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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, Feb. 15, 2002, Vol. 2, No. 33
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U.S. tourism to Cuba
seen as 'bump' here

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Just when Costa Rican tourism officials and operators were hoping for no more surprises, support seems to be growing in the United States for lifting a ban on travel by U.S. citizens to Cuba.

If Cuba is opened to normal tourist traffic from the U.S., the hemisphereís richest tourism market, Costa Rica will experience "a big bump," in the words of an expert at the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo, the government agency in charge of promoting and regulating tourism.

The bump would be negative as more tourists would choose to go to Cuba instead of Costa Rica.

Cuba is cheaper, so cheap, in fact, that many Costa Ricans go there on three- and four-day excursions. 

Cuba is much closer to the United States, and an air hop from Florida would take less than a half hour.

Cuba has magnificent beaches, too. Ernest Hemingway knew beaches, and he lived in Cuba. 

The country also has a mystique and a Communist history that should be alluring to U.S. citizens. In fact, many go there already. A.M. Costa Rica wire services, quoting U.S. officials, say that more than 150,000 Americans visited Cuba last year, but only two-thirds were authorized under provisions for cultural exchanges and limited commercial activities.

The Bush Administration has increased enforcement of the travel ban, which has been eased to allow some food and medicine sales to Cuba, according to wire reports. U.S.  citizens can be fined thousands of dollars, and Cuba has a policy of not stamping the passports of U.S. citizens who come into the country from Mexico and Costa Rica.

The U.S. administration seeks to continue the long-time policy of keeping U.S. dollars from the Communist Cuban regime. The travel ban is about 40 years old, nearly as long as Fidel Castro has been in charge.

The U.S. House passed a measure last year that would lift the travel ban. Now some 


Does Temptation Island II
promotes sex tourism 
to Costa Rica?

Click HERE


U.S. senators plan to offer a similar measure in that body. Passage in both bodies and the signature of the president is required to lift the ban.

The Bush Administration opposes such a change in policy. In addition, the Latin American leadership of the U.S. State Department is heavily populated by Cuban-Americans, most with strongly anti-Castro Florida backgrounds. Otto J. Reich, for example, just appointed an assistant secretary of state, is a Cuban exile.

U.S. farming and commercial interests more and more favor renewed relations with Cuba and see tourism as one way to achieve that end. Cuba just negotiated a $40 million deal for food, thus whetting the appetite for more trade in the U.S. farm belt where many of the congressional representatives are Republicans like George Bush.

Some who favor tourism to Cuba look upon such activity as the quickest way to undermine the Castro government. They are at odds in technique but not in spirit with the Bush Administration and its avowed goal of changing Cuba from a Communist state to a democracy.

Canadians and Europeans already can travel freely to Cuba, and many do as do numbers of former Soviet Bloc citizens. 

If the experiences in Eastern Europe are any indication, the end of the U.S. travel ban would cause a major spike in Cuban travel that would grow for several years as the tourism infrastructure was expanded there. Then travel would level off as the allure of visiting a previously prohibited place wears off.

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

We the People Power

Usually I am happy to write about the pleasures and occasional frustrations that make up living in Costa Rica. But recently it has been difficult to dwell on these subjects when I am so aware of what is going on in the rest of the world. 

Hardly a day goes by that I am not grateful to be here where I donít have to be thinking about a possible terrorist attack or a bomb falling. Not that Costa Rica is without violence or crime. It has its share. But it is still a country committed to peace, and so peace is what we will get. It is the saber rattling of countries committed to war as a means to peace that has me worried.

A friend in the U.S. forwarded a letter from Israel. It was about a recent demonstration by people who are also becoming committed to peace via peaceful means to co-existence between the Arabs and the Jews who live there. 

According to this letter, over 10,000 Jews and Arabs gathered in the Museum Plaza in Tel-Aviv to speak out for peace and to support the growing number of Israeli soldiers who are refusing to "serve an army that kills children."

