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These stories were published Thursday, March 3, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 44
Jo Stuart
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Libertarians seek public vote on free trade pact
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Movimiento Libertario has acted to set up a public referendum by all Costa Ricans of voting age on the proposed free trade treaty with the United States.

The vote, if it takes place, would be the last Sunday in July, according to a proposal submitted to the Asamblea Legislativa by the political party. The date is the latest possible, the party said, because the Costa Rican Constitution forbids public votes six months before or six months after a general election. The presidential election, by law, is the first Sunday in February, Feb. 5, 2006.

Without a public vote, the decision on ratifying the free trade treaty rests with the legislature and the president.

Otto Guevara Guth, president of the Libertario party, and two deputies, Carlos Salazar and Federico Malavassi, said that all those who have spoken about the treaty can show their true intentions by approving the measure via a rapid process.

The election itself would be in the hands of the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones which is empowered by the Constitution to manage popular votes. Guevara said that the estimated cost of less than $1 million could be paid by a bond issue or an adjustment in the budget.

Guevara said that if all the other politicians cooperate, as well as President Abel Pacheco, 

the measure could be approved in 15 days.

That would give about five months for campaigns by  those in favor of the treaty and those opposed.

The proposal by the Libertarians, although bold, appears to have little chance of passage, quickly or ever. President Pacheco issuing the proposed free trade treaty as a carrot to encourage the business sector to support his plan for massive news taxes, including a value-added tax. Legislative deputies also are unlikely to surrender their importance in approving or rejecting the treaty.

The question still has not been resolved if the treaty requires a two-thirds vote (some 38 deputies) or a simple majority of the 57-member body. Constitutional authorities argue strongly for a two-thirds vote.

The U.S. Congress is expected to consider the measure this month. U.S. President George Bush strongly supports the idea.

The Libertarians did not address the problem of explaining the complex treaty  to the electorate so voters could make an informed decision.

The treaty has slip Costa Rican society. Business owners generally support it. Those who work in the state monopolies oppose the measure because they fear the pact will open up their industries to international competition. Farmers are split depending on the type of crop they produce.

Anti-violence protesters riot in Los Cuadros
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Violence broke out Wednesday night in the Los Cuadros section of Goicoechea. Tactical squad officers arrested nearly 20 persons, both adults and juveniles.

Ironically the violence grew out of a demonstration against violence and got out of hand. Peace was restored by 10 p.m.

The principal target was the building of the local police delegación that was sacked by a mob. Rioters even pulled out the toilet in the bathroom of the building.

Fuerza Pública officers quickly called for reinforcements, and officers arrived from a 

handful of nearby sectors as did the Unidad de Intervención Policial, the tactical squad.

Police officials plan a meeting in the area today to try to get to the root of the problem, they said. Some residents are unhappy with the treatment afforded individuals who have been arrested in the area.

There were no reports of serious injury, although the police station is a wreck with broken windows and vandalism inside.

Los Cuadros is on of the several overcrowded barrios in the San José area. It is frequently the scene of major crimes. 

The location is just north of San José.


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Comments from readers

Prostitution commentary 
draws two letters 

It's not going to go away

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

By lifting the lid on the age old question of prostitution with your commentary you let loose a whole series of issues, some moral, some socio/economic and some political. 

 There is not enough space to deal with them all, so I’ll keep it brief, beginning with reference to comments alleged to the head of nation’s protector of children, PANI. 

They have to be alleged comments because nobody but some one who lives deep in a mountain cave or has a severe mental retardation would blithely say that the solution to eliminating the problems associated with prostitution is to do away the demand. Given that prostitution is essentially a desire of the flesh business, what would the head of PANI have implemented? Neuter everybody? Yes, that would work, but something tells me that idea would meet some resistance. There’s gotta be another way. 

Let’s face it, prostitution isn’t going away. It didn’t earn its reputation as the "oldest profession" for nothing. The moralists work up sweats telling us its evils. The psychologists point out that many a woman’s psyche ends ups warped from practicing it. The medical doctors warn us that strange rashes and other bad things come from it. Many "good citizens" — and preachers — have fallen from their self proclaimed righteous pedestals for indulging in it. And we can throw in a not few ruined lives as well, but the fact remains that it is here to stay. 

If it going to be with us, what is the practical approach to it? First of all, put a stop to all the hypocrisy surrounding it by sensibly regulating it. Holland’s approach is pretty pragmatic. They look at it as a forever ongoing free-market business between consenting ADULTS. And as such, there is an area, a restricted marketplace, where the attributes of the sellers can be amply exhibited for the buyers’ selection. 

