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These stories were published Friday, June 11, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 115
Jo Stuart
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Corte Suprema's Sala I goes online with decisions
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

For many the courts in Costa Rica are a morass, and the high courts are an exclusive club where the average person can find out little information.

Frequently, high court decisions are not made known for weeks after they have been made. 

In an attempt to bring the citizen closer to the

Sala I, the high civil court, the judiciary will announce today the creation of a Web page that provides a direct connection to the magistrates and the functionaries working in the court. There even will be an electronic suggestion box.

The  Web page was outlined in an invitation to newspeople and others to hear about the setup in the Salón de Expresidentes de la Corte at 10 a.m. today. The president of the courts, Luis Paulino Mora, will preside, and the Sala I magistrates will attend, said the invitation.

The Corte Suprema de Justicia has four branches, including the Sala IV constitutional court and the Sala III criminal high court.

The Sala I handles the civil and commercial cases as well as a number of administrative cases involving notaries and others.

The new Web site is HERE!

The page was set up with the help of the Centro Electrónico de Información Jurisprudencial. Anabel León Feoli, president of the Sala I said that one of the purposes of the Web page is to provide the transparency of official actions required of agencies of the state. The judiciary promises to post decisions on the page.

The civil system in Costa Rica is well known for its lengthy processes, sometimes taking 10 years or more for a single decision. The court process here is mostly written and much paperwork is generated.

Paulino Mora and his associates are trying to bring the courts to an electronic system, particularly in the trial courts. The new Web page is one example.

There is no love of vehicle seatbelts here
Curses. I no sooner confide that I ride in the back seat of taxis so that I don’t have to wear a seat belt and the law passes that everybody in the car has to wear them, and then this law is enforced. I mean enforced strenuously enough so that every single taxi I have climbed into (the backseat) I have heard the taxista say, "Ponga la cintura por favor." It was just a few days ago that when I sat in the front seat and dutifully fastened the damn thing, the taxista blithely drove on without his.

Looked at another way, it is a lesson in the power that road checks and heavy fines have to persuade people to do what is deemed good for them.

Meanwhile in the United States thousands of people are paying their last respects to President Ronald Reagan who died on the anniversary of D-Day. I lived in California just at the end of his governorship. Part of the requirement for a class in sociology that I was taking was to work with the people in the halfway houses that had been created when Reagan closed the mental hospitals. 

Later, when the entrepreneurs who ran these homes found them less than profitable and closed them, people were left with nowhere to go. I would walk down the street and think of a paraphrase of something Lincoln said: "Reagan must have loved street people very much because he made so many of them."

But later, when he was president, we learned what the power of single mindedness can do. 

People interviewed waiting to view his casket in Simi Valley talk about how he brought back pride to the American people and respect from the rest of the world. Some people want Reagan’s face to be on Mt. Rushmore (and just about every other place one can think of). I think Nancy Reagan 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

deserves that honor more. Both my respect and heart go out to her. Maybe the best tribute to the two of them would be a book: "A Real Love Story," by, say, Eric Segal.

But by now I was on the way to the bus stop to go to the International Office of the Banco de Costa Rica downtown. My branch of this bank will not cash a check that is over 30 days old. This would be my third trip there. On my first trip they were closed. On my second I thought I had left my carnet at home. so this trip (according to Stuart’s Law) would be the magic one. 

When I was 25 meters from the corner, my bus sailed past. I was glad to see that another of Stuart’s Laws was still operating. The next bus came in less than eight minutes and I got on and sat down, relieved that I could swing my purse and carry-all (with umbrella) onto my lap without having to worry about struggling to fasten a seatbelt over them. Forget about mousetraps; somebody needs to invent a better seat belt.

All went smoothly at the bank, and I was smiling foolishly as I walked to the stop where my bus was approaching — smiling the smile we expats smile when we have accomplished some tramite here without a hitch, and the weather is beautiful. 

As I rode the bus home, looking out onto the sidewalks of the city, I thought, President Pacheco doesn’t love street people quite as much as President Reagan did. 

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La Carpio trio set free
by juvenile judge

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Three minors who are suspected of being involved in the May 31 riots with police in La Carpio have been freed by the Juzgado Penal Juvenil.

They were among the 11 detained in police raids Wednesday in the marginal community west of San José. Technically they are charged with aggravated resistance and obstructing the public right-of-way. 

Rioters fired shots at police during the confrontation, and they hurled rocks. At least 22 policemen suffered injuries, and some suffered bullet wounds.

The juvenile judge told the trio that they must maintain a fixed living place, that they must not engage in further baiting of police and that they should not be in contact with other persons involved in the confrontation, according to a spokesperson for the Poder Judicial.

School will elect
using new system

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Students of Saint Anthony’s School will vote today in the first electronic elections in the 35 year history of the bilingual institution in Guadalupe.

Some I20 students in seventh, eight and ninth grade will be becoming acquainted with the electronic system that will be used in 2006 for Costa Rican national elections. The election today is for student president.

The candidates are eighth grader Viviana Gonzales and ninth grader Luis Gabriel Rodríguez, said a school official. The two were presenting their platforms Thursday as the finale for a week-long campaign.

