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These stories were published Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 24
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Analysis of the proposed treaty with the U.S.
Free-trade teleclause promises major changes
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

One aspect of the proposed telecommunication section of a free trade treaty between the United States and Costa Rica will have gigantic long-term ramifications.

Although the intent of the treaty may only have been to allow competition in the country’s monopolistic cellular telephone industry, that’s not exactly what the proposed draft says. Instead, it opens up for competition "mobile wireless services" no later than Jan. 1, 2007. And companies offering the service are allowed to use the technology of their choice.

Those who follow worldwide trends realize that nearly all telephone and computer service will be wireless in just a few years. Costa Rica may lag on wireless computer technology, but wireless offices and wireless Internet hookups in public places are common in developed countries. The days of telephones being joined together by strands of copper wire are ending. 

The phrase "personal communication device" is the future. The idea is for every person to have an individual telephone number and a tiny device, perhaps wearable, that will connect the user to whatever services are desired: Internet, market quotes, face-to-face conversations, sports shows.

After Jan. 1, 2007, Costa Rican and foreign companies will be able to offer these services here, despite the seeming stranglehold of the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, known as ICE.

Provide an interface between the personal communication device and a computer and high-speed, remote connections are available without wires.

Large volume telephone users sidestep ICE and its long-distance rate structure right now with hidden satellite dishes and innocent-looking connections to the local telephone net. These are just examples of what the future holds.

Costa Rica wins OK for turtle-safe shrimping
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Chalk up a win for the turtles.

The U.S. government has recertified Costa Rica and its shrimp fishing industry because the government here, in cooperation with the fishing companies, took steps to improve enforcement and compliance with fisheries laws regarding protection of sea turtles.

The U.S. State Department decertified Costa Rica in July. That meant that jumbo shrimp from Costa Rica could not be imported into the United States.

The U.S. government took the favorable action of recertification Jan. 26 but announced the decision Tuesday.

U.S. law  prohibits the importation of shrimp harvested in ways harmful to sea turtles unless the Department of State certifies that the  harvesting nation either has a sea turtle protection program comparable to that of the United States or has a fishing environment that does not pose a threat  to sea turtles.

The chief component of the U.S. sea turtle conservation program is a  requirement that commercial shrimp boats use sea turtle excluder devices to prevent the accidental drowning of sea turtles in shrimp trawls. The devices can be 97 percent effective in excluding sea turtles from trawl nets, and have resulted in an estimated 11 percent increase per year in some endangered nesting populations in the 


Turtle makes a quick exit from net in this Government of Queensland, Australia, sketch

National Marine Fisheries Service photo
This was one of the turtles studied in exclusion device trials in the Gulf of  México.

Gulf of México, the U.S. Department of State said.

Even though turtles swim for long periods underwater, they can drown when trapped for long periods in nets.

Costa Rica had exported 20,000 pounds of the premium shrimp a month before the ban was imposed. That is shrimp with a retail price of nearly $200,000 in the United States.
The United States decertified Honduras for the same reason last year. That country, too, has been recertified, the State Department said. However, the United States at the same time said it was suspending imports of shrimp from Nigeria to protect turtles.

The Turtle Excluder Device is a grid of bars with an opening either at the top or the bottom, according to the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service. The grid is fitted into the neck of a shrimp trawl net. Small animals like shrimp slip through the bars and are caught in the bag end of the trawl. Large animals such as turtles and sharks, when caught at the mouth of the trawl, strike the grid bars and are ejected through the opening, the service said.

It was the National Marine Fisheries Service that conducted the research in the Gulf of México on the high success rate with the devices.

 
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Pacheco will lobby for free-trade agreement in U.S.
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Abel Pacheco confirmed Tuesday that he would visit the United States to lobby politicians there for passage of the free trade treaty with the Central American nations.

Pacheco said that he would be in New York after Feb. 25 when he completes a visit to México. That is one of a number of trips he will be taking during the next couple of months.

Approval of the treaty by the U.S. Congress is not guaranteed. Special agricultural interests are strong there, and Central American leaders were expected to mount a strong lobby effort.

Meanwhile, Alberto Trejos, minister of Comercio Exterior, spent the second day Tuesday at the Asamblea Nacional in face-to-face discussions with individual lawmakers on the topic of the treaty. The legislature here must also approve the treaty for it to go into force.

Some of the deputies who met with Trejos were Bernal Jiménez and José Miguel Corrales of the Partido Liberación Nacional, Ruth Montoya and Rodrigo Alberto Carazo of the Partido Acción Ciudadana, Carlos Salazar of the Movimiento Libertario, Carlos Avendaño of Renovación Costarricense Gloria Valerín of the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana,

Ruth Montoya of the  Partido Acción Ciudadana said she was interested in the impact of the treaty clause that allowed foreigners to exercise their profession here and how that would affect Costa Rican professionals.

