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These stories were published Tuesday, June 1, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 108
Jo Stuart
About us
Hundreds injured as rioters confront police
A laughing group of students torch a U.S. flag
Flag-burning is the order of the day for protest
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Public employees, leftists, agricultural workers and others marched through San José to the Asemblea Nacional to demand rejection of the proposed free trade treaty with the United States.

Protesters ignited several U.S. flags in front of the legislative building and across the street in the Plaza de la Democracia. Protestors also carried placards highly critical of the United States and the Costa Rican officials, including President Abel Pacheco, who supported the treaty.

Much of the criticism directed at the United States concerned activities outside international trade. The war in Iraq and abuse of Iraqi prisoners there were among the topics.

The legislature was not in session and the generally good humored crowd dispersed by early afternoon.

This was the most significant demonstration because the proposed treaty was signed formally in Washington Friday.

Many public employees left their jobs despite warnings that they would not be paid. There was little business conducted at the Caja Costarricense de Seguros Social  on Avenida 2. Many of the employees there joined the march. They fear that the treaty will jeopardize their jobs.

Workers for many government monopolies were in the line of march, including the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, the telecommunications and utilities monopoly. 

A.M. Costa Rica photos/Saray Ramírez Vindas
Thousands ended up at the legislature

Also marching were employees of the Instituto Nacional de Seguros, the insurance monopoly.

Agricultural workers are divided. Those who believe the treaty gives them new markets in the north favor it. Others, like rice farmers who will face strong competition, oppose the pact.

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La Carpio slum ignites into a full-scale riot
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The smoldering resentment of the poor and marginalized flared up into a full-scale riot Monday at La Carpio, an urban slum west of San José.

Hundreds, including police, women and babies, were injured from tear gas, bullets and thrown objects.

President Abel Pacheco said he would visit the area when he returned to Costa Rica tomorrow from El Salvador where he is attending the inauguration of a new president.

The specific cause of the disturbance was lack of public services. Some residents blocked a main road about 8 a.m. Monday to protest lack of paving and other improvements.

La Carpio is a community populated mostly by Nicaraguan immigrants. These are the people who hold the menial jobs and work for low salaries. The community does not exist on paper. The residents do not own the land on which their homes sit.

About 5 p.m. some 30 Fuerza Pública officers in riot gear moved in to open up the roadway. They were met with a hail of rocks and other thrown objects. Several policemen suffered injuries, and officials responded with tear gas against the gang of about 30 youths.

The tear gas spread through the community and individuals, families and crying children began to flee. Some shots were fired, as one policeman took a bullet in his forearm.

Officials called for reinforcements, and eventually some 14  ambulances and 50 rescue personnel arrived along with more detachments of riot police. Several arrests were made and police could be seen clubbing reluctant prisoners.

Last Jan. 30 some 300 police set up checkpoints around La Carpio and detained 246 persons in an operation that started about 6 a.m. Residents and even Nicaraguan government officials cried foul, but police insisted they were just doing their job.

Several times Enrique Bolaños, president of Nicaragua, has called upon Costa Rica to deed the land under the makeshift dwellings to the residents. Costa Rican officials, including Pacheco, said that could not be done for various legal reasons.

Last week the Sala IV constitutional court awarded money damages to some of those snared in the Jan. 30 raid.

The scene Monday was surrealistic. City buses continued to run even though police and young rock throwers were contesting the same road.

A steady stream of residents, including some carrying babies, ran through the gang of rockthrowers and police to waiting emergency personnel. Most of the crying children suffered from tear gas in their eyes.

Police helped wounded comrades to ambulances. The most seriously injured went to nearby Hospital México. Nine persons, including some policemen, were considered to be in serious condition.

At the peak of the battle, other residents began returning from work and negotiating the obstacles caused by two warring factions. Some never made it. 

More than a dozen youngsters were being housed in a nearby school late Monday although they lacked food, bedding or other essentials.

At the nearby amusement park, the Parque de Diversiones, displaced residents waited out the battle. 

As darkness fell, a new confrontation developed between protestors and police. Officers, clad in riot helmets, protective vests and face guards also carried shields. They clustered together for protection.

The haphazard nature of the streets and paths made it difficult for officers to root out lawbreakers. Most of the gunshot wounds took place in the darkness.

Personal contact urged
to get things done

EDITOR’S NOTE: The comments below are in response to a letter that was published in this space Monday.

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Assuming everything with this man is on the up-and-up, I’d suggest several possibilities:

(1)  He gave them too much qualifying information. This either confused the authorities, sounded too much like boasting, or just plain looked like too much work. Who wants to deal with an inch-thick file? Any bureaucrat worthy of the name would simply look at it and automatically put it at the bottom of the pile each morning. 

Letter from a reader

(2)  He hurt someone’s feelings. One of the things I love about Costa Rica is that the people are so polite. Please and thank you are not routine expressions, like they are in the United States. Up north they have almost disappeared from human interaction with waiters, government employees, and superiors speaking to social inferiors. 

