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These stories were published Wednesday, April 30, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 84
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Pacheco praises code of ethics
MOPT asked to join anti-corruption battle
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Abel Pacheco brought his morality crusade Tuesday to employees of the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transporte.

That’s the people who build bridges, construct roads and direct traffic. They have not been universally regarded as the faithful in Pacheco’s efforts to clean up government.

Pacheco told them he wanted them to join him in efforts to uncover corruption among public employees.

The event was the unveiling of a 10-point code of ethics for employees in the ministry. The afternoon event took place at the Teatro Popular Melico Salazar with representatives of the ministry staff present. The 7,000 ministry employees manage some 110 billion colons  ($282 million) budget.

"I call upon you to be militants in the cause of decency, in the battle for honesty, in the daily effort to uncover the payoff and the bribery in our institutions," said Pacheco.

The payoff or mordida (Spanish for bite) is a way of life for some Transito officers who are under the jurisdiction of the ministry. However, Pacheco promised to effect great changes in the attitude of public employees.

The president also has a little praise for himself.

"I am able to tell you with a clear conscience 
that I have governed with austerity, telling the truth, acting with transparency, seeking the efficiency and rendering accounts for my actions," said Pacheco.

Pacheco will be in office a full year a week from tomorrow, Thursday, May 8.

The code of ethics for the ministry pretty well follows Pacheco’s call. It insists on transparency and honesty in dealing with public projects.

Pacheco said that his morality crusade was not without personal cost. "I know that I am able to say that this fight for morality in public management has produced in one year more enemies for me than I have been able to collect in the 67 years previously," said the president. He was not specific but did say the result was worth the effort.

Th president also said that he hoped that ministry employees and the new code of ethics would be an example for other public employees.

Although not considered the most crooked of Costa Rica’s government organizations (the customs service has that honor), MOPT, as it is called, is considered a black hole for public funds. Large construction contracts frequently are overrun. Projects are stalled for lack of additional funding. And the integrity of some projects is suspect.

Officials will monitor airport arrivals for SARS
By Saray Ramírez Vindas 
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica finally will marshal its forces to monitor the possible arrival here of persons infected with the SARS virus.

That was decided Tuesday at the weekly Consejo de Gobierno meeting.  The first step was to set up a special committee to be in charge.

That group will include representatives from the ministries of Salud, Trabajo, Obras Públicas y Transporte and Turismo. The group’s mandate includes the whole country but with special emphasis on the importation of the virus here. So monitors will be set up at the airports.

The country had a scare this week when a 39-year-old man showed up at Hospital México with what officials thought might be severe acute respiratory syndrome or SARS. The man had returned from a visit to Toronto, Canada, where there has been an outbreak of the sometimes fatal disease.

Dr. Rocío Sáenz Madrigal, the minister of Salud, said that technicians have to wait 48 hours more to be completely sure if that is the malady affecting the man. He has all the symptoms: 

cough, fever, difficulties breathing. But none of the family members of the man have shown symptoms up to now even though they have been exposed for three weeks.

Of more widespread impact is the increase in dengue in the Chorotega region in the north of the country, said the minister. Total cases have decreased nationwide.

In the current year, the country has seen 1,003 cases of the mosquito-born disease of which 578 were in the Chorotega Region. The year before by the same time there were 1,508 cases in the country. The disease in the central Pacific and Caribbean areas remains at low levels.

Dr. Sáenz said that scientists have detected a change in the lifestyle of the Aedes aegypti mosquito. More and more are found laying eggs in drainage water. The minister urged residents to continue with efforts to eliminate such breeding spots.

The disease worked its way into the Central Valley last year and caused much concern, particularly in barrios of northern San José.

The dengue season is just starting with the arrival of the rainy season.

Have
your
say!
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

More than 260 readers already have expressed their opinion on the Villalobos case via an e-mail poll published Tuesday.

You can have your chance. The information is HERE!.

We will keep the poll active until May 9 or until it appears readers have had their say.

The e-mail addresses to which readers express their opinion of the former financier Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho have been active since about 4 a.m. Tuesday. Already they are attracting Internet junk mail and requests for funds from Nigerian scamsters.

 

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Fox signs aid accord for Mexico's small farmers
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MEXICO CITY, México — President Vicente Fox has signed an accord with major farm groups in his country to address the needs of impoverished peasants working small plots of land. The government has also indicated it might seek changes in the North American Free Trade Agreement, known as NAFTA, with the United States and Canada, to protect small farms from competition. 

