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These stories were publised Monday, Feb. 16, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 32
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Tax collectors are on the move with warrants
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 33 tax officials, judges, tax police and others raided nine gravel and concrete firms Friday to grab financial records.

The raided firms were Quebradores H y E de Orosi S.A., Concretos Orosi S.A., Comercializadora Valle Central S.A., Transportes y Materiales S.A. (Traymat S.A.), Endypin S.A., Grúas E y L de Costa Rica S.A., Transportes Costarricenses J y E S.A., Elementos Prefabricados de Orosi S.A. y Asfaltos de S XXI Orosi S.A.

The raids took place at the Curridabat offices of Concretos Orosi S.A and in private homes in Cartago.

José Armando Fallas Martínez, director of Tributación Directa, the tax collecting agency, said that the raids grew out of auditing of two of the nine firms. The agency said there were inconsistencies between what the companies 

reported and what had been reported by third parties.

In Costa Rica taxpayers are supposed to file a form listing major payments to other firms. Based on the information generated by the investigation, Tributación Directa was able to obtain search warrants from the Juzgado Penal del Segundo Circuito Judicial de San José.

Perhaps the most unusual aspect of the raid was that the tax-collecting agency quickly issued a press release. The agency was seeking public recognition of its work at a time when a major, controversial tax plan is being studied in the Asamblea Nacional. The new taxes, a value added levy and taxation of income outside the nation’s borders, would raise an estimated $500 million a year if passed, officials have said.

As part of the  new plan, Tributación Directa, itself, would be transformed into a free-standing, stronger agency. Now it is a division of the Ministerio de Hacienda.

Seven persons die in unusual weekend violence
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Six deadly encounters left seven persons dead over the weekend. Two persons died in family arguments. Two died in what appeared to be a twin execution and two died in disputes. 

Mario Duarte Sánchez, 37, died early Friday in the Hospital Calderón Guardia after he had been hit multiple times in the head with a hammer, said investigators. The murder took place in his home in the San Sebastian section of San José. The man’s wife, identified by the last names of Arias Montana, was held for investigation. She is 43.

About 6:15 a.m. Friday police became aware of the assassination of two young men. Their bodies were found near the cemetery in San Luis de Santo Domingo de Heredia. Both men had been shot once in the back of the head.  The dead are Jeremy Alvarado, 24, and Jimmy Cavaría, 22. Both were in the cellular telephone business together.

In  a Valentine’s Day tragedy Geovanni Montero Sánchez, 19, a security guard, shot himself fatally with his .45 caliber pistol while in the 

Bar Los Amigos in Heredia Centro because, investigators said, a female bartender would not go out with him. 

Early Sunday Fuerza Pública officers in Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí found Alvaro José Ezeta Salietty, 50, with a .22-caliber bullet in his head. his wife, Mayela Alfaro Barquero, was in critical condition late Sunday in Guápiles, Pococí, with a bullet wound to the stomach. Children 5 and 14 witnessed what is being described as an assault and suicide.

Gabriel Mora González died early Sunday in the Hospital de Liberia after he was taken there from Santa Cecilia de La Cruz late Saturday night. The principal suspect in his stabbing is his brother, Fausto José González, who fled.

About 5:30 a.m. a shootout took place at the Bar Estrellas de Hollywood in Puerto Limón. Dead was a woman identified only as Rosa from three bullets in her upper body. Two other persons, Rosaura Orozco Bonilla and Rosvelt Soto Solís suffered bullet wounds, and Ismael Andrade Montalvo, who was punched in the face, said police. A man identified by the last names of Rojas Grillo was detained by police.

 
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Venezuela to send
new ambassador here

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The former minister of communications in Venezuela has been named that country’s ambassador to Costa Rica.

President Hugo Chavez swore in the new ambassador, Nora Uribe, as well as three other envoys to other nations Friday at the Miraflores presidential palace.

Chavez called on Ms. Uribe, a journalist, in August 2002, when he re-established the ministry of communications to counter what the president has said is a biased Caracas media.

Chavez dissolved the former information ministry when he was elected in 1998. The president says the local media sided with the opposition during a short-lived April 2002 coup.

Anti-Chavez crowd
marches in Caracas

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — Tens of thousands of Venezuela's opposition members have marched through this capital to demand a decision on whether the country will hold a referendum on the president's rule.

Protesters, angered by delays in verifying signatures on referendum requests, carried copies of their petitions asking for a recall vote on Hugo Chavez's presidency. Pro-Chavez activists counter-demonstrated in favor of the leader Saturday. Hundreds of police and National Guard troops were on hand to keep the peace.

