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(506) 2223-1327               Published Friday, April 30, 2010,  in Vol. 10, No. 84        E-mail us
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Multiple protests range from peaceful to violent
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country descended into chaos Thursday as multiple protests paralyzed daily life.

In Moín violent demonstrators shot two policemen and burned eight semi-trailers. The Fuerza Pública said they detained 26 persons, including two suspects in the shootings.

In major cities around the country the porteadores engaged in traffic slowdowns. Downtown San José main streets were filled with parked cars. The Autopista General Cañas and beyond was a parking lot, too.

In Heredia and in San José public employees and teachers marched against a possible revision in the laws that govern their jobs. These were peaceful demonstrations.

The morning shootings and firebombings in Moín and nearby Limón were blamed on former leaders of the dockworkers' union. Police said they were joined by some employees of the government agency that controls the docks. The site where the policemen were shot is in Muelle de Moín on national highway 32 near the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad plant.

The demonstrators blocked the roads with trees, tires and other trash, and some confronted truck drivers with pistols. One driver said a man held a gun to his head to get him out of the truck. The demonstrators then sacked the vehicles, taking items of value and then torched vehicles. Some units only had the cab torched. Other truck trailers were torched.

The Poder Judicial said that those detained included three women and a minor.

The two policemen who were shot are not in serious condition.  A 53-year-old officer, identified as Olman Salazar Arce, took two bullets in the leg when he and fellow officers tried to open the roadway. Ronny Marín Arroyo, 19, suffered a bullet wound to the chin. He was seen walking around in the clinic where he was taken. Salazar was confined to a gurney but was awake and alert.

A police sweep located the two suspects about 3 p.m. hiding in woods about 150 yards from the highway. They were identified by the last names of Rojas Pérez and Knight Collins. Fuerza Pública officers said they confiscated a 9-mm pistol.

Wednesday the new leadership of the union of employees at the Administración Portuaria y Desarrollo de la Vertiente Atlántica, agreed with a government plan to bring in a concessionaire to run
the operation. The former leadership opposed the plan but were maneuvered out of their positions in a general meeting of members. Union members stand to take home up to $99,000 each if the government's proposal goes through. Essentially they would lose their jobs although some could be rehired by the company that gets the concession.

The former leadership has challenged the legality of the meeting that deposed them.

Although the Limón dock workers' union has led blockades and work stoppages, the incidents Thursday were the most lawless in years. Police confiscated 40 firebombs.

A prosecutor in Limón said that some of the participants in the blockade would be taken to the new Tribunal de Flagrancia for quick sentencing. The crime would be blocking a public roadway.

Rigoberto Rodríguez, the regional Fuerza Pública director in Limón, said that police are under orders not to use weapons at demonstrations, so they did not return fire.

Police also did not intervene in the blockades set up by the porteadores in the Central Valley and elsewhere. This angered some motorists who were stuck in traffic for several hours. The porteadores are engaged in a political fight over legislation that may make what they do illegal.

The legislature adjourned for good Thursday evening without taking any action.

The public employees were on foot marching in San José and Heredia to protest a proposal drawn up by the Comisión de Eficiencia Administrativa y Reforma del Estado. So far there is no active proposal in the legislature.

Roberto Gallardo Núñez, minister of Planificación Nacional y Política Económica, said later that some of the proposals to which the public employees objected would be voluntary. He said his agency would meet Wednesday with representatives of public employee groups to clarify the issues.

Gallardo said that some confusion developed when a lawmaker introduced a proposal and then withdrew it.

No demonstrations have been announced for today, but Saturday is May 1, and a massive march by individuals and groups with many gripes will fill downtown San José. Saturday also is the day the new legislative deputies take their seats, and President Óscar Arias Sánchez will deliver a state of the nation talk at 7 p.m.

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Spain donates equipment
to track fishing boats

By Dennis Rogers
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The Spanish government has donated equipment and software for satellite tracking of Central America’s fishing fleet to reduce illegal catch. It will be run by the regional fisheries management agency based in El Salvador.

The donation will be only for the tracking equipment and base station. Outfitting each boat with a transponder is the responsibility of the boat’s owner, subject to the criteria of each country’s fishing authority, said Claudia de Handal, spokesperson for the Central American integration commission.

Each country will decide what part of their fleet will be subject to monitoring. According to Ana Salas of Costa Rica’s fisheries regulator the priorities are foreign-flagged tuna fishing boats and the other “advanced artisanal” fishermen who go more than 40 nautical miles off shore for species like shark and dorado.

