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These stories were published Tuesday, March 26, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 60
Jo Stuart
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Highest tides of the year will wash Pacific coast Saturday
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Tourists and residents on the Pacific Coast will see the highest ocean tides of the year Saturday about 4 p.m., according to the Instituto Meteorológical Nacional.

The national weather bureau issued this warning this week, particularly because this is Semana Santa when Costa Ricans traditionally go to the beach.

The weather bureau did not say why the tides would be so high, but the cause is that the moon and the sun, which both exert a strong pull on the ocean waters, will be lined up. This causes the so-called "spring tide."

High tides can cut off hikers and others who frequent sand spits and rocks along the coast 

and add to the strength of the infamous and dangerous rip tides that cause drowning on both coasts of the country.

Meanwhile, the Instituto has issued a weather prediction for the week. The prediction calls for variable cloudiness and light rain in higher portions of the Central Valley. The probability of precipitation diminished toward the end of the week, but there is a good chance of winds.

Some variable cloudiness is predicted along the Pacific Coast with Guanacaste being the least cloudy. The further south on the Pacific Coast, the higher the probability of afternoon showers.

In the Caribbean, there is some chance of showers earlier in the week , diminishing as the week goes on.

Near Rosario de Naranjo, the Spanish school is outdoors
By Patricia Martin
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

On a hilltop at Rosario de Naranjo, an outdoor language school is about to open in May. Named after a mammoth tree that grows on the property, Escuela Espavel is the inspiration of 22-year-old Jeremy Espinoza, a thoroughly bilingual Tico who teaches both languages. 

Jeremy polished his English when he lived in Ottawa, Canada, then returned to Costa Rica to teach English as a second language at the Costa Rican/North American Cultural Institute. 

Recently, when his parents bought the Rosario property and built a new house, Jeremy erected "rancho" structures with sides open to the beauty of nature, set up his blackboard and began teaching English to local Ticos. It then dawned on him that he should expand into a full-time school, teaching Spanish to foreigners as well, he said.

He is now working out programs for beginner, intermediate, and advanced students of Spanish, in different age groups. For those staying a short time in the area, Jeremy has the "quick fix" course in mind, where one learns survivor Spanish for getting around on a vacation. People staying at the various guest establishments nearby should be likely candidates for those lessons. 

Longer, progressive courses are being prepared for those who intend to stay on awhile, along with conversation sessions at all 

Patricia Martin/A.M. Costa Rica
Language classes directed by Jeremy Espinoza are conducted under a canopy in the hills of Rosario de Naranjo.

levels. Homestays with Tico families will be included.

Jeremy or a staff member at Escuela Espavel may be reached at tel/fax 438-0251. E-mail is jespinoza18@hotmail.com.

Half of missing U.S. checks will be replaced, embassy says
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The U.S. Embassy said that it was going to mail some U.S. Social Security checks by today to recipients in Costa Rica who were left high and dry when pouches containing the March payment vanished in the United States.

The embassy said that it would be mailing checks to recipients with Social Security numbers from 265-84-3922 to 726-16-5846. 

But efforts to trace the rest of the checks have failed, and the Social Security Administration will be issuing replacement checks, the embassy said. The embassy said it did not expect the new checks until April 1.

The embassy runs a program for U.S. citizens who are Social Security recipients in which the checks are shipped in diplomatic pouches to Costa Rica and embassy personnel place them in the Costa Rican mails as registered letters.

The missing checks represent about half the 

total of checks that were supposed to come to Costa Rica, said the embassy. That number is thought to be about 1,000.

The embassy made its announcement by posting the information on its Web page. Individuals had contacted the embassy’s  Consular Section when the checks failed to show up in the mail, and an embassy spokesman confirmed the loss last week. 

"The embassy will process these checks as quickly as possible and deliver them to the post office," the embassy said.  "The Social Security Administration regrets this problem. If, due to this confusion, any recipient receives two checks for the month of March, he should only cash one of them to avoid having to repay the overpayment." 

The checks are shipped in bulk to a place in the United States where they are sanitized, according to the spokesman. That procedure was instituted after the anthrax cases appeared in the United States in September.

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Free trade suspicions run deep in Latin America
By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica staff

When George Bush sat down to lunch with the leaders of Central America Sunday thousands of Salvadorians and others were in the streets quietly protesting free trade as an exploitation of workers.

Switch to Costa Rica where last week a national deputy claimed (incorrectly) that potatoes imported from Canada would bring cancer-causing fungus. 

These are just two events that show the deep suspicion in Latin America to free trade. And the suspicion is mixed with fear that their country, whichever it is, cannot be successful as an equal trading partner with the United States. 

Some of these fears are justified. Consider Costa Rica where agricultural imports are subject to the whims of the world market. The computer chip business is under the control of multinationals who would move their investments elsewhere if company officers thought they could save money.

And then there is the fact that tariffs and duties here on imported products are designed more to feed government bank accounts rather than to protect local industries. And the government needs the money because it is up to its eyeballs in debt.

Bush has been criticized because he brought nothing concrete to the table on his Latin American trip last weekend to promote a free trade pact with the Central American nations. He also spoke in generalities when he first said Jan. 20 that he would push for such a pact as an example and a  guide for creating a free trade agreement to cover the entire Western Hemisphere. He has not been more specific. 

