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These stories were published Friday, Feb. 20, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 36
Jo Stuart
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Free-trade treaty opponents present their case
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The organized opposition to a free-trade treaty with the United States showed up in the Asamblea Nacional Thursday and insisted that the treaty needs to be approved by three-fourths of the 57 deputies.

That would mean the treaty would need 43 votes in the legislative chamber, far more than the simple majority urged by supporters.

The opponents of the treaty are now called the Comisión Nacional de Enlace, perhaps best translated as the National Liaison Commission. The group presented a list of 15 points why the treaty should not be approved.

Primary among the group’s concern is that the treaty would dismantle 50 years of social programs, they said. They also argue that the treaty was negotiated in secret. These are not new charges, but what is new is that the group has come forward and presented its position to the assembly.

The commission of opponents found a friendly reception from lawmakers José Miguel Corrales, Rodrigo Alberto Carazo, Juan José Vargas, María Elena Núñez and Gerardo Vargas.

"This social rights state that only we,  after national debate in elections can decide to change, is changing but don’t modify it by means of a treaty negotiated with closed doors," said Corrales.

The number of deputies needed to approve the treaty is the key issue at this stage. Deputies who belong to the government’s Partido Unidad Social Cristiana and allies certainly can muster 29 votes, or a simple majority. They probably cannot find 43 votes in favor.

Some constitutionalists not associated with the legislature believe that the treaty requires a two-thirds vote, or 38 in favor. The number needed depends on how certain paragraphs of the Costa Rican constitution are read.

President Abel Pacheco is expected to sign the treaty in a ceremony with four other Central American heads of state in Washington in April. Then the measure will go to the assembly for debate and an eventual vote.

Unions, employees of public monopolies and leftists and anti-capitalistic forces oppose the agreement for different reasons. The liaison committee which united these forces is headed by María Eugenia Trejos.

Domestic violence and the fragile male
I was going to write about smiling, but the recent news about domestic violence has occupied my mind. Sometimes women batter their male partners and even kill them, but the majority of the time it is the man who uses violence or even murder to solve problems. 

Esmeralda Britton, minister of women’s affairs, believes the increase in domestic violence in Costa Rica is due to the changes occurring in this traditionally chauvinistic society. More and more women are working outside the home, seeking an education, becoming more independent, and men feel they are losing control. Psychologist José Ramírez says this is simplistic, that the causes are many including drug and alcohol abuse, or mental or emotional problems. He says it is not a gender problem.

Some years ago psychoanalyst, Eric Fromm observed that in some individuals the healthy response that is mobilized against a threat to his vital interests "degenerates into acts of destruction or sadism when he is confronted with a world over which he has no control." This seems to agree with Ms Britton. Statistics show that the individual is more apt to be male. Not all men who abuse drugs or alcohol resort to violence. Why do some?

For reasons of hormones (testosterone) and upbringing, it is generally accepted that human males are more aggressive than human females. It is also a sad fact that violence against one’s own kind, against other species and against the environment is far more prevalent among man than among other primates. 

Women, thanks to centuries of conditioning, have learned to live their lives in circumstances over which they have no control and to live them without resorting to violence, Why can’t men do the same? Partly, I suppose because during those same centuries they have been conditioned to thinking they must be in control in order to be a man. Maybe because it is so tough becoming a man. Women have another trait that helps them adjust to life — the haphazard chance that they will get pregnant and discover their lives really are not their own, but at the same time they are vital to the species.

There are other differences between the sexes. Statistically, from conception to birth males are more apt to suffer some form of brain damage. When this damage occurs 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

during birth it is my unproven theory that it is because male heads are larger than females and the human female’s birth canal is relatively small so damage can occur. The neocortex seems to be the control center for our social abilities, emotions and sexual impulses. If the damage is done to this part of the brain, this control is compromised. These findings support Dr. Ramirez’ evaluation.

Male babies are more apt to be tossed in the air and involved in rough and tumble play. Both can cause damage. Males more frequently suffer from speech defects such as stuttering. Women have little problem expressing themselves, their thoughts or their feelings. I am sure many a man has thought, "If she would just shut up!" But the frustration of not being able to verbally spar with a woman or even communicate with her has probably led to a violent act. 

Without making light of this very serious problem, I keep thinking about another difference between men and women. (I am trying to counteract the depression writing about this has caused,) Women smile more often than men do. We learn to smile as babies. Smiling is a baby’s secret weapon to endear him/herself to adults. 

