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(506) 223-1327               Published Thursday, May 10, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 92              E-mail us    
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July 4 picnic in metro area canceled for this year
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

This year there will be no July 4th picnic sponsored by the American Colony Committee.

The committee, a private group, made that announcement after a meeting Wednesday night. The group declined to say why the gathering had been canceled. But it did say:

"The committee is already working toward a bigger and better celebration at the Ceveceria  picnic grounds in Rio Segundo on the 4th of July 2008, continuing the spirit and tradition of the last 47 years here in Costa Rica."

There already were rumors in the expat community that the event would not take place this year.

Some some 3,500 U.S. citizens and dependents attended the event last year. The food, beer and other treats have been free, paid for with donations. The planning committee is assisted by many U.S. citizen volunteers who do everything from checking passports at the entrance to picking up the garbage afterwards.
Last year's even drew about 500 more persons than the 2005 affair, and the committee had doubled the size of the area dedicated to games for children,

When it was started, the July 4 event was designed to show youngsters of U.S. citizens a typical Independence Day celebration. Some youngsters had never been to the United States.

Part of the tradition included U.S. Marines raising the U.S. Flag and the singing of the National Anthem. The current U.S. ambassador always attended and sometimes U.s. senators and congressmen who were in the area.

The event originally was at the home of the U.S. ambassador. As attendance grew, the celebration moved to the Cervecería Costa Rica beer company picnic grounds. Although some Costa Ricans were unhappy with the rule that attendees had to be U.S. citizens or related to one, the actual enforcement was not rigid.

As U.S. citizen population swelled along the Pacific, a group there began a July 4 observance in 2002.

Country will show its agricultural side at four-day festival in Heredia
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The day of the agricultural producer is being celebrated this weekend with a giant exposition of Costa Rican products at a government center in Heredia.

 The public is invited, including children, and admission is free.

The event is called the Feria Internacional Agroindustrial de Costa Rica EXPOPIMA 2007, and it begins Saturday. Tuesday is the  Día del Agricultor.

The event is sort of like a rural agricultural fair mixed with a farmer's market and meetings of Costa Rican producers and foreign buyers for their products. The sponsors are the Programa Integral de Mercadeo Agropecuario, which is the government export agency, and the Ministerio de Producción. The location is in an industrial park in Barreal de Heredia where the  the Programa Integral de Mercadeo Agropecuario has its sprawling complex.

There is covered space for 192 booths or product displays and outside space for even more.
The event kicks off Saturday with a fireworks display and a show of modified cars.
Sunday at 10 a.m. there is a special program for children put on by the  Museo de los Niños with inflatable toys. Also Sunday a horse tope takes place at which 300 riders are expected. The obligatory Sunday soccer match will be on a giant screen, organizers said.

At 2 p.m. Monday there is a musical cultural event, and Tuesday, the  Día del Agricultor, there is a folkloric ballet at noon and a concert by the Orquesta Sinfónica de Heredia at 1 p.m. The internationally known musical groups Marfil and Pimienta Negra are scheduled for 3 p.m.

Organizers said they expected President Óscar Arias Sánchez to attend the 9 a.m. ceremony marking that day.

Business representatives and importers from  Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, México, China, Germany and the United States are expected to attend, said organizers.

 In addition presentations will be made during the four-day event ranging from wastewater treatment to rural development to financing exports, as well as the one-on-one meetings of exporters and buyers.

The only charge for the public is a 1,000-colon fee to park a vehicle, organizers said.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, May 10, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 92

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Drivers will be getting
their licenses at bank

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Banco de Costa Rica will be serving up driver's licenses under a plan announced Wednesday by the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes.

Some 10 bank branches will offer the service starting June 5, said Karla González, the minister. That number will be expanded in four steps to 30 as well as eight offices of the  Consejo de Seguridad Vial. The bank will collect a 2 percent service charge from the ministry.

Meanwhile, the ministry is building a new license facility in La Uruca.

