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(506) 223-1327       Published Wednesday, March 15, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 53          E-mail us    
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Arias and Albino Vargas will meet Thursday
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A meeting is planned for Thursday morning that may set the mood for the country's near future.

The session will be between Óscar Arias Sánchez, the president-elect, and Albino Vargas Barrantes, secretary general of the Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados.

Arias said Tuesday that he had offered the invitation and that it was time to find common ground between the two major political positions of the divided country.

Arias in addition to being a former president is a businessman, an investor and a firm believer in the benefits of the free trade treaty with the United States. He also has a reputation as a negotiator.

Vargas, a former academic, heads the union that represents the bulk of the workers who have jobs with the giant government monopolies. He opposes the free trade treaty and in conjunction with the Movimiento Civico Nacional has the power to bring the country to its knees as happened in August 2004.

Arias mentioned the proposed meeting during a visit Tuesday by Vladimir de la Cruz of Fuerza Democrática, an unsuccessful presidential candidate of a minor party. De la Cruz is one of many persons visiting Arias in his Rohrmoser home.

Arias spoke gently of Vargas and the political powers he represents. However, Arias did say that those employees of the governmental monopolies who fear a free trade treaty are doing so because they really fear competition.

Using a fútbol analogy, Arias said the national soccer team could not have achieved a place at the World Cup matches in Germany this June if players feared competition.

Nevertheless, Arias said that Vargas and the union members have a right to oppose the free trade treaty in a representative democracy. But now the fate of the treaty rests with the Asamblea Legislativa, he said.

Those organizations that oppose the free trade treaty include the Instituto Costarricence de Electricidad, the telecommunications giant. Also here is the Instituto Nacional de Seguros, the nation's insurance monopoly, as well as the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social.

Vargas stuck his neck out early in the campaign when he suggested that Arias would not be a legitimate president if elected. Vargas cited the constitutional provision that said a person could only serve as president for one four-year term. Arias was the beneficiary of a Sala IV constitutional court decision that said he could run for another term. The decision was based on two

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Óscar Arias tells reporters that he has a meeting set with union chief Albino Vargas.

contradictory sections of the Costa Rican Constitution. Vargas was criticized heavily for being undemocratic after he made his comments.

Vargas and others opposed to the free trade treaty threw their weight behind Ottón Solís of the Partido Acción Ciudadana in the Feb. 5 presidential election. Arias, who was considered a sure winner, squeaked out a narrow,18,000- vote victory of 1.6 million ballots cast. The vote Feb. 5 was a referendum on the free trade treaty, many believe.

Vargas is not giving Arias any honeymoon. When Arias announced last week that Francisco de Paula Gutiérrez would continue as the head of the Banco Central de Costa Rica, Vargas and the union were quick to criticize.

The decision to retain Gutiérrez means continued inflation, the impoverishment of the working class and the continued concentration of wealth, Vargas said in a press release Friday.

In August 2004 concern over the free trade treaty and hatred of the mandatory vehicle inspection law led to massive blockades by truckers. Vargas' union joined the general strike. Tourism and commerce were disrupted, particularly when the central government had only a weak response. Union leaders promised to do the same thing if the free trade treaty was passed.

In fact, fear of such an action is one reason President Abel Pacheco declined for months to forward the signed free trade treaty to the assembly for ratification.

For his part, De la Cruz Tuesday said that Arias was the legitimately elected president and encouraged Arias to fight against social ills such as hunger and unemployment. He also urged pressure against corruption and said that the business sector could be a big help in that fight.


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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, March 15, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 53


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Bird flu expert says
half of world could die

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. scientist who discovered a link between bird flu and human flu says people must face the possibility that half the population could die from bird flu.

Dr. Robert Webster of St. Jude Children's Hospital, in Memphis, Tennessee, told a U.S. television network Tuesday that there is a 50 percent chance the virus can learn how to spread directly from human to human.

Webster said he has stored a three-month supply of food and water at his house in case of an outbreak.

So far, humans have only caught bird flu from exposure to sick birds. But many scientists have said they fear the H5N1 virus could change into a form easily passed from person to person.

Some of those scientists, however, said they believe Dr. Webster's estimates of potential deaths could be too high, while others say H5N1 may never become a human virus.

Bird flu has killed about 100 people since 2003, mostly in Asia.

Cable thefts on upswing,
but two suspects grabbed


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An apparent increase has taken place in the number of thieves who are taking cable from poles.

Police arrested two persons in Santa Rosa de Puerto Limón early Tuesday and found they had 600 meters of cable in their possession. The police were called by neighbors who saw men stripping the poles of cable.

Two days earlier thieves stole telephone cable that isolated the control tower at Juan Santamaría airport

The crime is not without its down sides. Last year a man electrocuted himself in Heredia when he tried to steal active high tension cable.

