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These stories were published Thursday, April 28, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 83
Jo Stuart
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Introducing: Pacheco's free-trade dream team
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country’s president wants to appoint a five-person commission to help him evaluate the proposed free trade treaty with the United States.

The best candidate got kicked out of the country Sunday. That was Chilean psychic Ylan Ben Wohl Escala, who called himself Professor Amarildo. A psychic or fortuneteller is exactly what the president needs because no one really knows the impact of the proposed treaty. Too bad the guy violated his tourist visa.

We have some other nominations, but first a qualification.

President Abel Pacheco wants candidates who are not involved in unions, manufacturing or trade. In other words, people who have absolutely no interest in the treaty.

So the first qualification is that they read the treaty. If they can. Here’s a sample, and there is plenty more:

Recognizing the Parties’ commitment to trade capacity building as reflected in the establishment of the Committee on Trade Capacity Building under Article 19.4 (Committee on Trade Capacity Building) and the importance of trade capacity building activities, the Parties shall cooperate through that Committee in the following initial capacity-building priority activities, on mutually agreed terms and conditions, and subject to the availability of appropriated funds . . . 

A good bet is that most of the people firmly for or firmly against the treaty have not read it fully. And even fewer can understand it.

Candidate No. 2: Some taxi driver who works 12 hours a day, seven days a week to earn 125,000 colons a month to feed his family of eight. That’s $265. Despite the poor income, cab drivers are remarkably perceptive on current events.

But more than native intelligence is needed. Candidate No. 3 must have specific broad skills and knowledge in international trade yet be unaffected by the free trade treaty.

Candidate No. 3: Antonio is the guy who sends a lot of those fastboats north, but he hasn’t been caught yet. He reads the financial pages every day and manages an operation with hundreds of employees. He’s a good choice because cocaine is not included in the free trade treaty.

Of course even Antonio has to pay 85 percent tax on his fancy automobile and eat food like chicken and rice. All are subject to the treaty, but Pacheco presumably took that into account.

Candidate No. 4: A Cartago potato producer. These farmers managed to get their product exempted from the treaty, thus sparing Costa Ricans from the horrors of 20-ounce Idaho spuds drenched in butter, sour cream and bacon bits.

Candidate No. 5: The clear choice is President Enrique Bolaños of Nicaragua. He understands the heady issues at the top, and it appears he soon will be looking for a job.

With luck, Pacheco’s dream team will drag out their deliberations until the next presidential inauguration and let the prez off the hook.


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Arias faces a probe
and verbal attack

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The coalition on unions and public employees, chastised once, have stepped up their attack on Oscar Arias Sánchez, who also faces investigations.

The Asociatión Nacional de Empleados Públicos y Privados is distributing an essay by former president Luis Alberto Monge who says allowing Arias to run again for president amounts to a judicial coup.

Monge notes that he was a member of the assembly that drew up the Constitution in 1949. Arias served four years as president in the 1980s, and the Constitution clearly says that re-election is not permitted.

However, the Sala IV constitutional court voided that provision in 2003 on a motion from Arias. That was the second time the court heard the petition by Arias. The first time the court backed the Constitution as written.

In the second decision, the court said Arias would suffer a loss of rights guaranteed under international treaties if he could not run again, although such terms could not be contiguous.

The union and the larger and newly formed Comisión Nacional de Enlace opposes Arias so much that last week it said it would not accept the February 2006 election if he wins. That position brought a landslide of condemnations by politicians who said the commission was tampering with the very footings of democracy.

The Monge essay puts the burden on the court for a "golpe de estado" encouraged by Arias and his followers.

Arias is a frontrunner for the election.

"This grave action is equivalent to a coup and a fracture of the constitutional order," said Monge in his essay.

Meanwhile, a committee of the Asamblea Legislativa is investigating to see if Arias made improper contact with the Sala IV magistrates during the course of their deliberations. The committee seeks telephone records from Arias.

The Corte Suprema de Justicia said Wednesday it, too, would launch an investigation.

The court announcement said that Antonio Álvarez Desanti had asked for an investigation. He is a potential presidential candidate. It also said the issue was brought up by Gloria Valerín, a deputy, during the nomination process for a magistrate to the Sala III earlier this month.