The bank service is by appointment via a Web page, and an announcement said that foreigners may not participate in the service. But it was unclear if that meant foreigners could not obtain their initial Costa Rican driver's license there or also could not renew their existing license.

Those with special licenses like truck and taxi drivers also cannot use the bank service.

The plan is designed to eliminate corruption and to reduce the long lines at the license bureaus. The bank workers will do everything including collecting license fees and existing fines and taking license photos.

For those who have to complete a license procedure, the ministry offices will be open Saturday and May 19 to make up for the office being closed May 17 and 18, ministry officials said.

The Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería also said this week that Costa Ricans will be able to renew their passports soon at the same bank.

Escazú Jewelry store robbed
by pair on a motorcycle

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Bandits stuck up an Escazú jewelry store  Wednesday. According to the Fuerza Pública a man and a woman arrived on a motorcycle at the store, Joyeria La Rosa, in Escazú Centro about 11:15 a.m.

An employee,  Cecilia Arguedas Aguilar, told police about 500,000 colons in jewelry were taken. That's about $970.

Meanwhile in San Miguel de Escazú 600 meters south of the Costa Rican Country Club an man identified as  Gerardo Mora Mendoza said four men in a car held him up and took 750,000 colons and credit cards.

Police reported he struggled with the robbers but was not hurt.

Four homes ravaged
by early morning blaze

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Flames tore through four small homes in  Barrio El Carmen in San Antonio de Escazú about 5 a.m. Wednesday. About 15 persons were affected by the blaze.

A child playing with a lighter was blamed for the fire, said the Fuerza Pública.  Firemen from Pavas and Barrio México had the blaze under control in about 90 minutes, police said.

The homeowners were identified as lizabeth Rodríguez, Maggy Montes, David Montes and Esperanza Matute.

Pilots conduct air search
for young crocodile victim

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Pilots from the  Servicio de Vigilancia Aérea of the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública joined the search for a missing child in Tortuguero Wednesday. They were unsuccessful.

The child was attacked and carried off by a crocodile Friday, and searchers have sought his body since.

Pilot Javier Moreira and copilot Alex Medal searched over the Barra de Tortuguero, Barra del Colorado and the Caribbean coast. They also traveled inland some 10 miles.

Ex-ambassador to U.S. mourned

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto is mourning the death of  Cristian Tattenbach Iglesias, who served as ambassador to the United Nations from 1990 to 1994 and also represented the country in Guatemala and Nicaragua. He also was a founder of the  Partido Unidad Social Cristiana, a leading political party. The ministry said he died of natural causes.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, May 10, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 92

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Hurdles keep appearing for those trying to ratify trade treaty
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

As the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones moves toward a decision on setting a date for a free trade treaty referendum, two more obstacles to the pact are emerging.

The Arias administration is confident that the public will turn out and vote for the agreement, but opponents have cited constitutional deficiencies. And complimentary legislation has run into roadblocks in the Asamblea Legislativa.

The treaty referendum will be on a Sunday in August or September. Even now the bulky document is in the hands of Sala IV magistrates who have been asked by the Defensoría de los Habitantes to give a pre-election opinion on the pact's constitutionality.

Opponents of the agreement from the Universidad de Costa Rica weighed in with their constitutional opinions this week. The group is called  the Comisión Especial sobre Roces Constitucionales del TLC, and members are university officials, a retired magistrate and legal experts.

The group suggests that the trade treaty will  change Costa Rica from a social state of rights to a corporate state. They expressed their unhappiness over an arbitration clause in the treaty as well as intellectual property rights that would keep Costa Rica from using medicines without paying the patent holder.

Opponents call these generic medicines, but their really are
products made outside the traditional commercial structure that recognizes inventors rights.

The group says that the constitutional right of health that every citizen has would be jeopardized by causing these medications to rise in price.

The  Ministerio de Comercio Exterior tried to dismiss these constitutional claims in a press release issued after the university group make its presentation.  Arbitration is normal in international agreements, and Costa Rica already has ratified a number of treaties with a similar clause, said the ministry.