Humberto Arce of Bloque Patriótico asked about 

the financial impact of freeing from customs duty nearly 80 percent of the imports from the United States. 

The treaty came up at a meeting Tuesday of the megacommision that is looking into the agricultural sector. Leonardo López of the Cámera de Porcicultores, the pork producers, said that he was worried about Costa Rican farmers who generally were smaller who would face competition form U.S. producers who use high technology.

López said that Costa Rica under the treaty would face the same loss of smaller producers that took place in México when that country ratified the North American Free Trade Agreement.

López said that one problem with pork production is that there are no regional butchering facilities and all the live pigs have to come to San José, This raises the costs, he said.

Costa Ricans eat about 8.5 kilos of pork a year. That’s about 19 pounds. However, López said that in the last two months of 2003 the market experienced some contraction with fewer pigs slaughtered.

Two union leaders who oppose the free trade treaty met Tuesday and said they would seek the treaty’s rejection in the assembly. They are Albino Vargas, secretary general of the Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados and Luis Alberto Salas, secretary of the Unión del Personal del Instituto Nacional de Seguros.

Insurance is one of the areas that would face private competition if the treaty were approved. Now it is a government monopoly handled by the institute.


 
Cycle bandits fire
on bank messenger

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police set  up roadblocks in vain about 10 a.m. Tuesday after two persons on a motorcycle committed a robbery punctuated by gunfire.

Officials said that the target of the robbers was a messenger who was carrying as much as 12 million colons in cash (some $28,500) to a bank. The money came from the Liceo Franco Costarricense in Concepción de Tres Ríos. The school, which opens soon, raised the money from tuition and sales of school supplies.

The Judicial Investigating Organization said that shots were exchanged between the bandits and security personnel, but there was no report of injuries.

In another holdup, this one around 4 p.m. Monday, the proprietor of the Super Faviola in Trinidad de Moravia, suffered bullet wounds. He went to Hospital Calderón Guardia. The gunmen fled in a car.

Rodríguez gets lift
as OAS hopeful quits

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The candidacy of former president Miguel Angel Rodríguez to be secretary general of the Organization of American States got a boost because a candidate from Chile has withdrawn.

Costa Rica will redouble its efforts to win votes for Rodríguez, according to Roberto Tovar Fajas, the chancellor or foreign minister.

Rodríguez now has 21 votes pledged publicly. Tovar said that in the next week he expected to receive notice of more backing for the former president.

The election for the top spot in the hemispheric organization will be in June in Quito, Ecuador.

Typically a former president from a Latin nation gets the job of secretary general. José Miguel Insulza, Chile’s interior minister, said Monday he would withdraw his name as a candidate.

Commerce in arms
is topic of session

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The irresponsible traffic, both legal and illegal, in weapons will be the subject when a committee promoting a treaty on arms commerce meets in San José today through Friday.

One member of the committee is the Fundación Arias para la Paz y el Progreso Humano. The foundation also is the host. The event is at the Hotel Radisson-Zurquí. The first speaker today will be Oscar Arias, the former president and Nobel Peace Prize winner.

The idea for a treaty originated in 1997 when Arias and six other Nobel winners established a code of conduct for arms sales.

Baby, three others
are traffic victims

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Four persons, including a month-old baby died in traffic accidents in less than two days.

The baby, Ignacio Bastos Cerdas, died as a result of a mishap about 5:30 a.m. Tuesday in a stretch of road between Quebrada Honda and Caballito de Nicoya. The passenger vehicle ran off the road and into a small lake, according to investigators. The child died shortly after reaching the local hospital.

About 4:30 p.m. Monday Adrián Sequeria Molina, 62, arrived at the Hospital de San Ramon. He was on foot when he was hit by a vehicle that fled near the toll booths at Naranjo.

About the same time in la Fortuna de San Carlos another traffic victim, Carlos Manuel Ugalde Porras, died at a local clinic as the result of an accident at the entrance to town.

Before noon Tuesday, investigators reported yet another accident, this one near Liberia where Juan Alberto Rodríguez of Cid Más died. That crash was believed to be between two truck tractors.

AOL at it again

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

America Online continues to block transmissions of the A.M. Costa Rica daily digest.

The Internet service maintains accounts for about 150 digest subscribers. As a result, these individuals and firms are not getting their daily copy of the summary of the day’s news.

The company is doing that because its computers believe that digest messages are unwanted junk e-mails. The situation might be aggravated because many MyDoom virus messages arrive with forged A.M. Costa Rica e-mail addresses. 