In the U.S. they say "I want…" and in Costa Rica the correct form is "I would like, please…" I suspect, from the tone of this man’s letter, that he considers himself quite a cut above the rest of us, although I might be drawing an unwarranted inference. However, the Costa Ricans he has been dealing with might have also drawn the same inference. If so, he put himself in, as they say, a world of hurt. At the end of his letter, for instance, I found myself feeling some slight sympathy, perhaps, but no empathy.

(3)  He has plenty of money and plenty of time, compared with the rest of us. Down here, if you can make a personal contact you get a lot more done. Well, that’s also true in the U.S., but even more true in Costa Rica. 

Costa Ricans like to shake hands, even if you see them several times a day, and when they ask about my wife, father, and even my dogs, they really mean they want to know. After a lifetime in the U.S., I find myself really struggling to keep to them matching their courtesy. 

He should have had a personal relationship with the consul in Los Angeles, in which case a friendly personal phone call to follow up would have been possible. If he hadn’t provided the consul with so much paperwork, maybe he could even have asked if he could stick around a day or two, enjoy Disneyland, and hand-carry the documents back to Costa Rica. That might have worked, although it could also be against the rules. I agree that this suggestion is not the way the system is supposed to work, however, and he has a right to complain about this part.

(4)  I’m really small potatoes compared to this guy. My retirement barely qualifies, but I’ve never had a lot of trouble meeting some fairly-important people face-to-face. What happens when he tries that? Has he even tried for an appointment to meet with Director Badilla?

However, since the man does seem qualified, and since many people do qualify easily for residency, there has to be "the rest of the story" in here somewhere. I hope A.M. Costa Rica tells it.

Gregg Calkins
La Fortuna
Judge asked to bar
Caja board of directors

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Ministerio Público, the nation’s prosecutorial arm, has asked a criminal judge to bar the entire board of directors of the Caja Costarricense del Seguro Social from any contact with the massive social welfare agency.

The nine members of the board should be suspended from their jobs as part of an investigation as to whether the board used public funds to place ads in the city’s major newspapers last month.

The board placed ads defending the Caja and Eliseo Vargas, the former executive president, after La Nación revealed that Vargas was living in a house rented to him by a major supplier to the Caja. The Caja runs, among other agencies, the nation’s hospitals and clinics. Vargas resigned as a result of the stories.

A spokesperson for the Poder Judicial said that the prosecutor in charge of financial crimes was conducting the investigation of the board.


Orchestra goes west
to give free concerts

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Orquestra Sinfónica Nacional will be making a tour west this week, and the first performance is at 5:30 p.m. this evening in Monteverde.

The performance is free. Others are Wednesday in a church in Liberia and Thursday at a church in Cañas. Both performances are at 7 p.m.

The performances are sponsored by the Ministerio de Cultura, Juventud y Deportes, as well as Banco Nacional, a bus company and two municipalities.
Professional Directory
A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.

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

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The Eastern Hemisphere moves west for an evening
By Jo Stuart
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

One of the great charms of Costa Rica is the variety of environments one encounters within relatively short distances.  If you have visited different countries, you will see scenes in Costa Rica that remind you of them.  Thursday night by traveling for just a half hour to the Country Day School, I was able to experience 53 countries, and to enjoy much more than just their scenery. It all took place in a gymnasium. 

This experience was the result of a seventh grade geography class supervised by Margie Porter, who has been teaching for twenty-three years and is not resting on her laurels.  The semester-long project begins with each student picking a country and then learning everything they can about it.  Because the class is Eastern Hemisphere geography, North and South America are not included. But countries from the tiny island Republic of Seychelles to the huge People’s Republic of China with its 1.1 billion population, were represented.

By the end of the semester each student has made a small float depicting something special about his or her country and created a booth with pictures, books, brochures (which the student has made), objects and artifacts from the country and (delightfully) free food for everyone to taste.  Some of the booths had laptops showing scenes from the country, or as with the Spain exposition, a TV, in this case, showing a bullfight. 

The evening started at 6:30 with a parade of the floats, narrated by the Middle School Principal Hugh Schoolman.  Many of the floats were scenes or buildings or animals for which the country is famous. There was the Taj Mahal of India, the Vianden Castle of Luxembourg, and a beautiful black panther with a diamond necklace from South Africa. 

All of them made by the students with papier-mache (something I couldn’t even pronounce when I was in the seventh grade, much less make anything out of).  Its creator, wearing a costume of the country, pulled every float.  In some cases, the whole family was involved in the project. 

After the parade the audience was able to visit as many booths as possible for the rest of the evening. I was trying to get in as much as I could in the hour or so left.  I learned quite a few interesting facts about the countries. Every student I talked to was well informed and articulate about his or her adopted country.  I learned that two products of Vietnam are corn and peanuts.  I didn’t know that before. 

And there are many republics, kingdoms and states, and even a grand duchy (Luxembourg) but only 

Daniel Loria chose Spain and built a bull

one country of the group has the word Democratic in it. Surprisingly, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, is the full name of North Korea. (Cultural lesson No. 20: the word democratic doesn’t mean the same all over the world.) 

