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These stories were published Thursday, March 18, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 55
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Some folks just like the city better
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There is no children’s story "Country Sloth, City Sloth," but perhaps there should be.

Costa Rica is full of wildlife, but finding a sloth munching leaves in a tree two blocks from Casa Amarilla, the foreign ministry, is still unusual.

This furry forest creature has an advantage though. The trees being 

munched are those in Parque Bolivar, not surprisingly near the park’s zoo. 

Maybe our sloth is a fugitive from a zoo exposition or maybe the muncher just likes the company of monkeys, lions and jaguars in the enclosures below. There are any number of routes through which a clever sloth could escape to country life. 

But maybe this one just likes the city better.

A little note to the U.S. Embassy staff
Dear marketing whizzes 
at the U.S. Embassy:

I see that you have once again successfully pulled off your secret garage sale in which items bought with thousands of U.S. tax dollars are shuffled out the door to a select group.

Most people do not hold their garage sales on a Monday and Tuesday. They find that they get better traffic on the weekend. But these folks, unlike you, are dealing with their own money.

Once again you have carried off the sale without adequate notice to the public. Ever hear of the phrase "press release?" Ever hear of giving people a little advance warning?

Instead, you people drop in a few print ads, one on the first day of the two-day sale, and think you have done your marketing. I’ll bet you called your friends. I’ll bet you gave them great advance notice and a little list of items.
 

My attention was brought to your activities a couple of months ago when an expat here showed me a very expensive item purchased at a prior embassy sale for $100. I also once saw you trying to sell a forklift truck at your semi-annual garage sale. I'll bet someone got a deal on that!

I know. If you promote the sale, more people will come and that will be a lot of problems, and then there will be the many bids to open and keep track of. That is a big disadvantage. 

But how about the millions of folks trying to pull their dollars together to pay their U.S. income taxes next month? Should not they have a little consideration. Should you not try to get the best available price?

Is there anyone in charge over there? Anyone who cares about the U.S. taxpayer? I guess not.

Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica
 
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Starbucks integrating coffee and music purchases
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

SEATTLE, Wash. — The coffee chain Starbucks and computer firm Hewlett-Packard are joining forces to offer music to the coffee-drinking public. The chairmen of the two companies say they hope to change the way that music is sold.

Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz admits that it seems an unusual juxtaposition.

"We're in a situation today where technology and coffee are coming together. Think about that," he said. "How can a coffee company bring this technology to the marketplace?"

Schultz answered his own question, saying Starbucks has a customer base of 30 million people who come to his company's outlets for more than its signature coffee, much of it from Costa Rica. They relax with friends, and many already buy the music CDs that the company markets. Starbucks albums range from compilations of rock music to Christmas holiday favorites.

Under the new venture, store patrons can choose songs from among thousands of albums, mixing and matching the tracks to create their own CD compilations. 

The concept was announced in the first combined Starbucks and full-service music store, called the Hear Music Coffeehouse, in Santa Monica, California. Hewlett-Packard employee John Vogt helped  a technology-challenged reporter use the system. The store contains 70 touchscreen computers that let users browse the music selections.

"What you've done is just scanned your bar code," he explained. "It'll go search for it, bring up all the graphics, all the liner notes, the information on the

CD, so you can learn about it. And then you can go in and pick any track you want and listen to it in its entirety."

A track by James Brown was soon playing through the headphones.

If the customer likes the track, it can be added to the album. The cost is just under $7 for the first five songs, and a dollar apiece for each additional song. Albums are packaged and ready in just three minutes.

Ten "Hear Music" cafes will soon open here in Seattle, where Starbucks is based. Company spokesmen say that if the concept works, several hundred more may open throughout the United States by the end of the year and, eventually, others may open in overseas markets. 

The music industry today is suffering serious losses to illegally downloading of songs over the Internet. Ted Cohen of EMI Music says the new cafes will offer his artists new  customers.

