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(506) 223-1327        Published Thursday, April 6, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 69          E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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A.M. Costa Rica/Harley Toberman
Policeman surveys the mountain of rocks and dirt residents used to block roadway.
Rocky protest over road flares near Dominical
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Call it participatory democracy or perhaps the politics of desperation, but small groups all over the country are mobilizing to protest the condition of the highways.

Truckers blocked the San Isidro-Dominical highway at Barú last week. But a more effective blockade was raised Tuesday when residents dumped mounds of river rock on the entrance to the Barú bridge.

The highway, No. 243, is "dangerous beyond words," said a resident.  "The potholes are almost two feet deep spread out across the entire road.  Cars are swerving into each other to avoid the holes."

This is the main road from the Interamerican highway to the Pacific coast road at Dominical. It is used heavily because the road from north of Dominical to the Quepos airport is gravel.
The route is certain to receive a lot of traffic over the Semana Santa holidays.

Police removed the rock blockade Tuesday night, and residents are wondering if their protest did any good.

Further north near Quepos residents of Portelón gathered Monday in what witnesses said was a well-attended protest. The town was wiped off the map by downpours and flash flooding in September. The bridge that connected the town to the coast highway over the Río Portelón was washed out. Residents say they cannot adequately rebuild the town until the bridge is replaced.

Similar protests are breaking out all over the country as the central government seems unable to respond to the road damage. Even various tourism chambers complain that the condition of the roads is cutting down the number of tourists.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, April 6, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 69

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Nearly 800 traffic police
will watch holiday highways

By José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Traffic police will go on alert Saturday for the Semana Santa holidays. The alert will run through April 17, the last day of vacation for many Costa Ricans.

Some 789 Tránsito officers will be participating with special attention being paid to the highways that lead to the nation's beaches and mountain resorts, officials said Wednesday.

Officials said they would be using reversible highway lanes to provide more road for traffic congested in one direction.

Intoxicated drivers will be a priority, officials said. Outlining the project Wednesday were Randall Quiros, minister of Obras Públicas y Trasnporte, and  Huanelgue Gutiérrez, the subdirector of Tránsito.

Police will set up checkpoints at key spots, including Limonal, Igueron (between San Ramon and Puntarenas), Orotina on the road to Jacó, Highway 160 in Guanacaste, Liberia, Palmar Norte and Dominical.

Although these checkpoints will be staffed 24 hours a day, special attention will be given from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. to spot drunk drivers, officials said.

Police officials estimate that perhaps as many as 2 million persons take to the highways for trips during the Semana Santa period.

In addition to motorists on holiday, traffic officers also will be safeguarding and creating detours around the hundreds of religious processions that take place during Semana Santa around the country.

Officials said that traffic checkpoints also will double as tourist information booths where information will be available. Mechanics associated with Tránsito also will be offering free service to stranded motorists in some sections, officials said.

Ex-president unimpressed
by free trade treaty

By The A.M. Costa Rica staff

Former president Rodrigo Carazo Odio told lawmakers Wednesday that the free trade treaty with the United States should be rejected.

He said he thought lawmakers should study the measure more. "I don't believe this is a political matter but a matter of survival," said the former president, adding that the national dignity also was at stake.

His critique, he said, was based on the opinions made public by church leaders throughout the Latin world. He urged that the treaty be renegotiated. Church leaders have expressed deep concern for the social consequences of the treaty.

Carazo was asked his opinion of the sale of an El Salvadoran telecommunications enterprise to private hands for $316 million. He said if that happens here the nation would trade one monopoly for a monopoly of others who were not Costa Rican.

He also was asked what he thought of an assembly advisory report that said the free trade treaty could be approved legally with 29 votes. He said he didn't think that the full 57 member votes would be sufficient.

Many believe that the treaty needs 38 votes for passage but advisers to the assembly leadership argued in the report for the lower number.

Carazo, 79, was president from 1978 to 1982. He was elected as the candidate of the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana, the same party that counts current President Abel Pacheco as a member.

His term was about as dificult as that of Pacheco, rocked by social instability and the growing war against the Somoza government in Nicaragua to the north.

He was testifying before the assembly's Comisión de Asuntos Internacionales, which is considering the treaty.

Copper cable discovered
in hands of recyclers

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Law officers raided a recycling yard in Barrio Cristo Rey Wednesday and confiscated 5,000 kilos (11.000 pounds) of stripped copper cable.

