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(506) 223-1327        Published Wednesday, March 8, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 48          E-mail us    
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Arias government will begin facing divisions
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Óscar Arias Sánchez comes to the nation's presidency disliked by the left because he favors business and under suspicion from U.S. officials because of his historic opposition to American goals.

Many policymakers are expecting an imperial presidency where Arias distances himself from the press and people while parlaying his Nobel Prize status to further international visibility.

His presidential term from 1986 to 1990 was one of international accomplishments but few memorable domestic ones.

Arias, 65, takes over a very different country from the one he headed 16 years ago. The nation is polarized by the pending free trade treaty with the United States, and Arias, instead of being a young reformer represents the upper class and the commercial class. The roads are in a mess, the national deficit is gigantic and most Costa Ricans are expecting the same old, same old.

The Tribunal Supreme de Elecciones finally declared Arias the winner of the Feb. 5 balloting at a press conference Tuesday. He won by a bit more than 1 percent of the 1.6 million votes cast. His imperial style was much in evidence during the campaign and when he refused to debate Ottón Solís, his former minister who finished second.

The U.S. left, such as the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, which favored Solís calls Arias pro-American.

"Vain and with a dismissive personality often accompanied by an unsettling sense of self importance, Arias in recent months has become best known for wanting to be the Bush administration’s most loyal paladin in Central America, if not the entire hemisphere," said the council Tuesday in an analysis of the election.

This would be news to the 150 people who stormed out of his talk at a charity fund-raiser in March 2003 in Florida when Arias began to harshly criticize the war in Iraq, according to the Palm Beach Post. A  spokesman said that the speakers had been asked to avoid politics as a topic. Some of the guests were military reservists on the verge of being called up for duty, the newspaper said.

Arias also was the Costa Rican president who kicked the U.S. ambassador and the U.S. station chief out of the country. That was in July 1989 when Arias issued a directive barring Oliver North, President Ronald Reagan’s counter-terrorism coordinator, and others from Costa Rica forever. He took the step after the Asamblea Legislativa voted overwhelmingly for the measure.

A.M. Costa Rica graphic

In addition to North, those barred from entering the country were Maj. Gen. Richard Secord; John Poindexter, the former national security adviser; Lewis Arthur Tambs, then the U.S. ambassador to Costa Rica; and the former C.I.A. director in Costa Rica, Joseph Fernández.

The legislature concluded that the Nicaraguan Contra resupply network in Costa Rica that North coordinated from the White House doubled as a drug smuggling operation. The presidential action was not widely publicized in the United States.

Despite Arias' unhappiness with some aspects of the Bush administration, some local U.S. officials are suggesting that a visit by the U.S. president might be in the cards, particularly if Arias can cause the current or the future divided legislature to ratify the free trade treaty. Costa Rica is the only signatory to the pact that has not ratified the agreement.

It was not Arias who made Costa Rica neutral in the Central American conflicts that were the hot part of the Cold War. Luis Alberto Monge declared neutrality in 1983. But it was Arias who was able to get five national leaders to sign a peace plan in 1987 calling for fair elections.

That was why he was awarded the Peace Prize that year.

Some still say that the prize should have gone to Vinicio Cerezo, the president of Guatemala, but that Arias campaigned for it.

With the money he received with the prize, Arias created the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress the next year. The foundation continues as one of his bases.

Meanwhile, the official declaration Tuesday put in motion steps for a change in government. President Abel Pacheco called Arias in the afternoon to congratulate him and to suggest arranging a meeting when Pacheco returns from Panamá and Chile where he is going today. The contents of the 10-minute telephone call was described by a Casa Presidencial spokesperson.

Current Vice President Lineth Saborío and the probable next chief of staff, Rodrigo Arias, will head up a transition team.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, March 8, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 48


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A.M. Costa Rica photos/José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
Sign reads 'Out with pirates disguised as porteadores'

Massive taxi turnout
against pirate drivers

By José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
Of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A massive demonstration of taxi drivers shut down central San José for a time Tuesday, and similar blockades took place in other parts of the country.

The drivers were demanding the elimination of a section of the commercial code that permits so-called porteadores to provide what amounts to taxi service. The licensed taxi drivers also are angry at the free trade treaty with the United States because they think that the agreement would give new life to the porteadores.

Taxi drivers have special permits from the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transporte. These permits are expensive on the secondary market, bringing sometimes as much as 3 million colons ($6,000 a taxi).

Porteadores do not have such special permits, and they are supposed to provide service on call and from door to door. Permitted taxi drivers say the porteadores also pick up fares on the street, thereby becoming pirate taxi drivers in competition with the licensed cabs.

Feb. 28 in the face of a smaller protest by the porteadores the Asamblea Legislativa chose not to remove the enabling paragraph. However, some lawmakers, including Ricardo Toledo, asked that it be removed later, and that issue still is under discussion.