A current minister said in a book that Arias was unhappy when the court initially turned down his petition. He said a magistrate has backed out on a promise to support the measure, according to the book. Amid a flurry of publicity, the minister, Guido Sáenz, disavowed his own account.

Meanwhile, a private citizen, Mario Vindas Villalobos, has filed a complaint of sedition against members of the Comisión Nacional de Enlace over their statements that they would not recognize an Arias victory.

Furniture, art and culture
on display in Palmares

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Palmares is having a furniture, art and culture fair. The event starts Friday and runs through May 1.

The Cantón de Palmares have the greatest production of furniture in the country. There are between 150 and 200 furniture factories. In addition folkloric and other handmade objects will be sold.

The community of Palmares is better known for its post-Christmas fair, and the fair starting this week will be held at the same place.

In addition to local backing, the Feria del Mueble, del Arte y la Cultura Palmares 2005 is sponsored by the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo.

A fair in Turrialba starts today. It is the Feria Ambiental del Pejibaye, which runs until May 8.

Money exchanger dies
after robbery ambush

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Bandits held up and fatally shot a 56-year-old man who changed money near the Nicaraguan border.

The dead man has the last names of Bonilla Bonilla and he was confronted by robbers about 5 a.m. when he left his home near the La Cruz, Guanacaste, bus station.  He suffered multiple gunshot wounds and died later in a clinic.

The robbers fled with an estimated 8 million colons in various currencies. That's about $17,000.

The robbers fled in a vehicle, but Fuerza Pública officers chased them. The robbers abandoned the vehicle and fled into the hills near the Nicaragua border.

Nicaraguan Policía Nacional took three suspects into custody a few hours later. They were identified by the last names of Sanabra and Aguilar, both Salvadorians, and Carmona, a Costa Rican. A fourth suspect is being sought.

Ex-boyfriend sought
in murder on woman

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man attacked a 25-year-old woman about 11 a.m. Wednesday near Los Anonos. She died of knife wounds the man inflicted.

She was identified as Vidalis Rodríguez, and a suspect is a former boyfriend. He is in flight.

The woman was walking on the sidewalk with a friend when the man confronted her, said officers. She leaves two children in Nicaragua.

Los Anonos is a neighborhood that can be seen by motorists south of the Los Anonos bridge that runs between Sabana Oeste and Bello Horizonte, Escazú.

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Police strike blows at gangs of street criminals
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The mean streets are getting meaner, and that results in an upswing in crime.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, Central America has been flooded with drugs that could not make it through the tighter U.S. borders. The result is cheaper crack cocaine, more push to market it and more addicts.

Economic conditions seem to have created a whole new generation of beggars and thieves, despite official efforts to stem the tide.

More insidious than aggressive beggars and petty thieves are the gangs of robbers who jeopardize personal safety.

Fuerza Pública officers took steps Tuesday night to crack down on at least three gangs that prowled San Pedro de Montes de Oca around the University of Costa Rica.

The first assault by police was about 10:45 p.m. in front of the Outlet Mall in San Pedro opposite the main square. There three persons suspected of robbing bus passengers were grabbed. Targeted were people waiting in shelters for their bus. The weapon of choice was a knife.

The three were identified by last names of Suárez Araya, Durán Fernández and Herrera Santamaría.

Officers said they found cellular telephones and personal belongings of victims on the individuals for whom arrest orders had been issued.

A half hour later, two men tried to rob a passerby near the Parque de San Rafael in Montes de Oca. Police said they captured the men in the midst of the crime. The passerby had been threatened with a knife.

These suspects were identified by the last names of Jarquín Hurtado and Mora Mora.

Then early Wednesday police responded to a robbery in the vicinity of Parque Kennedy. Suspects in a car fled, but police chased the vehicle to Barrio Córdoba where they made the arrests and confiscated a firearm.

Earlier Tuesday three robbers who specialized in stealing portable computers held up a passerby in Barrio La California not far from the Asamblea Legislativa. The computer owner put up resistance, so the robbers shot him in the right knee.

The robbers fled in a car, but police located three suspects a short time later. Held were individuals with the last names of Sánchez Jiménez, Mesen Vargas and Morúa Torres.

Officers said they confiscated a 9-mm. pistol and computer parts from the vehicle.

