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(506) 2223-1327               San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, June 30, 2010,  Vol. 10, No. 127        E-mail us
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Wrestling over rights is not a one-time process
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Sala IV constitutional court Tuesday threw out a challenge to a proposed referendum on civil unions. The Defensoría de los Habitantes had argued that the proposed referendum is contrary to human dignity and violates the Costa Rican Constitution.

There still may be other challenges to the referendum, mostly because proponents of civil unions believe the proposed vote was promoted in bad faith to set back the cause of gay rights.

In a larger sense, however, it has been public opinion that has created "gay rights," "reproductive rights" and an assortment of other modern rights that frequently make the headlines.

An analysis of the news

The U.S. Supreme Court recently defined as a right the act of keeping a firearm in the home for self-protection. That concept has not yet reached rights-conscious Costa Rica.  But there are a multitude of rights in development, including the right to pure water.

A big step in getting public support for a point of view is to anoint it as a right. That is what has happened to abortion in the last 50 years. The act of terminating a pregnancy has migrated from being a felony to a human right in the United States. That is not the case in Costa Rica where such procedures are forbidden but take place anyway.

The media of communication play a large role in the definition of rights. Western rock music which promotes personal freedom was a poison pill for the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

The generation of rights is more likely found in the entertainment aspects of the media rather than news reporting. Sensitive and favorable portrayals of gay individuals has done much to advance gay rights, not to mention the demonization of those opposed. A catchy song trumps news opinion pieces every time.

Costa Rica has to wrestle with the changing rights landscape whether or not the proposed referendum takes place. It is important, however, for citizens here to recognize that a right is a social construction that can only exist while public opinion favors it. Slavery died in most countries of the world because general public opinion saw the institution as an assault on humanity. Slavery still exists in countries today only with the tacit approval of the citizenry.
women's rights
Women won the right to vote because public opinion swung in that direction.

Academics generally divide rights into two classes: political rights and social rights. Political rights generally are protection for the individual against the government, like the prohibition against unreasonable searches or self incrimination.

Social rights, like the proposed right to pure water, sufficient food and a good education are those things that governments are mandated to provide. Academics note that these rights usually cost money.

Gay rights here is in the process of crossing the line from the right to be left alone to a right that is provided by the government, i.e. a civil union or a same sex marriage. The U.S. Bill of Rights is of the first kind, forbidding the central government from certain actions.

The Costa Rican Constitution is a mixture of prohibitions and positive rights, such as: "The right to intimacy, freedom and secret of communications is guaranteed." But "no citizen can be compelled to abandon the national territory."

There have been recent calls in Costa Rica for a general rewrite of the constitution. Such an assembly would be inundated with pressure groups and lobbies promoting one point of view or another. Ultimately the public would have to approve the general document, if not formally at least tacitly.

As Costa Rica continues to move from a Roman Catholic country to a secular state, the public constructions of rights will continue to evolve. Although proponents of civil unions fear the results of a referendum, all rights are subjected to daily validation by public opinion.

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Plants have the advantage of natural light

Urban marijuana farm
disclosed after argument

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

If the apartment is where the marijuana is growing, a wise individual will not get in a fight with the landlady.

A man living on Paseo Colón did not follow this rule Tuesday, and the landlady called police alleging threats. When police arrived at the man's living quarters, they said they noticed what turned out to be 15 marijuana plants.

The man, 29, now faces several allegations. Anti-drug police searched and found a stash of marijuana and seeds.

New black peso sweep
nets 18 for U.S. trials

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire service

U.S. federal officials say 18 people have been charged in an international money-laundering operation that investigators say moved millions of dollars in Colombian drug profits through the United States, Colombia and other countries. There were no arrests in Costa Rica.

Authorities Tuesday said the charges follow an extensive operation, dubbed "Circling Vultures," in which the Drug Enforcement Administration investigated Colombia's black market peso exchange.  Investigators have described the exchange as a means of laundering narcotics proceeds generated in the United States for return to Colombia.

