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These stories were published Wednesday, May 28, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 104
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Pacheco makes much of 2-month tourism spurt
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Abel Pacheco Tuesday made much of a 6.6 percent increase in tourism that took place during the first two months of this year.

He did this as he justified his plan to increase tourism that much each year until 2012 when he estimates that some 2.3 million tourists will visit the country.

This is the president’s plan to justify 18,000 new hotel rooms and 50,000 new employees in the tourism sector. Ultimately it is part of the overall administration plan to fight poverty.

The numbers were in the text of the president’s speech prepared for delivery at the opening of Expotur, the tourism trade show.

The one problem with the president’s estimates is that the first two months of 2002, the base year in his calculations, was an extremely bad period for tourism here. Tourists in the first two months of this year, some 164,131, still were 4 percent lower than the same period in 2001.

The numbers in January and February 2002 were artificially depressed because the world still was feeling the impact of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States.

In January and February 2001 171,032 tourists visited Costa Rica, 6,901 more than the first two months of this year.

By extrapolating an estimate of the number of tourists in the country 9 years from now based 

on the data from these two months would seem to be highly optimistic.

Pacheco also lashed out in his remarks at Costa Rica’ reputation as a sex tourism destination. But then the rest of his remarks were against the sexual exploitation of minors. Only part of Costa Rica’s reputation as a sex tourism destination involves persons under the age of 18.

Pacheco gave no hint how he might attack sex tourism in general, and more than a few persons in his audience are major facilitators of the Costa Rican adult sex tourism scene. That includes tour operators and hotel owners.

The president also noted that the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo is spending some $12 million on an external publicity campaign for the country. 

Pacheco also said that tourism development must be done in strict harmony with nature.

Earlier in the day government officials authorized the tourism institute to purchase the former building of the Coalición Costarricense de Iniciativas para el Desarrollo, located in La Uruca, for $2.5 million. Minister Rodrigo Castro said that the price is 14 percent lower than an evaluation by the Ministerio de Hacienda and that the institution would save some 32 percent of its present office costs.

The institute now is housed in several floors of the Caja Costarricense del Seguro Social building on Avenida 4 between calles 5 and 7.

Two ministers leaving Pacheco's administration
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Pacheco administration’s top financial gun, Jorge Walter Bolaños, said he was calling it quits Tuesday. He is a victim of the crisis caused by the striking workers of the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad.

The minister of the Presidencia, Rina Contreras, also is stepping down to a less visible job as personal adviser to President Abel Pacheco. She lost her job, in part, because national legislators objected to her negotiating style.

Minister Contreras was the key person at the Asamblea Nacional where she pushed the administrations fiscal reform package. The proposed free trade treaty with the United States soon will be going to lawmakers, and Pacheco said that good relations were required.

The announcements of the resignations came at the weekly Consejo de Gobierno meeting at Casa Presidencial.

The departure of Bolaños, minister of Hacienda, clearly is a result of his frustration with the 

striking communication workers and their demand for a $100 million international bond issue to support the giant monopoly. Pacheco at first held the line on the ICE workers demands. 

But Friday Pacheco agreed to support a $40 million bond issue and rate increases in telephone and electricity to the tune of $30 million more. Strikers had punctuated their demands with marches. They remain on strike.

Bolaños is believed to oppose the bond issue due to the weak financial structure of the monopoly that controls electricity, telephone, Internet services and power generation. His resignation actually went to the president last week but was not announced until today.

Pacheco said he was considering two candidates to replace Bolaños. The ministry includes the tax-collecting Tributación Directa and the accountants that keep an eye on the national budget. 

It is separate from the Banco Central that maintains the money supply and ultimately will float the ICE bonds on the international market.

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Some quick fixes for some big problems — really!
By the A.M. Costa Rica humor staff

There is a quick way to solve a number of Costa Rica’s crises promptly and efficiently.