Monday motorcycle police in Alajuela broke up the robbery of a cellular telephone store not far from the Catedral de Alajuela about 1:30 p.m.

Neighbors became suspicious when they saw the metal blinds closed on the store but heard noise from within. Police arrived and detained three bothers from San José with the last names of García Anchía. They found the store operator in the bathroom.

Paragon Properties worker had run-ins with feds in U.S.
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Florida newspaper says that Paragon Properties has hired a notorious phone room marketeer to assist it.

Paragon is the company that is using telephone sales techniques and Internet ads to sell interests in real estate near Parrita.

The employee at the firm’s Hollywood, Fla., location is Stephen Tashman, according to the New Times weekly in Fort Lauderdale.

Tashman has had run-ins with federal regulators and has marketed projects that resulted in substantial losses for investors, said the newspaper.

The newspaper quoted Michael J. Fingar, the company's attorney, saying that Tashman’s role is "to assist in acquisition of Costa Rican property, making sure it's

 wholesaled to others, and to participate in the installation of infrastructure on those properties." 

The newspaper said that Tashman and associates had been fined $12 million by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission for selling oil and gas partnerships. Later he was involved in investments in an ostrich breeding farm that attracted the attention of the U.S. Securities and Exchange commission, the stock police.

The newspaper said a federal appeals court in February allowed a lower court to ban Tashman from any involvement with marketing investments, franchises, or business ventures.

Paragon has attracted attention here because of its aggressive marketing campaigns and because it is selling buyers individual Costa Rican corporations instead of deeded property. Most buyers are North Americans.

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!

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, April 28, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 83

Condoleezza Rice cites dramatic progress in Colombia
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BRASILIA, Brazil — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is in Colombia for talks with President Alvaro Uribe and other senior officials on the Bogota government's U.S. supported efforts against insurgents and drug cartels. Ms. Rice said in Brazil Wednesday the Uribe government is making dramatic progress in the struggle.

The Colombian insurgency has dragged on for some 40 years and has included some heavy fighting in recent days between government forces and guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia in the mountainous southwestern part of the country.

But in a speech in Brasilia as she prepared to leave for the Colombia visit spanning two days, Ms. Rice sounded an optimistic tone, saying Uribe's three-year-old government has been making headway against the rebels and drug lords:

"President Uribe is making dramatic progress to expand the rule of law to every citizen and every village," said Ms. Rice. "Colombia's neighbors are helping, and the United States is providing money and technical support. In the past eight years, with our assistance, Colombia has regained large portions of its territory and extended democratic justice to nearly three million more of its people."

Ms. Rice said the Colombian government has seized or eradicated nearly 200 metric tons of cocaine over the last year, and that violent crime in the country is at its lowest level in 16 years.

The secretary is the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit 

Colombia since President Geroge Bush paid a four-hour visit to the Caribbean port city of Cartegena last November, en route home from an Asia-Pacific summit in Chile. 

Bush also cited reductions in crime and drug crops as evidence that Uribe is turning the corner in the country's drug-fueled civil conflict, and said the United States will continue to help the government prevail in what he termed this vital struggle.

The United States has provided Colombia with more than $3 billion since 2000 to help it destroy coca crops, train and equip anti-drug units of its armed forces, and rebuild its judicial system.

The Bush administration is asking for nearly $600 million in Colombian  aid for the next fiscal year.

In a statement issued Monday on the eve of the secretary's trip, Amnesty International-USA urged Ms. Rice to conduct what it called "a hard-nosed evaluation" of Colombia's human rights situation, which the group said is at best unchanged and in some areas worse.

The group alleged that the Uribe government's claims to have reduced kidnapping and murders result from manipulating statistics, and said the figures fail to take into account extra-judicial killings by security forces, which it said dramatically increased last year.

Amnesty International also said the Colombian government's much-publicized demobilization of far-right paramilitary groups lacks a legal framework for accountability and said members involved in past human rights crimes, once disarmed, could have complete immunity from prosecution.

Common agenda with Brazil is topic of meeting
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

BRASILIA, Brazil — The United States and Brazil share an important common agenda to further democracy in the Western Hemisphere and to expand regional trade and development so that the region's governments can provide all citizens with the opportunity for greater prosperity, according to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Rice and Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim discussed the common agenda of the two nations, as well as the challenges facing the hemisphere, during a meeting in Brazil.

