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(506) 223-1327         Published Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008, in Vol. 8, No. 22            E-mail us
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What will they do with the free trade treaty?
By Anne Clark
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

As Costa Rica rushes to try to implement the free trade treaty with the United States, presidential elections there might create new problems.

During the campaign for the Oct. 7 referendum supporters of the free trade treaty said that Costa Rica could experiment with the trade treaty and then drop out if trade did not increase or other  problems developed.

Fifth treaty-related measure
wins first legislative OK
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The United States, too, has the right to cancel the treaty. One of the final sections of the treaty says that "Any party may withdraw from this agreement by providing written notice of withdrawal . . . ." The withdrawal would take place six months after the nation gave written notice unless other arrangements were approved, according to the treaty.

So the views of the Republican and Democratic candidates are important to know what might happen to the treaty.

Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, the Democratic candidates, voted against the original free trade legislation in their capacity as U.S. senators.

John McCain, the Arizona senator, is an enthusiastic supporter of free trade and voted for the  Central American Free Trade Agreement and the North American free trade Agreement.  Mitt Romney, the other leading Republican candidate, also supports free trade. Mike Huckabee, a third Republican candidate has been characterized as having limited, but positive support for free trade.

Romney's Web site has an entire section titled “Latin American Allies,” which states, “Improve Our Economic Ties. The President has negotiated vital free trade agreements with Latin American neighbors like Peru, Colombia and Panama, but some Democrats in Congress are so beholden to their labor bosses, that they have refused to pass them. It is time to put the interests of humanity and of the nation first.”

McCain briefly addresses trade on his campaign Web site under the “Taxes and Economics” category.  He states, “Globalization is an opportunity for American workers today and in the future. Ninety-five percent of the world's customers lie outside our borders and we need to be at the table when the rules for access to those markets are written. To do so, the U.S. should engage in multilateral, regional and bilateral efforts to reduce barriers to trade, level the global playing
field and build effective enforcement of global trading rules.”

Obama and Mrs. Clinton emphasize pro-American trade with environmental regulations.

Surprisingly  Mrs. Clinton, whose husband ushered the North America Free Trade Agreement through Congress, said in 2005: “I voted against CAFTA, because I looked at the facts and I thought we have no environmental or labor standards — something that I believe is within the rubric of free trade. Free trade doesn't mean trade without rules. It doesn't mean a race to the bottom. It's supposed to be based on comparative advantage, so the trading partners all improve their standard of living.”

Mrs. Clinton, who represents New York State, has said that the United States should reevaluate free trade deals every five years to ensure that they are still meeting national and agricultural interests, according to her campaign Web site.

She said she will appoint a trade ambassador that does not treat agriculture like a bargaining chip at the office of the U.S. Trade Representative and will ensure that enforcement is a priority again.

Obama also voted against the Central American Free Trade Agreement in 2005 as an Illinois senator, stating, “There are real problems in the agreement itself. It does less to protect labor than previous trade agreements, and does little to address enforcement of basic environmental standards in the Central American countries and the Dominican Republic.

"Moreover, there has been talk that, in order to get votes from legislators from sugar-producing states, the Bush administration may be preserving indefensible sugar subsidies that benefit a handful of wealthy growers and cripple Illinois candy manufacturers.”

Both the Republican and Democratic parties have influential groups that support and condemn free trade. Although Republican business groups applaud the agreements, some conservatives want to erect barriers to foreign goods.

The Democratic Party also has its organizations of pro-trade business groups. But Costa Rican opponents of the treaty were able to bring here U.S. legislators who strongly oppose the agreements.

A worsening of economic conditions in the United States might provide ammunition for those who want a more protectionist U.S. policy.

The Central American Free Trade Agreement is considered a major accomplishment by President George Bush, himself a Republican. Some spiteful Democrats might try to dump the treaty just to get back at him. That might be more likely if a Democrat wins the presidency.


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3437-4/1/08
High ratings for Arias gives
aides a reason to bash PAC


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A local polling company said that Óscar Arias Sánchez enjoys the greatest approval rating of any president in the last 30 years. And Casa Presidencial was quick to point out that 74 percent of those interviewed would like to see the implementation agenda for the free trade treaty with the U.S. approved as soon as possible.

The Partido Acción Ciudadana has been trying to block passage of some 13 key pieces of legislation, and the Presidencia has begun leveling criticism.

