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(506) 223-1327        Published Thursday, May 25, 2006, in Vol. 6, No. 103        E-mail us    
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Review of expats part of immigration cleanup
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Immigration officials will give a second look to expats here who already have residency.

They will be looking for persons who are sought for crimes elsewhere but still managed to slip into Costa Rica and acquire residency.

This was the word Tuesday from Mario Zamora Cordero, the new director of the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería.  He said that immigration officials will crosscheck current residents against international wanted

lists. If it appears that someone obtained residency here even though they had a criminal past elsewhere,
Zamora  said that his department would re-examine the residency process to see who approved the documents and what documents were approved.

Applicants for residency here have to provide fingerprints as well as a statement from their hometown police that they have not been involved in criminal activity. However, some applicants have been able to duck these requirements, immigration officials fear.

Zamora's comments came at a press conference where immigration officials said a housecleaning already was underway.

The most visible of the actions to crack down on immigration problems came Tuesday night when police from several agencies showed up at the La Uruca immigration facility. They were there to put an end to the practice of selling places on line to passport applicants.

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday immigration officials accept passport applications from Costa Ricans, but only 500 persons are handled each day. The line begins forming late the previous evening.
An industry had developed of people blocking out a number of spaces and then selling these to latecomers. Zamora said the going price was about 25,000 colons a place, or about $50.

These were not a handful of entrepreneurs. Immigration officials said that more than 350 persons were involved in extorting money from passport applicants and threatening them with physical violence if they did not pay.

The Fuerza Pública, the Policia Municipal, the Policía de Migración and Tránsito officers from the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes were involved in the nighttime cleanup.

Officials said that when police arrived, the waiting line for passports already was 100 meters long, nearly 1,000 feet.  After police checked the credentials of each person, the length shrunk to 25 meters, they said. The line forms in the immigration complex parking lot.

The people who hold places are called gavilanes or hawks. Zamora said this activity will not be permitted in the future although what these people do is not listed as a crime.
One gavilán Tuesday night had 25 meters of the waiting line staked out. Others were holding similar spaces to sell to individuals who arrive for a passport transaction Wednesday morning.

The police action Tuesday followed actions against individual immigration workers who may be involved in internal corruption. Zamora said he was certain that foreigners are using doctored Costa Rican identity documents around the world.

Zamora said that immigration also is considering doing more work with the Imprinta Nacional once contract obligations with other firms expire. This would include producing blank passports. Plus there are plans to use more technology, he said.


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A.M. Costa Rica

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, May 25, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 103


Costa Rica Expertise
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Code of ethics formalized
by Arias administration


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Arias administration will set up an ethics commission to handle complains of wrongdoing by public officials.

The objective is that public officials observe the highest ethical values in their political actions and in the exercise of their public position, said Rodrigo Arias Sánchez, minister of the Presidencia and the brother of the president.

Óscar Arias Sánchez, the president, signed a decree that brings into force the ethical standards.  The ethics commission will be made up of three highly placed officials, a statement from Casa Presidencial said.

Arias said he was going to do this.

Police target drug sites
all over the country


By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police are making an effort to root out fugitives and drug dealers all over the country.

The number of police on the streets in downtown San José rivals the Christmastime show of force, and some tourists are tempted to say they are in an armed camp.

The anti-crime effort is the work of the new Arias administration,

This week Fuerza Pública officers and the anti-drug police have made arrests and seized drugs in Sn José, Aserrí, Tárcoles, Puntarenas, Alajuela, Heredia and Limón.

The Unidad Intervención Policial is involved in the operations, too, so they give a militaristic tone with their bulletproof vests and black uniforms.

Anti-drug work continued Tuesday night with raids on bunkers or drug safe houses in Cristo Rey and adjacent to the Museo de Niños in San José. Osvaldo Alpízar, the director general of the Fuerza Pública, said that the drug sweeps that sometimes include up to 10 police units, was an effort by the new administration.

The majority of the drugs confiscated was crack cocaine. In operations all over the country, a number of knives and unlicensed firearms were seized.  In San José police even arrested a man who had an outstanding warrant for murder.

June 9 mostly a holiday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Public employees at least will have a half-day holiday June 9 when the Costa Rican national soccer team meets Germany in the inaugural game of the World Cup tournament.

Game time is 10 on a Friday morning here, and the contest will span roughly two hours. Since public employees generally leave work at 3 p.m., their maximum work time that day will be just three hours.

Private companies will be under intense pressure from their employees to follow the policy of the Arias administration.

New ambassador in México

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Gioconda Ubeda Rivera, a career diplomat, has been named ambassador to México.

The action came at the Consejo de Gobierno Wednesday where the resignation of Rodrigo Carreras as ambassador to Nicaragua was accepted.