The signing of the Countryside Accord (Acuerdo Nacional para el Campo) brought to an end several months of protests and complaints by peasant groups which said they were unable to compete with larger, more technologically advanced farm operations in the United States. 

They had sought a re-negotiation of NAFTA to protect a number of Mexican crops, but what they got in the end was President Fox's promise to seek a voluntary pledge from the United States and Canada to maintain tariff protection for white corn and beans. Fox has spoken of making changes in the trade agreement, possibly starting at a meeting of officials from the three nations in June, but there are no plans to open up the treaty for a complete overhaul.

The agreement President Fox and the farm groups signed is more of a social welfare package for the impoverished rural areas, with the government spending an additional 2.8 billion pesos in various rural development programs. That is about $280 million.

President Fox says the accord demonstrates his government's commitment to the poor rural sector.

He says his government is with the peasants, and supportive of their rights, their interests, their earnings and their products, both inside and 

outside the country. He promised to take measures to offset the effect of subsidies in the United States that give producers there an unfair advantage.

Under the plan set forth in the agriculture accord, the Mexican government will promote housing projects in rural areas, help provide electricity and develop programs for women and the elderly.

But critics of the Fox plan say that the accord signed Monday will do little to solve the real problems of the Mexican countryside. They say the lack of productivity in Mexico's countryside reflects inefficiency, lack of technological advancement and an unwillingness to abandon crops for which there is not a strong market in favor of those, which provide more competitive advantage. Many farm parcels in Mexico are too small for efficient operations, but old laws make it difficult for peasants to sell the land. 

The average farm in the United States or Canada is around 100 hectares in size (247 acres), but many Mexican farmers operate on two or three hectare plots, sometimes using donkeys instead of tractors. The subsidies granted to farmers in the United States are also seen as irrelevant by many experts, since they tend to favor grain farmers who have no competitors in Mexico. 

Under NAFTA, some large-scale Mexican farm operations, producing tomatoes, broccoli and other vegetable crops have prospered. Some farmers in the United States have complained about what they see as an unfair competitive advantage.

Still, the leaders of some Mexican farm organizations say they will press for even more government help for impoverished peasants. They have not ruled out more marches and demonstrations to keep pressure on the government. The accord signed Monday, they say, is only the beginning.


 
 
Frenchman caught
in Sabana Sur

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators confronted a wanted man at his Sabana Sur shop Tuesday and then chased him when he fled.

Police took the man, identified as Gilles Giraudon, 
 a Frenchman, into custody in Hatillo 6. They said the man was sought by the French government to face a drug-related charge for the importation, possession and transportation of cocaine in 1999 and 2000.

The International Police Agency (INTERPOL), Dirección de Inteligencia y

Interpol photo
Gilles Giraudon
Seguridad and the Sección de Capturas del Organismo de Investigación Judicial participated in the arrest that began at the furniture store, Importatora ISA.

The man will face extradition proceedings at the Tribunal Penal del Primer Circuito de San José.
 

They’re off again
at U.S. Embassy

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Good grief!  Are they off again?

The U.S. Embassy staff in Pavas reports that the offices will be closed tomorrow in celebration of the Día del Trabajador here in Costa Rica.

However, both the embassy and the consulate section will be open on Friday. Other embassies also are closed for the day, but no announcements have been received by A.M. Costa Rica.

U.S. Embassy officials observe both Costa Rican and U.S. holidays, some 18 total throughout the year. The embassy staff was last off the Thursday and Friday of Semana Santa. Despite the closure, U.S. citizens still can get emergency service by calling the embassy. The facility is staffed 24 hours a day, holidays or not.

The 18 holidays in 2003, according to the embassy Web site, are:

Jan. 1 Wednesday  New Year's Day 
Jan. 20 Monday  Martin L. King's Birthday 
Feb. 17  Monday  President's Day 
April 11 Friday  Juan Santamaría
April 17  Thursday  Holy Thursday 
April 18  Friday  Good Friday 
May 1  Thursday   Labor Day (C.R.)
May 26  Monday  Memorial Day 
July 4  Friday  Independence Day (U.S.)
July 25 Friday  Annexation of Guanacaste 
Aug. 15  Friday  Assumption Day ( Mother's Day)
Sept. 1  Monday  Labor Day (U.S.)
Sept. 15 Monday  Independence Day (C.R.)
Oct. 13  Monday  Columbus Day (U.S.)
Nov. 11 Tuesday  Veteran's Day 
Nov. 27  Thursday  Thanksgiving Day 
Dec. 25  Thursday  Christmas Day 
Dec. 31  Wednesday  Carnival Day 

The Día del Trabajador, the day of the worker, is celebrated here with worker and protest parades. The day still carries many of its May Day connotations that stemmed from the international Communist movement.
 