The petulant strikers of the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad have the country by the throat, and President Abel Pacheco is referring to them as naughty children.

The strike leaders all should be shipped out to the Academic at Dundee Ranch where a few days of kneeling on the cold concrete and meals of gruel will do them some good.

The ranch will be pleased to get a new infusion of tuition, now that Costa Rican officials have driven off the troubled youngsters whose parents had paid top dollar to place them in Dundee’s charge.

Meanwhile, the nation’s teachers are a bit annoyed because the Ministerio de Educación Pública can’t seem to get the computers to work correctly to pay them. It’s only been three months.

Pacheco should act decisively to put all the politicians' payrolls on the same computers system. Let’ see how long it will take them to get straightened out.

In all cases, the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo

should send out for little signs they can affix to the backs of striking ICE employees, teachers, 
Limón municipal workers and tax collectors. As the strikers march, and they have done so repeatedly, they can wear the little signs saying "Costa Rica: Pura vida!" 

That will be at least as effective as current tourism promotional efforts.

Speaking of "Pura Vida," that’s also the name of a one-man play now running in Chicago that describes easy paid sex in Costa Rica. Costa Rican officials should quickly hire a local playwright to pen "Broad Shoulders," a play that describes easy paid sex in Chicago.

Then maybe some sex tourists will go there instead of here. Plus with a cast of hundreds, young ladies practicing the world’s oldest profession could get a job in the chorus line instead of pretending to like some old Gringo.

The country has already made significant inroads into the traffic problem. With the next vehicle inspection system tightening the rules and the scrutiny, by 2006 only 146 vehicles will pass and be allowed on the roads. The Los Anonos bridge might be ready for them at that time.

Gee, that’s the same time a new president will take office. Is anyone really interested in the job?

Peru in state of emergency over wave of strikes
By the A.M. Costa Rica wires services

LIMA, Peru — Responding to a wave of strikes by teachers, farmers and state health workers, Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo has declared a nationwide state of emergency, suspended some civil rights and called the nationwide teachers shutdown illegal. 

Faced with increasing strikes and the specter of food supplies being cut off from this capital city, the president decided to take a hard stand and declare a state of emergency in what is expected to affect half the country. 

"I've decided to give the internal control of the country over to the armed forces, aided by the national police," said Toledo. "We've decided to reopen the schools and open the roads."

The state of emergency will suspend civil rights such as the right to public meetings, the right to home privacy and the right of movement. Tuesday, the state health workers joined the teachers, justice system personnel and thousands of farmers. And, there have been signs retired police 

might also strike, which would complicate police actions against the protesters. 

The wave of strikes comes in the wake of a march on Lima of hundreds of growers of the coca plant, protesting government plans to curb the crop, and a strike by Peruvian teamsters.

What seems to have sparked the government's drastic action was police intelligence, published in a local newspaper, predicting that some 30 new protests, marches and strikes were planned in the next two weeks.

The teachers union has led the current rash of strikes. Reacting to President Toledo's campaign promise to double salaries during his term, teachers — who make less than $200 a month — are demanding a raise of around $30. The government maintains it can only afford about a $15 raise. Farmers want sales taxes cut from 18 to 3 percent.

 The president says he will continue a dialogue with the protesters, but that he will not break fiscal austerity or what he has labeled the "straight jacket" of International Monetary Fund accords.

U.S. warns Guatemala on ex-dictator's candidacy
By the A.M. Costa Rica wires services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. relations with Guatemala will suffer if the country's former dictator, Efrain Rios Montt, wins presidential elections in that Central American country in November, the U.S. State Department says. Rios Montt's 18-month tenure as military ruler in the early 1980s was marked by severe human rights abuses. 

In an unusual move, the State Department has publicly served notice on Guatemala that it would be "difficult" to have a good relationship if Rios Montt returned to power, while also pointing out that the former general is nominally barred from serving under that country's constitution.