In remarks following their meeting, Rice explained that the agenda she envisions for the Western Hemisphere includes governance in accordance with the Inter-American Democratic Charter, and the pursuit of economic opportunities through free trade — globally via the World Trade Organization, regionally through the establishment of a Free Trade Area of the Americas, and subregionally through smaller accords.

That positive agenda, she added, also includes the pursuit of sound, pro-growth economic policies and the promotion of good governance, including anti-corruption initiatives and efforts to extend health care and educational opportunities.

The promotion of this agenda, Rice said, should serve to enhance the stability of the region and deter the pursuit of impractical populist policies.

"I'm quite sure that if we pursue that positive agenda in this hemisphere and pursue it together with partners like Brazil, . . . we will create an environment in which there are stronger democracies, not so many that are fragile," Rice said. "There are always going to be difficult circumstances and challenges, but our job has to be, as members of this hemisphere, to pursue policies that give democracy a chance — not just to hold elections, but to then actually provide for its people and to resist then the siren song of kind of easy solutions that sound good but, in fact, are not based in economic reality."

Within the context of a shared agenda for the region, Rice and Amorim discussed a number of regional challenges, including the recent political crisis in Ecuador that resulted in the April 20 ouster of Ecuadorian President Lucio Gutiérrez. 

Rice said that she and her Brazilian counterpart 

U.S. State Department photo
Ms. Rice shares a light moment with Brazil's Celso Amorim.

discussed the Organization of American States mission that is trying to help Ecuador find a constitutional and democratic way forward. Rice also said Brazil and the United States have promised to stay in close contact about the situation in Ecuador.

The two officials also discussed Venezuela, and Rice pointed to a shared hemispheric desire for freedom and complete democracy in that country.

"The issues with Venezuela are not issues between the United States and Venezuela, or Venezuela and Brazil; they are issues about the freedom and democracy and institutions" the Venezuelan people are entitled to, she said.

On the trade front, Rice and Amorim discussed cooperation within the World Trade Organization and also how to re-energize efforts to craft a free trade area of the Americas.

Apart from hemispheric issues, the two officials talked about Brazil's growing role globally and the reform of the United Nations.

Rice said the United States "very much welcomes" Brazil’s emergence as a global leader; she applauded Brazil's "excellent work" leading the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti. Reform of the U.N., she said, is "one of the most important topics facing the world." The secretary said she and Amorim spent a good portion of the meeting discussing U.N. reform, including reform of the Security Council and the Human Rights Commission.

Belize torn by civil striff and sabotage of utility lines 
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Organization of American States is urging an early and peaceful resolution to unrest in Belize.

In a statement, Acting Secretary-General Luigi Einaudi said he has been following events in Belize closely and hopes that the current difficulties could be resolved within the framework of Belize's constitution and in the "interest of political and economic stability and the welfare of the people of Belize."

News reports said teachers in Belize walked off the job Tuesday in support of telephone workers who are in a dispute with the government. Protesters have sabotaged telephone lines and disrupted electricity service in large areas of the country. However, the government of Belize issued a statement saying that primary and secondary schools in the nation were open.

Belize's government added that while student attendance was limited that day in some parts of the country, the vast majority of teachers reported for classes, and that student and teacher attendance in rural schools across the country was excellent.

Einaudi, referring to the recent interruption of electricity and telephone services in Belize, warned that "acts of economic sabotage, objectionable under any circumstances, have particularly negative consequences in developing countries which must maximize the resources and infrastructure available to them for the benefit of all their citizens."

Einaudi called on all parties in Belize to respect the rule of law, to abide by the country's constitution, and to engage in dialogue to resolve any outstanding issues of national interest in "accordance with the democratic tradition of the people of Belize and with the principles of the OAS Inter-American Democratic Charter."

The U.S. Embassy in Belize issued a statement on its Web site saying labor/management disputes in the country's telecommunications sector have disrupted services and also have led to large public demonstrations. The embassy said a protest April 20 led to looting and vandalism in the country's capital of Belize City.

The embassy said there is no indication that the protests have specifically targeted U.S. citizens.

Jo Stuart
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