In addition, according to the ministry, the treaty makes no changes in the ability of the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social to import medicines, including generics.

At the assembly, the Partido Acción Ciudadana, which opposes the free trade treaty, has staged walkouts and has used stalling tactics. Francisco Antonio Pacheco Fernández, president of the assembly, lashed out at the contrary legislators Wednesday and said they had lost the fear of being ridiculed. In discussion was a rule change that would allow speedy approval of the complimentary agenda, which includes measures such as opening up the national insurance market by breaking the monopoly of the Instituto Nacional de Seguros.

Acción Ciudadana lawmakers said they opposed a fast track approach because these important pieces of legislature deserved full discussion.

Man gets a 40-year prison term in murder of his girlfriend and her daughter
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A security guard, convicted of killed his girlfriend and her 5-year-old daughter last May 17, got a 40-year prison term Wednesday.

The man Douglas García García was on trial in the  Tribunal de Juicio de Desamparados.

Dead are  Yorleny Herrera Amador and her daughter  Scarleth. The trial began only Monday.
Both the woman and girl died in their home in Los Guidos de Desamparados. A neighbor found them during the daytime, but the deaths by gunshot took place in the early morning officers said.

The case had a high profile in the public eye because the murdered woman had obtained a court order of no contact against the man just a few days before.

The deaths were two of a series of domestic violence deaths at the time.

Arias gets a personal tour of Las Baulas and a briefing on property situation
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Parque Nacional Marino Las Baulas , a prime leatherback turtle nesting area, got a presidential fact-finding visit Wednesday as officials wrestle with the question of how to get private owners out of the park.

The park just north of Playa Grande on the far Pacific coast was created in the 1990s, but the park boundaries were drawn to include private properties. So inside the park today are tourist hotels, luxury houses and property being developed.

President Óscar Arias Sánchez met with  Jorge Rodríguez, vice minister of Ambiente y Energía, other officials and environmentalists. He said he wanted to consider options to
consolidate the park and avoid the kind of disorganized development that is there.

But  Maureen Ballestero a legislative deputy of the Partido Liberación Nacional said that the problem is that the government has no money for expropriation. She said prices would have been a lot less if the lands were purchased when the park was formed.

The area along the coast north of Tamarindo has seen skyrocketing prices, and any expropriation would have to be based on market values.

In addition to the turtle nesting activities, the park, some 445 hectares (about 1,100 acres) also contains extensive mangrove swamps populated by 174 species of birds.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, May 10, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 92

Pope Benedict in Brazil to air concerns about social issues
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Pope Benedict XVI has arrived in Brazil for a five-day visit that includes meetings with President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and with church leaders from across Latin America. The pope also is expected to use his public appearances to address key social problems facing the region.

Pope Benedict's visit to Sao Paulo, opens his five-day trip to Latin America. On his arrival here, he was greeted at the airport by President da Silva and his wife, Brazilian officials, and the Catholic bishops of the country.

Da Silva said the Catholic Church has long shared many of the social values that are important to Brazil's population, especially the need for strong families.

He said both his government and the church shared a genuine concern to strengthen family life as a key component in community development.

Speaking in Portuguese, Pope Benedict thanked the Brazilian leader for the warm welcome. He said the Catholic Church plays a special role in the region, especially in helping to encourage young people to become future leaders.

The pope said the majority of Latin America's population is
Catholic, and, therefore, the region had a responsibility to work to improve solidarity and defend the common good of society.

Thousands of youths from across the country and other parts of Latin America traveled to Sao Paulo this week to welcome Pope Benedict and celebrate his message to the region. The pontiff is to address the youth at a stadium in the city today. He is expected to talk to them about crime, violence and economic and social development. His predecessor, Pope John Paul II addressed many of the same topics when he visited Brazil 10 years ago, and some church members say that social conditions have not improved greatly since then.

The pontiff is expected to speak on his trip to Latin American bishops, in part to express concern about the rising numbers of conversions to other faiths and religious movements. Catholic church leaders have struggled in recent years to stop the defections, especially within poor communities.