The nation has been plagued by the theft of copper cable from telephone poles. Twice radar operations at Juan Santamaría airport were shut down because someone stole the cable that connects the control tower to a remote site where the radar data is generated.

Wednesday, Fuerza Pública officers got a tip that three trucks loaded with copper from cables were parked at the recyling center.

When they arrived, the owners of the recycling yard were not able to adequately explain how they had come by the copper wire legitimately, investigators said. In all there were 20 tons of cable but much had already been melted, making clear identification impossible, police said.

The laboratory of the Judicial Investigating Organization will try to determine from where the cable came.

Representatives of the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad also were present to inspect the cable. There were other pieces of copper. Some appeared to be downspouts.

Invesigators joked that they were investigating a circular crime. The copper cable was due to be shipped to China where it would be remanufactured into cable, some of which might actually return to Costa Rica as telephone and electrical cables.

Police generally blame drug addicts for stealing the cable. One kilo brings 2,200 colons ($4.35) wholesale, and even half that is enough to purchase three or four rocks of crack cocaine on the street.
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, April 6, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 69


Radio for Peace struggles along despite big setback
By Ambika Chawla
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Radio for Peace International is still alive, although on an uphill struggle to redefine itself and revive its broadcasting capacity after its abrupt eviction from the campus grounds of the United Nations' University for Peace in 2003.

Although the eviction never made many headlines outside of Costa Rican press, some may recall that members of the radio station received a letter from officials from the University for Peace ordering them to leave university grounds as soon as possible on claims that the radio was operating illegally.

The news came as a shock for director of Radio for Peace International James Latham, not to mention others, who since 1987 had been reporting and broadcasting human rights, peace, and environment stories to audiences around the world based on the campus of the University for Peace near Ciudad Colón. In addition, the radio station coordinated educational programs for youth groups and university students inspired to pursue careers in the media.

Volunteers and employees of Radio for Peace International peacefully protested the move to kick them off university by locking themselves into their offices behind a barbed wire gate and armed university guards. In addition, telephone, electricity and water services were cut off. Radio workers were in for a month-long siege before eventually handing the radio station and its building over to the university Nov. 5, 2003.

Since then Radio for Peace International has been struggling to recuperate its financial losses, rebuild its facilities, and retain its audiences. The radio station's abrupt removal from the grounds of the university significantly reduced the potential to receive funds from international donors. For example, while operating from the University for Peace, the radio station managed an annual budget of $400,000. Today, the annual budget is at $30,000. This financial loss has resulted in a cutback on professional staff as well as the ability to transmit news via radio. Today, the station depends on the work and dedication of five volunteers.

The loss of the building and its broadcasting equipment and facilities proved to be a great setback in terms of the radio station's capacity to broadcast to communities on the international level.

In efforts to rebuild after the eviction and a series of unsuccessful legal battles with the United Nations, Radio for Peace International has developed a number of strategies which will allow it to grow. It now works primarily through the  Internet, the medium through which it broadcasts programs such as “Democracy Now,” “Voices of Our World,” “Honoring Mother Earth: Indigenous Voices,” and a “World of Possibilities.” It has created a decentralized working structure with key offices based in St. Thomas, the Virgin Islands, Poona, India, and Portland, Oregon. And, it continues to coordinate summer programs for university students.

Director James Latham remains determined to continue forward with Radio for Peace International and is brimming with ideas in order to accomplish 

A.M. Costa Rica/Ambika Chawla
James Latham is still director of the station.

his goals. For example, one of his primary objectives is to be able to return to shortwave broadcasting in order to reach listeners in all parts of the world, particularly in communities in developing regions, such as Latin America, Africa, and Asia, where many do not have access to Internet.
Another idea currently being developed is an interactive chat room system whereby audiences can discuss issues by sending messages online as well as listening and talking with other participants in chat room discussions. According to Latham, “a 35-guest audience would have the opportunity to ask questions to other guests: callers would call in and interact within the chat room.” He spoke with a reporter during a visit to Costa Rica.

This system would allow for guests to participate in virtual conferences and debates. One of the upcoming events which the radio station will cover live is the 9th session of the Provisional World Parliament from Libya, where announcers will be interviewing approximately 70 delegates and broadcasting the parliament´s proceedings. 

Finally, the station workers would like to resume peace journalism courses for graduate students. These courses would provide professional training to students wishing to make a career in what they call peace journalism.  

