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These stories were published Friday, Jan. 30, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 21
Jo Stuart
About us
Finally, the man who jumped gets his name
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

At the time, it was a sad Christmas story but without an obvious connection to the North American community here.

A somewhat confused man climbed to the top floor of Mall San Pedro, muttered something about not being able to buy gifts for his 
children and then threw himself over the railing. He fell in the inside courtyard among displays, two cosmetic saleswomen and holiday shoppers. The date was Dec. 23.

The body went to the morgue unidentified because the man carried no identification, just some 20,000 colons in cash, nearly $50.

This week a woman in Heredia became worried that her neighbor, a U.S. citizen, had not been seen for some time. She called investigators, as did other friends.  Agents put out a notice and asked newspapers to publish the man’s photo.

Finally, the dead man has been identified as the missing Barestan L. Monegain, 54. His friends are mourning the loss. 

Monegain was known as Berry. Friends said he was an investor with the Luis Enrique and 


Oswaldo Villalobos Camacho high interest operation that was located in the same mall. 
The same friends said he lost a considerable amount of money when the operation closed up Oct. 14, 2002.

However, one said that health problems and not the loss of the money was the root of his depression.

Police at the time said that the man who jumped was seen walking through the mall for some time before the 10:20 a.m. incident. 

Because of the prior behavior, no one at the time doubted that the death was a suicide.

President Bush is right: Freedom is not free
The statement has been made time and again by President George Bush and members of his administration and by others. Each time I have heard that admonition, I think about the number of the military coalition who have paid the ultimate price in the attempt to bring democracy to Iraq. 

Now the number of Americans who have been killed is over 515. An average of 9.2 soldiers have been wounded each day in Iraq since the actual war ended. Six hundred service men and women have been evacuated for psychiatric reasons since last March, and there have been 22 suicides in our military.

All in all, 29,000 American troops have been killed, wounded, injured or become ill enough to require evacuation from Iraq. This does not include members of the rest of the coalition who have died or the deaths among the media covering Iraq.

As for the cost of freedom in money, by the end of 2003 the estimated cost to American citizens to export democracy and freedom was $100 billion. Other members of the coalition have donated $13 billion. The president recently asked for $87 billion more.

But the cost to bring freedom to Iraq is not just on the shoulders of the freedom proselytizers. The the Iraqis are paying a price for their conversion to democracy and freedom, too. We have heard on the news "the Iowa scream" enough times to be able to do it ourselves, but I have never heard a count of the dead Iraqis on the American news media. 

Approximately 16,000 Iraqis have been killed since the beginning of the conflict. Of these between 8,000 and 9,990 have been civilians. There have been an estimated 20,000 Iraqis injured since the beginning of the war. There are no figures on the number terrorized or traumatized by night raids of their homes. The coalition soldiers, searching for dissidents and weaponry, have been making an average of 180 raids a week. 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

These raids are taking an emotional toll on both the soldiers and the Iraqis. Especially when there is often a language barrier.

There are other costs to freedom. During the reign of Saddam Hussein 92 percent of Iraq’s urban areas had access to drinkable water. Today just 60 percent does. Before the war, 55 percent of the Iraqi work force was unemployed, today 80 percent is out of work. The shock and awe attack has devastated their infrastructure, which was already in bad shape. Ironically, many Iraqis did not listen to this year’s State of the Union speech by President Bush because they did not have electricity.

As yet the people of Iraq have not been able to vote for a new democratic government; they are being ruled by a sort of commission appointed by the coalition. This commission just recently decided that the status of women in Iraq will be governed by religious, not secular law. If this decision is made law, Iraqi women will lose the rights they had under Saddam Hussein. (In this case, the price of freedom for women IS freedom.)

After the price has been paid, (at least in lives), Iraq will be the newest democracy in the world. India is still the largest, the United States the oldest and most powerful, and Costa Rica still seems to be the most peaceful. 

It appears that the least costly way to export democracy and freedom is by example.

(The above statistics were extrapolated from The Guardian, UK and Iraqbodycount.net. The Guardian’s sources include the U.S. Army, Amnesty International, U.S. Deptment of Defense, the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad, among others.)

