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These stories were published Monday, May 31, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 106
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Pacheco administration now targeting porno
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Pacheco regime is embarking on an anti-pornography campaign that includes the Internet as well as printed magazine.

An April 26 decree by President Abel Pacheco set strict standards for Internet cafes and sets up a certification program for those Internet locations that filter all their computers against pornography.


Analysis of the news


Although the definition of pornography has proved to be elusive for judges and magistrates for decades, the presidential decree defines it in one paragraph:

"All work that is devoid of serious social, literary, artistic, scientific or political value, that represents sexual acts or of masturbation, and whatever other representations of sexual material of a type deliberately obscene or directed with the intention of provoking lust, or lascivious or libidinous feelings."

The decree, considered overreaching by many, would be just a curiosity if an agency of the Ministerio de Justicia y Gracia did not close down a popular pair of sexy magazines last week.

The Internet decree restricts the number of computer terminals available for those who wish to see what the administration considers to be pornography to just 20 percent of the total available computers. And minors are forbidden in this restricted area.

While the decree recognizes that some Internet cafes might want to operate without pornography, there are no provisions in the law for an adult-only cafe that wants to have all of its computers available for porn.

The decree puts enforcement of this measure not in the hands of police but in the hands of the Ministerio de Salud, the health officials. However, the Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública plus the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia, the child welfare agency, have undefined roles.

Those in the Internet business say that the decree places unjustified reliance on computer filters. They also worry about the stipulation that the presence of a single minor in the restricted adult area means a three-month shut-down, as the decree mandates.

The administration seems to consider Internet cafes as dangerous locations for children. Pacheco already has decreed that minors should not be allowed in Internet cafes in the evening.

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Judicial seals are are supposed to keep people out of Chavespectáculos.

The emphasis on health in the decree suggests  that the administration considers pornography to be damaging to the physical and mental health of minors, something that has not been established scientifically.

Wednesday the Comisión de Control y Calificación de Espectáculos Públicos shut down the magazines, Chavespectáculos and Sexxxo Caliente, because the publisher, Jorge Chaves, would not submit to prior censorship. The law involved gives that commission the right to censor magazines if they are "pornographic."  The magazines had been sold widely.

Chaves has an appeal pending over the raid and shutdown.

Several Internet cafe managers did not seem concerned with the decree, although the majority did not know that they had to set up a special area for pornographic access. All agreed that computer filters are not reliable and do not filter photographs, the mainstay of adult sites.

One Internet source said that perhaps 70 percent of the computer use in Internet cafes is devoted to surfing porn, the majority being gay sites. That was an estimate based on the contents of the computer caches on the servers used in the cafe. These caches hold Internet addresses long after the user has signed off.

The presidential decree has been published and is in force.


 
Free-trade
opponents
in streets
this morning
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Opponents of the free trade treaty with the United States will be on the streets this morning in protest at several locations in the metropolitan area.

Marchers, representing employees of governmental monopolies, students and others, are expected to target the Asemblea Nacional in the protest, that starts at 10 a.m.

The Pacheco administration says that public employees who skip work will not be paid.

The trade pact was signed Friday, but legislative approval is needed.

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Memorial Day observance here moved to the morning to avoid rain
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

American Legion members who are marking Memorial Day today have changed the time of the ceremony to 10 a.m. in order to avoid possibilities of rain.

The newly named SFC Raymond Edison Jones Jr. American Legion Post #16 Costa Rica will host the ceremony, and the U.S. Marine color guard from the U.S. Embassy is expected to attend, said Post Commander Howard L. Singer. Part of the ceremony will be to honor Sgt. Jones, 31, who died April 9. He was the U.S.-born son of a Costa Rican mother.

The ceremony, originally scheduled for the afternoon, will be at the Health Visions Veterans 

Clinic in Heredia. Those who wish to attend can call 265-6394 to obtain directions.

Memorial Day was called Decoration Day when it began to be commemorated shortly after the U.S. Civil War. It was a time to decorate the graves of those who fell in combat.

President George Bush issued a proclamation that requests all U.S. citizens to "unite in prayer" at 11 a.m. today and observe the National Moment of Remembrance at 3 p.m. in respect for "fallen soldiers, their commitment to our country, and their legacy of patriotism and sacrifice."

Because the day is a legal holiday, the U.S. Embassy here is closed today.


