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(506) 223-1327        Published Friday, Feb. 10, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 30          E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Despite apparent Arias win, the count goes on
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Election officials completed the count of 720 polling places that had not been included in the totals of the presidential race. The new results give Óscar Arias Sánchez about a 14,000-vote advantage over Ottón Solís.

Both political parties involved, Liberación Nacional of Arias and Acción Ciudadana of Solís, are declining to accept this information as final.

Both Arias and Solís said they would wait even though officials of the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones said a hand count of ballots might take 27 days more. Arias did say such a wait was not convenient. Solís seemed happy to wait.

Citizens not upset by wait

On the streets some Solís supporters suggested that the long delay might encourage fraud. A handful of his supporters gathered again outside the Tribunal building, and they were joined by some strong opponents of Arias. Most of the demonstrators were from the Universidad de Costa Rica, and they were pressing for transparency in the vote counting.

Ariel Quirós Garro, a student leader, explained the process to the demonstrators and said that some anomalies already had surfaced in the vote count. He referred to a case where a person who was dead voted. This took place in Limón, he said.

Despite the apparent Arias advantage, Rodrigo Carazo Madrigal, an Acción Ciudadana legislator, said he fully expected Solís to be the next president. He spoke Thursday afternoon. He said that Acción Ciudadana will work to protect the foreign investors here by giving them a safe country in which to put their money. He stressed plans to combat fraud and crime in addition to fortifying a socially secure state.

He also said Solís as president would fight sexual exploitation and exploitation of children. Using the Spanish word cuchillo, meaning knife, he said a Solís government would be hard on exploiters.

Solís, who opposes portions of the free trade treaty, is considered less a friend to business and foreign investment than Arias. He also opposed the new immigration law because he said he believes it is too harsh.

The Tribunal has handled the vote count in a convoluted way. Consequently the current

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Demonstrators express the hope that no fraud will take place in the counting of votes. They were in front of the Tribunal de Elecciones.

vote totals are tentative. The totals from some 88 percent of the polling places were reported by early Monday, within nine hours of the close of the polls Sunday. Those totals gave Arias a 3,250-vote edge over Solis.

But then the Tribunal said it would make no more reports of the totals gathered electronically. Outstanding were still some 712 polling places. Then Tuesday the Tribunal released results of a hand count from 250 of the outstanding polling places but officials did not total the votes by party.

They accidentally repeated results from four polling places, and an adjustment had to be made Wednesday. The results at that time were 617,593 for Arias and 613,650 for Solís.

Thursday the hand-count totals of the remaining 462 polling places were released and promptly tabulated by newspeople. Teletica took the high road and said editorially on Channel 7 that the electronic votes and the hand-counted votes were like jocotes con chayotes, naming two popular but dissimilar vegetable products. Co-director Pilar Cisneros said the television news show would respect the Tribunal and use only official totals because "our democracy deserves the wait."

Nevertheless, the television station's reporter did say in a news show that the the final hand count of the previously untabulated polling places gave Arias a 10,000-vote advantage.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Feb. 10, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 30

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Decision on tax plan
may come next week

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some members of the Asamblea Legislativa are trying to get a vote on the proposed fiscal plan as soon as late next week.

This is the massive restructuring of the nation's tax scheme that would raise an estimated $500 million in new money for the government.

Lawmakers are continuing to discuss the measure, but they said that sessions in the early part of the week will be reserved for possible motions and amendments.

Deputies from the Movimiento Libertario have delayed the vote by using stalling tactics for months. The Libertarians oppose the measure and say that the government should collect the tax that is on the books now.

The Sunday election probably put 25 Partido Liberación Nacional deputies and 17 deputies from Acción Ciudadana in the new congress that begins in May. The bulk of those deputies are believed to favor the measure, as do both Óscar Arias Sánchez, the Liberación presidential candidate, and his Accion Ciudadana rival, Ottón Solís.

The vote is expected to be tight in the assembly, and there is no guarantee that the measure will pass. The massive tax plan would institute global taxation so that Costa Ricans and foreign residents here would be obligated to pay taxes on income they earned anywhere in the world.

Roving tomato throwers
are featured at festival

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

If you go to San José de las Trojas today, be ready for war. 

One of the principal tomato-producing towns in the country, San José de las Trojas, is holding a festival to enjoy the vegetable today through Feb. 19, organizers said. 

