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(506) 223-1327           Published Thursday, Feb. 1, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 23             E-mail us    
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Tourism data continues to show increase for 2006
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The total number of tourists who came to Costa Rica in the first eight months of 2006 exceeded the number in the preceding year, but visitors from North America were fewer.

This is the core of the latest statistical report from the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo, which still had not released totals for the entire year.

Total tourism was up 1.8 percent over 2005. The decrease in North American tourists was 3.3 percent, a total of 21,868 fewer persons than in the first eight months of 2005.

But Central Valley tourism providers who have been talking about a major decrease in tourism seem to have reason to complain. The report shows that more and more tourists are landing at Daniel Oduber airport in Liberia and going directly to Pacific locations.

Juan Santamaría airport in Alajuela hosted 757,167 tourists in the first eight months of 2006, a 4.6 percent decrease over 2005. Daniel Oduber airport was up 15.6 percent with 15,978 more tourists in the eight months than in 2005. U.S. visitors there were up 9.4 percent over 2005.

Some 40,908 fewer tourists came through Juan Santamaría during the same period.

The shifting of the tourist trade to the Pacific area is due in part to the convenience of the Liberia airport and government encouragement of flights there. A major project is underway to finish a departure structure and to make other modifications to accommodate more tourists.

Officials at the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo complain that statistics are way behind because of the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería that collects the data at the various airports and other entries into the country. Tourist operators are impatient because they need current statistics on which to base plans.

Another problem with the data is that everyone who enters the country on a tourist visa is not really a tourist. Then there are those perpetual tourists who leave the country and return four times a year to keep their stay here legal.
Tourism: first 8 months of year

Total tourists
North America
Airport arrivals
Juan Santamaría
Daniel Oduber
Data furnished by Instituto Costarricense de Turismo

Another aspect of the 2006 data is not bringing smiles to tourism officials. The country dumped $4.5 million into an advertising blitz of Germany 
during the World Cup games in June. The latest statistics say that visitors from Germany declined by  665 or about 2.6 percent during the first eight months of 2006.

Meanwhile in New York the latest United Nations figures show that world tourism registered yet another record in 2006 with 842 million arrivals, a higher than expected growth rate of 4.5 per cent in spite of adverse factors such as the Israeli-Hezbollah war in Lebanon and the terrorist threats to trans-Atlantic air travel from London.

The increase in international tourist arrivals is projected to be around 4 per cent for 2007, much in line with the forecast long-term annual growth rate of 4.1 per cent through 2020, according to the U.N.'s World Tourism Organization.

Africa outpaced all other regions with almost twice the rate of global growth reaching 8.1 per cent in 2006 after an already strong 2005, led by sub-Saharan Africa (up by 9.4 per cent) and North Africa (up 5.8 per cent), the U.N. said.

Asia and the Pacific (up 7.6 per cent) was able to maintain its extraordinary growth level, both due to the recovery of Thailand and the Maldives from the impact of the 2004 tsunami. International tourist arrivals in South Asia grew by 10 per cent boosted by India, the destination responsible for half the arrivals to the sub-region, said the U.N.

Overall, Central Americas showed a 6.1 percent increase in 2006, the U.N. said.

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New park project outlined
for Patarrá south of San José

By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A new 37-hectare park has been proposed for Patarrá, which is south and east of downtown San José.

The tract straddles the line between Desamparados, which contributes 11 hectares or 27.1 acres, and the Canton of La Union, Cartago, which contributes 64.2 acres.

The current owner is the concrete products firm Holcim, and the price is $4.2 million, said the Ministerio de Cultura, Juventud y Deportes that will control the area.

The proposal was discussed at the weekly Consejo de Gobierno or president's cabinet Wednesday.

The location is adjacent to the Río Azul landfill site that will be closing soon.

A proposal released by the Presidencia suggested that the park would use some of the Holcim existing structures for indoor basketball courts. There are several waterways at the edges of the property that will be bordered by pedestrian walkways, according to the plan.

"Through my public life a big preoccupation that I always had is to be able to create more public space for the residents of the capital city," said President Óscar Arias Sánchez.

Free trade treaty measure
stalled by Sala IV appeal

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The free trade treaty with the United States appears to be on hold because opposing legislators have taken a technical case to the Sala IV constitutional court.

The Poder Judicial confirmed Wednesday that Óscar López Arias of Partido Accesibilidad Sin Exclusión had filed an appeal with the court alleging that certain procedures in the legislature violated the Constitution. He was believed to have been joined by José Merino del Río of Partido Frente Amplio and members of Partido Acción Ciudadana.

The legislature is considering a change to its rules now that would limit debate and allow a committee to throw out amendments presented by lawmakers.

