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These stories were published Tuesday, April 30, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 84
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Labor Day paraders will be airing some gripes
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Wednesday is a holiday in Costa Rica, International Labor Day. But no one, except maybe the cab drivers, some store workers and essential public employees, will be laboring.

The highpoint is a 9 a.m. parade by union members and others east on Avenida 2. The event will have a political core. Union members are concerned by a government proposal to provide more power and authority to municipalities. 

Union members also are unhappy with changes in the penal code that might lead to jail time for their traditional demonstrations. (see related story, HERE).

Other employees are upset by the new tax proposals being proposed by a group of six ex-ministers, and signs and protests against these changes also might be seen during the parade.

Teachers had protested several days running before the National Assembly building against the municipality proposal. Costa Ricans generally believe that the municipal governments are more corrupt than the 

national government, although that perception may be influenced by the close contact residents have with municipal officials. The perception has been verified by opinion polls.

Whereas in the United States citizens will fight hard to keep the federal government out of the local control of the many independent school districts, the opposite is true here.

The Costa Rican government has tabled temporarily the municipalization measure for the new president, Abel Pacheco, who takes office May 8.

Labor Day originally started in the middle of the 19th century when unions, which were illegal at the time, strutted their power. In the United States, Labor Day is celebrated the first Monday in September, and the day marks the official end to the summer vacation period. There it is more holiday than political event.

During the Cold War, May 1, was the big holiday in the Soviet Union and allied countries where the state propaganda machine turned out gigantic parades and the military strutted its stuff.

A.M. Costa Rica will be working that day, and the electronic newspaper will appear normally.


 
Escazú trying to get
word out on recyling

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Municipality of Escazú kicked off a recycling project Jan. 7, and officials are trying hard to get the word out to everyone.

The municipality has five routes to collect the recyclable materials, and the trucks are on the road Monday through Wednesday hitting every place in town once every two weeks.

The municipality has based its program on the technical assistance of Texas A&M University and of the cities of Bryan and College Station, Texas, said an announcement from Escazú.

As part of the public relations campaign to get citizens recycling, municipal employees were at public events over the weekend, including the Escazú Outdoor Art Festival. The city also is providing residents with a holding bin or bag stand made of plastic tubes that can be obtained at the municipal offices.

The bin accommodates clear plastic bags.  A separate bag is used for aluminum, glass, plastic, paper and cardboard.

Escazú said that it hopes to reduce solid waste by 40 percent. The city produces about 45 tons of garbage a day.  The project is financed in part by the Dutch Fund for Sustainable Development.

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Ileana Guevera Guevera talks about the benefits of recycling at a display at the weekend arts festival.

More information is available at the environmental office of the municipality at 228-7762 or 228-5757

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Prohibition against blocking highways almost law
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Remember those 18 wheelers parked side-by-side outside the National Assembly building?

That was when the rice growers were protesting cheaper imports. They wanted to make a point and blocked Avenida Principal, the main route downtown from San Pedro. They did it for five days.

Such actions, which seem to be a trademark of the rice growers, can be punished by imprisonment of from 10 to 30 days under a proposed law that has been passed twice by deputies and now sits on the desk of President Miguel Angel Rodríguez.

But all is not happy among those who use rallies and marches to make a political point. They fear that the law will be used against them. These include La Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos, the public employees union. 

Under the present law such road blockages can be punished by a fine. In addition, the law is not nearly as clear as the one awaiting the president’s signature. A good argument could be mounted that the present law refers to putting items in the road to obstruct passage and not parking vehicles there.

The road provision is contained in Article 256.5 of .proposal 14,158 that came to the assembly March 11.  Public employees will have this measure in mind as they march Wednesday for International Labor Day.

The proposed legal changes would shift around many sections of the penal code. It appears that the new law retains an injunction against providing a woman with a substance designed to provoke an abortion. But it would eliminate a similar injunction against providing a substance that would prevent conception. That section, Article 378 (6), does not seem to be enforced here.

Another change would appear to eliminate a section, Article 379 (2), that levies a fine if someone challenges another to a duel.

For those who get upset when a taxi driver flies by with no passenger but without any desire to stop, there is Article 390. That says the driver of a service vehicle can be fined if he refuses without reason to transport a person or luggage or if he uses gross or bad language.

Article 395 of the existing law prohibits witchcraft and spells. The new penal code proposal replaces that with an unrelated paragraph. So unless another law prohibits these black arts, a resident would be able to cast spells on neighbors without fear of criminal action.

The new law also would overwrite a section, Article 388 (8) which prohibits tourists from engaging in money-making activities.

It may be that other sections of Costa Rican law cover these acts, but penal code changes seem to eliminate some crimes and shift other prohibitions around so comparisons with the existing law are difficult.


 
Reich outlines the Latin terrorism trouble spots 
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Terrorism and political violence are continued afflictions in the Americas, with terrorist groups operating in Colombia, Peru, and the tri-border region of Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil, said Otto Reich, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs.