Participating will be the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones, the branch of government that runs the national elections. The elections will have all the technical characteristics as the national vote.

The tribunal is experimenting to promote democracy in schools and, in this case, Saint Anthony officials think the idea is a good one because the emphasis of the school is on technology,  said Ilene Jiménez, administrator.

New Intel plant here
starts making chipsets

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Abel Pacheco Thursday helped inaugurate a new Intel/Costa Rica plant where computer parts called chipsets will be manufactured.

The Costa Rican plant is the third in the world to produce this tiny device. The country joins China and Malaysia.

The plant is a $110 million investment and creates 600 new jobs.

Right now Intel employs some 2,000 Costa Ricans and reports that the turnover rate of 6 percent is the lowest of its plants. Also made here are nearly all the world’s Xeon and Titanium processors and a third of the Pentium 4 processors for computers.

Music festival this weekend

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The first festival of contemporaneous music will be heard Saturday and Sunday at the Teatro Nacional. The festival is an effort to help the development of music in Costa Rica and is supported by the Ministerio de Cultura, Juventud y Deportes.

Musicians from Costa Rica and several other Latin countries will perform. General admission for the 8 p.m. performances is 3,000 colons, some $6.90.

Art fair in Guadalupe

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An art fair opens today in Guadalupe and runs through Sunday. Organizers said the II Feria del Arte will be open form 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. alongside the Guadalupe cemetery.

Many of the works will have been done by students at the Escuela Casa del Artista. Many types of art will be represented, according to the organizers. Some shows will be given.

AOL blocking continues

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

America Online continues to block the A.M. Costa Rica news digest on the pretext that it is unsolicited junk mail. Several hundred AOL customers are affected, and some have complained to the company wiithout success. Because the messages will not go through, A.M. Costa Rica cannot guarantee delivery of subscriptions for AOL accounts. We suggest setting up an alternative account with another Internet provider.

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Creator of soul Ray Charles dies in California
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Grammy award winning song writer and singer Ray Charles has died in California at the age of 73. The blind musician known for hits that include "Georgia on My Mind" died of liver disease Thursday.

Ray Charles once said he was born with music in his soul, and he was equally at home backing up a symphony or accompanying himself on piano. He is one of the creators of American soul music and, blending rhythm and blues and gospel, created his own distinctive style.

He is remembered for songs that include "Hit the Road, Jack" and "I Can't Stop Loving You."

Born in Albany, Georgia, he began to learn piano at age 3. He was blind by age 7 and orphaned by 15, but by the 1960s, had reached the pinnacle of the 

music business. He won 13 Grammy awards, including one for lifetime achievement.  He once looked ahead to this day.

"If by some reason the master decided to take me away tomorrow, I really would have absolutely no regrets because I have, as Martin Luther King said, 'I have been to the mountain top,'" he said.

Ray Charles was one of the original inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and said his musical influences ranged from Chopin to country-western and jazz.

His last public appearance was April 30, when the city of Los Angeles designated his studio an historic landmark. 

A spokesman says Ray Charles died just before noon Thursday in Beverly Hills, Calif., surrounded by friends and family.

U.S. admits it couldn't even count terrorism right
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The State Department acknowledged Thursday there were errors in its latest report on global terrorism that greatly understated the number of terrorist attacks and resultant casualties last year. It insists that this was not a deliberate attempt to make the Bush administration's record on fighting terrorism appear better than it was. 

In an embarrassing admission, the State Department has acknowledged that the global terrorism report it issued in late April contained significant errors and that a corrected edition being prepared will show that terrorist attacks and fatalities in 2003 increased, rather than declined as initially stated.

The State Department began a review of the report earlier this month after private terrorism experts publicly challenged the figures contained in it, saying that some major incidents of international terrorism last year had been omitted.

When it launched the report April 29, State Department officials hailed the purported terrorism decline as "good news" and clear evidence that the United States was prevailing in the fight against terror. 

After hearing the subsequent criticism of the document, a senior Democrat in the House of Representatives, Henry Waxman, wrote Secretary of State Colin Powell saying it was "deplorable" that the report had claimed a decline in attacks while in fact significant terrorist activity was, he said, at a 20-year-high.

In a talk with reporters Friday, Powell acknowledged the reporting errors, calling them 

"very disturbing." But he insisted they were the result of poor coordination between the State Department and other agencies tabulating terrorist incidents and "had nothing to do" with any attempt to manipulate the figures.

Those comments were echoed by State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, who said the CIA, FBI and other agencies contributing data had differing definitions of terrorist acts and the time-frame covered by the report.

"When we got the data here at the State Department, I have to say we obviously did not check it thoroughly enough or verify the conclusion that had been reached because of the apparent change in the numbers and so we got the wrong data and we didn't check it enough," he said. "I think that's the simplest explanation for what happened. As the secretary said outside, there was no attempt at manipulation or political distortion. But we did walk down a road that was the wrong one."

Boucher said he could not be precise about the figures that will be in the corrected report, expected within a few weeks, but he said numbers would be sharply higher than the 190 acts of terrorism and 307 deaths attributed to them that were cited in the original document. 