Francisco Antonio Pacheco, president of the Asamblea Legislativa, sought the change in regulations to shorten the time it took for lawmakers to consider proposals and vote on them. The free trade treaty with the United States is one of those documents, but it is part of a package of at least 13 other laws that also would receive the special fast-track treatment.

Legislative leaders are expected to hold off any vote on the change in regulations until the Sala IV had ruled on the appeal. However, debate may continue.

Free trade proponents have a two-thirds majority, some 38 votes, in the legislature, and they are anxious for a vote on the treaty. One was expected in February. However, the Sala IV may take a month to respond.

In another technical move, the executive branch removed the free trade treaty from the legislative agenda. That was to give priority to the change in regulations. During this period that the assembly is in session, the executive branch controls the agenda.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Feb. 1, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 23  

A guard at the proposed El Huaso landfill in Aserrí maintains watch with a rifle, presumably one of the 91,534 registered weapons in Costa Rica, while heavy equipment tears at the mountain to prepare the contours for the garbage burial spot.

The 29-hectare (71.7-acre) landfill will replace the existing Río Azul. Work is being done by the trash hauling firm EBI.

A.M. Costa Rica/Manuel Antonio Ramírez Corrales

Security minister urges stiffer penalties for arms violations
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The streets of Costa Rica are populated by armed individuals, and many of the illegal weapons are linked to the Columbian drug trade.

These conclusions, although previously known, were some of the main points that came out of a conference between Fernando Berrocal, minister of Seguridad Pública, and a legislative commission held to discuss a new weapons law in Costa Rica.

The minister said that only 91,534 weapons have been registered in the country, a low number that indicated there are thousands of arms unaccounted for in the hands of Costa Ricans and others. The majority of weapons in Costa Rica are revolvers, guns, rifles and shotguns, he said.  Police have also confiscated AK-47s, submachine guns, M16s, and even mortars in the country.

Berrocal said that it has now become clear that the illegal weapons trade in Costa Rica is linked to the drug trade.  This conclusion was made after a recent seizure contained both weapons and narcotics, part of a deal that officials believe is an exchange that fuels the Colombian guerrilla warfare. 

A police bulletin from Friday said that officers confiscated
 10,500 AK-47 rounds from a van traveling through Matina de Limón.  The driver said he was going to sell the shells in Limón, but police think they were headed to Colombia where Marxist rebels have been fighting with the elected government for decades. The rebels are major drug suppliers and use drugs to pay for their revolt.

Police have confiscated as many as 6,000 weapons in the last six months, and the current administration has destroyed 4,000 weapons with 12,000 more in storage ready to meet the same fate. 

This has not stopped gun violence in the street.  Police met with an example of this on Tuesday when a confrontation with three young men stealing a car stereo quickly turned into a gun battle in San Francisco de Dos Ríos.

One suspect suffered a bullet wound to the leg.

Berrocal said that changes to the current laws need to be considered.  He said that a better job needs to be done to enforce gun registration, that psychological tests for those applying for firearms need to be stricter and that harsher penalties need to be put into place for weapons trafficking. 

He was appearing before the Comisión de Gobierno y Administración, which is considering a new gun law that would increase penalties.

Rey Curré hosts the Juego de los Diablitos this weekend
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
An important ritual for the Boruca native Costa Rican cultures begins this morning in Rey Curré and will be played out through its various stages until Sunday.

El Juego de los Diablitos is a yearly event in the form of a play that features a fight between a bull and devils.  The toro and the diablitos represent a version of the battle between good and evil, which includes resurrection and renewal.  There are 10 stages to the story of the fight accompanied by dances, drinking and other celebrations throughout the four-day festival. 

The diablitos, under the leadership of a diablo mayor confront the bull over the four days of the festival. All are disguised and wear the distinctive Boruca masks. Eventually the bull kills the devils, but they are reborn in time for the fourth day of the festival, and they go out seeking to kill the bull.
The Centro para el Desarrollo Indígena said that the festival integrates diverse aspects of Boruca culture and can be interpreted on various levels.  The first is that it represents the playful nature of the culture. 

On a deeper level it can be taken as a rite of the communities.  Finally, it has a series of implications for the Boruca people that represent cultural and ideological dimensions as well as spiritual and political aspects. 

On the final day, the remains of the murdered bull is burned up in a big bonfire, only to be resurrected the following year for another celebration. 

The event is located south of Buenos Aires, Puntarenas.  Rey Curré is a small community right on the Interamerican highway.

A similar El Juego de los Diablitos takes place earlier in January in nearby Boruca but Rey Curré is easier to visit.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Feb. 1, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 23  

Chávez given the power to rule by decree for 18 months
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Venezuelan lawmakers approved a measure Wednesday granting President Hugo Chávez the power to issue law by decree for the next 18 months.

