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These stories were published Tuesday, March 8, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 47
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Legislature preparing a restrictive casino bill
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A legislative bill to regulate casinos seems to prohibit mechanical slot machines, electronic devices  and any kind of play involving computers. In addition the measure prohibits games of pure chance like craps and roulette where the skill and the ability of the player do not affect the outcome.

The measure is bill 13.034 that was introduced 
Oct. 18, 2000. The proposal is now in a special committee that is supposed to verify and edit the final text before presentation to deputies. The measure makes no reference
to online casinos, although the wording would seem to eliminate them because they depend on computers or as the measure calls it "informatica."

The proposal also restricts casinos to occupying just 10 percent of the space of four- and five-star hotels with at least 100 rooms. It also is an ex post facto measure because, if passed, existing casinos would have six months to comply with the new rules. That would be difficult for a place like the Horseshoe Casino on San José’s Avenida 1 which is not associated with a hotel.

A copy of the bill came from the Oficina de Iniciativa Popular of the Asamblea Legislativa Monday. The measure predates and bears little resemblance to a one-year interim measure passed in 2002 that covered casinos during 2003.

That interim measure taxed slot machines individually. The pending measure eliminates them. Article 4 says: "Expressly prohibited are those games that are practiced by means of electronic, mechanical and informatic machines, or other similar means."

Downtown casinos have made an investment in

electronic slot machines after the 2002 law began taxing the mechanical ones.

The same Article 4 also prohibits "those games in which the winning or losing depends on luck or chance and not on the ability or the skill of the player."

The proposed law makes no reference to taxing slot machines, but does outline taxes for individual gaming tables. Each gaming table would be taxed two base salaries every month. That is about 165,000 colons now, some $345.

Casino operators would pay 6.6 million colons (about $14,200 a year) to the municipality in which the operation is located. A sum about half that would be paid to a new Comisión Nacional Reguladora de Casinos.

Workers in the casinos, as well as executives, would be licensed by the national agency.

The proposal sets up a dual licensing system for casinos. First an operator would need to get permission from the national commission. Then the plans for the casino would be presented to the municipal council for approval. Each body could turn down the proposal, although there does not seem to be grounds for approval written in the proposed law.

The commission and the municipality would regulate the casino right down to the type of game that would be played. Any unauthorized game would result in a penalty of from one to five years in jail.

In addition, the entire casino would have to be recorded continually by video cameras, according to the proposal.

The measure also would require the company running the casino to identify and provide documents and police checks on all its stockholders.

There is no mention in the proposed law about sportsbooks that are hosted by casinos.

Bill would make bureaucrats answer a citizen's questions
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Libertarian members of the Asamblea Legislative has proposed a freedom of information measure for citizens.

The proposal, No. 15.601, would require an official agency to answer a question or a request for information by a citizen within 10 days. If the question is not answered or the information is not provided, the measure would allow the citizen to file a request for aid with the Sala IV constitutional court.

If an official deliberately blocks release of 

information, destroys documents or otherwise prevents access, the punishment could be six months to a year in jail, said a report from the legislature.

The led proponent for the measure is Carlos Herrera Calvo, who represents Cartago for the Movimiento Libertario. He said that access to information was a human right because a society that is not well informed is not fully free.

Now, he said, the right to petition is included in the constitution but many times citizens do not get answers or get answers after a long wait.


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Pirated CDs confiscated
in Heredia market raids

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Intellectual property officials from the Unidad de Investigación Especializada seized over 1,500 illegal compact discs at the Mercado Central in Heredia. 

Officials say that they found 10 booths selling the pirated discs at the local market. According to an official report, locals in the Heredia community notified authorities of pirated disc vendors. 

According to the report, all of those persons arrested were Nicaraguan. Each suspect could face up to three years in prison if found guilty. 

Copa Airlines makes deal
with No. 2 Colombian carrier

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Representatives from Copa airlines and AeroRepublica announced that the two companies had forged a corporate alliance.

The alliance will offer both airlines a more solid fiscal foundation,  access to new markets, and will allow the airlines to offer more benefits to their customers, according to a release.

AeroRepublica, the second largest airline in Colombia, will continue to operate as an independent airline. The airline will maintain its corporate identity but will now be able to draw upon Copa’s resources.

The alliance comes a year after Copa’s failed attempt to acquire Colombia’s largest carrier, Avianca. Avianca was eventually purchased by Brazil’s Grupo Synergy.

'Utilitarian identity'
is theme of art show

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sophia Wanamaker gallery will open its newest exhibition, UtilizARTE, March 31.

The exhibition features local ceramic pieces designed by Carmen Aguilar of Costa Rica. Ms. Aguilar has worked extensively with artists from the Universidad de Costa Rica. 

