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These stories were published Thursday, May 15, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 95
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Can YOU prove you are mentally stable???
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Costa Rican government wants to tighten up the possession of handguns and has ruled that every would-be gun purchaser must undergo an interview with a psychiatrist or a psychologist.

Although the exact nature of the test has not been worked out, the idea is to weed out the unstable and the paranoids.

That could lead to some very interesting interviews:

PSYCHIATRIST: So, Mr. Pacheco, why do you think you need a gun?

ABEL PACHECO: A lot of people don’t like me. They say I have made a lot of mistakes. The teachers are after me. Every time I turn around there is one problem or another. I’d just like to protect myself.

PSYCHIATRIST:  That’s a bit of a siege mentality, plus I see you are a psychiatrist yourself.

RESULT: REJECTED!

________________________

PSYCHIATRIST: Mr. Drug Lord, why is it that you need a handgun permit?

DRUG LORD: Well, I have this business to protect, and we frequently move very valuable cargoes that sometimes are vulnerable to holdups.

STATUS: APPROVED!

PSYCHIATRIST: It says here, Mr. Hitman, that you recently moved here from Colombia?

COMANDANTE HITMAN: Yes, I would just like to legalize the four handguns I have on me now — including the one I have pointed at your head.

STATUS: APPROVED!

________________________

PSYCHIATRIST: So tell me, sir, what motivates you to want to purchase a handgun?

APPLICANT: Well, I have been in therapy for a long time to get over my fear of squirrels and rabbits. My psychiatrist thought it would be a good idea to be able to feel the cold metal in my hands as I go to sleep at night.

PSYCHIATRIST: Well, I can approve you as sort of a professional courtesy to your psychiatrist then.

STATUS: APPROVED!!

____________________
 

PSYCHIATRIST: What is your motivation, young lady?

APPLICANT: I live in a bad neighborhood, and the police do nothing. I can’t afford to move anywhere else and the crime is getting worse. I just want to protect myself from criminals.

PSYCHIATRIST: A classic case of paranoia.

STATUS: REJECTED!

Tonight's a great time to get moonstruck
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There is an eclipse of the moon tonight, and you can’t have an eclipse without a full moon.

Weather predictions are so-so for the Central Valley and the North Pacific. Elsewhere there is a greater chance of evening showers.

An eclipse takes place when the moon passes through the shadow created by earth. The totality begins at 9:14 this evening. The eclipse takes about 53 minutes. 

Tuesday night and Wednesday morning were not good times for watching celestial phenomena. The Instituto Meteorológico Nacional  reported Wednesday that during the night and early morning hours of Tuesday and Wednesday some 100 millimeters of rain fell at the measurement station in Limón. That’s six inches of rain.

The weather experts blamed the heavy downpours on an intensification of a low pressure area along the Caribbean coast. The situation should moderate today.

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Money lost to counterfeiting is not so abstract
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Judicial officials are cracking down on violations of rights to so-called intellectual property, better known as clothing, compact disks, cigars, computer software and printed material.

Because of the ease of production due to new digital methods, certain products, such as musical compact disks, are easy to duplicate. The use of counterfeit labels on clothing is a long-running problem, and a cigar operation in Puriscal can convert Costa Rican tobacco to a $10 faux-Cuban smoke.

Price and markup almost always are the reasons criminals  produce and sell counterfeit merchandise. In the case of printed material, the Internet makes it easy to steal software, photographs and text.

Within the last two months, investigators have targeted two shops producing bogus compact disks, a distributor of phony Cuban cigars and some clothing operations. More raids and arrests are on the way.

Top officials of the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública and the Poder Judicial see their role as complying with national legislation and international treaties that stress the rights of authors and the ownership of intellectual property.

Such rights are stressed in free-trade treaties to cut down on international counterfeiting and to protect producers of legitimate products.

Even the Registro Nacional has opened an office dedicated to helping authors and others understand and defend their rights.  Much intellectual property is abstract and includes written material, images of photos, paintings, computer software and even trademarks. 

The office at the registry is designed to help lawyers, authors, interpreters, and others in getting answers to their problems. The office, the Dirección Nacional de Drechos de Autor, is located at the Registro Nacional in Zapote. 

Last April 29, investigators raided a compact disk production facility in Jardines de Cascajal de Paso Ancho where they confiscated 4.000 compact disks and computer facilities for duplicating CDs and for counterfeiting labels. An arrest was made.

A similar raid in March in Hatillo netted 800 pirated CDs and 2,000 false labels.

Both raids were made at the instigation of local representatives of Sony Music which seeks to safeguard its products.

