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These stories were published Wednesday, April 14, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 73
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Her son complains
Dead G.I.'s mom gets runaround at U.S. Embassy
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The mother of a U.S. soldier slain Friday in Iraq got cold shoulders from the U.S. Embassy here when she tried to get a visa to attend his funeral in the United States.

Her son, a brother to the dead soldier, said the experience at the embassy was humiliating when visa officials gave the woman the runaround and insisted that she deposit $100 in a Banco de Costa Rica account and bring financial statements showing that she should be allowed to go to the United States.

The mother is Costa Rican but had lived in the United States for nearly 30 years, said her son. Her four sons, including the dead soldier, were born in the United States.

The U.S. Embassy, in the only statement on the matter, confirmed Tuesday that the soldier, Sgt. Raymond Edison Jones, Jr., a 12-year veteran, died Friday and expressed sympathy for the loss suffered by the family here.

However, the embassy spokesperson, Marcia P. Bosshardt, did not respond to questions about treatment that the family had received. 

Robin J. Morritz, consul general, who supervises the visa process at the embassy, made no comment at all. Both Ms. Morritz and Ms. Bosshardt were contacted by e-mail Monday night by A.M. Costa Rica when the indignities suffered by the family became known.

The brother, K.D. Jones, said that the treatment afforded his mother was better Tuesday but still was lacking, in his opinion. By Tuesday morning, the family had made the required bank deposit. Discussion Tuesday centered on whether the U.S. Embassy would assist in the costs of travel to Arlington National Cemetery 

when the burial is held. Jones said Tuesday night that servicemen at the embassy had collected money and gave his mother a donation to offset the visa fee. The embassy will offset some of the travel costs, he said.

The brother said that the mother was hassled Monday, suggesting that part of the problem was that she did not have a scheduled appointment as do most visa seekers. The mother was shifted from one person to another until she and her son finally ended up in the hands of a serviceman who told them that embassy officials had not yet confirmed the death, said the son.

Jones asked that his mother’s name not be used to avoid waves of reporters from the Spanish-language press. They live in San José, he said.

The dead serviceman originally was from Florida. His wife, a German woman, lives there, said the brother. The soldier had visited Costa Rica.

The brother said that he and his mother waited more than 40 minutes Tuesday morning to see U.S. Ambassador John Danilovich, but the top-ranking U.S. diplomat never showed. The ambassador and Ms. Bosshardt were involved Tuesday with the visit to San José of television personality Doris Roberts of "Everybody Loves Raymond." The mother and son did not see Consul General Morritz.

The brother said that some embassy workers Tuesday suggested that the treatment afforded the mother on Monday was less than should have been expected.

"It is sad what is happening and the way they treat the mother of a dead soldier who lost his life for his country," said the brother.


 
Treatment 'very difficult to believe,' son says
What follows is the letter issued by the family Monday. The letter was sent to embassy officials by A.M. Costa Rica, but there was no comment.

To whom this may concern,

Last Friday my family was informed the sad news that my brother, Raymond Edison Jones, Jr., was killed in action in Iraq.  Today [Monday], we visited the U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica expecting to receive all the support that is needed during such hard times.  This was not the situation.

My mother, mother of four U.S. citizens, was asked like any other foreigner, to bring bank statements and other information to see if it was possible to grant her a visa.  She was also told that she needed to deposit 100 U.S. dollars in a bank account in Banco de San José for her to be given this appointment.  This is not exactly the treatment that you would expect for a mother that has had two sons serve in the Army, much less for a mother that has lost her son. 

We have not been able to confirm the death of my brother, although the military in Schweinfurt did tell his wife personally that her husband was killed.  The embassy did promise 

a confirmation and details by tomorrow [The U.S. Embassy did confirm the death Tuesday].

Gentlemen, I, being an American in mourning for the loss of my brother, find this very difficult to believe.  At this moment, I have a mother that is worried about multiple things, such as expenses of going to the U.S. to bury her son in Arlington and the embassy is telling her that she needs to make a deposit before they can attend her?  I had assured her nothing less than red carpet treatment for being the mother of a soldier that lost his life for the United States.  Think about it.  I was expecting the U.S. to help her with this also, not try to charge her for wanting to see her son’s funeral.