Reading the letter made me remember 12 years ago when I was taking my dream trip, a train ride from Athens, Greece, to Oslo, Norway. I was leaving Norway after visiting my friend Nina and she had come to the train station to see me off. While we were sitting in my assigned compartment making the small talk people make when they must part, we both noticed a youngish man on the platform saying goodbye to friends. We noticed him because he was wearing a pale blue polyester bell-bottomed suit. We looked at each other with raised eyebrows and smirks. Who, in 1990 would wear such a suit, we communicated. 

As it turned out, of course, his seat was in my compartment, right next to me, and we had a conversation, which is what you do on trains. He was a botanist or biologist (It has been 12 years, and I have forgotten details) and college professor from the Czech Republic, formerly part of Communist Czechoslovakia. For years, he said, he had applied for a permission to go to Norway to study at a special institute, and for years his government refused, even though Norway had a grant waiting for him. 

Then in November of 1989 something unbelievable happened. It started when people were gathered in Prague to celebrate something like the end of the Nazi occupation, and their own police fired into the crowd to disperse them. This was, he said, the final straw of the oppression they had lived under. 

The celebration turned into a demonstration against the government, and the next day tens of thousands more showed up in the square to quietly protest, and the next day, even more. He said that he lived outside the city, but arrived on Monday and joined what was now over a million people, "who were like one organism, with one mind" protesting their governmentís policies, demanding free elections. 

In a matter of days, the Communist Party leadership resigned, and the rest, as they say, is history, and this young scientistís request was finally granted and he put on the only suit he had and traveled outside his country for the first time in his life. He was on his way home after one of the most exciting six months of his life.

This manís story has stayed with me because, well, how can you forget such a powerful illustration of what a group, a huge group of peaceful people can accomplish? They can topple a government. I believe they can stop a war. 

In Tel-Aviv, on Feb. 9 of this year, the people were not displaying their national flag; instead they waved black flags, because these flags symbolized pain, death, bereavement and the immorality of crimes committed in the name of war. Shulamit Aloni, a former minister of the government, and now a conscience of the country, said, "All of you are the harbingers of a mass movement that has already begun." I hope she is right. All that is needed are millions of people "with one mind:" declaring that the road to peace is peace.

 More of Jo Stuart, Click HERE


Our
reader
gets
a bad 
rap
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Poor Jorge Calderon. He got calls Thursday tweaking him for being involved in sending unsolicited e-mails and imperiling Costa Ricaís connections to the world.

But Jorge Calderon Ulloa wants the world to know heís not the guy. A firm that has been accused of sending these so-called "spam" messages is FreeWebHost4U. An electronic check of the ownership shows that the owner of the FreeWebHost4U domain name is Corporación de Servidores, with an apartado address in Santa Ana and that the administrative contact is one Jorge Calderon at Corporación de Servidores on Calle 23 in San José.

Calderon Ulloa, 36, operates a computer service business mostly for large Internet operations in Costa Rica, but said by telephone that he has nothing to do with FreeWebHost4U. He said he lives in the mountain town of Tarbaca and has his business in Rohrmoser.

"Now I know you did your research," said Calderon Ulloa. "But in Costa Rica when you mention someone's name in this fashion, all the acquaintances of anyone with that name will immediately assume that that person is the one in question. I would be very grateful if you could clarify to your readers (which includes me), which Jorge Calderon you are referring to."

FreeWebHost4Uís Calderon gave a Calle 23, San José, address and a Santa Ana Apartado address in his domain registration file which is available on the Internet. He also said his e-mail address was jorge_calderon2002@yahoo.com.  Calderon Ulloa said his e-mail address is lear12000@excite.com.

Free Web Host4U was the source of many unsolicited messages that went through Cyberspacereality.Net, which Radiográfica Costarricense, S.A. cut off on Friday, said Cyberspacereality owner Louis Kreuzahler. The operation was back on line Wednesday but without FreeWeb.