The festival, the VI Feria Nacional del Tomate, will have sales of all agricultural products of the region including tomatoes.  Also, artisans from Sarchí will be present as well as an exhibition of oil paintings, orchid sales, cultural activities, karaoke, concerts, an exhibition of modified cars and sales of typical food, organizers said.

One of the primary attractions of the fair is the tomato war where roving bands of tomato-firing youths wage war on one another.  The last harvest of the year traditionally has a high number of rotting tomatoes which come in handy as projectiles for the annual activity.  Rotting tomatoes hurt less than ripe ones.  This activity will take place on Sunday as well as Feb. 19 at 3 p.m. on the soccer field of the town. 

Talamanca farmers plan
agricultural festival too

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Farmers near Talamanca are gathering to show visitors their harvests for the year in the sixth Feria Artesanal Agrícola y Cultural.

The fair starts today and will run through Sunday.  Some 25 groups are scheduled to attend the fair which will be held in Playón del Río Telire, Suretka, Talamanca.  There will be chocolate, traditional food and drink, artisan work and organic fruits and vegetables produced in the region among others.   

The majority of the farmers, artists and chefs are indigenous to the region and produce their products using environmentally friendly methods, organizers said. 

The musical group Kalúa is also scheduled to perform Sunday at an open-air concert. 

The Asociación Cámara de Comercio Turismo e Industria and the Agencia de Extensión Agrícola del Ministerio de Agricultores y Ganadería in Bratsi organized the fair. 

Man using luxury car
is held in chain of abuses

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Agents with the Judicial Investigating Organization arrested an official in an international business Thursday morning He is accused of luring 14- and 15-year-old boys into his luxury car before sexually abusing them, agents said. 

The 57-year-old suspect, identified by the last name Salas, would prowl the San José suburbs, agents said.  Agents started the investigation after family members of two abused teenagers filed complaints, they said. 

Agents said that the man would use his luxury car to make friends with youths.  Then, he would trick them into his car, drive to a hidden spot and perform sexual acts on them, the agents said. 

Descriptions provided by victims allowed agents to arrest the suspect after months of investigation, they said.  Thursday morning, a victim picked the suspect out of a police lineup, agents said.  

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Feb. 10, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 10

Most Costa Ricans prepared to wait for official totals
By Jesse Froehling
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Ricans won't know the official winner of the 2006 presidential elections for perhaps four weeks, but for a group of people used to waiting for hours or days to get a driver's license or go to the doctor's office or withdraw money from the bank, the delay is expected.

“It's just like everything else in Costa Rica,” said Randal Acosta from a bench in Parque Morazan.  “Look at the Caja.  You'll have some minor paperwork that they can take care of in a minute, but when you show up for your appointment at 9 a.m., they tell you to come back at 11.   Then they tell you 3 p.m.   Then they tell you next week.  It's the same at the Tribunal,” he said.

For the most part, Costa Ricans praised the meticulous way in which the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones was going about ratifying the vote totals – even if it meant waiting the full 40 days the governmental branch has after the election in which to declare the next president. 

“They're working from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. everyday.  I think they're doing everything they can,” said Rafael Hernández, a vehicle attendant at Parque Nacional.  Franklin Montes, a park visitor, agreed. 

“They're working very hard in there,” he said.  He has faith in the institution and doubts that any sort of fraud is taking place because both parties have representatives monitoring the counting. 

However, it's not just Costa Ricans that are waiting.  North American investors are monitoring the election closely as well.  A central campaigning point – and the most important point for many Costa Ricans – was the philosophy that Ottón Solís and Óscar Arias Sánchez had in regards to the pending Central American Free Trade Agreement that Costa Rica has yet to ratify with the United States.  Arias is for it. Solís is against it.  For many North Americans, the fate of their business relies on whether or not the treaty goes through and consequently, who will occupy Casa Presidencial after May 8.

Costa Ricans aren't so antsy.  Ana Felicia worked at one of the  polling places and said that it took her and three co-workers three hours to count just one of the three ballot boxes, and since the election is so close, it is important that the Tribunal carefully ratify her work, she said.

“All of us who worked at the ballot boxes know how easy it would be to make a mistake,” she said.

Abraham Concepción Morales, a guard at Plaza de la Cultura, agreed with Ms. Felicia's assessment. 

“The Tribunal is the most competent and responsible institution in the whole country.  They have an enormous job,” he said.  Concepción makes the point that some of the indigenous  communities in Costa Rica are only accessible by horse or on foot and to make sure that all the ballots reach the Tribunal in San José intact takes enormous amounts of planning and time. 