It is not established what equipment will be used or what government involvement will entail in terms of potential subsidies, Salas said, as the cost of the different models ranges from $1,000 to $5,800 per boat. “Artisanal” fishermen receive subsidies on fuel, in some notorious instances selling it to Colombian drug traffickers.

The satellite system is operated by the French company Collecte Localisation Satellites. It provides tracking over large areas of the globe, and has already set up fisheries monitoring stations in France, Peru, Seychelles, the Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritania, and Chile.

Collecte Localisation Satellites runs the Argos satellite system that is used to follow wildlife movements, especially marine animals that are particularly difficult to monitor with other methods. Long-distance migrants like the peregrine falcon, black-browed albatross, and various whales have been tracked over huge home ranges and transequatorial migratory routes. Sea turtles are another group of endangered species whose movements were a mystery before the advent of satellite tracking.

The project is part of the Central American fishing and aquaculture organization. This cooperative venture joining the government fish management agencies of the seven Central American countries is part of the Central American integration commission, which seeks to reduce impediments to cross-border trade between the neighboring countries. Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua have made the most progress towards integration, with open borders. Costa Rica is less enthusiastic for these kinds of measures given the larger gap in economic development with the countries to the north and its different economic structure relative to Panamá.

Orchestra to honor its own

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Orquestra Sinfónica Nacional performance tonight and Sunday morning is dedicated to Raquel Ramírez, who was 37 when she died last Jan. 6. She was a popular mezzo-soprano.

The invited conductor for both performances is Laszlo Marosi of Hungary. The program includes works by Berlioz, Kodály and Fauré. The performance tonight is at 8 o'clock. Sunday's performance is at 10:30 a.m., both in the Teatro Nacional.

Arias to meet Lobo

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Óscar Arias Sánchez will meet with Honduran President Porfirio Lobo at Casa Presidencial Monday. Arias attempted to negotiate the reinstatement of José Manuel Zelaya, who was thrown out of office last year.

Lobo was not directly involved in that case and won his office late last year. He is expected to ask Arias to help his country restore full international recognition.

Costanera finally finished

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

It is official. The Costanera Sur is officially completed. The $51.6 million project was four decades in the making. The route runs from Quepos to Dominical.

Although the hard-surface road is being touted as a boon to tourism, it also is an advantage to truckers who can go between Panamá and Nicaragua without having to travel through the Costa Rican mountains.

The work included a handful of new bridges in the Quepos area. The road previously was gravel. The latest work turns it into a modern highway.

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A.M. Costa Rica guide

This is a brief users guide to A.M. Costa Rica.

Old pages
Each day someone complains via e-mail that the newspages are from yesterday or the day before. A.M. Costa Rica staffers check every page and every link when the newspaper is made available at 2 a.m. each weekday.

So the problem is with the browser in each reader's computer. Particularly when the connection with the  server is slow, a computer will look to the latest page in its internal memory and serve up that page.

Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.

The A.M. Costa Rica search page has a list of all previous editions by date and a space to search for specific words and phrases. The search will return links to archived pages.

A typical edition will consist of a front page and four other newspages. Each of these pages can be reached by links near the top and bottom of the pages.

Five classified pages are updated daily. Employment listings are free, as are listings for accommodations wanted, articles for sale and articles wanted. The tourism page and the real estate sales and real estate rentals are updated daily.

Advertising information
A summary of advertising rates and sizes are available for display and classifieds.

Contacting us
Both the main telephone number and the editor's e-mail address are listed on the front page near the date.

Visiting us
Directions to our office and other data, like bank account numbers are on the about us page.

For your international reading pleasure:

News of Nicaragua
News of Central America
News of Cuba
News of Venezuela
News of Colombia
News of El Salvador

News of Honduras
News of the Dominican Republic
News of Panamá

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, April 30, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 84

Free trade treaty approval took more than eight years
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The road to a free trade treaty with the United States was long and rocky. The issue divided the country.

Lawmakers, as expected, voted Thursday evening to pass the final measure of the so-called implementation package. There were 14 bills that changed the nation's laws to conform to what it had promised to do in the treaty.

The last measure involved stiff penalties for stealing intellectual property, such as music and video CDs and all other forms of creative work. The measure strongly benefits the United States because much of the commercial intellectual property is an American product, including Hollywood movies.

Then-president George Bush unveiled plans for a free trade agreement with Central America in early 2002.

