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These stories were published Wednesday, May 15, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 95
Jo Stuart
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Taxpayer lottery in Pacheco's austerity plan
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica will set up a lottery only open to those who pay their taxes as one method to encourage people to pay up.

The government also will set up a tax police force to go after people who do not pay.

These were some of the methods announced Tuesday by the minister of hacienda, the top tax man, after a meeting of President Abel Pacheco’s government council.

The minister, Jorge Walter Bolaños, said that the lottery would be one of three steps the government would take to fight a budget deficit that was expected to be nearly 3.5 percent of all the goods and services sold or exchanged in the country.

The government also would move to control discretionary spending and also try to create a new culture of respect for tax payments by 
setting up civic programs and education. The 

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Sunset in the Central Valley turns the underused Pacific rail line to gold and the sky to shades of pink and yellow.
short-term cuts are expected to generate 2.5 billion colons in savings, or about $7 million.  Unofficial sources said part of the savings might be used to help the flood-ravaged Atlantic slope.

Bolaños said the executive branch would lead the way in reducing costs by means of a decree from President Pacheco. The decree orders deep cuts in spending as long as the cuts do not affect the delivery of public services or the carrying out of social programs, according to a statement from Casa Presidential Tuesday.

Pacheco ordered the elimination of foreign trips except for the amounts budgeted by the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto and Comercio Exterior. The first is involved with diplomacy, and the second is involved with trade. Other cuts:

Only gasoline and fuels would be allowed as budgeted by the health ministry, agriculture, public works and education. In addition, the use of official vehicles outside work hours or on holidays is prohibited for all ministries.

Ministries are forbidden to remodel or purchase furniture. And all advertising is eliminated except the ads necessary to publish executive decrees. The edict did not make clear if advertising also was prohibited by independent institutions such as the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo, Instituto Nacional de Seguros and the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad. All three are big advertisers.

Later in the day Pacheco followed up his austerity measures by canceling 30 percent pay raises that his predecessor, Miguel Angel Rodríguez, bestowed on 290 workers at the Casa Presidential.

Meanwhile, the national assembly is taking a cue from Pacheco. Deputies are considering a plan to begin meeting at 8 a.m. instead of the traditional 4 p.m. The government has been paying overtime to the many assembly employees forced to work late by late meetings.

No specifics were released about the proposed tax police.  The tax lottery would reward people who paid by using the number on their receipt as a lottery number, according to a brief explanation offered by Bolaños.

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Police go over a four-by-four at a Sabana checkpoint
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police in the Central Valley have set up checkpoints to find stolen cars and cars with stolen parts.

That was the response after investigators entered a lot in Barrio Cuba Monday afternoon and found a number of stolen cars and car parts. The lot in southwestern San José was where a band of car thieves had been dismantling vehicles.

The police action began some time ago when the Judicial Investigating Organization received a tip that the lot contained vehicles that had been stolen. Fuerza Publica officers began to watch the lot. 

Monday they say a pickup truck bearing the sign of a fish wholesaler was spotted in the lot. Police called the wholesaler who said the truck had been stolen in La Uruca, in northwest San José. That’s when police moved in.

In all, 14 intact vehicles, including the truck, were found in the lot, which agents said was protected by a porton or fence along the street side. Agents said that each of the 14 cars had been reported stolen. Many of the cars did not carry license plates, and those that did carried plates that did not correspond to their registration.

Also found were parts of vehicles that had been reported stolen and license plates from stolen cars.

Two Toyota four-by-fours were in the lot. One had been stolen in Heredia and the other in San José.  Also there were an Izuzu Trooper and two 4runners.  In addition to the double-traction vehicles, Nissan, Hyundai and Toyota passenger cars were recovered, agents said.

Police spent all the daylight hours Tuesday looking for other stolen cars or cars that might have been repaired with parts purchased from the gang who ran the lot. Police seemed to concentrate on double-traction vehicles and spent time inspecting numbers on the interiors of the vehicles, including the motor and chassis.

At one checkpoint near an autopista just south of La Sabana Park, police were waving over vehicles for inspection seemingly at random, but double-traction vehicles dominated. An officer said that the Fuerza Publica employees were looking for anything illegal, including drugs and undocumented individuals. 

Agents said they were looking for at least five persons who operated the lot, but no arrests had been made by late Tuesday.

