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These stories were published Thursday, July 8, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 134
Jo Stuart
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Proposed law ups fines for employing illegals
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A proposed immigration law would dramatically increase the penalty for those who employ illegal aliens.

Although the thrust of the law is toward Nicaraguans and others who come to Costa Rica to live and work illegally, the language also covers those who employ English-speaking teachers here on tourist visa and the many Pacific seacoast businesses that are not rigorous in checking the legal status of English-speaking employees.

The penalty would be raised from a fine equivalent to 100 to 200 days pay to an amount equivalent to five to 20 base salaries.

In addition, heavy fines are proposed for those who house illegal immigrants. That would seem to cover anyone who provides housing for persons who have overstayed their tourist visas or who are working illegally while here on a tourist visa.

The proposed law also contains a provision to require managers of hotels and other places that provide housing to maintain a list of foreigners in their establishments and to provide that list to the government.

Employers, too, would be required to provide the director general of Migración y Extranjería 

a list of foreigners working in their establishments.

The law also calls for closer contact between the Ministerio de Trabajo, the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social and Migración to make sure that employers pay the social security costs of employees regardless of their residency status. And workers in other ministries would be encouraged to file complaints on anyone they find working illegally.

Some English schools in Costa Rica flout the law by hiring English speakers who are here for extended vacations. If caught under the proposed law, the employer would be subjected to a stiff fine for every such employee. Of course, the employee faces deportation.

The fines also would apply to employers of persons here in Costa Rica as pensionados or rentistas. Persons living here under such immigration categories are prohibited from working locally. 

The employment aspects of the new immigration law generally have been overlooked by the English-speaking community because other aspects, such as residency policies for foreigners, have been so controversial.

The law is in the final stages of consideration in the Asamblea Nacional.

A.M. Costa Rica photo
An ornate flagpole in Parque Central marks the spot where on Nov. 12, 1848, the Costa Rican flag was first unveiled. The Municipalidad de San José just installed the memorial where a flag flies 24 hours a day.
Pirated software put 
at $17 million here

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

More than two-thirds of the software used in Costa Rica is pirated, according to a study released Wednesday.

Worldwide, 36 percent of the software in use is pirated, causing revenue losses of $29 billion in 2003, according to the same study.

"For every two dollars' worth of software purchased legitimately, one dollar's worth was obtained illegally," said the study carried out by the research firm International Data Corp for the Business Software Alliance. 

In a news release, the alliance said that the greatest losses in terms of dollars were in Western Europe, where the use of pirated software reduced industry revenues by $9.6 billion in 2003. 

In Costa Rica, the estimated loss was $17 million a year.

Overall, software worth almost $80 billion was installed in 2003, although only $50 billion was purchased legitimately, the study said.

Among individual countries, China and Vietnam had the highest piracy rates of 92 percent each.
The United States had the lowest piracy rate of 22 percent, followed by New Zealand, 23 percent.

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Imperial goes north
to California market

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Cerveza Imperial, the best-known Costa Rican beer brand, is ready to take on the gringos.

A ceremony is planned for this afternoon in San Joaquín de Hererdia where President Abel Pacheco and others will participate in the first exportation of Imperial to the United States and also inaugurate a center for distribution.

The center will be operated by Florida Bebidas.

The first shipment of beer will be headed to California and the West Coast of the United States where marketers here think that Imperial has name recognition because many California residents travel to Costa Rica.

Mail servers work
after mystery outage

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The mail servers of Radiográfica Costarricense S.A. appeared to be working normally most of Wednesday after having suffered an outage of at least 12 hours Tuesday and early Wednesday.

Users of the service were greeted with e-mail messages from Tuesday that RACSA apparently had stored electronically. Wednesday morning one A.M. Costa Rica e-mail account that relies on the RACSA server received 308 e-mail messages, most from Tuesday.

There was no word from the company on what took place.

An undetermined percentage of messages were lost during the outage. Of three  e-mail transmissions, each with a photo attachment, sent from Sabana about 5 p.m. Tuesday, one arrived Tuesday evening, the second arrived Wednesday morning and the third still had not arrived by early Thursday.