Ms. Aguilar’s work in the exhibition was created with a utilitarian vision. The pieces were designed from the ground up and are intended to display Costa Rica’s utilitarian identity. 

The Sophia Wanamaker gallery is located inside the Centro Cultural Costarricense Norteamericano in Los Yoses.

Anti-disaster discussion
focuses on El Niño

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Today is the final day of a forum held in San José to discuss preventative measures against natural disasters associated with El Niño.

The forum, which began Monday, was sponsored by the Grupo 
de Trabajo de Ciencia y Tecnología del Foro de Cooperación Asia del  Este-América Latina.

Costa Rica joined the group in 2001 and since then, the country has become an important leader, coordinating forums on work, education, and technology. 

At the meeting’s inauguration Monday, Marco Vinicio Vargas , acting minister of Relaciones Exteriores y Culto, said that the conference was vital for the region so that neighboring countries can share important knowledge.

Young artist to present
opera in Los Yoses

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Eugene O’Neill Theater in San Pedro will host a Young Artist Opera Wednesday at 8 p.m.

The opera will be performed by local youths along with several Americans from Florida State University.

Matthew Lata from the United States directs the semi-scenic opera. Several of the performers were coached by Christine  Komatsu, director of the Compañía Lírica Nacional 

The Eugene O’Neill Theater is located in the Centro Cultural Costarricense Norteamericano, Los Yoses. For more information about the opera contact Isabel Zúñiga at the Compañía Lírica Nacional at 222-8571.

Leftover fireworks burn
generating white cloud

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

After lighting the sky Sunday night with fireworks to mark the end of a nearby art festival, technicians seem to have left some unburned fireworks.

The scene was the rooftop of the Aurola Holiday Inn.

About 8 a.m. Monday rays from the sun ignited what was left behind giving the city yet another show. Thick clouds of white smoke swept  south from the hotel skyscraper in north San José.

There was little damage, and hotel guests were not forced into the street. However, firemen and the technicians in charge of the fireworks show differed on the quantity of material that ignited. Firemen said 50 kilos (some 110 pounds). The technicians said about a pound.

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Group says shark finners are still using private docks
By Joe Medici
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

After a short drop in late 2004, illegal shark finning is back on the rise in Costa Rica, according to a local aquatic restoration group,

Shark finning involves cutting the fin off of a captured shark for use in soups and other delicacies. The sharks are thrown back into the water after their fins are cut off. Without their fins, however, the sharks sink to the bottom of the sea and die.

According to a statement released by the Programa Restauración de Tortugas Marinas, recent changes in harbor laws have once again left sharks in the areas near Costa Rica in danger. 

Costa Rica passed a law in November that forbade the landing of foreign vessels at private docks. Several aquatic organizations and shark experts backed the decision, stating that the law would prevent future shark finning.  Another law also prohibits finning.

Randall Arauz, president of the restoration program says that public docks must be used, "because the public interest cannot be protected behind the high walls and razor wire at the private docks."

Pressure from the foreign fishing industry, however, led to a customs resolution in January that again opened private docks to foreign vessels.

Custom officials state that a lack of public docks forced the change. The restoration program’s statement, however, claims that customs officials have "had over eight years to make minor repairs to the public dock in Puntarenas and have done nothing."

The restoration group’s statement also reports that customs agents allowed the illegal docking of foreign ships at private docks before the resolution was passed.

"Customs has allowed illegal landings by foreign vessels at private docks to be the norm." Arauz said. 

The group filed a suit against customs at the Sala IV constitutional court a year ago for allowing foreign vessels to land at private docks. The court has not yet ruled on the case. A criminal case has also been filed against a customs manager, Omar Jimenez Camareno, in the Puntarenas court. 

The aquatic restoration group is a non-profit association, headquartered in San José. Its mission is to protect the diverse habitats along the Central American isthmus and international waters around Costa Rica.

Escazú Christian Fellowship announces its Easter Week activities
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Services ranging from Palm Sunday to Easter are scheduled by the Escazú  Christian Fellowship, an international, interdenominational,  English-language church serving residents throughout the metropolitan area. Included is an Easter sunrise service.

The week will begin with a Palm Sunday service at 5 p.m. March 20. The  sermon topic that day will be "The Kingdom, The Power and The Glory." This  service celebrates Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem a week before his  death.

On Maundy Thursday, March 24, church members will participate in a foot washing service at the home of a church member. This service commemorates  the act of Jesus who washed his disciples’ feet as a sign of ministry and  love. This service will begin at 7 p.m.

The Good Friday service will be celebrated cooperatively with International  Baptist Church at 6 

p.m. Friday, March 25. This event remembers the death  of Jesus Christ on the cross and will involve a unique observance through  the use of a tactile Communion service.

