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(506) 2223-1327      Published Thursday, March 12, 2009,  in Vol. 9, No. 50      E-mail us
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Casa Presidencial seeks volunteer English speakers
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Casa Presidencial has discovered a great resource right under their collective noses.  Costa Rica Multilingüe, a program of the Presidencia, issued a call Wednesday for English-speaking volunteers who want to help adult Costa Ricans learn the language.

Participants will be called voluntarios residentes, and there is no pay, but in a news release organizers said there might be some payments in kind, such as tickets to events

The volunteer and the assigned adult student will meet every week for a language session, according to the program. The language student might be an English teacher in the local schools, another professional or others with a desire to improve their language.

Marta Blanco, executive director of the program, estimated that there are 33,500 residents registered with the U.S., Canadian and British embassies. She said she hoped a percentage would choose to participate.

Those who are interested just have to send an e-mail to the program at Casa Presidencial asked that would-be volunteers give their full names, 
telephone number, e-mail address and any relevant professional or occupational experience that might help pairing the volunteer with a student.

Program organizers also would like to know if the volunteer would be willing to travel out of the immediate home area.

More information is available at the same e-mail address.

Program organizers will be setting up a general meeting of volunteers in April and emphasized that those who join need not have teaching experience. The sessions are expected to begin in May.

The program said it would count on the goodwill of officials at libraries, stores, churches and businesses to provide places for the language encounters.

Costa Rica Multilingüe was launched a year ago March 11, 2008. At the time President Óscar Arias Sánchez spoke mostly about having all high school grads speak English by 2017. Since then officials have recognized that many teachers of English really cannot speak the language.  Only about 10 percent of the population speaks English fluently, said officials at the time.

Proposed constitutional fix: Reelection of president
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Rodrigo Arias proposed reelection of the president and reelection of legislative deputies in his  appearance at a discussion of constitutional changes Wednesday.

Arias outlined 10 major areas in which the executive branch would like to see changes.

He also supported calling a constitutional convention so citizens could rewrite the document.

Arias is the minister of the Presidencia and the brother of the president. He said a constitutional change should allow the president to be elected to two successive terms.

The matter of presidential election is a sore point for the Óscar Arias Sánchez administration. The Costa Rica Constitution limited any individual to just one, four-year term as president. Arias brought the concept twice to the Sala IV constitutional court and eventually won a decision that allowed him to run for a second term. He did that in 2006.
But the court ruled that no president could succeed him or herself.

The 57 legislative deputies also are limited to serving one term and sitting out the subsequent term. Rodrigo Arias also suggested that lawmakers consider their job to be a full-time one and that they meet all year except for vacations.

There were no real surprises in the proposals. Rodrigo Arias said that the constitutional section on rights of the citizen be rewritten to reflect what is guaranteed by the Constitution, international treaties and decisions of the Sala IV constitutional court.

Basically officials are concerned with how long lawmakers take to pass a measure. Rodrigo Arias suggested that measures promoted by the executive branch should have preferential path to approval.
Another suggestion was to break up the Sala IV court into two chambers, each with four magistrates.  Each chamber would meet individually expect for constitutional cases, Rodrigo Arias said.

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Gasoline is going up again
but diesel dips 3.6 cents

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Gasoline is going up, and diesel is going down in the latest price fixings by the national regulatory agency.

Super gasoline is going up 52 colons (about 9.3 U.S. cents) from 435 colons (77.5 cents) per liter. Plus goes from 429 colons (76.5 cents) to 474 colons (84.5 cents) for an increase of 45 colons (about 8 cents).

Diesel dips 20 colons (3.6 cents) to 415 colons (74 cents) a liter. Other products, such as aviation gasoline and liquid petroleum gas, show similar increases.

The Authoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públicos sets the fuel prices every second week of the month based on market costs. The new prices will go into effect March 19 when the resolution is published in the La Gaceta official newspaper.
Petroleum in Costa Rica is a government monopoly.

Four held in robbery cases
involving bank customers

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators have detained four persons they believe are linked to a wave of more than three dozen robberies of bank customers over the last year.

Agents moved in after two persons faced robbers this week. Both were on their way from a bank.  Monday a messenger left a bank in Moravia only to be held up by two men on a white motorcycle in Barrio Aranjuez in northeast San José. His company, which is located near the scene of the holdup, lost $1,500 in cash.

In Desamparados Tuesday a 40-year-old man suffered  critical injuries when he was held up by two men on a motorcycle fitting the same description. The man suffered gunshots to the arm and chest.

Agents said the robbers were helped by a person who spotted bank customers leaving with large sums of cash. They detained a woman they said filled this role.