In addition to the commercial aspects, the proposed free trade agreement with the United States would commit the countries involved to even greater openness and transparency, which would deepen the roots of democracy, civil society, and the rule of law in the region, as well as reinforce market reforms, the White House said at the time. Miguel Ángel Rodríguez still had four months left in his term as president when Bush spoke.

When Abel Pacheco took over as president May 8, 2002, he voiced support for the trade agreement. But his administration was defined by large protests against the treaty, even though he had said marches against the free trade treaty were tantamount to marching against access to the nation’s principal market.

Other Central American countries also had protests against the treaty, but Costa Rica delayed acting on the measure. Passage of the free trade treaty became the No. 1 priority of U.S. Embassy workers here.

Officials in the Dominican Republic recognized the treaty as a good deal and signed on late.

Pacheco faced massive demonstrations during his term, and many concerned the free trade treaty. Some of the opposition found support from leftist Latin leaders who were setting up a trade organization of their own. Pacheco stalled taking action and left the job to the next administration.

The Feb. 5, 2006, election was seen as a vote on the trade treaty.  Union leaders and others opposed to the free trade treaty threw their weight behind Ottón Solís of the Partido Acción Ciudadana in the presidential election. Arias, who was considered a sure winner, squeaked out a narrow,18,000-vote victory of 1.6 million ballots cast. But his Partido Liberación Nacional was able to stitch together a two-third majority coalition in the legislature. Still, the treaty had many hurdles.

Arias said shortly before taking office that those employees of the governmental monopolies who fear a free trade treaty are doing so because they really fear competition.
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A.M. Costa Rica file photo  
Sign used in an anti-trade treaty protest

Eventually opponents decided to seek signatures for a national referendum on the treaty. The signature gathering process was to be lengthy, effectively freezing the pact. Arias called their bluff and used his presidential powers to call a referendum quickly. That took place Oct. 7, 2007, and the treaty gained passage. Opponents claimed the government had cheated. A famous memo leaked to Universidad de Costa Rica writers outlined tough political measures to win approval. Vice President Kevin Casas, one of the authors, quit his post so he would not be an issue in the bitter referendum campaign even though his ideas never were used.

Arias signed the document Nov. 21, 2007, but the fight was not over yet.

By September 2008 of the six countries that had signed the free trade agreement, including El Salvador, Honduras, the United States, Nicaragua, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica was the only one that had not yet begun fully implementing the treaty, due to opposition and the complex legislative, judicial and bureaucratic delays.

Each one of the 14 implementing bills faced a struggle and long debate in the Asamblea Legislativa. There were frequent Sala IV constitutional court appeals.

The effects have been massive. The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad no longer has a monopoly on cell phone service. A handful of private companies are about to submit bids on getting electromagnetic spectrum to install their own systems.

The Instituto Nacional de Seguros is no longer a monopoly, and private firms are in the process of entering the insurance market. Regulatory agencies have been created.

Despite the lengthy approval process, the treaty's effects have not been highly visible in other areas. Sugar farmers will have more markets. The idea of private competition in other areas is not such a divisive issue.

Some of the enabling legislation provides benefits for the former state monopolies allowing them more flexibility.

Costa Rica has easily negotiated other trade treaties, including pacts with Panamá, Singapore and China.

Sometime next week Arias will sign the final free trade bill ending a long ordeal for the country. President-elect Laura Chinchilla is expected to carry on the Arias free trade legacy.

Battling the computer gremlins requires a teen expert
Last week my computer kept turning off and erasing the last eight paragraphs before I had a chance to put -30- (finish) on my column and send it off. Eventually it just blanked out the Microsoft Word program, and I had to find another computer and rewrite the column. 

This week, it started erasing after just three paragraphs, informing me that the program had been  “macro disabled’ or something to that effect. I spent two hours trying to solve the problem with no results — unless you count driving me crazy and making me yearn for a typewriter.

Now I am working on a word processor program with my fingers crossed. (Figuratively speaking.)

My column was about the choices one faces when deciding to live in Costa Rica.  The first one:  Where to live? For a little country with a land mass the size of West Virginia, there are a variety of lifestyles and climates to choose.  There are tropical beach towns or resorts on two oceans,  much cooler mountain hideaways, small towns, lake areas like Arenal with its idiosyncratic weather patterns (my own opinion), or a “close to nature” life near one of the national reserves.  And then there is the Meseta Central or Central Valley where most of the population eventually settles. 