Lawmakers voted unanimously in favor of the measure during an open-air session in a plaza in downtown Caracas. Some Venezuelan officials said the power to rule by decree is crucial to President Hugo Chavez's goal of transforming the nation into a socialist state.

The new law gives Chávez the authority to impose changes in several key areas, including the energy sector and the military. Chávez is expected to use the new powers to nationalize some oil and natural gas projects controlled by private companies. He also plans to introduce a series of constitutional reforms and introduce laws empowering thousands of new local government agencies called communal councils.

Supporters of the measure say it will increase the efficiency of the nation's government and help achieve the equal distribution of wealth. Critics say it places too much power in the hands of the president.

Jennifer McCoy, political science professor at Georgia State University, says it is not the first time that Venezuela's legislature has given such control to the president. She says Venezuela's 1961 constitution, which was replaced in 1999, also allowed the president to issue decrees.

"And of course, President Chávez had this power before in 2001, when he decreed 49 laws and that did lead to great
 upheaval and the attempted or the short-lived coup in 2002," she said.

Some of the laws imposed in 2001 included land reforms and higher taxes for foreign oil companies, which triggered a bitter struggle with opposition groups.

The latest measure is raising concern that similar divisions within Venezuela may re-surface. Susan Purcell, director of the Center for Hemispheric Policy at the University of Miami, says the latest move shows Chavez's policies are a threat to democracy.

"His 21st century socialism plan, I think, is a more modern way of becoming dictatorial or of destroying democracy and governing in an authoritarian way," she said.

Supporters of Chávez reject such criticism, noting that his policies — including the latest measure — comply with the constitution.

U.S. officials have expressed repeated concern about the democratic process in Venezuela. But State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said it is too early to judge the latest developments.

"I don't think we can offer a final assessment," he said. "This was a decision made by their parliament. I think it certainly raises — might raise — some eyebrows, but it is their decision to make, and we will see how Mr. Chavez uses these powers."

Chávez has yet to offer many details about the measures he plans to introduce during the 18-month decree period.

Cuba faces a fork in the road while the economy perks along
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The fate of Cuba's ailing leader, Fidel Castro, has focused renewed attention on his Communist nation and generated speculation about the Caribbean island's political and economic future.  Cuba's economy — now largely dependent on tourism and subsidies from Venezuela — grew by 8 percent in 2005, according to independent estimates, and continued expanding in 2006.   This growth comes after years of stagnation following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba's patron, in the early 1990s.

Tourism is now the mainstay of the Cuban economy.  The island's natural beauty, its Afro-Caribbean culture and historic sites attract hundreds of thousands of foreign visitors each year.

Tourism has replaced sugar as the Communist nation's top earner of foreign exchange.  The sugar industry — despite production drives that began in the 1960s — has fallen victim to communism's inefficiencies.

Fidel Castro implanted communism in Cuba with the support of the former Soviet Union shortly after he came to power in 1959.  Once heavily subsidized by Moscow, the Cuban economy is only now recovering from the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, thanks in large part to financial support from leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez who has forged close ties with Castro. 

But Cuba expert Wayne Smith, of the Center for International Policy, says Venezuela's help is just one factor contributing to the current expansion of the Cuban economy. "It is not simply that they get cheap Venezuelan oil.  They have something like 14,000 Cuban medical personnel in Venezuela, for which they are paid handsomely. And they have a new relationship with China.  They have a new oil field, it hasn't come in yet, but there are other countries already bidding for drilling rights. And the price of nickel, which is Cuba's leading export, is at an all-time high, so everything is going in their favor."

But not well enough for most Cubans, who can only find ample supplies in hard-currency stores and can only buy them if they have access to foreign currency.  So while
 economic growth is up, Ian Vasquez of Washington's Cato Institute says most Cubans are not benefiting. "The ration cards only last several days a month. There aren't the products that most Cubans used to be accustomed to during the time of the Cold War, and so very basic needs, including basic health needs, are not being adequately provided by the state because the state has not had the money to provide it."

For years, Castro blamed the U.S. economic embargo for his country's economic troubles, but most experts say the fault lies in the Communist system.

Despite the embargo, Cuba in recent years has been allowed to buy food from the United States on a cash-only basis. And European and other foreign companies have ignored the U.S. sanctions by investing in Cuba, primarily in the tourism industry.

Cuba's military, led by Fidel's brother, Raúl, is involved in tourism and other businesses — a trend that could accelerate after the elder Castro leaves the scene, according to Wayne Smith: "The Cuban armed forces have been deeply involved in the economy and especially in the tourism industry, in which they've shown themselves excellent businessmen [and] made great profits.  I would expect that the armed forces will continue that role, and that the kind of situation they will encourage will be one with greater and greater reforms."