When phony merchandise is seized, legitimate manufacturers point out that counterfeit goods undermine quality control as well as their income, much of which is used to pay creative workers.

In fact, downtown San José and other tourist centers are awash with persons hawking counterfeit goods. One of the more obvious are alleged Cuban cigars selling at discount prices. 

A distributor of such cigars faced justice in late March at the request of Habanos, S.A., the legitimate distributor here of Cuban-manufactured cigars. The man was detained on the Avenida 

Ministerio de Seguridad photo
Some of the counterfeit CDs grabbed by police in their raid in Hatillo

Principal boulevard between two tourist hotels.

The cigars had prestigious names such as Cohíba, Partagas and Romeo y Julieta, but the man’s colleagues said they were made in a facility in Puriscal. The man was back on the street in a few days.

Such counterfeit cigars do not have the taste nor the ease of smoking associated with top-of-the-line products. Of course, legitimate, excellent local cigars are available at a fraction of the price, but the Cuban cigars are a big attraction for tourists because Cuban products are forbidden in the United States.

Cheap watches with expensive labels also are for sale, as are power tools with brand names very similar to famous international lines.

Much of the counterfeit merchandise finds its ways into legitimate trade channels due to crooked store owners. A phony CD might cost $1 and can be sold among legitimate disks for $5 to $12. But the sound quality probably will be more of the $1 variety.

False lables for CD containers can be made on color computer printers and generally are hard to detect.

Penalties for violations of intellectual property laws can range from a year to three years in jail, although no such penalties have been seen.

An organization exists in Costa Rica to verify the legitimacy of computer software, which can easily be copied and distributed. Such thefts are harder to detect because they usually take place inside an office, a computer shop or via the Internet.

The internet also is the place where piracy of photos and text takes place. Generally anything published on the Internet is automatically copyrighted by the person or firm who put the material there. To copy such material and republish it represents a crime. Some exemptions exist for personal files and for academic use.

Jacó again site of meeting on citizen security
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Security and judicial officials will be headed back to Jacó today to hold a second meeting about the increasing crime there and how to handle it.

The meeting will be at 10 a.m. in the Municipalidad, and the security situation in the whole canton of Puntarenas is on the table. 

Officials said that delinquency and drug trafficking has increased in the area. Jacó is a major tourist town.

The town is growing rapidly with major investments in tourist-related businesses but the increased population brings increased social problems.

The people who will be making the trip are magistrates Luis Guillermo Rivas Loáciga and  Rolando Vega Robert, who are members of the Comisión de Construcciones of the Poder Judicial. Also there will be Rogelio Ramos, minister of Gobernación, Policía y Securidad Pública.

A topic of discussion will be the physical layout of the offices used by judicial employees. Some 9 million colons (about $23,000) has been allocated to remodel offices for agents of the Judicial Investigating Organization. The agents will be extending their work times to 24 hours to handle crimes that happen at off hours.

The area now has a judge available Tuesday and Thursdays.  There are plans to have a judge available every day of the week in the coming year. When a judge is not available, police officers and investigators have to travel to the city of Puntarenas to obtain judicial orders.

Officials also want to have more coordinated investigations between the various prosecutors and the Judicial Investigating Organization. Jacó is a hotbed of drug use and sales. In fact, the city has all the problems one would find in downtown San José except alongside a beach, observers have said.

The city is the closest major beach community to San José and the Juan Santamaría International Airport.


 
 
Airport manager
gives a deadline

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Alterra Partners, the company that is managing Juan Santamaría Airport, served notice on government aviations officials and warned them to pay up or find another company.

In a fax to news media, the company said that it was following the letter of its contract with Consejo Técnico de Aviación Civil in giving 60 days notice of defaults by the government.

The company said that Costa Rica was in arrears by some $3,600,000 and if payment was not made within 60 days, Alterra would exercise its right under the contract to declare it void.

The company said it has invested $120,000,000 in the airport. The work in which it says the government is in default includes the new control tower, lease payments on the common areas of the airport and lease payments for ramp facilities.

The management contract between Alterra and Costa Rica is being scrutinized by other international companies, and Alterra has been having a tough time. Alterra was brought in to modernize and develop the airport because Costa Rica did not have the funds or expertise.

The company said Wednesday that nine banks and the World Bank have suspended their participation in the financing of airport work pending resolution of the company’s problems with the government.
 

Chavez again asked
to back compromise

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States and five other countries that constitute the "Group of Friends" of Venezuela have reiterated their call to the government of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez and the Venezuelan political opposition to overcome their differences for the good of the nation.

