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(506) 223-1327            Published Thursday, May 24, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 102              E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Chávez seen taking another step toward dictatorship
Venezuela's action against TV outlet ignites concern
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and wire services reports

The Government of Venezuela is letting the license of its oldest television station expire Sunday, and the action is being seen as an example of the president's march toward dictatorship.

The event has implications in Costa Rica because the president, Hugo Chávez Frías, is forging a socialist alliance with Cuba, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Ecuador. His allies also have declared that they will make every effort to defeat the free trade treaty with the United States when Costa Ricans vote Sept. 23.

In addition, Chávez maintains a rocky relationship with Costa Rican President Óscar Arias Sánchez, as does Cuba.

The station is Radio Caracas Television, Channel 2. The cancellation of the 20-year license has the veneer of legality, but Venezuelan officials have accused the station of opposing the government, particularly at the height of the failed 2002 coup when it backed Chávez opponents.

Speaking Tuesday, President Hugo Chavez, suggested the decision to replace RCTV is in line with his government's socialist goals.

He said that television station now belongs to all the Venezuelan people and will be called Venezuelan Social Television. Officials say the new station will include programs made by community groups and independent producers, which will not be controlled by officials.

Marcel Granier, director general of the 50-year-old station, said in an open letter to Chávez this week that 3,000 employees will lose their jobs as will some 5,000 indirect employees.

Granier and the station appealed to the courts and asked for a freeze on the shutdown until the legal issues were heard, but the country's supreme court said all appeal routes have been exhausted. Station officials claim the president is intimidating the judges.

The New York-based Human Rights Foundation issued a plea Wednesday in the form of a letter addressed to José Miguel Insulza, secretary general of the Organization of American States, to do his duty and act decisively about what they called the human rights crisis in Venezuela.

“On May 28, RCTV’s signal will cease due to a presidential order, as will any pretense that the government of President Hugo Chávez is democratic, placing the country instead on the far fringe of international norms, as well as in violation of its own laws and the principle of the separation of powers, keystone of democracy.”

The letter makes reference to the repeated insults against Insulza. The Venezuelan president has referred to Insulza in graphic vulgar language and has called for his resignation. In addition, the Venezuelan president responded to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights by stating in a television address that it was an “Immoral-American Commission” and “they can go screw themselves.”

Chávez is prone to long-winded television addresses.

In a radio discussion Tuesday with A.M. Costa Rica, Alfredo Toro Hardy, Venezuela's ambassador to England, traced on-air violations by the television station going back as far as the 1980s. He maintained that the cancellation of the license was a normal action based on law.

The government has accused RCTV of violating a variety of public decency rules and say it backed a failed coup against President Hugo Chavez in 2002. RCTV executives deny the coup charges.

Pedro Carreno, minister of Interior y Justicia, says he celebrates the fact that with the end of RCTV comes "the end of a monopoly in the hands of private media capital and channels that are not undertaking the three fundamental tasks of the media: to inform and educate and entertain," according to Caracas-based VHeadline.com. Such media, Carreno maintained, have damaged the mind of citizens and disturbed the internal peace of the Republic, the online publication said.

The decision to let the license expire came from Chávez in December, and only later did Venezuelan officials come up with reasons.

The decision has sparked public protests and concerns about press freedom in Venezuela nevertheless. Thousands of Venezuelans held street protests in Caracas this week to defend the television station. Supporters of Radio Caracas Television, said it is being targeted for
Venezuelan station director
RCTV photo
Marcel Granier, director general of the station, meets the press in front of a photo of silenced television employees.

broadcasting opposition views and fierce criticism of the Chávez government.

A team from the Committee to Protect Journalists met with Venezuelan officials earlier this year to discuss the allegations against RCTV, including claims of backing the 2002 coup.

Carlos Lauria, Americas program coordinator for the press group, said officials were reluctant to document the allegations against the station.

"We came to the conclusion that the government's decision was taken beforehand, was pre-determined, and it was clearly politically motivated," he said.

Lauria says that several television stations have been accused of backing the 2002 coup, by collaborating with coup plotters or slanting their coverage against the government. He says RCTV is being singled out now because it has failed to tone down its criticism as other stations have done in recent years.

Rafael Lima, a former television reporter in Latin America, says the threat against RCTV is reminiscent of press crackdowns by Cuba and other authoritarian governments.

"They are going to use any excuse to shut down any opposing press. It's just the blueprint of those governments," he said.

