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These stories were published Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 39
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Deadline in now March 6
Tax panel gives itself more time for study
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Legislators who are studying the proposed tax reform plan presented by the executive branch will get a little more time.

The special legislative committee was supposed to deliver its report to the full Asamblea Nacional Thursday. But the committee still has a number of points to address and motions to bring to a vote.

The committee voted Tuesday to keep studying the complicated measure until March 6. In addition, members decided to seek opinions from Luis Fernando Vargas, the contralor general, and José Manuel Echandi, the defensor de los habitantes.

The decision gives committee members seven more work days to consider the plan, and 

approval by the full legislature to the extension is a certainty.

Franciso de Paula Gutiérrez, president of the Banco Central, appeared before the committee Tuesday and praised the tax package as a permanent solution to the problem of public finance.

The plan, if approved in the manner envisioned by the executive branch, would raise nearly $500 million in new taxes. One way would be by means of a value added tax that will replace the current 10 percent sales tax. Lawmakers also plan to tax income of citizens and residents no matter where the money now is generated.  This is called universal taxation.

Costa Rica now finances more than half of its annual budget by borrowing the money on the international market.

Was there court tampering?
Legislators want to hear from Oscar Arias
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Was it literary license or a factual account of what happened? That’s what legislators studying the judicial branch want to know.

The issue is whether former president Oscar Arias, a Nobel prize winner, tried to make a deal with one or more constitutional court justices so they would vote to let him run again for the nation’s highest office.

Even though Guido Sáenz, the source of the report, now chalks up the account to literary license in writing a book about his life, lawmakers want to hear what Arias has to say.

The lawmakers voted Tuesday to ask Arias to testify to the committee. Sáenz, who now is minister of Cultura, Deporte y Juventud, showed up Jan. 26 to tell lawmakers that he fabricated the account.

The issue is far from academic because Arias is a likely Partido Liberación Nacional presidential candidate in 2006. In his book, "Piedra Azul: Atisbos de mi vida," Sáenz recounts that Arias was unhappy when the Sala IV constitutional court failed to approve his reelection candidacy in 2001. Sáenz said the former president claimed a member of the supreme court had betrayed him.

The account suggests that there was at least 

contact between the former president and 
members of the court on the issue outside the normal judicial process.

Last year the supreme court voted again and 
decided that the constitutional ban against re-election of a president was a violation of rights. So Arias and other former presidents can now seek the office again after a wait of six years.

Sáenz, a bookish academic, seemed surprised that his literary effort caused such a stir.

A group of lawmakers asked the supreme court magistrates to 

Oscar Arias
investigate the allegation, but they voted not to do so, citing the disavowal by Sáenz. 

Arias is probably the best known Costa Rican politician in the world, due to his Nobel Prize awarded him for his Central American 1987 peace plan to stabilize the war-torn nations there.

 
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Journalism group gives
rights court a brief

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Committee to Protect Journalists has submitted a friend of the court brief to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights here in defense of Costa Rican journalist Mauricio Herrera Ulloa.

Last week, a delegation visited San José to deliver the brief to the court in person and to discuss the case with Costa Rican journalists.

The court has agreed to hear the case of Herrera Ulloa, a reporter for the daily newspaper La Nación who was convicted of criminal defamation in 1999. Herrera Ulloa had written a series of articles in 1995, which cited European press reports alleging that former Costa Rican diplomat Félix Przedborski was involved in corruption, the committee said. 

A court ordered La Nación to pay Przedborski 60 million colons (then $200,000) in damages, to publish the ruling and to remove all links to the articles on its Web site.

The committee to Protect Journalists argues that the conviction violated the American Convention on Human Rights, a treaty signed by most countries in the Americas. "Laws that permit journalists to be prosecuted criminally for the content of their reporting are a hazard to freedom of the press and the right of citizens to be informed," the group's briefing says. "[Such laws] must not apply unless there is an obvious and direct threat of lawless violence, which was not the case with Herrera Ulloa's articles."

If the court rules in Herrera Ulloa's favor, it could force many countries in the Americas to repeal criminal defamation laws that remain in their statutes. The court's rulings are legally binding on more than 20 countries that have accepted the court's jurisdiction, including Costa Rica.

Gaceta reaches 126
and is changing

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Diario Oficial La Gaceta celebrated its 126th birthday Monday and the government is aiding its transformation to an electronic formal.

The Gaceta is filled with legal ads and bidding notices. Lately it has begun publishing photos on its front page. Belisario Solano, vice minister of Gobernación, said Tuesday that the changes will continue.

The publication is put out by the La Uruca-based Imprenta Nacional, and an issue usually runs 40 to 60 pages. In addition to new laws and decrees, the publication contains trademark registrations for the Registro Nacional and notices of new Costa Rican corporations.

The publication is available by subscription on the Internet: http://www.imprenal.go.cr/

Three men in car
face robbery count

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers in San Francisco de Dos Ríos have captured three men suspected of being the motorized bandits who have terrorized the area.

Officials said that robbers in a vehicle have been committing a series of stickups.

The three men were grabbed near the Parque del Bosque after a short chase in which the men tried to flee the area.

Inside the vehicle, officers found a .38-caliber pistol, a toy gun that looked real and a knife, they said. The men were identified by the names and ages of López, 19, Sáenz, 19, and Torres, 24.

