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These stories were published Wednesday, July 9, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 134
Jo Stuart
About us
Social agencies suspect abduction for slavery
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A missing 8-year-old girl has generated a lot of activity from the government and non-profit agencies, but with no results.

The Patronato Nacional de la Infancía says it has asked that information about the girl be distributed in the United States.

The Dirección General de Migración y Extrajería says it has beefed up inspections at the borders.

Casa Alianza, the child advocacy group, says it has embarked on a program to return stolen children to their families.

Lawmakers quickly announced they would again try to hike the penalty for child stealing from 6 months to two years in jail to five to 10 years in prison.

The girl is Katia Vanesa González Juárez, who vanished in her Barrio Quesada Duran neighborhood Friday afternoon while walking to a friend’s home. The location is in Zapote in southeastern San José.

Fuerza Pública officers suspected foul play from the first, but the nature of the crime still is unknown. The girl had no known problems or family relationships that might have explained a runaway scenario.

The case is similar to the abduction of two children in Desamparados last year, so the immediate suspicion is child theft. However, the girl probably is too old to be the pawn in an adoption scam. Social agencies lean toward a theory that the girl may have been taken to work in what amounts to slavery or for sexual exploitation. A more local crime of abduction has not been ruled out.

The Patronato said that it was seeking the aid of the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children with the hope that the non-profit organization can distribute a photo and information about the girl in every country in which it has an office, including the United States.

Although border inspections will be fortified, many illegal ways exist to spirit willing or unwilling individuals from Costa Rica.

Casa Alianza issued a release Monday saying 

A.M. Costa Rica file photo
A child beggar in downtown San José. Social workers fear that many youngsters are stolen and forced into such work.

how it helped find the Nicaraguan grandmother of a 17-year-old boy from there who was lured into illegal street sales in Costa Rica seven years ago with the promise of a better life. The boy "is one of thousands of Central American children who are trafficked against their will or as a result of false promises to other countries for exploitation — mostly sexual exploitation," the organization said.

It was Carlos Avendaño Calvo who said his Comisión de Juventud, Niñez y Adolescencia would begin a session tomorrow to increase the penalty for child stealing. Lawmakers made similar promises a year ago when an abducted child was found dead in a lake a week after he vanished.

The lack of developments in the case is frustrating for reporters. Channel 7 Teletica sent a camera crew to prowl the streets of San José Tuesday taping youngsters walking alone near their homes. Then a reporter confronted the parent or responsible guardian.

A photo of Katia González may be found HERE in a prior edition.

Ridge announced new U.S. initiatives against financial crimes
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Tom Ridge, U.S. Homeland Security secretary, came to Wall Street Tuesday to announce new programs to safeguard financial systems against criminal activities. 

Ridge announced a new initiative called Operation Cornerstone to prosecute crimes such as money laundering, insurance schemes and securities and credit card fraud and to identify and strengthen vulnerabilities in the U.S. financial systems.

Speaking to financial industry leaders at the New York Federal Reserve Bank, Ridge said one of the prime missions of the Department of Homeland Security is working with the private sector, which owns 85 percent of the critical infrastructure in the United States. He said economic security is the cornerstone of homeland security

"We cannot be satisfied as a country, we certainly cannot be satisfied as a department, with simply standing guard at our borders, at our ports or at our airports or at our 

landmarks," he emphasized. "We must also stand watch over our private sector. We must 
stand watch over our financial institutions. We must investigate and apprehend criminals who try to infiltrate them. We must shut down money laundering and identity theft schemes. We must close the gaps in our electronic systems and cyberspace. We must educate businesses and citizens on how to prevent financial crimes and we must seize ill-gotten assets before they can be used to fund terror." 

Operation Cornerstone is run by the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  Immigration agents recently shut down a drug cartel scheme to launder money through the purchase of life insurance," said Ridge. In another case, agents, posing as drug dealers themselves, foiled a scheme to buy gold and diamonds with drug proceeds, he added.

In addition, Ridge said the Secret Service is expanding its task force to investigate computer-based crimes. "Identity theft alone cost Americans more than $1 billion in 2001 and it certainly can be a gateway to other crimes, including terrorism," he said.

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Another minister abandons Pacheco over strike
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Rogelio Pardo has vacated his job as minister of Ciencia y Tecnología after upsetting union leaders at the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad.

He becomes the seventh minister to leave the cabinet of Abel Pacheco since the president took office in May 2002.

Pardo was the minister with the closest relationship with the Bush Administration in the United States. His son has held undersecretary rank in the U.S. Department of Defense.

Pacheco has been extraordinarily deferential to the union members during and after their four-week strike demanding an international bond issue to benefit the telecommunication monopoly. Pacheco said Tuesday he sent a letter to the union leadership disavowing some political positions he said were expressed by Pardo.