 
Would-be resident
seeks rejection reason

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Immigration rules in Costa Rica are really confusing:

I was recently turned down even after an appeal was filed: My lawyer had increased the information about me and my finances creating a file an inch thick. It showed: 

I had an income from the U.S. in excess of $6,000 a month. My U.S. accountant and attorneys had both translated the terms of my retirement from a U.S. corporation showing this income which was also backed up with certified copies of my U.S. bank accounts and the Costa Rican bank accounts for the past 18 months.


Letters from our readers


I had wired and used over $500,000 to acquire and remodel three properties, two of them to rent to upscale tourists.

It showed the payroll of 16 men for over a year working on my properties.

It showed a golf membership and the monthly billings associated with that membership.

It showed my membership in the marina and all boat expenses.

It showed I was employing garden and maid staff.

It showed I had bought a new car of $40,000 here in Costa Rica and that I had paid $2,000 a year to INS and $1,000 a year for the marchamo.

There were other documents but I am sure one gets the drift here.

My lawyer received a generic reply to both applications which basically stated that I was not considered as a person who could contribute anything positive to Costa Rica, and my application was declined.

(No doubt there are lawyers who advertise with you who would like to give me a third shot.)

What I would like to know is why the immigration authorities turned me down when I meet and exceed all requirements. I am wondering if the envelope of information was even opened.

To add insult to injury, for my first filing, I followed the rules and flew back to the States to file the paperwork. I was asked to provide a FedEx envelope pre-paid to San José which I did. Apparently that envelope sat on a desk at the Costa Rican L.A. Consulate for five months gathering dust until we insisted someone there find it. Which they did.

I am 55 and have a U.S. pension plan with medical benefits in place, (which were also supplied as part of the information). I also still own income property in the U.S separate from the stated retirement plan all of which is to prove I will not be any kind of burden to Costa Rica, only a contributor.

I am just one person with over a half a million dollars invested in Costa Rica. If there were only 100 just like me, immigration would have just turned away $50 million. I suspect there are a lot more than that. 

I spend my income here in Costa Rica, not send it out as is the case with many other nationals. This adds another $70,000 a year to the economy.

Director Marco Badilla says he wants more investment money to come to the country in which case why did his office turn me down. 

Regards,
Confused Candidate
EDITOR'S NOTE: The writer provided full identification and said that he also has a clean police record and has earned his money honestly.
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Consultantes Río Colorado S.A.
 

James J. Brodell......................................editor
Saray Ramírez Vindas............ associate editor

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But Oswaldo stays put
Caller promises to get Villalobos money back
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

As the Villalobos debacle approaches the two year mark, pitchmen seem to have targeted frustrated creditors with another round of proposals for getting their money back.

Meanwhile on the legal front, an informal creditor group that has supported the fugitive financier reports that his brother has been ordered held for four months more of pretrial detention. The group said it plans to force the issue and take decisive action.

A reader in the United States contacted A.M. Costa Rica to report that he had received two telephone calls from an individual who said he was in Panamá. The caller said he could recover the creditor’s principal amount. But first the creditor would have to post 5 percent of the amount in a special account. The reader hung up, he said.

The telephone pitch dovetails with the hope of some of the 6,600 Villalobos creditors that Luis Enrique Villalobos Camacho will return to San José, reopen his high-interest operation and continue paying up to 3 percent a month to his specially selected clientele.

Considering the drastic tightening of the world financial operations after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, a similar, unregulated borrowing business is unlikely.

There have been any number of proposals made to creditors for recovering their funds, but none are known to have been successful.

The most visible of those who have capitalized on the loss by creditors is José Miguel Villalobos Umaña, a lawyer. He was on television over the weekend promoting a new political party, one he hopes will carry him to the country’s presidency.

Villalobos, the lawyer, was brought into the case by the informal United and Concerned Citizens of Costa Rica, a group that wants to see the criminal investigation of the Villalobos brothers go away. It is this group that promises unspecified action this week in the case of Oswaldo Villalobos.

Villalobos, the lawyer, is not related to the two brothers who ran the high-interest scheme. But he has collected $123,800 from true-believing creditors. His legal strategies have not been successful to date.

The creditor’s group did not elaborate on what action it may take. It attributed the action to continue to hold Oswaldo Villalobos to the Tribunal Superior de Casacion Penal, a criminal appeals court and the highest body to rule on the pretrial detention to date. A text of that decision is not yet available.

