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These stories were published Tuesday, May 17, 2005, in Vol. 5, No. 96
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A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas 
 Find the bug!
It’s a walking stick of the Family Phasmatidae that looks a lot like vegetation. That’s its protection because the critters frequently grow to be eight or more inches long like this guy (gal?) Photo was shot in a garden in Desamparados.
Emergency officials worried about rain

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Emergency officials predict the possiblity of more serious flooding. The Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias said that a low pressure area had developed over the Caribbean and that heavy rains were predicted through Wednesday.

Citing information from the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional, the emergency commission said that heavy rain would turn into moderate showers this evening.

Local emergency commissions around the country reported heavy rains in Siquirres, Matina, Turrialba and San Carlos. The southeastern part of the country got a break. Only moderate rains were reported in the Valle de la Estrella and the Talamanca. The southeast has not yet recovered from disasterous  January and again in April. The emergency commission issues a warning directly mostly to those who live in flood-prone and landslide areas. 

Free trade's
not for him

Craig Schieber, who said he is a dual U.S. and Costa Rican citizen and who has lived 10 years in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, joined the protest against the trade treaty Monday. His surfboard says his opposition is to protect natural resources.

In all, an announced national strike was fairly peaceful.

More details, photos BELOW!

A.M. Costa Rica/
Saray Ramírez Vindas

 

 
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San José, Costa Rica, Tuesday, May 17, 2005, Vol. 5, No. 96

 
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Korean president plans
visit here Sept. 11

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The president of Korea, Roh Moo-hyun, will visit Costa Rica next Sept. 11, officials said Monday after a Central America-Korean economic forum here.

The event was put on by the Consejo Económico Coreano para Centroamérica y el Caribe and the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto.

Central America imported some $289 million in goods from Korea in 2003, the last year for which numbers are available.

The tight relationship between the ministry and the government of Korea is controversial. Spanish-language newspapers have revealed that the Korean government subsidizes salaries at the ministry. Plus there is a simmering election financing scandal as a result of major donations from that country.

Korea is widely seen as buying the allegiance of small countries in order to influence their votes in international organizations like the United Nations.

Nation’s museums going
on exhibition Sunday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 25 regional and specialized museums will be on exhibition next Sunday when the Museo Nacional de Costa Rica celebrates International Museum Day.

This is the first attempt to bring the museums together to provide information for tour operators, tourists and residents. In addition, the museum, which is just east of Plaza de la Democracia will have typical foods, medicinal plants, traditional games and regional music.

Admission is 500 colons for residents, $4 for foreigners and $2 for foreign students. Resident children under 12 and older adults with ID cards are free.

The museums that will have stands and informational literature are:

Museo Comunitario Indígena de Boruca, Museo Regional del Sabanero, Ecomuseo de la Cerámica Chorotega de San Vicente de Nicoya, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo al Aire Libre de Punta Islita, and Inbioparque.

Also Museo de Cultura Popular, Museo del Liceo de Costa Rica, Museo Fotográfico de Costa Rica, Museo Joaquín García Monge, Museo Histórico Casona de Santa Rosa, and Museo Histórico y Tecnológico del Grupo ICE.

Also Museo de Arte y Diseño Contemporáneo, Museo de Arte Costarricense, Museo de Formas, Espacios y Sonidos, ICOM Costa Rica, Ecomuseo de las Minas de Abangares, Museos del Banco Central, Museo de la Universidad de Costa Rica, and the Museo de Insectos de la Universidad de Costa Rica.

Also Museo Histórico Dr. Rafael Ángel Calderón Guardia, Museo de los Niños, Museo Histórico Juan Santamaría, Museo Nacional de Costa Rica y su Programa de Museos Regionales, Museo Omar Salazar Obando, and Museo Regional de Arte Costarricense.

Clash threatens democracy,
Nicaraugan president says

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The political clash in Nicaragua is threatening the country's democratic institutions, according to president Enrique Bolaños.

The Nicaraguan president, in an interview, said that the opposition has taken control of the country's Supreme Court and the entire justice system to wage political battles. He says party leaders can accuse anyone of a crime and convict them.