I find myself smiling a lot in Costa Rica and many strangers return (or elicit) a smile from me. Friendly smiles, sympathetic or empathetic smiles, a nonverbal acknowledgement that we are in the same boat. Most of these smiles are from other women or girls. A smile softens the heart, but it does more than that. According to some psychologists smiling increases the blood flow to the brain, changes the brain’s temperature and even releases biochemical substances that make us feel good (are we back to phenylethylamine?). Smiling can change how you feel. As well as change how others feel towards you.

The fact is, most of us, finally, are not in control of much of anything. The incredible success of Viagra should tell us that. So we might as well just relax, smile and be happy. 

Surely I didn’t say that!

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Tourism minister Castro
leaves lawmakers upset

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Rodrigo Castro, minister of Turismo, didn’t win any friends at the Asamblea Nacional Thursday.

Castro was supposed to appear before a legislative committee that is investigating the use of public money from the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo to help sponsor the Jan. 31 concert by Luciano Pavarotti.

When Castro did not show, the unhappiness crossed party lines and included Epsy Campbell of Partido Acción Ciudadana, Aída Faingezicht and Gloria Valerín of the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana and Luis Gerardo Villanueva of the Partido Liberación Nacional. Some even suggested sending out the Fuerza Pública to bring Castro under guard to the next meeting Feb. 24.

Also failing to show were members of the board of directors of the ministry. Castro and the board members showed up last week to explain why the tourism institute decided to invest some $42,000 in promoting the private concert. Lawmakers were not done with the questions and invited the visitors to return Thursday.

After they gathered, the lawmakers, member of the Comisión de Control de Ingreso y Gasto Público, were made aware that Castro had a message delivered Wednesday at 5:21 p.m. saying that he and the board members could not make the session because they would be in Milwaukee, Wisc.

Castro said that he and board members would be meeting with Mark Travel Corp. there in an effort to generate more tourists for Costa Rica.

"The people have to understand that we are not clowns," said Deputy Valerín, who may have been the most upset. She noted that the Milwaukee trip was approved by the board two days before the last appearance by the tourism officials before legislators. She wondered why Castro did not mention his Wisconsin commitment.

Lawmakers did get to question José Ignacio Cordero and Dennis Salas Muñoz of Credomatic, which was the main sponsor of the concert. But the men noted that they did not organize the activity just sponsored it and that the payment by the tourism institute to also sponsor the event had nothing to do with contributions the two men made to the Abel Pacheco presidential campaign.

Marvin Córdoba Producciones was the firm that actually set up the event, the men said.

Three die in crash
west of San José

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Three persons died in a 7 a.m. car-tractor trailer crash near the San Ramón turn off in the province of Alajuela Thursday. Two persons also in the passenger car, a sports utility vehicle, suffered injuries.

Three of the people in the car were employees of Purdy Motors in Liberia. The company, which has its main office in San José, sells cars. The three were on their way to a company meeting in San José.

The vehicle seems to have crossed the centerline and collided with the cab of the tractor trailer. The crash took place on the Interamerican Highway.

Dead were Carlos Esteban Quirós Baldioceda, 23,  Jimmy Castillo Alvarez, 50, and Rocío del Carmen Cruz Espinoza, 36. Injured but not seriously were John Alvarado Rojas, 38, and his son Emerson, 4. Alvarado is a manager for Purdy and his 36-year-old wife who died was accompanying him to visit relatives in the Central Valley.

Press law rewrite
given to lawmakers

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two representatives from the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalist were in the Asamblea Nacional Thursday to present a study that showed deficiencies in Costa Rican press law when compared to international standards.

The pair were Joel Simon and Carlos Lauría. The legislative committee is studying proposed changes in the law here, including one section that now makes defamation a criminal offense that merits prison.

With the two men was Armando González, subdirector of La Nación. A reporter for that newspaper Mauricio Herrera, has been convicted of publishing information obtained from the foreign press about a Costa Rican diplomat based in Europe. Simon and Lauría called the case a serious attack against liberty of the press.

In general, defamation cases elsewhere are handled as civil actions that may result in money damages but not prison.

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Foreigners are taking over local hard drug market
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The illegal trade in cocaine, which once was the exclusive domain of Costa Ricans here, has gradually been taken over by foreigners, mostly Colombians, according to anti-drug agents.

One reason for the change, which agents say has taken place over the last year, is the foreigners’ access to strong drugs, including pressed marijuana from Colombia and Panamá, as well as cocaine.

The new drug lords also are more direct and decisive in gaining and maintaining their territory. Plus they sometimes have blood relationships with cocaine producers to the south.

Anti-drug agents say they struck a blow at this foreign leadership Wednesday when they arrested three men at a Hatillo commercial center. The Policía de Control de Drogas of the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública had been on the case for months, they said.

