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These stories were published Monday, June 23, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 122
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Tourists cards will do for now
U.S., Canadian tourists get reprieve on passports
By Saray Ramírez Vindas
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country will continue to issue tourist cards to visiting Canadian and U.S. citizens.

That was the word Friday from Marco Badilla, director general of the Dirección de Migración y Extrajería.

Costa Rica had said it would require passports from all visitors, in part as a response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States and a general tightening of immigration. After that announcement was made, the use of tourist cards was extended and a new deadline was set for last week. The tourism card is a special document for Canadians and U.S. citizens. Other nationalities require passports, and many require visas.

The U.S. State Department Web site had said that passports were needed by U.S. citizens visiting Costa Rica. That incorrect information appears to have been based, in part, on the original Costa Rican announcement.

Several local tourism agencies expressed concern Friday because they had been contacted by U.S. citizens who were about to leave for Costa Rica but did not have valid 

passports. The tourists had been advised that they needed passports.

A U.S. passport costs $85 for an adult and $70 for youngsters under 15, according to the U.S. State Department. And it takes up to six weeks for the passport to be processed and delivered. Expedited service is available in three working days, but that costs $60 more for each passport.

A spokesman for one tourist-related agency said that an extended family of travelers was about to cancel a trip and reservations due to the time period and the expense if family members had to obtain passports.

So all a U.S. or Canadian citizen needs now to purchase a tourist card on arrival is identification showing nationality, such as a birth certificate or a voting card, and a photo identification, such as a driving license.

However, Badilla suggested that the delay in requiring passports would be temporary and only for six months more. The tourism interests may continue to press their case.

The Costa Rican Embassy in the United States has up-to-date information on its Web site: 

http://costarica-embassy.org.


 
We said the rain was a little above average!!
The rainy season has not been gentle. And our reader Andy Gingold of Ciudad Colón verifies this:
 

It’s raining lions and mastiffs. There is so much lightning we’ve hooked our VCR and water heater to it. 

The road down here is so bad the local kids have set up diving boards next to the potholes. My DirecTV dish can fail to get a signal for days at a time. 

It comes down in king sized sheets! The pounding of it, hitting the roof, is bringing African tribesmen. 

Watermelons have to be air lifted to market one at a time. Flower pots overflow. We haven’t had to wash the car for a month. 

Moss can’t grow. Ducks get waterlogged. Our Little (Indian) Summer got washed out. Clothes never dry on the line. You need a reservation to buy an umbrella. 

Rivers are being renamed. Sponges are blowing up. Turtles are floating away. Everyone has water on the knees. River rafting has become an Xtreme sport. Buckets have to be made bigger. 

And frogs are drowning. 


 
 

More on weather
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Real estate agents, other professionals, too
Tighter money-laundering regs target all casinos
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
and wire reports

An international anti-money laundering body announced new recommendations Friday that extend the watchdog rules to non-financial operations including physical and internet casinos, real estate agents, dealers of precious stones and metals, accountants, lawyers, notaries and trust company providers.

The rules also beef up monitoring of high-risk bank customers, including political figures who may be vulnerable to corruption and bribery.

Although the 40 specific rules are called recommendations, the organization, the Financial Action Task Force has great power to encourage individual nations to go along. It is a body of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development made up of 33 major international economic powers, including the United States and Britain.

A country that finds itself on the task force’s list of "uncooperative countries" will find its banking and financial systems in deep trouble when dealing with other countries.

The World Bank and International Monetary Fund have added the task force recommendations to their list of accepted standards, the organization said.

Other major changes that have been adopted include:

• specifying a list of crimes that must underpin the money laundering offence;

• the expansion of the customer due diligence process for financial institutions;

• enhanced measures for higher risk customers and transactions, including correspondent banking and politically exposed persons, which the organization defines as those holding high rank in their home countries;

• the improvement of transparency requirements on the ownership of legal entities such as companies, or arrangements such as trusts;

• the extension of many anti-money laundering requirements to cover terrorist financing; and

• the prohibition of shell banks.

The task force also urged countries to adopt measures already contained in several international conventions that would enable competent authorities to confiscate property and funds stemming from money laundering operations or related offenses or used in the commission of these offences. The organization said this should be done without prejudicing the rights of bona fide third parties.