He also said he expected that terrorism overall will be shown to have increased in 2003 from the previous year, rather than the decline depicted in the original document.

Critics of the initial report said it omitted, for unknown reasons, significant acts of terror, including several in Russia last year, attributed to Chechen extremists, and also did not count a suicide bombing in Istanbul last November that killed 61. 

Cuban government releases from prison yet another ailing dissident 
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

HAVANA, Cuba — The government has freed one of 75 pro-democracy dissidents sentenced to lengthy prison terms last year in a crackdown on its opponents.

The prisoner, Miguel Valdes Tamayo, was released from prison Wednesday. News reports say authorities freed the 47-year-old dissident because he has heart problems.

Valdes was the second of the dissidents jailed last year to be freed on health grounds. Valdes said his 

release took him by surprise.

Tuesday, President Fidel Castro's government unexpectedly freed four other dissidents who were detained in February 2002.

One of them was Leonardo Bruzon Avila, whose case gained international attention as human rights groups campaigned for his release. 

Bruzon's health deteriorated while in prison, after four hunger strikes. He and three men arrested with him were charged with inciting public disorder. 

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World Bank report says rural areas worse
Despite progress, Nicaragua mired in poverty
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Nicaragua has made "significant progress" in reducing poverty over the last decade, says a new study by the World Bank.

The study, released this month, found that despite drought, the onset of a coffee trade crisis, and the devastation caused by Hurricane Mitch in 1998, the poverty rate in Nicaragua fell from 50.3 percent in 1993 to 45.8 percent in 2001.

But while overall poverty in Nicaragua decreased, extreme poverty continues to be overwhelming in the nation's rural areas, where more than 25 percent of the population struggles to survive on less than $1 per day, according to the study entitled "Nicaragua Poverty Assessment."

In addition, poverty increased in the capital of Managua by 1.7 percent and extreme poverty increased by 5.7 percent in the coffee-dependent central rural region, which the study said "exemplifies the high vulnerability of specific populations to commodity shocks."

Some social indicators have not improved since 1993, the study said. Fertility rates continue to be high in Nicaragua, particularly among adolescents with no education, and progress is mixed.

The study found that although the number of students enrolled in primary and secondary school has increased considerably, efficiency indicators, such as promotion rates in rural primary schools and the percentage of students who finish primary school in six years, have not improved, and illiteracy has stagnated.

In addition, the study found only modest improvements in basic water and sanitation infrastructure, and in reducing diarrhea and upper respiratory infections for children, which continue to affect one of every four Nicaraguan children.

Amparo Ballivión, World Bank country manager for Nicaragua, said in a statement that "Nicaragua's advances in poverty reduction over the last 10 years are encouraging, but we also realize there is much to be done, particularly in improving the conditions of the poor in rural areas."

Industrialized nations launch corruption campaign
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

SEA ISLAND, Ga. — The Group of Eight industrial and military powers are acting on pledges to fight corruption worldwide with a series of initiatives involving action in their own countries as well as partnerships with other governments and international institutions committed to the same goals.

The G8 leaders announced Thursday plans to provide technical assistance and other support to anti-corruption efforts in Peru, Nicaragua, Nigeria and Georgia. They also pledged to become parties of the new United Nations Convention Against Corruption and to "translate the words of this convention into effective action."

The actions taken by the leaders of the G8 countries,  Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States, at their 2004 summit here builds on commitments made at the 2003 summit in Evian, France, the statement said.

The leaders said they had met their 2003 pledge to help all parties reach agreement on the U.N. convention and agreed to move decisively to ratify and implement the treaty in their countries. 

They pledged to ensure that each of their countries has rules in place by mid-2005, if possible, to require special attention to the financial accounts of "politically exposed persons," and to have rules in place, preferably by the end of 2004, to require wire transfer originator information. They also said they would explore more effective measures to recover assets in corruption cases.

The leaders reaffirmed the commitment they made in Evian to seek ways, in accordance with national laws, to deny safe haven to public officials guilty of corruption.

The leaders also reaffirmed their pledge at Evian to work towards transparency provisions in trade agreements and to further enhance transparency standards in non-compliant offshore financial centers.

Nicaragua agrees to accept special treatment on corruption
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

SEA ISLAND, Ga. — Nicaragua and the Group of Eight industrialized nations, which includes the United States, have announced their intention to cooperate in a compact to promote transparency and combat corruption, the White House said Thursday.

The White House statement, issued here at the site of a G8 summit meeting, said Nicaragua and the G8 nations share the view that corruption is a threat to democratic institutions, economic development, and to the integrity of the international system of trade and investment.

The statement said the government of Nicaragua is 

strongly committed to fighting corruption, and that transparency, as a key element of justice and economic growth, "is a major pillar of development."

The statement also noted that for years, Nicaragua has been afflicted by corruption, which has eroded the country's credibility and drastically reduced its capacity to govern under the basic principle of accountability.

The White House statement outlines the intentions and policy commitments of the G8 nations and Nicaragua as they pursue cooperation through the "Compact to Promote Transparency and Combat Corruption" in a "spirit of partnership and mutual respect."

Jo Stuart
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