Pardo said at a public meeting that some private 

ventures should be permitted in the telecommunications field. The Spanish press picked up his comments July 8 and the union quickly responded.

Some members of the Pacheco administration believe that the president was too soft with the striking telecommunication workers and the public school teachers who also walked out.

Not all agree that the Institute should continue as a monopoly, and some think that the domestic communications market should be opened up to private competition.

Pacheco has vowed to defend the status quo even though the monopoly of the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad is a big obstacle for the negotiation of a free trade treaty with the United States.

Jorge Walter Bolaños, minister of Hacienda, the tax and budget agency, quit in late May because of his objections to the deal struck by Pacheco to settle the strike.

School year keeps
shrinking by days

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Negotitions over the school calendar continue. The government has proposed adding 11 more school days in stead of the 20 or 26 days that actually have been missed.

The teacher unions have yet to respond.

The situation is a complex one. The obvious solution of eliminating the midterm vacation that started last Friday has been discarded because many parents object to losing the vacation time. Parents, school children and many teachers object to proposals to add Saturday classes.

So the government simply added a week to the existing caendar and turned some teacher work days into class days.

When the school year started, the government had proposed 187 school days in the academic calender. A 200-day calender was promoted as a human right for children.

But the four-week teachers’ strike ravaged that calendar even as officials were trying to find the money to pay teachers for the extra days.

Private schools were not affected by the strike.

Pacheco on visit
with Spain's Aznar

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Tourism is one of the topics today when President Abel Pacheco meets with other Central American heads of state and Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar.

Pacheco was to leave Costa Rica about 6 a.m. for the regional summit.

The president said Tuesday that he planned to talk with Aznar over development in the frontier zone between Nicaragua and Costa Rica. He also wanted to discuss negotiations for a free trade treaty with the United States.

Pacheco said that the free trade treaty would bring great benefits to the national economy but that the treaty would have to respect certain Costa Rican traditions such as the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, the telecommunications monopoly, and also some "delicate or important" products of the country.

For Pacheco, the trip will be just one day. He is supposed to leave the location of the meeting, San Salvador, by 8 p.m. for a flight home.

The tourism promotion will be an attempt to increase Spanish tourism here in Costa Rica, according to a summary by the Ministerio de relaciones Exteriores y Culto Tuesday.

With Pacheco in El Salvador are Roberto Tovar Faja, the foreign mininster, Alberto Trejos, mininster of Comercio Exterior and other functionaries.

Rights in El Salvador
ignored, report says

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — The right to freedom of expression may be protected by the constitution here, but the everyday reality tells a different story. 

Politicians frequently threaten journalists with criminal lawsuits for defamation while authorities refuse to recognise citizens' right to access information. Journalists suffer physical attacks and harassment, which are committed with impunity. 

And the present government employs advertising boycotts to punish media for critical reporting

Such are the conclusions of a report ARTICLE 19 has submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which is holding its month-long annual session in Geneva, Switzerland. The committee assesses whether countries that have ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights are violating the treaty. It will be examining El Salvador's third report to the committee on July 22 and 23.

ARTICLE 19's report gives an overview of the state of free expression in El Salvador, including the various laws guaranteeing free expression; media ownership and regulation; criminal defamation; harassment of journalists; and access to information.

It contains several recommendations, including amending the Constitution to guarantee the right to access public information and introducing access-to-information legislation in conformity with international standards. 

Colombia certified
for U.S. military aid

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Bush administration certified Tuesday that the human rights performance of the Colombian military is good enough to merit the release of more than $31 million in U.S. military aid. The conclusion came under immediate criticism from human rights groups. 

The determination was made by Secretary of State Colin Powell, who told Congress the Colombian military is meeting the criteria set by U.S. legislators on respecting human rights and severing ties with the country's paramilitary groups, blamed over the years for severe rights violations.

The action by Mr. Powell releases to Colombia more than $31 million in U.S. military aid — about one-eighth of this year's total military aid package of over $250 million. 

A final $31 million installment of the program remains undelivered and will require an additional certification by Powell, before the current fiscal year ends Sept. 30. Congress has made some aid deliveries to Colombia dependent on several human rights conditions.

The decision to certify drew immediate criticism from human rights monitoring groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. 

Jose Miguel Vivanco, head of the Americas division of Human Rights Watch said that while the general human rights situation in Colombia has shown some improvement, the Colombian military continues to cooperate on at least local levels with the far-right paramilitary groups, who are seen as allies in the long-running conflict with leftwing insurgents.

U.S. criticized by deputy
on criminal court view

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The U.S. position against the International Criminal Court figured in a legislative hearing Tuesday about the proposed International Law Enforcement Academy.