The approval rating for Arias came in at 53 percent. By contract the approval rating of George Bush in the United States is in the mid-30s.

Casa Presidencial released a response to the survey done by Cid Gallup and published in la Republica newspaper.

The findings were optimistic. More than 50 percent said they thought the economy would grow this year greater than in the year before, said Casa Presidencial.

Some 68 percent of the 1,000-plus interviewees could identify an achievement of the Arias administration.

Typically the approval ratings of public officials decline as their term continues, but that of Arias is actually a bit higher than when he was elected.


Our readers' opinions

We were soft on describing
former School of Americas


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I was saddened to see your online newspaper acting like the corporate controlled U.S. press.  In your  article on a new school for the Costa Rican police you stated  "That institution used to be called the School of the Americas and lists among its alumni some Latin military officers with less than a full understanding of human rights."

"Less than a full understanding of human rights!"  Is that what you call torture, mass murder, people being disappeared in the middle of the night or execution style hits on human rights workers or political opponents?

We have come to expect this kind of softball pseudo reporting from the U.S. press as the crimes of the Bush administration are covered up or just plain ignored and blacked out by the media, but  I have come to respect A.M. Costa Rica for not pulling punches in your reporting of the good, the bad and the ugly and what is taught at SOA is truly ugly. 

Please don't start acting like the U.S. press.  Having a free press, the fourth estate as it were, is too important for keeping those that control us in control and when you lose it, as we have done in the United States, the result is devastating and dangerous.
Buddy P. Gill
San Jose, California

He has the answers
to inexpensive tourism

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

As a traveler to Costa Rica for the last 17 years, it's time to add my two cents.  I left Pennsylvania on Jan. 10,  after I had breakfast at the local diner for 99 cents. That's two eggs, home fries and two pieces of toast. If you want coffee, it's another 99 cents. 

My airfare on Continental was $33.20 plus 35,000 frequent flier miles — round trip. There's a hotel a little past the Central Market in San José that charges $10/day — no discounts.  For this you get a private room equipped with a level bed, cable TV (no remote) and bath with a shower that sometimes has hot water.

The faucet had to be fixed with a screwdriver and a vise grips to make it work. $2.  The big asset of the hotel is the Spanish-language instruction. There is absolutely no English spoken. Some nights, the noise coming through the walls was lots more interesting than the TV.

The fast food restaurants on Avenida Central couldn't do any better than $3.50 for breakfast so I had to settle for the the desayuno tipico at one of the large hotels.

I dressed up my room twice   with stunning tropical flower arrangements from the market that cost $9    Every night, I walked home on Avenida Central past the Mercado Central to my room between 8 and 11 p.m. It was well-lighted, and there  was a police presence especially at the market end.  

Many nights, I had amiable conversations with the neighborhood guard who wears a long overcoat.  If you entice him to open the coat, one could see about every weapon known to man. 

I purchased coffee and some smokes to bring home.  My two weeks in Costa Rica cost me $560 including the airfare, room with language lessons and the "security."

It costs money to travel. These naysayers may be right: Things are getting worse, I guess
John Bucher Herr
Lancaster, Pennsylvania

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday,  Jan. 31, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 22


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Bodies of five murdered men turn up at Ciudad Neily dump
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The big job now for crime investigators is to find out who were the five men shot and dumped in southern Costa Rica.

Someone found the bodies in a local garbage dump Wednesday and made an anonymous call to police. The killings are believed to have happened about 10:30 a.m. when neighbors told investigators they heard shots.

The dump is near Ciudad Neily.

The bodies were all identified as adult males. They were arranged in a row face down with their hands tied with plastic strapping. Each was shot at least one time in the head, said Jorge Rojas Vargas, director of the Judicial Investigating Organization. The bodies had no identifying paperwork on them, said Rojas.

The anonymous caller notified the local Fuerza Pública office at 12:40 p.m. Wednesday, said Rojas. Police found the bodies below a cliff where people in the area use to dump trash. The ledge is called Tajo Pelon and is about 1 kilometer from the city and 100 meters from the road. There are no houses or buildings nearby, said Rojas.
photo of bodies
Bodies of slain men lie face down

Rojas said it is probable the men are Panamanian and mentioned two drug related murders suspected to be carried out by a Panamanian band last December and August. In the Dec. 21 incident, two men were shot and killed, and three wounded by what officials suspect was a Panamanian band transporting drugs in Virgen de Sábalo de Golfito. In the August case, a man was found shot and dead in his car. 
Rojas said more identification details will be released today.