It was Colin Powell who was the most candid with reporters on Air Force One as it was heading to El Salvador and Bush’s lunch date. Powell, the U.S. secretary of state, said that a Central American free trade agreement is not likely soon.

So what was the purpose of the trip? A  California Democratic politician claimed that Bush was just pandering to the Hispanic voters in the United States in advance of the November congressional elections.

Certainly Bush stressed anti-terrorism and drug interdiction in Peru and perhaps at his private lunch with the five Central American presidents. There was a big emphasis on Mexico, a country with which Bush has a special relationship. He visited there first at a U.N. development conference in Monterrey.

The choice of El Salvador for the lunch Sunday was ironic. Bush praised the country, calling El Salvador 

"one of the really great stories of economic and political transformation of our time."

But it was under President Jimmy Carter, President Ronald Reagan and then the current president’s father, George Bush, that the United States sided with the establishment in its 12-year civil war that ended in 1992. Thousands died as the United States supported the Salvadorian military and the conservative elite, which eventually won.

An analysis on the news

So many of the marchers in the San Salvador protests already had felt the full strength and power of the United States.

A clear test for a future free trade agreement with Central America would be to study the United States experiences with Mexico, which joined the North American Free Trade Agreement. But analyses are mixed. 

Among the critics of the agreement with Mexico is Public Citizen, which characterizes the agreement’s history this way:

"NAFTA's proponents promised the pact would create new benefits and
gains in each of these areas. The promised benefits — of 200,000 new U.S. jobs from NAFTA per year, higher wages in Mexico and a growing U.S. trade surplus with Mexico, environmental clean-up and improved health along the border — have failed to materialize. However, after eight years, NAFTA fails to pass the most conservative test of all: a simple do-no-harm test. Under NAFTA, conditions not only have not improved, they have deteriorated in many areas."

Public Citizen is the 31-year-old non-profit organization started by Ralph Nader.

Other non-profit groups and corporations strongly favor NAFTA and its expansion to the rest of the hemisphere.

What is clear, based on other trade agreements and the current Canadian-Costa Rican that is being considered now in the National Assembly here is that free trade will be taken in many small steps. Some of these agreements cover many years before certain markets are opened up to outside competition. Surely Costa Rica will try to make the best deal it can.

.And then the suspicion might take over, and the whole agreement might be scrapped either in the U.S. Congress in Washington or at the National Assembly level here.

U.S. Embassy issues caution about overstaying visas
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The U.S. Embassy has issued a caution to citizens in Costa Rica and told them to be prepared to present proof of their legal entry and stay in Costa Rica.

The warning, posted on the embassy’s new Web page http://www.usembassy.or.cr/ is low-keyed and says that several U.S. citizens have been detained, deported or fined in recent months.

The Directorate of Migración agents have made a number of sweeps along the Pacific coast beaches looking for illegal foreigners. Plus they have been maintaining inspection locations along the Pan-American Highway.

In one high-profile case, a woman, a U.S. citizen, said that she was taken off a bus in Puntarenas, handcuffed and detained for two days before being placed on a Miami flight. A.M. Costa Rica quoted her husband, but the woman told the Naples, Fla., Daily News that the embassy did nothing to help her.

Embassy officials generally refuse to comment on specific cases because they said they believe federal privacy laws prohibit such comments.

The embassy announcement said that officials have

become aware of increased enforcement. The embassy did not make any public announcement of the warning nor did officials issue a press release.

The announcement seems to have been posted over the last few days, although the Web page received a complete makeover a month ago.

Here is the embassy announcement:

"The U.S. Embassy has become aware of increased enforcement by Costa Rican authorities of local immigration laws. American tourists are reminded that they must apply to the Directorate of Migración (located in La Uruca, across the General Cañas Freeway from Hospital Mexico) for permission to remain in Costa Rica beyond the maximum stay (usually 90 days) authorized by the authorities.

"Americans should always be prepared to present to Costa Rican authorities proof of their legal entry and stay in Costa Rica. This proof can be the appropriately stamped tourist card or passport. A photocopy of the U.S. passport and stamps may not necessarily be accepted as proof of status. In recent months, Americans have been detained, deported, or fined due to their failure to demonstrate their legal status in Costa Rica."

Don't miss Patricia Martin's report on B&Bs:
Click HERE

Newspaper reports that air passengers got mad after engine fire
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Grupo TACA and LACSA, the Costa Rican airline, got some bad press in the Toronto newspapers when an engine on a Cuba-bound aircraft blew up in flight.
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The problem wasn’t that the plane had to return to Toronto’s  Pearson Airport with one engine. 
Passengers got mad when TACA would not pay for hotel accommodations, did not arrange an alternate flight and made them wait about nine hours, according to a story in the Toronto Star Monday.

The trip was on LACSA Flight 623 Saturday morning. About a half hour after takeoff, one of the two engines became engulfed in flames, and the pilot made an emergency return.

Then, according to the newspaper,  passengers claimed they had to wait nine hours before they were told they would not fly out again Saturday. 
They were told arrangements for an alternate flight to Cuba had been made with American airlines, but when passengers arrived Sunday morning, they found that American Airlines did not know of any arrangements.

Some passengers complained that LACSA only provided hotel rooms for those who could prove they came from out of town.

Eventually, American Airlines got the passengers on board, said the paper. Reporters said they could not get a comment from LACSA. Grupo TACA is an alliance of the principal Central American airlines, including LACSA,  united under one corporate identity.

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