And he said that Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega has already used that power against party rivals who might challenge him in next year's presidential vote. Ortega, a former president, is seeking to run for president again, after losing three elections since leaving office in 1990.

Next year's vote will be a key chance for Sandinistas to try to regain the presidency, which they held during Nicaragua's civil war.   President Bolaños is hoping new economic plans like the free trade treaty with the United States will win him support and help move the country forward. 

Bolaños says if Nicaraguan lawmakers don't approve the free trade deal, it would be an injustice to the country and a slap in the face to the people's needs.

While the pact has generated some protests in Managua, Bolaños said the majority of Nicaragua's people support it. And he rejects criticism of the deal from opposition lawmakers, including those from the Sandinista Party and the Liberal Constitutional Party of former president Arnoldo Aleman.

Bolaños says the two parties have joined forces over issues that have nothing to do with the free trade treaty. And he says they are using that political alliance to press an agenda unrelated to the trade deal. 

The clash between President Bolaños and the two-party alliance is a source of growing tension as Nicaragua struggles to rebuild from civil war. Recently the two sides have been at odds over destroying war-era missiles and over bus fare hikes, which sparked violent protests and street demonstrations. 

Fast track for tax plan
may have hit a snag

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Legislative leaders are studying the proposed tax plan to see if the measure requires 38 votes for passage or simply a majority of 29.

Deputies in the Asamblea Nacional who favor the 409-page new tax plan have carefully constructed a scenario to get the measure approved without facing what amounts to a filibuster on the floor by opponents, principally deputies of the Movimiento Libertario.

One technique is the new "208 bis" amendment to the legislature’s internal rules that allow a bill to go to a vote without extensive discussion.

However, José Miguel Corrales, a deputy, contended Monday that the tax plan contains matters than require a two-thirds vote and that this makes the bill ineligible for the fast track treatment which requires just a majority.

Legislative complexities aside, proponents of the tax plan may not be able to muster the two-thirds vote for passage.

Gerardo González, the president of the assembly, will study the matter. He is a member of the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana, the same party as President Abel Pacheco, who strongly favors the plan.

Unidad has been forging an alliance with the Partido Liberación Nacional to get the tax plan passed. Although the alliance can muster 29 votes, it may not be able to deliver 38.

Corrales listed a number of points that seem to require a two-thirds majority, and González said he would study them point by point as well as the tax proposal.

The tax plan is an effort to solve the problems with the nation’s finances by levying an additional $500 million in new taxes.

Budget officials have said that for every colon that is collected in taxes they spend two. The difference is made up by public borrowing. So interest on debt is a major part of the national budget.

The complex tax proposal would improve collection methods, beef up the powers of the tax police and introduce the concept of global taxation in which Costa Ricans would pay taxes on all their earnings, not just on that earned in Costa Rica.

The measure also would impose a value-added tax in place of the current sales tax.

The measure also increases the tax on luxury vehicles that cost over $35,000 from 15 to 50 percent. Casinos would have to pay a monthly tax of from 150,000 and 420,000 colons ($318 to $890) depending on their hours of operation and a tax of 130,000 colons ($276) monthly for each slot machine.

The proposed bill also would impose a tax on electronic betting and gambling centers of from 13 million to 32 million colons ($27,600 to $67,900), depending on the number of employees.

Professional Directory
A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.


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A.M. Costa Rica
Consultantes Río Colorado S.A.
James J. Brodell........................editor
Saray Ramírez Vindas...associate editor

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Greivin Chavarría of  Grupo Arte Ecenico plays the role of a crude North American adventurer, 
a la 19th century William Walker.

Heiner Agüero, also of Universidad Nacional, is Democracy silenced and bound by the nasty North American. 

 
Big national strike is just another demonstration 
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A much-hyped national strike was a bit of a dud Monday as most public services appeared to function well and fewer marchers made the trek from La Sabana to the Asamblea Legislativa.

