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These stories were published Thursday, May 6, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 89
Jo Stuart
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Sanctity of contract has treaty implications
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Just how good is a contract with the government of Costa Rica? There are investors who will argue either side of that issue.

But the current government is generating a string of situations that would be considered defaults elsewhere.

The latest of these is the trouble with Alterra Partners, the concessionaire at Juan Santamaría Airport. This is the local incarnation of an international company which has extensive experience working with governments.

An analysis of the news

Add open pit gold mining and Harken Petroleum to the mix, and a track record emerges: Governmental contracts do not bind the government.

This would be a local peculiarity if the free-trade treaty with the United States were not on the table. This, too, is a contract with the Costa Rica government, and the current track record is important in predicting future outcome.

But of course the average expat here knows that the government interprets its own laws on a daily basis. Reports are legion of individuals who thought they had made a deal with the aduana, the customs inspectors. Then without 
warning the rules change and more money is 

demanded for import duties. Or another governmental agency or bank changes the rules after a deal seems to have been concluded.

Consider the 1,000 or more expats who thought they had pensionado or rentista status until the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería started reviewing old files and reinterpreting the rules. The Sala IV constitutional court did a little wrist-slapping to end that fishing expedition.

Regardless of the opinions of off-shore drilling, a reasonable person would have to conclude that Harken Petroleum has a pretty good case because its exploration contract was withdrawn. The damages are much less than the $57 billion that the oil giant claimed in an international venue. But there are damages that Costa Rica eventually must pay.

The free-trade treaty will provide even stronger defenses for corporations that are treated in a high-handed fashion.

The decision to drill or not to drill offshore should have been final when Harken got the contract. To pull the plug a year or two later is simply bad for future business. The same is true of the airport contract. Alterra promised to make improvements, but the government promised to make payments and is not doing so.

If Costa Rica passes the free-trade treaty shoot-from-the-hip governance will have to give way to adherence to international norms.

Yucca is not yucky when it's mixed into a salad
By the A.M. Costa rica staff

The brown, waxed roots in every market and feria in Costa Rica are from the cassava or yucca plant (Manihot esculenta), a woody shrub that can be found growing row after row in the warmer areas of the country.

This is the yuca in Spanish or yucca in English that feeds more than half a billion people worldwide. Chunks of root minus the wax-covered bark can be boiled or deep fried like potatoes. The root is very high in starch and carbohydrates.

Less known are salads made from the plant:

Ensalada de Yuca
Recipe for four persons


1 kilo yucca with thick skin removed (2-plus pounds)
1 big onion 
1 big roll fresh cilantro
1 big green pepper
1/2  kilo tomato (a bit more than one pound)
1 clove of garlic
olive oil
4 lemons


First take the yucca, wash it and peel away the bark. If you are lucky the bark will peel off easily like the skin of a banana.

What remains are long tubes of white yucca. Cut into chunks and boil for 45 minutes until the yucca is soft. 

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Wedges of lemon set off the salad

When done, remove from pot and dice into bite-sized pieces and then refrigerate.

In a salad bowl add all the ingredients: onion, cilantro, garlic, tomatoes also cut into bite-size pieces. Finally add the lemon juice, a bit of salt and pepper and olive oil.

Serve for lunch on the veranda with a cold drink of your choice.

-Saray Ramírez Vindas
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Japanese business forum
attracts 80 visitors

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A heavy hitting delegation of business leaders from Japan are in town for a forum on Costa Rican investments, commerce and tourism that begins today at the Herradura Hotel on the Panamerican Highway west of San José.

More than 80 selected business leaders will participate, said a statement from the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto.

The event will open today at 9 a.m. with Vice President Lineth Saborío, Chancellor Roberto Tovar Faja, the Japanese ambassador here, Tadanori Inomata, and other officials. President Abel Pacheco will close the conference at 5 p.m. in Casa Presidencial.

Fugitive who got tip
finally caught here

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A Costa Rican citizen was able to give U.S. marshals the slip in 2003 because someone in Costa Rica tipped him off that the lawmen were closing in, according to officials.

The man is Jorge Espinoza Lepiz, who investigators detained in Pérez Zeledón Wednesday. He faces rape and morals charges stemming from allegations made in 1989. Officials said he is accused of abusing the daughters of his then-wife from the time the girls were 8-years-old.

Espinoza ended up in the State of Wisconsin in the United States and in July 3, 2002, the Tribunal de Juicio de San José issued a detention order that was relayed to U.S. officials via the International Police Agency (INTERPOL), said agents here.

On July 11 of that same year Espinoza was located in Alexandria, Virginia, and officials there began the arrest process through diplomatic channels.

U.S. marshals quickly determined where he lived and work, but in June 2003 the man is believed to have received a fax transmission from Costa Rica warning him of his impending arrest and extradition hearing, said officials. Espinoza quickly left his job on a pretext and was believed to have returned to Costa Rica in October 2003.

