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These stories were published Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 28
Jo Stuart
About us
Minister promises improvements
Age, race or sex discrimination largely ignored
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica’s labor code prohibits discrimination in employment based on age, sex or color.

The law is widely ignored, and employers routinely specifically seek males or females under the age of 25 to 30 for most jobs. A quick trip down the San José pedestrian boulevard Tuesday turned up a number of illegal signs seeking young males or females.

In Casa Presidencial, also Tuesday, the labor minister, Fernando Trejos, said his inspectors would step up enforcement for the benefit of individuals who do not now fit the traditional employee stereotype.

Racial and skin-color discrimination also is traditional in employment here.

The penalty for these types of discrimination is at the discretion of the labor court, said Trejos, who pointed out that proving such cases is difficult.

In his report, which centered on 2004, Trejos said that inspectors looked into 13,317 employment complaints. Among these were 436 complaints by women who said they were fired or threatened with dismissal because they were pregnant.  Some 979 other cases of employment complaints also were investigated.

Salary complaints far outnumber cases of age, sex or racial discrimination, according to the figures from the Ministerio de Trabajo y Seguridad Social headed by Trejos.

The minister said he was seeking to strengthen the inspection process this year with a new budget. At the very least, he said he would instruct inspectors to tell store operators to at least take down offending signs.

Trejos also outlined an agreement between Nicaragua and Costa Rica under which guest workers would be allowed to enter the country for up to three months at the request of agricultural producers here. 

The program would formalize what takes place informally now with Nicaraguans coming to Costa Rica for seasonal agricultural work.

The country hopes to be able to control in this way the number of migrants, their dates of entry, their work hours and the conditions of 

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
This store operator wants only a male employee. We don't know why the mannequin is wearing chains.

employment, said a summary from Casa Presidencial.

The proposed system also will try to guarantee that the Nicaraguans who work on Costa Rican soil are contributors to the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social. Employers also will pay.

The deal was worked out at the end of January during meetings with Nicaraguan authorities and Trejos in Grenada, Casa Presidencial said. Nicaragua will have to guarantee that the guest workers return to their home country under terms of the deal. Workers who do not return will be subject to arrest and deportation.

Nicaraguan officials have complained for years about the treatment of their citizens here.

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A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Technician for the Mexican television station TVAzteca makes final adjustments to an uplink dish. Mexican broadcasters are here to cover the pregame action for the Costa Rican-México soccer football match tonight. Blackmarket tickets already are going for $100 apiece. The game is a preliminary to the World Cup competition.

Cloning license draws
attention in Costa Rica

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The doctor who cloned Dolly the sheep, attracted more attention Tuesday when he received a cloning license from British regulators that allows him to clone and study human embryos.

The license has stirred controversy around the world, particularly in Costa Rica and in the United States, where governmental officials are pioneering a proposal to ban cloning internationally. 

Ian Walmut, who led the team that created Dolly, was granted the cloning license. The experiments he is licensed to conduct do not involve the creation or clone babies. Rather, Walmut intends to clone embryos and extract stem cells from them.

Many scientists believe that stem cells hold the key to healing patients that suffer from motor neuron diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Lou Gehrig’s disease. 

The embryos, however, will be destroyed after experimentation and that has many pro-life advocates upset. They believe that life begins upon conception and therefore, the destruction of embryos represents the destruction of human life.

Several couples in Costa Rica recently filed a suit with the Inter American Commision of Human Rights over a similar argument. They claim that Costa Rica’s law banning the use of in-vitro fertilization has prevented them from having families. This type of fertilization involves the growth of human embryos outside of the body, many of which are later discarded. 

Costa Rican officials will be watching the development surrounding the Walmut lisence carefully over the next month as they await the Inter American Commission’s March decision. 

Surf circuit continues
at Playa Dominical

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The fourth leg of the 2004-2005 Circuito Nacional de Surf will take place Saturday and Sunday at Playa Dominical.  The contest, named "4 Fechas 4 Estrellas," begins at 7 a.m. in front of the Tortilla Flats Hotel. 

The contest is expected to draw more than 100 surfers. As an official event of the national circuit, the competition allows surfers to earn points towards the national rankings.

