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A.M. Costa Rica

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These stories were published Thursday, April 7, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 68
Jo Stuart
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Highwaymen stalking motorists near Nosara
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A gang of highwaymen are operating unhampered near the tourism jewel Nosara, and community leaders fear the holdups will do millions of dollars in damage to the area’s reputation and property values.

One robbery became a gun battle Monday.

The gang of three or four young men has been holding up vehicles for at least a month along the gravel road that connects Garza and Nosara to the hard-surface highway between Sámara and Nicoya.

The road parallels the Pacific beaches of the Nicoya Peninsula.

The armed gang members seem to lurk in the adjacent jungle and confront motorists in broad daylight. A month ago, one Nosara traveler reported, the gunmen stuck up a car full of tourists and stripped them of all their belongings.

Monday a San José resident with business on the Nicoya coast came upon at least three men sticking up the drivers of a chicken delivery truck. The man quickly drove by the scene, but robbers began to peg shots at his car. The man was armed and said he returned shots and only stopped when he became aware that the delivery crewmen were standing near the robbers.

Residents reported Wednesday that a grocery owner also was confronted this week near the same spot by four hooded men who took 2.5 million colons. That’s about $5,350.

None of the robberies or the tense situation have been reported by police officials in San José.  Another resident said that agents at the Judicial Investigating Organization pleaded lack of resources when asked to send men.

Local Fuerza Pública officers also lack resources.

The situation is similar to that which police confronted in Santa Elena de Monteverde March 8. The gang comes and goes using the jungle as cover. The Monteverde bandits only were stopped after a failed robbery of a Banco Nacional branch there that left nine persons dead, including two robbers.

Police were criticized for not going after the robbers in Monteverde sooner.

The Nicoya robbers are described as young men who may have used shotguns as well as pistols.

The crimes are so well known on the Nicoya coast that residents have been warning friends and potential visitors about the stickups.

"I just drive really fast,’ said one man who travels to the area frequently.

Property values in Nosara, Garza and adjacent communities have soared because of the extraordinary beauty of the landscape and the beach. The area is a tourist mecca because the Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Ostional, is a nesting place for turtles, as well as having sprawling white sandy beaches. 

The principal access is over the 40 kms. of gravel road where the bandits are doing their stalking.

Today is the day Costa Rica will honor Pope John Paul II
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Today is the day Costa Rica says goodbye to Pope John Paul II. 

The Catedral Metropolitan will be the scene of a 10 a.m. Mass at which top officials, the diplomatic corps, religious leaders and others will attend. School children have four hours off to attend the religious ceremony. Public employees have two and a half hours. Hugo Barrantes, the archbishop of San José, will preside.

The cathedral will be unable to accommodate many who show up, so officials are going to erect television screens in nearby Parque Central. Streets will be closed all around the cathedral from 8 a.m. on.

Friday at 1 a.m. local television stations will broadcast the pope’s funeral live from Rome.

President Able Pacheco said his goodbyes Wednesday. The president reported from Rome that he was near tears during the five minutes he was at the body of Pope John Paul. He did not come to Rome as Abel Pacheco but as the president of the country "to express the sorrow that we feel for the Holy Father," he said in a communiqué from the Vatican.

Pacheco is there with his wife, Leila Rodríguez, several diplomats and José Francisco Ulloa, the bishop who heads the Conferencia Episcopal. Pacheco reported he and his companions recited "Our Fathers" and "Hail Marys" some four meters (some 13 feet) from the body of the pope in St. Peter’s Basilica. 

Pacheco and his wife came in the back door and did not have to stand in the lines in which the faithful spend up to 10 hours to pass by the pope’s bier.

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A reply from a reader
Telecom engineer says
satellite hookup has pitfalls

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

There are some serious misimpressions left by your reader in this morning's A.M. Costa Rica, regarding the use of satellites for broadband Internet and telephone here in Costa Rica.

