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(506) 223-1327            Published Monday, Feb. 26, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 40             E-mail us    
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On the march
against treaty


The sign says Traición or 'betrayal,' which is how marchers today felt about the free trade treaty with the United States. These protesters were employees of Banco Nacional which will face stiff competition if the treaty is approved.

Earlier story below.

A.M. Costa Rica photo


Free trade opponents plan to begin march at noon
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Free trade treaty opponents are preparing to march at noon today, and both sides to the controversy are taking major steps to prevent violence.

The Frente Nacional de la Lucha Contra el TLC promised a peaceful march where participants could bring their children. Eugenio Trejos, the rector of the Cartago-based Instituto Tecnológico de Costa Rica, said that today would be a day for the country and that a secondary slogan would be "Show your face to Costa Rica."

President Óscar Arias Sánchez went on television Sunday night to urge citizens to let the Asamblea Legislativa do its job and to avoid making decisions in the street. Otherwise, the country would be ungovernable like a large part of Latin America, he said.

The Frente estimated that some 50,000 persons would participate in the march, which begins at Parque La Sabana and ends at the Asamblea Legislative complex on Cuesta de Mora east of the downtown. Students of public universities are being encouraged to participate, and those who sign up to do so will not be held accountable for class attendance or work, according to a release Friday from the technological institute.

The avocado battle . . . HERE!

Also at a press conference of the Lucha Contra el TLC Sunday was Henry Mora of Universidad Nacional in Heredia. TLC is how the treaty is known in Spanish. Trejos said that marchers would try not to block Paseo Colón or Avenida 2 and leave lanes open for vehicles.

The big concern for both sides are the anarchist, mostly students, who have been aggressive in the past. They have blocked highways and sometimes hit cars. Universidad de Costa Rica students are supposed to take a bus from their San Pedro campus to Parque La Sabana this morning. This arrangement is to avoid the disruptive marches that students have made from the campus to the legislature in the past. The slogan about showing the face is directed at the anarchists who usually wear ski masks in the style of revolutionaries.

Arias's office also placed a full page ad in La Nación Sunday citing a CID Gallup survey that said of the 72 percent of Costa Ricans who know something about the treaty, 62 percent favored it. Channel 7 Teletica placed an ad extolling peace, although not mentioning the march directly.

The treaty awaits action in the assembly where the necessary 38 legislative deputies have said they will vote to approve it. In his speech Arias pointed out that he was clear that he favored the

A.M. Costa Rica/Noel Dekking
Policemen worked Sunday to install steel barriers at the Asamblea Legislative at march end.

treaty in his presidential campaign and that a  majority of the assembly does, too. He said that more trade treaties follow, mentioning specifically one with the European Community.

Officials have ordered the police to be disarmed while they are working at the march. Female police officers will be in the front lines. Officers were erecting barricades at the assembly complex Sunday afternoon. Lizbeth Quesada, the defensora de los habitantes or ombudswoman, was supposed to visit with security officials this morning to confirm the police were unarmed.

Recent anti-treaty marches have disappointed organizers because the number of people has diminished. Arias told public employees that they would not be paid if they take time off from work to march. There also is a growing belief that the treaty is a done deal.

Although the government has promised to keep essential services operating, at least the union for
workers at the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social said they would stop work starting at 6 a.m. today in hospitals and at 7 a.m. in clinics and administrative offices. They said medical services would be disrupted but promised to take care of emergency cases and those who need essential medication.

Although health care is not addressed directly in the treaty, employee unions think that having to respect patents on foreign medicines will be expensive.

In a related free trade development, the Sala IV constitutional court declined to rule if fundamental rights of deputies were violated by the Comisión de Relaciones Internacionales y Comercio Exterior, which considered the document. The court said that the treaty was not yet approved, and it would make no pronouncements until it was. Opposing lawmakers had sought the action. The decision was announced Friday.


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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Feb. 26, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 40

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Our reader's opinion

The tree is sick, he says,
and he seeks recovery

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I have been reading your newspaper now for a few years. I have found it well written and informative. Mostly, I find it very accurate in presenting both the good and the bad that Costa Rica offers.

I am no stranger to Costa Rica having 43 first cousins still living there (all Ticos). I lived and studied in Costa Rica several years and still go to see family as often as possible. When I was a young man living in San Jose, I remember reading a book called "El Arbo Enfermo." Only recently did I start thinking about that book and its message. I did so after my return from a recent trip to Costa Rica. I now truly believe (and it pains me to do so) that the tree is again sick.
 