Latin America experts often compare the social and economic reforms engineered by Chávez to the policies of his friend, Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

Chávez also has railed against the printed press in his public talks and television shows. He also has urged on supporters to attack newspeople on the street at public demonstrations and has strongly criticized certain newspaper owners.

But the comparison with Cuba in this case may be unfair, says John Virtue, director of Florida International University's International Media Center, which helps train independent Cuban journalists.

"Castro's crackdown was very, very brutal," Virtue said. "And of course this has not happened in Venezuela, because the print press has not been touched."

Virtue says Venezuela continues to have a vibrant written press that embraces a variety of opposition and pro-government views. However, speeches by Chávez suggest they may be next in line.

Television remains the dominant medium in Venezuela, however, and the decision against RCTV shows the kind of power that the government wields. Carlos Lauria says the threat to strip broadcasting licenses has had a profound impact on the media environment.

"If you talk to journalists working for the private media, they will say there is no freedom of expression and the government is restricting any kind of coverage. If you talk to journalists working for the state media you will hear a completely different story," he said.

Lauria says that state-run broadcasting is seeing its influence rise under President Chavez, which he says only serves to exacerbate tensions with private media.

It is unclear if RCTV will continue to fight the government's decision after its broadcasting license expires Sunday. Authorities have said RCTV may be free to continue its broadcasts on cable television, where the station is likely to have a fraction of the viewers it has had on public airwaves.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, May 24, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 102

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Heredia pianist, 13, completes
five years of Suzuki lessons

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Jonathan Duarte, 13, of Heredia, son of Mr. and Mrs. Nery Duarte, has received a certificate of excellent achievement in his completion of the entire Suzuki Piano School and performance in concert Volume 7 of the Suzuki Piano School in its entirety.

His presentation included works of Mozart, Handel, and Paderewski, learned during five years of piano study in the Wunderle Piano Studio. The award was made May 17.

Also performing were:  Christopher Boekhoudt, 3, Escazú; Sebastián Sibaja,  5, Escazú; Scarlet Weidig, 5, San Antonio de Belén; Nicolas Boekhoudt, 6. Escazú, Ana Luisa Bonilla, 6, Escazú; José Brenes, 6, Escazú; Lisette Latjes, 7; Couloir Hanson, 8, Escazú; María Paz Jiménez, 8; Escazú; Cynthia Soto, 6, the youngest in Book II, Escazú; Alejandro Faerron, 11, Escazú; Emma Cazzulini, 11, Heredia; Andrea Duarte, 11, Heredia; and Morgon O'Boyle, 15, Escazú. 
The students are currently studying the Suzuki Piano Method in Carol Wunderle's Suzuki Piano Talent Education Program in Rohrmoser.  The recitals are free to the public with the next one scheduled for Aug. 16 at 6:45 pm.  Those interested in attending can call 232-3999 for directions and more information.
Extra hours to seek cédulas

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Ricans who want to vote in the Sept. 23 referendum on the free trade treaty will have additional days to seek a cédula if they do not already have one or if they have moved. Costa Ricans 18 and older by Sept. 23 are eligible.

The Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones and its 32 regional offices will be open Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. In addition, Monday through Thursday next week hours are being extended form 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday is the deadline for changes that will be reflected in the registry for the election.

Our readers' opinions
Problem is law enforcement
not creation of new laws

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Fernando Berrocal, Minister of Public Security, announced today (Wednesday) new and stiffer laws would be forthcoming to thwart Costa Rica's growing and "grave" crime scene. What he did not mention is any improvement in law enforcement.
We are a country of laws and regulations. Arguably too many. What we are not is a country of law enforcement. "Yes," perhaps soon those who practice the sport of running red lights will pay a new hefty fine . . . if caught and caught by the correct police agency and not by any of the 17 others who have no authority in traffic issues.
Certainly behind the approval of free trade treaty is the approval of a new fiscal (tax) plan. As Draconian as the first plan read, the next might well be right up there. However, if the current tax laws would be enforced — no need for another plan. So who is afraid of the big bad wolf?
We speak euphemistically of respecting law when what we really mean is fearing it. We fear what is enforceable, we fear getting caught, we fear going to jail and we fear paying fines. How does anyone fear a law or regulation that is not enforced? Worse, one that is selectively enforced like those of immigration.
Are we to believe that new laws, more regulations and new blah, blah will curb Costa Rica's epidemic of crime? I don't think so. The only answer is much, much improved law enforcement. Police, hit the streets, be quick, be seen and be honest. Traffic cops, get on the road and quit standing around talking to the girlfriend on company time. Immigration? "Priceless."
Did you know that we even have a traffic law that says you cannot drive a car and speak on a cellular phone unless using a hands free device? (Nothing to be said. It is too easy.)
John Holtz
Santa Ana

Do they really want jobs?