The organization said that banks and other financial institutions should require senior management approval before doing business with "politically exposed persons." The source of the 

funds obtained from these persons should be checked rigorously, the organization said. This was seen as a barrier to corruption and drug conspiracies.

Firms and individuals like real estate agents would also have to exercise a watchdog role similar to that of banks in doing business with customers and clients.

The task force said that lawyers, notaries, other independent legal professionals and accountants  should  be required to report suspicious transactions even by their own clients. The task force encouraged countries to extend the reporting requirement to the rest of the professional activities of accountants, including auditing. 

"Casinos should be subject to a comprehensive regulatory and supervisory regime that ensures that they have effectively implemented the  necessary anti-money laundering and terrorist-financing measures, the organization said.  At a minimum, the task force release said that all casinos should be licensed and strict background checks should be made on owners or those holding an interest in the business. Plus, "competent authorities should ensure that casinos are effectively supervised for compliance with requirements to combat money laundering and terrorist financing."

The task force said that the casino requirements should apply to any transactions in excess of 3,000 euros or about $3,485.

The recommendations enlarge the list of crimes normally associated with money laundering. The specific crimes listed are: participation in an organized criminal group and racketeering; terrorism, including terrorist financing; trafficking in human beings and migrant smuggling; sexual exploitation, including sexual exploitation of children; and illicit trafficking in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances.

Also, illicit arms trafficking; illicit trafficking in stolen and other goods; corruption and bribery; fraud; counterfeiting currency; counterfeiting and piracy of products; environmental crime; murder, grievous bodily injury; kidnapping, illegal restraint and hostage-taking; robbery or theft; smuggling; extortion; forgery; piracy; and insider trading and market manipulation. 

The task force conducts annual evaluations of individual countries and the extent to which countries have put into practice the new recommendations will be part of the next annual evaluation. Many countries will be required to pass legislation to accomplish this.

In other action announced Friday, the task force removed St. Vincent and the Grenadines from the list of non-cooperative countries but said it would continue to monitor the financial situation in that country.

The 40 new recommendations may be found at:

http://www1.oecd.org/fatf/pdf/
40Recs-2003_en.pdf

Pacheco is ready to act against striking teachers
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

President Abel Pacheco promised a strong hand toward striking educators Sunday but he gave no indication of exactly what he might do.

Meanwhile, the various teacher unions say they have prepared a counter proposal to the one presented by the government at the end of last week.  The government proposal was widely seen as a solution to the four-week strike.

Pacheco met most of the day Friday in private session with his cabinet.

Manuel Antonio Bolaños, the new minister of Educación Pública, said he was surprised that the teachers unions rejected the government proposal. They did so during a meeting Friday. He said that the document was drawn up in his office with the full knowledge of representatives of the union.

Bolaños said the unions have put him in a position where he has to apply administrative measures to perform his constitutional duty to provide 

education in the country. He said he would take steps early Monday.

Is the government talking about firings and salary cuts, Bolaños asked without giving a clear answer in his statement that was released by Casa Presidencial. He said he would take whatever steps were necessary to provide youngsters with 200 days of education.

One obvious response will be to eliminate the traditional three-week July vacation. Students in private schools that are not on strike are preparing to go on vacation this week.

Ovidio Pacheco, minister of Trabajo, said in a similar statement that the rejected government proposal addressed all the teacher demands except for that of a pension for those in their 40s.

Advertising criticizing the teachers has appeared on local television. An unidentified man repeats what President Pacheco has said, that 55,000 teachers should not be on strike for a demand that will benefit only 8,000 persons.


 
 
Country braces for more
rain-caused damages

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Rescue workers were bracing for more work Sunday night as rain again coming down in the vicinity of Orosi where landslides in Calle Jucó and Las Anitas just outside of town have dislocated up to 160 persons.

Calle Jucó still is in jeopardy because a nearby river, wet ground and the potential for serious damage hangs over the community of about 200.

The weather was free of downpours during the daytime, according to reports from the area. But as night fell the rains began again.

