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(506) 223-1327                     Published Friday, June 1, 2007, in Vol. 7, No. 108                      E-mail us    
Jo Stuart
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Tourism trend is leaning against adult prostitution
By José Pablo Ramírez Vindas
and the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A tourism campaign on prostitution appears to have incliuded legal adult prostitution as well as the illegal prostitution of minors.

Thursday the Fundación Paniamor announced that the Best Western hotel chain, operated by Hotelera Marta, had signed its code of conduct. The major emphasis of the code is against sexual contact with minors.

The Best Western Jacó Beach has prohibited the entry of persons who employees consider to be prostitutes since 2004, and Best Western Irazú in La Uruca has done so since 2006, said a company spokesman. This includes adults.

The spokesman, Rodrigo Coto, corporate director, said he estimated that the Jacó facility has lost some $45,000 per year by denying entry to prostitutes.

The hotel firm "rejects whatever type of activity related with prostitution and opposes the fact that Costa Rica is promoted as a sexual destination internationally," said a handout. A table sign distributed by the company says "No to prostitution. To promote prostitution is illegal. We do not allow activities related to prostitution in our facilities. We reserve the right to admission."

María Teresa Guillen, who promotes the code for Paniamor, said that her foundation is working so that acceptance of the code will be required for tourism facilities that seek to renew their certificate with the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo.

Paniamor has long campaigned against the prostitution of minors. But the session Thursday was the first suggestion that the code could be extended and that adult prostitution would be covered. More than 200 firms have signed the existing code

The Gran Hotel Costa Rica, a venerable San José institution opposite the Teatro Nacional, changed its policy several years ago to preclude guests from entertaining in the rooms. The hotel now characterizes itself as a family venue. This seems to have been a successful change, although there was a short-term loss of customers.

Paniamor has been providing training to hotel employees. The organization said that the Cámera Comercio del Pacifico Central and other tourism facilities have joined to support the initiative.

The fight against the prostitution of minors has been weakened by the presence of adult prostitution that is not illegal. Frequently minors are simply following in the footsteps of their older siblings, who started their careers as minors. 

There was no explanation Thursday how hotel employees are supposed to recognize prostitutes who may be checking in to a hotel. If the experiences in the center of San José are any  guide, employees probably will target good-looking women alone or in a small group, 
no to prostitution
Hotel Irazú table sign

although they may not be prostitutes. Costa Ricans are generally blind to male prostitutes.

Milena Grillo, Paniamor's executive director, did not mention the Central Valley Thursday as she listed what she considered to be the major areas of prostitution: Tamarindo, Flamingo, Sámara, Papagayo, Jacó, Quepos, Manuel Antonio on the Pacific and Manzanillo, Cahuita and Tortuguero on the Caribbean.

She also made the astonishing claim that 60 percent of the persons who solicit paid sex are from the United States.  She did not cite her evidence, although prostitution is a Latin tradition, and girls as young as 12 can be seen soliciting customers at cantinas all over the country. In addition, San José has an extensive network of brothels that seldom are frequented by tourists or North American expats.

Also unclear is how hotels can bar adult prostitutes under the law.

The code of conduct has been supported by the Asociación Costarricense de Operatores de Turismo, the Asociación Costarricense de Profesionales in Turismo, World Vision in Costa Rica and Save the Children of Sweden. None of these groups suggested they were targeting adult prostitution, although the family pressures on the young toward prostitution are well known.

Ms. Grillo noted that contact between minors who are prostitutes and their customers also takes place in private apartments and condominiums. She estimated the Latin American income from prostitution to be some $16 billion a year, citing data from the International Organization for Migration.

Codes of conduct notwithstanding, young women who obviously are below the adult age here of 18 can be seen every evening in Parque Morazán in the Central of San José. In addition young prostitutes gather all over the country outside of bars frequented by adult prostitutes. Sometimes the adult prostitute inside is negotiating on behalf of the minor outside.

These locations are well known and some have tourism certificates. Costa Rica has always had an uneasy truce with illegal prostitution of minors and pimping in any form.

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Our readers' opinions
Presidents eroded Constitution
with their executive orders

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

The recent articles about America are understated in the main. Most of the Bush or presidential apologists are not well-read or versed in American historical facts. The truth is that under the last 45 years the United States has had presidents that issued executive orders that have all but eroded the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

For those who just like to "babble" go Google in "presidential executive orders" and read and learn before you use your age or overly nationalistic spirit to protect what is no longer a free democracy.