First, it is not exactly true that "If you can get DirecTV, you can get DirectWay" [sic]. DirecTV in the U.S. is not the same service as DirecTV Latin America, which is the service available to us down here. It is on a different satellite and uses a different technology (that's why your U.S. DirecTV box doesn't work down here). I am not sure that the satellite carrying DirecTV Latin America is even carrying a DirecWay signal. Last I heard, it was not.

Second, DirecWay and its competitor, Starband, are not marketed in Costa Rica. DirecWay has been trying for years to negotiate an agreement with RACSA to do so, but without success. So forget calling up DirecWay or Starband and asking for service here. And forget even buying a DirecWay or Starband dish in the U.S., and bringing it down here. It won't work. 

We're well outside the U.S. satellite "footprint" where dishes designed for the U.S. will work. Hughes Network Services, the technical operator and offshore marketer of DirecWay services, refers inquiries on their Web site to either Gaithersburg, Md., Miami, Fla., or to their offices in Brazil, for regular HNS commercial services. 

Bootleg providers using large dishes aimed at the U.S. DirecTV satellites appear here from time to time, but their services are quite illegal and of generally poor reliability and quality. When they're caught, they and their users are prosecuted.

Third, DirecWay is not available on C-band, here or in the States as your reader implies. RACSA offers such a service itself, but it costs over $300 per month, has limited bandwidth, installation costs thousands, and requires a lengthy service commitment. 

As of when I last checked, the only other legally authorized satellite Internet service provider in Costa Rica with blanket authority and licensing was Vector Telecomms in Curridibat, and while the service is good and the speeds are higher with no throughput limits, but it is even more expensive as it is intended for business applications only.

Fourth, last I heard, DirecWay still limits its residential users to 250mb. of data downlink throughput per day, to conserve satellite bandwidth. Depending on the service you're using, that's about two hours of talk-time in any one day. If you ever violate that, they drop your service to dialup rates for the rest of the month — and now, your nifty Internet phone won't work anymore — just when you are dealing with a crisis at home.

Fifth, all transmitting satellite earth stations without exception, anywhere in the world including Costa Rica, require licensing by the local radio regulatory authority (the Federal Communications Commission in the U.S., and the Control Nacional de Radio here) and specific prior authorization by the owner of the satellite with which they are used. 

DirecWay users in the U.S. fall under DirecWay's blanket U.S. license and operating authority, but that is not valid in Costa Rica, and use of such equipment here violates a whole bunch of laws. An improperly adjusted transmitting earth station will cause interference to other users on the satellite, and that gives the satellite owner a lot of incentive to track you down and turn you in (and they have developed surprisingly good tools for doing just that). As this is an international issue, I guarantee in such a situation, the Control Nacional de Radio will not be friendly when they knock on your door.

Sixth, use of satellites for phone-over-Internet applications is fraught with technical issues, not the least of which is the satellite delay. At the speed of light, it takes more than a quarter-second for the signal to reach the satellite and return to earth, and therefore more than a half-second to go to the other end of the circuit and return to the point of origin. 

This means that the digital "handshake" that the telephone has to maintain with the other end can be shaky, and some services won't even work at all if the phone equipment not specifically designed to be used on satellites. This can mean for many service offerings that the voice will cut in and out, calls can get dropped, and/or can be accompanied by annoyingly loud, half-second delayed echos. 

Prospective users should check the fine print in the user agreement of the phone service provider very carefully before they sign up. For all such satellite phone services, even if they do work, calls will always have that annoying quarter-second delay each direction. That is inescapable — it's the physics of the thing.

As a telecomms engineer with more than two decades of experience in international transmitting satellite earth stations and telephone and data network engineering, I can assure you that your reader does not fully understand and appreciate all the problems, legal vulnerabilities and wasted expense he may be getting some of your readers into in suggesting the use of satellite Internet for VoIP.

