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These stories were published Friday, April 30, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 85
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May Day is a time for political demonstrations
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Saturday is International Labor Day, and donít expect it to go by without a parade and protests against free trade, the war in Iraq, Israeli treatment of Palestinians and a host of local problems.

The Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos has promised to get out its supporters even though the day is a Saturday. Many of the members of this union work for state monopolies that would be endangered by foreign access to telecommunications and insurance.

May Day is a traditional magnet for demonstrations. It also is the day the Asamblea Nacional and municipalities reorganize. What happens in the legislature Saturday might have more impact on the proposed free trade treaty with the United States than the demonstrators in the streets.

Mario Redondo Poveda will be ending his term as legislative president, and voting by deputies will determine the lineup for the next year. The free trade treaty is expected to occupy a lot of the legislatureís time in the coming session.

Costa Rican society is split based on anticipated impact from the treaty.

The textile industry generally supports the 

treaty because businesses and workers are expected to benefit. Certain agricultural producers do not because they will face stiff U.S. competition. 

The Pacheco administration strongly favors the treaty and claims that many Costa Ricans will lose their jobs if the pact is not approved.

The public employees union says that many Costa Ricans will lose their jobs if the pact is approved. And they will try to make that point Saturday.

Meanwhile, in the legislature Thursday, Rafael Varela, a deputy with the Bloque Patriótico Parlamentario met with Karen Hansen-Kuhn of the Alliance for Responsible Trade, a U.S. group that opposes the treaty. Both agreed that the treaty contained many uncertainties for the agricultural producers here, according to a statement later from the political party.

Ms. Hansen-Kuhn noted that over the last 18 months some 30 demonstrations have taken place in the United States in opposition to the proposed treaty and that there is little chance the measure will be approved this year by the U.S. Congress, said the statement.

Costa Rican political demonstrations usually are orderly, and the May Day parade in the downtown provides a chance for foreigners to see the variety of interest groups in the society.


 
Favor de guardar mi campo in this endless line
Bureaucratic procedures, also known as red tape and called tramites in Spanish, are the bane of my happy life in Costa Rica. The main reason I have a traumatic time with tramites is because I donít know the routines and nobody explains them until after the fact. This is worse than not knowing the steps in a group tap dancing performance. 

When you donít know what you are supposed to do here it usually results in standing in yet another line (or going back to the line you were in.) 

All of this is a preface to my visit to the Clinica Durán Monday morning. My appointment was for 7 a.m. I arrived at 6:45 thinking I would be the first in line. I wasnít. I couldnít believe so many Ticos were up and about so early and I was much relieved that I didnít have to join the line waiting in front of the laboratory window. There must have been 50 people in it. 

 First, I waited in line to confirm my appointment with the receptionist who told me to wait to be called. Then I was called by the preliminary nurse so she could take my blood pressure (a little high) and my weight (ditto). Then I was told to wait to be called. I decided not to try to read because one time when they called my name I didnít hear it and left in a snit without seeing a doctor after waiting hours. It is difficult to tell who is a doctor who is not. 

This morning I noted that women doctors wear sexy shoes. (as well as stethescopes) rather than the practical white low-heeled shoes that most nurses wear. I found myself annoyed because I had to stand and a 6-year-old son sat crosslegged on a bench, happily eating one piece of fruit after another. My scowls at his mother were ineffective. 

I got in to see the doctor within an hour and he gave me papers ordering a sonogram, mammography and some pills. First I went up to the farmacia to leave my order for the pills because that always takes an hour. I was told I had to take my request back down and have the receptionist put my name label on it. I did that, waiting for seven people in front of me, then went back upstairs. Then I went to the main desk to make the appointments for the sonogram. I knew I had to go to Calderón Guardia for my mammogram.

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart
jostuart@racsa.co.cr

I was told I had to go back to the receptionist to get a label on my referrral. This time the line was 14 people long. I should state right here that I have bad luck with lines. I am the person who if I choose the shortest looking line in the market, the checker is new and learning, or the cash register tape runs out just as I get to the desk. 

In another line, the person in front of me is holding a place for another person. The woman behind me is holding a baby, so I let her go ahead, and the old guy behind her has a cane and is called to the window before me. And when I finally get to the window, a friend of the receptionist comes up and they chat a bit and then she is quietly (but I notice it) tended to in front of me. All of these things happened as I waited in line this time. In spite of that, by 10:30 I was on my way with my prescription. The good news was everything was free.

