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These stories were published Wednesday, March 31, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 64
Jo Stuart
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Foreign residents in limbo now can get cédulas
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The pensionado and rentista residents who were caught in limbo when immigration officials wanted them to redo their paperwork can now pick up their cédulas.

That was the word from the office of Lilliana Torres Murillo, a lawyer associated with the Association of Residents of Costa Rica.

Ms. Torres brought four Sala IV constitutional court cases against the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería. Earlier news stories reported that she had won three of the cases. Her office now reports that she has won all four cases and that immigration officials are ready to comply.

Immigration officials had refused to renew cédulas of residents who had sought residency under an expedited plan that Ms. Torres and some other lawyers had devised with the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo. Until recently, the tourist ministry was in charge of 

approving these types of residencies.

Among those involved were those who applied for residency through the association and Ms. Torres from 1999 to mid-2002 when immigration officials questioned the practice.

Under the expedited plan, documents submitted for residency were not authenticated by Costa Rican consular officials in the applicant’s country. Instead, the documents were authenticated by a local notary.

Although the law says that consular authentication is needed, the Sala IV has said in these cases that once the government awards residency, it cannot take it away nor could they require more than mandated by law for renewing the residency.

Typically renewal involves showing that the foreign resident has exchanged an appropriate amount of dollars for colons during the year. The amount for rentistas is $12,000 and for pensionados, $7,200.

U.S. Embassy was not pleased by our garage sale editorial
Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

We were taken aback by your recent comments mentioning a "secret garage sale" of U.S. Embassy property, especially since advertisements for the auction were placed in both La Nación and The Tico times. Your allegations of not caring for the U.S. taxpayer were both insulting and inaccurate. In the first place the Auction seeks to recover U.S. taxpayer dollars by selling items no longer needed by the Embassy. It is managed and administered by U.S. Embassy employees who follow strict procedures to prevent the allegations of favoritism that you imply. For reasons of security, advertisement takes place with only a few days notice — this is a worldwide practice, which is, unfortunately, particularly necessary in today’s security atmosphere. To prevent incurring overtime and additional security and other costs to the U.S. taxpayer, the auction takes place during the workweek. Past auctions have demonstrated that this is a best practice, and we believe it best serves the interests of the U.S. taxpayer. In total, we had 972 bids submitted with approximately 1,500 people viewing the merchandise for this year’s sale, resulting in total revenues of $44,790.69.

U.S. Embassy personnel serve our country
around the globe, often under dangerous 

conditions and threats. We listen to all criticism, and especially welcome constructive suggestions, However, we cannot and will not accept unfounded attacks on out integrity and honesty. If you have proof of infractions, please advise us. We take all such allegations seriously, and will investigate such occurrences immediately and thoroughly. Unfounded insults and allegations such as those carried in your 3/18 editorial are not only insulting, demoralizing and inaccurate, they also are contrary to common standards of good journalism and basic decency. We would ask that in the future you at least call our offices to verify the accuracy of such statements before publishing them.
U.S. Embassy
Public Affairs Office.

P.S. We did sell a forklift in 2001 for a total of 751,500 colones equivalent to $2,220 (2001 exchange rate). The forklift was well past its useful life, was not functioning, and would have been very expensive to repair (if the repairs could have been made at all). The proceeds of that sale in 2001, like the one that just took place earlier this month, are utilized to replace equipment and items that have worn out through normal use and wear and tear, reducing the operating costs to the U.S. taxpayer.

But we are not sold completely on the embassy position
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Normally we do not comment on letters, but we feel we must today. We did not accuse the embassy staff of any crimes, but we did accuse them of inept marketing and cronyism.

We congratulate the staff on a tremendous turnout which probably cannot be attributed to a couple of newspaper ads. 

The turnout was unusual. Consider this from our Oct. 3, 2002, issue:

"As of 3 p.m. Wednesday afternoon, one embassy employee estimated that throughout the two-day viewing 120 people showed, though only several were U.S. citizens. The woman accepting bids said that around 80 people placed offers for items."

We based our editorial. in part, on a talk with Marcia Bosshardt, an employee in the Public Affairs Office, who told us that her office repeatedly asked those involved in handling embassy sales to provide information for distribution to the public and they never did. We also based our editorial on complaints from persons who failed to find out about the sale in time.

We reject the idea that the sale must be quickly advertised to foil terrorists. We 

consider this comment too tacky to rate a response. However, a reader in Managua, Nicaragua responded to our March 18 editorial to say that the U.S. Embassy there advertises its garage sales for at least a week ahead of time.

In a March 19 telephone conversation, Peter Brennan, the chief of the Public Affairs Office, said that the embassy was not in the retail business and that getting top dollar for goods was not a priority. The embassy just wanted to get rid of stuff, he said.

When we looked at the forklift as a potential buyer in December 2001, we were not told that it was worn out. It looked good to us when an embassy staffer demonstrated it. This is what we said about the forklift in the Dec. 12, 2001, edition:

"All the objects in the embassy sale are used, and the  U.S. government gives no guarantees. But an electric  forklift truck priced at a minimum bid of 500,000  colons ($1,470) turns right on." 