Investigators say an unnamed cooperating witness introduced U.S. agents to Colombian peso brokers and that the agents spent months monitoring money-laundering operations in the U.S., Panama, Guatemala and other locations.

They allege one of the defendants, Jader Gomez, engaged in several meetings aimed at moving $200 million in U.S. currency from Guatemala into Panama by plane.  Gomez was extradited from Colombia last week.

Seventeen people have been arrested, while the 18th person remains at large.

The Drug Enforcement Administration says the 18 defendants are charged with one count of participating in a money-laundering conspiracy, which carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence.

Costa Rica has long been considered a transit point for drug money coming from the United States. However, in recent years, the country's participation in the black peso exchange has diminished as the country enacted more laws and supervision of banks and money exchange houses.

U.S. officials now consider an estimated 250 Internet sportsbooks in Costa Rica to be a vulnerable area for money laundering, and the country has urged Costa Rican officials to tighten their oversight. The United States estimates that the sportsbook industry, which employs about 10,000 persons here, moves about $12 billion annually, according to the International Narcotics Control Strategy Report.

That document, issued by the State Department in May, said that sportsbook transactions have decreased 20 percent this year.

Mexican, local quakes
registered here on sensors

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The early morning 6.5 earthquake near Oaxaca, México, was felt faintly in Costa Rica early today. The quake took place at 1:27 a.m., Costa Rican time.

A short time later, at 1:47 a.m. a moderate quake took place somewhere in the vicinity of Volcán Poás, according to automatic sensors maintained by the Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica at the Universidad Nacional in Heredia.

The Mexican quake was in a rural area 75 miles  (120 kms) west southwest of Oaxaca, said the U.S. National earthquake Information Center. That agency had no report of the later Costa Rican quake, indicating that the magnitude was less than 4.0.

Sensors showed that the Costa Rican quake could have been felt in most of the country except the far northwest part of Guanacaste. The Mexican quake was registered by the sensors but probably not felt by humans.

Our reader's opinion
Alternate approach urged
for drug-use problems

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

In my role as director of research for New Jersey's Division of Addiction Services, I was constantly faced with the failure of U.S. policy in dealing with the social and health problems of drug use — from tobacco to alcohol to crack, heroin, and other drugs.

There is an ever-growing body of evidence that could guide our policies, but it requires separating personal morality from health concerns — both personal and societal. Some people are bent on punishing addicts for being addicts rather than for their harmful behavior. For instance, alcohol consumption is legal for adults, but they are punished if they drive while drunk. I fully support the recent increases in punishment for drunk drivers in Costa Rica, but lament that there is not a concomitant requirement for education and appropriate treatment of convicted offenders.

During my tenure as administrator of New Jersey's Intoxicated Driver Program, we reduced the number of convictions from 45,000 to 22,000 a year by increasing fines and license suspensions AND requiring education and treatment of multiple offenders.

Changing our view of illicit drug use in Costa Rica from solely criminal to a more enlightened view will allow better treatment of those in need, and a sharply reduced prison population comprised in large part of addicts, both to illicit drugs and alcohol.

I fully support the Vienna Declaration, and hope your readers take the opportunity to examine and sign it. It is available at:

John French
San Roque de Barva

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A.M. Costa Rica guide

This is a brief users guide to A.M. Costa Rica.

Old pages
Each day someone complains via e-mail that the newspages are from yesterday or the day before. A.M. Costa Rica staffers check every page and every link when the newspaper is made available at 2 a.m. each weekday.

So the problem is with the browser in each reader's computer. Particularly when the connection with the  server is slow, a computer will look to the latest page in its internal memory and serve up that page.

Readers should refresh the page and, if necessary, dump the cache of their computer, if this problem persists. Readers in Costa Rica have this problem frequently because the local Internet provider has continual problems.