Speaking to newspeople in Miami Friday, Reich said the Bush Administration is concerned about international terrorists "abusing the region's financial system to raise funds or launder money." Reich said the administration has encouraged all nations in the Western Hemisphere to ratify the 12 international counter-terrorism treaties in order to "identify and seize the financial assets of terrorism, to punish terrorism in all its forms, and to strengthen border controls."

Reich said the issue of border security is of particular relevance with Canada and Mexico, "where we need to balance our requirement for heightened security with our need to expand the free flow of legitimate travel and commerce."

On Colombia, Reich said the United States has long supported that country's government in its fight against drug traffickers who support left-wing and right-wing terrorist groups in the Andean nation. President Bush, said Reich, agrees with Colombian President Andres Pastrana that establishing security in Colombia is "the first priority." No meaningful progress can be made, Reich said, 

"when murderers prey on bishops, senators, judges, journalists, and ordinary citizens with impunity."

The Bush Administration, at the request of the Colombian government, Reich said, "is discussing with the U.S. Congress how we can make the aid we give to Colombia more effective as that government fights terror."

Reich told the workshop that a free and vibrant press is the best guarantor of public accountability and confidence and that any government that suppresses freedom of the press compromises its own legitimacy.

"Unfortunately," he said, "that is a lesson that not every government in this hemisphere has learned yet." Reich said that in Venezuela, "diatribes" against the press from the highest level of the government have created an "environment of fear." Meanwhile, in Cuba, Reich said that country's government uses an "assortment of repressive techniques in its efforts to silence independent journalists." The Cuban government, he added, is engaged in an effort to "control all information received by the Cuban people."

Reich also said that journalists in Colombia work in a "pervasive atmosphere of fear," some of whom are intimidated by among others, paramilitary groups, drug traffickers, and government officials. He praised those journalists in Colombia "who continue to fulfill their responsibilities to report fairly and accurately."


 
Gutierrez denies that U.S. conspired in Chavez plot
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The principal U.S. deputy secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere strongly denies that his country had anything to do with the coup attempt that threw Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez Frias out of office for two days.

"The United States is committed to democratic and constitutional government in this hemisphere and around the globe," said the deputy secretary, Lino Gutierrez. 

"We did not participate in, or condone, the unconstitutional actions taken by those who attempted to depose President Chávez. The United States' opposition to coups of any kind to effect regime change has been a consistent U.S. position that has transcended administrations."

The events of April 11-14 underscore the necessity of renewing and reinvigorating frayed U.S.-Venezuela relations, said Gutierrez. He 

appeared Friday at a panel discussion on Venezuela here. Even as Gutierrez strongly denied any U.S. complicity in the short-lived coup, he criticized the controversial Chávez for his repeated efforts to undermine democratic principles in Venezuela. "For U.S.-Venezuela relations to thrive again, it is essential to revitalize Venezuela's democracy," Gutierrez declared, adding that the United States "sincerely desires good relations with Venezuela."

Those relations have been strained in recent years because of Chávez's "polarizing, confrontational policies" that provoked the present crisis in Venezuela, Gutierrez said. He rebuked Chávez for attacking freedom of the press, interfering in labor union elections, stacking the Venezuelan judiciary, and trying to intimidate and silence his many opponents.

Despite serious misgivings over Chávez's tactics, at no time did the United States sanction an unconstitutional transfer of power in Venezuela, Gutierrez said.


 
High school scam suspect back in trouble again
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

WASHINGTON, D.C. — That high school student who has been identified as an Internet fraud artist is back in trouble with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

The youngster, Cole A. Bartiromo of Mission Viejo, Calif., came to local attention in January because he stashed the $1 million he got from investors in a legitimate Costa Rican casino account.

At the time, a Securities and Exchange official, Stephen M. Cutler, director of Enforcement Division, said: "This case . . .  demonstrates that just about
anyone — even a 17-year-old high school student — can mastermind a securities fraud over the Internet."

Monday the commission, which is the U.S. investment police, filed an amended complaint against Bartiromo and two unidentified individuals. The SEC said he also used massive amounts of false Internet messages to boost stock prices of publicly traded companies and profited from the efforts.

In its first amended complaint, filed Jan. 7, the Commission alleged that Bartiromo raised more than $1 million from more than 1,000 investors through a scheme known as Invest Better 2001, which purportedly offered "guaranteed" and "risk free" investment programs in which he pooled investors' funds to bet on sporting events. 

He promised to repay investors between 125 percent and 2,500 percent of their principal within specified periods ranging from three days to several weeks. 

The SEC said Monday that from May 14, 2001 to July 5, 2001, the youngster purchased large blocks of stock, sometimes 50 percent of the average number of shares traded each day on legitimate exchanges. Then he would send out false and misleading e-mail messages designed to affect the value of the stock.

Bartiromo posted over 6,000 messages and traded several million shares of 15 companies in this manner, and, as a result, generated a net profit of over $91,000, said the SEC.


 
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