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Deadly bird flu continues to move across Asia
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The devastating avian flu virus continues to spread across Southeast Asia. The most virulent strain of the virus has been confirmed in Indonesia, and another child suspected of having the disease has died in Thailand. 

Indonesia said Tuesday the H5N1 virus has been killing chickens in parts of the country. 

A 4-year-old boy suspected of having the bird flu died Tuesday in Thailand. If confirmed, he would be the 13th victim of the H5N1 virus this year. All of the human cases have been in Thailand and Vietnam.  The Indonesian government says it has found no human infections. 

Dr. Georg Petersen of the World Health Organization's Indonesia office says it is good that Indonesia has begun culling birds, but there still are concerns. "Our main concern is for the health of the workers involved in the culling process, since we know they are at a much higher risk than others of being infected," he says. 

The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization began a three-day emergency meeting in Rome Tuesday to look at ways to counter the spread of the disease. 

Most of the people who have caught the disease contracted it directly from infected poultry. 

However, scientists are investigating a case in Vietnam where human-to-human transmission may have happened. 

Despite the efforts of governments across Asia, the disease is still spreading. Bird flu viruses have been found in at least 10 countries, although two governments say their birds have a milder form of the disease than the H5N1 virus. 

Tens of millions of chickens and ducks have already been slaughtered to stop the spread. In addition, most countries have barred imports of both live and butchered poultry from infected countries. Some countries in Asia are inspecting travelers' luggage, and requiring those who cross borders to be disinfected. 


 
 
Most countries won't meet U.S. passport deadline
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Few of the 27 nations participating in the U.S. visa waiver program have indicated they would be able to meet an Oct. 26 deadline requiring that they issue machine-readable passports that incorporate biometric identifiers, says a State Department official.

Maura Harty, assistant secretary for consular affairs, testifying before the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, also known as the 9-11 Commission, responded to a series of questions on the visa-issuance process, the visa waiver program and outlined steps taken to identify and eliminate vulnerabilities in the U.S. visa system.

Under the Visa Waiver Program, citizens of certain countries are able to enter the United States for tourism or business for 90 days or less without obtaining a visa. Harty said these travelers account for 57 percent of overseas tourist spending in the United States, or $39.6 billion in 2000.

The USA Patriot Act requires that visa waiver travelers present a machine-readable passport at U.S. ports of entry effective Oct. 1, 2003, in order to be admitted to the country without a visa, but Secretary of State Colin Powell, in consultation with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, extended this requirement until Oct. 26, 2004 for 21 of the visa waiver countries.

According to a Department of Homeland Security fact sheet, by Oct. 26, countries participating in the visa waiver program are mandated by the USA Patriot Act to certify that they have programs to issue their nationals machine readable passports that incorporate biometric identifiers that comply with standards established by the International Civil Aviation Organization. Any passport issued after Oct. 26, 2004, must be a travel document that uses biometrics, if the bearer applies for admission into the United States under the visa waiver, said the fact sheet.

The U.S. statute gave the decision on which biometric would be required to International Civil Aviation Organization, which decided in May 2003 on facial recognition as the globally interoperable biometric for machine-assisted identity confirmation, leaving little time for countries to develop a capacity to issue the new machine-readable passports, said Harty.

Biometrics, according to an aviation organizaion press release, is a means of identifying a person by biological features unique to an individual, using advanced computerized recognition techniques. Facial recognition technology automates the process of using a tradition photo ID, using a camera to capture the image of the face, while a 

computer validates facial characteristics. The organization is still finalizing some of the technical standards for facial recognition.

In response to a question on the chances that visa waiver countries would meet the Oct. 26 deadline, Harty said, "Very few will make it. Very few at this point have indicated to us that they will have an ability to do that."

"There are robust efforts in place to put such programs in place, but most will not be ready by October 26, 2004," she said.

According to State Department estimates, an additional 5.3 million visa interviews would need to be conducted if the Oct. 26 statutory deadline were to remain in place and countries were unable on an individual basis to continue to participate or to comply with the program as it exists, Harty told the commission in response to a question.

"That would be a daunting, daunting challenge for us," said Harty.

"Given our current resources, we would not be able to in fact fulfill those obligations the way we would want to," added Harty.

"It would be a difficult management challenge for us to hire and train and perhaps even build brick and mortar facilities to interview people to bridge the gap between the Oct. 26, 2004, deadline and the time when the countries would be able to come online," she added.

Asked about the assistant secretary's testimony alluding to a need to possibly extend the deadline, State Department Consular Affairs spokesman Stuart Patt said that the State Department does not have the authority to extend the deadline. "Only the Congress can do that by legislation," he said.

"While Secretary of State Colin Powell had the authority to extend the machine readable requirement, he does not have the authority to extend beyond Oct. 26 the biometric or machine readable requirements," said Patt.