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Protest misses mark
over Harken payment

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 15 to 20 protestors were joined by about the same number of reporters and cameramen Thursday outside the Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía. But the object of their efforts had left.

The protesters, from at least four organizations, were there to confront Robert Toricelli, the former U.S. senator who was here to negotiate on behalf of Harken Energy Inc. But Toricelli did not see the protestors.

Later, the ministry announced that the question of compensating Harken would be turned over to the Asamblea Nacional. Harken wants payment because the government of Miguel Angel Rodríguez canceled its concession to drill an exploratory well off the Caribbean coast.

At one point late last year Harken said it wanted $57 billion. That number got the immediate attention of Costa Rica, which agreed to enter into negotiations. The ministry has floated numbers ranging from $3 million to $12 million, but Harken has the option to renew a bid for international arbitration.

Government officials contend that Harken did not complete its obligations and therefore should not be paid anything. That was the theme the protesters adopted. Ministry officials say, instead, they are prepared to pay Harken reasonable expenses.

Woman’s body found
near Pacific beach

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police found the body of a woman in a palm grove on the road to Playa Bandera near Jacó Thursday. Nearby were brass shells from a firearm, and the skull contained a hole above the right eye. So police are handling the case as a murder.

The woman had been dead about eight days, according to the Judicial Investigating Organization. They seek help in making an identification.

The woman was about 5 feet, two inches tall with black hair. The age is undetermined. She wore a necklace of silver with a cross pendant that was decorated with pearls, agents said. On her hand was a ring of yellow pearls.

Bloody riots hit
Dominican Republic

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic — President Hipolito Mejia is appealing for calm in the wake of deadly street clashes which have erupted on the second day of a two-day general strike.

President Mejia issued the appeal Thursday here, saying, "we all lose with a strike." He made his remarks as five people died of gunshot wounds in clashes with police around the capital and other areas. At least 35 people also were injured.

Police have fanned out across many cities, firing warning shots and tear gas at protesters who built flaming barricades in the streets.

Citizens groups and labor unions called the 48-hour stoppage, which has kept schools and businesses closed and buses off the streets. They are protesting the country's worst economic crisis in decades.

The country's financial troubles have led to a sharp devaluation of the peso, soaring inflation, as well as persistent power outages that sometimes last as long as 20 hours. Also, the stagnating economy has prompted scores of Dominicans to try to reach the United States by boat.

President Mejia has said repeatedly that the country will soon reach an agreement with the International Monetary Fund to inject badly-needed money into the economy.

More than a dozen
Mexican cops held

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CIUDAD JUAREZ, México — Some 13 Mexican state police officers have been arrested in connection with the killings of 11 men found in a mass grave in this northern border city.

The arrested police officers have been flown to Mexico City, where they are being questioned by senior officials. 

But the attorney general, Rafael Macedo de la Concha, is already conceding that four other officers, including State Police Commander Miguel Angel Loya, are fugitives from justice. Loya failed to show up for work on Monday, and has not been seen since. 

Mexican authorities estimate the killings happened about a year ago, and say they are directly connected to the notorious Vicente Carillo Drug Cartel, which operates throughout this region.

They say a bloody internal power struggle is raging, following the arrest of a number of senior drug cartel operatives.

The mass grave was discovered near a house last weekend. A man who rented the house, who was caught trying to flee to the United States, has admitted to murdering some of the men and burying them, on orders from the cartel. He has also implicated some state police officers, and explained that there are more bodies to be found. 

Agents of the Attorney General's Office are searching other locations for more mass graves. Local families have indicated that more than 90 people have been reported missing. 

Colombian fighters
invade Venezuela

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — National guard troops have clashed with suspected Colombian leftist rebels who crossed into Venezuelan territory and opened fire. 

Venezuelan military officials say 30 soldiers were searching for kidnap victims Thursday when they encountered the armed fighters. Officials also say the soldiers fired on the suspected guerrillas and radioed for reinforcements. 

Venezuelan warplanes were sent to the area to drive back the column of armed Colombians. None of the soldiers was hurt, and it was not clear if any of the guerrillas suffered casualties. There was no immediate reaction from the government in Bogota. 

Leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has angrily denied allegations he allows Colombian rebels to use his country as a springboard for attacks in Colombia. Chavez also has accused Colombia of not doing enough to stop its four-decade-old civil war from spilling over the border. 

Colombia's long-running conflict pits leftist rebels, rightist paramilitaries and the government against each other. The war leaves several thousand people dead each year. 


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Development bank praises outcome of trade talks
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — One of the Western Hemisphere's most important financial lending institutions, the Inter-American Development Bank, has welcomed Costa Rica's entry into a new free-trade agreement with the United States.

In a statement, the development bank offered its support to help Costa Ricans "maximize the benefits of the new accord," known as the Central America Free Trade Agreement.

The development bank said the free-trade nations now face the "challenge of implementing policies that will allow them to benefit fully from the advantages of free trade" and to "distribute the fruits equitably and protect groups affected by changing economic conditions."

Since the start of the free trade negotiations, the development bank said it has helped the Central American nations identify trade-related capacity-building needs and provide financial and technical resources to strengthen their trade policy management and trade agreement implementation.

El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua completed their negotiations with the United States in December to establish the pact. Costa Rica took part in the same rounds, but did not finish its negotiations with the United States until Sunday.

That same day, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick and Alberto Trejos, Costa Rica’s minister of Comercio Exterior, announced Costa Rica's approval of the trade pact. Zoellick said the Central American nation "needed a little more time to complete its participation in the CAFTA, and we're very pleased it has joined" its neighbors in the region "in this cutting-edge, modern FTA [free-trade agreement] designed to expand trade between friends and neighbors."

Meanwhile, Zoellick's Office of the U.S. Trade Representative has released a draft text in English of the the treaty. The preamble to the agreement says the United States and the five nations in trade agreement will create new employment opportunities and improve working conditions and living standards in their respective states. In addition, the preamble says the free trade agreement will be implemented in a "manner consistent with environmental protection and conservation," and will "promote sustainable development, and strengthen" cooperation on environmental matters.

The preamble says further that the pact will "provide an impetus toward the establishment" of the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas, which aims to create a free-trade zone stretching from Canada to Argentina.

The draft agreement is available on the trade representative's Web site at: www.ustr.gov.

Diplomats try to get world trade talks on track
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Participants at a conference here Thursday examined prospects for re-starting the stalled global negotiations on trade liberalization. Those talks stalled last September during a session in Cancun, Mexico. While there is some optimism, participants are under no illusion that the task will be easy.

Earlier this month U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick notified trade officials from over 140 countries that the United States wants to get the talks back on track. Nearly four months after the failure at Cancun, Mr. Zoellick's proposal has been positively received. 

In February, the U.S. official will travel to several developing countries to better understand their priorities. The curtailed negotiations, known as the Doha Round, were launched in Qatar in 2001.

Chris Padilla, an assistant to Zoellick, says as at Cancun, the United States is willing to consider a complete end to the agricultural subsidies, something demanded by key developing nations. 

"In fact, they [an end to subsidies] were on the table [at Cancun], sitting there waiting to be cut," he said. "We had spent two years doing domestic spade-work with the Congress and the farm community to be able to get to the point of offering to eliminate all agricultural export subsidies and substantially reduce domestic supports."

But Rubens Barbosa, Brazil's ambassador to Washington and a key player in the trade talks, is skeptical about U.S. intentions. He told the conference that a Brazilian organized bloc of developing countries, the Group of 20, blamed by many for wrecking the Cancun meeting, remains suspicious that the United States and European Union are trying to work out their own deal on agriculture.

"It will be very difficult to go ahead without reaching for the G-20 and looking into our perspective," Barbosa said. "It will be impossible because in the G-20 you have Brazil, China, India, South Africa, Mexico, Argentina, the big agricultural producers [among developing countries] in the world."

Padilla and his American colleagues in turn are skeptical about the G-20, believing that they seek one-way concessions from rich countries. That obstinance, he says, was on full display in Cancun.

"The principal cause of the collapse [at Cancun] was that some major developing economies wanted to pocket our bold offers on goods and services without offering to open their own markets in return," he said.

But overall, participants are cautiously optimistic about a resumption of the trade talks. However, few believe that given the differences between rich and poor countries, the deadline for completing the Doha round by the end of this year can be met. 

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