We are glad that the embassy now has more than $44,000 to purchase equipment. In the past we were told that proceeds from the auction go to the U.S. government general fund and, therefore, there was no incentive to market the sale or to seek top prices.

What do readers think about their embassy here?
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

How do you think the U.S. Embassy is doing? We welcome reader comments on that question and about any other embassies that are here in Costa Rica.

We have heard praise and we have heard complaints. We are ready to publish your views as you wrote them in a separate section on the newspages.

Any takers? editor@amcostarica.com

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Even the sea floor
will get a cleaning

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Citizens in the Pacific beach town of Sámara will even be going underwater this weekend to clean up the community in anticipation of the arrival of thousands of Holy Week visitors.

The Comité Ambiental de Playa Sámara said Tuesday that starting Friday the beaches and the streets will be cleaned by citizens and also students from the Colegio Telesecundaria y la Escuela de Sámara.

The skindivers will be going underwater to clean up the aquatic terrain and residents in kayaks will be collecting garbage from hard-to-reach places.

Some residents also will be installing signs to aid visitors on their travels, said the committee. Friday is the day many Central Valley residents will be getting an early start on Holy Week. Government offices are closed all next week with some exceptions made for critical services. 

Holy Thursday, April 8, and Good Friday, April 9, are legal holidays, and government officials are applying three days of vacation for workers so they receive the entire week off.

Berenson case enters
final stage in May

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Inter-American Court of Human rights will hear the final stage of the Lori Berenson case May 7 and 8, according to an agenda for the court released Tuesday.

Ms. Berenson is the U.S. citizen who was arrested in Perú in 1995 and sentenced by a secret military tribunal for alleged involvement with the Túpac Amaru revolutionary movement.

She received a sentence of life without parole, but that sentence was annulled and she again was tried, this time by a civil court.  She received 20 years imprisonment.

Her case before the Inter-American court alleges that her rights have been violated by the trials and that she is being kept in inhumane conditions in the Yanamayo prison.

Perú denies that it has violated her rights. The hearing before the court will be open to the public.

She is the last case on the court agenda. Hearings start April 19. Among other cases is the final argument for and against the government of Costa Rica and its case against La Nación, the newspaper, and reporter Mauricio Herrera Ulloa, who published articles the courts here later found to be defamation. The newspaper claims that the criminal case against the reporter violates his rights.

Anti-transvestite pair
caught by police

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Certain sections of San José downtown are populated after dark by transvestite prostitutes who walk the streets.

Taxi drivers are quick to point out to visitors when a long-legged beauty walks by: "Hombre."

The life of such individuals are not exactly placid because they generate fear or hatred in some men. Transvestites have been murdered, stabbed, beaten or otherwise mistreated in ways that are more brutal than what happens to the typical heterosexual street prostitute.

For several months a gang of motorcycle riders have been randomly attacking transvestites. But Monday night police gave chase and captured a pair of motorcyclists near the San Sebastian traffic circle in south San José.

The men were wearing ski masks and helmets to hide their identities. Other members of the group got away, but the pair who were captured will face a string of allegations.

Canadian detained 
on bad-check count

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police detained a Canadian resident here Tuesday to face a bad-check charge.

The man, identified by the last name of Pecora was arrested as he was about to board the Puntarenas-Paquera ferry about 10:30 a.m. The man is facing an allegation that he gave a bad check to a man in Hatillo last April, according to the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública. The amount was about $5,000, and the check was in the name of Villas Muskoka of which Pecora was vice president, the ministry said.

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Normalcy in Haiti may take decades, U.N. aide says
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

NEW YORK, N.Y. — The United Nations point man on Haiti says it may be 18 months before elections can be held to choose a successor to former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The world body is gearing up for a long-term assistance project in Haiti.

The U.N. special envoy to Haiti, Reginald Dumas, says given Haiti's confused political picture, it will be at least 10 years, possibly more than 20, before normalcy can be attained.

"What one has to do, with the assistance of the people of Haiti, is to try to work so as to bring Haiti to the path of normalcy, and that will take time. A long, long time," he said.

Speaking to reporters after briefing the Security Council Tuesday, Dumas said it will probably be late next year before elections can be held for a new government.

"Some people feel elections should be held not later than the end of the year," he said. "That does not seem likely, given the task in having a proper electoral system in place. For instance, people do not have identification cards. So the consensus that

 I have detected is perhaps 18 months, a transition period of 18 months to the holding of elections."

Dumas says U.N. legal experts have effectively rejected demands by Caribbean leaders for an investigation into former president Aristide's claims that the United States forced him from power. The U.N. envoy said the question is one of politics rather than law.

"The legal people apparently say 'this has no legal force'. If it's anything it's political, and I suppose the political people will have to look at it," he said. And there should be discussions between the U.N. and the Caribbean community on this issue, as to what is done and how it is done, he said. 

U.S. and other forces remain in Haiti as part of an interim peacekeeping force while the United Nations prepares a second-phase assistance mission. 

The U.N. force is scheduled to take over around June 1, but Dumas said response from the international community to appeals for contributions had been less than expected. 