The A.M. Costa Rica search page has a list of all previous editions by date and a space to search for specific words and phrases. The search will return links to archived pages.

A typical edition will consist of a front page and four other newspages. Each of these pages can be reached by links near the top and bottom of the pages.

Five classified pages are updated daily. Employment listings are free, as are listings for accommodations wanted, articles for sale and articles wanted. The tourism page and the real estate sales and real estate rentals are updated daily.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, June 30, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 127

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Sala IV rules on case of students who fear a teacher
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Students are a school in Pérez Zeledón are in fear of a teacher and half of them are not attending school, according to a decision released Tuesday by the Sala IV constitutional court.

The decision suggests that both the Ministerio de Educación Pública and the Defensoría de los Habitantes were slow in addressing the concerns of the students. Complaints were raised in 2008 that a teacher was behaving violently with the students, according to the decision.

The education ministry transferred the teacher but returned
 her to the same school, Escuela Talari de los Ángeles de Rivas de Pérez Zeledón, this year, the court said. The exact nature of the teacher's conduct was not described. But the court said the parents complained of aggression that was physical, verbal and psychological.

The appeal to the Sala IV came from a mother in the community and others against the ministry and the Defensoría. The Defensoría had three files on the case but investigations had not been completed, the court said. The court ordered that this be done and that the ministry report on what actions it takes.

A fax complaint to the ministry dates from Oct. 27, 2008.

Costa Rica to consider entering into trade pact with Korea
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The country will begin discussions with South Korea in order to create a free trade treaty.

That was the word Tuesday from Panamá where President Laura Chinchilla was attending a local summit of the  Sistema para la Integración Centroamericana.  Li Myung-Bak, the president of South Korea, was attending to promote commercial ties to his country.
Officials from Panamá also said they would be interested in negotiating a treaty, too. Korea is a major supplier of electronic equipment.

Costa Rica officials expressed their solidarity with Korea over the sinking of the warship Cheonan, which was torpedoed March 26 and 46 sailors died.

The attack has been blamed on North Korea, which denies the charge.

Orchestra, jazz combo will help celebrate Centro Cultural's 65th birthday
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional will join with the Combo Nuevo from New York in two concerts, Friday and Sunday, to mark the 65th birthday of the Centro Cultural Costarricense Norteamericano and the 70th anniversary of the orchestra.

The first concert will be Friday at 8 p.m. A second concert will be Sunday at 10:30 a.m., both in the Teatro Nacional.

The Combo Nuevo, described as an eclectic improvisational ensemble, is comprised of some of New York City's leading jazz artists. The group combines influences ranging from jazz and classical to blues and world music, said the group's Web page. Individually,
these artists have performed with such music legends as Miles Davis, Ravi Shankar, Elton John, Yo Yo Ma, Paul Simon, Natalie Cole, Dave Douglas, Oscar Castro Neves, Randy Brecker and Tower of Power.

Combo Nuevo performers are Dave Schroeder, woodwinds and harmonica; Rich Shemaria, piano and keyboards; Mike Richmond, cello, bass violin, electric bass; John Hadfield, percussion; Lenny Pickett, saxophone and woodwinds, and Brad Shepik, guitar.

The Centro Cultural, which has locations in Los Yoses and Sabana Norte is best known as a provider of English language training for Costa Ricans and cultural-activities and exhibitions. The Los Yoses building is a frequent site of performances by U.S. musical groups.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, June 30, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 127

U.N. agency reports that world tourism is up by 7 percent

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

International tourist arrivals grew by 7 percent in the first four months of 2010 according to the U.N. World Tourism Organization. This growth confirms the recovery trend beginning in the last quarter of 2009 and comes despite the challenging conditions of recent months, the agency said.

While April’s results were affected by the week-long closure of European airspace, globally the pace of recovery is faster than initially expected, driven largely by emerging markets. For the full year the agency forecasts international tourist arrivals to grow by 3 to 4 percent.

