A.M. Costa Rica

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These stories were published Tuesday, April 20, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 77
Jo Stuart
About us
Port security on both coasts being beefed up
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica is beefing up the security of its ports because new international requirements go into effect July 1.

About 88 percent of exports and imports move by boat, so tightening up post security will qualify shipping from here to enter U.S. and other ports without extra inspections.

The International Ship and Port Facility Security Code is aimed at protecting the global shipping industry from terrorist threats, U.S. officials said.

In Costa Rica, transportation officials outlined Monday how they will protect the Caribbean ports of Limón-Moín and the Pacific ports of Caldera in Puntarenas, Golfito and Punta Morales.

The Junta de Administración Portuaria y de Desarrollo Economico de la Vertiente Atlántica, known as JAPDEVA for short, is in charge of the two Caribbean locations. Officials said Monday they are in the process of investing nearly $1 million for better fencing and better lighting to keep trespassers out of port properties. Bids are being sought for closed circuit television for both ports at an estimated cost of $300,000.

They also are issuing new identification cards and conducting extensive training for employees and shippers. One change for tourists who come on the cruise ships will be an entrance and exit from the Limón dock separate from employees.

The port of Caldera will get new perimeter fencing, too, some $650,000 worth, as well as more lighting and closed circuit television. That port is run by the Instituto Costarricense de Puertos del Pacífico.

Both Limón and Caldera are cruise ship ports. This year officials expect 266 ships with more than half a million tourists.

A  cruise ship visits Limón

The Ministerio de Obras Públicas and Transportes is supervising the process to have the nation’s commercial ports certified as meeting the code. Minister Javier Chaves Bolaños directed a presentation of plans Monday.

In Washington Monday the U.S. Coast Guard announced that it would send inspectors to foreign ports to help evaluate the security in advance of July 1.

The United States is offering to reciprocate and invite officials from other countries to visit U.S. ports and evaluate how those facilities are fulfilling code requirements, the agency said. 

In a separate statement, the Coast Guard said that, starting July 1, it will board every ship on its first visit to a U.S. port and track all ships coming from non-compliant ports or countries that are not signatories of the code. The Coast Guard can deny entry into U.S. territorial waters as a security measure, it added. 

Although passengers are a concern to terrorists-conscious U.S. officials, the truck-sized shipping containers are possible receptacles for bombs and other types of materials for terrorist mayhem. Most cargo now moves in containers.

An A.M. Costa Rica editorial
Flying the unfriendly skies to the U.S.
Last August U.S. officials suspended the Transit Without Visa Program because "recent specific intelligence indicates that terrorist groups have been planning to exploit these transit programs to gain access to the U.S. or U.S. airspace without going through the consular screening process."

That meant Costa Ricans flying through Miami, New York or Los Angeles to some other foreign destination had to get a visa from the U.S. Embassy here even though they never leave the U.S. airport.

When the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State suspended the 51-year-old program, officials promised a review in 60 days. The time has been almost nine months, and the emergency measure
still is in place with no terrorists in sight.

When we received responses from our readers about how well the U.S. Embassy here was doing its job, non-North Americans were mainly unhappy about the suspension of the transit program and a similar setup for persons going to more than one U.S. airport.

What was even worse was that persons seeking the transit visas received the same scrutiny that a tourist or student would 

receive if going to the United States. The scrutiny had nothing to do with terrorism. The questions related to financial status, marital status and employment history.

We have seen one case where a young Filipina who already had visited the United States on two visas was denied a third to simply catch a plane from Miami to London. She ended up going through Cuba at great personal expense and frustration after an embassy official denied her a transit visa even though she had a valid six-month British visa.

A news story Oct. 16 reported the anger felt by persons who were subjected to this $100 visa charge for a brief stopover. A news story Nov. 21 reported that the United States would not require a digital fingerprint. 

Consular officials blame that change on changes in the U.S. law. But the suspension of the visa program was done by bureaucrats.

At the very least, U.S. officials should have less strict standards for issuing transit visas. For public relations sake, they should return to the waiver program that endured for more than 50 years, particularly now that other safeguards are in place to keep terrorists from taking over U.S.-bound passenger flights.


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Ministry TV ads tout
fiscal reform package

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Ministerio de Hacienda is trying to build support among blue collar Costa Ricans for the proposed new tax plan.  The ministry is flooding certain selected television shows with quick commercials that suggest only the wealthy will be hit by the new taxes.