Asked if the State Department would request congressional action, Patt said the Department has not yet made any formal request of Congress. "The assistant secretary was using that opportunity to alert the Congress as to what is the situation," he said.

The 27 countries currently in the visa waiver program are: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.


 
 
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Bush budget has $463 million for Plan Colombia
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President George Bush's budget for fiscal year 2005, which begins on Oct. 1, calls for $463 million to continue supporting the government of Colombia and $731 million for an ongoing anti-drug program in the entire Andean region.

The president says in his budget that the money for Colombia will be used to support Colombian President Alvaro Uribe's "unified campaign against drugs and terrorism," known as Plan Colombia.

Bush praised the Colombian president's efforts to fight Colombia's armed opposition groups, designated by the U.S. State Department as terrorist organizations. "Colombia has developed a democratic security strategy as a blueprint for waging a unified, aggressive counterterror/counternarcotics campaign against designated foreign terrorist organizations and other illegal armed groups," Bush said.

In fiscal year 2004, the president asked for $744 million for the Andean Counterdrug Initiative, which the Bush administration has praised for helping reduce armed violence in Colombia and for aiding in a drop in cultivation of coca, which is used to make cocaine.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell says critical components of the Andean initiative include stopping internal and cross-border aerial trafficking in illicit drugs, stepped-up eradication and alternative development program efforts, and technical assistance to strengthen Colombia's police and judicial institutions.

On the trade front, the 2005 budget plan says the Bush administration is "determined to do more to open markets to U.S. goods and services" by finalizing negotiations for a Free Trade Area of the Americas by the year 2005. (The proposed free trade area would stretch from Canada to Chile, encompassing all the democratic nations of the Western Hemisphere.) In addition, the budget said the administration intends to launch free-trade negotiations with the Dominican Republic, Panamá, and the Andean countries of Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Peru.

The budget noted that since receiving trade promotion authority in 2002, the Bush administration has completed free-trade agreements with Chile and Singapore, which were quickly approved by the U.S. Congress. The budget said the United States will soon complete similar market-opening agreements with Central American countries, as well as Morocco and Australia.

"These agreements combine intellectual property and investment protections for U.S. companies with commitments for strong environmental and labor protections by our partners," said the Bush budget.

The plan quoted the president's remarks to the Organization of American States in April 2001, during which he said: "Open trade fuels the engines of economic growth that creates new jobs and new income. It applies the power of markets to the needs of the poor. 

"It spurs the process of economic and legal reform. It helps dismantle protectionist bureaucracies that stifle incentive and invite corruption. And open trade reinforces the habits of liberty, sustaining democracy over the long term."

On efforts to stem the HIV/AIDS pandemic, which has ramifications especially in Haiti and Guyana, the Bush administration has initiated an Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. In fiscal year 2004, the president proposed $2 billion as the first installment of a five-year, $15 billion initiative, surpassing in a single year nine previous years of funding against AIDS.

The Bush budget said the Emergency Plan "represents the single largest international public health initiative ever attempted to defeat a disease. The president's plan targets an unprecedented level of assistance to 14 of the most afflicted countries in Africa and the Caribbean to defeat HIV/AIDS."

By 2008, the president's plan is designed to prevent seven million new infections, treat two million HIV-infected people, and care for 10 million HIV-infected individuals and those orphaned by AIDS in Haiti, Guyana, and a number of African countries.


 
Peace Corps would get its biggest budget ever
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President George Bush is asking Congress to provide more than $400 million for Peace Corps operations in the 2005 budget, the largest amount ever sought for that agency. The Peace Corps' operating budget this year is $323 million,

Over 7,500 Peace Corps volunteers are serving in 71 countries, and 20 more nations have pending requests for Peace Corps programs, according to a press release. Volunteers serve two-year tours of duty in participating nations, helping with projects related to agriculture, health, HIV/AIDS education and awareness, information technology, business development, the environment, and education. 

The Peace Corps is a development agency, but "its larger purpose is to strengthen the bonds of friendship and understanding between Americans 

and the people of other cultures," according to the press release. 

In Costa Rica, volunteers are working exclsuively with the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia, the child welfare agency.

This past year, the Peace Corps began new programs by sending volunteers to Fiji, Albania, Chad, and Azerbaijan. The Peace Corps also plans on returning volunteers to China and Jordan in 2004. In addition, the Peace Corps is working on a new partnership with Mexico and this year will send its first group of volunteers to the country to work in the areas of information technology, small business development, and science and technology.

Since 1961, more than 170,000 volunteers have served in the Peace Corps. Volunteers must be U.S. citizens and at least 18 years of age. Peace Corps service is a two-year commitment.


 
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