. Some corruption just can’t be measured well she said, asking how does one espress in currency the cost of illegally cutting down hardwood trees.

Another big area for corruption is in allowing developers to violate building codes, she said as she noted that the violations became obvious when buildings collapsed in the 1985 Mexico City earthquake.

"We hope that when we have our earthquake those laws are not heavily violated in Costa Rica," she said. 

Her study was based on the perceptions of 440 persons in business, politics, the press, professional organizations and unions. The study shows that Costa Ricans see corruption at all levels of 
government, from the highest to the lowest. In fact, 

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Cristina Rojas Rodríguez is bracketed by members of Democrats Abroad seeking answers to questions. Ms. Rojas, a former ambassador to Japan, has been board chairwoman of the Center for Mediation, Conflict Resolution and Investigation since 1997.

because municipalities issue most of the permits, that level of government is considered the most corrupt, according to the study.

But ministries also are considered corrupt by Costa Ricans, with the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation leading the pack.

To eliminate corruption ". . . is not just a matter of putting into jail one or two people. We are all involved," she said.

Her study showed that the news media and educational institutions are believed by those surveyed to be most important in ending corruption. "Transparency is dependent on the media," she said. Her respondents were not as confident in the judicial system, which many considered to be corrupt.

On a personal note, she agreed, saying that when she worked in the judicial branch, starting in 1975, "We were so eager to be judicial officers."

Now, she said of workers there, "They are not eager and dismotivated," and the perception of corruption is growing, in part because the branch is not getting the resources to do its work.

Corruption is the backbone of international crime, she said, because all corrupt activities involve public officials to some degree. She wondered how a string of trucks loaded with weapons bound for Colombian guerrillas could pass through Costa Rica and not be noticed or stopped until the trucks reach Panamá. That case was reported recently.

Curiously, those who responded to her survey and are under 35 years thought that Costa Rica was more corrupt than the Latin America norm, she said. Yet she also said they showed hope of being idealistic.

As far as the elections Feb. 3, Ms. Rojas said that all three leading presidential candidates have serious anti-corruption mechanisms in their party platforms. She said the important issue is what happens after the election.


 
World meeting
coming to town

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Democrats Abroad of Costa Rica will be hosting a world meeting of the organization March 15, 16, and 17 in San José.

Overseas Democrats from a number of European and Latin countries as well as members of the Democratic National Committee staff in Washington, D.C. will attend the annual business session, said Jerry Ledin, president of Democrats Abroad of Costa Rica.

Political organizations overseas have been getting more attention from both U.S. political parties in light of the close presidential vote that was influenced by overseas absentee ballots. Both parties have organizations in many countries.

The meeting will be based at the downtown Holiday Inn, where the local group will set up a reception Friday, March 15. A gala Saturday, March 16, will be at the Gran Hotel Costa Rica, said Ledin. 

Chile, U.S. plan
more trade talks

By the A. M. Costa Rica wires services

The United States and Chile will hold two new negotiating rounds in March and April 2002 to continue work on a Free Trade Agreement between the two nations, according to the United States Trade Representative.

The agreement to continue negotiations came at the end of the 10th round of negotiations held in Santiago last week. Among the topics discussed at that round were market access, anti-dumping, investment, e-commerce, and intellectual property rights.

Food improvements
not keeping up

By the A. M. Costa Rica wires services

MARRAKECH, Morocco — The head of the World Health Organization says food-borne disease is increasing and calls for a global improvement in food safety systems. 

Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland spoke Monday at the first-ever Global Forum of Food Safety Regulators here.

Dr. Brundtland told the opening session that food safety systems are not keeping up with new microbiological hazards in many countries. He urged delegates to develop new evidence-based strategies that lower the risk of disease in the entire food production chain, from farmers to consumers. 

The WHO says diarrhea from contaminated food kills more than two million people each year, most of them children. 

Three hundred delegates from 120 countries are attending the conference, which lasts through Wednesday. Last week a European Union committee recommended suspending some Chinese meat and seafood imports because they may be contaminated.

Cuba, U.S. disagree
on rapprochement

By the A.M. Costa Rica wires services

The United States is dismissing Cuban suggestions that relations between the two adversaries are likely to improve in the near future. In recent days, senior Cuban government officials such as Defense Minister Raul Castro, brother of President Fidel Castro, have spoken with optimism about future relations. 

Raul Castro said Saturday recent trips to the island by U.S. politicians and business people show there can be a mutually-beneficial rapprochement based on principles of mutual respect and non-interference. 

Monday, however, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said relations cannot improve until the Communist country guarantees its people certain basic human rights. 

Bush preparing
his big speech 

By the A. M. Costa Rica wires services

President Bush is making final preparations for his first State of the Union address that aides say will focus on fighting terrorism, protecting Americans at home, and bringing the U.S. economy out of recession. 

The speech to a joint session of Congress will be broadcast live by a number of television and radio stations at 8 o’clock tonight.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer says Bush will use the address to urge Congress to show the same spirit of cooperation on domestic issues as they have showed in the war on terrorism. 

Afghan interim leader Hamid Karzai will attend to hear the speech as Mr. Bush's special guest. The two held talks Monday at the White House on the rebuilding of Afghanistan and the ongoing war against terrorism. 

Bush will discuss a budget that includes the largest increase in defense spending in 20 years. Bush says preventing another terrorist attack is the best thing he can do for the economy. 

Bush's speech is expected to get more attention from the American public than any State of the Union speech in years. Polls show most people believe the speech is more important this year because of the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks and the U.S.-led war against terrorism.
 

Ecuadorean plane
down in Colombia

By the A. M. Costa Rica wires services

An Ecuadorean passenger plane with 92 people on board has crashed just inside neighboring Colombia. 

Ecuadorean authorities say TAME Flight 120 was headed to Tulcan from Quito when it crashed Monday near Colombia's southern border town of Ipiales. It is unclear whether anyone on board the Boeing 727 survived. 

Many of the passengers were Colombian and authorities there say they are working with Ecuador to locate the plane. 

The cause of the crash is unknown, but news reports says Colombian authorities have ruled out a guerrilla attack on the aircraft. Leftist rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC, operate in southern Colombia. 

The TAME aircraft is the second Ecuadorean plane to disappear in Colombia in two weeks. A plane belonging to Ecuador's state-owned oil company, Petroecuador, crashed in southern Colombia's El Tigre hill region on Jan. 17. None of the 26 people on board survived.
 

Ashcroft urges
more cooperation

By the A. M. Costa Rica wires services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft has urged additional cooperation against terrorism among nations in the Western Hemisphere.

In a speech Monday to the Inter-American Committee Against Terrorism of the Organization of American States, Ashcroft welcomed the cooperation the United States already has received from OAS countries in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He noted in particular steps to tighten border controls, more effective mechanisms to track and intercept terrorist financing and shared training and joint anti-terrorist exercises.

Ashcroft called on the OAS committee to continue its efforts to develop a counter-terrorism database and to train staffs in counter-terrorism measures. He urged all OAS member states to sign and ratify the 12 U.N. counter-terrorism conventions, and called on the committee to make this a priority in its future work.


 
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