Demonstrations Tuesday stretched from the Antiqua Aduana on Calle 22 to well into the downtown. Avenida 2 was closed for a time, as was Avenida 1.

Taxi drivers estimated that 2,500 of their colleagues joined the protest, as well as others in Puntarenas and Limón. Taxi drivers from other sections, including San Carlos, Alajuela, Heredia, Puntarenas, Limón, and the southern zone joined with metropolitan area drivers.
Edgar Castro Díaz, president of the Federación de Cooperativa de Taxi, estimated that 5,000 taxis in all participated. If the free trade treaty is passed, the pact will make it more difficult to change the commercial code, he said.

There were some reports of rowdiness on the part of the taxi drivers who threw eggs at those they suspected of being pirate drivers.


Taxi cabs fill Avenida 2 near Museo Nacional

Women's Day events
include book presentation


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Today is the International Day of the Woman, and all over the country special events are planned. In Desamparados, a special celebration will take place at 6 p.m. at Kínder María Jiménez. Other events run through Thursday.

At the foreign ministry today a book produced by the  Comisión Costarricense de Derecho Internacional Humanitario will be presented. It is called “La Mujer en la Guerra,” and it outlines some of the tragedies that befall women in wartime. The event will be at 10 a.m. in the Salón de Ex Cancilleres of the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto.

In anticipation of today, the Defensoría de los Habitantes issued a statement against violence and discrimination against women. It cited underemployment, iliteracy, lower salaries and family violence as special issues to  consider.

Special police unit
targets vehicle crime


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A special operational group set up by the Fuerza Pública has arrested 72 persons, recovered 36 vehicles and 12 motorcycles and confiscated 51 firearms during the last few weeks, officials said.

The group is working in conjunction with the Ministerio Público, the nation's prosecutor, and the Judicial Investigating Organization. The idea is to attach vehicle thefts and robberies and street crimes in the San José area, officials said. The group has participated in 12 raises and 195 separate police actions, officials said,

One woman arrested breaking into vehicles in San Pedro de Montes de Oca had only been released a week earlier after serving a four-year prison term for armed robbery, officials said.
 
Taxi driver faces rape allegation

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Invesigators have detained a taxi driver as a suspect in a rape that took place Feb. 17 in Pavas.

The 50-year-old man picked up a woman in his cab near the Coca Cola bus station in San José for a trip to a spot near the Aeropuerto Tobías Bolaños in Pavas. However, the woman claimed he took her instead to a park in Rorhmoser where he raped her.
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, March 8, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 48


 

A.M. Costa Rica/Annette Carter
Reuben McLeod-Salmon takes a break on the sea wall not far from his home. The structure clearly would be in the maritime zone if residents lose their fight.

Maritime zone law clouds historic Cauhita holdings
By Annette Carter
special to A.M. Costa Rica

In the midst of one of the most beautiful places in the world there is a fight for equality and justice brewing.

For more than 100 years, the black population of Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast have labored hard and continuously to build a life for themselves and their families in a country that has historically shunned them.  And now, the descendents of the first Jamaicans to settle this area are at war with the government to keep and clear title to the land given to them by their government in the early 20th century. 

Recent legislation in the Asamblea Legislativa would have allowed for these properties to be titled, but a court appeal by two members of the national assembly could change all that and throw local residents off their land and into the street.  A date for the hearing of the appeal has not yet been set, but local leaders are traveling to San José to try and fight it.

It was 1914 and then-President Alfredo Gonzalez-Flores, who had been visiting Sixaola, the most southern point in Costa Rica’s Caribbean zone bordering Panamá, was returning to Limón by ferry. There were no roads at that time to connect Limón with communities south.  Caught in the dangerous and turbulent waters of a bad storm, his boat ran ashore in the area of Tuba Creek, just north of what is now Cahuita.  Local people on shore, realizing a boatful of passengers was in trouble, lit lamps to guide the boat in safely only to find out the president of the country was a passenger.  The same people found lodging for their country’s leader in the home of a local.

When the sun rose the next day, the president, as the story goes, was appalled to see his country’s black people living in shacks on the beach and promised to rectify the situation.  Upon returning to San José, he sent a surveyor to look for a place to re-settle the people and found what is now Cahuita and the farm land of William Smith.  The government bought the land for what is rumored to be 500 colons (about $1 in today’s market) and enacted Law 35 in July 1915
which permitted anyone from Tuba Creek or Cahuita Point -— areas just north and south of the current Cahuita — to petition the governor of Limón for a lot. In 1916 many local people staked their claims.