Ms. Ubeda is a lawyer and is the current judicial director of the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto. She had diplomatic posts in Argentina from 1988 to 1990 and in 1994 to 1996. She served in México in 1986 to 1988. She will assume the post June 9.

Our reader's opinion

Same-sex marriages
called fundamental right


Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I was saddened but not surprised to read the Sala IV decision about same-sex marriages.  Marriage equality for same-sex couples should be a fundamental right.  Society only "wins" by encouraging stable partnerships, especially now that many same-sex couples are raising children.

Perhaps the issue is the word "marriage" which could be used to refer to religiously blessed unions, and the term "civil unions" used for secular governmental recognition for all couples.  It is only a matter of time until homosexuals will be allowed the same rights and resposibilities as other citizens. For now, their continued second-class status is maintained based on out-dated prejudices.
Glen Love
Haverford, Pa., U.S.A. and
Dominical, Costa Rica

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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, May 25, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 103






 
U.N. sets up pilot project on climate change, tourism
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The United Nations is taking notice of climate change as a potential threat to tourist resorts.

The international organization has authorized a pilot project for the island nation of Fiji in the South Pacific. The U.N. will aim at helping the tourism industry there adapt to the effects of climate change. They anticipate more frequent cyclones and beach-eroding higher sea levels.

“Climate change should not be seen by tourism administrations and businesses as a distant phenomenon, but one that is already affecting destinations and the daily operation of the tourism sector," said  Gabor Vereczi, the program officer of the  U.N. World Tourism Organization there.

Alterations in weather patterns can have a serious impact on the programming of trips, the comfort of tourists and their health, said the U.N. Extreme climatic events can affect natural attractions, with storm surges and rising sea levels eroding beaches and higher sea temperatures bleaching coral, it added. There is also the increased risk of drought and the possibility of physical damage to both people and property, the U.N. said.

Fiji was picked because U.N. officials said small island states are more vulnerable to the impact of climate change.

In Costa Rica, predictions said ocean levels might increase as much as a full meter within 100 years. The  country has a 1,100-km. pacific coast line. That’s about 680 miles. There are 200 kms. (124 miles) on the Caribbean coast.

A rise in sea level is a certainty over the next 100 years. The question just is how much. Scientists predict from a foot increase to a full meter, some 39 inches. Although that amount does not sound like much, the long-term implications are vast.

The Instituto Meteorológico National summarizes its concerns this way:

"A significant increase in the level of the sea, in addition to make a big part of the cities of Puntarenas, Quepos, and Golfito on the Pacific uninhabitable and drastically affected the current port installations, would cause big conflicts in the

Instituto Meteorológico National graphic     
     The land area of Puntarenas will be reduced  
     dramatically by an increase of three-tenths of a
     meter and a full meter.

 tenancy of land and the strip adjacent to the beaches and would reduce the capacity of the state to protect the coastal ecosystems that are important for the sustainable development of the nation."

The institute has prepared an extensive report on the sea level change.

Costa Rica has passed laws that restrict development in the 200 meters of land closest to the ocean. The measurement depends on the high-water mark, so if the sea level changes, so could the ownership.

The meteorological institute says that an optimistic prediction is for an increase in sea level of about three-tenths of a meter in the next 100 years.  That would be about a foot. However, the more pessimistic predictions suggest an increase as much as a meter, some 39 inches.

Much of the discussion of sea level change has been confined to academic and professional circles. Aerial photos have been marked to show flooding of currently dry land that would take place with different level changes. For  example, Puntarenas, which is on a sandy peninsula in the Gulf of Nicoya would be reduced.





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San José, Costa Rica, Thursday, May 25, 2006, Vol. 6, No. 103




Guest editorial from The Panama News
Canal expansion campaign is a one-sided affair

By Eric Jackson
Editor, The Panama News

For the April 24 "unveiling" of the Torrijos-Alemán Zubieta Panama Canal expansion plan and in the two weeks afterwards, the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) spent — according to its own admission — some $400,000 on publicity. Most of this went to the daily newspapers, the television stations and selected radio broadcasters in the form of advertising purchases, but there were other expenses like $3,350.70 to Confecciones Marissa for "shirts for the exhibitors of the expansion project."

Left out of the admitted figures were the sums spent by the Torrijos administration and the Legislative Assembly, mostly for international travel to gather endorsements and most probably commitments for campaign donations from foreign business leaders and politicians.

The basic rules of thumb in Panamanian campaign finance are that:

• the expenditure of public funds to influence an election is illegal;

• campaign contributions are secret if the campaign in question wants them to be — even if there are certain minimal reporting requirements with respect to candidates for public office, those reports to the Electoral Tribunal are not made public;

• corporate contributions are legal;

• foreign contributions are legal; and

• there are no campaign spending limits.