International tourist arrivals increased by 7 percent in the first four months of 2010. The 3 percent increase registered in April marks the seventh month of growth in international tourist arrivals after 14 consecutive months of negative results. Still, growth slowed down slightly in April as a consequence of the closure of European airspace for a week due to the ash-cloud following the eruption of a volcano in Iceland. Although only around 30 countries have reported May data, the vast majority is positive, clearly pointing to a continuation of the current pace of growth.

Growth however varied between world regions in the first four months of this year. The Middle East is up 3 percent when compared to the very depressed same months of 2009. The Americas are up 6 percent, while Europe reports the poorest result, down three-tenths of a percent. Northern Europe, the only subregion in the world still far from recovery, was additionally affected by the closure of European airspace last April.

In Costa Rica, informal estimates say that tourist arrivals by air were up more than 10 percent over similar months in 2009.

International tourist arrivals from January to April 2010 totaled over 258 million. This clear improvement has to be compared with the negative results of 2009, the worst period of the crisis, totaling 242 million arrivals. The current volume is still 2 percent short of the record year 2008, with 264 million arrivals in the same four months.

2010 results will continue to benefit from the gradually improving economic situation, as well as from a number of high profile events including the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, the World Cup in South Africa, the World
Exposition in Shanghai and the Commonwealth Games in India. Unfortunately, tourism has also suffered the effects of a series of natural disasters, including earthquakes in Haiti, Chile, Southern California and Guatemala and severe flooding in a number of destinations including Machu Picchu in Peru and parts of Europe.

Positive outlook for the remainder of the year, but challenges remain, the U.N. agency said.  

Current growth rates suggest that end-year results are likely to be closer to 4 percent, and may even exceed it. Much depends on the results of the upcoming summer high season in the northern hemisphere, particularly in Europe, said the agency.

The phasing-out of stimulus measures, combined with austerity measures and the rise in taxation introduced by many governments, have become main factors to be considered. The tourism sector itself may be confronted with increased taxes given the expected rise in United Kingdom departure tax in November and Germany’s intention to introduce a new air tax as part of its budget-cutting plans.

“These factors constitute an important downside risk to a recovering industry,” said Taleb Rifai, World Tourism Organization secretary general. “This is the time to support the tourism sector. At a time when many countries are witnessing public deficit constraints and low domestic consumption levels, tourism can provide much needed jobs, as well as export and tax revenues." The agency welcomes examples of countries like China, which has identified tourism as a strategic pillar of its economy going forward, he added.

On the consumer side, trends such as late booking, increasing use of the internet to look and book, traveling closer and for shorter periods of time and demanding value for money, seem to have been accentuated during and post crisis. This evolving marketplace will inevitably require changes in the business models of the industry and the tourism supply. “It’s illusionary to assume that we can go back to business as usual”, said Rifai. “We need to know consumers better, master technology and integrate it more and more into the management of destinations and companies. We also need to invest more in product innovation and human resources, particularly training for green jobs and make a clear commitment to sustainability,” he concluded.

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San José, Costa Rica, Wednesday, June 30, 2010, Vol. 10, No. 127

Medical vacations in Costa Rica

Mexican voting proceeds
despite candidate's death

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Electoral officials in Mexico say the vote for governor will proceed as planned on Sunday in the northern state of Tamaulipas, despite the murder of a politician who was favored to win the race.

Officials made the announcement Tuesday, one day after Rodolfo Torre, the candidate of the opposition Partido Revolucionario Institutional, was killed in an attack being blamed on drug gangs.  The party, however, has not named a replacement for Torre. 

The candidate, along with several aides, died in an ambush while he was campaigning in the town of Valle Hermoso, near Mexico's border with the United States.  It was Mexico's highest-level political murder in 16 years.