The event’s official announcement was delayed due to a lack of sponsorship, but organizers decided that they would have to run the event without a sponsor.

The first three events of the circuit were held in Esterillos, Negra and Tamarindo. For more information about the event or the circuit check out the Web site HERE.

More money coming
for banana farmers

By the A.M Costa Rica staff 

Farmers affected by the recent floods in the Caribbean will be given $69,000 in financial aid. The Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería launched a campaign to help farmers affected by flooding. 

The donation will come from Central American Bank of Economic Integration, which will help small banana and plantain producers.
Walter Ruiz Valverde, the vice minister of Agricultura y Ganadería, said that the appoved amount will be distributed by the ministry. 

Democrats will hear
about political shifts

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Political analyst Luis Guillermo Solís will explain the complexities of the current shifts in political parties to Democrats Abroad of Costa Rica Saturday, Feb. 26, at 9:30 a.m.

The topic of the talk is "Politics in Costa Rica: Chaos or Peaceful Revolution?"

The meeting is on the Fifth Floor of the Gran Hotel Costa Rica opposite the Teatro Nacional. A coffee break menu is 4,000 colons ($8.65), and reservations are required by calling Jo Stuart at 225-3101. Everyone is welcome, the group said.

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Saray Ramírez Vindas...associate editor

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Sleeping in airports and other thrills
When practice falls a tad short of philosophy
By Joe Medici
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

"We know why you fly." It’s American Airlines’ newest campaign designed to give the company a more customer-centric feel. Practice sometimes is less than philosophy, however.

I boarded an American flight Jan. 3 in Chicago. I was heading back to Costa Rica after a holiday in the States. My flight was supposed to touch down in Miami where I would change planes and then finish my journey, landing in Costa Rica around midnight. My fear of finding a way home that late at night, however, soon was replaced by the fear of spending the night in the Miami airport.

My flight touched down in Miami just in time to watch my connecting flight shoot down the runway. I quickly ran to the service desk and inquired about my options. Another flight was leaving at noon the next day, and airline employees would be able to place me on that flight. Until then, however, I was on my own.

Apparently, travelers that had started their journey in Minnesota earlier that day were eligible for free hotel stays because their flight to Chicago had been delayed by the airline. Travelers who had started in Chicago, however, were not eligible. Air traffic controllers delayed that flight. How people on the same flight from Chicago received different treatment still boggles my mind. 

I was not deterred, however, and when I landed at Juan Santamaría in Alajuela I quickly made my way to the front desk. I needed a refund for a ticket that I had purchased in Chicago and had been assured by the American Airlines manager in Chicago that I would be able to obtain it at the Airline’s desk at the airport in Costa Rica. 

"I’m sorry," the American attendant told me. "You need to go to the office in Sabana to obtain your refund." I shrugged off my disappointment and asked for the office’s number in Sabana. "They don’t have a telephone number," she replied. 

Unenthusiastically, I hailed a cab and rode home. 

When I returned home, I called the American Airlines refund hotline. An electronic voice asked for my ticket number and then assured me that my ticket didn’t exist. After pushing several more buttons on the phone, the automated voice told me that it was transferring me to a customer care representative. After five minutes the voice came back to tell me that, "all customer care representatives are busy, please call back again." 

Wonderful, after a 13-minute international call, I had succeeded in being cut off.

I immediately hit the Internet and found a way to refund my ticket online. The money would be transferred back to my account electronically. At that moment, I made the mistake of feeling relieved. 

I turned in my ticket information and within a few hours I received an e-mail confirmation letter. I received that letter on Jan. 4. After several more e-mails, several phone calls, and the assurances of countless customer care representatives, my refund was finally processed Feb. 3. 

American Airlines claims to know why we fly. They never claimed, however, to know how to help us do just that. 

Municipality approved plan to put pedestrians at risk
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Municipalidad de San José approved a request by a construction company that resulted in forcing pedestrians to walk in a busy street.

The company, Gálvez y Volio Asociados S.A., is building a new hotel south of Avenida 3 just east of Parque Morazán. The municipality awarded the firm the right to construct a fence that takes in three meters (nearly 10 feet) of the sidewalk width for at least 50 meters (163 feet) in length.