One person is out
in teacher probe

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Education officials said they have fired one person from the ministry’s information department as part of an investigation on why teachers are not getting paid.

Astrid Fischel, the minister of Educación Pública, has said she suspects sabotage of the computer systems that generate checks and bank payments for the country’s teachers. She has asked for an investigation.

No teacher’s march took place Tuesday, although one is planned for next week. However, a number of teachers did boycott classes to protest the irregular and non-payment of the contracted salaries.

Thousands of teachers in the public schools are affected by the irregular payments. Some teachers get no payments, others payments much smaller or larger than called for in their contracts.
 

Toronto off list
for SARS travel ban

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

GENEVA, Switzerland — The World Health Organization said Wednesday it will lift the SARS-related travel ban it imposed on Toronto, Canada. But while the SARS situation has improved in Toronto, a travel ban will remain in effect for Hong Kong, Beijing, Guangdong and Shanxi provinces in China, the organization said.

The director-general of the World Health Organization, Gro Harlem Brundtland, says the agency is canceling its advisory urging people to postpone non-essential travel to Toronto, because there have been certain important changes in the last week. 

She says the magnitude of probable SARS cases has decreased in the Canadian city, there has been no new case of SARS in the community for 20 days and no new confirmed cases of SARS have been exported from Toronto to other countries. 

"I need to remind you that Toronto still has an outbreak of SARS, and the lifting of this travel advice does not change Toronto's status as an 'affected area," she said. "I would also like to highlight that WHO recommended on 27 March, that screening measures be taken in airports for passengers leaving affected areas." 

The health minister of Ontario, Tony Clement, headed a delegation of Canadian health officials here. He says he is delighted the organization has decided to lift the travel ban. He says Dr. Brundtland discussed the new screening procedures with him and Canada will be implementing new and more effective measures. 

Families of prisoners
won’t leave in protest

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — More than 1,000 relatives of jailed Venezuelans have shut themselves in three prisons to demand better living conditions and quicker judicial proceedings for their loved ones. 

Authorities say the family members arrived at the Coro, Rodeo and Tocuyito prisons west of here during normal visiting hours Sunday but decided to stage the protest to draw attention to their complaints. 

It was not clear if the protests at the three prisons were planned or coordinated. 

They come several days after 11 people died and 40 others were injured in rioting between rival gangs at the maximum security Yare prison in north-central Venezuela. Prison officials called in the National Guard to restore order. 

Riots are common in Venezuela's overcrowded and understaffed prisons, where almost half the inmates are in pre-trial detention.

Rebel commander
turns himself in

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia — A commander of Colombia's largest leftist rebel group has turned himself in to authorities and urged other Marxist guerrillas to do the same. 

Rafael Rojas Zuñiga made the remark Monday as he stood next to Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and other senior officials at a nationally televised news conference in Cartagena. 

Rojas told reporters he was a member of the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia's 46th Front and was in the guerrilla group for 20 years.  Rojas said he decided to desert the rebels known as the FARC on the grounds the country's ongoing civil war is sterile, with no end in sight. 

Rebels who leave the FARC and other guerrilla armies are put up in protected housing and given the opportunity to assume new identities. They also have access to health care, education and work training. 

For the past 39 years, Colombia has been mired in a civil war that pits the FARC and a smaller rebel group against rightist paramilitaries and the government. The conflict leaves thousands of people dead each year. 

Hidden cemeteries
hold 1980s victims

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — Authorities say they have unearthed four secret cemeteries used to bury victims of the country's anti-insurgency campaigns in the 1980s. 

Government human rights spokesman Aida Romero says forensic scientists will soon excavate the graves. She did not disclose the location of the gravesites because she said certain groups might try to sabotage the investigation. 

She also says excavations are being stepped up on another cemetery discovered last year in the eastern region of El Patuca. 