A.M. Costa Rica estimated that it loses about 10 to 15 percent of messages sent through the RACSA mail servers. This figure was determined by monitoring the messages at another server before they were transmitted to RACSA for distribution here.

Counterfeit clothing
seized by police

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police raided a chain of stores Wednesday morning and confiscated some 100 million colons ($230,000) is false brand name clothing, they said.

The stores were in San José and in Alajuela. They belong to a chain operated by individuals from Salvador, police said. In all, some 9,000 articles of clothing bearing the names of Quicksilver, Roxy and Levis were confiscated, according to a report by the Minsterio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública.

The Centro de Información of the Fuerza Pública is in charge of investigating such crimes. The unit has staged more than 150 raids this year for similar reasons.

Medical supply firm
official opens here

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A spinoff of Abbott Laboratories, Hospira, inaugurated its second plant Wednesday, and this one is in Costa Rica.

Hospira, located in Barreal de Heredia, manufactures medical supplies and equipment. It had $2.3 billion in annual sales. The second plant is in North Carolina in the United States. The plant here has about 2,000 employees.

Medical products are a $712 million business here, according to government figures and represents about 12 percent of the total exports of the country.

Dance anniversary marked

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Tonight the Compañia Nacional de Danza begins three evenings of shows to mark its 25th anniversary. The event will involve a number of dance groups in the country. Performances begin at 8 p.m. in the Teatro Nacional.

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A.M. Costa Rica's professional directory is where business people who wish to reach the English-speaking community may invite responses. If you are interested in being represented here, please contact the editor.

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AIDS panel calls for Peace Corps-like approach
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

An international group of public health experts is calling for a new AIDS corps modeled on the U.S. Peace Corps to fight the HIV epidemic in developing countries. The proposal is one of several initiatives the experts recommend to greatly expand health care for HIV patients in countries with inadequate medical services. 

With billions of dollars flowing from the United States and other donors and with price cuts for AIDS drugs, a U.S. National Academy of Sciences panel says the time is right to vastly increase HIV treatment and prevention programs in developing nations. 

New United Nations figures show that assistance to HIV programs jumped 60 percent between 2000 and 2002. Much more is to come with most of the U.S. commitment of $15 billion yet to be distributed and other funds being targeted by the World Health Organization and the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. 

But U.S. AIDS relief coordinator Randall Tobias says countries with scarce health resources are having difficulty absorbing the money and increasing treatment to match the contributions. 

"In talking with people in Africa who are involved in these programs, they are much, much more focused on the issues of infrastructure and the people and the capacity constraints than they are on the drugs because right now, they are able to get drugs, but there is so little treatment going on because the capacity doesn't exist," he said. 

This is apparently part of the reason why United Nations data show that only 400,000 people have access to AIDS treatment in developing countries, a minuscule number compared to the world's 40 

million infected, six million of whom the U.N. says need treatment now. 

But the U.S. National Academy of Sciences panel of American and African public health specialists says the gap can be dramatically reduced if governments and international organizations help developing societies improve their ability to deliver AIDS treatments. 

"The first and most important recommendation of our committee is to act now," said James Curran of Emory University in Atlanta, the chairman of the group. "Don't wait for all the answers, but act now. Don't wait until all the challenges have been met, but act now." 

For the panel, acting now involves tackling AIDS not only with established public health practices but also trying new things and learning by doing. 

To strengthen the weak public health infrastructure in developing countries, Curran's team recommends partnerships and knowledge sharing between experienced medical, academic, and business institutions in industrial countries and those in developing nations. They also call for a cadre of technical specialists to help these countries fight AIDS, akin to the U.S. Peace Corps. 

"We assign hundreds of thousands of soldiers overseas, we assign Peace Corps people overseas, we assign State Department people overseas, we mobilize thousands of people and hire them to guard our airports," he said. "Why not tap into something to deal with a global threat like AIDS?" 

The U.S. panel says other necessary ingredients for successful AIDS programs are a continuous funding commitment by donors and steps by leaders in AIDS-stricken nations to fight the stigma of the disease and encourage people to get tested for it. 