The Fuerza Pública said it was keeping an eye on small communities in the north of the province of Cartago for the same reason. They named Cot, Pacayas, Potrero Cerrado, Tierra Blanca and the slopes of the Irazú Volcano.

Meanwhile, the Instituto Meteorológico Nacional said that more low pressure areas were coming in from the east. Rain was predicted in nearly all the country today with more rain coming tonight.
 

Fire ousts residents
at Los Yoses hotel

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Fire routed residents at the Aparthotel Los Yoses early Sunday, but there was no loss of life.

The establishment is much frequented by young North American tourists and is located on Avenida Central in Los Yoses.

Firemen said the blaze charred an area of some 80 to 90 square meters on the second floor. Flames could be seen from the front of the multi-story structure.

Bush and da Silva
concentrate on growth

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President George Bush met Friday with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. It's their first meeting since the end of the war in Iraq which the Brazilian leader opposed.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan says the two leaders discussed economic growth and free trade in North and South America along with the advance of democracy and freedom and joint efforts to fight terrorism.

Ahead of their Oval Office meeting, President Bush told reporters that U.S.-Brazilian relations are central to a stable Western Hemisphere where both leaders hope to increase trade.

"Brazil is an incredibly important part of a peaceful and prosperous North and South America," Bush said. " I can say from the perspective of the United States, this relationship is a vital and important and growing relationship."

Brazil's leftist government is often critical of Washington's foreign policy, most recently opposing the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq because President Bush refused to give U.N. inspectors more time to search for weapons of mass destruction.

There was no public talk of those differences at the White House Friday where the two leaders followed their formal talks with a private lunch.

President da Silva is looking to boost the more than $20 billion worth of annual trade between the countries, part of a relationship that he says is already strong and can be strengthened further.  President Bush praised the Brazilian leader for working to improve his country's economy and living conditions for the poor.

"On a personal perspective, I am very impressed by the vision of the president of Brazil," he said. "He's a man who clearly has deep concerns for all the people of Brazil. He not only has a tremendous heart, but he's got the abilities to work closely with his government and the people of Brazil to encourage prosperity and to end hunger."

White House officials say the two leaders also discussed social challenges facing Africa including hunger, poverty, and the spread of AIDS. 
 
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Venezuelan economy
continues contractions

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS, Venezuela — The government has projected a record recession for 2003.  Finance Minister Tobias Nobrega predicted Saturday that the economy will contract just under 11 percent, surpassing last year's 9 percent drop. He said that although the numbers are higher than expected, he thinks the worst of the slide is over. 

Venezuela's economy shrank almost 30 percent in the first quarter of this year, mainly due to anti-government strikes that crippled the nation's vital oil industry. The strike ended in February without achieving its objective of forcing President Hugo Chavez to resign.
 
 
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The Hulk returns, this time as a digital character
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff 
and wire services

A big, green Marvel Comics character popular since the 1960's has come to the big screen in a big action film directed by Ang Lee. And in the true spirit of capitalism, Universal Studios and Marvel Comics have built a massive worldwide licensing program.

The movie, of course, is built on the concept that was popularized in a 1970s television series, "The Incredible Hulk." The film was released Friday in the United States.

The story line stems from a laboratory accident. As a result, brooding, introspective scientist Bruce Banner gets angry and he grows five meters tall, bulging muscles burst out of his clothes and he turns emerald green and almost invulnerable as The Hulk.

Australian actor Eric Bana stars as Bruce Banner. but unlike the television show in which muscular actor Lou Ferrigno played the transformed character, the movie Hulk itself is entirely computer generated imagery.

"When I decided to do a big movie I said to myself unless I can make it feel personal I'm n-o-t good enough to take the project. It's n-o-t the size, it's the ambition," explains director Ang Lee.

Lee makes his first foray into the sci-fi action genre with The Hulk. The Taiwan-born filmmaker has won acclaim for character-driven dramas like "The Ice Storm" and "Sense And Sensibility." His Asian martial arts fantasy "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. To give personality to the computer-generated Hulk, Lee acted out the creature's movements for the special effects animators.