The comments follow a decision last Saturday by the ruling Guatemalan Republican Front party to nominate the former military chief as the party's candidate for president in the national election set for Nov. 9. 

Rios Montt took power in a military coup in 1982 and ruled the country for 18 months, during which the armed forces mounted a "scorched-earth" campaign against suspected leftist insurgents that left thousands of people dead and hundreds of Indian villages in ruins.

A 1999 report by a "truth commission" backed by the United Nations accused Rios Montt of at least tolerating massacres by soldiers under his command during his tenure as military ruler.

At a briefing for reporters, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States supports free, fair, transparent and constitutional elections in Guatemala, while noting that Rios 

Montt has already been barred from the presidency because of his role in the coup.

"We would hope to be able to work with, and have a normal, friendly relationship with whoever is the next president of Guatemala," Boucher said. "Realistically, in light of Mr. Rios Montt's background, it would be difficult to have the kind of relationship that we would prefer. We understand that Guatemala's Constitutional Court has decided on two occasions to bar Mr. Rios Montt from holding Guatemala's presidency, due to a constitutional prohibition denying eligibility for that office to individuals who have taken power through extra-constitutional means."

Rios Montt founded the ruling party and was elected head of the Guatemalan Congress three years ago. He is a close associate of the current President Alfonso Portillo, who has said he believes Rios Montt's bid for elected office will not be blocked by the courts this time.

A Rios Montt candidacy would seemingly be precluded by the country's 1986 constitution, which bars any participant in a coup from assuming the presidency and also bars former heads of state from returning to office. 

The popularity of the incumbent Guatemalan president, Portillo, has plummeted amid a sagging economy and charges of corruption involving drug dealers.

In a report to the U.S. Congress in late January, the Bush administration said the Guatemalan government had "failed demonstrably" in fighting the drug trade, though citing U.S. national interests, it waived economic sanctions against it. 


 
 
New AIDS initiative
to cost $15 billion

By the A.M. Costa Rica wires services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President George Bush has signed into law a $15 billion AIDS initiative for Africa and the Caribbean. 

In a ceremony at the State Department Tuesday, the president said the United States has a moral duty to act against preventable deaths and suffering from AIDS. 

The president said the AIDS initiative is a massive undertaking and likened it to the Marshall Plan, the U.S. relief efforts to re-build Europe after World War II. He called the bill the largest single commitment to an international health initiative involving a specific disease. 

The bill funds a five-year initiative to diagnose, treat and prevent HIV and AIDS in 12 Sub-Saharan African and two Caribbean nations, Guyana and Haiti. It includes money for medication, home care and prevention campaigns. The initiative has been passed by the U.S. House and Senate. 

Bush urged the world's leading industrial nations to make the same commitment to fighting the deadly disease. He leaves Friday for a summit meeting beginning Sunday in France. The summit will bring together the leaders of the seven major industrialized nations plus Russia. 

The Joint United Nations Program on HIV-AIDS praised the AIDS initiative, saying it will dramatically reduce deaths from the disease. UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot said President Bush and the United States Congress have demonstrated critical leadership on HIV-AIDS through this legislation. 

The AIDS initiative focuses mainly on Botswana, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia as well as the two nations in the Western Hemisphere

AIDS has killed more than 23 million people worldwide over the past two decades. Another 45 million people are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. 

U.S. Supreme Court
OKs secret hearings

By the A.M. Costa Rica wires services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States Supreme Court declined to review a ruling by a federal appeals court that upheld the government's right to hold secret immigration hearings as part of the war on terrorism. 

The Supreme Court action effectively hands the federal government a legal victory, by preserving its right to hold secret deportation hearings to protect national security. 

The appeals court ruling had been appealed by newspapers in the state of New Jersey. Their lawyers argued that the press and the public have a right to know what transpired in the secret immigration hearings in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. 