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I read in A.M. Costa Rica about expatriates looking for income producing activities. How serious are they?  I am quite familiar with San José. Currently I conduct  seminars on entrepreneurship in the Bay Area.

I have contacted expatriates about legitimate part-time income producing businesses. After an initial burst of enthusiasm — nothing. If there are any expatriates seriously interested in part-time income producing businesses, I would like to know who they are.

Hal G Nielsen
In favor of local tortillas

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
Mr. Evan's remarks regarding how Costa Ricans should make better tortillas smacks of good ol Yankee self absorption. He argues that Costa Ricans eat them by the millions, but to him they taste awful.

Memo to Mr. Evans, the companies making Costa Rican tortillas do not have his palate in mind. Their business model seems to be working fine, and he should be investing in the companies that make them. Furthermore, Mr. Evans fans the flames by insinuating that Costa Rican tortillas should be more like Mexican tortillas.

Mr. Evans, if you feel there is a market for Mexican-style tortillas, then put up the capital and see if there is a market for them. In the meantime, let Costa Rican's eat their tortillas in peace, even if they taste awful to you and get your Mexican tortillas in, well, Mexico.
Have you seen these stories?

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Real estate
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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, May 24, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 102

Good grief!

Are you still spending 70 percent 
of your advertising budget on paper?

You need to fill this space ASAP!

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flooded out family
A.M. Costa Rica photos/Saray Ramírez Vindas
What is left of the kitchen looks out on the Río Cañas at the home of the Arias Pérez family
300 are evacuated as flooding hits homes in Desamparados
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Heavy rains hit Desamparados Wednesday, and emergency officials said that more than 300 persons had been evacuated.

The Rio Cañas in San Juan de Dios and Aserri, the Rio Damas in San Antonio de Patarrá, the Rio Cucubres or Tiribi in Calle Fallas, Desamparados, and the Río María Aguilar in Jorco have caused emergency alerts, said Luis Fernando Calderon, emergency coordinator. Other districts also suffered flooding.

There was little rain in the city of San José Wednesday, but Desamparados is at a higher elevation and suffered strong downpours. Exact rainfall figures are not available.

Three homes along the Rio Cañas in the district of San Juan de Dios had walls and foundations torn off, and families ended up with just 60 percent of their home in some cases. They were unable to continue living there. Emergency officials said that the damaged homes were mostly older ones.

In Liberia in Guanacaste some 4.3 centimeters (1.7 inches) fell between 5 and 6 p.m.
The good news in Desamparados was that there was no loss of life, but Aurora Sánchez Garbanzo, a regidora or councilwoman, said most of the affected families lost nearly all their belongings.

Many children and their parents have no place to live or food or clothes and the Comisión Nacional de Emergencia still is waiting to purchase property to relocated the people who were in the flood-prone areas. Some of the areas are high-risk and actually below the level of a rain-swollen river.

The lack of action on the part of the emergency commission brought complaints from the residents. Nearly all the families are extremely poor.

One such group of victims is the Arias Pérez family on Calle Blanca Duran. The mother, Marisol, has four children, 3, 6, 9, and 12. Her husband was too angry to talk with a reporter. The flooding took much of her house, including part of the kitchen which now looks out on the rain-filled river.

Mrs. Sánchez said that anyone who wanted to help with clothes or financially could contact her at  259-9167 or 351-3853 for details.

Arias administration has three proposals to stem crime wave
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Arias administration will send three proposals to the Asamblea Legislativa June 4 in an effort to stem the rising tide of criminality.

Much of the content of the proposals already has been discussed at length. One measure will target organized crime, another would provide more protection to victims and witnesses and a third would make reforms to the immigration law.

The exact details were not revealed, but juvenile gangs and hitmen are targeted in the first measure. The Consejo de Gobierno, the president's cabinet, calls the plan a frontal attack on crime.

Laura Chinchilla, first vice president and minister of Justica y Gracia, said the administration was troubled by the increase in certain types of crimes. Among these are the incidents of murders by hitmen. In part, these crimes are prompted by drug dealing.