The National Election Council missed a deadline Friday to verify almost 3.5 million signatures calling for a recall vote. The council said it would rule Feb. 29.

International observers are calling on Venezuelans to express their demands in a peaceful way, and to allow the Election Council the space it needs to finish its job. The opposition has accused President Chavez of plunging the country into economic chaos through his socialist policies.

Chavez, who says the referendum drive is fraudulent, vowed Friday that if the council approves a referendum on his rule, he will appeal to the country's Supreme Court. He says his enemies want to destroy his "revolution" for the poor.

Taxi protest planned
for today in south

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Unlicensed taxi drivers plan yet another protest today at 9 a.m. in the Parque de la Paz in southern San José.

They met Sunday to plan a course of action. The taxi drivers are upset because the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transporte is trying to drive them out of business.

The ministry was responding to protests by licensed drivers who went in convoys from La Sabana to Zapote and Casa Presidencial. 

Protests last week resulted in more action than the unlicensed drivers wanted. A highway protest in Tibás triggered two days of rock throwing by unruly teens. That was in the working class Leon XIII neighborhood.

That neighborhood took another hit Friday when some 15 small homes went up in flames leaving perhaps 150 persons, many Nicaraguans, on the street. The fire was not a result of the youthful protests but perhaps may have been caused by youngsters playing with fire.

Bush seeks designation
of Miami as trade site

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The brother of George Bush, Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida will be lobbying for Miami.

In addition to leading a trade delegation, Bush is here to encourage Costa Rican officials to pick Florida as the site for a headquarters of the proposed free trade area of the Americas.

The country of Trinidad and Tobago also seeks the headquarters.

Bush is visiting Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras for the same reasons.

The free trade area is supposed to go into effect in 2005, but an impasse has developed between the developed nations and a group led by Brazil. The main stumbling block in agricultural tariffs.

Bush comes here with security usually reserved for a head of state instead of just one of the governors of the 50 U.S. states.

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Screen sea saga not a strong rival to 'Hornblower'
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Leadership is a two-faced role. The inner turmoil must be hidden while the outer leader has no self-doubts.

Horatio Hornblower, the creation of C.S. Forester, was such a leader, a naval officer who gets seasick and worries constantly about his life-and-death decisions.

Jack Aubrey, the brilliant Royal Navy captain in "Master and Commander," has no such problems. His crew and even his best friend may doubt him, but Jack doubts not.

Russell Crowe plays the lead role in the November 2003 movie that is showing here now. Crowe was Maximus, the Roman general, in "The Gladiator" and the schizophrenic John Forbes Nash, Jr., in "A Beautiful Mind."

"Master and Commander" is one of the best of the 20 Jack Aubrey works by the late Patrick O’Brian. Chronologically, Jack Aubrey is the successor to Hornblower, although both fictional heroes are set in the Napoleonic wars. To some extent, they are fictional representations of Lord Nelson, the real British naval hero.

"Master and Commander" is a romanticized version of a British frigate with none of the internal strife that brought us "Mutiny on the Bounty." One flogging punctuates the epic, but the men enjoy a good life with after dinner songs in the officers mess and the captain and his best friend/ship surgeon, played by Raul Bettany, engaged in string duets.

The plot is straightforward. On an 1805 patrol along the coast of Brazil, Aubrey’s vessel, "The Surprise," is jumped by a larger, faster, more heavily armed French privateer. The mission then becomes the duty to keep the French ship from disrupting the British whale oil trade in the Pacific. Hence the subtitle: "Far side of the world."

While Hornblower anguishes over his decisions, Aubrey does not hesitate. An inept 30-year-old midshipman, Hollom played by Lee Ingleby, is his foil as he instructs in respect and leadership.

The outcomes are predictable, as are the gory battles with cannon, pistol  and broadsword.


Russell Crowe as Aubrey

Leadership has a long tradition in literature, and the close confines of a naval vessel has been used as a laboratory more than once. Jason and his pursuit of the golden fleece was a Greek version, as was Homer’s Odysseus.

Then there is Captain Ahab of "Moby Dick" and even Forester’s less obvious hero, the alcoholic Charlie Allnutt, skipper of the African Queen.

Shakespeare’s indecisive Hamlet could have used their advice: that leaders act even when uncertain.

Aubrey is more like the infallible Star Trek captain, James T. Kirk. 