U.S. looks bad in survey of Third World on bribes
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

BERLIN, Germany — Russian, Chinese, Taiwanese and South Korean companies earned the worst scores on an annual survey of corporate bribery practices in developing countries. The anti-corruption organization Transparency International released its findings here Tuesday.

The annual Bribe Payers Index shows further that corporations from leading industrial nations, including the United States, are also paying bribes in their developing world business dealings, despite laws forbidding the practice.

The index is based on information collected in 15 emerging market nations by the Gallup International Association. Gallup interviewed more than 800 executives in various businesses, questioning them about how much bribery goes on in their fields, and what companies from specific nations are offering bribes to advance their projects.

A perfect score in the survey was 10, which no nation earned. Australian companies won the best anti-bribery score with 8.5. The United States and Japan were tied for 13th place in the best-to-worst ranking of nations with scores of 5.3. Russia had the lowest ranking of 3.2 among the 21 countries included in the survey.

The Transparency International survey also found that locally-based businesses in the countries surveyed were more likely to pay bribes than foreign companies.

The index shows that U.S. multinational corporations, which have faced the risk of criminal 

prosecution since 1977 under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, have a high propensity to pay bribes 

The bribery survey can be found in full at http://www.transparency.org/

to foreign government officials. The U.S. score of 5.3 out of a best possible clean 10 is matched by Japanese companies and is worse than the scores for corporations from France, Spain, Germany, Singapore and the United Kingdom. In addition to Australia, The highest scores, indicating the lowest propensity to bribe abroad, were for companies from Sweden, Switzerland, Austria, Canada, the Netherlands and Belgium.

The index was conducted in 15 emerging market countries: Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Morocco, Nigeria, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, South Africa, South Korea and Thailand, which are among the very largest such countries involved in trade and investment with multinational firms. 

"Politicians and public officials from the world's leading industrial countries are ignoring the rot in their own backyards and the criminal bribe-paying activities of multinational firms headquartered in their countries, while increasingly focusing on the high level of corruption in developing countries," said Transparency International Chairman Peter Eigen in Paris where he was attending a meeting.

"The governments of the richest nations continue to fail to recognize the rampant undermining of fair global trade by bribe-paying multinational enterprises," he added.

Pirate cabbie shot
and his car stolen

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police encountered the body of a pirate taxi driver along side the Autopista Florencio del Castillo Sunday night. Later they found his taxi in Paseo Colón.

The man, Enrique Molina Sanchez, 27,  had been shot in the head. Witnesses said the man was sitting in his vehicle when the killer approached and fired  at close range.

There was no sign of robbery. Even the car when discovered appeared to be intact, investigators said. The victim lived in Barrio Cuba.

A pirate taxi driver is someone who carries passengers but lacks the municipal license to do so.

Fast Track gets
slightly derailed

Special to A.M. Costa Rica 

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Senators debating trade promotion authority, otherwise known as fast track, have voted for an amendment that  opponents including the Bush Administration said would wreck the bill.

In the key vote Tuesday, senators decided 61-38 not to table, or kill, the provision called the Dayton-Craig Amendment even after three  administration officials said they would recommend President Bush veto any bill including it.  Senators later voted by voice vote on passing the amendment itself.

Under fast track, Congress restricts itself only to approve or reject a negotiated trade agreement, within strict time limits and without amendments.

Under the Dayton-Craig amendment, those restrictions would not apply to parts of any trade agreement concerning changes to antidumping and other trade remedy laws. In other words, senators could vote against parts of the agreement related to trade laws while voting for the other parts.

A May 14 letter to the Senate from Commerce Secretary Don Evans, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman and U.S. Trade Representative Robert  Zoellick stated their veto threat over the Dayton-Craig amendment.

"The Dayton-Craig amendment ... would kill the bill's underlying purpose of authorizing the negotiation of new trade agreements subject to Congress' approval," it says.

The House of Representatives passed its version of fast track by 215-214 in December. Before the measure could become law, a final bill would have to pass the House and Senate and be signed by the president. 

Anti-pollution meeting
gets support from U.S.

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States is providing $80,000 to help finance a workshop next Monday through Friday in Jamaica that will explore the subject of how to prevent marine pollution in the ports of Caribbean nations.

The funds will be used for introducing environmentally sound port-waste management principles and guidelines to port and shipping managers of the wider Caribbean region, an Environmental Protection Agency official said. 