Scott Bidstrup 
Nuevo Arenal

Growth in Latin America
put at 6 percent for 2004

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The World Bank says the Latin American and Caribbean region grew nearly 6 percent in 2004, the strongest growth in 24 years. In a report released Wednesday, the bank reported several things contributed to the region's growth, including a strong world demand for its exports, high commodity prices and low international interest rates.

The report says growth is expected to be moderate this year, reaching at least 4.3 percent.

The World Bank's chief economist for Latin America and the Caribbean Guillermo Perry says countries in the region should take advantage of what he called the "favorable times" to prepare for the future by being prudent with public social spending, building fiscal supplies and reducing public debt. 

Embassy will be closed Monday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The U.S. Embassy in San José will be closed Monday to mark the Día de Juan Santamaría and to commemorate the Battle of Rivas in 1856 against the mercenary army of William Walker. Santamaría was a hero of that battle, which took place in Nicaragua.
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U.S. officials say democracy rides on trade agreement
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. —  The remarkable progress toward democracy achieved in Central America over the past 10 to 15 years could be reversed if economic conditions are allowed to deteriorate, Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick said Wednesday.

He was speaking to representatives of Central American and Dominican Republic communities in the United States.

A U.S. trade official said the implications of the agreement reach far beyond commerce even though it is vital to the economic well-being of the participating countries.

The discussion of the trade pact took place at a State Department-hosted dialogue on its potential benefits.

As the U.S. Congress considers whether to approve the agreement, "nothing less than the future of our relationships with the region's democracies is at stake," said Christopher Padilla, the trade official. He is assistant U.S. trade representative for intergovernmental affairs.

The U.S. Congress is expected to consider ratification of the free-trade agreement with Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic during April.

U.S. attention to Central America and the Dominican Republic can be transitory, Padilla said, so the trade pact would serve as a necessary correction to those lapses of attention. "Sometimes the region is the focus of great debate in Washington," while at other times, attention is directed elsewhere, Padilla explained. If approved, however, the free-trade agreement would " help promote a more stable and mature relationship with the region," he said.

Zoellick, who served as U.S. trade representative prior to becoming deputy secretary of State, endorsed Padilla's argument and elaborated on many of the same themes. "President Bush believes strongly that the region's prosperity depends on three commitments: to democracy, to security, and to free markets," Zoellick said. "Now we're on the verge of a very important economic partnership with six democracies", he said, predicting that such a partnership would "lower tariffs, open markets, and most importantly, establish rules for a 21st-century global economy."

The Central America free trade agreement "is about much more than trade," Zoellick added. By creating more economic opportunity throughout the region while increasing transparency and accountability, the pact has great potential to ease poverty, fight corruption, boost democratic institutions, and strengthen the rule of law in countries that may need reinforcement in those areas, he said.

Critics "want us to turn our back on struggling democracies," Zoellick said. "Those critics are wrong." 

By contrast, he said, the freely elected governments in all six of the region's countries support the agreement, because "those democracies know that CAFTA-DR is a landmark on their path to prosperity."

Responding to opponents who claim that the trade pact is insufficiently concerned with protecting workers' rights, Zoellick said the pact specifically calls for "better enforcement of labor laws" as well as protection of the environment. He urged U.S. citizens to contact their congressional representatives to express support for free trade and open economies in general, and the Central American trade pact in particular.

Regarding complaints about the agreement from U.S. labor unions, Zoellick said: "This is very frustrating, because of course regional countries can't make more progress [on labor issues] until they become more prosperous. The real question is how will conditions get better if we stiff-arm the region?"

Zoellick insisted that the region's democratic gains of the last two decades must be consolidated in order to ensure long-term prosperity and stability. He said that during the fairly recent past, many countries in the region had rejected military juntas and civil conflicts in favor of democratic rule. He warned that this remarkable progress could possibly be reversed if economic conditions are allowed to deteriorate.

"I don't think we can take the progress of the last 10-15 years for granted; I can see a scenario" where those gains would be rolled back "and what a tragedy that would be," Zoellick said. He suggested that implementation of the trade pact would help to spur regional development and bolster legitimate governments, thereby lowering the risk of social and political upheaval.