While police were making the arrest, a young man who had been robbed of a cellular telephone several nights earlier came forward and filed a complaint against the men.

Robbers who work out of cars have been responsible for a number of stickups throughout the Central Valley. They usually pull up beside lone pedestrians, display weapons and take whatever valuables the victim has. Sometimes the victim will try to run, and gunplay results.

Lost fishing boat
turns up in Pacific

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The La S is still afloat somewhere in the Pacific. The owner of the Quepos-based fishing boat, Roger Morales Martínez, reported early Tuesday that a second vessel had provided provisions to the three-man crew.

The boat was the object of a search when it was reported missing Thursday. The boat had been at sea long after its provisions should have run out.

The boat was about 176 kms. or about 106 miles west of the Costa Rican coast, the owner reported, according to the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública, which is in charge of the Servicio Nacional de Guardacostas.

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Colombian rebels oppose Uribe's re-election
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Colombia's main Marxist rebel group has criticized a proposed constitutional  amendment that would allow President Alvaro Uribe to run again.

A spokesman for the FARC guerrilla movement, Raul Reyes, made the remarks in an interview published Tuesday. Reyes was quoted as saying that seeking to stay in power is the "ambition of all dictators and fascists obsessed with total war and personal enrichment." 

Reyes was speaking with the ANNCOL news agency, which is said to have ties to the FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. 

A group of legislators is proposing that the constitution be amended to allow the president to serve not one, but two four-year terms. Uribe, who won the presidency in 2002, pledges to crack down on Colombia's illegal armed groups and  help end the country's 40-year civil war. 

Uribe has strong support from the United States.


 
Jailed Cuban journalist wins U.N. freedom prize
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A U.N. organization has awarded its World Press Freedom Prize to Cuban journalist Raul Rivero Castaneda, who is currently serving a 20-year prison sentence. 

The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said it gave Mr. Rivero the prize for his "brave and long-standing commitment to independent reporting." The group also said it is concerned about the conditions in which Rivero 

is being held, and called on Cuba to release him and other reporters. 

Last April, Rivero and 25 other journalists were sentenced to lengthy prison terms on charges of undermining Cuba's communist government. 

He founded the independent Cuba Press news agency in 1995, and in 2001, he was one of the founders of the first independent association of journalists in Cuba.  The $25,000 award will be presented May 3 in Belgrade.


 
U.S. releases the first $350 million to fight AIDS
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The United States has released $350 million to help African and Caribbean countries fight the spread of the deadly AIDS virus. 

The funds are the first installment of a $15 billion, five-year, program promised last year by President Bush to fight the disease worldwide. 

The plan targets $9 billion to speed up prevention, treatment and care services in 14 countries in Africa and the Caribbean. The countries are Botswana, Ivory Coast,  Ethiopia, Guyana, Haiti, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, 

South  Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. Guyana and Haiti are in the Western Hemisphere.

U.S. health officials say those countries represent at least 50 percent of the world's 40  million people living with HIV and AIDS.  The plan also earmarks $5 billion over five years to programs in more than  100 other countries and adds $1 billion to programs to fight malaria and tuberculosis. 

U.S. Anti-AIDS Coordinator Randall Tobias said Monday's $350 million  disbursement will fund programs that are providing anti-retroviral treatment, prevention programs and programs to help orphan children. 


 
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Rebels say they are ready to move on capital
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

PORT-AU-PRINCE — Haiti's political opposition Tuesday rejected  a power-sharing plan proposed by the international community to end the country's current political crisis. Armed rebels who hold Haiti's second largest city say they plan to march on the capital within days. 

A spokesman for Haiti's political opposition,  known as the Democratic Platform, said the  opposition coalition has rejected the  power-sharing accord because it does not call for  the immediate resignation of Haiti's President  Jean-Bertrand Aristide. 

The plan called for a three-party commission to appoint a new prime minister and a new government with representatives of the international community serving as mediators between President Aristide and his opponents. 

Opposition leaders say they have sent a letter to the Organization of American States rejecting the plan. They are expected to formally reject the plan at a press conference scheduled for today.

Speaking Monday, former Port-au-Prince mayor Evans Paul, who is a leading opposition member, said Aristide should step down for the good of the country. He said Aristide's appetite for power is endangering the well being of the country and he must step down before it was too late. 

Opposition leaders say Aristide and his supporters 

are guilty of human rights abuses, corruption and mismanagement, charges Aristide and his supporters strongly deny. 

Aristide says he supports the plan which was proposed by The United States, France and the Organization of American States, but insisted on serving out the remaining two years of his term. 

Tuesday he called for compromise and an end to the armed rebellion in the northern part of the country led by former Haitian Army officers who  control Haiti's second largest city, Cap Haitian. 

One of the leaders of the rebellion, former regional police chief Guy Philippe says he expects to bring the rebellion to Port-au-Prince within days.

Aristide appealed Tuesday for the world to come to Haiti's aid, warning that a rebel uprising could lead to thousands of deaths and a wave of boat people. 

Speaking at the national palace, Aristide warned of an impending refugee crisis. He said Haitians fleeing rebel fighting and lawlessness in the north of the country should come to Port-au-Prince. But he said that many people may choose a different  option.

 "We may have more Haitians leaving Haiti by boat to go to Florida," he said. "They  will take to the sea. They will become boat people. How many of them will die before reaching Florida, I do not know."


 
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