What Panamanians will face, probably sometime late this year, is a ballot issue referendum to which many of the ordinary rules that apply to candidates for public offices are not in effect. The Electoral Tribunal has warned that the use of public funds to promote a "yes" vote will not be allowed and has said that it's putting together a set of regulations for the canal expansion referendum.

However, already several huge holes in the announced policy and in the supposed norms of Electoral Tribunal neutrality have been carved by the tribunal and by Electoral Prosecutor Gerardo Solís:

• Solís has held that he has no jurisdiction over what the president of Panama does;

• Solís and by their silent inaction the members of the tribunal, and the arguments of the ACP and the Torrijos administration, have carved out an exception to the ban on public funds by way of the argument that the dissemination of the canal expansion plan by the ACP and the government prior to the setting of an actual referendum question and a date for the vote can not be construed to be campaigning for a "yes" vote, although by the content of the messages paid for with public funds they clearly are; and

• At the May 24 event at ATLAPA in which President Torrijos announced the plan, Electoral Tribunal president Dennis Allen sat front and center among the dignitaries, and was famously seen embracing the president after his speech, a graphic endorsement of a "yes" vote by one who is supposed to be impartial.

The "yes" campaign didn't begin on April 24, however. It has been waged by the ACP for years, and by Martín Torrijos since he was elected president. It has consisted of careful control of information about the project and the studies supporting it, vilification of critics and skeptics, selective release of favorable information to supporters, and massive advertising aimed at boosting the ACP's image and cultivating the financial dependence of the mainstream media by way of the "Canal al Día" television spots and the insertion of the ACP tabloid "El Faro" in the daily newspapers.

One famous mantra established in that campaign, now a part of virtually every pro-expansion speech or PowerPoint presentation, is the claim that in the six years since taking over the canal, Panama has received more revenue from the waterway than in the 85 years of American management. This is true, and is the natural consequence of the end of colonial rule over the Panama Canal, but it has been presented as "proof" of the current ACP leadership's managerial genius, which it is not.

Despite all that, polls by both the Dichter & Neira and CID-Gallup organizations indicate that some 57 percent of Panamanians would vote "yes" were the referendum held now, a nearly two to one lead over the "no" side with a large undecided segment. Ask any political scientist familiar with ballot issue campaigns and she or he will tell you that this is a puny lead going into a campaign where there will be opposition.

One recent Latin American example is Brazil's gun control vote. There, the "yes" side started out with polls indicating that it would win with more than two-thirds of the vote, but by the end the gun owners and gun manufacturers had won the day and the proposal went down to defeat by more than a three-to-one margin.

The public funds spent on polling aren't likely to be known for years to come, if ever. These state expenditures for private political reasons typically come out of the presidential secret fund. Such was the case during the Pérez Balladares administration, for example, when he was promoting a "yes" vote on a constitutional amendment which had it passed would have allowed him to run for a second consecutive presidential term. We don't know the particulars about he polls and focus groups, but clearly President Torrijos and ACP administrator Alberto Alemán Zubieta are well advised and know the score, which is why there is a prolonged "dissemination" campaign prior to the canal expansion plan's submission to the Cabinet Council and then the National Assembly.

The "yes" campaign is not leaving it at that, however. They are also moving to silence critics, deny them information to support their arguments, and lashing out at them in public statements. For examples:

• Maribel Cuervo de Paredes, a journalist who had written a column in La Prensa for 15 years, was the most prominent of the skeptics among the daily's op-ed writers, but she was sent a letter by publisher Fernando Berguido, reportedly at the request of former publisher Federico Humbert Arias, now the Torrijos administration's ambassador in Washington, canceling her column because her opinions are not "objective;"

• in its news coverage of the canal expansion debates, La Prensa carefully excludes the particular criticisms that skeptics make, and in its opinion pages then disingenuously alleges that the critics have no specific arguments on their side;

• similarly, skeptics and their criticisms of the canal expansion project are almost completely excluded from television;

• it turns out that the publication of the overwhelming majority of the canal expansion studies in English is not the only or even the main impediment to those who want to read them — the documents, which are not indexed on the ACP Web site in the same fashion as they are listed in the 76-page insert that went into the daily newspapers the day after the Torrijos speech at ATLAPA, are published only as very long PDF documents, so that even using the fastest Internet connections available in Panama, they take a half-hour or more to download;

• spokespeople for the Torrijos-Alemán Zubieta Plan repeatedly taunt critics for expressing negative opinions without having read the 55,000 pages of

Canal Museum photo by  Urs Hauenstein
Hong Kong cargo ship Kang Zhong in the Panama Canal. Photo Copyright © canalmuseum.com 2005.

studies, most of them in a foreign language and virtually all of them difficult to obtain; and

• it turns out that some of the "yes" side's representations about what the studies say are false or misleading, but these representations are published as undisputed facts in the mainstream media.

For an example of the difficulties posed by the "yes" side's information controls, consider one of this reporter's experiences.