Nelson, himself, has some of the personality characteristics of Hornblower, including the one that proved fatal to the hero of Trafalgar: standing unconcerned on a ship’s quarterdeck in full uniform at the height of the battle. 

O’Brian wrote 20 books featuring Jack Aubrey, so there doubtlessly will be a sequel. But one hopes there also will be more of the Hornblower television miniseries starring Ioan Gruffudd, too.

The movie was viewed at Multiplaza.
 

— Jay Brodell

 
Praise of outsourcing draws congressional criticism
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. —   U.S. companies' growing use of "outsourcing," the relocation of work to lower-wage countries, has come under sharp criticism from members of Congress, including some who have long supported free trade.

Controversy was sparked by the release a week ago of the annual Economic Report of the President. Describing outsourcing, the report, prepared by the president's Council of Economic Advisors said, "when a good or service is produced more cheaply abroad, it makes more sense to import it than make or provide it domestically."

In comments to reporters, Council Chairman Gregory Mankiw said that while U.S. worker dislocations are a serious issue, the overall benefits of free trade outweigh any related problems. "Outsourcing is sort of the latest manifestation of the gains from trade that economists have talked about at least since Adam Smith," he said.

The report and Mankiw's comments provoked a wave of criticism from members of Congress from both major parties, some of whom called on Bush to repudiate the report. Others urged Mankiw's resignation.

In response, Mankiw drafted a letter to Republican speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, regretting that the report and his comments had been misinterpreted. "My lack of clarity left the wrong impression that I praised the loss of U.S. jobs," Mankiw wrote.

Hastert said he was grateful for Mankiw's clarification. "My concern was that Mr. Mankiw left the wrong impression about our agenda. I know that President Bush shares my belief that we need to create a better environment for job creation here in the United States," Hastert said in a news release Thursday.

"I believe in free trade, because I believe that free trade leads to better jobs here in America. Our economy will only grow if we continue to export our products oversees. We need to tear down barriers to our products overseas, not build more barriers with protectionist policies," Hastert said.

U.S. employment is expected to be an important issue in the 2004 election. Critics of Bush, including the Democratic candidates who seek to unseat him in November, have noted repeatedly that the U.S. economy has lost more than two million jobs since 2001 and that employment growth has been slow despite other signs of economic recovery.

.
U.S. annual trade deficit was up 11 percent in 2003
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. —  The U.S. monthly trade deficit widened nearly 11 percent in December to bring the deficit for the calendar year 2003 to a record high $489.4 billion, the Commerce Department reports.

In a Friday press release, the department calculated the December deficit at a seasonally adjusted $42.5 billion, comprising a goods deficit of $48.2 billion and a services surplus of $5.7 billion. The December total was up from $38.4 billion in November.

The 2003 trade gap was 17 percent greater than in 2002.

Exports of goods in 2003 increased $30.9 billion from 2002, primarily in industrialized supplies and materials, and consumer goods such as televisions and pharmaceuticals, foods, feed, beverages, and automotive vehicles and parts.

Imports of goods increased $98.4 billion from 2002 in the same categories as well as capital goods such as computer accessories and civilian aircraft.

U.S. exports of services rose to $304.8 billion up $12.6 billion from 2002. Imports of services totaled $244.8 billion for the year.

The growing trade deficit has put downward pressure on the dollar, causing people in the United States to pay more for imported goods.


 
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Barter is the way to swap drugs in western Canada
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

VANCOUVER, B.C. Illegal marijuana crops worth billions of dollars each year are flourishing in the Canadian province of British Columbia. Both Canadian and American authorities are now making large seizures of not only drugs, but also weapons, houses and boats. The illicit plant is being traded not for cash, but cocaine.

Marijuana growing in British Columbia is estimated to be worth billions of dollars a year. It is one of the province's major illegal exports. In most cases, the high-grade drug is being sent southward into the United States, exchanged directly for cocaine that has made its way through U.S. territory to the Canadian border. Canada is now the second highest source of marijuana in the United States.

While fighting the illegal trade, Canadian authorities have recently been making large seizures. During a series of raids one day late last year, Canadian police agencies confiscated one Cessna aircraft, three boats, 22 different types of weapons including two machine guns, 3,300 marijuana plants, and replica police jackets.

Just this past week, police raided six high-end homes in a Vancouver suburb and confiscated 4,000 plants. Police are planning on confiscating two of the houses if they can prove the owners were the marijuana farmers.

Cpl. Scott Rintoul is with the Drug Awareness Section of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Vancouver. He says weapons, cocaine, and other drugs started being used as currency in exchange for marijuana because of changes to banking laws.