After nearly 100 years of farming that land, much of it on or near the beach, and building the communities of Cahuita and Puerto Viejo, the descendants of those early settlers are fighting with the government to gain rightful title and protection from the law covering the Maritime Zone (Zona Maritima Terrestre in Spanish) enacted in 1977.  The maritine law declared all land countrywide within 50 meters of high tide to be for public use and all land 150 meters further inland to be government property which could be leased from the government for five to 20 years.  The coastal Caribbeans ran into trouble because even though the land was given to them by the government to settle, it was never legally titled and there was no paper trail to prove ownership.

The future looked bright in November when the Costa Rican legislature passed Law 8464 granting “city” status to Cahuita and Puerto Viejo because cities are exempt from the martime law. In Cahuita, a committee was formed to stake the city limits, and a lawyer was retained to assist locals with the land titling process.  For Cahuita, city status was also a means to a better infrastructure, including paved roads, sidewalks, gutters, and an autonomous governing structure. 

Since passage of the city status legislation, the local committee has been organizing with the municipal board in BriBri to plan the city limits and assisting local land owners who must provide documentation of land ownership in order to obtain legal title.  The committee has also negotiated with a San José lawyer to represent the landowners in the titling process and has negotiated a “group rate” and payment plan for those who cannot afford the process. 

All those activities have now been put on hold as the fight continues in San José, and local people hold their breath and cross their fingers that their government will offer up the ultimate in recognition of all its people — the right to keep what is theirs.


Residents think that their fight is also about race
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

It’s not a fight for life, but it is the fight of a lifetime for local Cahuita community leader and native Reuben McLeod-Salmon, who is a special advisor to the committee working in Cahuita to gain rightful title to land held by local families for nearly 100 years.  

McLeod-Salmon has a personal interest in the project because his family was one of the earliest settlers who in 1916 staked claim to land given by then Costa Rican President Alfredo Gonzalez-Flores.  In addition to operating his business Caribbean Leisure Travel, he is a local historian and often lectures to students at the Universidad de Costa Rica on the history of the Caribbean coast and its people.

McLeod-Salmon believes that the fight to retain land for his family and his people is as much about race as about anything.

“The big problem with Talamanca is that it was never conquered or settled by Spaniards.  There’s always been a design in San José to finish what the Spaniards didn’t do.” 

It is no secret that the people of Talamanca have been disenfranchised from the rest of Costa Rica.  It wasn’t until 1949 that blacks on the Caribbean coast were given the right to vote.  Until that time, blacks were not even naturalized citizens.  They were given “foreign” status based on the country of origin of their parents — Jamaica for example — and many of them had never set foot on foreign soil and their births were not registered abroad.  The black Caribbeans at that time were “apartidos” or countryless. 

McLeod-Salmon has become an expert on the local battle waging in San José over these issues. He says the discrimination begins with Law 4071 passed in 1968 which gave title to people owning property within the 200 meters in the Pacific coast areas between Chacarita to the mouth of the Rio Barranca by grandfathering them in but totally left out the Caribbean side.

“The people on the Caribbean coast have an ace up their sleeves with Law 4071,” McLeod-Salmon says.  “The government has to grandfather us in as well because the precedent was set on the Pacific side.”

“The people in San José are doing this because they hold a grudge. They just don’t believe that we deserve what we have here and have been saying that we are privileged.”

McLeod-Salmon said that when the law to create city status thus protecting most of the local property was up before Congress and being debated Luis Ramírez Ramírez of the Partido Liberación Nacional, the lead

A.M. Costa Rica/Annette Carter
Behind McLeod-Salmon and his home is the Caribbean, so the property would be well within the forbidden maritime zone if Cahuita's city status is overturned.

deputy opposing the law was the only one to get up and give a speech in opposition.  But another deputy Quírico Jiménez Madrigal of the Bloque Patriótico Parlamentario cast his vote in favor of the law and now he also opposes it as part of the current appeal.  And that is something McLeod-Salmon just doesn’t understand. Jiménez of Heredia also happens to be president of the legislature's enviromental commission.
 
“We (here in the Caribbean) are forsaken,” he laments.

McLeod-Salmon says that if the current opposition in San José succeeds in challenging the law he will be among a group that will challenge Law 6043 in Constitutional Court.

“It would mean we’d have no protection under the law because the areas on the Pacific were grandfathered in and we were not.”

“Our property has been in my family since 1916 and with the stroke of a pen it can all be wiped out.  Twice the government tried to bulldoze houses on our property — once in 1982 and the second several years later.  These actions affect our farmland too because our land goes right out to the beach.”

“We are among the big losers.”






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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, March 8, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 48




Illegal aliens in U.S. said to be 5 percent of workers
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

A Washington-based research organization says the number of illegal aliens in the United States has tripled over the last 20 years and currently accounts for nearly 5 percent of the U.S. work force. The Pew Hispanic Center released a report Tuesday on the size and composition of what it terms America's "unauthorized migrant population."