Some residents weren't quite so faithful.  Michael, who didn't want to provide his last name, didn't vote because he thinks all politicians are corrupt.  23-year-old Angelo Sánchez agrees. 

“I believe in the power of the vote.  We should vote
because we have the right to.  The problem is with 

A.M. Costa Rica/Jesse Froehling
Repretel technicians prepare to broadcast the 6 p.m. news from near the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones.
the system,” he said.  He thought that the amount of time that has passed since Sunday is sufficient to accurately count the votes.  The fact that the work isn't done means that the Tribunal is up to something, he said. 

“We need change.  Everything's always the same,” he said.  Randal Acosta had similar sentiments.  He said that four years ago President Abel Pacheco promised to build housing for the poor, fix the roads and raise employment.  But none of that has happened. 

The guard, Concepción, echoed their views. 

“The fact that Pacheco's party (Partido Unidad Social Cristiana) has fallen so far from power so quickly means the people are disgusted with the political system in Costa Rica,” he said.  The party candidate got less than 4 percent of the presidential vote.

Meanwhile, North American investors wait.  DCL Consultores listed a number of concerns in an e-mail to A.M. Costa Rica that are prevalent in the minds of foreign investors.  Although the chances that their investments will perform profitably is not one of them, several other worries include the fact that officials in Costa Rica have delayed many major decisions such as the passage of the tax plan and the free-trade treaty.  Will the new government act more pressingly, a firm spokesman wondered.  Or will it be as slow as the current one? 

Another concern directly follows the fate of the free-trade treaty.  The DCL Consultores note wondered if a new government may limit the ability of investors to realize expected returns. 

“The bottom line is this,” the company spokesman wrote.  “Costa Rica has the opportunity to retake the success path, and the new government is not just aware of that, but aware that this is the time to produce a better Costa Rica for everybody.”

But the optimism carried by DCL Consultores is not reflected in the attitudes of most Costa Ricans.  Time and time again, when they were asked whether the new president — regardless of who it is – will change Costa Rica, the reaction was the same:  a chuckle, a glance downward and a sturdy shake of the head no.

Being able to vote does not always mean democracy
I am finally convinced that I am the only person on the planet, or at least in Costa Rica, without a cell phone.  Downtown this week I saw a street cleaner trying to maneuver his long broom with one hand as he talked on the cell phone he was holding in the other.

He had a lot of work to do after the weekend of partying and voting.  Probably more people celebrated the fact that they could vote in their peaceful democracy than actually did vote.  Some didn’t vote because they thought (having read the poll numbers) that Oscar Arias was a shoo-in. Others didn’t vote because they figured all politicians are crooks or clowns (with some history to confirm this).  The result was a surprise closest outcome in history.  For many U.S. expats it was déjà vu all over again. (I am beginning to think that Yogi Bera is quoted as often as Shakespeare.)

Just because a people have the right to vote does not guarantee a democracy, and certainly not a lasting one.   We have seen this time and again.  Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld has pointed out how in Germany Hitler was elected by the people.  This was with a little help from the fortuitous destruction by fire of the Reichstag building at which point he decreed away most of the peoples freedoms in order to “protect” them from the Communists.  Recently in Iran, and then among the Palestinian people, free elections brought governments far from democratic.  Years ago the Iranian people elected a president who was overthrown.  In Haiti President Aristede was elected by 60 percent of the people, and he was unseated.  Haiti again is trying to have another democratic election.

I recall a statement by, I think it was Ottón Solís, when he was running for president the first time and spoke at a luncheon I attended.  It may have been Professor Luis Solís somewhat later.  But one of them said that if the corruption and problems Costa Rica was experiencing did not get resolved, the people would elect a dictator.  If that could happen here, it could happen anywhere.

A democracy, it would appear, needs constant attention from the people for whom it was intended.  It needs to be protected both from without and
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

within.  Right now it looks as if the United States is about the only country seriously attending to the threats from without to both itself and the rest of the world.  The U.S. is spending more money on defense than all other countries put together, fighting the threat of terrorism – at considerable cost to its own citizens. 

And meanwhile,  other countries seem more concerned with going about the business of business and investing their money abroad, not on bases, but on business.  Most notably, China, which is considered a possible threat in the future, has upped its presence in both Africa and South America in recent years.  It is building hotels, importing more goods and investing in the infrastructure in Africa, including building a mobile phone network — and appeasing the people by giving them jobs.   In South America, China is extending its commercial and diplomatic tendrils into Brazil, Chile and Argentina.  The governments and people of both continents seem to be welcoming this attention.
This could be a problem for the U.S. in the future in trying to win the hearts and minds of the people in those continents.  Hearts and minds seem to be tied to pocketbooks.  Or maybe a job and putting food on the table (or “on the family”) is more important than freedom to some people. 