Secret cemeteries have been found in six of the 18 provinces in Honduras. A truth commission report released in 1993 blamed military-backed "death squads", who are believed to have killed at least 184 activists and union leaders between 1979 and 1990.  The report said the governments of the United States, Taiwan, and Argentina had helped fund and train the death squads.
 
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Cuban dissident says crackdown won't stop change
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

HAVANA, Cuba — Cuban authorities say their recent crackdown on dissent has destroyed what the communist government of President Fidel Castro describes as an attempt by U.S. diplomats to create political instability on the island. 

After summary trials earlier this month, 75 dissidents were sentenced to prison terms of as much as 28 years. But a leading human rights advocate in Cuba says the repression has failed to stop the peaceful struggle for democracy.

Many of his friends and fellow dissidents are now in prison, but the head of Cuba's Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, Elizardo Sanchez, remains at work in his modest Havana home. He is keeping track of the prisoners and the dissidents who are free. In a telephone interview, Sanchez insists that the imprisonment of some dissident leaders will not derail the movement for peaceful, democratic change.

What produces dissent in Cuba is the totalitarian model of government and the poverty and hopelessness it has caused, he said, adding that there are thousands of dissidents who will continue to meet and work for change despite government threats.

Sanchez said the Cuban government's assertion that the dissident movement was organized and supported by the United States is totally false. He said political opposition to the Castro government needs no outside influence.

In the recent trials of dissident leaders, government agents who had posed as dissidents and infiltrated their meetings were principal witnesses. But Sanchez said the presence of some infiltrators was to be expected in a police state and that this will not undermine the confidence dissidents have in one another.

He said there are thousands of dissidents who are honorable, and only a few who turned out to be government agents. He said the use of such infiltrators is absurd, since dissident meetings are 

open to everyone and that the participants have nothing to hide. 

As for his own safety, Sanchez said he expects to be arrested any day. He said he and others who speak out against the Castro government expect the secret police to knock at the door any time. He said he has been jailed before and that he expects to be jailed again as a consequence of his work monitoring the human rights situation in Cuba. 

Sanchez said international support for the cause and the widespread condemnation of the recent repression has buoyed the spirits of the dissidents in Cuba. 

The jailing of the dissidents and the summary execution of three accused hijackers two weeks ago drew strong condemnation from the European Union, several Latin American nations, including Costa Rica, Pope John Paul, and a number of world-renowned leftist intellectuals who had once supported the Castro government. Among them were Mexican author Carlos Fuentes and Portuguese writer and Nobel Prize winner, Jose Saramago.

Cuba’s right seat
draws criticism

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The White House has denounced Cuba's re-election to the U.N.'s human rights commission. Bush administration officials say it is like choosing a robber to protect a bank.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer says the vote to seat Cuba on the panel was an inappropriate action that does not serve the cause of human rights.

"Cuba does not deserve a seat on the human rights commission," he said. "Cuba deserves to be investigated by the human rights commission." He says America is making its displeasure known at the U.N., but acknowledges the vote cannot be reversed.


 
Angel 
or Devil? 

Give your 
opinion about 
Luis Enrique
Villalobos!

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Is Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho a cad or a victim? Here is your chance to say what you think.

There are about 6,500 investment accounts in the former financier’s books. Rival investor groups are claiming the allegiance of the silent investors.

We think it is time to poll readers to see what they think. The opinion of the investors is decidedly mixed. But which opinion predominates?

You can express your opinion by sending a blank e-mail to one of the e-mail accounts we have set up. Do not include any text because no one will read the e-mails. We will just count them.

But please put in the subject line "from investor" if you invested money with Villalobos. Put "from non-investor" if you did not.

Please, one e-mail from any single e-mail account.

If you think that Luis Enrique Villalobos just took the money and ran, send your e-mail to 

enriqueran@amcostarica.com

If you think that Luis Enrique Villalobos is an honest man who has been put out of business by a greedy Costa Rican government, send your e-mail to

enriquevictim@amcostarica.com

If you are uncertain but think that international arbitration would be a good way to get Costa Rica to compensate investors for their loss, send your e-mail to

arbitration@amcostarica.com

If you are fed up with the whole story and do not care what happens, send your message to 

sickofenrique@amcostarica.com

We will tabulate the e-mails at the end of two weeks and publish the results. We also will discard the e-mail messages.


 
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