The secret immigration hearings have been widely criticized by civil liberties groups. Rebecca Thornton, of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights in New York, said she is disappointed that the Supreme Court declined to take action. "If the press does not have access to these proceedings, there is no way to tell whether they are being conducted fairly, whether the individuals who are appearing before these proceedings have access to counsel [lawyer], what kind of barriers they are facing in making sure that their rights to due process are observed," she said. 

Government prosecutors have asked for closed immigration hearings when they designate a detainee is of special interest to the government's terrorism investigation. 

Justice Department officials argue that revealing details about suspects detained for questioning could tip off terrorist groups as to how much the government knows about specific terrorist cells or plans. 

FBI Director Robert Mueller has defended the secret deportation hearings as an important part of the Bush administration's war on terrorism. "The top priority is counter-terrorism," he said, "to prevent another September 11th. I do not think there is an agent or support person in the Bureau that did not understand in the wake of September 11th that we had to focus on that responsibility to assure that did not occur again." 

Justice Department officials say that of the 766 detainees designated as of special interest in connection with the terrorism investigation, 505 have been deported. 

Last week, the Justice Department sent a report to Congress that said about 50 detainees are being secretly held as material witnesses in connection with the investigation into the September 2001 terrorist attacks.

Consumer confidence
continues to climb

By the A.M. Costa Rica wires services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — New statistics show that consumer confidence in the United States edged up for the month of May, reaching a six-month high. The moderate increase is mixed news for the U.S. economy. 

The Conference Board, a private business research group, has released its latest monthly index for consumer confidence showing a modest gain of almost three points in May. The figures are part of a six-month trend in which consumer expectations for an economic rebound have slowly, but steadily, risen. 

In April, the consumer confidence index jumped 20 points after a quick end to the war in Iraq. Lynn Franco, director of consumer research at the Conference Board, says the good news on the economic front is that consumer expectations and the housing market are up.  But Ms. Franco says labor-market worries are tempering consumers optimism about overall business conditions. 

"Consumers are telling us that jobs were more difficult to find in May as opposed to April," she said.

Legislative OK nears
for coast highway

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

National lawmakers are close to approving a loan package that will allow the government to finish the 43-kilometer stretch of the Costanera Sur.

The project has been in planning for 28 years.

The section involved runs from Quepos to Dominical along the Pacific Coast. It is now gravel. The loan of some $60 million is from the Banco Centroamericano de Integración Económica. The national budget will add $20 million, but approval from the Asamblea Nacional is needed to make the loan. Work would start at the beginning of next year.

During legislative action Tuesday deputies spoke about the economic boost that the road completion would give to the area. With the autopista from Ciudad Colón to Orotina, residents of the Central Valley would have quick access to the southern Pacific coast.

The route also will carry much of the heavy truck traffic from Nicaragua to Panamá that now goes through the Central Valley on the InterAmerican Highway. Pacheco held a ceremony Feb. 14 on the Pacific Coast where he signed the loan documents.

Legislative approval is expected in a day or two.

In addition to development, the highway is expected to be a boost for tourism and also for the economic integration of Central America, said lawmakers.
 
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Dividing up the world's radio spectrum
Wireless access is big topic at international confab
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States will recommend at an international conference that more of the world's airwaves or spectrum be allocated for advanced wireless technologies such as wireless local area data networks, says the head of the U.S. delegation.

Ambassador Janice Obuchowski outlined U.S. objectives in an interview ahead of the four-week World Radiocommunication Conference 2003, which is scheduled to begin June 9 in Geneva.

She said the United States will also promote a new technology developed by Boeing Corp. that involves delivering wireless communication services from the air. Such a technology would allow access to the Internet from anywhere, including from in-flight aircraft, she said.

WRC 2003 will consider 44 agenda items for setting international rules for spectrum use, the most ever, Obuchowski said. The United States will be represented by more than 160 delegates, including 90 from private industry, and 30 advisers. Approximately 2,000 delegates representing 180 countries will attend, she added.

