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These stories were published Wednesday, April 16, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 75
Jo Stuart
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Privacy of personal data getting a quick review
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The concept of personal privacy is getting a review here in a country where the government maintains extensive records on individuals.

The trigger was news that the United States has purchased information about residents of 10 Latin nations. The information presumably will be used  by U.S. officials to better evaluate visa applications and possible security threats.

Rina Contreras, minister of the Presidencia, ordered an investigation of a North American company that may have provided the information. She asked Patricia Vega, the minister of Justicia, and Rogelio Ramos, minister of Seguridad Pública, to study all aspects of the sale of the personal data in conjunction with the Consejo Nacional de Seguridad.

The bulk of the data comes from public data banks, so the concern generated by the use of public information reflects the weak tradition here of public access to official information.

Costa Rica has no clear laws regulating such information and also is considering a law that would give members of the public formal access to official information.

Minister Contreras noted that one of the companies possibly involved has operated here for seven years and provides needed information to lawyers and banks. But she also said that a constitutional appeal has been made before the Sala IV constitutional court in which the justices have been asked to decide if commerce in this type of information is a crime. That case has not been decided.

The information believed to have been sold includes names, telephone numbers, property ownership, certain bank relationships and basic data about credit.

For seven years various forms of proposed laws have been aired in the Asamblea Nacional to provide citizens with access to their own data, particularly that held by private companies. No such law actually has passed.

The irony is that Costa Rica itself is a giant collector of information, much of which is held in the Registro Nacional or the Registro Civil. Costa Rica issues each citizen a cédula, a unique identification card with a number indexed to all sorts of government services. That service is provided by the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones and its Registro Civil.

The Registro Nacional in Curridabat contains information on corporations, property ownership, motor vehicles and similar information. Access to such information is vital for private individuals to verify ownership.

The Registro Civil also maintains a list of eligible voters which is keyed to the cédula numbers. The service also is expanding its role. This month it announced that a recent law would be enforced that requires teenagers below voting age to obtain a tarjeta de identidad de menores, basically a cédula for youngsters.

As the government collects more data, public access becomes more and more controversial, as has been seen in other countries. For example, the government runs most of the hospitals so patient information could be called public information under certain circumstances.

Warning issued for vacationers
No holiday for home burglars, investigators find
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

While most Costa Ricans are heading off to holidays at the beaches or mountains, burglars are hard at work.

Passover starts tonight BELOW!

The Judicial Investigating Organization is 
warning the public to be extra vigilant with their homes over the Easter holiday period. 

Officials said there were 11 house burglaries Monday night, an unusual number. The 
organization said since many people are on 

vacation at this time of year, leaving empty homes behind, there is an increase of these types of crimes.

The organization recommends that those planning a trip take some precautions. These include hiring a guard or informing neighbors of vacation plans and asking them to monitor the house.

Fuerza Pública officers did arrest a burglary suspect Monday. The man is believed to have been involved in a home burglary at Poás de Aserrí. He was arrested while driving a car that contained some possible loot.

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Mangos ease their way onto the seder table
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Why is this night different from all other nights? That is one of the four questions Jewish children ask their elders about the significance of Passover. Here in Costa Rica Passover will be different from most other Passovers because mangos will be part of the meal.

Passover begins at sundown tonight, and celebrations will be held by Jewish communities here. Passover is the eight-night remembrance of the exodus of the Jews from Egypt more than 3,000 years ago.

During this time of year seders, a symbolic meal which includes the retelling of the exodus story, are prepared by Jews all around the world. 
During the seder the youngest children in attendance are required to ask the four questions. The questions and answers are a way of passing along the meaning of the holiday to the next generation.

At 5 o’clock tonight a seder will be held in Jacó at the Hotel Barceló Amapola in the center of town. The seder is hosted by the Congregation Beit Menachem Jabad Lubavitch based in Rohrmoser.

Rabbi Pfalter said the event should draw 200 Jews, many from Israel who are traveling in the area. The rabbi said this seder will differ from most other traditional Jewish seders because of the abundance of mangos on the seder table.

A seder is being held at the Hotel Barceló San José Palacio located on the Autopista General Cañas in San José. That seder is being hosted jointly by B’nei Israel and B’nei Brith organizations. 

Almost 60 tickets have already been purchased for the meal, according to organizers. People interested in purchasing tickets can pick them up today between 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. at the B’nei Israel synagogue 800 meters west of Pops in Sabana Oeste. Tickets cost 7,500 colons ($19.20) for adults and 5,000 colons ($12.80) for children.

Tickets are also available at the hotel the night of the seder but organizers said they would prefer people to reserve in advance by calling 231-5243.