"There are really big stakes in this, and we need people to emphasize those stakes," he concluded.

Trade pact would help entrepreneurs and small business, Noriega says
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The ratification of the U.S. free-trade agreement with Central America and the Dominican Republic would be a major step forward in deepening U.S. ties with the region, and would stimulate broad-based economic growth as well as positive structural change in Central America and the Caribbean, according to Roger Noriega, assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs. 

Noriega spoke as he introduced speakers at a forum Wednesday here.

"We see expanded trade as the engine for greater opportunity for all the region's citizens," he said. The trade pact will be a major force to help increase productivity and competitiveness, resulting in more growth and more jobs, and thus promoting long-term and self-sustaining prosperity, he said.

The agreement would provide opportunities for a better life to people from all walks of life in all participating countries, Noriega said., adding that the accord could create opportunities for new entrepreneurs and small businesses, as well as help workers by creating new jobs.

Beyond economics, Noriega said that the United States envisions the agreement promoting social mobility, strengthening democratic institutions and encouraging government transparency. He added that the pact would also encourage improved enforcement of labor standards and increasing cooperation to promote sound environmental management.

Noriega observed that the United States has budgeted $231 million in assistance to the trade pact countries in 2005, including almost $20 million specifically earmarked to strengthen related labor and environment programs.

In case you missed it:
A.M. Costa Rica, April 5, 2005
Our readership more than doubles in one year
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A.M. Costa Rica set another readership record in March when the newspaper registered 2.16 million hits. That was a 22.9 percent increase over February and a 106 percent increase over March 2004, the first month the newspaper exceeded a million hits.

Other statistics had similar increases.

Some 397,368 individual pages were viewed by 99,351 readers. And 45,435 of those readers were registered as unique, which means they were only counted once regardless of how many times they visited the pages in a single day. 

The statistics are maintained by the Internet service provider in the United States where A.M. Costa Rica is hosted. The hosting company keeps track of visits independent of A.M. Costa Rica.

The statistical programs screen out hits and visits by mechanical means, other computers and automated Web crawlers.

The statistics show that the average viewer sees about four pages at every visit to the paper. 

Said Jay Brodell, editor:

"Our dramatic increase in readership over the last three and a half years is no surprise to our advertisers who are getting more and more business from the wave of retirees and would-be retirees who are looking at Costa Rica as a new home and need solid, daily information.

"It’s a new world, and our progressive advertisers recognize that."

A.M. Costa Rica statistics are available on a page that is updated every month HERE!

Borge behind in taxes on controversial estate
Sandinista deputy involved in land deal draws bullets
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

MANAGUA, Nicaragua — Tomas Borge, a sitting deputy in the Nicaraguan legislature and the last surviving founder of the Nicaraguan Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional, was fired upon while his car was stopped at a traffic light here Friday night. 

Borge was not hurt in the shooting. 

The shots may hav been a reaction to the stinging criticism and harsh statements by Borge against large land owners in Nicaragua or the recently uncovered hidden control by Borge of one of the largest land holdings in the Department of Granada, Nicaragua.

The incident which, according to Borge and several residents of the La Colonia area of Managua who reported the shooting to the police, described a sports utility vehicle with three occupants approaching Borge's vehicle and the firing of six shots in the air after yelling "Latifundista." 

That word in reference to Borge's alleged ownership of a 2,600-acre estate located on the slopes of the extinct Mombaco Volcano in the municipality of Nandaime. The shooting scene was later investigated by the Nicaraguan national police and three 9-mm.  shell casings were found at the stop light. 

No suspects have been identified.

Borge has been the subject of intense media scrutiny and investigation in recent weeks due to his participation in real estate sales through the charitable foundation Verde Sonrisa or Green Smile, which was formed in 1990 to benefit autistic children. 