As hard as I try, I find little (especially in San Jose) of the peace, serenity, charm, happiness and tranquility attributable to this once beautiful country (and what I still consider my second home). Sure, there is still much beauty in Costa Rica and perhaps much of the other qualities I mentioned, but they are seldom all present at the same time in the same place and moment as in the past. It’s hard to explain but I always felt the true beauty of Costa Rica wasn’t something you saw but rather something you felt. A sense of joy, hope and belonging.
 
How I know the tree is sick isn’t based on my perceptions of Costa Rica. As a Gringo, I realize those perceptions of my youth could have been altered by many different things. However, when I speak to my family, especially the elder members, I see the tears in their eyes, feel the sorrow in their hearts and hear the anger in their words. They tell me the tree is sick, and I know it is so.
 
What a shame. Never have I known such happiness when the tree was healthy. Now, I can only be sad knowing the tree may die. I sometimes wish I never had read that book.
 
I hope one day to look back at this letter and know I was wrong, for this would mean the tree is well again. Nothing would make me (and many that I know) happier.
 
Please continue the good work you and your associates do so people like me have somewhere to get the real state of Costa Rican affairs.
 
Pura vida, Costa Rica!
 
Jeff Wood Guendel
Charlestown, Indiana

EDITOR'S NOTE: "El Arbol Enfermo" by Carlos Gagini, republished in translation later as "Redemptions: A Costa Rican Novel," came out in 1918. It is a bitter love story that is an allegory for U.S. influence in Latin America. Gagini (1865-1925) was suspicious of the United States.

Esparza blaze guts buildings

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fire Saturday night gutted a string of four commercial buildings and a house in the town of Esparza, near Puntarenas. More than 50 firemen showed up to fight the blaze, which raged for hours. The stores sold children's toys, clothing and school needs.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Feb. 26, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 40

Are you considering doing business with a burglar alarm company?

If so, you should contact me first
for my opinion

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2970-2/8/07




Guest editorial
Consumer usually is the loser when protectionism is the rule

By Phil Mattingly*
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

What does avocados, Feb. 1st of this month and the Central American Free Trade Agreement have to do with each other you ask? 

It’s a perfect example of how powerful interest groups win fights to protect their turf from competitive imports while consumers lose.  Loud advocacy groups desperately trying to protect their financial advantage are waging this battle in Costa Rica now and the more important consumer voice is not heard above the fray.

For years I wondered why I could buy avocados in Mexico but when I walked across the border into the U.S., I had to pay 10 times more for the same fruit (yes, it’s a fruit not a vegetable).

 Mexico is the largest producer of avocados in the world.  Indeed its production is larger than the next four countries combined. So why were the consumers in the U.S. denied Mexican avocados at a much cheaper price? 

The answer is a pathetic tale of greed and political power.  In 1914 avocado growers in California got the federal government to pass a law forbidding importation of the fruit from Mexico.  The reason given was, of course, that Mexican avocados were infested and would harm the crop in California, even though it was never proven that there was a danger or infestation.  The California Avocado Commission fought aggressively and successfully any importation of Mexican avocados. 

Twice in the 1970s and 80’s the U.S. government tried to pass laws to allow importation, but each time passage was successfully blocked by the politically connected and powerful growers associations. Mexico finally got fed up with their failure to export avocados to the U.S. even though they were having great success exporting to Asia and Europe and passed a law in 1992 forbidding the importation of sweet cherries from the U.S. (the West Coast being the largest producer of cherries, of course) for the same phony reason, harmful bugs.

Finally with the passing of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1997 and after almost four years of difficult negotiation on the avocado issue, a begrudging agreement
was reached which allowed the importation of Mexican avocados into 13 northeastern states.  The end of 2005 allowed Mexican avocados in every state except California, Florida and Hawaii. 

Indeed, Wal-mart could import and sell Mexican avocados at their stores in New York, but were forbidden to ship the same avocados to their stores in California.  This continued to protect the major market of California avocados, which was the West Coast, for the specific benefit of the California growers.  If a small but powerful group can control the supply, they can control the price. 

The winner was the avocado commission and the loser as usual was the consumer.  Coincidentally the dreaded cherry bugs must have flown away with the avocado bugs. Mexico started allowing the importation of cherries in 1997 with the signing of the free trade agreement while the U.S. allowed the importation of avocados to the Northeast.