This tale is for people who are new to the Caja and the medical system here. Rule No. 1: Always take your Caja ID card and receipt showing you are paid up when you go in for attention. Whenever you find yourself standing in a line ask someone if it is the correct line for whatever it is you want to do. 

Even when you have an appointment with a doctor you must go through the receptionist in the area to get it confirmed (usually, too, so they can find your file). When the doctor ó or anyone gives you a piece of paper, ask what you should do with it. 

Any piece of paper that is for an appointment with a doctor or for a test or a prescription must have a label with your name on it. If the line is very long, make use of the phrase "Favor de guardar mi campo." (Please hold my place in line) and maybe you can run a few errands, or just go someplace and sit down.

As I write this I have an uncomfortable feeling that there was one more window I was supposed to go to at the Clinca Durán before I will be accepted at Calderón Guardia. Iíll let you know. 

 
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Economy in Americas
is high-level topic

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Policy makers and business leaders from across the Americas will convene in Washington beginning Sunday to take stock of the hemisphere's economic and political landscape and discuss the importance of regional cooperation, according to Council of the Americas Vice President Eric Farnsworth.

The Council of the Americas is a business organization dedicated to promoting regional economic integration, free trade, open markets and investment, and the rule of law in the Western Hemisphere. 

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, Treasury Secretary John Snow, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick and Commerce Secretary Donald Evans are among the prominent Bush administration officials who will participate in the council's 34th Washington conference, entitled "Building the Case for Partnership in the Americas." The conference begins Sunday at the U.S. Department of State in Washington.

This event, Farnsworth said, presents an opportunity to "once again shine a spotlight on Latin America and the Caribbean" and "carve out a portion of the U.S. policy agenda for Latin America."

The aim of the conference, he said, is to "help restore consensus in the hemisphere that regional cooperation is important."

Farnsworth explained that because many people in the hemisphere have begun to question the principles of democracy and free trade, "we can no longer take partnership in the Americas for granted."

The conference will not focus solely on the U.S. perspective on hemispheric cooperation and other issues, Farnsworth said. He noted that Guatemalan President Oscar Berger, Mexican Foreign Affairs Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez, Brazilian Minister of Development, Industry and Commerce Luiz Fernando Furlan and Colombian Defense Minister Jorge Alberto Uribe Echavarria are among the Latin American leaders who will join U.S. officials and over 250 business leaders for the three-day event. 

Other Latin leaders scheduled to participate include the president of Argentina's Central Bank, Alfonso Prat Gay, and former Costa Rican President Miguel Angel Rodríguez, whom the United States recently endorsed for the post of secretary-general of the Organization of American States.

The Council of the Americas is deeply involved in organizing the involvement of the U.S. business community to advance the hemispheric trade agenda, and Farnsworth said that advancing this agenda, particularly the U.S.-Central American Free Trade Agreement, is another important aim of the conference.

Farnsworth indicated that Zoellick and Berger will present the case for the free trade pact at the event, while U.S. congressional leaders William Jefferson, a Democrat of Louisiana, and Charlie Rangel, a Democrat of New York, will offer their views on the prospects for approval of the free-trade agreement.

Sea turtle dangers
to be topic of sesson

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

An international meeting later in 2004 will be the first one to address the problem of mortality of endangered sea turtle species from fishing gear, a U.S. State Department official says.

David Balton, deputy assistant secretary of state, said the meeting, a technical consultation scheduled by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, would promote research into modifying fishing gear and fishing practices to reduce the unintended catch of sea turtles by fishing boats.

He said the meeting would aim to involve regional fisheries management regimes in the effort to reduce turtle catches, including measures that could be adopted immediately.

Balton described the status of other Food and Agricultural Organization programs, including plans of action to reduce widespread overfishing, especially illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

"The overall picture concerning international fisheries remains worrisome, in my view," Balton said. "With other governments, the United States is grappling with problems of overfishing, overcapacity and depletion of key fish stocks."

Balton reiterated U.S. opposition to research whaling activities of Iceland and Japan and Norway's commercial whale hunt.

He also lamented that Congress approved spending less money than required to pay full U.S. dues to several international fisheries management regimes. In an exchange with subcommittee members, he warned that if the United States continued to be in arrears it might lose its standing in those groups and ultimately its fishing rights.