Press coverage in the newspaper La Prensa has linked Verde Sonrisa to a $690,000 land sale in the Bello Horizonte area of Managua for the development of a new shopping center. 

The property was obtained by Verde Sonrisa in a series of obscure transactions including a miniscule payment to the government of Nicaragua by a strawman for 

Borge during the closing days of the era of Sandinista control of the country. 

The transaction also occurred shortly after the period when Borge served as the minister of Interior where he personally directed state security and intelligence. At the time of the transactions, Borge was one of the most powerful men in Nicaragua. 

The commercial property in Bello Horizonte is in front of Borge's personal residence which has been described as a mansion in press reports. The Borge residence also coincidentally serves as part of the headquarters of Verde Sonrisa. 

In the case of the Mombacho estate, despite Borge's insisence that he is not the owner of the premises, all the real estate tax bills, which are in arrears and delinquent for over $25,000 for the tax periods 2002, 2003 and 2004 have been directed to Borge's residence in Managua. 

Also, three members of the new Nandaime city council said publicly that Borge is the beneficial owner of the estate and that the Contraloria of the Republic had criticized the local government for their failure to collect the past due real estate taxes and the grant of special rebates for the public official (Borge) and his foundation. 

The Mombacho volcano is is one of the most important tourist destinations in Nicaragua due to its diverse climate and canopy tours. Real estate prices on Mombacho have increased dramatically in recent years and the Verde Sonrisa estate is conservatively valued in excess of a million dollars.

The new elected city council is actively attempting to collect the past due tax bills from the deputy, and there are indications that the Ministry of Government is seeking to recover financial statements from Verde Sonrisa to determine the source and usage of the land sales proceeds.

Borge has not filed a formal report with the National police regarding the shooting.

Rumsfeld unhappy with Spain for Venezuelan arms sale
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has criticized Spain for offering to sell military planes and patrol boats to Venezuela. The secretary spoke from the Pentagon in an interview with the Miami Herald newspaper, following up on his visit to Latin America last month. 

Rumsfeld said he is concerned about what Venezuela will do with all the military equipment it plans to buy, including 100,000 AK-47 rifles from Russia, and patrol boats and military transport planes from Spain.

"I personally think that Spain is making a mistake, but that's my personal opinion," he said. "And I guess time will tell. The problem is that if one waits until time tells, it can be an unhappy story."

In Spain this week, the new U.S. assistant secretary of state, Robert Zoellick, also expressed concern about the planned sales, saying they could destabilize the region.

In the interview, Rumsfeld would not say whether the United States plans to sell matching weapons to Colombia. U.S. officials have accused Venezuela of supporting Marxist Colombian rebels, a charge Venezuela's leftist President Hugo Chavez denies. Venezuela also says there is nothing to fear from its planned military purchases, which it says are merely designed to replace old equipment.

Rumsfeld said he has spoken to Russian officials about their planned rifle sale to Venezuela. He said the 

Russian officials indicated they do not know how many rifles Venezuela will actually buy.

Rumsfeld also said he has no evidence Venezuela plans to provide some of the new rifles to the Colombian rebels, but he repeated a concern he expressed during his visit to South America last month.

"If you have a country that ends up buying 100,000 AK-47s you have to ask the question: What are they going to do with them all? One has to worry about the proliferation of these weapons that end up getting brought into the region from elsewhere," he said.
The secretary also said 100,000 rifles are more than the Venezuelan army could use.

He also dismissed as "ridiculous" President Chavez's claim that the United States plans to take military action against him or his country. And Rumsfeld stopped short of directly accusing Venezuela of helping the Colombian rebels, saying only that Venezuela has not been helpful.

"Can you find places that are not being helpful? Sure," he said. "Do you wish that weren't the case? Sure. But it's never been perfect in life. But I must say I think the hemisphere is generally moving very much in the right direction."

Rumsfeld said he is generally very pleased with developments in Latin America, where he said most of the countries are democracies and they are developing constructive political, economic and security relationships with one another.

Jo Stuart
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