On Feb. 1, Mexican avocados were imported into California for the first time in 93 years!   This is a shameful example of how a politically influential although small group can personally benefit by billions of dollars while the weak, unprotected and under represented consumer loses out.

One could make the same parallel of the much higher price of rice suffered by consumers in Costa Rica compared to the low price of rice produced in the U.S. and the battle to keep out the cheaper import that the Central American Free Trade Agreement will demand for the benefit of the consumer.  Or the sugar producers in the U.S. who enjoy bought-and-paid-for import protection so they can charge almost twice the world price of sugar in the U.S. while keeping lower cost Costa Rica sugar from their shores. 

All countries commit the same injury to their consumers for the greedy benefit of a powerful few.  Costa Rica and the U.S. are no exception.  The sheepskin hiding the greed within usually has “national interest” written on its flank.  The louder the protestation, the larger the crowds, the more intimidating the threats simply means that the group has a lot of protected profits to lose and the silent, abused consumer the most to benefit.

*Mr. Mattingly of Salt Lake City, Utah, is a frequent visitor and observer of economic events.



Scouting marks
100 years here


Drummers provide diversion as they await the signal for thousands of Guías y Scouts de Costa Rica to step off in a Sunday morning march on Avenida Central to Parque la Sabana where the annual jamboree was held. The day marked the 100th anniversary of scouting in Costa Rica.

A.M. Costa Rica photo


Three suspects held as members of Escazú robbery gang
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican police officials have detained three persons believed to be involved in a string of house robberies in the Escazú area.  Police said the men were caught in the act in San Antonio de Escazú, west of San José.  

There has been a problem with robbers breaking into houses, tying up and gagging the occupants and then stealing the victims belongings, said the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

The Fuerza Pública arrested the three suspects, identified by the last names Zúñiga Vega, Abarca Román and Fernández Muñoz, after finding them in a Hyundai vehicle Friday. 

Officers apprehended the accused using a surprise attack. 
The suspects, who were located at a Hyundai vehicle at the time, had no time to react to the raid, said officials.  Police confiscated a 9-mm and a 38-caliber gun.

The arrests came as bandits were sticking up homeowners in San Antonio de Escazú. Somehow, police got word of the crime and descended on the home. The people at the home were not identified, but police said they had been bound and gagged. The suspects were detained as they loaded goods into their vehicle.

Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública did not indicate whether the three accused are suspected in the robbery of a U.S. diplomat's house that occurred Feb. 15.  This particular incident involved three robbers who entered a house in San Rafael, Escazú, where they then gagged and bound the wife of the U.S. embassy worker.  


Even here keeping your mouth closed is a great idea
En boca cerrada no entra mosca

“A fly cannot enter a mouth that is shut.” Of course, it is a very unpleasant thing to have an insect fly into your mouth, and to swallow a fly, for example, can be dangerous to your health since they are very dirty creatures. Therefore, this dicho teaches that we can stay out of trouble if we don’t talk too much. In other words, if we can only learn to keep our mouths shut we will be better off in the end.
 
Politicians, for example, often find this one of the hardest lessons to learn as the escalating war of words between Mr. Oscar Arias and Mr. Hugo Chavez would seem to indicate.
 
On the other hand, a certain politician with whom my family was once acquainted was famous for using this dicho as a way of getting out of answering questions put to him directly. He was also a master at double talk and avoiding giving real answers to hard questions.  Perhaps that is why he was so successful at keeping his job. He was re-elected to his particular post more often then any other Costa Rican politico before or since.
 
But politicians are by no means the only people who have trouble keeping their mouths shut. A particular in-law of mine is what is sometimes referred to as “outspoken.” She always says what is on her mind no matter how misinformed, prejudicial, or insulting it may be. She is continually getting mad at this one or that one in the family and telling them off.
 
Then the next week she’s made up with that lot and is now angry with someone else. She’s a terrible gossip as well, and is always talking about things that are not her concern. I’m certain she talks about me, as she does everyone else, but I don’t want to know about it. As best I can, I try to remain on good terms with everyone in our enormous clan, and this often means keeping my ears as well as my mouth securely muffled.
 
When we were kids, we were taught that family problems were not the concern of strangers and we should not discuss them with anyone outside our immediate family. 

The
way we say it

By Daniel Soto



Of course, my grandmother frequently warned against talking too much, but if you read this column often you’ll know that my sainted grandmother did not always practice all that she preached.
 