Please try to put yourself in our shoes.  We are currently trying to deal with more problems than we know what to do with.  The loss of a son and a brother, expenses that make the trip difficult for my mother, my younger brother, and myself.  To make the situation worse, we are asked for more money from the same country that my brother served for 12 years and died for?  This is not the American support that I was expecting.  I ask for your help any way that you can. 

Best regards,
K.D. Jones
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Buckling up becomes
new regulation here

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

After months of discussion and even a court appeal, Costa Rican lawmakers have voted to make the use of vehicle seatbelts obligatory. The measure was passed the second time by the Asamblea Nacional Tuesday.

José Miguel Corrales, a deputy, during debate reminded the lawmakers that the Sala IV constitutional court had said that making the seatbelts obligatory for persons other than the driver was unconstitutional. He preferred a program of education.

Instead, the driver will face a fine that will be about 8,000 colons, nearly $19. Because of the continual devaluation of the colon, the penalty actually is stated as 5 percent of a base salary. As salaries are raised as they are every six months, the penalty will go up.

In exceptional cases, the Policía de Tránsito have the power under the new law to remove vehicles from circulation or confiscate the license of individuals for bad or intoxicated drivers.

The director of Tránsito, Ignacio Sánchez, and Javier Chaves, minister of Obras Públicas y Transportes, were at the Tuesday session to provide support for the proposal.

Olman Vargas, another deputy, said that some 700 persons are killed each year and from 1,000 to 2,000 persons are injured. He urged passage.

As has been the case previously, Federico Malavassi, leader of the Partido Libertario, opposed the measure.

Ortega’s fate resting
with security ministry

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The case of Carlos Ortega, the Venezuelan labor leader exiled here, is being handed over to immigration officials who will decide his fate.

The Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto said Tuesday that the case was being turned over to the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública which contains the immigration department.

Ortega has continued to criticize Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and even suggested that he might travel to that South American country to help depose him.

Costa Rica’s diplomatic officials, facing complaints from the Venezuelan government, said that Ortega had acted outside his status as an asylum-seeker. He has been here about a year after seeking and getting asylum at the Costa Rican embassy in Caracas.

The foreign ministry said that although granting asylum is within its domain, Ortega’s immigration status would be up to the security ministry and its Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería. So the Ortega file will be handed over to the ministry headed by Rogelio Ramos, the foreign ministry said.

Time for dramatics
in teaching children

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 22 Fuerza Pública officers have learned how to use dramatic presentations and puppets to teach youngsters their rights and cut down on abuse of minors.

The officers took part in a six-week program in which they learned about laws affecting youngsters and how to use puppets.

The officers will be going to various schools to give presentations, and they are trying to give youngsters a way to counter inter-family violence and a host of other ills.

Ana Helena Chacón, vice minister of Seguridad Pública, was involved in the project, as were the ministry and the Ministerio de Cultura, Juventud y Deporte.

Venus is the topic,
the planet, that is

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Tonight is the night to see stars.  The Museo Nacional de Costa Rica will be hosting an evening lecture and star-gazing event at 7 p.m. at the museum, the former Bella Vista Fortress east of the downtown.

Astronomer José Alberto Villalobos will concentrate his presentation on the planet Venus, which will eclipse the sun June 8. Because the planet is much smaller than the sun, viewers here will just see a black spot crossing the face of the sun. Nevertheless, Villalobos says this is an important phenomenon, according to the museum.

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U.N. expert deplores Colombia's rights vacuum
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

NEW YORK, N.Y. — The U.N.'s Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights criticized the Colombian government for undermining the rule of law, and condemned the violence and killings by Colombia's rebel and paramilitary groups. 

In his report to the Human Rights Commission, the U.N.'s top human rights official, Bertrand Ramcharan, presented a grim assessment of the internal armed conflict. He said that both guerrilla groups, the FARC-EP and ELN, and the paramilitary groups, continue to kill civilians, take hostages, force people out of their homes, recruit child soldiers and use anti-personnel mines.