Sen. Cornyn's panel studies human trafficking issue
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. A U.S. Senate panel Wednesday held a hearing on the global problem of human trafficking, and what the United States can do in response. 

A recent U.S. State Department report estimates that between 600,000 and 800,000 people are bought, sold, or forced to cross the worlds' borders each year. 

Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, is chairman of the Judiciary subcommittee that is investigating the issue. He just returned from Costa Rica and Central America.

He noted the State Department report says about 15,000 people are coerced into lives of forced labor and sexual slavery here in the United States. "The stories they tell are tragic, disturbing, and heartrending," he said. "And the acts they endure are not just unconstitutional, not just criminal, but profoundly evil." 

Joseph Mettimano of the Christian relief group, World Vision International, says victims of sexual slavery and trade are often children. 

"Driven by supply and demand, these abhorrent practices comprise a multi-billion dollar business, and the impact on children is catastrophic: long-lasting physical and psychological trauma, disease, including HIV/AIDS, violence, abuse, drug addiction, unwanted pregnancy, malnutrition, social ostracism, poverty, and in many cases death," he added. 

Mettimano says outside the United States, many factors have contributed to the increase in the commercial sexual exploitation of children, including poverty, inadequate or non-enforced laws, government corruption, lack of political will, and the low status of girls in many countries. 

Another reason, Mettimano says, is the spread of HIV/AIDS, which he says has encouraged men in developing countries to seek children for sex with the erroneous belief that children are less likely to carry or transmit the disease. 

Mettimano says statistics suggest that the highest concentrations of prostituted children are found in Asia and Latin America. 

"For example, it is estimated that one-third of the prostitutes in Cambodia are children under the age

of 18," he explained. "In Eastern Europe, Russia, Poland, Romania, Hungary, the Czech Republic 
experienced an increase in child prostitution as well. World Vision has learned through its work in many of these countries that the average age of a child exploited in the commercial sex trade is 14 years old, but some of these children are as young as 5 years old. Many of these children have acquired sexually transmitted diseases." 

The United States has taken steps aimed at curbing human trafficking. 

In 2000, Congress passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which strengthens federal criminal slavery statutes and helps victims and encourages their cooperation so others will not suffer a similar fate. 

In addition, the Bush administration has increased efforts and resources to combat such trafficking. 

Michael Shelby, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Texas, praised the progress the Justice Department has made over the past three years. "110 defendants have been convicted or charged with trafficking related offenses, which represents a three-fold increase over the previous three-year period," he stated. "Finally, we have had 77 convictions, including 59 sex-trafficking-related convictions that have been obtained by the department during that remarkable three years." 

But human rights groups say more needs to be done. 

Wendy Patten of Human Rights Watch called on the U.S. Senate to ratify the Trafficking in Persons Protocol, which requires governments to make human trafficking a crime. 

She also called on the United States to do more to protect victims of trafficking. 

"The U.S. government should also ensure that all trafficked persons be allowed to remain in the United States throughout the duration of any criminal or civil proceedings against their abusers, and ensure full implementation of measures that enable victims who fear retaliation upon return to their home country to apply for permanent resettlement on that basis," Ms. Patten added. 

Ms. Patten said that victims of trafficking need counseling, medical and psychological services, legal assistance, employment authorization and training, and safe and secure shelter.

Bush signs bill allocating millions for helping sea-going turtles
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

WASHINGTON, D.C. A bill that authorizes U.S. spending of up to $5 million a year to support foreign governments' programs to protect endangered sea turtles has been signed by President Bush, a U.S. Interior Department agency says.

In a news release, the department's Fish and Wildlife Service said the president signed the bill July 2. The Senate passed the bill without debate June 18, just days after the House of Representatives' passage on June 14.

Under the bill, the U.S. secretary of the interior may decide where to spend the money up to $5 million a year in the fiscal years 2005-2009 based on applications by foreign governments. Those governments might use such a grant to pay for monitoring of trade in turtle products, tracking the movement of sea turtles by satellite, protecting nesting beaches or trying to stop poaching.