Said the creditors’ group: "We know that the court incorporated some flexibility  into its decision, that is to say, it left room to revisit its ruling  based on certain factors not yet determined."

Oswaldo was the brother who ran the Ofinter S.A. money exchange houses. Luis Enrique was the brother in the Mall San Pedro office who paid a largely North American clientele 3 percent a month. Frequently this money was paid in cash.

Several creditors, including Jack Caine, who is promoting an international action against Costa Rica, say they believe Luis Enrique made his money by being an operative in the Colombian black peso market, which is considered to be the largest mechanism for money laundering in Colombia.

Caine promotes international arbitration against Costa Rica because it failed to protect foreign investors, the creditors, here. He bases his conclusions on the Villalobos brothers on documents and reports in the legal case file.

Although many of the creditors are from Canada and the United States, Caine said that citizens from 13 other countries have joined his international legal action. The countries are: Austria, Britain, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Holland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, New Zealand, Panama, and Taiwan. Costa Ricans cannot join because they are not foreign investors here.

Investigators raided the Villalobos offices July 4, 2002, and Luis Enrique closed his office the following Oct. 14 and vanished. He is listed as an international fugitive.

Oswaldo is in prison, in part, because judicial officials fear he will flee, too.

The Villalobos are believed to have some $1 billion in borrowed money on their books when they closed up. 

Some individual creditors are pressing fraud claims in addition to any prosecutorial allegations.


 
Corruption high on agenda at next OAS gathering
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — When the 34th general assembly of the Organization of American States  takes place next week in Quito, Ecuador, one of its major themes will be the challenge of fighting corruption in the Western Hemisphere, says John Maisto, U.S. ambassador to the international body.

Maisto, briefing reporters at the Foreign Press Center Friday, emphasized that corruption presents a serious impediment to democracy and development in the Americas. Because corruption undermines the rule of law and slows economic growth, it "causes great harm to democracies in the hemisphere," he warned. 

"The U.S. Department of Commerce estimates that $80 billion annually is spent to bribe officials worldwide," which represents a significant diversion of funds that could otherwise have been invested in a country's infrastructure, health services, or education system, he said.

In years past, corruption was widely accepted — and largely ignored — throughout much of the Western Hemisphere. More recently, however, Organization of American States members have begun to recognize and address the problem, resulting in the establishment of the Inter-American Anti-Corruption Convention. At the forthcoming general assembly, Maisto said, the goals are to "strengthen the Inter-American Anti-Corruption Convention," to "strengthen the political will" of regional governments in tackling corruption, to find ways "to put teeth into the Convention," and to "make the Convention applicable in measurable ways."

"Our effort is constantly to look for practical solutions to tough problems," Maisto observed. 

For this reason, he said, the organization has been a leading advocate of government transparency and openness, in order to strongly discourage corruption in the hemisphere. 

In response to a reporter's question about the difficulties of fighting corruption in Panamá, Maisto acknowledged that much remains to be done to stamp out corrupt practices throughout the hemisphere, but he stressed the importance of good governance as a prerequisite for the region's long-term prosperity.

"There will be forward movement on fighting corruption and advancing prosperity, to the degree that political will exists to follow through on commitments" to combat corruption, he said. "The Panamanian government has the opportunity to live up to its own obligations, and if it doesn't, it will have to answer to its own people" at the ballot box.

The secretary-general of the Organization of American States, Cesar Gaviria, is leaving that post, and Miguel Angel Rodríguez, the former Costa Rican president, is the only candidate for the job. 

Maisto praised Gaviria as "a strong and effective secretary-general" who has "taken on tough issues." Under Gaviria's stewardship, the organization has done "tremendous work" in observing and helping to safeguard elections in fragile democracies, the ambassador added. "This is one area," in particular, "where Gaviria gets very high marks."

The general assembly begins Sunday in Quito.


 
Latin leaders rap U.S. for prisoner abuse and urge U.N. oversight
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

GUADALAJARA, México — Leaders from Latin America, the Caribbean and Europe have condemned the abuse of Iraqi prisoners and called for a stronger United Nations role in resolving international conflicts. 

They said individual nations should work with the United Nations instead of acting alone to resolve disputes, an apparent reference to the United States. 

The leaders also called for the world to back the international criminal court and the Kyoto Protocol, moves the United States has opposed. 

Nearly 60 leaders attended the one-day summit 

here Friday aimed at boosting ties between Europe and the Americas.