Milt Farrow
Titusville,  Florida

Bush's actions have created
a perfect consensus of all

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

A remarkable achievement of George Bush has been the creation of an almost perfect consensus among those who think and act on foreign policy issues.

From Noam Chomsky on the left to establishment conservatives like Brent Scowcroft and Jim Baker, from Jimmy Carter's hawkish National Security guy, Zbigniew Brzezinski, to anti-war protesters all over the country, whatever their history and politics, they all agree that the Iraq war and its consequences have been a calamity that has alienated old friends and allies and made the U.S.A. weaker and much less secure. 

All of these activists and pillars of the foreign policy establishment express dismay about the administration's deception, corruption and imperialism, not to mention the use of torture and abandonment of the Geneva Conventions, that has made this once greatly admired nation a pariah in the world.

So, while the Iraq War and it's dismal consequences for Afghanistan and the challenges of terrorism have already stamped the Bush presidency as a major historical failure, George Bush has somehow managed to pull off the amazing achievement described above.  Way to go, George!

Dr. Ed Kornbluh

He says Bush is causing
migration of U.S. citizens

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I read with interest the give and take from both sides of the issue of George Bush as dictator, and it is clear from these responses who voted for whom in the last two elections, if they can be called that. The first out-right stolen — thanks, Jeb — and the second, so full of non counts, rejected ballots and outright fraud in both Ohio and Florida — thanks, Jeb — that they can hardly be called elections.
I sparkle at the notion that Bush is no better or worse than the last few presidents? What are they smoking? Do these people ever get off the couch and turn off Fox news? He has done more to ruin the reputation of the U.S. than any other person in history. He has been the slayer of the Constitution, Bill of Rights, etc., etc. I think that their plan is to screw up so much, on so many issues that we can never find our way out of the rabbit hole.
That is why I think that so many Americans are choosing to retire or relocate out of the grasp of this government. And for the others who have no problem with George, why stay, and get the government that you have earned and you truly deserve.

Paul Freeman
Los Angeles

He has a Tico heart
and didn't vote for Bush

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

I am a native of the U.S.A.  This is my home. It is what I know. I did not read the article that sparked such conversation about Mr. Bush and the feelings of the American people.  So I feel that I am at a little bit if a disadvantage.

I have had the opportunity to visit Costa Rica every year for the past eight years.  I have fallen in LOVE with its beauty.  The beaches, mountains and its people, it has all given my heart much joy.

I did not vote for Mr. Bush.  I feel that he has hurt not only the American people but every person in every corner of the world.   Most people of the world hate the president and his government, NOT the people.  We have a bumper sticker here on many cars.  It reads: 1.22.09 - Bush's last day!   It is a very popular sticker!! 

Most of us are utterly embarrassed by this man we call President.  And we all pray for the day he is no longer in office and we can all start to heal the wrong he has done to many people.

I have the great fortune to live near many Ticos in New Jersey. Many of them are my best friends.  We all joke about my "Tico Heart" and that I am not too much of an "American," and I kinda like that!!!

Every time I visit your country, I find more and more beauty. I look forward to many more trips in my lifetime.  And one day I hope that I can call Costa Rica my home.

So, not ALL of us are bad up here.  Just that idiot in the White House and his friends..

May this e-mail find you all in good health and spirits, and your hearts filled with joy!

Chris Piehler
New Jersey

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Housing minister's slum stunt draws attention even in Spain
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Not only the local news media but even El Pais, the national newspaper in Spain, were parties to the publicity stunt by the nation's housing minister. He went and spent a night in a slum dwelling.

The minister is Fernando Zumbado of Vivienda y Pobreza. He went to a shack in Lomas del Río in southeast San José Tuesday night. He left his wife behind in her own home.

El Pais pictured the minister playing a musical instrument for the five-member Morales family. They make do on some $300 a month. The news story was sent out by the housing ministry as a press release.

The idea for the home visit was to call attention to a proposal in the Asamblea Legislativa that would levy a tax on homes valued at more than 100 million colons, about $192,000. The proceeds from the tax are supposed to go to clean up the slums and provide new housing.
The 61-year-old minister is a former United Nations official.

Spending a night with the people is a traditional political maneuver, be the bed in a Harlem, N.Y., slum or on an Iowa farm.