So far, Brazil is the only country that has committed to providing troops.

Productivity is called the key to Latin growth
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Important progress has been made during the past year in improving economic stability in Latin America and the Caribbean, and regional policymakers should now focus on increasing economic growth, says Randal Quarles, an assistant treasury secretary.

In remarks Monday before the Inter-American Development Bank's 45th annual meeting of its board of governors in Lima, Peru, Quarles said economic growth has been "unacceptably low for the region, given its potential."

Raising economic growth through productivity growth, he said, is key to improving the Western Hemisphere's living standards. "The link between growth and poverty reduction is unmistakable," Quarles said.

He explained that reforms, including improving monetary policy, strengthening tax administration, and institutionalizing spending discipline, are necessary, but insufficient, to spur growth.

Addressing macroeconomic impediments, he said, is also indispensable to promoting growth. To this end, Quarles argued that access to financing for small businesses must be expanded, labor market distortions eliminated, trade barriers reduced, investment climates improved, entrepreneurship encouraged, education and infrastructure 

investment enhanced, and remittances from outside the countries harnessed to promote development.

To lay this foundation for higher growth in the region, the Bush administration is pursuing a variety of initiatives, Quarles said.

He noted that the United States is promoting an ambitious trade agenda in the hemisphere, including a completed agreement with Chile, negotiated agreements with five Central American countries and the Dominican Republic, and announced negotiations with Andean nations and Panamá. Quarles added that U.S. efforts to establish a Free Trade Area of the Americas also continue.

He said other initiatives include working with regional partners to halve the cost of remittance transfers from the United States by 2008, a goal set at the most recent Summit of the Americas in Monterrey, Mexico. These are the charges foreign workers pay to send money to their home country.

Outlining the role of the Inter-American Development Bank in promoting regional growth, Quarles observed that the United States is working with the bank to improve its effectiveness.

Additional IDB initiatives include curbing the corruption that has hampered the institution's effectiveness and maximizing the development bank’s impact on private-sector development.

Bogota's mayor seeks more police to control rival drug gangs
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

BOGOTA, Colombia — The mayor of this, Colombia's capital, has called on the president to help boost security efforts to block the spread of violence among rival drug gangs in western Colombia. 

Luis Eduardo Garzon met with President Alvaro Uribe and other top leaders Monday to discuss plans for raising the number of police in Bogota. 

Monday's talks follow a series of murders in Bogota that are believed to have links to drug 

trafficking. One victim was a top anti-drug agent, Col. Danilo Gonzalez, who helped track down cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar in 1993. Investigators say Col. Gonzalez had forged strong ties with traffickers and was supplying them with information. 

Officials fear violence in Bogota will increase due to a drug war involving the so-called Norte del Valle cartel near Cali which has killed dozens of people in recent months.  Colombia is the world's leading producer of cocaine and a top supplier of heroin to the United States. 

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Dead zones in oceans demand action, U.N. says
Special to A.M. Costa Rica 

In oceans and seas around the world, almost 150 oxygen-depleted dead zones threaten the survival of marine life, according to the Global Environment Outlook Year Book newly published by the U.N. Environment Program.

An excess of phytoplankton, tiny marine organisms, is responsible for the oxygen depletion. They proliferate within an area of water because nitrogen from agricultural fertilizers, vehicle and factory emissions and other human-generated waste finds its way to the seas. Fish cannot survive in the oxygen-starved water and flee. Slower-moving, bottom dwelling creatures die in these waters, according to a program press release.

Marine scientists have been watching this trend for decades but the new report emphasizes its expansion to new and larger areas, including waters off Europe, North America, South America, China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. The report calls on governments to take urgent action
on the dead-zone problem because it could deplete

 marine resources and threaten food supplies.

"Human-kind is engaged in a gigantic, global, experiment as a result of the inefficient and often over-use of fertilizers, the discharge of untreated sewage and the ever rising emissions from vehicles and factories," said Klaus Toepfer, executive director of the program. "The nitrogen and phosphorous from these sources are being discharged into rivers and the coastal environment or being deposited from the atmosphere, triggering these alarming and sometimes irreversible effects."

The environmental yearbook also examines international agreements, weather-related natural disasters, water supplies and other issues. Its release was timed to coincide with the Global Ministerial Environmental Forum being held in the Republic of Korea this week.

The yearbook is available at: http://www.unep.org/geo/yearbook 
and further information on the forum is available at: 
http://www.unep.org/gc/gcss-viii .

Marine biological corridor to become a reality
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Officials from four countries are expected to approve an agreement for a marine biological corridor running from Costa Rica’s Isla del Coco to the Galápagos Islands off Ecuador.

The discussions begin today under the auspices here of the Costa Rican Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía. 

Also taking part are officials from Panamá and Colombia. The concept dates from 2001.

The corridor is supposed to be a system of interconnections that also include the islands of Coiba in Panamá and those of Malpelo and Gorgona in Colombia. The islands are rich in nutrients and marine life. The Galápagos and Isla del Coco have both been declared World heritage sites by the United Nations.

Jo Stuart
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