Some persons are still being sought. Some members of the band have been killed in encounters with armed bank customers or police, officials said.

Store robbery suspects
led police caravan home

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two men help up a household appliance store in the center of Tibás Wednesday, but a caravan of policemen on motorcycles and patrol cars, followed them to León XIII where two suspects surrendered.

The robbers pistol whipped an employee of the store and opened a gash on his head. They took a .38-caliber pistol from a guard. The store was Gallo. The men are frequent visitors to the police station and courts, officials said.

Taken at the store was about 7 million colons in goods, such as cell telephones and a computer. That's about $12,500.

The area when the men live is not one where police usually are welcome, so the Fuerza Pública put on a show of force and eventually talked the men into leaving their home and surrendering.

U.S. renews import barriers
on pre-Columbian artifacts

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The United States has extended import restrictions on  archaeological materials from the pre-Columbian cultures of Honduras.

This extension is a continuation of cooperation that began in 2004 when the United States implemented import restrictions to stem the problem of pillage of Honduras’ rich pre-Columbian heritage and the illicit trafficking in such material, said the U.S. State Department.

The agreement enables the imposition of import restrictions on certain categories of archaeological material ranging in date from approximately 1200 B.C. to approximately 1500 A.D., including objects made of ceramic, metal, stone, shell, and animal bone.

The agreement also calls upon both governments to encourage academic institutions, nongovernmental organizations, and other private entities to cooperate in the exchange of knowledge and information about the cultural patrimony of Honduras, and to collaborate in its preservation and protection.

The restricted objects may enter the United States if accompanied with an export permit issued by the government of Honduras or documentation verifying its ownership prior to 2004 and if no other applicable U.S. laws are violated, said the State Department.

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Twin quakes cause a lot of concern but hardly any damage
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Twin earthquakes in the southern zone sent television reporters off to the site of the Jan. 8 fatal earthquake where they interviewed anyone who said they were frightened.

The Spanish-language daily La Nación headlined "New quake causes panic in the southern zone" in its daily update.

Alas, it was not to be. The Fuerza Pública reported that Golfito school children were sent home after the first quake at 11:24 a.m. The free port depot in Golfito was cleared out after the 3:04 p.m. quake.

But there was little damage.

The national emergency commission said that some homes had items fall off shelves and that a crack appeared in the Colegio Humberto Meloni in San Vito de Coto Brus. And it said that there was a power outage at the Hospital de Ciudad Neily that caused the suspension of surgeries there.

Initial reports had the initial quake at 6.2 magnitude, about the same force as the quake that hit in the vicinity of the Poás volcano Jan. 8.  The U.S. Geological Survey said 5.7 for the first quake and 5.9 for the second.

The quakes were under the Golfo Dulce that separates Golfito from the Osa Peninsula.  Although online maps show the quakes at different points in the gulf, the sites are well within the measurement error range.
map of quake location
U.S. Geological Survey map
Purple lines show boundaries between tectonic plates

The Geological Survey reported 17 quakes, based on Greenwich Mean Time Wednesday, that were more than 3.0 magnitude.  There already were seven worldwide today, Thursday, by midnight Costa Rican time.

The quakes Wednesday were felt as a gentle rocking motion in the Central Valley and generated a flood of cell phone, land line and Internet messages.

U.S. vice president plans Costa Rican visit at end of month
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Casa Presidencial scheduled a 5:30 p.m. press conference of major importance Wednesday and then canceled it at the last minute.

The Presidencia said that the important event involved another country and that Costa Rica was going to make a joint announcement today.

But the news leaked out that the big event is the visit of Joseph R. Biden, the 66-year-old vice president of the
United States at the end of the month. Biden will be visiting one other Latin American country.

When he was 29 Biden won election to the U.S. Senate and has tried to win the presidency several times. He served as a senator from Delaware.

While in the Senate, Biden voted against the Central American Free Trade Agreement, which did pass. President Óscar Arias Sánchez worked hard to have the measure passed here. Biden complained about the enforceability of environmental and labor standards.

Boulder blasting put off for a day on the Caribbean coastal road Ruta 36
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Highway workers are supposed to be blasting a large boulder near Hone Creek as this edition went to press.

The work was supposed to be done Monday, but other work required the same workforce, said the Consejo de Vialidad. The work was supposed to be finished today at 6 a.m.

The boulder was part of a slide that effectively blocked the
highway, said the consejo. The highway is Ruta 36, which is the coastal road from Limón to the Panama line. Workers closed the highway at 6 p.m., they said.

Heavy rains over the weekend caused the slide, but the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional said Wednesday that the Caribbean would experience cloudy skies today with isolated showers in the mountains.  The weather institute did warn of high winds in the morning gradually tapering off during the day.