Being a close contact sport, strict medical safeguards are put in place to protect the players. The city charges a license. The cities can always use more revenue. Why not? It’s a business activity, no? How much money does the city or the government get under the present setup? How about zip. The present taxes on motel rooms and drinks will continue to come. 

I don’t know what Holland’s attitude is about child prostitution, but I would guess it’s a big NO NO. How would they keep it off the landscape? Probably by cracking down hard on the adults involved, beginning with promoters and providers, not with the perverted foreigners as it is done here. 

Don’t forget the Ticos, they can be as perverted as anybody, and the parents. You might argue that most of the families these minor hookers come from are dysfunctional. So? The boys and girls still have parents, and by making them responsible with fines and community service for their children’s acts, you would see a lot of deadbeat dads and lousy mothers keeping their kids off the streets. 

And the government’s role in all this? The obvious one for starters is to pass sensible laws and enforce them. Any official caught not doing his or her duty would find themselves in La Reforma or the Buen Pastor — None of this coverup that is appearing in the conviction of Hatillo’s Queen of child prostitution. 

Of course, the government needs to work on the contributing causes as well, such as poverty, lack of education, moral decay, family disintegration, but these efforts are long range. Prostitution needs regulation now, and child prostitution in Costa Rica needed to be stopped years ago. Thanks, Mr. Editor for lifting the lid. Things can only get better.

Walter Fila 
Ciudad Colón
Reader thinks we were incorrect

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

In your commentary March 1 you say that Ms. Gil says that government officials, "should only target customers."

 She DID NOT say that. She did say that it was wrong for the prosecutors to NOT continue the investigations of these customers and to NOT pursue legal action against the customers of Sinaí and to NOT release their names.

There was no suggestion that it was wrong to punish Sinaí or that the actions of the police should only be on the providers and not the users of her kind of service.

This is my second letter to you on the subject and in both cases it was because you seem to be defending the clients of the "pimps" and the abusers of the underage prostitute. I certainly hope I am wrong!

K. Noel Montagano 
San Pedro de Poas de Alauela
EDITOR’S NOTE: We believe that Rosalia Gil said what we attributed to her during the Consejo de Gobierno press conference Feb. 22. We reported that at the time based on first-hand information. Our position always has been that child prostitution is a logical extension of encouraging adult prostitution. And we believe that minors and their parents are active participants in this evil and should merit punishment as well as the customers. In the Sinaí Monge Muñoz case, one of her young prostitutes was awarded 5 million colons in compensation as a victim. 

Tico Team going
to Salt Lake City

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica’s national soccer team will travel to Salt Lake City, Utah, in June to face the U.S. team. The site was chosen earlier this week by U.S. soccer authorities. The game is set to begin at 5:30 p.m. June 4 at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

The game will be Costa Rica’s first against the U.S. team in the final qualifying round for the World Cup. It will be the Ticos’ third game in the 10-game final round.

The top three teams in the bracket will move onto the finals. The U.S. team and the Mexican team are favored for the top two spots, while Costa Rica is projected to fight for the third amongst several other Central American countries. 

Professional Directory
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Laurian Watkins (left in black) and Darwin Cook (right in black) lead kids at a local basketball camp through an entertaining 
strength-building exercise. Both are former pro players
A.M. Costa Rica/Joe Medici
Youngsters here are getting a pro spin on basketball
By Joe Medici
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican children are learning how to play basketball from veterans of the National Basketball Association at a camp in Escazú.

The camp, which began on Monday, is designed to teach the game of basketball at a fundamental level and to help children understand how to work toward long- and short-term goals. The camp runs daily this week from 4 to 6 p.m.

Darwin Cook, one of the coaches at the camp, said that he loves to work with kids and loves to share the game with different cultures. "Lots of kids down here and throughout the world need the chance to play games like basketball. They deserve good coaching and good teammates. This camp can provide that."

The Costa Rican Youth Basketball Association and Pro-Skill Sports set up the camp. The groups originally planned to host the camp in December, but due to problems with licensing, the game was postponed until March.

Cook and his fellow coaches, Laurian Watkins and Johnny Doyle, are all experienced veterans from professional basketball. They all said that it was very special to be able to relay that experience on to kids in different countries. 

During the camp, the coaches run more than 50 children through a series of drills and exercises designed to strengthen their bodies and their minds. "It wouldn’t be fair if we came down here and gave bad lessons," Watkins said. 

"We make sure that the kids understand how to play the game correctly and that they have fun doing it," he added.

The coaches also noted that success on the basketball court can help kids in other areas. "Kids need to be taught how to work towards something from the bottom up," Cook said. "On the first day, we didn’t even use a ball so that the kids understand all of the other things that go into the game. If they can understand that in basketball, they can transfer it to other parts of life. "

The kids don’t seem to mind the fundamentals at all and are certainly having fun. After two hours, all of the kids had smiles on their faces and were laughing along with the coaches. 