"There were some restrictions put on by the federal government and provincial government on how much you could transfer and how much money you could change," he said. "So it became very disruptive and it was a challenge to change money. 

"Almost overnight, they realize that they can actually just take marijuana across the border and trade that for cocaine. And that started about 1995 and that continues today. And that's sort of the big trade now is marijuana being traded for guns, for cocaine, for methamphetamine, which then comes back into Canada."

The Organized Crime Agency in Vancouver estimates there are currently 10,000 commercial growing operations throughout the province. Each location contains an average of 400 plants that provides three or four harvests every year, which earns the grower over $1 million. On the streets of Los Angeles, the drug gets $5,000 for about one half of a kilogram and as much as $8,000 in eastern cities like New York.

Criminology professor Darryl Plecas, of the University College of the Fraser Valley near Vancouver, has studied the marijuana trade for years.

He says trading marijuana for cocaine is lowering the cash cost to bring large amounts of cocaine into Canada. This is worsening an already dangerous trade.

"If I want to purchase a huge amount of cocaine, now that I have marijuana, I don't need the same amount of money," said Darryl Plecas. "I just need to get my hands on enough marijuana, which matches what they're asking for in cocaine and away I go. So, all of sudden you, in effect, reduce your cost of cocaine to buy it for trafficking purposes to a very small amount. This [is a] very dangerous situation."

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency opened a Vancouver office in June of last year. The resident agent in Charge, Ken Peterson says the size of the marijuana trade is getting the agency's attention. He says the new trade of exchanging marijuana for cocaine has resulted in a significant increase of trafficking and, as a result, arrests and seizures.

"Oh it's a major concern," said Peterson. "The United States gets their cocaine both from Central and South America. The free flow and the larger seizures of cocaine being seized both at the American and the Canadian side of the border has increased significantly lately as the marijuana coming south into the United States. The seizures and the intelligence has also increased significantly recently."

To help this growing battle against the marijuana and cocaine trade, the new Canadian government of Prime Minister Paul Martin will soon reintroduce legislation to deal with the marijuana issue.

Drug dealers here use kids to move their products
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Drug smugglers in Costa Rica are continuing to use minors to deliver their product.

Fuerza Pública officers detained a boy, 17, and a girl, 14, Friday as they were headed to Playas del Coco on the north Pacific coast in a taxi licensed in Liberia. The pair were residents of Batán de Limón on the Caribbean coast, and police speculated they were carrying drugs cross-country.

Officers said they found 585 rocks of crack cocaine

and 800 grams, about 1.75 pounds, of compressed marijuana on the pair.

The taxi driver was let go because police said they believe he did not know what the young couple was carrying. Liberia is in Guanacaste, as is Playas del Coco. Liberia is a major bus transportation center.

Officials have said in the past that youngsters are used to carry the drugs because the penalties given youngsters, if caught, are far lighter than they would receive as adults. 


 
 
The weak are getting the brunt of violence in Haiti
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - U.N. aid agencies are appealing to all parties involved in violence in Haiti to grant them greater access to victims. A U.N. emergency mission traveled to Haiti last week to assess the looming humanitarian crisis. It reports that children and women are the main victims of the escalating violence.

U.N. Children's Fund spokesman Damian Personnaz says children in Haiti are facing serious risks to their health and their physical and mental well-being. And he says violence is getting worse.

"This new crisis will increase the already very poor economical and social situations of the most vulnerable people in this country," explained Personnaz. "You have to know that 1.2 million children are basically suffering from chronic malnutrition."

Personnaz says this is one of the highest malnutrition rates in the world and the highest in the western hemisphere. In addition, he says, violence against women is growing. Even before 

the current crisis, he says eight out of 10 women in Haiti suffered from physical, sexual, and other forms of violence, which is the highest rate in the world.

Because of the prevailing security situation, Personnaz says aid agencies have been deprived of access to about one-third of the country.

"This is a main concern," he said. "And I think that could be quickly improved if both sides stopped to use the roads and to fight and so on. What we need is access to the northern part of the country. We need to have access in order to check what is going on. Also to be able to deliver emergency health kits and education tool kits."

As the violence in Haiti increases, The U.S. Children’s Fund reports it is becoming more difficult for children to attend school, receive medical attention, and find food and shelter. It says children in the streets of urban centers are especially at risk. It notes school attendance in Haiti has dropped dramatically in most areas, due to unsafe roads, lack of security in schools and disruption of public transportation.


 
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