Ramcharan accused the rebel groups of terrorizing the civilian population through indiscriminate acts of violence, including the kidnapping of civilians and killing of hostages. "Paramilitary groups, notwithstanding their alleged commitment to maintain a cease-fire assumed by certain groups, continued to commit massacres and killings of persons who had earlier been deprived of their liberty, tortured and 'disappeared,' with the sole aim of terrorizing the civilian population," he said. "Our office also received some cases of alleged breaches of international humanitarian law and violations of human rights on the part of members of the armed forces and the police."

The acting high commissioner also had some harsh criticism for the Colombian government which, he says, has failed to uphold the rule of law. He says the armed forces and police, and paramilitary groups more often than not go unpunished for their crimes. 

He says anti-terrorist legislation infringes on the human rights of individuals, giving the armed forces judicial police powers, including the ability to arrest and search people without a warrant. 

"Our office in Colombia continued to receive credible allegations of human rights violations, which point to the direct responsibility of public servants, in particular the armed forces and police, and, on various occasions, acting in concert with prosecutors," Ramcharan added. 

"An increase in the number of allegations was received regarding extra-judicial executions, forced disappearances, torture or degrading treatment, arbitrary or illegal detention, violations of due process and the right to intimacy," he said.

Ramcharan has submitted to the commission the same recommendations he had made last year, saying only a few have been implemented. His recommendations call on Colombia to observe international humanitarian laws and respect for human rights.


 
Troops available to restore order in Rio de Janeiro
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — The justice minister says the government is prepared to send troops to stop a drug war here that has killed at least 10 people. 

Justice Minister Marcio Thomaz Bastos said Monday the government will use all necessary means to maintain peace and public order in Rio. He said the governor of Rio needs only to ask.

The mayor of Rio de Janeiro city, Cesar Maia, is calling for federal intervention to help keep the peace. He says the state security department has shown itself to be incapable of controlling the situation.

Hundreds of Brazilian police officers have occupied two major Rio de Janeiro shantytowns in an effort to end the drug war, which has left 10 people dead since Friday.

Helicopters buzzed overhead and gunfire erupted Monday as the heavily armed police entered the hillside Rocinha slum. Two people were killed in a shootout with police during the operation in the city's largest slum.

Authorities say the trouble started Friday when gang members from Vidigal attempted to invade Rocinha to take control of the trade in illegal narcotics. Drug gangs, selling mostly cocaine and marijuana, control most of Rio's shantytowns. 

Police say some 40 heavily armed drug gang members escaped a police dragnet Sunday by hiding in the forest that surrounds Rocinha. Rio de Janeiro state authorities are now considering building three-meter-high walls around the slums to contain the violence. 

Rio, a tourist mecca, has one of the world's highest homicide rates. 


 
Venezuela's high court split on Chavez referendum
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS. Venezuela — Different panels of Venezuela's Supreme Court are clashing over whether to authorize a recall referendum on President Hugo Chavez. 

Monday, the court's electoral chamber gave election authorities five days to validate more than 870,000 signatures calling for the vote, a move that would allow the referendum. 

It is unclear if election authorities will comply because the decision goes against the court's constitutional panel. That group has ruled that the electoral chamber does not have jurisdiction over 

the issue and has before ruled against accepting the signatures. 

Analysts say Venezuela's full Supreme Court of 20 justices will probably try to settle the dispute. 

The country's opposition submitted more than 3 million signatures calling for a vote on Chavez's rule in December, more than the 2.4-million needed. Election authorities ruled last month that only about 1.8-million signatures were valid.

Supporters of Chavez accuse the electoral chamber of favoring the opposition, while the opposition accuses the constitutional panel of being biased in favor of the president.


 
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IRS amnesty generated $170 million in back taxes
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON — Internal Revenue Service says more than 1,300 taxpayers applied to its Offshore Voluntary Compliance Initiative, and so far the initiative has yielded more than $170 million in taxes, interest and penalties to the U.S. Treasury. 

In addition, the effort led to obtaining the names of 479 scheme and scam promoters of whom nearly half were previously unknown to IRS investigators, the U.S. tax agency said.

