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These stories were published Tuesday, May 14, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 94
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Sweep nets illegal sex workers in downtown
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A small army of police and immigration officers swept through the San José night club zone Friday and Saturday.

As many as 50 persons, most of them young women, are believed to have been arrested.  The sweep might be part of President Abel Pacheo’s pledge to crack down on those who would make Costa Rica a sex tourism destination.

Bar owners in the area around Avenida 1 and Calle 9 said that at least five immigration officers and an estimated 25 members of the Fuerza Publica were involved in the sweep. Agents entered several businesses Friday night and then came back Saturday when they made their biggest haul.

The agents and police seemed to be targeting women in bars where prostitutes congregate. Much of the sex trade activity has been taken over by Colombian, Dominican and other foreign women. Many of these are not legal residents of Costa Rica.

A report said that agents detained one Russian woman as well as women from all parts of Latin and Central America. No North Americans were known to have been detained, although there are plenty of uncertain legality.

The girls who congregate in the bars frequented by male tourists are the most visible part of the sex trade in the downtown area. However, houses of ill repute disguised as massage parlors represent another aspect. It is not known if any of these were searched.

Prostitution is legal in Costa Rica, but pimping and maintaining a house for such activity is not.

Immigration officers have been sweeping the tourist beaches and setting up checkpoints along highways from Nicaragua and Panamá. A number of North Americans have been snagged because they did not have the legal right to be in Costa Rica. Several were detained last month in Quepos. Others were detailed as long ago as last September in Montezuma and the southern Nicoya Peninsula.

There has been no sweep by immigration in downtown San José for at least two years. The manner and time in which it was carried out suggests that the motivation may not be simply to check immigration status. 

The time was just two to three days after Pacheco promised in his inaugural address to derail sex tourism. A sweep of a downtown public park at noon might snag more illegal immigrants but probably none involved in the sex trade.

Government moves to stamp out sweet deal
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The new chancellor, Roberto Tovar Faja, announced steps Monday to end what he called "disproportionate" income to Costa Rican consular employees overseas who sell document stamps.
 
Tovar
He said the government of Abel Pacheco was cutting the discount the various consulates get from 20 percent to 8 percent. And, he said, the administration soon would ask the national assembly to cut the discount to 5 percent. Pacheco ran on an austerity platform.

As a result of the change, the government will get an extra income of about $500,000 just from the eight consulates that do the most business. Had the government not acted, this money would have remained with the consulates or with the employees there. 

Total savings from all consulates would be about $565,000 per year, Tovar said.

Stamps are sold for many purposes, to obtain visas, to verify signatures, to verify documents and to submit applications. 

The income from stamps in many cases is many times the salary employees get for the job they hold, officials said. "I am not speaking of corruption," said Tovar, "but a disproportionate act that we can’t permit."

When asked why the former government of Miguel Angel Rodríguez permitted the payments, Tovar said he preferred to speak of the future and not the past. Both Pacheco and former President Rodríguez belong to the same political party, Partido Unidad Social Cristiana.

Tovar said at a news conference Monday that the 20 percent discount for diplomats ended 
that day, He said he sent a letter to the Central Bank eliminating the 20 percent discount. The 

bank handles distribution of the stamps. The bank sold the stamps for 80 percent face value, and the diplomats resold them at 100 percent face value. Additional changes would require legislation, Tovar said.
 
Pacheco to meet Bush
See below

A handout by Tovar at the conference showed that from April 2001 to April 2002, consulates in eight major cities sold $4.1 million in stamps for various reasons. The total discount that diplomats collected was $826,000. 

The consulate in Managua, Nicaragua, collected an average of $30,750 per month in discounts on monthly stamps sales of about $154,000. That was the highest income. The next highest, the consulate in Miami, Florida, collected discounts of $9,833 per month, according to figures provided by Tovar. Expressed in colons, the Managua consulate was taking in nearly 11 million per month in discounts.

Tovar gave no indication of what the reaction might be among consular employees who are involved in the verification of documents and sale of stamps overseas. Presumably many have stocks of stamps purchased at the older 20 percent discount.  Even with a discount of 8 percent, the Managua consulate would be bringing in $12,300 per month.

Tovar called the discounted stamps a "lucrative privilege" for consular employees and said the income was in some cases 10 times what a deputy earns for serving in the national assembly.

It was unclear if the money generated by discounted stamp sales actually went into individual pockets or was used to support other aspects of the consular operations.