The Pew Hispanic Center says some 12 million undocumented people live in the United States, up from four million in 1986. Senior research associate Jeffrey Passel says, despite efforts to limit illegal immigration, the size of America's undocumented population continues to grow.

"The rate of growth appears to be continuing at about the same level, we seem to be adding about half a million a year," he said.

An estimated 40 percent of undocumented migrants have been in the country for five years or less. Latin Americans constitute 78 percent of the undocumented population, with 56 percent coming from Mexico.

About 49 percent are undocumented males, with women and children comprising the other 51 percent. Passel says these figures point to a reality about the undocumented population that runs counter to a perception held by many in the United States.

"The picture of this population is that of young working families, in contrast to the usual stereotype of the adult man who is here by himself," he explained.  "And half of the adult men have no spouse or children here. But they represent only about a quarter of all the unauthorized migrants."
The Pew Hispanic Center reports that illegal immigration to the United States temporarily dipped in 2002 and 2003. One might note that those years followed the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and assume that the episode made the United States less attractive as a destination for undocumented workers. But Passel has a different theory: 2002 and 2003 saw harsh economic conditions in the United States, with the country only beginning to emerge from a recession.

"When unemployment went up, unauthorized migration from Mexico went down," he noted.  "When unemployment went down, unauthorized migration from Mexico went up. This suggested to us that it was really the availability of jobs rather than the security issues that caused the downturn."

In its report, the Pew Hispanic Center opted for the neutral-sounding term "unauthorized migrants" rather than "illegal aliens" to describe foreigners who have entered the United States without permission. Researchers note that the center is not an advocacy group, and takes no position on the many emotionally charged, politically polarizing issues surrounding the U.S. immigration debate.

President George Bush has added his voice to a growing chorus calling for immigration reform. In January, he urged Congress to enact legislation that would strengthen U.S. border enforcement while establishing a guest worker program and providing undocumented workers a legal means to remain in the United States.

Critics, including some within his own Republican party, say the president's proposal would reward those who broke U.S. law to enter the country.


Castro renewing attacks on independent journalists, press group warns
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The regime of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro is renewing its attacks on free speech in Cuba, warns a press advocacy group, the Inter-American Press Association.

The Miami-based group said the Castro regime "continues using perverse methods to silence critical voices and gag any slight attempt at freedom of expression" in Cuba.

The group said it has received in recent weeks complaints from a number of Cuban independent journalists who say they have been subjected to harassment by the staging of neighborhood "repudiation" rallies outside their homes.  Holding such rallies, said the press group, is a technique used by Cuba's state security apparatus "in an attempt to intimidate and demoralize those who dissent.

The U.S. State Department says a December 2005 background note on Cuba that the country's state security department, under the Cuban Ministry of Interior, works to repress opposition voices and dissent within Cuba.

Part of the Castro regime's official wave of repression has been the harassment of journalists Oscar Espinosa Chepe and Jorge Olivera Castillo, said the press group.  The two journalists were paroled from jail because of health problems after they had been imprisoned in March 2003 along with 73 other people, among them dissidents and independent journalists.
The Castro regime has restricted the activities of both journalists and has threatened to return them to jail on specious grounds, the press group said.

Gonzal Marroquín is chairman of the Inter-American Press Association's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information. He said that "it is unacceptable that the Cuban government continues to think that by jailing people, applying psychological pressure, keeping a close watch, imposing controls and other measures that restrict the journalists' individual freedom, they will be able to triumph over the fundamental right to freedom of expression."

The organization's condemnation followed a Feb. 24 statement by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists that also denounced the Castro regime's continued harassment of Cuban independent journalists.

That group called it outrageous that Cuba, which jails more journalists than any other country in the world except China, "should continue to harass journalists even after they have left prison."

Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based press advocacy group, expressed the same sentiment in a Jan. 31 statement, saying it was "dismayed and outraged" by the Castro regime's "continuing harassment of independent journalists." 
  
EDITOR'S NOTE: A.M. Costas Rica is a member of the Inter-American Press Association.


Chávez blames U.S. for inciting rebellion against his central government
By the A.M. Costa Rica wires services

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has accused the United States of supporting an alleged separatist movement in Venezuela's oil-rich Zulia state.

Chávez said on Venezuelan television this week that the United States backs an effort in Zulia state by a group called Rumbo Propio, or "our own path," to hold a referendum on breaking away from the government in Caracas.
The head of the ruling MVR party, William Lara, has accused the U.S. ambassador to Venezuela, William Brownfield, of meeting with the group.  But the U.S. Embassy in Caracas told the Daily Journal newspaper there is no record of such a meeting.

Officials announced this week that Rumbo Propio is under investigation for possible treason.

President Chavez has repeatedly accused the United States of plotting to overthrow his government.






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