The United States seeks to pay most of the cost of a police training facility here that would serve some 14 Latin nations. Rogelio Ramos, minister of Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública, came to argue the executive branch’s position in favor of such an institution.

But Epsy Campbell, a deputy from the Partido Acción Ciudadana, asked him why the country should become involved with a nation like the United States that has "no respect for international conventions related to human rights and the sovereignty of countries."

Ramos asked her to speak to a U.S. official for an explanation.

Blasts halt exit
by two suspects

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two men entered a laboratory in San Pedro Tuesday and tried to use a corporate purchase order to carry off some 250,000 colons in merchandise. That’s about $625.

But laboratory workers made a telephone call to check on the validity of the purchase order, and the men started to leave. They changed their mind when an employee at the company blasted their pickup twice with a shotgun.

The suspects were around when Fuerza Pública officers arrived and identified them by the last names of Garzón, a Colombian, and Navarro Carpio, a Costa Rican age 39.

Illegal immigration
cited in medical care

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Eliseo Vargas, executive president of the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social came to the Asamblea Nacional Tuesday to support a proposed immigration law.

He told lawmakers that illegal immigrants, some of whom come here specifically for medical care, cost the government clinics and hospitals 13.5 billion colons each year, nearly $34 million.

Vargas said that some of the illegal come with serious diseases such as AIDS from Nicaragua and also from Panamá.

Inspection firm seeks
25% increase in rates

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The company that has the contract to inspect motor vehicles in Costa Rica wants to jack up the rates. 

The company is Riteve SyC, a Spanish-Costa Rican venture, and it has made application to the Autoridad Reguladora de los Servicios Públicos, the agency that controls prices. The request was seconded by the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transporte that oversees highways and the inspection program.

The firm wants about 25 percent across the board. A passenger car now costs 8,805 colons to be inspected, about $22. The price includes a reinspection if the car does not pass. That price would go to 11,145 colons under the company’s proposal. That’s nearly $28.

The company said it lost money this year.
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Patriot Act splits the public in the United States
Following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, the U.S. Congress overwhelmingly passed a law called the USA Patriot Act, which gives federal investigators more powers to root out terrorists. But the act has been controversial from the beginning, and has sparked activism among those who feel it infringes on civil rights. 

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARRBORO, North Carolina — This is a traditional old mill town where the town barber still cuts hair for the old-fashioned price of $5. It’s hardly a hotbed of anti-government activism, yet some residents fear the federal Patriot Act threatens their constitutional rights. 

"The Patriot Act passed overwhelmingly in the hysteria following the September 11th tragedy, and I don’t think the American public has had a chance to digest the sweeping ramifications," said Carrboro resident Mark Dorison. "We’re all patriots. We’re all against terrorism. We all believe in protecting our country," said another townsman at a local discussion. 

"Are you really afraid the FBI is going to break into your house?" a reporter asked one of the Carrboro activists. "If they can do it someone else, they can do it to me," he answered. "This is terrifying," said a woman, adding that she does not trust the government.

Carrboro’s residents were most worried about the government’s new right under the Patriot Act to conduct secret searches of homes and workplaces. So, with a vote of the town council, Carrboro became one of about 100 cities and towns around the country that have passed "Bill of Rights defense" resolutions. 

The measure asks federal investigators who visit the town to report to Carrboro’s city leaders and explain their business. It also directs local police to preserve residents’ rights and to stand in the way of any unreasonable searches or seizures. The debate over the Patriot Act extends well beyond Carrboro. 

In Washington, Georgetown University law professor David Cole is a leading opponent. "It gives the attorney general the power to lock up foreign nationals simply by certification without showing they’re actually dangerous or a flight risk," he said. "It gives the FBI the ability to get library records, bookstore records on individuals without showing that they’re actually suspected of engaging in any criminal, much less terrorist activity. It gives the government the power to conduct secret searches and secret wiretaps in criminal cases without probable cause of criminal activity, which is what the Constitution minimally requires before you can conduct a wiretap or a search."

But also on the Georgetown University Law faculty is Professor Viet Dinh, who was responsible for drafting the Patriot Act as a Justice Department official. He contends that the act gives government only the powers needed to prevent another Sept. 11.

"I happen to think there’s a lot of misinformation, at times there’s a lot of disinformation, surrounding the USA Patriot Act, which is rather unfortunately and Orwellianly named," Professor Dinh said in an interview. "But once one separates the rhetoric from the truth, the hysteria from the facts, I think it becomes very clear that there is nothing that is threatening to Constitutional rights, and certainly nothing that is invasive of civil liberties of America that is contained in the USA Patriot Act, that those questions that are legitimate are also very persuasively and legitimately well-answered by the very carefully drafted and well-calibrated provisions of the Patriot Act."

And at a recent Congressional hearing, U.S. 

