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These stories were published Tuesday, June 25, 2002, in Vol. 2, No. 124
Jo Stuart
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State will assert strong rights to environmental controls
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff 

An environmental organization says that Costa Rica will assume dominion of air, water, energy, soil, subsoil, hydrocarbons, minerals, and biochemical and genetic aspects under a proposal endorsed by President Abel Pacheco.

The organization is Oilwatch, a group that has opposed mining and oil drilling. It released a draft of constitutional amendments that it said the president would try to send to the national assembly by July 2.

Pacheco promised in his campaign and in his inaugural address to put environmental guarantees in the Costa Rica Constitution.

The draft released by Oilwatch says that a vote of two-thirds of the national assembly will be needed to administer, use, explore or exploit any of these national resources.

The current constitution contains the following sentences in Article 50:

A.M. Costa Rica photo
Just what the downtown needed: Yet another billboard. Workmen are constructing this massive framework high above Avenida 2 and Calle 5
Every person has the right to a healthy and ecologically balanced environment, being therefore entitled to denounce any acts that may infringe said right and claim redress for the damage caused. 

The State shall guarantee, defend and preserve that right. The Law shall establish the appropriate responsibilities and penalties.

The draft released by Oilwatch would expand these two paragraphs to seven separate articles of the Constitution. The organization said the articles were discussed at a meeting at Casa Presidential June 13.

The proposals also say that every contract or treaty entered into by the state for whatever purpose must consider the environmental ramifications.

The proposal also specifies that first-growth forests, the coral reefs, mangroves and wetlands are areas of absolute environmental protection. The proposal also says that the state will be able to seek compensation for any deterioration of the environment

The proposal also says that all persons, individuals or corporations have an affirmative obligation to safeguard the environment.

Oilwatch said that not all aspects of the proposal were clear. It said Pacheco was accepting comments for discussion at: presidente@casapres.go.cr.

The proposals do raise some legal questions. The Costa Rican Constitution forbids retroactivity in laws and it also mandates compensation for governmental appropriations. If the state asserts ownership over minerals, topsoil and subsoil, as well as other aspects of the environment, the compensation clause might be triggered.

In addition, the copy in English of the Constitution maintained by the U.S. Embassy on its Web site says that the national assembly may amend articles but that "a general amendment of this Constitution can only be made by a Constituent Assembly called for the purpose." Because Pacheco is proposing a new section, the first step might be a law that sets up a constituent assembly. But then the assembly would not be bound by Pacheco’s proposals.

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Four countries join money-laundering efforts
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

An international task force on money laundering has removed Hungary, Israel, Lebanon and St. Kitts and Nevis from its list of states deemed non-cooperative in the campaign against money laundering.

The Financial Action Task Force made the announcement in Paris following a meeting to assess countries' progress towards meeting 40 task force recommendations on steps against money laundering. The task force also reviewed progress on its plan of action to counter terrorist financing, which was adopted shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks against the United States.

The task force is an independent 29-member group whose secretariat is housed at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Fifteen countries and territories remain on the task force blacklist on money laundering: Russia, Ukraine, Indonesia, Nigeria, Philippines, the Cook Islands, Dominica, Egypt, Grenada, Guatemala, the Marshall Islands, Myanmar, Nauru, Niue, and St Vincent and the Grenadines.

The task force said it would recommend taking "counter-measures" against Nigeria at the end of October if its government did not implement legal reforms needed to support a campaign against money laundering.

The task force already is seeking action against Nauru.

"The FATF believes that the existence of shell banks

that have no physical presence presents an unacceptable money laundering risk and urges Nauru to abolish these entities," it said. The task force also expressed concern about Ukraine's lack of progress in enacting appropriate legislation.

On the positive side, the organization welcomed progress by Grenada, Russia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and said it would review the situation of each jurisdiction still on the blacklist at its next meeting in October.

With respect to the recommendations on terrorist financing, the task force said its members "are working quickly to come into compliance," and that the task force "will continue to strive for full compliance of these recommendations, both with its own membership and globally."

Those recommendations include freezing terrorist funds, adopting legislation to criminalize terrorist funding and reporting suspicious transactions linked to terrorism.

More than 50 non-member countries have also submitted a self-assessment of their measures against terrorist financing, and the FATF has established a working group to identify centers that lack measures to counter terrorist financing. 

If necessary, countries that face difficulties in adopting the recommendations can receive technical assistance from the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and United Nations, the task force said.

The full text of the report is available on the Internet at: http://www.oecd.org/pdf/

Top firms help Latin families who lost kin Sept. 11
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

NEW YORK, N.Y. — Among the victims in the Sept. 11 attacks were 70 low-wage immigrant workers who labored as either janitors or restaurant employees at the World Trade Center. The effort to secure benefits for the families of the immigrants has involved several top New York law firms.

Deborah Brown Sternberg, an attorney at Cadwalader, Wickersham and Taft, is accustomed to dealing with corporate clients. But for the last few months, her practice has been devoted to helping families from Peru, Ecuador, Mexico and Colombia who lost primary wage earners in the World Trade Center attack.

Some, she says, are parents who were living in Latin America on money sent by their sons. Others are wives and children who were living in the United States — some legally, some illegally — on wages their husbands earned at the World Trade Center.

"I find myself not calling them clients," Ms. Sternberg said, "I call them my family. Someone just went to work one day and did not come back, and all of a sudden, people who did not have any experience dealing with financial matters, here they are with such bravery, coming forward, meeting with lawyers and trying to rebuild their lives."