Remaining is about two feet of the sidewalk, but that is spotted with utility posts and bushes. Pedestrians are warned by signs to use the opposite sidewalk, but there are no safe crossings in the area and only one traffic light to the east.

Guillermo Freer of the urban inspection department of the municipality confirmed Tuesday that the company 

has a permit to block the sidewalk. The firm said it needed space to operate heavy machinery to build the four-story hotel that is association with Casino Colonial.

Freer confirmed that his office had received one complaint from a female pedestrian. She said the fence was risking lives.

When Freer inspected the area, he said that he found that workmen had taken three meters of the sidewalk instead of the two and a half meters permitted by the municipality.

Freer said that the company estimates it will need four months to complete the job and remove the fence. He said he would not prevail on the company to make the route a little less dangerous for pedestrians.

However, he said that he asked the company to put up signs telling passers-by to use another route. The signs are on letter-size white paper and appear to be produced by a personal computer and printer.

Costa Rica praises new Mideast peace efforts
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Costa Rican government announced Tuesday that it greeted the renewed peace effort between Israel and Palestine with high praise.

The announcement came after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas held a meeting in Egypt to declare a cease-fire agreement.

Abbas called the agreement a new opportunity for both the Palestinians and Israelis to renew their hope for peace. After the meeting, Abbas said that the agreement provides a "new opportunity for restoring the peace process and its momentum so that the Palestinian and Israeli peoples restore hope and confidence in the possibility for achieving peace." 

The Costa Rican announcement declared that the cease-fire is hopeful news and that it might lead towards further peace in the Middle East. The announcement also commended the bravery shown by both Sharon and Abbas in their determination to stop the suffering caused byfour years of violence.

The minister of Relaciones Exteriores for Costa Rica, Robert Tovar Faja, announced that in the coming weeks, he would travel to Israel, where he will reiterate the Costa Rican endorsement.

Sharon urged Israelis and Palestinians not to allow this opportunity for peace to slip away. Over the past four years, ten cease-fire agreements have been reached. All of them failed to last.

The meeting was the first since Abbas succeeded Yasser Arafat, who died in November.

Problems still exist despite the agreement, however. Sharon acknowledged that both Israelis and Palestinians would have to give up some of their dreams in order to create a unified state. Abbas noted that several unresolved issues, including the imprisonment of 8,000 Palestinians, would also need to be handled.

Independent factions also present a problem. After the meeting ended, a spokesman for the Palestinian faction Hamas said it was not bound by the cease-fire agreement.

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Graph shows the percent of respondents who expressed a favorable or unfavorable opinion about 11 institutions.

Graphic by the Union Costarricense de Camaras y Asociaciones de la Empresa Privada
Business leaders generally positive, survey shows
By Clair-Marie Robertson
of the A.M Costa Rica staff 

The quarterly questionnaire completed by businesses in Costa Rica has shown that their managers are hopeful and positive about the coming year. 

But the business executives expressed unhappiness with some of the society’s major institutions.

The questionnaire was developed and carried out by the Union Costarricense de Camaras y Asociaciones de la Empresa Privada. The results were given by the Union Tuesday.  The results of the questionnaire showed that  a large proportion of business executives believe that  Costa Rica's economic situation will improve. 

The questionnaire was completed by representatives of 300 companies in January and includes a section of questions regarding national  interest. 

The Union said that the questionnaire was carried out before businesses knew about the rise in 1.96 percent rise in inflation for the month of January.  That was the highest January jump since 1997. 

Questions regarding the Costa Rican governments performance in Costa Rica were also asked. 

In response 85 percent of businesses said that the government has an average to bad performance relating to the approval of the proposed Central American free trade treaty.

The question regarding institutions asked the executives to rate 

In response 62 percent said that the Asemblea Legislativa had performed badly and 80 percent said that political parties needed to improve. The media and the Ministerio Público, the nation’s prosecutorial arm, got high marks, reflecting the news at the time of two formers presidents being jailed for investigation of bribery.

Jo Stuart
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