Under the terms of this 2003 initiative, taxpayers came forward, amended their returns, paid taxes, interest and penalties and furnished the IRS with information regarding the person who promoted the offshore arrangements to them. Interested persons had from Jan. 14 to April 15, 2003, to step forward. If accepted by the program, eligible taxpayers could avoid criminal prosecution and some penalties. 

State governments will also benefit from the initiative under existing information-sharing agreements. State tax administrators will be able to make use of the information voluntarily given by taxpayers to the IRS.

"Our coordinated efforts will continue to serve as a catalyst to strengthen overall tax administration at the federal, state and local levels," said Dale F. Hart, the IRS small business/self-employed commissioner. 

The effort helps the agency stretch its resources as it continues to combat the proliferation of abusive tax transactions and schemes, he said.

The initiative was aimed at taxpayers who used offshore bank cards and other techniques to evade taxes, which is a U.S. federal felony. Creditors of the various failed high-interest operations in Costa Rica who are U.S. citizens also were eligible if they had failed to report this income in prior years.

Although U.S. citizens living abroad can shelter from income tax up to $80,000 in earned income gains outside the United States, unearned interest income such as money paid by the various high-interest promoters is not subject to this exemption and taxes are supposed to be paid.

Participants in the IRS initiative also were supposed to provide the names of other U.S. citizens or residents who were involved in the same schemes.


 
Top U.S. legal adviser now backs Law of Sea Treaty
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The legal adviser to the Department of State, has urged the United States to join the U.N. Law of the Sea Convention, saying membership in the treaty "will advance the interests of the U.S. military."

In remarks prepared for delivery before the Senate Armed Services Committee, the adviser, William Howard Taft IV, asked the Senate to "give its advice and consent to this convention, to allow us to take full advantage of the many benefits it offers."

The United States never ratified the full agreement due to concerns with deep seabed mining provisions and questions of autonomy. However, since 1983 the U.S. government has "abided by, or, as the case may be, enjoyed the rights accorded by, the provisions of the convention" other than those in the disputed section, Taft explained. 

That section has now been fixed, in a legally binding manner, and other concerns and issues identified by the Bush administration, including those relating to U.S. military interests, have been amended to satisfy the Senate, he said. 

In his remarks, Taft clarified and corrected several misunderstandings regarding the convention: 

• that former President Ronald Reagan thought the treaty to be "irremediably defective;" 

• that the convention is not needed because U.S. navigational freedoms are not threatened; 

• that accession to the convention would impede the war on terror; 

• that the treaty requires technology transfers that would equip actual or potential enemies; 

• that the U.S. Coast Guard or others could not search any ship until the United Nations was notified and its approval obtained; 

• that the convention permits the United Nations to levy taxes; 

• that the convention mandates the tribunal in 

which disputes are adjudicated, will allow other parties to reject a U.S. "military activity" designation, and is, basically, a surrender of U.S. sovereignty.

"Under the convention as amended by the 1994 agreement, there is no ... surrender of sovereignty," he explained. 

"In fact, the convention supports the sovereignty and sovereign rights of the United States over extensive maritime territory and natural resources off its coast, including a broad continental shelf that in many areas extends well beyond the 200-nautical mile limit, and would give us additional capacity to defend those claims . . . ."

Taft also noted that the navigational provisions of the treaty preserve and elaborate the rights of the U.S. military to use the world's oceans to meet national security requirements.

The convention, Taft said: 

-- supports the war on terrorism by providing stability in navigational freedoms and overflight rights;

-- establishes additional methods of resolving conflicts in maritime claims;

-- strengthens the United States' ability to defend its interests in other forums, such as the International Maritime Organization, where the convention is being implemented;

-- permits the United States to nominate members for both the Law of the Sea Tribunal and the Continental Shelf Commission; and

-- strengthens the ability to deflect proposals that would be inconsistent with U.S. national security interests.

"It is in the U.S. interest to join the convention," Taft said, "because of the national security benefits to the United States, even aside from the economic, resource, foreign policy, and environmental benefits. Among other things, U.S. adherence would promote the stability of the legal regime of the oceans, which is vital to U.S. global mobility and national security."


 
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