U.S. State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid says the United States was shocked and saddened by the murders.  He described the incident as a tragedy, calling it evidence that the fight against drug cartels and criminal violence needs to continue, be strengthened and pursued vigorously.

Mexican President Felipe Calderón has pledged to defend Mexico's democracy against drug gangs who have launched a campaign of intimidation against politicians running in local elections.

In May, a candidate for mayor from the ruling Partido Acción Nacional, José Mario Guajardo, was killed along with his son in Valle Hermoso, which is just south of Brownsville, Texas.

Some 23,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence in Mexico since President Calderón took office in late 2006 and began cracking down on the cartels.

Noriega tells court U.S.
concocted allegations

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega — on trial in Paris — says French money-laundering charges against him stem from an imaginary banking scheme concocted by the United States.

Noriega was testifying Tuesday about charges he laundered millions of dollars in illicit cocaine profits in the 1980s through two French banks. He is accused of using the money to buy luxury apartments in Paris.

Noriega described the accusations as part of a conspiracy brought against him by the United States. He said the money came from his legitimate businesses and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

The 76-year-old ex-general, who spent 20 years in U.S. custody for drug trafficking, could return to prison for 10 more years if convicted on the French charges.  He ruled Panamá from 1981 to 1989, and was arrested a year later during a U.S. invasion.

Taking the stand, Noriega denied receiving money from drug traffickers, saying he fought the drug trade while in power and received praise for his efforts from the U.S. and Interpol. Once a close U.S. ally, Noriega testified that Washington turned against him when he refused to participate in a U.S. plan against leftists in Central America.

France convicted both Noriega and his wife in absentia on money laundering charges in 1999, but now that he is in custody, he is entitled to a new trial under French law. 

Noriega's lawyers opened the proceedings Monday arguing their client's extradition from the United States should be annulled because France did not allow the ex-general to wear his military uniform and medals while awaiting trial.  They also claim his Paris jail conditions are unacceptable.

In the 1990s, Noriega's attorneys argued that he was a prisoner of war under the Geneva Conventions, and therefore should be allowed to return home to Panamá.  A U.S. federal appeals court rejected that argument, and the U.S. Supreme Court later declined to review his case.

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U.N. proposes rebalancing
world financial system

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Overcoming the serious weaknesses exposed by the global economic crisis will not be easy and will require a major overhaul of the machinery for international finance, aid and trade, according to a new United Nations report released Tuesday.

"The World Economic and Social Survey 2010" notes that getting back on track will require significant reforms in global economic governance and new thinking to put the world on a more sustainable path of development.

“This year’s report looks at the prospects for post-crisis global development and concludes that a major rebalancing of the global economy is needed to make it sustainable,” said Rob Vos, the director of the Development Policy and Analysis Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

“To that end, it argues for much more effective mechanisms of global economic governance, requiring a major overhaul of the existing ones,” he told reporters at the launch of the report.

Vos said one of the main messages in the report is that many of the global crises in recent years – such as the food, fuel and financial crises – are to a large extent due to major systemic failures in the global economy and weaknesses in the mechanisms for global governance.

The survey – entitled “Retooling Global Development” – notes that the financial crisis provides an opportunity to re-examine and reform the system of global governance so that economic interdependence can be harnessed to overcome poverty instead of being the source of instability and greater inequalities.

International aid and trade processes must be reformed to ensure that governments have the needed policy space to experiment with solutions appropriate to the local situation.

On trade, the survey notes that the equal treatment of all nations effectively skews international trading against small economies. To make the multilateral trading system more conducive to sustainable development, it needs to both expand and restrict the scope of the World Trade Organization rules.

For a sustainable rebalancing of the global economy, the survey says much closer coordination is needed across the trading system, the new regime for international financial regulation, the global reserve system and the mechanisms for mobilizing and channelling development finance and climate funding.

It also proposes that the international community consider establishing a global economic coordination mechanism which goes well beyond the Group of 20 leading and emerging economies.

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