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U.S. to seek 'sex tourism' penalties in new law
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON ó The U.S. Department of Justice is seeking sponsors in Congress for new federal "sex tourism" criminal penalties. 

The proposed amendments would allow federal prosecutors to prosecute any American who goes abroad and engages in statutory rape or sexual abuse of a child, or pays a minor to engage in sex.

The penalties have not yet been determined, according to congressional sources, but the procedure is for administration officials to locate representatives and senators who agree to present the measure as a proposed law in the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate

Meanwhile, the United Nations has announced "the entry into force" of a new international accord designed to thwart the trafficking and sexual abuse of children. The accord, called the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, calls on governments to ensure that adults involved in the exploitation of children are punished. The protocol, which sets an "international norm" for how children should be treated, has been signed by the United States and 88 other countries. The United Nations said 16 countries have ratified the measure, more than enough to put it into force. 

The proposal for new U.S. penalties for overseas sex tourism was released Thursday by Richard Boucher, the spokesman for the U.S. State Department when he talked about the  President's Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.

The statement was a joint one from the Department 
 

of State, the Department of Justice, the Department of Labor, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Office of the National Security Advisor, and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

President George Bush signed an executive order Wednesday establishing the task force, which  "seeks to strengthen coordination among key agencies working to fight this terrible scourge and to identify opportunities to bolster our efforts to prosecute traffickers, protect victims, and prevent future trafficking," in the words of Boucher. 

The Task Force was established by the President, as mandated by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 to ensure coordination among the various U.S. government agencies in anti-trafficking in persons initiatives. 

According to the State Department more than 700,000 persons, especially women and children, are trafficked every year throughout the world. Deprived of the most fundamental human rights and subjected to threats and violence, these modern-day slaves are made to toil under horrific conditions in brothels, sweatshops, homes, and fields, Boucher said.

Much of the activities of the task force will be to monitor human trafficking within the United States. In addition there are many grants and programs being provided to organizations that support the goals.

Among other actions, the United States has established a special visa to be awarded to persons who are victims of such activity.


 
Sexy Fox TV show irks anti-exploitation advocate
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

This country has better uses for $35,000 than to help support a television show that pushes a Costa Rican sexual fantasy, said Bruce Harris of Casa Alianza. 

Thatís why his child welfare group joined with the Asociación Nacional de Empleados Publicos to criticize the sponsorship of a Fox Network show by the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo, a government agency.

The show is Temptation Island II, and the tourism institute was thrilled when Fox located the show on the Nicoya Peninsula, even though the peninsula is not exactly an island.

Harris complained that the fantasies generated by the show are "totally based in sexuality" and may encourage people to perceive Costa Rica as a sex haven to exploit children.

The reality-based show is typical Fox: Couples are depicted testing their faithfulness to their partner when confronted by attractive members of the opposite sex in romantic locations and interludes. The couple that resists temptation the longest wins money.

Harris said that the tourism institute paid the $35,000, tiny by television standards, to be included in the publicity of the show and to be linked from the Fox Network homepage  http://www.fox.com/temptation2/home.htm
The link is a small box that leads users to the "No Artificial Ingredients" page of the tourism institute.

The money would have been better spent on getting youngsters off the street and into decent housing, he said.

Harris and his organization have been leading advocates against the sexual exploitation of children here and in other Central American countries. And he said he believes that many tourists who come here specifically seeking underage companions are suffering from mental problems that might be made worse by the fantasies of Temptation Island II.

The tourism institute has not yet responded to the complaint. Its public relations firm Porter-Novelli of Barrio Escalante is believed to be working on a press release for later today.

Harris said he has seen snippets of the television show, and he notes that two-thirds of the patrons of underage prostitutes are Costa Ricans. But it is one-third who are foreign tourists, he said.


 
Child custody advocate says he is getting clients
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Ralph Stumbo said Thursday he has four U.S. clients who have lost children to Costa Rican spouses.