Zumbado's visit was not without controversy. The Movimiento Libertario said in a news release that while he was visiting the Morales family, the board of the Banco Hipotecario de la Vivienda raised salaries of high officials some 55 percent.

The bank was set up to provide mortgages at reasonable rates to Costa Ricans. The Libertarios also said that 77 percent of the expenses of the bank are administrative and that publicity expenses have gone up five times.

The criticism was sent out under the name of Luis Antonio Barrantes, the party's leader in the assembly. The paty generally opposes new taxes.

Investigators issue a sudden alert over Internet scamsters
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Judicial Investigating Organization is trying to alert citizens to an increase in fraud attempts using the Internet.

The crooks are using fake pages bearing the names of local national banks in an effort to steal PIN numbers and passwords.

The tricks are nothing new for people who have been using the Internet for awhile, but for many Costa Ricans the Internet and the scams, called phishing, are new.
The Judicial Investigating Organization noted that crooks can make near perfect copies of bank Web pages.

They do this simply by copying the display code and the various graphics. Then they send e-mails trying to get people to come to the fake Web pages. Or they seek to have recipients put sensitive data in a return e-mail.

The Judicial Investigating Organization did not say why officials issued a sudden alert. Customers of both Banco de Costa Rica and Banco Nacional have been targeted by scammers over the last two months.

911 service says that news of an outage Saturday night was a misconception
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The 911 emergency service is having problems with internal connections with firemen and the Cruz Roja, so the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad will be working Saturday night to eliminate the bug.

News of the computer work generated the rumor that the 911 service would be out of commission Saturday from 9
p.m. on. Saturday is a big night for 911 when workers direct ambulances and others to bar fights, stabbings and other unpleasantness.

Germán Wendell, the chief of the system, said that 911 would never go out of service. As for the Cuerpo de Bomberos and Cruz Roja, any computer problems can be circumvented by making radio calls to the appropriate agency, he said.

Absent the Three Bears, Goldilocks still seeks perfection
Goldilocks has nothing on me. It is difficult for me to declare anything  “just right.”  Some of my best friends have told me that I am very critical.  Others have told me that I am opinionated. Usually they are people who have different opinions.  But if things can be improved, I am quick to note it, so I was happy to be a part of a focus group this past week. 

My understanding of a focus group is a number of people brought together because they have an interest in common and whose opinions are being sought by a leader with the same interest.  In this case our group consisted of people who had an interest in assisted-living communities.  The leader was a charming and patient Tica, who was the spokesperson for a company interested in building and operating such a community.  Yes, the interest in assisted-living/adult communities continues.

In a sense we all were describing the ideal assisted living community. We all agreed that successful communities would comprise of several levels of assistance for people needing and wanting different levels of help in simplifying or easing the chores of life to those who need ongoing medical attention. We agreed upon other basics, too, like small apartments with plenty of sunlight, and preferably a view.  Good healthy food, well-prepared and communal areas for social interaction were high on our list of what we considered important. 

We also discussed ideal costs, taking into account that there are two (at least) types of expats who come here: those with plenty of money and those who are living, for the most part, on modest fixed incomes. We all fit the second category.  We didn’t think the well off would have a need for such a community, but it has come to my attention since then that these are also the people who may come with their aging parent(s) and are looking for a suitable home for them.

There is such a person here.  A woman who suffered a stroke and needs care.  She was in a home in the States but ran away.  I have been told that her children, who are  comfortably off, explored Costa Rica for a place for her. Residencial José Pujol Martí they found to be the best.  
Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

She seems to be doing well here and has not, to my knowledge, made any escape attempts. 

We also discussed location and agreed that there should be easy access to some hospital and convenient transportation. My own opinion is (of course) that closer to the city rather than isolated in the country is better. Retired people have time and the inclination to visit museums, enjoy musical and theatrical events and some of the amenities that only big cities have. However, there are others who want to be away from the negative aspects of city living as long as there is good transportation. This particular company is planning to build on a beautiful site closer to Atenas than to San José, and from the interest they took in our ideas and opinions, they seemed like a group determined, as much as possible to follow through with making their community fit the needs of people like ourselves.

All in all it was a very pleasant morning for all of us. I mean, who doesn’t like to give his opinion and have it listened to?  Then we were guests for lunch at the Palma Hotel in Sabana Norte.  They serve one of the best buffet lunches I have tried in Costa Rica.  I usually avoid buffets but I had no fault to find with any of the four courses they served. 