"The 'Hear Music' concept, the one we're looking at here today, is my dream of a lifetime of what music should be all about," he said. "But putting it into Starbucks, like going up to my corner on a Sunday morning and sitting and putting together my favorite compilation, or buying the latest release from Joss Stone, is a great thing for customers. It's a great thing for music. It provides artists with so many more opportunities to get in front of music fans who maybe might not be frequenting their local music store the way they used to."

Hewlett-Packard provides the technology for the new venture, and HP chairman Carly Fiorina says much of the world is going digital and mobile. She says it has already happened with photography.


 
Delta adds flight
to Oduber Airport

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Delta Air Lines will offer a new, non-stop flight between Daniel Oduber International Airport in Liberia and Atlanta starting April 4.

This brings to six flights to and from Atlanta each week, the company said.

The airport is the gateway to the northern Guanacaste beach resorts.

Delta, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, made the announcement as part of an extensive series of changes and service improvements all over the world. There was a special emphasis on Latin America.

Mass of mourning
scheduled for 11 a.m.

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica and the Embassy of Spain will celebrate a Mass in the Catedral Metropolitana today in memory of the victims of the March 11 train bombing in Madrid.

The mass will be at 11 a.m., and President Abel Pacheco is scheduled to attend along with accredited members of the diplomatic corps.

The Consejo de Gobierno, Pacheco’s cabinet, issued a communicado the day of the terrorist attack in which it condemned "such acts of unjustified violence that violate the most precious rights of persons."

Tax evasion case
results in arrest

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man who was believed to have fled Costa Rica was arrested Wednesday in Pérez Zeledón to face an allegation that he tried to defraud the country out of import duties in April 2002.

The man was identified by his last names of Alvarado Cordero.

Investigators said that Alvarado showed up at the central office of Costa Rican customs to take possession of two Hyundai microbuses. The man presented papers that said the vehicles should enter the country without payment of the usual customs duties which sometimes run 89 percent of the sales price.

He presented an exoneration certificate issued in 1999, agents said.

A subsequent investigation by customs officials determined that the documents were false, according to the allegation.

Last Feb. 11, the Juzgado Penal II Circuito Judicial de San José issued an international arrest warrant in the belief that Alvarado no longer was in the country.

However, agents from the Sección de Capturas of the Judicial Investigating Organization and from the Dirección de Inteligencia y Seguidad associated with the International Police Agency determined the man still was living here.

Chaves motion denied
and he’s still in jail

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Tribunal de Juicio de Heredia has rejected an appeal by defense lawyers for Omar Chaves that sought to have the businessman released from preventative detention.

The judge, Ileana Méndez Sandí, issued a detailed order that considered the evidence in the case, the actions of Chaves and his lawyers and the possibility that the man would leave the country rather than face a murder trial.

By denying the lawyers’ motion, the judge left in place the six months of detention given Chaves shortly after his Dec. 26 arrest.

The man and the Rev. Minor de Jesús Calvo Aguilar are suspected of being the intellectual authors of the drive-by murder of radio commentator Parmenio Medina Pérez July 7, 2001. Chaves and Calvo were running Radio María, a religious radio station, and Medina was their principal critic.

The long-delayed prosecutor has been plagued by reverses, including a star witness who recanted and disavowed any knowledge of the crime.

Calvo was set free Friday to await further investigation.

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Coordinated protection plan for Caribbean is topic
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Public- and private-sector representatives from the United States and the Western Hemisphere will meet on a model program to protect and restore marine resources in the wider Caribbean region, said John Turner, assistant secretary of state for oceans and international environment and scientific affairs, Wednesday.

The White Water to Blue Water partnership will hold its inaugural session March 21 to 26 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Miami. The initiative, according to its Web site, is "aimed at fostering healthy, well-managed and productive marine and coastal ecosystems that support stable and secure economies in the coastal countries of the wider Caribbean region."

In a Wednesday online White House chat, Turner said that nearly 75 non-governmental organizations, businesses and governmental agencies will participate in the collaborative effort.

To date, over 80 public/private partnerships have

 been developed to address issues including agricultural practices, coral reef conservation, fisheries management, costal wetland protection and the use of science in decision-making, Turner indicated.

He said that the WW2BW partnership soon hopes to identify more concrete commitments from governments and others to reduce improper agricultural practices, improve sewage treatment, and enhance practices in the tourism industry.