Gringo Gin Rummy Club

Expats who like gin rummy can get together weekday afternoons, starting May 5, said the club organizer Bret Porter. The cards will be cut at Changoís Restaurant, 600 meters south of Scotia Bank in Escazú, he said. He may be contacted at bretsie@hotmail.com or 228-4981.

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British warned about rejecting EU constitution
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

LONDON, England ó The principal architect of the European Union constitution says Britain will be left on the sidelines of Europe if it rejects the treaty in a referendum.

The warning about Britain's place in Europe comes from Valery Giscard d'Estaing, the former French president, who chaired the committee that drafted the constitution.

Giscard d'Estaing told British radio Thursday that if some countries, like Britain, decide not to adopt the constitution, they will be left behind, if the majority of European countries move ahead with greater integration.

"If, by bad luck, the British finally said 'no,' and the other Europeans said 'we want to go,' then they will have to find an accommodation," he said. "And, it is true that, in that case, Britain will not be in the core of the system, but on the margin of the system."

Giscard d'Estaing was reacting to British Prime Minister Tony Blair's surprise announcement last week that the constitution being negotiated in 

Brussels will be voted on in Britain in a referendum.

No date has been set, but political commentators believe Blair will wait until after a general election, expected about a year from now.

The Blair government admits it will have a hard time winning over a skeptical public, as polls indicate most Britons believe the constitution would rob their country of sovereignty over many aspects of public policy.

The opposition Conservative Party on Thursday opened its campaign for European parliament elections in June with an assault on the proposed constitution by its leader, Michael Howard.

"Conservatives don't want a European constitution," he said. "Countries have constitutions, and we don't want to be part of a country called Europe."

Britain's announcement of a referendum has increased pressure for a similar vote in other EU countries. Luxembourg says it also plans a referendum, but French President Jacques Chirac told a news conference Thursday it is too early to decide the matter.


 
Masked protestors want their Salvadorian troops out of Iraq
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador ó Officials here say masked protesters seized control of the nation's main cathedral and demanded, among other things, that Salvadorian troops be pulled out of Iraq. 

Witnesses say at least 24 protesters stormed the cathedral in the capital, San Salvador. 

Earlier, police clashed with a number of protesters outside the building, firing tear gas to clear the 
 

crowds. Several people were reported injured and a television van was burned in the unrest. 

Authorities say the protesters called for El Salvador's President-Elect Tony Saca to follow the lead of Spain and withdraw El Salvador's 380 troops from Iraq. The demonstrators were also protesting the recent firing of a number of government workers. 

President-elect Saca, who takes office June 1, has said he intends to leave Salvadoran troops in Iraq until their scheduled return date in August. 


 
World press freedom slipped in 2003, rights group reports
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

NEW YORK, N.Y. ó A U.S.-based human rights watchdog says press freedom declined worldwide last year due to legal harassment, political pressure and violence by both governments and private citizens. 

In a report released Wednesday, Freedom House says Burma, Cuba, Libya, North Korea and Turkmenistan were the worst rated countries in terms of press freedom in 2003. 

The group also noted sharp declines in press 

freedom in such countries as Russia, Bolivia, Bulgaria, Italy, Morocco and the Philippines. 

The report notes that press freedom improved in Kenya and Sierra Leone. But overall, it says, the proportion of the world's population living in countries with free media declined by 5 percent over the past two years. 

In general, Freedom House says the Middle East-North Africa region has the least media freedom, with 90 percent of the countries rated "not free." The group says the Americas feature the most media freedom. 

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U.S. warns citizens of terrorist attack overseas
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. ó The U.S. State Department has issued a new global terrorism alert warning of the "heightened threat" of attacks against U.S. citizens abroad. 

In a statement released Thursday, the State Department said there are indications the al-Qaida terrorist network is planning attacks on U.S. interests in other countries. 

It says future attacks by al-Qaida could involve chemical or biological weapons, as well as conventional weapons. 

The statement also said officials cannot rule out 

that al-Qaida will attempt what it called a "catastrophic attack" on U.S. soil. 

The State Department is asking citizens abroad to be highly vigilant, especially about the possible threat of demonstrations and violent actions.  It said U.S. government facilities around the world remain at a heightened state of alert. 

Wednesday, the State Department issued a travel warning for Israel and the West Bank, and asked Americans in the Gaza Strip to leave immediately. 

Officials say the alert comes in response to terrorist threats following Israel's killing of Hamas leaders Sheik Ahmed Yassin and his successor, Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi in the past two months. 