Some of the booths had beautiful books about the country, as well as priceless artifacts.  I asked about how they found these things.  Many of the students at Country Day have parents who work at the various embassies in this country so they have access to, well, more than I would.  Mrs. Porter also said that many things are borrowed, and, since her hobby is collecting items from different countries, she has many items the students can use. 

The fun part, of course, besides talking to the students, was sampling the different foods from the various countries.  I went back for seconds for the peach punch from Denmark and the sweet potato puffs from Zambia. I think it was Zambia. The trip around the gym was almost as dizzying as those "see Europe in seven days" tours and by now I was having trouble keeping the countries straight. 

Meanwhile, Mrs. Porter was going from booth to booth (all 53 of them) checking to see if every student had fulfilled the course requirements.

When I found myself looking at my watch and thinking, "It’s 8:20 so I must be in Finland," I knew it was time to leave.  It is a shame that such a wonderful project lasts for only one evening.  It is something that more people should get a chance to experience.

I got a sense of the cultures, people, products, important sites, food, history and geography.

E.U. and U.S. agree on use of air passenger data
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

The United States and the European Union have signed an agreement allowing U.S. Customs and Border Protection to collect air passenger data on those flying European airlines to or from the United States, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced.

The agreement sets forth how the data is to be processed, used, and retained, according to a statement by Homeland Security. It also stipulates that the data collected may be used only to prevent and combat terrorism, serious transnational crimes, and flight from warrants or custody for such crimes.

The new agreement will be in effect for three and a half years, and the data collected may only be retained for that length of time "unless associated with an enforcement action," according to terms of the agreement.

"The U.S. and the E.U. are equally committed to not 

only improving the safety of air passengers and the security of our borders, but also to protecting the privacy of air passengers consistent with both U.S. and European laws," said Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. "Today's signing is the result of more than a year of negotiations between the United States and the European Commission, and is a sign of our united commitment to combat terrorism."

Without an agreement, air carriers were placed in a situation where they could either face fines for violating EU privacy laws or penalties for failing to provide passenger data to the U.S. Through the interim arrangement, both the U.S. and the EU had agreed not to take enforcement action while negotiations were underway. 

The agreement removes air carriers from that situation and strikes a balance between facilitating legitimate travel while contributing to the security of the U.S. and EU member states, said the anouncement.

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Aristide reaches his new home in South Africa
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Former Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide has been officially welcomed to South Africa by President Thabo Mbeki for what is expected to be a lengthy exile. Aristide said he plans to return to Haiti, once the political situation there returns to normal.

Aristide was warmly welcomed at the Johannesburg airport by President Mbeki and a delegation of senior government ministers and other officials.

South African officials earlier stressed that Aristide is only visiting South Africa on a temporary basis. Some analysts say, even though he has not been granted asylum, his stay here will effectively be just that.

Aristide will be the guest of South Africa, and will live in a secure government residence. Several opposition parties say this is unacceptable and that Aristide should pay his own way. The Democratic Alliance says it plans to challenge the decision in parliament.

The government says it agreed to offer Aristide a temporary home only after consultations with the African Union, the Caribbean regional organization CARICOM, and with the United States and France.

International Relations Professor John Stremlau at the University of the Witwatersrand in 

Johannesburg said that in hosting Aristide, South Africa is providing a needed service to the international community.

"It's not just the United States and France that are happy that Aristide is being relocated down here," he said. "The Caribbean community — CARICOM — the African Union and the United Nations all see advantage in pulling Aristide out of the Caribbean now, while Haiti goes through another difficult transition."

Professor Stremlau says there is always a moral hazard in hosting what he termed bad leaders. But he says, Aristide's human rights record should not be compared to those of Haiti's previous leaders, and that he has the potential to play a constructive role in Haiti in the future.

"I think, we're probably in a much better position now to make sure that Aristide is not a disruptive force in any way domestically, but actually might be a long-term resource for bridge building in the Caribbean, because only a few days ago, there was a pro-Aristide demonstration in Port au Prince," said Professor Stremlau.

Haiti holds a special significance for Mbeki and many South Africans because it was the site of the first successful slave revolt. In addition, South Africa is working to build links with places like Haiti that have a large population of descendants of African slaves.

Still plenty of flood danger in Haiti and Dominican Republic
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Rescue workers say towns and villages along the border of Haiti and the Dominican Republic are under threat of more flooding and mudslides that claimed at least 1,400 lives last week.

Emergency officials warn that accumulations of mud and rocks could come crashing down on residents who survived flash floods that started in the region a week ago after three days of torrential rains.

Rescue teams have been struggling to reach trapped people in remote mountain villages where roads remain blocked or have been washed away. 

Health officials also are warning of the danger of disease from decomposing bodies. Dominican officials have said they plan to spray disinfectant over one border town, Jimani, to prevent an outbreak of disease.

U.S.-led peacekeepers in Haiti are using helicopters and boats to deliver food, drinking water and medicine to affected towns.

Hundreds of people are reported missing, but relief workers say there is little hope of finding anyone else alive and the death toll is expected to rise. A mild earthquake rattled the border area Saturday, but there were no new reports of deaths.

Jo Stuart
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