Turner emphasized that the mandate of the WW2BW partnership must be comprehensive if it is to succeed.

"'White water to blue water' refers to the continuum from hilltops to coral reefs," he explained. "The concept is that no matter what you do to protect fisheries and coral reefs, you will have limited success if you don't also address land-based sources of marine pollution such as deforestation, agricultural processes and sewage treatment, activities of cruise ships, and development along the costal zone which is not approached in a coordinated manner."


 
Rights groups upset at how U.S. handles Haitians
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Human rights groups are denouncing continued U.S. repatriations of Haitian asylum seekers intercepted at sea. Activists are urging the Bush administration to provide temporary refuge to those who flee Haiti, at least until lawlessness and violence is quelled in the strife-ridden nation. 

In the week preceding former-Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's Feb. 29 resignation from office, President Bush dispatched a small fleet of Coast Guard cutters off Haiti's shores to deter what U.S. officials feared could become a mass exodus of boat people. In the weeks since, as Haiti has suffered rampant bloodletting that claimed dozens of lives, the United States has repatriated more than 500 asylum seekers to an uncertain welcome in the nation of their birth. 

Speaking at a news conference, Selena Mendy Singleton, executive vice president of the Washington-based Trans Africa Forum, said the repatriations are unconscionable. 

"What we need to do is stop sending Haitians back to Haiti," she said. "The situation is desperate. People's houses have been burned down, people have disappeared. We need to stop sending people back. For the people that are here, we need 'temporary protective status' right now!" 

Temporary protective status allows a refugee to remain in the United States, but only until it is deemed safe for him or her to return home. 

The Bush administration says there has been no loosening of U.S. immigration policy for Haitians despite recent upheaval in the impoverished nation. Once intercepted at sea, asylum seekers are entitled to ask for refuge, but only after voicing a convincing fear of persecution, said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher. 

But human rights groups say crowded Coast Guard vessels are less-than-ideal locations for conducting interviews that could mean life or death for asylum seekers. Activists say there are often not enough translators on board, and that privacy is hard to come by, factors that could prevent some refugees from adequately explaining their plight. 

Above all, they accuse the United States of shirking its responsibility to those in need during a time of crisis. Bill Frelick handles refugee matters for Amnesty International USA: 

"During a crisis, there is an obligation to provide at least temporary shelter for people, and let us see what happens over the course of the next six months. We need to distinguish between the right of refugees to be protected, the right under international law not to be returned to 

persecution, and the desire of people to immigrate." 

World Relief Policy Director Galen Carey says the way the United States treats Haitian asylum seekers has broad implications for refugees worldwide:  "The example that we set here in the United States is followed by countries all over the world. And if we set an example of welcoming and giving fair treatment to refugees, we can expect other countries to do the same. If we do not, then we really have no right to tell other countries that they need to accept refugees that come to their doors," he said. 

But the Bush administration says it wants to discourage Haitians from attempting a dangerous journey aboard often-unseaworthy vessels. Janelle Jones, a U.S. refugee officer within the former U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service that is now part of the Department of Homeland Security, says Haitians have been sent back as part of a broader effort to save lives. 

In the early 1990s, tens of thousands of Haitians took to rafts to escape a brutal military junta that had ousted the country's first democratically-elected president in 1991. Most of those intercepted at sea were housed at the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Some were ultimately granted asylum in the United States, but many were repatriated after a U.S.-led force restored democratic rule in Haiti in 1994. 

Cuba criticized, too

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A London-based human rights group has demanded the release of 75 imprisoned Cuban activists, one year after they were rounded up in a crackdown on dissidents. 

Amnesty International issued a statement Tuesday, calling on the Cuban government to release what it called "prisoners of conscience." The group says most of the dissidents were detained for peacefully expressing their beliefs, and that their arrests violate international human rights standards. 

The dissidents were rounded up in March 2003 and later convicted of working with U.S. officials to undermine President Fidel Castro's government. Both the activists and Washington have denied the charges. The crackdown came amid a number of plane and boat hijackings from Cuba to the United States. During the same period, the Cuban government executed three men arrested in an unsuccessful armed hijacking of a passenger ferry. The crackdown and executions were condemned by governments  around the world. 