In a communiqué issued in Spanish, the Group of Friends said the two sides have stated their determination to reach an agreement to end the political impasse in Venezuela. That agreement, said the Friends Group, would be an "indispensable tool to create a helpful political and electoral climate" and to help overcome the "severe differences that pervade Venezuelan society" in order to establish "the basis for the reconciliation" of the Venezuelan people.

Snow says U.S.
won’t back dollar

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Secretary of the Treasury John Snow says the Bush administration has no plan to defend the dollar from recent declines in global currency markets.

"There is no conscious policy on the part of the United States to move the dollar at all," Snow said answering a question during May 13 testimony before the House of Representatives Financial Service Committee.

Nevertheless, he reaffirmed Bush administration support for a "strong dollar policy" and, referring to Treasury secretaries in the two Clinton administrations and his direct predecessor in the Bush administration, said "we have had it forever, in this administration and the prior administrations," according to news reports. 

May 13 Snow said in a TV program that a weaker dollar helps American companies compete internationally. Currency market analysts and currency traders interpreted his statement as indirect Bush administration support for dollar depreciation. The value of the dollar has declined by more than 11 percent against the Japanese yen this year, while the 12-nation European currency has risen 30 percent against the dollar during the same period. On May 12 the dollar fell to a four-year low against the euro despite reassurance from the Treasury spokesman that "the dollar policy remained unchanged."
 

Older Bush visits
Fox on Mexican farm

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MEXICO CITY, México — President Bush's father, former President George Bush, made a brief visit to Mexico, Tuesday, where he reassured Mexican President Vicente Fox that relations between his country and the United States remain strong, despite differences over the war in Iraq. The visit followed other efforts by both nations to keep relations on track.

In what was described as a private visit, former President Bush arrived at the Mexican presidential residence Los Pinos, where he was greeted by a smiling President Fox. The two men stood and spoke casually for a few minutes, while photographers snapped pictures. They did not speak with reporters.

After the closed-door meeting inside the residence, Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez described the meeting as a manifestation of friendship between Mexico and the United States. He says the former president provided a clear recognition of the deep friendship President Bush, the current president, feels for President Fox. 

After the meeting at Los Pinos, former President Bush went on to meet with Mexican business leaders here in Mexico City and made a brief stop in Monterrey, on his way back to his home in Houston.

The meeting was the focus of intense media attention in Mexico, because of fears expressed by many commentators here Washington would, in some way, "punish" Mexico for its failure to back the U.S. proposal on Iraq in the U.N. Security Council, earlier this year. 
 

Menem drops out
of presidential race

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire Services

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina —  Former President Carlos Menem has withdrawn from Sunday's presidential runoff election. The decision clears the way for his rival, Nestor Kirchner, to assume the nation's highest office. 

The 72-year-old Menem announced the decision in his hometown of La Rioja Wednesday, more than one day after Argentine news media began reporting he would end his bid for a third term. 

Menem said on television that conditions were not right for him to stay in the race. The former president suggested that outgoing President Eduardo Duhalde and Kirchner had joined forces to ruin his comeback bid. 

Prior to the announcement, Kirchner accused Menem of acting like a coward by refusing to make known his intentions. Kirchner later was quoted as saying Menem had robbed citizens of the right to vote by dropping out of the presidential race. 

Menem won the most votes in last month's first round of voting. His campaign began unraveling after several major opinion polls predicted Kirchner, a provincial governor, would win the runoff by a landslide.

Analysts say scandals that clouded Menem's two previous terms may have hurt his standing with voters. Menem was president from 1989 to 1999.
 
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Cocaine network to U.S. said to be in state of chaos
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says the Mexican government's success in arresting the country's most powerful drug barons has caused "chaos" in cocaine-trafficking networks stretching from the U.S. border to drug laboratories in South American jungles.

In a statement Friday, Roger Guevara, the drug agency’s chief of operations, said that because of Mexican President Vicente Fox's effective disruption of drug cartels from Tijuana to the Gulf of Mexico, Colombian drug lords are being "forced to establish new contacts in Mexico to oversee the importation of illicit drug shipments to the United States."

Another agency official, Michael Vigil, said the Colombian drug lords "are the masters of the universe in terms of violence and intimidation, and they have educated the Mexicans well."

A May 8 Washington Post story quoted Vigil as saying that "a lot of major players from Colombia have moved on-scene in Mexico." Vigil, special agent for the drug agency’s San Diego field division, said Colombians have been operating with

Mexican drug traffickers in Mexico since the 60s.