In fact, attendance at free trade protests have continued to diminish ever since the government decided that strikers, marchers and protesters would be docked in pay for the time away from the job.

The most spirited group Monday appeared to be young communists from the Universidad Nacional in Heredia. The affiliated Grupo Arte Ecenico delighted marchers and even policemen with their comic representations of Democracy tied up and a crude North American filibusterer.

Other university-aged youngsters briefly blocked a traffic circle in San Pedro and spray painted slogans on the landmark water fountain there.

In general the bulk of the marchers were not very excited. The event was somewhat of a replay of the May 1 workers’ march where participants seemed to be going through the motions. An early afternoon downpour served to cut short activities.

Albino Vargas, secretary general of the Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos, had promised that the march would be peaceful. His organization suffered some serious public relations damage last year when they engineered a week of road blockages and protests.

The march also encompassed other reasons for protest, including the high price of motor fuels and the hated revision tecnica vehicle inspection.

Workers for the Municipalidad de San José were protesting some changes in job responsibilities that reduced the workforce by about 30 persons. 

The driver’s license bureau of the Ministerio de Obras 

A.M. Costa Rica photos/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Educators' union opposes the pact

Públicas y Transporte did not function Monday, and some branches of the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad also were closed. Several marches also were reported elsewhere in the country.

School children chalked up a lot of absences. Some were in the line of march, but most had been kept home by parents who thought teachers would not come to work. Most teachers did show up.

The malaise of the marchers might be in recognition that President Abel Pacheco has not yet sent the free trade treaty with the United States to the Asamblea Nacional for possible ratification. There also may be some who believe that the U.S. Congress will trash the treaty. Anti-trade treaty protests in the United States are seen on television here frequently.

The center of the trade treaty protest is with the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, known as ICE, and the Instituto Nacional de Seguros. ICE stands to lose its telecommunications monopoly and will have to face the private competition in some areas. The insurance institute also would have competition for the first time.


 
Zoellick beats drum for trade treaty as right thing to do
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A proposed free-trade agreement between the United States, the Dominican Republic and the nations of Central America "is the opportunity of a generation" to help spur economic growth and strengthen democratic reforms throughout the region, said Robert Zoellick, U.S. deputy secretary of State.

In remarks Monday at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., Zoellick described the trade pact, known as CAFTA, as a vital tool for regional development — and as a powerful symbol of the United States’ commitment to its trading partners: El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic.

Zoellick negotiated the agreement.

Over the years, the price of neglecting the region has been steep, he warned. But CAFTA offers the United States a chance to maintain closer ties with its regional allies while boosting the region’s competitiveness in the global economy and helping to consolidate Central America’s democratic gains of the past two decades, according to Zoellick.

For this reason, the U.S. debate over CAFTA "is about much more than trade," he said. It is actually a debate  "about the nature of our relationship with these small but important neighbors," Zoellick argued. "At its root, the debate on CAFTA is fundamentally about America’s role in the world and our relations in this hemisphere."

In a reference to the U.S. sugar industry, which opposes the trade treaty even though the pact would have minimal effect on its profits, he said: "We must decide whether we will sacrifice the strategic interests of the United States and the future of Central America — for a spoonful of sugar."

He noted that other sectors have voiced opposition to the treaty, supposedly on the grounds that workers’ rights would be sacrificed. "We must decide whether we will leave hundreds of thousands of Central Americans in poverty and hopelessness — because of the short-sighted protectionism of U.S. labor unions," Zoellick said. "In short, we must decide whether to promote America’s strategic interests or its special interests."

The United States cannot afford to turn its back on the region, he added, because Central America’s hard-won political freedoms could be jeopardized unless they are carefully nurtured. 

He also cautioned against the false promises of many populist political movements, which have often served to destabilize the region and undermine democratic governance. "The world is watching," he said. "If we retreat to isolationism, Daniel Ortega, Hugo Chavez, and others like them — autocrats of left or right — will push ahead."