"Both at home and abroad," Interior Secretary Gale Norton said, "our experience has shown that relatively modest sums for well-designed and implemented projects enhance partnerships, leverage considerable resources. . . . "

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United, Delta seen in trouble
Traditional airlines fight for lives against discounts
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The world airline industry is headed for its fourth year of staggering financial losses as air travel continues to be adversely impacted by the threat of terrorism, recession, and rising fuel prices. Established airlines worldwide are scrambling to cut costs to compete with new low-cost rivals.

It is a time of unprecedented turmoil for airlines. In the United States, the biggest carrier, United, continues to fly but remains in court-protected bankruptcy. Despite government grants and wage give-backs, United has lost $9 billion in the past four years. The company's latest request for more government aid was turned down.

In Europe the post-Sept. 11 travel slowdown led to the collapse of Swiss Air and Sabena. Alitalia was threatened with liquidation last month and says it must have further government assistance to keep flying. 

Airline analyst Ron Kuhlmann in Oakland, Calif. is not optimistic about the survival chances of United or U.S. Airways, which recently emerged from bankruptcy protection. Kuhlmann says established airlines must slash costs and drastically change their business model.

 "I don't think the revolutionary nature of the challenge has caught up with them yet. And I don't think the management of either those two companies and of most of the major carriers has really grasped the nature of the need to dramatically recast their thinking and establish a new corporate culture," he said.

Kuhlmann says the competitive challenge comes not only from new startup companies that pay pilots 

and staff half the industry rate but from the Internet. Consumers worldwide have become adept at using Web sites that list all the fares in any given market. Kuhlmann says consumers are choosing the lowest fare even if there is no food or beverage service. 

About the only airlines making money are low-cost carriers. In Europe Easy Jet and Ryan Air, based in Britain and Ireland respectively, are profitable and winning market share. Several new low-cost companies have been launched in Eastern Europe. In America, Southwest and Jet Blue are the clear winners with all of the traditional airlines still losing money. Jet Blue President David Neeleman says his New York-based company is fending off competition from traditional airlines.

"Our operating margins are down not from competition from other low-cost carriers but from the legacy carriers that are increasing capacity and trying to fight back," Neeleman said. "I think they're fighting a very difficult and probably losing battle. Because they're continuing to lose more and more money and we continue to make money."

Jet Blue will soon be taking delivery of 100 new aircraft, which it will deploy against the competition. Southwest, determined to retain its market share, this week touched off a new round of fare cuts. A low-cost carrier in the Washington, D.C. area has forced big fare cuts at financially vulnerable U.S Airways. Atlanta-based Delta says it could be forced into bankruptcy next month unless pilots take significant pay cuts.

The air travel market has picked up in recent months. It is the first significant upturn in four years. However, say analysts, intense competition and higher fuel costs make recovery very fragile. 

Chavez government decides to host observers for referendum
By the A.M. Costa Rica wires services

CARACAS, Venezuela The government says it will invite international election observers to next month's referendum on whether to recall President Hugo Chavez. 

The head of the National Electoral Council, Francisco Carrasquero, says invitations will be sent to the Carter Center of former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and to the Organization of American States. But he warned that observers will be barred from 

issuing statements that may affect the voting process. 

There was no immediate response from the Carter Center and the Organization of American States, which helped negotiate an agreement between the government and opposition over the Aug. 15 vote. 

Opponents of Chavez have demanded the recall, accusing him of steering the nation toward a Cuban-style dictatorship.  The president says he is working to help the poor.

Acquitted of U.S. murder charges, Colombian rebel returns home 
By the A. M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTA, Colombia Officials say the United States has returned a suspected rebel who had been extradited for the murder of three U.S. aid workers. 

Officials say Nelson Vargas arrived in Colombia last week after being acquitted of charges in the 1999 murders.  Vargas was extradited to the United 

States last year to stand trial for the killing of Americans working with indigenous groups near the Venezuelan border. 

Earlier this year, Colombian authorities say witnesses in the region claimed Vargas was not responsible for the killing. They say he had been mistaken for the chief suspect in the case, who is a left-wing guerrilla known as El Marrano. 

Jo Stuart
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