I also would like it to be known that if there are any other focus groups on any topic that it might be construed that I know something about, I am available.  My code name is Goldilocks.

Jo’s book, “Butterfly in the City: A Good Life in Costa Rica,” is available at the 7th Street Book Store, Lehmann’s and Liberia Internacional.  Or contact Jostuart@amcostarica.com.

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San José, Costa Rica, Friday, June 1, 2007, Vol. 7, No. 108

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Doubling of U.S. immigration fees provokes controversy
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

President George Bush says a primary goal of immigration reform is to bring millions of illegal aliens "out of the shadows" and provide a path to legal residency and eventual U.S. citizenship. But while the president champions such reform, the United States is set to implement the largest-ever boost in fees charged to those applying for residency and citizenship. Advocates for immigrants say the administration is sending mixed messages to an often fearful and vulnerable community.

For newcomers, both legal and undocumented, the cost of pursuing the American dream is about to go up. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service is doubling, and in some cases tripling, its fees. Beginning July 30, the charge for adults seeking residency will exceed $1,000. The fee for citizenship will be nearly $600.

Some say the higher fees undermine Bush's stated goals on immigration.

"To come up with $1,000 per family member to obtain permanent residence — it is going to keep a lot of people in the shadows for a very long time," says Crystal Williams, a deputy director at the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

Ms. Williams says the new fees constitute an enormous financial hurdle that will force countless poorer immigrants to delay applications — and may lead some to give up entirely.

But officials at the Citizenship and Immigration Service point out that the agency receives no federal funds to process applications. Costs are covered entirely by fees charged. They say unless those fees reflect actual costs, services would have to be cut back and waiting times for applicants would increase.

"We realize that anytime we increase the fees that there is a burden there," said spokesman Chris Bentley. "There is pain that is caused along the way. However, to be able to remain a world class service provider, to be able to get the services and benefits in a timely manner to the people who
deserve them, we simply need the resources to be able to make that happen."

Bentley added that refugees and asylum-seekers will remain exempt from charge, and some fees can be reduced for residency and citizenship applicants facing dire economic hardship.

But if the Citizenship and Immigration Service is constrained by its dependence on fees for operating costs, then it is time to change the system, according to Donald Kerwin of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network.

"Citizenship is a national good. It is important for our country. And so we think that to fix the system, to reduce backlogs and improve technology, there needs to be appropriated monies [federal funds] for this. It needs to go beyond the fee-based system," he said.

Some in Congress counter that it would be wrong to shift the financial burden to U.S. taxpayers. U.S. Rep. Steve King, an Iowa Republican, said the new fees are still far lower than what illegal immigrants typically pay smugglers to cross the U.S.-Mexico border.

"We are seeing coyote fees go up to $1,500 to $2,500 per person," he said. "I do not see any fees levied by USCIS that were that high. So if it is cheaper to have access to becoming a citizen than it is to be transported to the United States, then, no, I do not think those fees are too high by comparison."

Immigration officials also defend the fee system, saying it provides spending flexibility, since revenues go up in proportion to any rise in applications. They say previous fee hikes have not resulted in drastic reductions in applications for residency or citizenship.

Immigrant advocates counter that the current fee hike is far greater than any previous increase. They also note studies showing the percentage of eligible immigrants applying for U.S. citizenship dropping in recent decades. Opinions vary as to the cause, but immigrant advocates say making it more expensive for immigrants to pursue legal status or citizenship can only serve as a further deterrent.

Referendum proposed by Chávez opponent to decide license status for RCTV
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A leading opponent of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has called for a referendum on the government's closure of Radio Caracas Television.

The opponent, former presidential candidate Manuel Rosales, said a referendum should decide whether the opposition-aligned network should be put back on the air. He said President Chávez is attempting to control the media in Venezuela.

The government shut down the station Sunday, sparking
mass protests. Police have arrested more than 180 people, mostly university students and minors, for allegedly violent acts during the protests. Rosales has called for their release.

The Chávez government refused to renew the licence of RCTV, accusing it of violating broadcasting laws. The government replaced the network with a new state-funded channel, Venezuelan Social Television.

On Monday, Venezuelan officials said they were investigating another television channel, Globovision, alleging it had encouraged an attempt on the president's life. Globovision officials have rejected the allegations.

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