Cuba criticized the conclusions of the meeting, saying leaders failed to condemn the United States in strong enough terms. It said the group's final declaration contained "ambiguous language" and "flagrant omissions."

Outside the meeting, anti-globalization demonstrators clashed briefly with police, throwing rocks at them. Officers responded by firing tear gas. 

Friday's summit was co-chaired by Mexican President Vicente Fox and Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, whose country currently holds the EU presidency. It was the third of its kind since 1999. 


 
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Trade pact to eliminate tariffs finally signed 
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The United States has signed a free trade agreement with five Central American nations. It will eliminate almost all tariffs on U-S exports to the region over the next decade. Opponents of the accord fear it could lead to jobs moving abroad.

The Central American Free Trade Agreement is modeled after a similar, 10-year-old U.S. trade deal with Mexico. 

Besides the United States, the signatories are El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Central America's healthiest economy, Costa Rica. The Dominican Republic, in the Caribbean, intends to join the agreement, which, over a 10-year period, will eliminate almost all tariffs on U.S. exports to the region. Three quarters of Central American exports already enter the U.S. market duty free.

While the agreement, known as CAFTA is strongly supported by U.S. business, it is bitterly opposed by trade unions, who fear it will lead to a migration of American jobs to lower-cost Central America.

A small number of protesters expressed their opposition outside the Washington headquarters of the Organization of American States, where the signing ceremony was held Friday. 

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick says the Bush administration has work to do to win Congressional support for the accord. "So, I have a message to members of Congress, both strong liberals and arch conservatives. We were willing to fight fierce political battles in the 1980s, when Central America was in a downward spiral. Won't you seize this opportunity to help Central America sustain an upward spiral?," he said.

President George Bush sees the agreement as an essential building block of a broader hemispheric free trade agreement, he hopes to conclude within the next year. 

Alberto Trejos, minister of Comercio Exterior, signed the pact for Costa Rica. The Asamblea Nacional also must approve the agreement for it to take effect for Costa Rica. The possbility for passage is uncertain in that legislative body.

 


 
Now the political wrangling begins in Washington
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. - A congressional vote on the U.S.-Central America Free Trade Agreement signed Friday is unlikely to take place before the November elections in the United States, according to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick.

At a press conference in Washington announcing the conclusion of a free-trade agreement between the United States and Bahrain, Zoellick said that, given time constraints and opposition to the accord, the Bush administration will probably wait until after the November elections to pursue a vote on the agreement between the United States and the Central American nations of El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras and Costa Rica.

Zoellick suggested that a congressional session following the elections may present an opportunity to approve the agreement before the end of 2004, but he acknowledged that remarks by Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, who has vowed to veto and renegotiate the agreement, if elected, complicate efforts to court the support of congressional Democrats.

At the same time, a number of congressional Democrats are accusing the Bush administration of not engaging Congress in crafting the pact, and they are calling for modifications of the agreement.

In a statement Thursday, the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Charles Rangel of New York; the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee, Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan; and a Trade Subcommittee member, Rep. Xavier Becerra, also a Democrat of California, questioned the administration's commitment to trade with Central America.

"With the CAFTA agreement to be signed tomorrow, the Bush administration shows it is not serious about increasing trade with Central America. If it were serious, it would have reached out to Congress — to Democrats and Republicans — and put together a bipartisan agreement," the legislators' statement said. "Instead, the Bush administration lost a major opportunity."

The congressional Democrats urged the U.S. trade representative to modify provisions relating to labor standards and to access to low-cost generic medicines. They warned that the agreement, as currently constructed, is unlikely to be approved.

"Thanks to the Bush Administration, the CAFTA is on a midnight train to nowhere -- in an election year or any year," the legislators said.

Despite opposition to the pact among some Democrats as well as some Republicans from sugar- and textile-producing districts, Rep. Kevin Brady, a Texas Republican charged with spearheading congressional support for the pact, predicted that the agreement will be approved.

"When the Central America Free Trade Agreement comes before Congress, I am confident that it will have the votes to pass," Brady said, also in a Thursday press release.

For its part, the United States' largest industrial trade association, the National Association of Manufactures, has pledged to work to secure congressional approval of the agreement.

Frank Vargo, the trade group’s vice president for international economic affairs, hailed the agreement as "the highest-quality trade agreement yet." He said: "The outstanding rules in this cutting-edge agreement can serve as mileposts for future trade accords in the Americas. . . ."

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