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Reich denies Bush administration promoted 2002 coup
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

In heated congressional testimony, a former senior official of the Bush administration has denied U.S. involvement in the failed 2002 coup that briefly toppled Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. New light has been shed on an issue that remains a sore point in U.S.-Venezuelan relations to this day.

On April 11, 2002, Venezuela's military ousted Chávez, detained him, and installed pro-opposition businessman Pedro Carmona as interim president. But the coup quickly faltered and ultimately crumbled amid massive protests and bloody confrontations between Chávez-backers and security forces. Less than 48 hours after his ouster, a triumphant Hugo Chávez returned to power, and Carmona went into exile.

Ever since, Chávez has accused the United States of orchestrating the coup, and argued that Washington has no credibility as a defender of democracy in the Americas. U.S. officials have repeatedly denied the charge.

To date, no evidence has emerged that the Bush administration actively aided in the preparation or execution of the coup attempt. What remains an open question to many historians, however, is whether the U.S. government had advance knowledge of the coup and tacitly backed Chavez' ouster, and to what extent the United States embraced the short-lived interim Venezuelan government.

The State Department's point man for Latin America at the time was Otto Reich. He was assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs. He testified on Capitol Hill Wednesday. Speaking about the future of U.S.-Latin American relations, Reich said President Barack Obama must distinguish between democratic leaders and despots in the hemisphere. Those words prompted a testy response from Rep. Bill Delahunt, a Massachusetts Democrat.

"I have full confidence in President Obama," he said. "And I dare say in the case of Venezuela, he would not have  made an effort to support tacitly the coup. He would not have attempted to influence ambassadors in other nations in Latin America to confer legitimacy to the Carmona government. When Pedro Carmona swore himself in, his
first act was to abolish the National Assembly, to abolish the judiciary."

Reich demanded an opportunity to respond, but Delahunt cut him off.

"There are rules here," he said. "I have the floor."

Later given a chance to speak, Reich said, far from endorsing the coup at the time, he issued a stern message to the interim Venezuelan government through the U.S. Embassy in Caracas.

"I instructed Ambassador Charles Shapiro to find Mr. Carmona and tell him that if he swore himself in, violating
Chavez's own constitution, that he could not count on the support of the United States government, and we would have to impose economic sanctions," Reich said.

Most Latin American governments quickly condemned the coup, although relatively few demanded Chavez' return to power. The Bush administration initially acknowledged a change of government in Venezuela, and did not condemn the coup until it had collapsed.

In the interim, Reich convened a meeting with Latin American ambassadors in Washington.

At Wednesday's hearing, Delahunt repeatedly asked Reich if he pressed the ambassadors to lobby their governments to recognize the Carmona regime. Time after time, Reich said no.

"I'll accept that," said Delahunt. "Is that your answer?"

"My answer is that we told the Latin American ambassadors what we believed was taking place in Venezuela at the time," Reich replied. "But I am telling you we did not tacitly endorse a coup."

The U.S. government has acknowledged contact with those opposed to President Chavez before the coup, but says there was no encouragement of illegal actions. An internal probe of U.S. government activities leading up to the coup found no evidence of wrongdoing.

Fixing U.S. economy seen as best way to improve Latin ties
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The best way to improve U.S. relations with Latin America is by fixing the U.S. economy, according to analysts who testified before a congressional committee in Washington  Wednesday. They told U.S. lawmakers that President Barack Obama should address the issue at next month's Summit of the Americas in Trinidad.

Analysts say when Obama introduces himself to Latin American leaders at the Summit of the Americas, the attention will be on his plans to fix the U.S. economy.

"It is very, very vital that as we work on our economic problems, we recognize that the way we go about solving them will have an enormous impact on Latin America and the rest of the world," said Peter Hakim. He is president of the Inter-American Dialogue policy group and he was speaking to the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs.

He said to help Latin American economies, the United States should avoid protectionist measures, such as restricting imports from Latin America or investment in the region.

Hakim also urged the Obama administration to advance two pending, but controversial trade agreements with Colombia and Panama.

"We have two trade agreements that we've negotiated in good faith with two close allies of the United States," he said. "I think to show our credibility, our dependability, we really have to find a way to move forward with those agreements."

The trade agreements were negotiated under former president George W. Bush, but have not been voted on by Congress.

Meanwhile, Otto Reich, who served as Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs during the Bush administration, said the United States should also do what it
can to promote democracy and cooperation in the region. But he warned that some of the participants at the summit will not be friendly.

"Not all the countries of this hemisphere are good neighbors," he said. "Some undermine democracy at home and abroad. The U.S. should actively help the good neighbors, reject the destructive, and persuade the ambivalent to rejoin the communities of democracies."