In Santa Rosa police are looking for two more suspects in that case.

Meanwhile police have issued a request for homeowners to be on the lookout for strangers in the area who might have their eye on the local cables.

Chase after Pavas crash
yields man held hostage


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Hyundai Excel collided with a truck in the vicinity of the Pavas cemetery and then took off.  But police chased after the vehicle.

When stopped, officers found that the vehicle was being driven by a 15-year-old and that a man in the backseat claimed to be a taxi driver who was being held hostage. He said he was forced into the vehicle at gunpoint.

The taxi driver was identified as a man with the last names of Morales Cubillo. Two persons, including the driver, were detained, but a third got away.

Press session in Quito
to highlight problems


Special to A.M. Costa Rica

QUITO, Ecuador — Some 400 editors and journalists from throughout the Americas will meet Friday in Quito, Ecuador, for the midyear meeting of the Inter American Press Association to analyze and review the status of
press freedom in the hemisphere. 

Among the highlights is a panel on censorship and harassment against the media and journalists in Venezuela, which will discuss the Content Law and how this is affecting the free exercise of journalism in that country.  This panel will also review legal restrictions for U.S. journalists.

Another important panel will be on organized crime and the movement of drug traffickers against the media and journalists in Mexico and Colombia.  Special emphasis will be placed on the government’s responsibility to
guarantee freedom of expression and to fight impunity.

As always, the practice of journalism in Cuba will have a special place in the meeting’s program, especially since this is the third anniversary of the “black spring” in Cuba when 75 dissidents were sent to prison, including independent journalists. Some 25 journalists still remain in prison on the island.   

Legal restrictions against journalists and the media in Canada; threats and attacks in Colombia, Brazil, Peru, and Uruguay; excessive lawsuits in Paraguay;
discrimination in official advertising; and restrictions to access to public information in Argentina, are some of the other topics to be discussed.
 
The meeting will also discuss the issue of decriminalization of libel and slander, and the repeal of insult laws, as well as review different legislative
bills on access to public information.

Our reader's opinion
Would-be expat retiree
concerned by tax bill


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I am a regular reader of A.M. Costa Rica and find your news very informative in many ways.  I am retired U.S. and considered moving to C.R. after several wonderful trips. The country is beautiful, the people are fantastic and the whole package appealed to me and wife enough to consider making Costa Rica our permanent home. 

After reading about the impending restructuring of the tax system, I am having second thoughts about taking the plunge and making a sizable investment both in time and money.  It appears that tax collecting in Costa Rica has been a historical joke both for nationals and expatriates. 

I believe the government is planning on shooting itself on the foot, they have forgotten the prosperity it has enjoyed even when collecting very little of the taxes already owed. The emphasis should be in closing the loopholes and enforcing what they currently have, not increasing taxes.
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Cape Coral, Florida
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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, March 15, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 53


 

International Court edict keeping U.S. trainers away
U.S. senators concerned by China's growing influence

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The commander of U.S. forces in Latin America says countries in the region are increasingly turning to China for military training because of a U.S. law that has forced a reduction in a previously robust American training program.

The commander, Gen. Bantz Craddock, made the comment at a U.S. Senate committee hearing Tuesday, where several senators expressed concern about the situation and called for the law to be changed. The general also expressed concern about what he called the 'destabilizing' influence of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in the region.

Craddock said the problem has been caused by a U.S. law that prohibits sending military trainers into countries that are part of the new International Criminal Court. Under the court's rules, the American military personnel could be subject to charges and trials for any alleged wrongdoing, and would not have diplomatic protection or other immunity. The U.S. law requires such countries to sign agreements with the United States promising not to use the court against the American military trainers.

Some countries have signed such agreements, but Craddock, the head of the U.S. Southern Command, says 11 countries in Latin America have not, hurting efforts to build relations with those countries. He says many of them are finding China to be an attractive alternative. The general was asked to characterize China's military involvement in training Latin American militaries.

"Widespread and growing every day," said Craddock. "We see more and more that military commanders, officers, non-commissioned officers are going to China for education and training. We see more and more Chinese non-lethal equipment showing up in the region, more representation, more Chinese military. So it is a growing phenomenon."

Craddock reported that in 2003, the year before the law went into effect, the United States provided training to 771 soldiers from the countries that are now barred from participating in the training program.

U.S. officials say such training is vitally important to building relationships with foreign military leaders and instilling respect for civilian authority. They say such relationships also help provide a basis for military sales, and that China is being awarded more and more such contracts in Latin America.

The U.S. law that is restricting military training in Latin America is having the same effect in Africa and elsewhere.

Tuesday Craddock also expressed concern about the influence of Venezuela's leftist President Hugo Chavez, and what he called an expanding "extremist populist movement," on the many Latin American countries that have elections scheduled this year. He expressed particular concern about Peru and Nicaragua.