Stumbo is the U.S. citizen who himself is engaged in a battle to gain custody of his son, 3 1/2, who was taken from the United States to Costa Rica last Aug. 1 by the boyís Costa Rican mother.

Stumbo announced Jan. 6 that he was opening up the North American Consul for Justice, an organization that will assist parents in their custody battles. He said his firm is representing four persons, one of whom is a U.S. mother who seeks custody of her child from a Costa Rican father.

Meanwhile, the aggressive and sometimes abrasive Stumbo said that some U.S. government officials are


One man's story
see LETTERS


not taking his calls. He said he can no longer contact a U.S. State Department official in Washington. And even the F.B.I. in Florida has turned him over to a press contact.

That he has four persons seeking his services suggests to Stumbo that many more persons are facing the same problems. "This is the tip of the iceberg," Stumbo said by telephone Thursday. "Each one is telling me that they have been in touch with other people" who have the same problem.

A U.S. Embassy spokesman has discounted a 

previous Stumbo claim that dozens of persons are facing the same problem. That problem is having a child taken from the United States and having to fight for custody in the Costa Rican courts.

Stumbo said that he thinks embassy personnel are simply trying to maintain the status quo with Costa Rica and are unwilling to confront Costa Rican officials on what he sees as inadequacies and favoritism in laws here.

"I feel it is our responsibility to warn North Americans about the danger of having your child kidnapped," he said.

Typically, a male U.S. citizen loses a child to the Costa Rica woman when she takes the child and returns home. The citizen then faces the job of fighting the case in Costa Rica under Costa Rican laws. Frequently the father has an inadequate understanding of Spanish.

The situation will not go away. Several businesses, including MyTica and Spanish Eyes, advertise their role of helping U.S. citizens, mostly men, find life companions among the women of Costa Rica. Statistics say that many of these unions will end in divorce and the woman is likely to return home to the support of her family.

Stumbo said Thursday that he is serving as a spokesman for his organization which has yet to be incorporated. The actual legal work, he said, is being done by two lawyers who are on contract.

Under certain circumstances removing a child from the jurisdiction of a U.S. court to a foreign land is a federal crime of international child abduction, which is the topic of a diplomatic convention.


 
French team head
denies AP report

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah ó The French Olympic team head has denied a report quoting him as saying the French judge in Monday's pairs figure skating competition was manipulated. 

An Associated Press report quoted Didier Gailhaguet as saying his country's judge was, in his words, put under pressure to "act a certain way." But Gailhaguet has issued a denial, saying, again in his words, that he completely rejects the interpretation of his reported remarks. 

The French judge, Marie-Reine Le Gougne, cast the deciding vote that gave Russian skaters Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Kikharulidze the gold medal over Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier despite a clear technical error by the Russians. 

The decision has unleased a firestorm of criticism and an allegation from the U.S. official in charge of the event that one of the judges acted improperly. The International Skating Union has not revealed the nature of the allegation or the identity of the judge in question. 

Ms. Le Gougne is under orders from the International Skating Union not to say anything. 

In the latest Olympic results, Canada's Catriona LeMay Doan has won the gold medal in women's 500-meter speedskating. German skaters Monique Garbrecht-Enfeldt and Sabine Volker took the silver and the bronze. 

Earlier, Johann Muehlegg of Spain won the gold medal in the men's cross-country skiing pursuit competition. Two Norwegian skiiers, Thomas Alsgaard and Frode Estil, were each awarded silver medals after a photo-finish tie for second. 

In the women's alpine combined skiing competition, Janica Kostelic of Croatia took the gold, with Renate Gotschl of Austria winning the silver and Martine Ertl of Germany taking the bronze. 

Late Wednesday, in the Woman's 1,500-meter short-track speedskating, Ko Gi-Hyun of South Korea took the gold, followed by compatriot Choi Eun-Kyung with the silver medal. The bronze medal was won by Bulgarian Evgenia Radanova. 