There are critics who say that several of the multiple studies about the extent that the retaining ponds feature of the new locks will increase the infiltration of saltwater into Gatun Lake indicate that it's a problem, but the "yes" side's statements flatly say that there is no problem with the salinization of the lake water.

It's a huge financial issue, because if the lake turns so brackish that the two water treatment plants that take water from that body and process it to meet most of the drinking water needs of the Colón, San Miguelito and Panama City metro area have to be fitted with desalinization equipment, it will mean an expenditure on the order of $1 billion at each of the plants just to install the equipment, and then huge energy and maintenance costs to run the additions afterwards. It would destroy all of the "yes" side's financial projections.

So it would behoove The Panama News, as an honest news medium that's not a propaganda outlet for the political parties, the rabiblanco families or the ACP, to read the studies and draw some conclusions about
what they do or do not say. However, when that was attempted at one of Panama City's Internet cafes where the connection is faster than almost all others, after half an hour the first of the salinization studies was still not even half downloaded. In this manner Torrijos, Alemán Zubieta and their minions are making arguments citing authorities that as a practical matter they won't allow the public to see.

As this issue of The Panama News was being produced, another example popped up. Archaeologist John Griggs called this reporter, most concerned about academic notions of honesty and statements that could reflect on his reputation.

Dr. Griggs was hired by the ACP to study the effects of canal expansion on archaeological sites and in the work he did for the authority he found that the impact would be considerable, given that he found dozens of artifacts in just one eight-meter transect that's in the project's way. His study, a 40-minute download using a fast Internet connection once one gets an online indexing system that conceals it, says what he found and is on the ACP Web site. But on page 56 of the tabloid by which the Torrijos-Alemán Zubieta Plan was summarized for the Panamanian people, we find the following entry:

6.4. cultural and historical resources

Archaeological and paleontological digs have been done at the site of the new locks and channels and it has been determined that there are probably no archaeological, cultural or scientific finds of importance in these areas.

Griggs called the ACP and demanded a correction, but was told that the official presentation, false as it may be, can not be corrected.

But day after day, the ACP's claims about all things are being published in the mainstream media as if they were facts.

In El Panama America, which takes an editorial stand in favor of expansion, at least they publish news articles about what the "no" side has to say and include opinion columns disputing the "yes" side's versions. However, in that broadsheet daily there is now a "Clarifying doubts" feature, wherein readers may send in their questions about the project and they are "clarified" by submitting them to the ACP — but nobody with another perspective — and the ACP's answer is published without question, comment or contrary opinion. For example, on May 22, reported as fact, was the statement that "The increase in economic activity produced by the expansion will cause the generation of some 250,000 additional jobs...." This feature is not identified as an advertisement.

Meanwhile, the "yes" campaign is spending public funds to send spokespeople on the road in North America, Europe and Asia. There they accomplish three things: first, the repeat statements like the quarter-million jobs figure that would not go unchallenged were they made to a reporter here, but which are taken at face value by naive journalists who know little about Panama, published in foreign media and then picked up by pro-expansion newspaper editors and TV news directors here; second, they get endorsements from abroad for the expansion project, again without the filter of Panamanian journalists; and third, support from foreign business interests with a stake in the proposal's passage is garnered, later to be given in the form of secret campaign contributions to a "yes" campaign.

It is not hard to figure out, for example, why the head of a new "pro-Panama" US congressional caucus that announced its existence at an event with the Vice President and Foreign Minister Samuel Lewis Navarro at the head of a government delegation is none other than Rep. Jerry Weller (R-Illinois), who just happens to represent the district where the Caterpillar corporation — which stands to make a lot of sales if the canal expansion project is undertaken — maintains its headquarters. No doubt Weller, who has proven adept at garnering the support of Caterpillar management, would be most helpful when the "yes" campaign seeks to do likewise.

Then there was the visit of President Torrijos and ACP administrator Alemán Zubieta to the Port of Houston, whose CEO Thomas Kornegay issued a statement that: "The Panama Canal Authority has done an excellent job managing and operating the Canal. We are happy and proud to support its Canal expansion proposal." The statement was disseminated worldwide by the ACP. (But of course, the Electoral Tribunal's expansion supporter Dennis Allen has ruled that such statements at public expense are not appeals for a "yes" vote.)

All the sloganeering and information control strategies by the "yes" side led the nation's Catholic bishops to issue a call for transparency in the canal expansion debate, which they should be "free of all sectarian or group interest." The bishops also asked for sufficient time for an informed discussion.

In La Prensa's story about that declaration, twice the space given to the bishops was allotted to supporters of the "yes" side and no space was given to canal expansion skeptics. In El Panama America the bishops' statement was ignored, but on the front page there was the tale of how many Catholics are displeased by the fictional Hollywood movie "The Da Vinci Code."


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