"Our look at the region tells us that these elections are going to be pivotal in many cases, and that there will be potentially many external influences on the electorates, the constituents, the voting public in 

U.S. Defense Department photo
Gen. Bantz Craddock

many of the countries," he said. "Where there are unstabilizing, destabilizing, chaotic external influences, it becomes all the more difficult to realize the benefits of democracy."

The general said 'poverty, corruption and inequality contribute to an increased dissatisfaction with democracy and free market reforms,' creating an opening for leaders like President Chavez to promote anti-U.S. sentiment.

At the hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, several influential senators expressed concern about the reduction of U.S. influence because of the restriction on military training, and said they want to see the 3-year-old law changed.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the New york Democrat, called for the repeal of the restrictions.

"I think we are neglecting our neighbors to the south in a way that is going to be very difficult to repair unless we begin moving immediately," said Mrs. Clinton.

Mrs. Clinton also expressed concern that China is using increased military ties to build broader relationships with Latin American countries, including long-term contracts for the purchase of natural resources.

Sen. John McCain, a Republican, called for the repeal of the law as part of a special budget supplement for the Department of Defense, that will be voted on soon.

Sens. Clinton and McCain are expected to be leading contenders for their parties' presidential nominations in 2008.

The Armed Services Committee chairman, Sen. John Warner, said he plans to pursue the possibility of changing the law to enable the resumption of the formerly extensive U.S. military training program for Latin America and other regions.


Arias will push for approval of international treaty on firearms
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Óscar Arias foundation and the president-elect himself are promoting an international treaty on the commerce of firearms.

Some 40 countries, including Costa Rica, support the treaty, which is being discussed at the United Nations. Arias said he would make support for the treaty a policy of his government when he takes office May 8.

The foundation, Fundación Arias para la Paz y el Progreso Humano, put on a movie and a press conference to back the agreement Tuesday. Arias said
the United States was the principal exporter of arms and that the five permanent members of the U.N.
 Security Council also are principal arms exporters.  "This is a big paradox and the greatest display of cynicism that one can find," said Arias.

Hundreds of thousands of persons are killed and 1.5 million are injured as a result of arms, organizers said.

The treaty was drawn up by Arias and seven other Nobel Peace Prize winners.

The treaty would require signatory states to take a bigger role in supervising the traffic of arms and prohibit the transfer of weapons when they would be used to break international agreements or to violate human rights.





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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, March 15, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 53




U.S. would retaliate if Caracas restricts U.S. air carriers, ambassador says
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. ambassador to Venezuela says the United States could suspend flights by Venezuelan airlines if Caracas carries out a threat to ban or restrict U.S. carriers flying to the South American nation.

Ambassador William Brownfield made the remark Tuesday, saying that under that situation, neither Venezuela nor the United States wins.

Last month, the Venezuelan government said it would cut the number of airline flights by U.S. carriers,
saying the U.S. has not complied with bilateral aviation accords between the two countries.

The U.S. put restrictions on flights from Venezuela 10 years ago because of security concerns. Caracas has been trying, unsuccessfully, to get those restrictions removed and threatens to limit U.S. flights as of March 30.

The Venezuelan ban would put an end to flights between the two countries by Continental Airlines and Delta Air Lines and restrict some by American Airlines.


Venezuela official denies the country is helping Mexican candidate
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — The foreign minister has rejected reports that President Hugo Chávez is funneling money to a leftist candidate in Mexico's presidential campaign.

Foreign Minister Ali Rodríguez told state television that Mexican media and sectors of the government run a constant smear campaign against Venezuela.

A Mexican newspaper, La Cronica, published allegations that Venezuela is helping fund the presidential campaign of Andres Manuel López Obrador, a leading contender to succeed President
 Vicente Fox in July elections. Fox's ruling PAN party has called for an investigation.

Mexico and Venezuela withdrew their ambassadors late last year after Chávez and Fox traded barbs over the U.S.-backed Free Trade Area of the Americas, which Venezuela opposes and Mexico supports.

A recent poll by the Mexico City newspaper El Universal, gives López Obrador of the Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, the lead in the presidential race, with 42 percent of voter support. His closest rival, Felipe Calderón of the president's PAN party, trails with 32 percent. Roberto Madrazo of the former ruling party, PRI is in third place with 24 percent.


U.S. judge tells Google to turn over search engine data to feds
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

There was a setback Tuesday for the Internet search company Google in its effort to resist government demands for information about user searches.

A federal judge in California says he will require Google to turn over some of the data the Department of Justice has been demanding.
Government officials trying to bolster a law making it harder for children to view on-line pornography have been trying to get information about millions of Internet searches.

Google resisted the request because of concerns that the demand for information would violate customers' privacy, and that it might reveal the company's search methods to competitors.






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