Latham is now in the process of writing a book about the conflict between the University for Peace and the station. He said he wants to give recognition to an issue which was strategically sidelined by the United Nations and the Costa Rican government, and in part to find resolution to a situation whereby his radio station was aggressively kicked out by a university which prides itself on teaching professional courses on conflict resolution and human rights.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, April 6, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 69

U.S. FTC moves to toughen rules on bogus businesses
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is proposing a rule to better protect consumers from bogus business opportunities.

The rule would cover business opportunities commonly touted by fraudsters, while minimizing compliance costs for legitimate businesses. Currently, the FTC brings law enforcement actions against fraudulent business opportunities under two laws, the Franchise Rule and the FTC Act. Neither is specifically designed for the unique scams that occur frequently with business opportunities.

The proposed rule is relevant to Costa Rica because the offshore fraudsters have set up shop here and trick U.S. customers via the telephone and Internet.

The proposed rule would eliminate the $500 minimum investment requirement from the Franchise Rule, meaning it would apply to all business opportunities, even if they have a smaller start-up cost.

The proposed rule also would eliminate many of the 20 disclosures that are required for franchises (trademarks, for example), but do not apply to business opportunities.

Instead, the proposed rule would require a one-page disclosure addressing five items: whether or not sellers make earnings claims; a list of any criminal or civil legal actions against the seller or its representatives that involve fraud, misrepresentations, securities, or deceptive or unfair trade practices; whether the seller has cancellation or refund policies and such policies’ terms; the total number of purchasers in the past two years and the
number of those purchasers seeking a refund or to cancel in that time period; and a list of references.

The proposed rule would not require any business opportunity seller to make an earnings claim. However, if they did make an earnings claim, they would be required to provide additional substantiation in the form of an “Earnings Claims Statement.”

The proposed rule also would prohibit unfair or deceptive practices that are common among fraudulent business opportunity sellers, including:

- misrepresentations about the material terms of the business relationship;

-the use of shills;

-misrepresentations of endorsements or testimonials;

-failure to honor territorial protection guarantees; and

-failure to honor refunds.

Several business opportunity scams make use of their Costa Rican location to avoid action by the U.S. government. The FTC closed down an Escazú operation last November which, according to the FTC complaint in U.S. district court, seemed to use all five of the deceptive practices.

The court has issued a temporary restraining order barring the false claims, freezing the defendants’ assets, and appointing a receiver, who shut down the toll-free and U.S. phone lines used to market the scheme, which was to sell coffee vending machines and alleged profitable routes to U.S. customers.

Canadian-Venezuelan brothers, victims of kidnapping, found murdered
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Authorities in Venezuela say three young Venezuelan-Canadian brothers who were kidnapped more than a month ago have been found shot to death.

Venezuelan Justice Minister Jesse Chacón said the bodies of Jason, Kevin, and John Bryan Faddoul, aged 12, 13 and 17, were found about 30 kms (19 miles)  from the capital, Caracas. Police officials said the boys and their driver, whose body was found with them, were shot to death through the head and neck.

Chacón expressed deep regret for the crime and said
all of Venezuela mourns with the boys' family.

The boys were abducted Feb. 23 in Caracas when unidentified men dressed as police officers stopped their vehicle on the way to school.

The kidnappers demanded more than $4 million in ransom, which the family was unable to gather.

After the discovery of the bodies, students at the boys' school began staging demonstrations mourning the deaths and calling for better security.

The boys had dual citizenship in Canada and Venezuela.

Negotiations over pulp mills in Uruguay seem to be stalled by Kirchner
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Argentina has called off talks with neighboring Uruguay in an ongoing dispute over the construction of two pulp mills along their border.

Argentine President Nestor Kirchner and his Uruguayan counterpart, Tabare Vazquez, had planned to meet this week. But the talks were postponed after Argentina rejected a decision by one of the pulp companies to stop construction for 10 days.

That company, Metsa-Botnia of Finland, previously said it would suspend construction of its pulp mill on the Uruguayan side of the border for 90 days to allow the two South American governments to address
environmental concerns. Argentina said the company should have stuck to that timeframe.

Spain's Ence is building a second pulp plant in the same region. Both mills are being constructed along the Uruguay river, which divides Uruguay and Argentina.

Argentines living across the river fear the mills will damage their farmlands and pollute the air. Argentine protesters have blocked several bridges leading into Uruguay in recent months, triggering diplomatic tensions between the two nations.

Uruguay has defended the project as the largest industrial investment in its history.

Jo Stuart
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