Attorney General John Ashcroft testified that the 
act was essential in fighting terrorism. "Our ability to prevent another catastrophic attack on American soil would be more difficult, if not impossible, without the Patriot Act," he said. "It has been the key weapon used across America in successful counter-terrorist operations to protect innocent Americans from the deadly plans of terrorists."

Viet Dinh says the most significant change introduced by the Patriot Act is coordination between U.S. intelligence, defense and crime-fighting agencies. "It gives the law enforcement community the ability to communicate effectively and collaborate our actions with the intelligence community and the national defense community," he said. 

"All hands were called to be on deck after 9/11 in order to prevent terrorism, and yet the law prohibited those hands from communicating with each other. The left hand did not know what the right hand was doing. The USA Patriot Act made a very fundamental change in the law that allowed for effective communication and collaboration among the various persons who are involved in counter-terrorism."

Opponents are now concerned about what may follow the Patriot Act. Last spring, David Cole reviewed a draft proposal under consideration at the Justice Department, which won’t comment on it. But the draft contained proposals that alarmed both liberal and even some conservative groups. 

"It authorizes for the first time ever secret arrests, where the government can go out and pick people up, lock them up, take them off the streets, and not acknowledge that to the public," said Professor Cole. "It also gives the government the power to strip U.S. citizens of their citizenship if they are accused of associating with or supporting groups that we designate as terrorist, again without any showing that the people are actually connected to terrorist activity of any kind. So, it turns citizens into non-nationals. It also gives the attorney general essentially unchecked authority to deport any foreign national that he picks without having to show that that individual actually engaged in any illegal activity." 

Public opinion polls reflect concern that civil liberties be protected in the search for terrorists. When we asked people visiting Washington, D.C., what they thought, not everyone had heard of the Patriot Act, but when we explained it, reaction was mixed. 

"I think if you don’t have anything to hide, you shouldn’t be bothered by inspections or whatever. It wouldn’t bother me if they wanted to check me anywhere I’m at," said a man from Tennesee. A student from North Carolina said, "I think it’s a good thing, it protects us, it’s sort of better for our country, and almost for the world, too." 

Another student disagreed: "The Patriot Act scares me a little," he said. "I think George Bush and John Ashcroft are using scare tactics to scare the American people into using the Patriot Act to erode civil liberties." "We wouldn’t have any civil rights if we didn’t get ourselves protected through this act at this particular time in history," said a woman from Virginia. 

But a young man visiting from Florida was skeptical, asking, "Who’s going to police the police, or who’s going to watch the government if the government’s making these decisions to watch everyone else?"

The USA Patriot Act is set to expire at the end of 2005. But observers expect the Bush administration to propose new legislation that will keep many of its provisions in effect or widen them.

Small arms cited as threats to development
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

An independent research group says the international stockpile of small arms continues to grow. The group released its findings during a United Nations conference on the illicit small weapons trade. 

The Small Arms Survey group says about 7 million, mostly civilian, small weapons are produced annually. It says that number far exceeds the amount of arms removed from the weapons supply. 

About 70 percent of the worldwide production comes from Russia and the United States. But people living in poorer nations in Africa, Asia and Latin American are twice as likely to die from small arms-related violence than people in the developed world, it said.

The survey's program manager, Peter Batchelor, said the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians, predominantly women and children, are particularly damaging to developing nations. 

"These deaths and injuries are not only significant in terms of the immediate human cost," he pointed out. "They also have a whole range of indirect impacts and effects that, of course, undermine a country's development prospects, and, of course, this is an important message specifically for development agencies." 

The Geneva-based Small Arms Survey has released its findings for 2002 to coincide with a week-long, first-ever, conference on the issue at 

the United Nations. Governments, U.N. agencies and non-governmental organizations are considering ways to implement a two-year old plan to eradicate the illicit small arms trade. 

Batchelor said President George Bush's trip to Africa, where civilians continue to perish in deadly conflicts and where a lack of security hinders aid workers, underscores the danger of small arms. 

He added that the proliferation of weapons is also endangering post-war reconstruction in Angola, Afghanistan, Kosovo and, most recently, Iraq. 

"And so the availability and misuse of these weapons makes it difficult not only to restore law and order, also to achieve security and stability, but also obviously undermines the ability to achieve the goals of post-conflict reconstruction," said Mr. Batchelor. 

The Small Arms Survey provides an in-depth study of small weapons in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Georgia and Yemen. Researchers found that the European Union and North America account for about 90 percent of small weapons exports. But they say, despite perceptions of a weapons-free society, the European Union dominates the small weapons trade. 

The analysts point out that there is a gap in information because there are no statistics from China. China is believed to be a major world producer of small arms. Chinese weapons have appeared in Africa, but it is unclear whether the exports are legal. 

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