An amusing anecdote ­ though it didn’t appear so at the time ­ involved my grandmother and the death of one of my uncles. It seems that grandma was sick in the hospital when another of her sons came to visit her. He was warned repeatedly by my mother and her other brothers and sisters not to mention to grandmother that my Uncle Roberto had died while she had been hospitalized.

Even the doctor warned him that the news might cause her enough distress to kill her. Well, as soon as my uncle entered the room he blurted out the report that Roberto was dead! Everyone was shocked and dismayed that he would have done such a foolish thing. But my uncle explained that he thought it better that, should she die, grandmother would go to her grave knowing the truth.
 
Well, of course, she didn’t die. In fact the sad tidings were almost like a tonic for her. After that she could hardly wait until she was well enough to be going about the neighborhood telling everyone the bad news of Uncle Roberto’s death.


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Located literally on top of a ridge, a small mountain, the vistas are unequalled anywhere in the area.   Surrounded by mountains and volcanos, the panoramas stretch from the lights of San José and the Central Valley to the smaller towns further north, Sarchi, Naranjo, Atenas, and Palmares. This house and its location is truly one of a kind.
  
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This home is truly one of a kind.   It is not huge. It is comfortable and the location is definitely pure Costa Rican.   Click HERE for additional pictures.

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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Feb. 26, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 40


U.S. band Deicide is banned
from giving a concert here


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff


Immigration officials are stopping a satanic, anti-Christianity, death metal band from performing in Costa Rica, said the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

The band is entitled Deicide, a word that carries meanings such as: a person who kills god, the act of killing god, the act of killing a being of a divine nature; particularly, the putting to death of Jesus Christ.

Mario Zamora, director of Migración y Extranjería, said that the decision was made because of the group's lyrics, such as openly promoting violence.  In the band's 2006 album, "The Stench of Redemption," there are lyrics such as “Killed to save us, Death to Jesus.”

Another metal music Web site, said that the group was banned in Valparaiso, Chile, after the town mayor saw their promotional poster that featured Jesus with a bullet hole in his head.  The site also said that controversy has been raised about the band after one of their fans killed an Italian Catholic priest.      

Deicide's Web site confirms a concert date for March 10th at the Tobogan Club in San José.  According to Encyclopaedia Metallum's Web site, the band came together in 1987 and is based in Tampa, Florida.

The release by immigration officials said that the members of Deicide will be allowed to enter the country as tourists, but will not be permitted to carry out any paid activity.

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Someone stole the cover from a metal electrical box at a store downtown and exposed passers-by on the pedestrian boulevard to cables which may be hot.


PeaceJam coming to Costa Rica along with Nobel Peace Prize winners in 2008
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Nobel Peace Prize laureates are gathering in Costa Rica next year for the 2008 International PeaceJam Youth Conference along with thousands of youngsters.

The mission of the PeaceJam Foundation is to create a new generation of young leaders committed to positive change in themselves, their communities and the world through the inspiration of Nobel Peace laureates, said the organizations Web site.

More than 4000 youth are expected to meet with Nobel prize winners such as the Dalia Lama (1989), Archbishop Desmond Tutu (1984), Jimmy Carter (2002), Shirin Ebadi (2003), Adolfo Pérez Esquivel (1980), Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan Maguire (1976), Jody Williams (1997),
Rigoberta Menchu Tum, who is running for Guatemalan presidency (1992), José Ramos-Horta (1996), and their host, President Óscar Arias Sánchez, who won in 1987. 

President Arias and many of the other winners attended the 10th annual PeaceJam Youth Conference in Denver, Colorado.  

Youth will be studying current obstacles to peace, health, education and quality of life, said Casa Presidencial.  The Costa Rican event is to be held in San José from Sept. 12 to 14, 2008.  There is also a Peace Jam television special featuring Arias set to air at the end of the year.

Since PeaceJam's launch in 1996, more than 500,000 youth have participated in the program. More than 120 PeaceJam youth events have taken place in 10 different countries.


Questions linger over arrest of a witness in Villalobos trial
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The trial of Oswaldo Villalobos Camacho resumes this morning with questions lingering as to why the prosecutor in the case had one of the witnesses arrested Friday.

Detained was Luis Guillermo Angulo, who worked as a manager of the Ofinter S.A. money exchange house.