Meanwhile, I walked into the Casino Colonial.  At the roulette table a man was playing roulette and talking on his cell phone at the same time.  I am beginning to think that these mobile phones are an addiction.  Maybe they are the way to the hearts and minds of people.  Just think if a government could furnish really cheap (i.e., made in China) cell phones to people, sneak in propaganda on the phones and also monitor them — just listen in on the dissidents and put an end to that.   I wonder if that is what the Chinese are up to?

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Feb. 10, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 30

Nation readies a big World Cup promotional push
By José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica wants to go on the offensive for the World Cup, at least as far as promoting the country is concerned.

The government is setting up an inter-institutional committee to exploit as much as possible the participation of the nation's national soccer team in the World Cup competition this June in Germany.

President Abel Pacheco and others signed a decree to that effect Thursday as they wished success to the soccer football team as it traveled to California for a game with South Korea.

Participating in addition to the president were Roberto Tovar Faja, minister of Relaciones Exteriores y Culto; Manuel González Sanz, minister of Comercio Exterior; Guido Saénz González, minister of Cultura, Juventud y Deportes, and Rodrigo Castro Fonseca, minister of Turismo.
The decree declares that the participation of the national team in the World Cup competition is in the national interest and that the government will make an effort to achieve the greatest international promotional effort from the fact.

The world cup offers an extraordinary window to show the competitive advantages of Costa Rica, such as the life, peace, social stability and economy, as well as the country as a tourism destination and as an exporter of some 3,600 distinct products, said the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto.

For Costa Rica, Germany is an important door to Europe that will allow the country to show its culture and what it means to be Costa Rican, said Tovar.

The country will produce promotional material to be distributed to the estimated 100 million persons who visit Germany for the World Cup games.

Costa Rica has been selected to play the inaugural game with host team Germany.

U.S. gets intial OK in dispute with EU on genetically modified products
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The World Trade Organization has ruled preliminarily in favor of the U.S. challenge of the European Union moratorium on approvals of agricultural crops derived from biotechnology, also known as genetically modified foods, according to published reports.

The decision has significance for Costa Rica where genetically modified foods are controversial, particularly in light of the possible passage of a free trade treaty with the United States.

The United States, joined by Argentina and Canada in the challenge, had asserted the moratorium violates international trade rules and undermines the development and use of biotechnology.

They had argued the ban was not based on scientific evidence and maintained that biotech crops are as safe to health and the environment as other crops.

All parties now will have a chance to review and comment on the preliminary ruling, which was released Tuesday to the U.S. and EU governments and subsequently leaked to the press.

The World Trade Organization likely will issue a final decision on the approval challenge in late 2006 or early 2007, a U.S. trade official said in advance of the decision.

The loss of U.S. agricultural sales to Europe because of the ban has amounted to several hundred millions of dollars annually, the official said.

Although EU scientists have found no safety risks on approximately half of the biotech products they have examined, some EU members still have concerns about the safety of these products.
The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and World Health Organization  also have said there are no greater risks associated with biotech-derived foods than with conventional plants and foods.

The European regulatory system is inconsistent with those used by other countries to regulate agricultural products that use science to determine a product's safety, the official said.

Biotechnology is a "safe and beneficial technology that is improving food security and helping to reduce poverty worldwide," U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman said in a news release issued soon after reports of the ruling.

Biotech crops with nutritional enhancements like "golden rice" can help the poor around the world by affording them more healthy diets, a trade rep fact sheet says. Golden rice refers to a rice species genetically engineered in the early 1990s to produce the vitamin A precursor beta-carotene, in the hopes the rice could be used as fortified food in areas in which there is a shortage of dietary sources of vitamin A. Vitamin A is an anti-oxidant vitamin important for good vision and bone growth.

In addition, biotech has proven to produce higher-yielding crops, which help farmers around the world meet challenges of harsh climates, disease and pests, and require less water and pesticides, the trade rep's fact sheet said.

Twenty-five crops are under dispute in the case. Also at issue is the EU moratorium on accepting new varieties of biotech seed. Resistance to genetically altered crops among consumers in Europe remains strong, therefore the lifting of the ban might not have a significant effect on the quantity of U.S. agricultural exports to the region.

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