Reich noted that three leftist leaders, who he called "anti-American," will be at the summit: Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Evo Morales of Boliva and Rafael Correa of Ecuador.

Democrats and Republicans on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs agreed on the need for the United States to stay engaged in Latin America - to counter the influence of other powers.

"If we remain disengaged and others move in to fill the void, we have no one to blame but ourselves," said Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat. "And by others, I mean the Chavezes of the world, China, Russia and Iran. We need to be engaged."

Another item expected to be on the summit's agenda will be the explosion of violence near Mexico's border with the United States.

"I want to be clear," said Thomas McLarty. He was chief of staff to former president Bill Clinton and served as special envoy to the Americas. "I do not believe Mexico is a failed or failing state. But the alarming level of violence needs to be gotten under control for the Mexican people, for the stability and safety of the border region, and to preserve the rule of law."

But a recent document from the U.S. Defense Department warns that the chaos and drug fueled violence in Mexico is pushing the country to the brink of becoming a failed state. More than 1,000 people have been killed this year in Mexico, despite a government crackdown.

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Each day someone complains via e-mail that the newspages are from yesterday or the day before. A.M. Costa Rica staffers check every page and every link when the newspaper is made available at 2 a.m. each week day.

So the problem is with the browser in each reader's computer. Particularly when the connection with the  server is slow, a computer will look to the latest page in its internal memory and serve up that page.

Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.


The A.M. Costa Rica search page has a list of all previous editions by date and a space to search for specific words and phrases. The search will return links to archived pages.


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Communication gender bias
topic of round table today

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
Cultural and judicial officials will be meeting this morning to discuss gender violence in the communication media, and in the arts and culture.

Leading the round table discussion in the Ministerio de Cultura, Juventud y Deportes will be the minister, María Elena Carballo.

Organizers said that despite advances in recognizing the rights of women, there is social resistance that can be seen in television and radio programs and in the printed medias.
Thais Aguilar, a writer with a special interest in this topic will be one of the participants. Alejandra Mora, of the  Defensoría de los Habitantes and Mayra Chavarri, director of the Oficina de Calificación y Control de Espectáculos Públicos, also will participate. Moderator will be Dulce Umanzor from the Dirección General de la Promoción de Paz of the Ministerio de Justicia y Gracia.

Brazil's president rejects
protectionism in U.S. law

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio da Silva says rising protectionism by rich nations threatens the world's emerging economies.

In an interview published Wednesday by The Wall Street Journal, da Silva cited as an example, the "Buy American" clause in the U.S. stimulus package recently approved by Congress. The clause states that only U.S.-made products should be used on stimulus-funded public works projects in cases where they would not violate U.S. trade agreements.

Da Silva said that while protectionism may seem beneficial at first, in the long term, it wounds countries, especially poor ones that need to sell their goods to richer nations.

He said the issue would be his top priority at a White House meeting Saturday with U.S. President Barack Obama. Reviving stalled world trade talks are also expected to be on the agenda.

A recent White House statement describes Brazil as a close friend and partner of the United States. The release says Obama looks forward to discussing ways in which the two countries can strengthen cooperation on global hemispheric challenges.

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U.N. tourism chief wants
industry in recovery plans

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The head of the United Nations agency that promotes responsible tourism said Wednesday that leisure travel should be an important component of programs that aim to reverse the global economic downturn.

“Tourism means trade, jobs, development, cultural sustainability, peace and the fulfilment of human aspirations,” said Taleb Rifai. He is acting secretary-general of the UN World Tourism Organization.

He spoke as  he opened a travel trade show in Berlin, Germany.

“If ever there was a time to get this message out loud and clear, it is now, as we meet at a time of overriding global uncertainty, but also of immense possibilities,” Rifai said.

While World Tourism Organization figures show international arrivals hit a record 924 million last year and annual growth of 2 per cent, the second half of the year showed a monthly decline in many sectors.

Arrivals, for example, showed a negative growth of minus 1 per cent during the second half of the year and international receipts, which also reached record highs in the first half, saw rapidly declining second-half growth.

To respond to these challenges, Rifai called on the tourism industry, for its part, to protect its assets, included its skilled workforce, during the downturn, and to think creatively for the changes that will be needed to revitalize the sector as the current crises take unpredictable turns.

“It is the time to revisit our existing structures, policies and practices. It is time for innovations and bold action,” he said.

In that light, he called for the industry to be at the forefront of the transformation to a green economy, and to help the poorest countries develop in a sustainable manner.

He maintained that tourism must be at the heart of stimulus packages because of the jobs and trade generated by the sector as well as the business and consumer confidence that increased travel can build.

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