Angulo testified that Oswaldo Villalobos had no relation with the money exchange house that was located in Mall San Pedro. He also testified that Luis Enrique Villalobos, a man who is now a fugitive, had a private office adjacent to the same location in the mall. But he said he had no idea what Luis Enrique Villalobos did with the money that investors gave him in that office.

He said that he seldom saw Oswaldo Villalobos, who worked most of the time in a downtown office. Then Angulo said that Oswaldo Villalobos was co-owner of the money exchange house in Mall San Pedro.

Other inconsistencies also arose, and these are believed to be the basis for his arrest for giving false testimony.

For example, during his long presentation he said that Luis Enrique Villalobos contracted him to administer the money exchange operation.
Anglo said that the money exchange house closed because its accounts had been frozen by the judiciary after the July 4, 2002, raid. However, he said that even after the raid, investors in the Villalobos enterprise who worked in the money exchange house were refunded their investments
even though few investors outside the office got their money back.

The arrest raises the likelihood that the prosecutors will use the possibility of jail time to squeeze more information from the witness.

Also testifying Friday was an Alajuela woman, identified as  Isabelina Araya, who said she invested $10,000 with Luis Enrique Villalobos.

Another witness was Patricia Orozco of Curridabat, who said she put $55,000 into the Luis Enrique Villalobos operation. She received 3 percent monthly interest until both Luis Enrique Villalobos and Ofinter closed Oct. 14, 2002. She testified that Luis Enrique Villalobos was the owner of Ofinter, showing that there was confusion among the investment customers over who was running what.

Even though the investment operation was patronized mainly by North Americans, the prosecutor, Walter Espinoza, has yet to put an English-speaking U.S. citizen on the stand.


Investigators want to know why Costa Rican woman plumeted from ninth floor
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators want to determine if a Costa Rican woman who survived a fall from the ninth floor of a Sabana Oeste condo jumped or was pushed.

The woman is Xinia Redondo Zárate, 33, who was found by paramedics about 1 a.m. Friday at the Las Brisas condominiums. She was badly injured and went to Hospital
 San Juan de Dios. A current condition report on the woman could not be obtained Sunday night.

She was living on the ninth floor with a man identified as a U.S. citizen who was interviewed by police.

The woman survived because instead of hitting the ground or concrete she landed on the roof of a parking shelter, attendants said.


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San José, Costa Rica, Monday, Feb. 26, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 40


13-year-old dominates girls' and women's categories in surf
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

With the top Costa Rican surfer, Diego Naranjo, out of the country, all eyes turned to young surfing phenomenon Natalie Bernold at the Circuito Nacional de Surf.  The 13-year-old from Villarreal de Santa Cruz did not disappoint Sunday, taking both the women's and under-18 girls categories.

The girl's double win moved her into first place in the Women's group standings and solidifying her position as the 2007 under-18 girls champion, said the Federación de Surf de Costa Rica.

With first place Naranja and third place Luis Vindas competing in Peru all weekend, second place Luis Castro
had the opportunity to gain 1,000 points and move into first place in the open catagory.  Even though Castro started the weekend strong by advancing to the finals and capturing the freestyle competition, the Limón native ended up failing to place in the top four.  Jason Torres took the weekend event.   

Margarita Garro Díaz, 25, from San Antonio de Coronado, San José, won the beauty contest and has advanced the 2007 Miss Surf Costa Rica.

The sixth event of the surfing ciruit featured 148 surfers and took place in Playa Guiones near Nosara, Guanacaste, said the surf release.  The next competition is scheduled for March 17 to 18 in Playa Santa Teresa de Puntarenas.  The finals are being held in Playa Jacó April 15 to 16.


Both Alajuelense and Saprissa have tough Sundays at foreign stadiums
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Sunday was a bad day for both of Costa Rica's leading soccer teams.

Liga Deportiva Alajuelense took a beating from Club Sport Herediano at the winner's Estadio Eladio Rosabal Cordero. The final score was 3-0.

Before Sunday's game Deportiva Alajuelense had won 34
games at the Heredia stadium and lost 36 times with 28 ties, according to club statistics.

Meanwhile, Club Deportivo Saprissa managed a 1-1 tie with San Carlos in the Estadio Carlos Ugalde there. Although Saprissa controlled the ball most of the time and was aggressive in attack, they just could not convert.

The San Carlos stadium always is difficult for Saprissa, said Jeaustin Campos, the team coach.


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