For example, one ad says that education will not be covered by the value added tax. Another says that aginaldos, the extra month of pay that Costa Ricans get at Christmas, will not be subject to income tax.

Those who earn less, pay less, and those who earn more, pay more, say the ads.

The tax plan is out of the hands of the citizens, and is before the Asamblea National where it has run into trouble because more lawmakers have not had a chance to read the 400-page proposal. The plan is expected to raise $500 million in new taxes from Costa Ricans.

Escazú man killed
crossing street

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 54-year-old U.S. citizen, well known in San Rafael de Escazú because of his dress and the walks he took, died Thursday night when he was hit by a taxi there.

The Judicial Investigating Organization identified the man as Adrian Junior Washington. A police official said he saw the man many times and remembered him because Washington, a big man, had fair skin and long white hair. He dressed in black.

The accident took place about 7 p.m. Thursday when Washington was crossing the San Rafael-Escazú Centro highway. The driver of the car that hit him was identified as a pirate taxi operator.

Man whacks ref
during big game

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man leaped from the crowd, jumped the fence and kicked and beat a referee at the Liga Deportiva Alajuelense-Deportivo Saprissa game Sunday night, and police want to arrest him.

Rogelio Ramos Martínez, the minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública, said this kind of situation cannot go unpunished.

The referee, Alexandro Jiménez, was involved in a discussion with players when the spectator came up behind him. The man moved too fast for security workers at the game. The referee suffered injuries.

The man was in custody after the attack, but for some reason police let him go before a prosecutor could become involved.

The attack on the referee was the culmination of a rowdy soccer match. The televised attack was a staple of sports programs Monday. The aggressor is clearly visible.

Murder suspect named

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators have identified a suspect in the Sunday morning shooting of a man near a dance club in Centro Comercial El Pueblo.

The suspect is a 33-year-old Colombian male, Dario Jarmillo Gallego, who is believed to be in flight.

The victim was a Coronado man identified by the last names of Vázquez Madrigal. He was 21. Agents said they suspected that the fight that led to the shooting was over the affections of a woman.

Airport honored again

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Juan Santamaría Airport is the third best among airports handling 5 million or fewer passengers a year, according to Alterra Costa Rica, the concessionaire.

The designation was made by the International Airline Transport Association, which also categorized the airport as fourth best in the American continents.

On May 5 Alterra, a private firm, celebrates the end of its third year running the airport for the government.

Robbers raid pensión

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Armed men entered the Otoya pensión in the heart of downtown San José early Monday and took cash, cellular telephones, computers and other merchandise. The morning stickup took place on Avenida 3 between calles 1 and 3. 

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Bush wants Patriot Act to be made permanent
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

HERSHEY, Pa. — President George Bush focused on the war on terrorism in a speech Monday here in Pennsylvania, an important state in his re-election campaign. Bush called on Congress to renew the controversial law, the U.S.A. Patriot Act, which he said will help America stay strong and resolute in the face of a continuing terrorist threat.

The president said the government needs certain tools to protect the American people. High on his list is the U.S.A. Patriot Act.

It is a law passed by Congress in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, which contains steps that make it easier for law enforcement and intelligence agencies to share information. It also includes provisions that expand the use of wiretaps and search warrants, and increase electronic surveillance of suspected terrorists.

Critics, including some members of the president's own political party, said that the Patriot Act goes too far and threatens individual liberties. They have said that they want to block or at least delay 

congressional action when key parts of the law come up for renewal next year. Bush said that they are wrong, and called the measure "essential law."

"We have got to be vigilant against terror at all costs," he said. "And there is only one path to safety and that is the path of action. We must act with the Patriot Act. We must continue to stay on the offensive."

Bush added that the entire law should be made permanent. He suggested that Congress made some of the law's key provisions subject to renewal because some lawmakers thought the terrorist threat would be short lived. 

"The problem is that the war on terror continues and yet some senators and congressmen not only want to let the provisions expire, they want to roll back some of the permanent features," he said. "It doesn't make any sense. We can't return to the days of false hope."

The remarks came in a speech to a convention of local government officials here. The president is expected to deliver a similar message Tuesday.

Paramilitary leader vanishes after shootout
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — The whereabouts of a right-wing Colombian warlord remain unknown on Monday, following media reports that he escaped an attack unharmed.