Some officials also suggested that the government may soon decide and propose legislation to eliminate postage-like stamps entirely and instead use stamps printed from inkpads as are used by domestic purposes in Costa Rica and elsewhere.

Don't miss Patricia Martin's report 
on the west coast of Nicoya
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A.M. Costa Rica photo
Policeman struggles with a pickpocket suspect as a light rain falls on the downtown pedestrian boulevard Monday. A young male victim chased and captured the man who fought back briefly  generating interest from passersby.

Computer virus keeps
users on their toes

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

E-mail messages infected with the Win32.Klez.H virus continue to pour in to A.M. Costa Rica.  Employees discard up to 25 such messages a day. the number suggests that many persons in contact with A.M. Costa Rica have the virus in their systems.

The virus actually is a small program that worms its way into a computer hard drive and sends duplicate copies of itself to persons who may be listed in the computer’s Microsoft Outlook address book.

The e-mail message contains an attachment containing the actual virus program. When the attachment is opened, the virus springs to life and takes over the computer.

Computer experts say that the best defense is never to open an attachment when uncertainty exists as to what is inside. Additionally, experts urge each user to have and continually update anti-virus software.

This particular virus is sneaky in trying to trick the computer user to open the attachment. It can mimic a return address so the message looks like it came from somewhere else, according to the Computer Associates Virus Information Center.

It also can include the name of the recipient in the subject line greeting, as in "Hi, Mary, this is for you," where "Mary" is part of the recipient’s e-mail address.

The most sinister version purports to be information about the virus, said Computer Associates. The subject line says: "Worm Klez.E immunity" and the body of the message claims the attachment is a patch to fix vulnerable spots in a Microsoft program against a virus. Actually, the attachment is the virus.

Another sneaky e-mail message says: "This game is my first work. You're the first player." But instead of a game, the attachment is the virus program.

You can read about this virus at:  http://www3.ca.com/solutions/
collateral.asp?CT=65&ID=1705

A.M. Costa Rica has received at least 200 such virus e-mails since April 17 when this particular program began making the rounds. The virus is so prevalent and generates so many e-mails that some effect has been noticed on e-mail servers. They have slowed down.

Some servers contain anti-virus software that deletes virus attachments, so some of the messages arrive harmlessly without the attachment that has been deleted by the server.

—Carol Calkins contributed to this story
Pacheco off to Spain
to promote country

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Abel Pacheco and his team are off to Spain this week to make overtures to Europe. Part of the plan is to boost Spanish tourism to Costa Rica.

That was the word Monday from Chancellor Roberto Tovar Faja, who will accompany the president.

The team also will be seeking investment connections with Europeans and other aspects of international cooperation, said Tovar. Spain is seen as a good market to generate more tourism because the country already sends significant numbers to Costa Rica, and there is no language barrier.

The official reason for the trip is the Second Summit of the Chiefs of State of the Governments of Latin America, the Caribbean and the European Union. Costa Rica has higher status this year because it holds the presidency of the Group of Río, the organization of 19 Latin countries.

This is the first trip overseas for Pacheco since he became president last Wednesday.

Tovar said that the Pacheco team hoped to increase the opportunities for commercial relations between Central America and the European Union. The chancellor also said that during the summit in Madrid, Costa Rica would express its concern for the system of subsidies that various European countries provide their farmers. The country will push for openings in this market that would permit Central America to sell its products and defeat poverty.

Tovar said that Spain is one of the main commercial partners and investors in Latin America and that building on that relationship would allow Costa Rica to build a bridge that would provide entry into the European market.

The visit also includes one and possibly two meetings with the king and queen of Spain.

The trip, which begins Wednesday might also be seen as a way for Costa Rica to strengthen its negotiating position as it seeks to develop a free trade agreement between the nations of Central America and the United States, Mexico and Canada.

Meeting with Bush is
June 3 in Washington

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Abel Pacheco will meet with his U.S. counterpart, George Bush, June 3 in Washington.  That was announced Monday by Chancellor Roberto Tovar Faja.

Tovar also said that the current Costa Rican ambassador to the United States, Jaime Daremblum Rosenstein, will continue in that post. Darenblum was among a list of 21 diplomats who will continue in their posts in the Pacheco Administration, according to Tovar.

Pacheco took over from fellow Partido Unidad Social Cristiana member Miguel Angel Rodríguez Wednesday. 