Friday, Pope Benedict is to canonize an 18th century Brazilian-born Franciscan monk, known as Frei Galvao.

Some observers say the ceremony to name the first Brazilian-born saint may spark new interest in the Roman Catholic Church.

Some in Colombia are seeking change to humanitarian emphasis for U.S. aid
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Colombian politicians and human rights activists visiting Washington this week say U.S. aid to their country focuses too much on military and anti-drug assistance and not enough on humanitarian needs.

The delegation is drawing attention to Colombia's 3.5 million refugees and internally displaced people, as estimated by the U.N. refugee agency. The U.S. Congress is examining continued funding of Plan Colombia, an initiative that focuses on combating the drug trade, boosting the country's military, and creating favorable economic and social conditions for ending Colombia's decades-old civil war.

Colombia is the fourth-largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid, behind Iraq, Israel, and Egypt. More than $4 billion in assistance flowed to Bogota since 2000.

The U.S. aid has not been without positive results, according to Eduardo Zúñiga, governor of Colombia's remote southwestern Nariño department. Zúñiga says overall security has improved somewhat in Nariño since Plan Colombia's inception in the late 1990s.

But the governor, who is visiting Washington, says the drug trade continues to flourish, and bloodshed remains all too common, with innocent civilians paying a heavy price.

"In the year 2000, there were 1,900 refugees in my department. In 2006, there were 55,000 displaced people, and currently we estimate we are approaching a total of 70,000," he said.

Just last month, a battle between leftist rebels and the armed forces caused thousands to flee a rural village in Nariño. Whether the villagers will ever return is an open question.

Zúñiga says Plan Colombia is a net positive for his country, but that the program could stand improvement.
"It is necessary to change the policy," he said. " I think it is necessary to spend less on the military side, without neglecting it, of course, but placing the emphasis on the social side."

Human rights workers accompanying Zúñiga say more than half of Colombia's internally displaced people are under the age of 20. Most come from the countryside and end up in the slums of major urban areas. Often unable to find work, they live on the margins of society, adding to Colombia's already sizable underclass.

The government of President Alvaro Uribe says it is investing nearly $1 billion to promote social development and combat the effects of civil war, including backing organizations that assist internally displaced people. In addition, the government says those touched by violence will be entitled to reparations.

But Colombian human rights activist Marco Alberto Romero accuses Uribe of downplaying the magnitude of the crisis of internally displaced people, and says the government has proven itself incapable of delivering on social promises.

He says, regardless of how much is spent to eradicate coca leaf crops and to train and equip Colombia's armed forces, little will be accomplished so long as basic humanitarian needs go unmet.

Some Democrats in the opposition-controlled U.S. House of Representatives are pushing for an overhaul of U.S. aid to Colombia along the lines suggested by Romero and Governor Zúñiga.

Meanwhile, a bilateral free-trade pact negotiated by the Bush and Uribe administrations faces an uncertain future in the U.S. Congress, which must approve the measure for it to go into effect. Analysts say, with Iraq war funding and other matters taking center stage at present, it is unlikely the legislature will vote on the measure in the foreseeable future.

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Skateboarders will compete Saturday in race for local title
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Skateboarders will compete in a tournament Saturday that eventually will send one of their number to the  Sao Pablo, Brazil, later this year to compete in the Central and South American regionals.

The event will be at the Arenas Skate Park in San José. Inscriptions for competitors will be 2,000 colons. Admission for spectators is free. The event Saturday will be the first of three competitions.

The competition formalizes challenges among
skateboarders. In each two-person round a skaters does a maneuver and the other person tried to duplicate it. If they fail, they are warded a letter, just like in the basketball game H-O-R-S-E. In this game the letters are S-K-A-T-E. The winner of the round goes on to compete against other winners until there is but one person still in the competition.

The tournament is being sponsored by Sole Technology Inc., which manufactures the  éS line of footwear used by skateboarders. The Arenas Skate Park is 100 meters east of the Paseo de los Estudiantes on Avenida 10 and 25 meters south in San José.

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