Fifth free trade measure wins first approval from lawmakers
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A fifth legal measure linked to the free trade treaty with the United States won passage Wednesday night.

The measure is a reform of the nation's trademark and patent laws and the goal is to bring the laws up to day with innovations in the trademark and patent field.

For example, lawmakers noted that sounds can be a trademark, and the legal changes allow that.

The approval was by the  Comisión con Potestad Legislativa Plena Tercera, a smaller group than the full legislature that has been delegated authority to pass laws.
The measure was approved on first reading, and another vote is necessary.

However, the principal opponent of the free trade treaty, the Partido Acción Ciudadana, is unlikely to challenge this law because it was successful in amending it.

The deputies from Acción Ciudadana inserted a clause that will allow the state to issue an emergency license for the production of medicines.

The political party has been criticized for obstructing the so-called complementary agenda, and issued a press release stating that the amendment shows that they were correct in demanding full discussion of the measures.


Phone company sets deadline for activation of new batch of GSM cell lines
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Would-be cell phone purchasers who signed up to buy one have until Feb. 10 to activate their line.

The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, the telecommunications monopoly, said it will not accept requests after that date.

That means the individual must purchase or otherwise get a cell telephone and either show up at an  Instituto
Costarricense de Electricidad agency or find a vendor that will do the legwork.

The institute issued numbers to would-be purchasers before the new batch of GSM lines went on sale Dec. 17.

The lines that were not sold will be put up for sale again to persons who ended up on the cmpany's waiting list, said the institute. The persons will have just eight days to activate the service, said the institute. A substantial amount of paperworkis required.


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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday,  Jan. 31, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 22

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Female robbers preyed on gullible male tourists in Jacó
By the A.M. Costa Rica Staff

If a pretty woman offers to fix drinks, expats should make certain she is not one of the three who are facing investigation for the age-old Mickey Finn routine.

The three women were detained for investigation as agents look into the drugging and robbery of perhaps as many as 15 men in the Jacó area.

Officials said the three are suspected of slipping drugs to male tourists and then robbing them in their hotel rooms.

The women who did the crimes spotted their prey at the The Monkey Bar and The Beatle Bar in central Jacó, said an official from the Judicial Investigation Organization. Both public bars are places where men go to meet women.

The bar management was not believed to have been involved in the robberies.

The robber would pose as a prostitute and tell potential
victims that they would give a special rate if he hired all three women at once, said officials. Once in the hotel room or other living quarters of their victim, one woman would slip a drug into the man's drink and wait for him to pass out. The women would then undress the man, open any safe and steal valuables like computers and jewelry, among other things, said officials. 

Agents arrested Angeli Amador Blanco, 31, Katia Lezcanos Cerdas, 33, Melissa Cortés Brenes, 27, Monday. They are suspected of committing 12 to 15 thefts in this manner, said officials.

Officials took blood and urine samples from the victims and concluded that the drug used was  benzodiazepine is a mild tranquilizer which slows down the central nervous system. It is sometimes used before dental procedures or medical exams to sedate the patient. The drug is related to date-rape chemicals

Officials said at least 50 million colons ($100,000) worth of items were stolen.


President's cabinet advances plan to make island prison in gulf a museum
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The government has taken steps to turn the former national prison on Isla San Lucas into a tourism attraction.

The president's cabinet, the Consejo de Goberino, has authorized the creation of a permanent oversight commission and asked public entities to kick in some money for restoring the area.

The Isla San Lucas was one of the nation's major prisons from 1873 until when it was closed in 1991. It is well known by visitors to the Puntarenas area and also
internationally through the book  La Isla de los Hombres Solos, written by one-time inmate José León Sánchez.

A group of archaeologists, historians and other experts have been conducting research at the island in the Gulf of Nicoya. Among other discoveries, researchers found the body of a prison guard who died there and was buried in the island's cemetery. Officials hope to set up a small museum.

As part of the action Wednesday, the consejo ordered the  Instituto Costarricense de Turismo to draw up an impact statement for possible tourism on the island.


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