Pacheco was going to meet with Bush shortly after the April 7 presidential runoff election that he won decisively against Rolando Araya. But aides said that Pacheco injured his knee while fending off wellwishers at his polling place. So he was laid up for a week and had to change the appointment for the meeting.

The meeting with Bush likely will be private, but certainly topics of discussion will include U.S. aid for serious damage inflicted on the Atlantic slope by heavy rains over the last 10 days. Pacheco certainly will discuss the Bush plan for a free trade pact with Central America and probably anti-narcotics programs carried out here at the request of the United States.

Another possible topic could be an apparent increase in arms shipments from points in Latin America to Colombia where a war is raging. Recent disclosures by the Panama News and reporters in the United States showed that an entire ship loaded with arms from Nicaragua was unloaded in Colombia instead of in Panama. 

The government of Panama and its police force was the buyer of record of the weapons, but the guns are presumed to have fallen into the hands of Colombian rebels.


 
Session on children
OKs plan of action

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

NEW YORK, N. Y. — The three-day General Assembly Special Session on Children ended Friday with a plan of action to make "a world fit for children" by setting goals and strategies to promote health, provide education, protect against abuse and violence, and combat HIV/AIDS.

The first General Assembly special session ever devoted to children was held to give governments an opportunity to take stock of what has been accomplished since the 1990 World Summit for Children and to refocus their energies to put children in the forefront of activities in the 21st century.

In adopting the plan of action, governments agreed by consensus to 21 goals that include continuing efforts to reduce infant and maternal mortality; providing access to quality schooling, health care, sanitation facilities, and safe drinking water; and protecting children from all forms of abuse, neglect, exploitation and violence.

Among those attending the session was Bruce Harris, executive director of Casa Alianza in San José.

Carter to give
address tonight

By the A.M. Costa Rica wires services

HAVANA, Cuba — Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter is scheduled to deliver a live, televised address to the Cuban public this evening as he continues his landmark visit to Communist Cuba.

Carter is scheduled to speak from the University of Havana following meetings with Cuban farmers and a visit to an AIDS hospital during the day. The topic of Carter's speech has not been announced, but Cuban President Fidel Castro has said the former American president is free to make any criticisms. 

The White House, several U.S. lawmakers and Cuban exile groups have urged Carter to address the issue of human rights and democracy during his stay. On Monday, Carter met with two of Cuba's best-known dissidents and is scheduled to hold more meetings with dissidents Thursday.

During a visit to Cuba's biotechnology institute Monday, the former president challenged the Bush Administration to support claims Cuba is developing biological weapons and sharing the expertise with rogue states. With Castro by his side, Carter said U.S. officials who briefed him for his Cuba trip told him they had no evidence the island nation was exporting such technology.

Last week, U.S. Under Secretary of State John Bolton accused Cuba of having at least a limited biological warfare program and providing such technology to nations hostile to the United States. Castro denies the allegations.

U.S. Supreme Court
remands porn law

By the A.M. Costa Rica wires services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Advocates of protecting children from pornography on the Internet won a partial victory in the U.S. Supreme Court Monday. By a margin of 8-1, the court ruled that a key part of a federal law aimed at limiting access to Internet pornography was constitutional. 

At issue was whether it was proper for the law to rely on community standards to determine which online material is deemed harmful to children. 

The Child Online Protection Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton in 1998. It requires Web site operators to ensure that only adults have access to online material considered harmful to children. 

The law was immediately challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union and several online businesses, which said it violates the rights of adults to see or buy what they want on the Internet. 

Critics also contend that using community standards to determine what material is suitable for children would effectively force online services to conform to the most conservative or puritan standards in their offerings on the Internet. 

In the majority opinion Monday, the high court also said that, while the basis for the law was constitutional, there are other potential problems with the law, and sent the case back to a lower federal appeals court for further review. 

The Supreme Court said the government is barred from enforcing the law in the meantime. 
 

Embassy is planning
to sell some used cars

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An agricultural office at the U.S. Embassy wants to dump some vehicles, so an auction is scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday.

The announcement in Spanish appears in a one-column by 8 centimeter advertisement in Monday’s La Nación.  The ad said that the sale would be held starting at 9 a.m. in the embassy parking lot across the street from the building. The used cars being auctioned include pickups, motorcycles and a truck, the ad said.

The embassy is only allowing inspection Wednesday and Thursday between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. at the parking lot.

The organization selling the vehicles is the Screwworm Eradication Program that helps Costa Ricans control the pesky fly that lay eggs in cows thereby damaging the quality of their skin for future use as leather.

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