Colombian media say Carlos Castano disappeared Friday after his bodyguards were involved in a shootout with unidentified gunmen. The reports say Castano fled the attack, which took place in northern Colombia, with his wife and young daughter.

Castano, the political head of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, has recently been involved in peace talks with the government. 

His right-wing paramilitary group, known as AUC, is supported by drug traffickers and some segments of the Colombian military. The group has also been involved in the killing of Colombia's leftist rebels, and has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States. 

U.S. authorities are seeking Castano's extradition on drug trafficking charges.

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New space probe tests the fabric of time and space
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. — The U.S. space agency is about to launch what is thought to be the most technologically difficult experiment ever undertaken aboard a spacecraft. A satellite called Gravity Probe B goes into orbit from here today to determine if German physicist Albert Einstein was correct when he theorized that large celestial bodies like our planet bend space and time. 

Approximately 45 years after it was first conceived, Gravity Probe B is finally getting its chance to make the subtlest measurements of the cosmos ever attempted. With that data, scientists hope to show that Einstein's theory of how gravity works is correct.

The launch was scrubbed Monday when officials became concerned about the wind. Lift off is 11:57 a.m. Costa Rican time.

The eminent 17th century English scientist Isaac Newton thought of gravity as a force between two objects that acts instantaneously, no matter how far the distance between them, but Einstein rejected Newton's theory because nothing, not even gravity, is believed to be faster than light, and light takes time to travel between two objects.

Instead, Einstein conceived of gravity in an entirely different way, as Stanford University physicist Francis Everitt points out. "To cut a long story short, Einstein realized that no longer could one look at gravity as a force in the way Newton had, but as something that distorts space and time," he said.

Imagine a bowling ball on a mattress. In a simple analogy to gravity, the weight of the ball causes the bed to sag so that another object placed on the mattress tends to roll toward it.

Einstein also suggested that a rotating object has another affect on space and time, as explained by California Institute of Technology physicist Kip Thorne.

"The spin of the Earth or the sun or any other body drags space into motion around itself like the air in a tornado," he said. "That we have never seen in any definitive way. There have been hints of observations of it, but nothing definitive and absolutely nothing that is quantitative."

To measure the predicted twist and curvature of space and time, physicists Thorne and Everrit have helped design Gravity Probe B so that it will remain as steady in space as possible.

To accomplish this, the probe has four of the most accurate gyroscopes ever made. Gyroscopes are devices that spin and are used to keep spacecraft in a stable position. The basis of these gyroscopes is four nearly perfect spheres the size of ping pong balls, made of glass coated with a thin layer of the metal nobium. They are so smooth and round that if Earth was as smooth, it would have no mountains and the highest point would be less than three meters.

Because of the near perfection of their shape and balance, their spin will maintain a steady spacecraft as it is initially pointed at a guide star. That way, any drift of the gyroscopes away from the guide star is due not to their structure, but to 

Photo by Russ Underwood of Lockheed
View of Gravity Probe C being assembled at Lockheed Martin Corp. for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

the warping and the swirl of space around the spinning Earth. 

"The whirling motion of space around the Earth grabs the gyroscope to change its spin axis like a straw floating on the surface of a river," Kip Thorne explained. "Where the river flows faster in the center and slower near the bank, the straw will turn. It's precisely the same thing going on here. Space moves faster near the Earth and slower farther away and the spin axis of the gyroscope turns."

However, the drift of the gyroscopes' axis is expected to be extremely subtle. Over one year, it should be about one-tenth the width of a human hair, as measured by extremely sensitive detectors aboard Gravity Probe B.

It has taken 45 years and seven project cancellations to move from concept to flight. This is the longest development time for any U.S. space mission. Its goals may seem esoteric and impractical, but Stanford University engineer Brad Parkinson said that Scottish physicist James Maxwell's laws of electricity and magnetism in the 19th century seemed that way until the world was electrified.

"Physics finds fundamental laws and it is rare that the generation you're currently in has a direct benefit, but it is the sons and grandsons," he said. "So I think it is for our grandchildren."

The Gravity Probe B satellite is to circle Earth for 16 months. If its detectors show no shift in the direction the gyroscopes point, theorists might have to begin developing new concepts of gravity and the shape of space. 

Jo Stuart
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