The arrest Wednesday was carried out by the Dirección de Inteligencia y Seguridad which represents INTERPOL here, the Judicial Investigation Organization and Banco Nacional security officials, said a statement from the Ministerio de Presidencia.

The arrest was made near the bank. Espinoza faces a possible 15-year prison term if convicted.

Republicans will host
businessman Fendell

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Republicans Abroad of Costa Rica will hear from long-time Latin businessman James Fendell at its meeting Tuesday at noon in the Melia Confort Corobicí in La Sabana.

Fendell is president of the Costa Rican-American Chamber of commerce and the founder of Aerocasillas, the courier service. He also represents the Association of American Chambers of Commerce in Latin America and has testified frequently in Washington on hemispheric trade issues.

The Republicans also will be registering U.S. citizens to vote in the November presidential election.

The lunch is 4,500 colons for members and 5,000 for non-members. ($10.40 or $11.50)

Don’t get hopes up,
reader says on bonds

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I respond to the article/letter written by J. Neiman and in particular to SUGEF (Superintendencia General de Entidades Financieras)

A letter from a reader

After the bank collapse and the ensuing intervention on Banco Bantec, August 2003, I sure wouldn't hold your breath too long if you are hoping for any response from SUGEF. 

After they took over Banco Bantec's affairs and then abruptly left the building in February 2004, communication between SUGEF and myself proved to be all one sided, all mine. 

SUGEF do not get any accolades from myself for the mess they left Banco Bantec in and certainly not for communication. 

Robert Joy 
Sabana Sur 
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Democrats' plan would legalize illegals in the U.S.
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire service

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Democrats in Congress have unveiled legislation to overhaul America's immigration system by providing a means for undocumented workers to become legal U.S. residents. The plan comes on the heels of a proposal by President George Bush that would establish a massive guest worker program in the United States.

The Democratic plan would legalize the status of undocumented workers who have been in the United States for a minimum of five years and been employed for at least two of those years. Applicants would have to undergo a criminal background check and a medical examination and demonstrate a basic command of the English language.

The lead sponsor of the bill in the Senate is Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts and one of the sponsors in the House of Representatives is Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, who spoke with reporters Tuesday.

"Our bill says that if you have been in the United States for five years or more, working and contributing with good moral character, you should be a full partner in the American way of life," Gutierrez said. "It says we can no longer ignore the issue of millions of undocumented residents in our nation."

The Democratic proposal also aims to speed family reunification between U.S. residents and immediate family members still living in other nations. In addition, the plan would establish a total of 350,000 temporary work visas for low-skilled, low-wage positions. It has the backing of the large U.S. labor federation, the AFL-CIO and a number of immigrant advocacy groups.

Gutierrez said that America needs a reliable, expanding workforce, and that immigrants, even undocumented ones, deserve a chance at the American dream. 

"It is about people America needs," he said. "I meet them everyday. They work at minimum wage jobs with inadequate healthcare. They do not complain. They long only for a better life for their children. And they love America. And they want to be Americans. And America should want them and embrace them as they want to embrace America."

Earlier this year, Bush proposed creating a guest worker program that would give temporary legal 

status to millions of undocumented workers, but the plan has no guarantee of permanent residency in the United States, a flaw according to his Democratic critics. 

Even so, both Republicans and Democrats appear in agreement on one central issue: that the United States cannot simply ignore the millions of illegal immigrants who have built a life in the country and become an integral part of the domestic workforce.

However, not everyone is happy with either plan and critics are particularly displeased with Democrats' proposal.

John Wahala is a research associate at the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington-based organization that advocates tighter immigration control. "Essentially what it is, is an open-borders plan," he said. 

He also noted that, in the past when an amnesty has been granted to undocumented workers, it has resulted in a flood of new illegal immigrants trying to reach the United States to take advantage of the program, in effect worsening the very problem the amnesty was designed to correct.

Wahala added that there are other problems with rewarding those who entered the country illegally. "It would be silly for someone to want to go through the legal channels that are currently on the books when they simply could come through illegally," he said. "Right now, we do not have an enforcement mechanism and this plan would simply encourage more illegal immigration."

Gutierrez disagrees. "We want to eliminate undocumented, illegal immigration to this country," he stated. "That is why this bill is different and comprehensive. It adds 350,000 visas a year so that they can come in an orderly fashion, in a legal fashion to this country."

The congressman added that the Democratic plan would eliminate so-called caps or limits established by the federal government on a per-country basis for those who have waited five years or more to come to the United States through legal channels.

Gutierrez admitted that, because Democrats are the minority party in Congress, passage of the plan will be an uphill battle. He expressed hope, however, that some Republicans could be convinced to vote for the bill. If approved by Congress, it would need the signature of President Bush to become law. 

Cinco de Mayo military victory marked in Puebla and Washington
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

People of Mexican heritage Wednesday celebrated the Cinco de Mayo holiday, which marks the day Mexican soldiers defeated a French army near the town of Puebla on May 5, 1862.