The conference is being organized by the United Nations International Telecommunication Union.

"Without international agreement ... the world's airwaves could quickly become a chaotic jumble of competing and interfering signals," according to a U.S. delegation background document.

"At stake [at the conference] are wireless frequencies (airwaves) that will be crucial to the U.S. high-technology sector, which is a vital, high-growth area of the U.S. economy," the document said.

Pre-WRC regional meetings have already done much to prepare the conference agenda items, Obuchowski said. The United States met with other Western Hemisphere countries under the auspices of the Inter-American Telecommunication Commission of the Organization of American States.

"We have a very strong set of hemispheric proposals," Obuchowski said. The Western Hemisphere was the first region to complete its proposals and make them available for other regions to review, she added.

In addition to commercial services, wireless frequencies are used in many government systems, such as the Global Positioning System used to guide air traffic, which is an essential 
component of national security worldwide, Obuchowski said. Spectrum also is used to forecast

weather, to communicate with space missions, to conduct intelligence and to guide missiles.

The United States wants to upgrade its global positioning system, which will share the same range of spectrum as Europe's soon-to-be-launched positioning system, Galileo, the ambassador said. The world's other launched positioning system is the former Soviet system, now managed by Russia, called GLONASS.

In Iraq, spectrum allowed the U.S. military's remote-controlled aerial vehicles, or drones, to communicate intelligence to troops' positioning systems on the ground, making fast progress in meeting objectives possible, Obuchowski said.

Wireless technology also supports a growing number of hand-held telephones, which are "vastly overtaking" standard phones in the developing world, she said.

During the conference, the U.S. delegation will also work to accommodate global demands for spectrum while protecting U.S. government systems, including military radars, from harmful interference, Obuchowski said.

She said the United States has received a great deal of support for the telecommunications policy positions it will bring to the conference, particularly from developing countries. She added she expected the negotiations to be fruitful.

But the United States opposes a European proposal for setting a standard-size direct television dish, she said. The United States prefers a 45-centimeter standard, she said, smaller than the 65-centimeter broadcast satellite service dish commonly used in Europe.

Among U.S. government agencies represented at the conference will be the departments of State, Commerce, Defense and Homeland Security and independent agencies including the Federal Communications Commission, the National Aeronautic and Space Administration and the National Science Foundation.

Companies represented in the U.S. delegation include Lockheed Martin, Motorola, Cisco Systems, Intel, AT&T Wireless and Boeing.

Emerging regional voting blocs include the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations and the African Telecommunications Union, the background document said.

"WRC 2003 will be more global than past conferences," the background document said. "This will undoubtedly create a new dynamic. . . ."


 
 
Bush praises U.S. Congress for giant tax breaks
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President George Bush has praised Congress for passing legislation reducing federal income taxes by at least $350 billion over several years.

In a statement issued shortly after the Senate gave the bill final approval Bush said the tax cuts would bolster U.S. economic expansion and create jobs. He said he will sign the bill into law.

The bill reduces tax rates for all income brackets. It increases the standard tax deduction for married couples, the tax credit for children and tax breaks for investments made by small businesses.

It reduces tax rates on capital gains and on dividends paid by both domestic and foreign corporations — the version passed by the House of Representatives would have limited these tax 

breaks only to dividends from domestic corporations.

The tax on dividends drops from a top rate of 38.6 percent to rates of 15 percent for those with higher incomes and 5 percent for those with lower incomes — the same rates that now apply under the bill to capital gains.

Gone from the final bill are many Senate-passed provisions concerning income earned outside the United States. The bill drops, for example, a Senate proposal that would have repealed the exclusion from U.S. income taxes on up to $80,000 income earned by U.S. workers abroad.

It also drops a series of Senate-passed provisions aimed at taxing certain income from corporations and individuals that relocate from the United States to tax haven countries in order to escape U.S. taxation.

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