Although  the Central Valley generally enjoys the year-round ’springtime weather’ that is advertised, the temperatures vary according to the altitude so that within a half hour’s drive from wherever you live, you can cool off or warm up, or at least notice the change. 

In addition to a great climate, the Central Valley gives you the options to live in a village, a town or a city and a farm.  Each of these has unique advantages and disadvantages.

When I decided to live abroad, I had three primary qualifications: I wanted to live where bougainvillea grew, where there were sidewalk cafes and where there was a toilet that could flush paper. 

Bougainvillea of many brilliant colors grows in profusion here.  Sidewalk cafes are rare in San Jose, probably discouraged by the noisy traffic, the breeze that can become a wind, and the lack of space on current sidewalks (not to mention the occasional debris). But there are some, and I take note of every one.  I used to do all of my writing on a notepad in a sidewalk café. 

Now I work at home on a computer, my handwriting and spelling having gone to ruin.
Butterfly in the City
. . .  Musings from San José

By Jo Stuart

Jo Stuart

A city, especially the capital, is sure to have good plumbing — so settling in San José ensured that I got two out of my three perceived needs. 

Choosing a small town or a village probably means you are more apt to live in a house, not an apartment or high rise and that you will get to know your Costa Rican neighbors more readily than you would in a city.  Cities have stores, medical care and cultural activities that are less readily available in small towns.  Deciding whether to buy or rent is yet another challenge, and it’s wise to allow enough time to fully explore and understand the implications.

Meanwhile, back to my computer problems.  I discovered that I could not access any of the documents in my document file because they had been done on Microsoft Word.  Eight years of work erased.  This concern was interfering with my concentration.  Then my empleada said perhaps her 15-year-old son could help me. 

Wishing he were even younger (I hear 14 year olds are the real computer whizzes), I said “Yes, please.” 

Nestor came and spent three hours with me, not only fixing the problem but discovering others and repairing them, his fingers flying over the keys.  He is studying English, so we had a fine time talking in both languages, and he was the epitome of the ideal Costa Rican (or any) teenage boy – smart, polite, handsome with a dark curly mop of hair.

The sun came out in my day just as it started to rain.

Living in a city you may not get to know your neighbors, but it is a lot easier to find someone who knows all about the new technology.  And wherever you move, you are going to be faced with the latest technology – it travels faster than McDonalds – so be kind to kids wherever you are.       
A Postscript:  If the person who thought he was buying a full jar of Jo’s Chocolate Fudge Sauce at the book sale on Saturday will contact me at, I will see that he gets what he paid for.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, April 30, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 84

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Murder suspect sought here admits planning jail break

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A man wanted in Costa Rica to answer a murder charge pleaded guilty Thursday to trying to break out of a federal jail in Chicago.

The man is Matthew F. Nolan, 41, according to press reports in that Illinois city. Costa Rica has filed an extradition request with federal officials in Chicago, but Nolan will not be sent here until he finishes his term for an attempted jail break. He is expected to be sentenced in July.

Nolan is a principal suspect in the murder of Robert C. Cohen of Nicaragua and Florida. Cohen was abducted March 6, 2005, outside an Escazú hotel, held hostage and then murdered.

A three-judge court in Limón gave a Honduran citizen 27 years in prison after convicting him in May 2007 of the murder of Cohen. The same panel said there was not sufficient evidence to convict a second suspect, a woman named Anabel Chacón Sánchez. The panel said that her participation in the crime was not clear. Sentenced was Luis Alonso Douglas Mejía. The panel gave him 25 years for the murder and two years for depriving Cohen of his liberty.
FBI agents arrested Nolan as he left the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse in Chicago for a bankruptcy court hearing more than a year ago.

Cohen, 64 at the time of his death, was a developer from Granada, Nicaragua, who was found at the Río Chirripó.  Cohen was grabbed when he left an Escazú hotel to exercise about 7 a.m. Although he had a development project in Grenada, Cohen was based in Costa Rica.

The prosecution said that he was abducted, beaten and murdered as a lesson for losing $7 million in a business transaction.

As a result of the trial, the possibility emerged that Cohen may have been falsely accused and killed for no reason. Both Cohen and another man were employed by the same development company. But the other man committed suicide and may have been the person who took the money.
The money had not turned up, Cristian Ulate, the prosecutor on the case, said at the time.