A patient died in his bed at Hospital Tony Facio in Limón this month when two men shot him as a third held a guard at gunpoint. Tuesday, a lawyer was shot but not killed in his own office not far from Casa Presidencial by three men who did not act like robbers.

In addition, organized criminal gangs, the so-called maras, have a strong presence in other Central American countries. Their numbers are growing here.

"Last year there was a noticeable increase in murders in the country, and the only explanation that we have found is that killings by hired assassins have grown," said Vice President Chinchilla.

In addressing the witness and victim protection legislation, the vice president said that many cases do not come to conclusion in Costa Rica because witnesses cannot get off work to go to court. That suggested some kind of labor section will be included in the proposed law.

The vice president's comments notwithstanding, in some neighborhoods police never find witnesses because the people there fear retribution. In addition, some of the contract killing she mentioned were of witnesses.

She also said that the survey firm Demoscopía had done a study of juvenile gangs in the country and found that an urgent intervention was needed. She said that the data shows single-family homes in poverty generated juvenile gang members, as did drug use. She said the government would come up with some kind of anti-drug plan in three weeks. Her statements suggest some kind of anti-poverty social response to crime.

Fuerza Pública officers break up a possible crime at store in Santa Ana
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fuerza Pública officers on patrol broke up what they think was a robbery in progress at the Bazar Los Reyes Magos in Río Oro de Santa Ana Wednesday. They took three persons into custody.

Officers said that a man in a car was stationed outside the store but the trio sped away when they saw a patrol car. Police followed and apprehended them about 300 meters
from the store across the line in Piedades de Santa Ana, they said. The driver was identified as William Alberto Fernández Bermúdez.

The two persons who had entered the store were identified after arrest as Juan Carlos Garro Prado and Katherine Araya Ortiz, the Fuerza Pública said.

All three live in Leon XIII, and Fernández faces an unrelated charge for which there is a warrant, officers said.

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, May 24, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 102

Raids in three locations produce 2.4 tons of cocaine here
By Arnoldo Cob Mora
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators detained seven Mexicans and a Colombian Tuesday as they said they cracked down on a major drug ring and seized 2,200 kilos (2.4 tons) of cocaine.

Some of the packaged cocaine was found in a large hole dug outside a Rohrmoser home, said  Francisco Segura, acting director of the Judicial Investigating Organization.

The drug probably came from Colombia and was being stored here in anticipation of transporting it through Central America, into México and eventually into the United States.

The Rohrmoser location has the capacity to hold some three tons of drugs but only contained 640 kilos when agents arrived. Three Mexicans were arrested there. A storage facility in Lagunilla de Heredia yielded 920 kilos. Four Mexicans were arrested there.

In addition, agents intercepted a microbus in Bajo de los Ledezma, Pavas, in which they found 640 kilos, Segura said. The Colombian, identified by the names of Euliezer Tabares, was at the wheel, agents said.

Agents also confiscated an AK-47 rifle, six boxes of
AK-47 drug gun
Judicial Investigating Organization photo
This is the AK-47 confiscated in the raid

ammunition, a Glock 40 pistol, a Volvo and a Nissan Sentra, two trucks and another weapon.

The Mexicans detained were identified by the names of Humberto Robleto, Salvador Esquivia, Francisco Javier Sánchez, Oscar Hill, Alejandro Valencia, and Luis Alberto Malaña. A Mexican minor also was detained, Segura said.

Segura said more arrests might take place.

Annual Amnesty International report notes Latin impunity and corruption
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Amnesty International says democracy in Latin America is threatened by chronically weak institutions and undermined by a lack of independence of the judiciary, impunity and endemic corruption.

In its annual report Wednesday, Amnesty noted that violent crime and a lack of public security continued to be major public concerns. It said that youth and armed criminal gangs posed a serious threat in cities in Brazil, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, and Jamaica. The report did not mention Costa Rica.

The report said several states, such as Brazil, are resorting
 to using the military for containing violent neighborhoods and prisons.

Amnesty said Colombian security forces, paramilitaries, and guerrilla groups continued to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity, which also affected people living in neighboring Ecuador, Panama, and Venezuela.

The report also noted that thousands of detainees remain in U.S. custody without charge or trial in Guantánamo Bay.

Amnesty said Chile, Peru, and Colombia had made progress in women's reproductive rights, but that gender-based violence and killings continued in Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico.

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