Of course, "from a strategic perspective, the choice should not be hard," Zoellick reasoned. "As the elected presidents of Central America and the Dominican Republic explained when they visited eleven cities across the United States before coming to Washington last week, CAFTA matters most to them because it will strengthen the foundations of democracy by promoting growth and cutting poverty, creating equality of opportunity, and reducing corruption."

In sum, approving CAFTA "is the right thing to do because it will strengthen democracy through economic growth and open societies based on the rule of law," Zoellick said. "But from a strategic perspective, it is also the smart thing to do for the United States, because we do not live in isolation from what happens in Central America."


 
Border volunteers promise to continue their efforts
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The co-founder of a citizen volunteer group that patrolled the U.S. border with Mexico in April has told a congressional committee there will be further such efforts because government efforts against illegal immigration are ineffective. 

Illegal immigration and what many see as the ineffectiveness of government efforts to secure U.S. borders continues to make headlines across the United States.

More than two years after a government reorganization created the Department of Homeland Security, including agencies overseeing border security, many Americans and U.S. lawmakers remain frustrated by porous borders.

Thursday's hearing addressed a new situation triggered by the activities of a citizen group called The Minuteman Project.

For a period of time in April, hundreds of members of this group stood guard along a 37-kilometer (23-mile) stretch of Arizona's border with Mexico, asserting later that their efforts sharply reduced illegal border crossings.   In an early comment expressing concern about The Minutemen, President George Bush called them vigilantes, provoking sharp criticism from some members of Congress. 

Chris Simcox, co-founder of the The Minuteman Project, spoke to the House Government Reform Committee.

"This great republic is founded and formed on immigration.  When you come legally you are welcome. What we have now is out of control," he said.  "And the citizens basically have had enough.  We hope this will encourage everyone to do something.  Because while you are waiting and making up your minds what to do, we are going to continue with Minuteman type projects."

The U.S. government has not endorsed the actions of those taking part in The Minuteman Project.  Robert Bonner, commissioner for Customs and Border Protection, says while the volunteers did provide 

information about some 200 illegal border crossers, government border patrol agents apprehended 79,000 illegal immigrants along the entire Arizona border.

"I welcome eyes and ears, volunteer citizens, if we can make it work consistently with some smart strategy, rather than something that exposes people to danger, including people that might be involved in a citizen-type Minuteman project themselves," he noted. 

Bonner acknowledges the government does not yet have control of the least secure sections of its border, saying there is a long way to go.

U.S. Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Maryland Democrat, reflects concern in Congress that the government's inability to secure the borders leaves the door open for illegal narcotics and terrorists.

"We all know that drug dealers know, the terrorists know, that our borders are a sieve.  This is a serious concern, and I know the members [of Congress] in border states have been working on this issue for a while.  We must look to more agents on the border.  We need better technology and we need a more comprehensive solution," he said.

T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, agrees porous borders subjects Americans to greater dangers.

"Even if a terrorist is a one-in-a-million occurrence, with several million people coming into the country every year, very soon they reach that critical mass necessary to carry out another attack on the magnitude of September 11th.  This is totally unacceptable from the standpoint of homeland security and national security.  We have to gain control of our borders," he added.

Congress acted last year to authorize 2,000 additional border patrol agents, and provided for another 500 as part of legislation recently approved to fund U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, in his 2006 budget request, President Bush requested funding for only about 210 additional border agents, drawing criticism from many lawmakers and citizen groups.


 
More than 12,000 in Brazil march on capital seeking distribution of land
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BRASILÍA, Brazil — More than 12,000 landless Brazilian peasants and farmers have arrived at the outskirts of this capital after marching nearly 125 miles (201 kilometers) to protest the slow pace of land reform.

Organizers say the demonstrators will stage protest rallies outside the U.S. Embassy, Brazil's central bank and the finance ministry when they reach the center of 

Brasilia today. The group is part of the Landless Workers Movement which backs Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's alternative trade plans instead of the U.S. Free Trade Area of the Americas.

The landless protesters are calling for social revolution against Brazil's president and what they call U.S. imperialism in the region. They are also protesting the government's failure to distribute land and resettle families of landless peasants.


 
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