On Easter Sunday, the members of Escazú Christian Fellowship will join with  International Baptist Church to sponsor a Community Sunrise Service,  starting at 7 a.m. Special seasonal music and worship thorough  interpretative dance will be a part of the service. An Easter Brunch and  Easter Egg Hunt will follow.

The Fellowship also will hold its regular weekly service at 5 p.m. Easter Sunday  evening.

All of these events are open to the public, and all except the Maundy  Thursday service will be held in the facilities of International Baptist  Church just north of the Guachipelin exit on the Santa Ana highway.

For information about these services or about Escazú Christian Fellowship,  call 395-9653.

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New crop of Latin leaders more pragmatic than socialist
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Uruguay has become the latest in a string of South American nations to swear in a socialist or left-leaning president. But while many of today's leaders in the region profess socialist ideals and have pursued closer ties to Fidel Castro's Cuba, they have not opted to follow the Cuban model and have worked quietly to maintain a friendly posture to foreign business interests. 

An analysis on the news

Pledging to defend the constitution and work for the people's happiness, Uruguay's first socialist president was sworn in March 1. Tabaré Vázquez promptly unveiled an anti-poverty program for his nation and restored full diplomatic relations with communist Cuba.

"It is good that fraternal nations are united. In the name of the Uruguayan people, I am pleased to welcome the Cuban people, once again, in this house to strengthen the relationship and friendship that never should have been broken," he said.

"Uruguay can count on the Cuban revolution and the people of Cuba forever," said Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque, who was appearing at the Uruguayan leader's side.

Uruguay is but the latest South American nation to elect a left-leaning leader, joining Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador and Venezuela. If the 1990s was an era of free-market reforms implemented by governments eager to trumpet closer ties with Washington, the new millennium has seen a reversal of the trend. 

No longer do the region's leaders speak of the privatization of government assets, except to lambaste what most regard as a failed experiment foisted on them by the International Monetary Fund and the United States. Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and other leaders have been blunt in their criticism of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and have placed an emphasis on strengthening regional trade over a hemisphere-wide pact that would include the United States.

Riordan Roett is director of Western Hemisphere studies at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies in Washington. Roett says the ascendancy of left-of-center leaders in South America is no accident. 

"I think there is a trend with two components," he said. "One is the failure of the so-called 'Washington consensus' to bring economic growth and distribution during the 1990s. Second, from the point of view of the average Latin American, therefore, the traditional political parties that were in control of the economy during the '90s have failed. And therefore there is a search for new representation, and new economic and social models in all of these countries," he said.

But despite being swept to power on socialist rhetoric, President Lula da Silva and other South American leaders have surprised critics and angered core supporters by setting aside radical notions of massive state intervention in the economy. Professor Roett says today's South American governments want to be seen as business-friendly, but with a stronger emphasis on helping the poor and disadvantaged.

"They are less socialist than they are — not necessarily anti-market, but pro-people, pro-social distribution, pro-reducing income inequality, more for social justice. But in a relatively open-market framework, because this new generation understands perfectly well how the market operates," he said.

Even the man seen as South America's fiercest disciple of socialism, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, says his fellow-South American leaders are bound by pragmatism, not ideology.  "A good team is being organized. I would not say an ideological group, but a group of progressive people who are sympathetic to the needs of the people. This is what really matters," Chavez told reporters at the Vázquez inauguration in Montevideo.

Analysts say the embrace of Cuba by Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and other nations in the region plays to the hard-line leftist elements within their leaders' respective political parties and coalitions, but in no way signifies a wish to emulate the Cuban Communist model.

At the State Department last week, spokesman Richard Boucher was asked about U.S. relations with Uruguay's new government, as well as other left-of-center governments in the region. "We will have to see how our relationship evolves. Certainly we look forward to working with all countries in the hemisphere on important issues," he said.

Observers say Washington's wait-and-see approach is likely to be mirrored by President Vázquez.

Another president in Bolivia is forced to resign by protesters
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LA PAZ, Bolivia —  President Carlos Mesa has resigned after several days of anti-government protests.

President Mesa submitted his resignation to Bolivia's Congress Monday. He says he is leaving after only 17 months in office because the protests threaten the country's oil and gas industry.

Speaking in Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher called on Bolivia's political leaders to 

work together to reach a national consensus in favor of a more stable and prosperous country. If Congress accepts Mesa's resignation, the leader of the Senate, Hormando Vaca Diez, will take power.

Mesa, a political independent, became president in October 2003 when a wave of violent protests drove out his predecessor, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada.

Recent protests have blocked roads in the country and forced the government to deploy the military to maintain control of some oil fields.

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