As Fidel Castro's designated successor, speculation has centered on what defense chief Raul Castro might do in a post-Fidel era.  Raul is said to admire China and its economic reforms. But such a policy also poses risks, says Cato's Ian Vasquez.  “The more that an economy is liberalized, the more that people become independent from the state.  So they have a classic dilemma.  They either continue with liberalization and lose political control, or they crack down and risk instability, political instability.  And I think that's the way Cuba is headed under Raul Castro."

But for now, these scenarios are in the future as Cubans try to make ends meet while they wait to see what happens to their long-time ruler.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, Feb. 1, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 23  

176-pound wide receiver surprises himself
Among the NFL giants Rashied Davis plans to do his part

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

There are 32 teams in the National Football League and only two reach the coveted Super Bowl championship game each season.  Sunday it is the Chicago Bears and the Indianapolis Colts, playing in Miami, Florida.  There is one Bears' player who beat long odds just to make it in the league.

In a sport where the average player stands one meter 87 centimeters tall (nearly 6 foot, 2 inches) and weighs 112 kilograms (247 pounds), Rashied Davis is one of the shortest players in the NFL at one meter 75 centimeters (5 foot, 9 inches), and one of the lightest at 80 kilograms (176 pounds).

But Davis had to overcome more than his lack of height and weight to become a professional American football player.  He was born in poverty in south central Los Angeles, known for its urban decay in the 1980s and 1990s.  He was raised with eight brothers and sisters and had to walk dangerous streets ruled by gangs, streets where his father was murdered when Rashied was only 8 years old.  He often fell asleep to the sounds of gunfire.  Davis was shielded by his siblings and somehow avoided the drugs and the violence.

"I didn't have the heart to do it," he said.  "I couldn't go out and bang like that.  It's a tough thing.  You're out there fighting for your life.  Every day you step on the street, you step out of your house, you know what I mean, you have to look over your shoulder left and right.  You have to do that anyway, but even more so when you're part of a gang and selling drugs and things like that."

Rashied Davis loved football since he was a child.  He was always an excellent athlete, but he was always too little to
 fit into a football uniform.  He was still small when he got to high school.  He stood only one meter 62 centimeters (5 foot, 4 inches) and weighed just 40 kilograms (88 pounds), so he never played high school football.  And Davis said he had no idea what he wanted to do after graduating.  And one day it hit him hard:

"You know I didn't play any football.  I didn't do anything.  I was just kind of a wanderer, you know."

Davis grew enough in high school and was confident enough in his abilities to try football in college and he played two years for San Jose State University in California.  He was hoping to be drafted by an NFL team, but that did not happen so he played professional indoor American football in the Arena Football League for three seasons with the San Jose SaberCats.  He was named most valuable player of their 2002 championship team.

While Davis started his career as a defensive back, he was converted to a wide receiver and kick returner, signing as a free agent by the NFL's Chicago Bears prior to the 2005 season.  It was not until this season, his second, that Davis caught his first NFL touchdown pass.  And it was the winning score in the Bears' victory last September over the Minnesota Vikings.  In this year's playoffs, Davis made a crucial 30-yard catch in overtime against the Seattle Seahawks to set up the game-winning field goal that helped lead the Chicago Bears back to the Super Bowl for the first time in 21 years.

"Man, it's a tremendous feeling, you know, to be at this level and to be in the Super Bowl when no one expected me even to be in the NFL, you know," he added.  "It's a tremendous feeling to be a contributor, not just on the team, but a contributor who has actually made some plays in the season feels great."

First encounter for go-kart championship will be this weekend in La Guacima
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The national go-kart championships begin this weekend with the first of six competitions in 2007.

The Campeonato Nacional de Kartismo Sprint 2007 features different categories that are divided by age as well as size and speed of the motors.  The league also features endurance races, but the sprint competitions are shorter, faster and more intense.   

Rotax Mínimax, the youngest age group, is for drivers between 10 and 12-years-old who use 125 cc motors with 14 horsepower.  Other categories include the DD2
 with 34 horsepower, and the Box Stock division with 33 horsepower engines.  

2006 was the most successful year for the Asociación Costarricense de Kartismo, organizers of the event.  Competitions averaged 50 drivers which is a 20 percent increase over the previous year, organizers said.

The competitions take place at the Autódromo in La Guacima, the same location as the drag racing.  The other dates for the competition are March 3 and 4, May 12 and 13, July 7 and 8, Sept. 8 and 9, and the final on Nov. 17 and 18.  More information is available on a Web site at www.purokart.com

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