The Lubavitch congregation is scheduling a special service for the last night of Passover April 24 at the synagogue in Rohrmoser. For information on the exact location and more information about tonight in Jacó, call 296-6565.

Mexico to vote for UN
Cuba resolution

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MEXICO CITY, Mexico — Reports published here indicate that the government of President Vicente Fox is planning to vote in favor of a resolution criticizing Cuba at the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva this week. 

Newspaper reports citing sources in government and at the Cuban embassy say that Mexico is likely to vote in favor of a resolution being presented in Geneva by a group of Latin American nations. The resolution would call for sending a special U.N. representative to the island nation to report on the human rights situation there. 

A similar resolution was approved last year, with Mexico for the first time voting in favor, but the government of Cuban President Fidel Castro refused to allow any representative into the country and denounced the vote in Geneva as unfair. President Castro took special aim at Mexico and its then Foreign Minister, Jorge Castaneda, for what he viewed as betrayal.

Castaneda resigned earlier this year and it was widely expected that the country would abstain at this year's session in Geneva. Opposition senators, in fact, have called on the Fox government to abstain, citing what they call the country's tradition of non-intervention. 

But the government issued a statement on Monday condemning the Cuban government's execution of three men on Friday after a summary trial in which they were convicted of hijacking a ferryboat. No one was injured in the incident, but it was the third case in a two-week period in which Cubans seeking to leave the country had attempted a hijacking.

Argentina says it will abstain from a U.N. vote on Cuba's human rights record, reversing its policy of condemning rights violations on the island. Argentine President Eduardo Duhalde announced his country's decision Tuesday.

The European Union, which opened a mission in Havana earlier this year, has also criticized the executions, as have the foreign ministries of most European countries. The resolution being presented at the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva is sponsored by Peru, Uruguay, Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

Cuban exiles want U.S.
to move on to Cuba

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MIAMI, Fla. — With Saddam Hussein's removal from power in Iraq, many Cuban exiles say the United States should turn its attention to another dictator closer to U.S. shores: Cuban President Fidel Castro. 

Jaime Suchlicki, the head of the Institute for Cuban Studies at the University of Miami said many parallels can be drawn between Iraq's Saddam Hussein and Cuba's Fidel Castro.

"Fidel Castro for the past 40 years has opposed the United States, has supported terrorism in various countries and in various parts of the world, and has oppressed his people," he said. "So there are significant similarities between the two regimes [Castro's and Saddam's]."

In recent days, the Bush administration has issued pointed warnings to Syria about harboring terrorists and developing weapons of mass destruction. The implication seems clear to some Cuban exiles: leaders of nations that follow a path similar to that of Iraq risk suffering a fate like that of Saddam Hussein.

Yet the Bush administration does not appear eager for confrontation with Cuba. Speaking on U.S. television Sunday, Donald Rumsfeld, defense secretary, downplayed the possibility of U.S. military intervention to remove Fidel Castro.

Colombian drug plane 
crashes in Honduras

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — A Colombian drug plane has crashed in the southern region here, killing both Colombians on board. 

Oscar Alvarez, security minister, said Tuesday the country’s air force shot at the plane Monday after it did not identify itself. It is unclear whether the plane crashed because it was shot down or because it spun out of control trying to avoid the fire. 

Alvarez says authorities found about 1,000 kilograms of cocaine among the wreckage near Langue, a town about 125 kilometers south of Tegucigalpa.

40 Haitians missing
off Dominican coast

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic — Nearly 40 Haitian migrants are missing after their overloaded boat capsized off the coast here. 

The navy here said Tuesday that about 150 Haitians were on board the small vessel when it sank Monday night off the island's northwest coast. 

The navy says a coast guard ship rescued 110 people within hours of the accident, but 39 others are still missing, and one person has been confirmed dead. The injured are being treated at hospitals in nearby Montecristi, Santiago and Puerto Plata. 

Reports suggest authorities have called off the search for more survivors. 

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Thousands of Haitian migrants regularly attempt to flee their impoverished country and enter the United States, where they are usually denied asylum and sent back to their homeland.

Dry air mass gives
present for holiday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A mass of dry air over Central America can be thanked for the spectacular Central Valley days, and another classic is on the way for today, according to the weather experts.

Despite the air mass, some short rainstorms, mainly in the afternoon, might water the landscape. The season is changing from Costa Rican summer to the rainy season, the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional points out.

Dry weather will continue over much of the Pacific coast, but the Caribbean will have a bit more rain.

Shootout hurts trio

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Three men suffered bullet wounds in what appears to have been a shootout in Bella Vista de Fray Casiano, Puntarenas, early Tuesday.

Police found one man on the public right-of-way. Later they found two more, and hypothesized that the shooting took place in a home nearby, but occupants there were less than helpful, investigators said.
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