After the camp ended for the day, several kids hung around to ask more questions or just to talk with the coaches.

"This is the life," Doyle said after the camp. "All of the kids are receptive and full of energy." As he joined his other coaches near the exit, he added, "it doesn’t hurt that we can wear shorts outside right now either." 

Disaster prevention will be theme of radio and television campaign
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica’s government will take the radio and television in an attempt to create a culture for the prevention of disasters and the management of risks. 

The campaign will be outlined at a meeting today in Casa Presidencial where officials also will report on the costs of the most recent major disaster: The January flooding that causes severe damage along the Caribbean coast and at Sarapiquí in the Northern Zone.

The project is being underwritten by the International 
Development Bank and other international agencies. 

Locally, the Comisiòn Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias, a government agency, will promote the concept.

Costa Rica is vulnerable to many type of disasters including flooding, tsunamis, earthquakes, forest fires and similar.

Although officials have not spoken about specifics of the campaign, one element certainly will be to tell citizens of the need to keep forests intact to serve as a sponge in the case of heavy downpours. Some of the damage on the Caribbean coast was attributed to clear-cutting of nearby hills and mountains.

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Health officials ready their response to viral epidemic
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINTON, D.C. — Efforts are continuing to help the countries of the Americas ready their preparedness plans should a new and virulent strain of influenza become a global epidemic.

The threat of a widespread flu outbreak is real, say global public health experts, because a recent avian influenza epidemic in Asia has put the world at greater risk than at any other time in recent decades.

As part of the effort to prevent an epidemic from occurring in the Americas, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are co-sponsoring a May 9-13 workshop in Atlanta to provide training in epidemiology and surveillance of influenza and other respiratory viruses.  Another co-sponsor of the workshop, the Pan American Health Organization, said the forum would allow the countries of the region to discuss and compare their progress on developing preparedness plans against any new flu outbreak.

The workshop, entitled "Influenza and Respiratory Disease Epidemiology and Surveillance Training Course," is designed for the countries of the Andean region and Central America.  Topics to be discussed include readying the supply and distribution of vaccines and anti-viral drugs, health services preparedness, and hospital capacity and response.  The center will provide a general overview of the goals and principles of respiratory-disease surveillance, while the health organization will give a presentation on its role and its program for influenza surveillance in Latin America.

A similar workshop was held in Rio de Janeiro in April 2004 on surveillance of and response to epidemic-causing respiratory viral diseases.  That workshop focused on severe acute respiratory syndrome and on avian influenza, also known as bird flu.

Health organization officials said in a statement that flu pandemics tend to occur every 10 to 50 years, with the most recent outbreak occurring in 1968-1969.

On the issue of avian influenza, international health officials — who met in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, last week — said they suspected that the viral strain circulating in birds could mutate into another virus transmissible to humans.  Should that happen, the officials said, a global flu pandemic could develop with the potential to cause tens of millions of deaths.

Otavio Oliva, regional adviser on viral diseases for the health organization, said that a number of countries in the Americas have been developing preparedness plans for some time.  Other countries in the Americas are "just beginning the process," he said, "but there are many things that still need to be done" to prevent an influenza epidemic in the region.

Organization officials said it has been providing technical cooperation on an ongoing basis to its 35 member countries in such areas as influenza surveillance and laboratory and diagnostic capacity, and has been promoting the use of an influenza vaccine in the region.  Pandemic preparedness planning has become a priority in recent years, said officials.

Bus companies in Grecia and Limón are seeking increases in fares
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Bus companies in Grecia and in Limón are among the first to seek fare increases based on a new way officials figure the costs of these public services.

A spokesperson for the Autoridad Reguladora de los Servicios Públicos said Wednesday that Autotransportes Santa Gertrudis has sought an increase for its routes in Grecia. The company is seeking increases in the 12 to 14 percent range for local routes.

The regulating agency will hold a public hearing Monday at 5 p.m. in the Municipalidad de Grecia to receive comments from citizens. Two persons have filed statements against the increase, the spokesperson said.

A similar hearing will be held Friday in the Municipalidad de Siquirres at 4 p.m. That hearing will address the rate increase sought by Transportes del Atlántico Caribeño. 

The company wants increases ranging from 14 to 33 percent. The routes involved include Guápiles-Siquirres, Guápiles-Limón and Limón-Puerto Moín, among others.

The Defensoría de los Habitantes and a group of labor unions are opposing this request, the spokesperson said.

The regulating agency last month unveiled a formula that uses the cost of fuel, maintenance and other factors to determine a fair price for public transportation services

Jo Stuart
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