 
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U.S. seeks death penalty in alien smuggling case
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

HOUSTON, Texas — The United States will seek the death penalty against a New York truck driver, Tyrone Mapletoft Williams, whose participation in a smuggling operation is alleged to have caused the deaths of 19 undocumented aliens from Latin America.

The U.S. Attorney's Office here said in a statement that Williams' alleged involvement in a smuggling operation led more than 70 undocumented migrants from Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Guatemala onto his tractor-trailer at the U.S.-Mexico border near Harlingen, Texas, bound for Houston. The Attorney's Office said 17 of the illegal migrants were found dead from heat exhaustion and suffocation in the trailer after Williams abandoned them at a truck stop in Victoria, Texas, May 2003. Two other migrants died later.

Williams, from Schenectady, N. Y., was charged with intentionally acting with "reckless disregard for human life." Eight other persons charged in the case will not face the death penalty because 

prosecutors said it could not be proved the defendants intended the migrants to die.

U.S. Attorney Michael Shelby said: "Where an act, intentionally undertaken in reckless disregard for human life, directly results in the single largest loss of life in any contemporary smuggling operation, justice and the law demand the accused face the ultimate punishment upon conviction."

The Attorney's Office said 55 undocumented migrants are known to have survived the ill-fated journey in Williams' tractor-trailer. Each undocumented migrant was to have been charged about $1,800 for the trip. Williams was allegedly to be paid $7,500 for transporting the migrants from Harlingen to Houston.

The alleged ringleader of the smuggling operation was Karla Patricia Chavez Joya, a native of Honduras, who had a residence in Harlingen. She was accused of concealing and harboring migrants upon their arrival in the United States at drop houses in Harlingen and of recruiting drivers to transport the migrants to points within the United States.


 
Passenger screening defended at hearing in D.C.
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Transportation Security Administration is working to resolve quickly policy and privacy concerns about an upgraded and expanded passenger prescreening system designed to protect commercial aviation from terrorist threats, an administration official says.

In testimony Wedneday before a House of Representatives subcommittee, David Stone, acting administrator, addressed issues concerning the Computer-Assisted Passenger Prescreening.

The program, called CAPPS II, is intended to identify higher-risk passengers for additional security procedures before they board the plane. The system is supposed to check quickly a passenger's identity and conduct a risk assessment using commercially available databases and intelligence information.

Members of Congress and consumer groups have objected to what they describe as the lack of adequate privacy protection in the system. The General Accounting Office in its February report pointed to delays in the implementation of the program and said that the successful development, implementation and operation of CAPPS II might be impeded by a lack of international cooperation, uncertainty over the possible expansion of the program's original mission, and the system's inability to recognize identity theft.

Stone acknowledged that the reluctance of U.S. air carriers and passenger reservation systems to  provide the Transportation Security Administration with passenger names as well as 
unresolved discussions with the European Union

about the requested release of names of its member countries' citizens and residents have hampered the administration’s  ability to conduct the necessary testing.

The airlines have expressed concern over their possible liability related to the release of names and the EU said that CAPPS II requirements are inconsistent with its privacy laws.

In response to concern expanding the program, Stone said it is entirely appropriate to include travelers with outstanding warrants for violent crimes in the group of high-risk individuals targeted by the system. 

The GAO report said that an expansion of the program's original mission could divert attention from the fundamental purpose and lead to an erosion of public confidence.

Stone said that CAPPS II will reduce the number of passengers who are incorrectly identified as being on a U.S. government watch list and that those misidentified will be allowed to submit complaints with help from a passenger advocate.

A preliminary version of the government watch list will be in place by the end of March and achieve full operation capability by the end of 2004, he said in response to a question.

Some members of the aviation subcommittee, including Eleanor Holmes Norton, a ranking Democrat from Washington D.C., said, however, that they remain skeptical that Americans will ever accept CAPPS II, considering the level of mistrust the program has created since its concept was introduced in 2003.

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