Celebrations took place in Mexico on the 142nd anniversary of Cinco de Mayo. Mexican President Vicente Fox spoke in Puebla to honor Mexican forces who fought in the famous battle.

In Washington, President Bush sent greetings to those celebrating Cinco de Mayo. Bush also said in a statement the holiday is a time to celebrate the strong friendship between Mexico and the United States.

In the 1862 battle of Puebla, a 33-year-old Mexican general named Ignacio Zaragoza led his beleaguered forces to victory over French invaders. The victory played a key role in the 1867 expulsion of foreign forces from Mexico.

Brazil will send troops into the slums to counter armed drug gangs
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — The Brazilian government says it will deploy troops onto the streets of this city to fight heavily armed drug gangs operating in slums. 

Officials say details of the operation are still being worked out. 

Rio State Governor Rosinha Matheus recently asked the government for 4,000 troops to help control the drug gangs. 

The city's sprawling hillside slums often serve as strongholds for powerful gangs that deal in drugs and arms trading. The gangs engage in bloody showdowns for zones of influence.  Recent clashes between drug gangs have killed at least 12 people.

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U.S. will dig deeply to help Haiti, Powell says
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Secretary of State Colin Powell Wednesday promised continuing U.S. economic help for Haiti after hearing an appeal from the country's interim prime minister, Gerard Latortue. The Haitian official said the political violence there earlier this year nearly destroyed the impoverished country's economic infrastructure. 

The United States has committed some $20 million in new aid to Haiti to support peacekeeping, emergency relief programs and democracy-building since the political upheaval that forced former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide from power two months ago.

However, Powell said that he will scour the State Department for possible additional funding after hearing from Latortue, who is on a three-day visit here to try to drum up support in the U.S. Congress and international lending institutions for Haitian reconstruction.

At a joint press appearance with the secretary of State, Latortue said that Haitian authorities are trying to rebuild democratic governance in the country even as they deal with the economic damage wrought by the recent violence.

"Haiti just went through very, very difficult times, where the entire economic infrastructure has been almost destroyed," he said. "We are trying to rebuild confidence into the country. We are trying to bring good economic governance, and we are trying also to bring democracy. Yesterday, before leaving Haiti, we have installed a new electoral council, and we hope the council will start working

so elections will take place in 2005, and a new government will be installed and transfer of power will be done by the latest, on February 7th, 2006."

For his part, Powell made no specific new aid commitments, but said Haiti is in great need of financial support and that the Bush administration is actively examining what else it can do.

"For the moment, we're looking at all the accounts that are available to us in the department, to see what we might be able to transfer into support for Haiti," Powell said. "We're looking at our counter-narcotics accounts and really, really scrubbing the department. And of course, once we have a better understanding of the overall need, we'll put it into the normal budgeting process. We are looking hard, and looking at other departments as well for what they are able to do."

Officials here said the secretary and the interim Haitian leader also discussed plans to replace the current U.S.-led security force in Haiti with a United Nations peacekeeping mission of some 8000 troops and police. The issue was also on the agenda of Powell's New York meeting Tuesday with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. 

The U.N. Security Council approved a resolution late last week authorizing the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti, which is to begin June 1 for an initial period of six months, though the mandate is renewable.

The U.N. military contingent will replace the 3600 member force from the United States, France, Canada and Chile that was deployed in February to keep order after Aristide left the country following a three-week rebellion.

Noriega calls on Latin governments to do their part
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The United States is engaged in Latin America and is working to advance common interests, but regional governments also must do their part to promote trade and democracy in the hemisphere, according to Roger Noriega, assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs.

In remarks this week to the Council of the Americas, Noriega said the United States' goal for the Western Hemisphere is "to generate broad-based growth through free trade and sound economic policies, to invest in the well-being of people from all walks of life, and to make democracy serve the citizen more effectively and justly."

In terms of inter-American affairs, he added that the U.S. objective is to "strengthen an inter-American community formed by economic partners that are democratic, stable and prosperous; friendly neighbors that help secure our borders against terrorism and illegal drugs; and nations that work together in the world to advance our common economic and political values."

Noriega said the United States is actively pursing these ends, in part through such measures as an ambitious trade agenda, the proposed Millennium Challenge Account aid program designed to reward countries that practice good governance, and the president's immigration plan that matches willing workers and employers.

"So the United States is doing more than paying attention to the region," Noriega said. "We have principles in place, policies at work, and programs under way to advance our common interests across the board in the Americas."

Noriega said continued U.S. leadership and the $540 billion in income and investment it provides the region each year is crucial. He cautioned, however, that Latin American governments must utilize these considerable resources and other economic assistance wisely.

"No amount of U.S. aid is going to help a country whose government is not prepared to help itself by adopting the kinds of policies that make more effective the use of that already vast income," he said. "American taxpayers can be convinced to help those who help themselves . . . ."

Jo Stuart
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