Nolan was tripped up in his escape plans because jail officials intercepted some letters and searched his cell. They found 31 feet of rope that would allow him to escape from the high-rise structure, said Chicaco news sources.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, April 30, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 84

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Worldwide press freedoms
reported to be reversing

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Killings of journalists, cross-border lawsuits and internet censorship have all contributed to a deterioration of press freedom worldwide, according to a democracy watchdog based in Washington. It says the gains made after the collapse of communism are in danger.

The Freedom of the Press survey, published by Freedom House, ranks countries as free, partly free, or not free. 
Survey editor Karin Karlekar says that this year the number of countries were about evenly split. "However, when you look at the population it's a much more worrying picture. Our latest findings show that only 16 percent of the population lives in countries that have a free press," she said.

She said that's the lowest level since 1996.

According to Freedom House, the press became less free in every region of the world except Asia. The bottom ten countries on the list include North Korea, Iran and Cuba.

However, some countries showed improvement. Those include Israel, which lifted restrictions imposed during the Gaza war, as well as Bangladesh and Bhutan.

After the presentation, Karlekar talked about the main problems in the "not free" countries. "There's a continuing use of legislation, restrictive laws against the press. There's a continuing high level of violence against the press in a number of countries and impunity for their killers," she said.

She said such killings have even been occurring in relatively free countries like Mexico, the Philippines and Sri Lanka. And it's not only because journalists get caught in crossfire. The Committee to Protect Journalists says three out of four journalists killed last year were murdered.

Freedom House is also concerned with what's happening in some countries ranked as free. The United States has allowed the jailing of journalists who refuse to reveal their sources.

And Britain is contributing to what the watchdog calls the globalization of censorship.

Freedom House's Christopher Walker says British libel laws allow individuals in any one country to sue media outlets in that or any other country. "London's courts have become the choice destination for Saudi sheikhs, Russian oligarchs, and others who are looking to silence critical voices," he said.

Walker says small media often cannot bear the brunt of legal costs and censor themselves to avoid even the possibility of a lawsuit.

Freedom House says many Muslim countries' rankings suffered because of anti-blasphemy laws.

The group also reports online censorship grew around the world. The number of journalists in prison now includes more bloggers and online reporters than traditional journalists.

Bob Boorstin of Google, which recently shut down its search engine in China, says countries that restrict the internet are only hurting themselves. "I think they are hurting their credibility with their own populations. I think that they are hurting themselves economically because they call into question whether or not there is a good environment in that country for investment," he said.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, there was a spread of democracy and a freeing of the media in many countries. Now, despite the rise of journalism on the internet, Freedom House says the positive momentum of the 1990s is stalling and in some places even being reversed.
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A.M. Costa Rica
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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, April 30, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 84

Latin American news
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Major highway continues
to be blocked by slides

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The hillside still is falling along national highway route 32 in Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo, and semi-trucks are lined up waiting for the road to be opened.

The Consejo Nacional de Vialidad suspended work Thursday afternoon because workmen were facing more slides. The hillside covered the road Tuesday, and traffic has been stalled since.

An alternate route through Turrialba also has been blocked both Wednesday and Thursday because of accidents involving trucks on the narrow road.

This is the highway from San José to Limón.

Meanwhile on the new Autopista del Sol between San José and Caldera workmen are putting up wire mesh to reduce the number of falling rocks and dirt there as the rainy season begins. The Defensoría de los Habitantes has asked the Consejo Nacional de Concesiones to speed up the safety work. The highway is being run by a concessionaire.

Guanacaste onions honored

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Not just Santa Ana has an onion festival.  The Guanacaste town of Rio Blanco de Bagaces celebrates the onion Saturday and Sunday with a festival.

Some 30 producers will be present for the second edition of the annual festival. There will be music, games for youngsters, cultural activities and a contest for food dishes made with onions, said organizers.

Gasoline to take a dip

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The regulatory agency is cutting the price of gasoline, both super and plus, by 10 colons for the month of May. The reduction is about two U.S. cents.

Super will be 618 per liter (about $1.22). Plus will be 587 colons, about $1.16. Diesel is unchanged at 514 colons per liter.

The Authoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públicos makes fuel adjustments each month based on economic conditions and the dollar exchange rate a month old. The petroleum comes from the monopoly Refinadora Costarricense de Petróleo, S.A.

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The contents of this page and this Web site are copyrighted by Consultantes Río Colorado 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007  and 2008 and may not be reproduced anywhere without permission. Abstracts and fair use are permitted.  Check HERE for details