One day of the workshop will be devoted to a visit aboard an ocean survey vessel, called the Anderson, to familiarize participants with U.S. research capabilities. The vessel is named for the late scientist Peter W. Anderson, who spent 10 years of his life conducting research on the oceans and waterways of the United States.

The Anderson is equipped with over-the-side sampling equipment for monitoring ocean dumping sites and other coastal environments. Sample processing and laboratory equipment is also available onboard. The ship normally operates on the Atlantic Coast and in the Gulf of Mexico. 

The Anderson is scheduled to dock at the Jamaican capital of Kingston Saturday and stay there until June 1.

Brazil’s president
for same-sex unions

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BRASILIA, Brazil — President Fernando Henrique Cardoso has announced his support for a proposal to recognize same-sex unions. 

The plan is part of a new human rights program the president unveiled Monday here in the nation's capital. Also included were measures to protect the rights of minority ethnic groups and the elderly. 

The Brazilian Congress is currently discussing the proposal, which would extend legal rights to same-sex civil unions.  The government program is seen as a step toward new civil rights legislation for minority communities.

Carter tells Cubans
embargo must go

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

HAVANA, Cuba - Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter has told Cubans in an uncensored speech from Havana that the U.S. Congress should repeal the economic embargo on their country. He also urged Washington to allow U.S. citizens to travel freely to the Communist-led island. 

Carter's speech in Spanish late Tuesday from the University of Havana was broadcast live on Cuban radio and television. Carter said that because the United States is the most powerful nation, it should take the first step toward improving bilateral relations with Cuba. 

The former U.S. president said the embargo causes anger and resentment, restricts the freedoms of U.S. citizens, and makes it difficult for both sides to exchange ideas and respect. 

Carter said it is time for the United States and Cuba to change their long-standing, hostile relationship. He noted that Cuba trades freely with more than 100 other countries. 

Carter also criticized the socialist system in Cuba, where he said one party dominates. He said basic human rights guaranteed by Cuba's constitution are in fact, denied to the people. 

Carter encouraged President Fidel Castro's government to allow a popular vote on democratic reforms. He told his audience about an unprecedented bid by dissidents, known as the Varela Project, to initiate changes in Cuba's socialist system. Carter said that when Cubans exercise this freedom to change laws peacefully by a direct vote, the world will see that Cubans, and not foreigners, will decide the future of their country. 

The former president called on the Castro government to allow the U.N. Human Rights Commissioner and the International Red Cross to visit Cuba. Prior to the speech, President Castro said Carter was free to make any criticism he wants. Carter is the first American president in or out of office to visit Cuba since the 1959 revolution that brought Castro to power. 

Later today, Carter's agenda includes a meeting with Ricardo Alarcon, the president of Cuba's National Assembly. 

Argentina’s leader
considers yard sale

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina —  President Eduardo Duhalde is proposing to sell some government property to bank customers as one way of rescuing his country's troubled economy. 

Duhalde said late Monday that the state has thousands of items that it does not use.  He says the government property, including land, furniture and cars, could be used to calm citizens angered by the country's financial crisis. 

However, the initial response to the plan has largely been skeptical. Meanwhile, the Clarin newspaper quotes Economy Minister Roberto Lavagna as saying he expects to obtain about $9 billion in aid, led by the International Monetary Fund.  He says the new loans would be sufficient to cover Argentina's payments to international lenders this year. 

One positive sign for the economy is a new credit agreement reached with the Inter-American Development Bank, which approved a $700 million loan for social programs. 

Argentina has been experiencing a recession for the past four years. Almost one in two Argentines now lives in poverty, unable to pay for basics like food and electricity. 

Guard commander
denies he said shoot

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — The commander of Venezuela's National Guard told a truth commission Monday that he had ordered his troops not to open fire during a demonstration in which 17 protesters were shot to death. 

Francisco Belisario Landis said his soldiers' orders on the night of April 11 were to keep pro-government supporters from fighting with anti-government demonstrators, both of whom were marching at the presidential palace. It is not yet clear who was responsible for the killings, which appear to have been the work of rooftop sharpshooters. 

The deaths that night led to a coup in which President Hugo Chavez resigned, but later regained power within two days. 

Theater group to meet

The Little Theatre group will have its annual general meeting Sunday at 2 p.m. in the theater in Bello Horizonte.

Members will be elected to the board of the group, and a potluck social event will follow. The group also will discuss the next performance, "Chase Me, Comrade," which will be presented in September. Information and directors are available at 289-3910.

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