Bush, aides still unsure
of next step in war

By the A.M .Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. ó Top Bush administration officials have said again that Washington is keeping its options open on dealing with Iraq and North Korea, including the right to act against them on its own.  U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell says no decision has been made on Iraq. But he says the White House will consult closely with its allies before any action is taken. 

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said Thursday that North Korea is selling very dangerous ballistic missiles to just about anybody with the money to buy them. Ms. Rice said Washingtion is still interested in dialogue with North Korea, but only on specific issues and not just, for what she termed, "the sake of dialogue." 

U.S. citizen dies
on street in Quepos

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man identified as a U.S. citizen died in what may be a traffic accident in downtown Quepos late Thursday night, according to the Judicial Investigating Organization.

Investigators identified him by the last name Merkohfer and said he was 62 years old. An initial report said the man was down in the street about 11 p.m. and a driver of a car could not avoid him.

An autopsy will determine if he was the victim of an accident or of some other incident, investigators said.
 

Embassy closed

The U.S. Embassy in Pavas will be closed Monday to mark Presidentís Day, a U.S. holiday. Normal hours resume Tuesday, a statement said.

Democracy threatened,
Duhalde said of crisis

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina ó President Eduardo Duhalde warns that democracy here is threatened by the nation's severe economic crisis. 

Thursday Duhalde said Pope John Paul was correct when he said recently that democracy in Argentina is in danger. On Tuesday, the pontiff condemned the deadly rioting that swept through Argentina in December. The Roman Catholic leader also said mismanagement and corruption is to blame for the crisis. But President Duhalde says he is optimistic, and he says a public work plan should be announced by the end of February. Argentina suffers from an unemployment rate in excess of 18 percent, and its national currency has been plummeting in value. 

Argentine officials say they have had positive meetings this week in Washington with the International Monetary Fund and U.S. Treasury Department. Argentina wants to borrow up to $23 billion from the International Monetary Fund to prop up its currency value. The IMF says it is too early to discuss specific loan amounts. This week's meetings were aimed at restarting loan negotiations with the IMF. Earlier talks broke down in December after the institution refused to clear a loan payment to Argentina, saying the government failed to control spending. 

IMF Managing Director Horst Koehler described this week's talks as positive, saying there was broad agreement on the analysis of the economic and social situation in Argentina. 

Last week, President Duhalde introduced a national budget that drastically reduced the cost of government. Officials also freely floated the Argentine peso, a move seen as a key element for obtaining IMF aid. Argentina is in the midst of a four-year recession and recently defaulted on a $141-billion debt. 

Bush offers new pact
on global warming

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. ó President Bush is offering an alternative to the Kyoto global warming treaty he rejected last year. 

Thursday Bush proposed a voluntary plan to slow the growth of heat-trapping gases blamed for warming the Earth's atmosphere. U.S. companies would get incentives to cut gas emissions and find alternative, non-polluting sources of energy. 

The Kyoto treaty calls for mandatory limits on gas emissions. Critics say the Bush plan does not go far enough. Congressional Democrats say the White House prefers helping big corporations over actually reducing gas emissions that boost global warming. 

Environmental groups say the Bush plan will put more pollution in the atmosphere, not less. 

But U.S. officials say they hope nations angered by the earlier U.S. rejection of the Kyoto treaty will see this new plan as a "thoughtful approach" of equal merit to the Kyoto treaty. 

President Bush discussed the proposal Thursday morning with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Aznar, who holds the European Union's rotating presidency. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice also placed calls to world leaders on the matter. 

President Bush, who leaves Saturday on a trip to Japan, South Korea and China, unveiled the plan during a news conference at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration outside Washington. Japan and China are major negotiators in the climate-change debate. 
 

Water going to be off
in western area

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

If you live in Escazú, you better take your shower early Saturday. Ditto in Santa Ana, Allajuelita and Desamparados. Workers for the water company, Acueductos y Alcantarillados, will be cutting the supply to work on some pumps, they said Thursday. The water will be off from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m.

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