 
Hemispheric level of terror reported to be low
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. ó The threat of terrorism in the Western Hemisphere in 2003 remained low compared to other regions of the world, the U.S. State Department says in a new report.

Despite that, the hemisphere is not exempt from exploitation by groups that would use the region to seek "safe haven, financing, illegal travel documentation, or access to the United States" through narcotics and migrant-smuggling routes, the State Department said in "Patterns of Global Terrorism 2003," a report released Thursday.

The State Department said that on a country-by-country level for the Western Hemisphere, the domestic terrorist threat was particularly serious in Colombia, and to a lesser degree in Peru.

In Colombia, the State Department said that the Andean country continued to experience terrorist violence as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and other narco-terrorist groups sought to respond to an "increasingly aggressive Colombian military posture with wanton terrorist attacks against civilians in Colombia's urban areas."

But on the positive side, the State Department said that under the leadership of Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe, the Colombian military, police and intelligence forces scored significant victories in 2003 against the the Revolutionary Armed Forces, the National Liberation Army, and United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia terrorist groups.

The State Department said that  Peru continued to take many actions against both international and domestic terrorism in 2003. Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo made combating terrorism one of the keynotes in his annual state-of-the-nation speech in July, pledging increased funding for security forces and social development projects in areas where the domestic Shining Path terror group operates, the State Department said.

The foreign and defense ministers of Peru "consistently condemned terrorism and implemented counterterrorism actions," the State Department said, adding that on Aug. 15 Peru signed the Asuncion Declaration in which several South American nations committed themselves to support Colombia in its ongoing struggle against terrorism and drug trafficking. In addition, Peru ratified in June 2003 the Inter-American Convention against Terrorism.

Another danger zone was the tri-border area of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay, where the three countries converge, the State Department said. That area has "long been characterized as a regional hub" for the terrorist Hizballah and Hamas groups to engage in fundraising activities, the Department said. But the area also is used for arms and drug trafficking, contraband smuggling, document and currency fraud, money laundering, and the manufacture and movement of pirated goods, the State Department said, adding that "there continued to be reports in 2003 of an al-Qaida presence" in the tri-border area, but these reports remained uncorroborated. 

In its report, the State Department added that "operational counterterrorism capacity and expertise" remains lacking in many countries in the hemisphere. Nevertheless, the State Department said that "countries in the region actively continued efforts to fortify hemispheric border and financial controls to prevent or disrupt terrorism-related activities on their territories. . . "

Cuba, designated as one of the world's seven state sponsors of terrorism, remained opposed to the U.S.-led coalition prosecuting the global war on terrorism and continued to provide support to designated foreign terrorist organizations and to host several terrorists and dozens of fugitives from U.S. state and federal justice, the report said.

The State Department said that Cuba allowed Basque Fatherland and Liberty members to live in the country and provided support and safe haven to members of Colombian leftist groups.


 
Congress urged to close loopholes in annual visa lottery program 
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. ó The inspector general of the U.S. Department of State has found that a program designed to welcome immigrants might open the door to criminals, terrorists or agents of hostile governments. Deputy Inspector General Anne W. Patterson urged the Congress Thursday to make the necessary changes in the law to close that door.

The inspector general's inquiry revealed security vulnerabilities in the Diversity Visa Program. This program is designed to encourage emigration to the United States from nations that are not well represented in this country, offering citizens of those nations the opportunity to obtain an immigrant's visa through selection by lottery. 

Citizens from nations that are designated as state sponsors of terrorism by the U.S. State Department are eligible to participate in this program even though they are severely restricted from obtaining visitors' visas. Patterson urged Congress to close that opportunity to potentially hostile immigrants. 

Aliens fleeing countries such as Cuba, Libya, Syria, and Iran would be ineligible to apply for a visa via the Diversity Visa Program if the recommendation were implemented," said Ms. Patterson. 

The inspector general's inquiry also found that thousands of applicants each year attempt to submit multiple entries in order to better their chances. She recommended that the Congress act to bar all further entries submitted by an applicant who attempts that ploy. 

The inquiry also uncovered fraudulent schemes devised in U.S. consulates in which some employees attempted to manipulate lottery applications for profit. 

Patterson acknowledged that the State Department has instituted new procedures and advanced technological application processing techniques since some of these problems were initially detected, and those changes may have diminished the occurrence of some of these problems. She said the inspector general will continue to investigate.


 
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