"It is like psychotherapy," he says. " I was so stressed out, and I got a chance to 'be the Hulk.' It really helped me feel The Hulk. I hope viewers see the whole movie as The Hulk, n-o-t just the CG character. That's how I talked to every actor. They're dealing with their 'inner Hulk' rather than just The Hulk subject. They're dealing with their subconscious and how to cover it up or reveal it: how to interact with The Hulk.

Jennifer Connelly co-stars as Banner's fellow scientist and the only person who, through love for his human side, tries to understand The Hulk. The Best Actress Oscar winner for "A Beautiful Mind" says director Lee's vision drew her to The Hulk.

"It's n-o-t because of an affinity for comic books. 

Universal Studios graphic
The Hulk . . . and he is not happy

It's really because of him," she explains. " I really 
respond to his sensibility. I like the way he talked about the script staying at a certain length so that there's time to expand on it. At times I couldn't even follow all of his ideas. I think it's really brave and kind of risky, but his motivation is so pure and great. It's like an artist grasping for something that he's never done before that he wants to try. I thought 'that's what it's about.' If it doesn't work, it doesn't work, but you're trying to make something."

With all the psychological layers, Eric Bana hopes The Hulk appeals to fans of the comic book popular worldwide since it first appeared more than 40 years ago. Nick Nolte plays, literally, the father of The Hulk, Bruce Banner's father, whose experiments genetically change his son and make him susceptible to the transformation. The Hulk also features Sam Elliott and Josh Lucas; and there's a brief cameo by the original TV Hulk, Ferrigno. 

The merchandising push includes a Hulk Mastercard put out by Chase and continual reminders that the Incredible Hulk Coaster may be found at Universal Studios, Fla.

With a roster of more than 300 licensees worldwide consisting of industry leaders including Toy Biz Worldwide, Harper Collins, Upper Deck Entertainment and Vivendi Universal Games, unique products based on production will be breaking onto retail shelves around the world this summer, said Marvel. 

There is at least one computer game, DVD editions, posters and toys, all spinoffs from the movie.


 
 
Lawmakers consider opening records to citizens
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

National lawmakers have received a proposal for opening up public information to citizens. But there are loopholes.

The proposal came from Humberto Arce Salas, a deputy, and the measure will be studied by the Comisión Especial Mixta de Libertad de Prensa.

The measure would cover government records and paperwork, plus documents from some private agencies that fill a public role.

Access to information is contained in Articles 27 and 30 of the Costa Rican Constitution, and the proposed measure would be enabling laws.

Lawmakers believe that access to information will reduce corruption. However, the measure, as written, has loopholes.

For example, the proposal specifies some information as confidential, as personal, with restricted access and as state secrets. In addition, off limits would be information that compromises the health or "physical integrity" of persons, the national or public security or national defense.

The measure would not repeal secrecy measures contained in other laws, such as those permitting commercial secrets, either as part of the government financial system or within banks. The measure also creates a Centro Nacional de Información Pública responsible to the Defensoría 
de los Habitantes de la República to help make available information to citizens.

Some information would be posted on the Internet.

Experiences elsewhere, mainly in the United States, show that it is the interpretation of the 

laws that can restrict or expedite public access.

For example, in Palo Alto, California this year a Superior Court judge ruled that some municipalities do not have to release individual salary information on public employees because to do so would violate the employee’s privacy. 

The judge made the decision even though California law says this information is public. Other municipalities did make the information available. The case is on appeal.

Costa Rica’s overburdened court system would probably take five years to decide a public access case under normal standards.

The Palo Alto Daily News, a newspaper, was compiling the information because many municipalities there face extreme budget cuts. The newspaper, in an editorial, said readers were surprised how many public employees earned more than $100,000 a year and how many times persons were hired and put on the public payroll after the municipality had announced a hiring freeze.

Some U.S. states have laws that require political subdivisions to publish in newspapers a list of all their expenses each month, including salaries, expense account payments and similar.

Some states make violation of the public access laws a crime. Others do not. Citizens generally have less problems in getting information in states where officials face possible criminal penalties.

Some states also have expedited court hearings on the release of information, with court dates sometimes within 10 days, on the theory that information is less valuable one or two years from the day it was requested.


 
 
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