The effort to help the immigrant families was spearheaded by New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, a non-profit group that offers free legal 

assistance to the poor. Spokesman Michael Rothenberg says the procedure that had to be followed to get financial compensation was so complicated, he felt the families needed legal assistance.

"English is a second language for most of the families, and to negotiate the system, figure out the paper work, the issues you are dealing with can be quite difficult," Rothenberg commented, "There might be a dependent who is living in another country. Some of the victim's family members might be" living in the United States illegally.

As a result of the legal effort, Rothenberg says, it appears that the immigrant families will get their fair share of the funds. And, he says, they have not been the only beneficiaries. He says many of the lawyers have found the personal relationships very rewarding. 

"With each new challenge they have been there with the family member, so I think it is a stark contrast to what they do on a daily basis," Rothenberg said of those lawyers assisting immigrant families, "Most represent large corporations. 

Attorney Deborah Brown Sternberg says the experience has enriched her life, and expanded her goals, as well. She signed on initially to help the families get their money. Now, she says, she is working to get legal status and working papers for the wives and mothers of victims, so they can carry on. 

Canadian decision
pleasing to China

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

China has welcomed Canada's decision to deny refugee status to a Chinese fugitive accused in a multi-billion dollar smuggling case. Beijing has promised Canada it will not execute the accused smuggling kingpin in the hopes of winning his extradition.

Lai Changxing, one of China's richest businessmen-turned fugitive, is accused of orchestrating the largest smuggling ring in Chinese Communist history.

Chinese investigators say Lai smuggled about $6 billion worth of cars, oil, electronics and other goods into the country. The scandal cost the government almost $4 billion in lost import duties. Lai and his family fled to Canada in 1999, and appealed for asylum there the following year. But late last week, a Canadian immigration panel rejected that appeal.

Chinese state media Monday welcomed Canada's decision. The official China Daily newspaper quotes Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Liu Jianchao as saying the ruling confirms that Lai is a criminal fugitive.

Jean-Pierre Cabestan, head of the French Center for Research on Contemporary China, says China sees the Canadian ruling as an important victory in its campaign against corruption. "Lai Changxing is the kind of businessperson who has managed to make good use of his connections — within the political system, within the Communist Party, the security apparatus, the customs authority in China — in order to smuggle a lot of goods from Hong Kong and outside of China to Fujian and other areas in China proper," says Cabestan.

Beijing accuses Lai of bribing scores of government officials. Chinese courts have already sentenced 14 people to death in connection with the Lai case, including some Communist Party officials. Investigators have also arrested more than 500 others suspected in the scandal.

Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji has promised, if Canada now deports Lai, he will not be executed if found guilty. But Cabestan says some Canadian authorities are skeptical and may still allow Lai to stay. "There's a lot of resistance in Canada proper against such a transfer of criminals back to China, where they risk a much harsher penalty than in Canada if they're prosecuted there."

Canada's Supreme Court has ruled that the government cannot deport anyone to a country that imposes the death penalty. 

Storm rips Puntarenas

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Some 25 homes were heavily damaged and a handful more suffered damage when a fierce thunderstorm ripped thorugh Puntarenas early Sunday evening.

A number of dwellings lost their roofs, and some were nearly leveled.

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High Court rejects
judge-ordered deaths

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled juries and not judges must decide whether to impose the death penalty in criminal convictions where capital punishment is an option. The decision could impact many of the 3,700 people on death row in America's prisons.

The decision could mean throwing out the sentences of hundreds of people on death row by letting juries reconsider the option of life without parole. In essence, the high court found a defendant's constitutional right to a trial by jury is undermined when a judge instead of a jury imposes the death penalty.

George Kendall, an attorney with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, a group that opposes the death penalty, explains, "This is really about the 6th Amendment and the fundamental right to a trial by jury. Before somebody can be sentenced to death, a jury as opposed to judges, must find the critical facts that makes one eligible for a capital sentence."

Immediately affected are more than 160 prisoners now on death row in five states where judges imposed the death penalty on convicted killers. Monday's high court decision effectively sends those sentences back for review. The decision could also affect the death sentences of hundreds of other inmates in several other states where juries are allowed to advise judges on whether to impose the death penalty.

Christopher Adams of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, considers the 7 to 2 ruling a key defeat for death penalty advocates. 

"This is truly a monumental decision today and it's going to save a whole lot of lives," he said, "It's historically what we had in the death penalty and it's nice that we've righted the system that had gone wrong. It's certainly going to [have] a huge impact in Arizona and Colorado and a few other states that rely exclusively on judge sentencing." 

While juries determine guilt or innocence, a handful of states leave it to trial judges to determine whether the death penalty should be imposed in capital crimes. Monday's decision marks the second time in several days that the Supreme Court has ruled on a case involving capital punishment. Last week, the court ruled it was unconstitutional to execute the mentally retarded. 

G8 summit selects
location in mountains

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CALGARY, Alberta — The annual summit of the world's seven richest industrial countries plus Russia is set to begin Wednesday morning at Kananaskis, a small resort village in the Canadian Rockies 85 kilometers from here.

This Group of Eight summit is intended to be very different from the violence marred event that took place last year in Genoa, Italy. The Canadian host of this year's summit, Prime Minister Jean Chretien, picked a remote mountain location that can easily be sealed off from protests. There will be far fewer people in the national delegations than in the past, and the talks have been scaled back to 30 hours.

The G8, as it is called, is in effect an informal discussion forum for leaders of the world's biggest economies. The annual meeting, which initially focused almost solely on economic matters, has taken place each year since 1975. G8 members include Canada and the United States from North America, Japan from Asia, and Britain, France, Italy, Germany and Russia from Europe.

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