The two Colombians captured Wednesday were a 33-year-old man identified by the last names of Gamboa Obregón and a 32-year-old man identified by the last names of Caicedo Angulo, said the ministry.

A third man who is believed to be the intermediary between the drug gang and vendors 

Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía 
y Seguridad Pública photo
A drug agent inspects one of the packages confiscated during the Wednesday arrests.

also was arrested. He is from Honduras and has the last names of Núñez Bulnes. He is 21 years old.

At the time of the arrests, agents said they grabbed two kilos (4.4 pounds) of cocaine that was bound for the local market. Also confiscated were 150,000 colons ($355) and $120 in cash.

Multinational team will study Pacific humpback
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is teaming with conservation agencies in Costa Rica, Mexico and Canada in backing a program to advance research and understanding of the endangered humpback whale. Called the "Structure of Populations, Level of Abundance and Status of Humpbacks," or SPLASH the program is described as "unprecedented in its international cooperation and geographic scope," according to a press release.

"Hundreds of researchers from the United States, Japan, Russia, Mexico, Canada, Philippines, Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua and Guatemala are collaborating to understand the population structure of humpback whales across the North Pacific, and to assess the status, trends and potential human impacts to this population," said 

Sam Pooley, acting administrator of  Fisheries Pacific Islands Regional Office in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The Pacific humpback whale has been considered an endangered species for more than 30 years. Although precise estimates of its surviving populations are uncertain, experts think 7,000 of the creatures survive in the North Pacific. This is about half the population of Pacific humpback whales that existed before their numbers were reduced by commercial whaling. 

Marine researchers are fascinated by the mysterious humpback whale behavior that includes distinct social and familial relationships, singing and other communicative behavior. 

Further information on the research program is available HERE!

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Aristide says he will die before he quits presidency
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Embattled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide says he is prepared to die rather than give in to rebel demands that he leave office. 

Aristide spoke bluntly Thursday at a memorial ceremony for police officers killed in battles with rebels who launched a revolt earlier this month.

Aristide, whose term in office ends in 2006, said that he, too, is ready to die if that is what he must do to defend his country. The Haitian leader called on his nation's small, 5,000-strong police force to join with citizens in defending democracy from combatants that he blasted as terrorists.

The rebels, who describe themselves as disillusioned one-time backers of Aristide, control key towns in Haiti's central and northern regions. Dozens of police officers are among those who have

been killed in two weeks of fighting. Scores of other officers have abandoned their posts, allowing rebels to take control of some municipalities uncontested. Haiti abolished its armed forces a decade ago.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration is urging U.S. citizens to leave Haiti while commercial flights to and from the country are still operating. The State Department says Peace Corps volunteers are being withdrawn, as are non-essential personnel at the U.S. Embassy here. The State Department advised that the embassy's ability to provide emergency services outside the capital has been curtailed.

The United States, along with the Caribbean Community, CARICOM, and the Organization of American States, are pushing for a negotiated solution to the strife in Haiti. Thursday, the OAS passed a resolution calling on President Aristide to respect human rights and to comply with proposals put forth by CARICOM and others.

U.N. needs to be ready, self-study expert says
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

NEW YORK, N.Y. — A high-level U.N. official is calling for bold changes in the way the international organization confronts challenges, such as terrorism, weapons proliferation, and peace-building. 

Late last year, Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced a panel to identify changes to encourage collective international responses to challenging issues. Implicit in the panel's mission is a response to concerns about unilateral actions, such as the U.S.-led war in Iraq. 

The panel is not expected to submit its findings until the next United Nations General Assembly. But Kieran Prendergast, U.N. undersecretary general for political affairs, is hoping for far-reaching recommendations to allow earlier intervention during a new age of problems, ranging from terrorism to the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

"I think we need to re-think intervention and have a broader and less threatening definition of it, as well as reserving the right, if things go badly 

wrong, to take collective action to make them right," he said. "If you have earlier intervention, earlier prevention, then the idea is that with luck and in most cases and in almost all cases, you should not have to get to the point where really radical action is contemplated and authorized by the Security Council." 

Prendergast, a former British ambassador, said Afghanistan is one case that illustrates the need for a policy to deal with failed states, which can become incubators of terrorist organizations. But he pointed out that it is up to the member states to implement future changes to give the Security Council a greater role in dealing with threats. 

"But the question is, does the political will exist, would you prefer to have unilateral action or action by ad hoc coalitions, or would you prefer to have collective action?" asks Prendergast. "And if we are going to have collective action, self-evidently, people are not going to wait until the storm breaks, they are going to have to seek to take action at an earlier stage."

Prendergast made his remarks at the private Carnegie Council based here.

Jo Stuart
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