Vigil said that one high-level Colombian cocaine and heroin trafficker, Juan Diego Espinoza Ramirez, had been operating in Mexico for five to eight years. Vigil called the Colombian "a major player, a kingpin in his own right." The Post reported that $8 million in cash recently confiscated from drug couriers was traced back to Espinoza.

The Drug Enforcement Agency said that in the last part of 2002, an increase was discovered in the number of Colombian heroin seizures involving couriers of Mexican nationality. This suggested a trend by Colombian drug traffickers to recruit Mexican nationals to transport Colombian heroin into Mexico.

The agency also identified Mexico as the transit point for about 70 percent of the cocaine shipped into the United States from South America. The agency added that enhanced counter-drug cooperation between Mexican and U.S. federal law enforcement entities and better intelligence resulted in record-setting quantities of cocaine seizures aboard large fishing vessels in the Eastern Pacific Ocean corridor, the primary route for smuggling cocaine to Mexico for further transshipment to the United States.


 
Cubans got the boot due to espionage allegations
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The decision to expel 14 Cuban diplomats from U.S. soil was in response to "certain inappropriate and unacceptable activities" that the diplomats engaged in, says State Department deputy spokesman Philip Reeker.

At a Tuesday State Department briefing, Reeker told reporters that the U.S. government "decided to take strong action" after determining that seven diplomats from the Cuban Interests Section in Washington and seven diplomats assigned to Cuba's Mission to the United Nations in New York were involved "in activities deemed to be harmful to the United States." All 14 diplomats were declared "persona non grata, requiring their departure" from the country, Reeker explained.

"I think you are all familiar with the record of espionage by the Cuban regime against the United States," he added. "It's a long record." He cited recent examples such as the case of Ana Montes, a former senior analyst on Cuba at the Defense Intelligence Agency, as well as the case of a former Immigration and Naturalization Service official, and the so-called "Wasp Ring" case in Miami, all of which have resulted in convictions for espionage or espionage-related crimes.

Montes, arrested in September 2001 and currently serving a 25-year prison term, is the highest-level Cuban spy ever caught in the United States. Investigators demonstrated that she provided the Communist government of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro with classified documents, photographs and the names of at least four covert U.S. operatives working in Cuba.

Mariano Faget, a 34-year immigration employee based in south Florida, was arrested in February 2000 on charges of spying against the United States after a sting operation revealed that he was passing information to Havana about Cuban asylum petitioners and defectors.

The espionage ring known as the Wasp Network, consisting of more than a dozen Cuban secret agents who tried to infiltrate U.S. exile groups and military bases in Florida, operated for several years until law-enforcement authorities broke up the ring in 1998.

Reeker reiterated that the 14 Cuban diplomats who have now been ordered to leave the United States are being expelled "because of activities 
which are not in keeping with their official duties, 

 inappropriate and unacceptable activities." 

Although he declined to identify any of the diplomats, a report published in The Washington Post Wednesday offered the names of two. The Post said that Cosme Torres, the deputy chief of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, is the most senior of the expelled diplomats, while also naming Juan Hernandez, spokesman of the Cuban Interests Section, as another.

Asked when the Cuban Interests Section was notified about the impending departures, Reeker said that the Cubans in question were summoned to the State Department at nine o'clock on the morning of May 13. The notice of expulsion was "delivered verbally and with a diplomatic note," he confirmed.

The State Department official noted that the Cuban diplomats committed "an abuse of residence," which he defined as "undertaking activities that were inconsistent" with their official duties. In reference to those diplomats representing Cuba at the U.N. in New York, he said: "Under the host-country agreement we have with the United Nations, diplomats assigned to the United Nations are given the privilege of residence in the United States, and we determined that these seven members of the Cuban Mission . . . were engaging in activities harmful to the United States outside of their official capacities as members of the Permanent Mission of Cuba to the United Nations — and those [activities] constitute an abuse of residence."

The cumulative effects of the diplomats' expulsion, prior incidents of Cuban espionage, and the Castro regime's recent crackdown on dissidents are casting a shadow over already-strained U.S.-Cuba relations, Reeker indicated. These latest developments have prompted the Bush Administration to review "all of our policies in our approach to Cuba, in light of the significant deterioration" in Cuba's human rights situation, he said.

The State Department has repeatedly protested the fact that James Cason, head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, is encountering heavy-handed interference from the Castro regime because of his contact with Cuba's pro-democracy activists. As a result, "the issue of [diplomatic] reciprocity ... is under review," Reeker said. However, "no specific measures have been taken yet," he emphasized. "When we actually complete deliberations and make some decisions, we will provide details." 

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