A.M. Costa Rica

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These stories were published Friday, July 9, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 135
Jo Stuart
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National productivity took a real hit Thursday after someone decided to schedule the Costa Rica-Paraguay soccer football game at mid-afternoon for the Copa America. Paraguay eventually defeated the Costa Rican national team, 1-0, on a penalty kick. The game, played  in Arequipa, Perú, brought business to a halt and lessened late afternoon traffic. The fans above are catching the match through the window of an appliance store on the Avenida Central boulevard in the downtown. Most bars and other public places with televisions were packed, too.

Dangers of fundamentalism are ever so clear
The Fourth of July, the Declaration of Independence and "Reading Lolita in Tehran" all came together to make me so thankful for the democracies that are the U.S.A. and Costa Rica, and that I have had the good fortune to live in both.

Eight of us gathered on Wednesday for the first meeting of a new book club.  We sat around a table on the patio of a lovely home high in the mountains of Atenas surrounded by one of those incredible views Costa Rica has so many of.  Among us were lawyers, artists, consultants, those in the medical profession and academics, all women, all retired now — and so happy to be so. 

"Reading Lolita in Tehran," besides illustrating the importance of literature (and art in general) to life, is about what it is like to live in a country with a government  based upon an extremist ideology — in this case,  a religious ideology. It was bad enough in Iran under the dictatorship of the Shah. Political opposition was not tolerated.  But when the Republic of Iran became the Islamic Republic of Iran, interpretations of sacred law became the law of the land and personal behavior and intellectual thought had to conform to the tenets of the religion. 

Punishments became severe with torture and death the ready solutions to wrong thinkers.  Universities were closed, or art and education was limited to propaganda for the regime. The veil became mandatory for women and the marriage age for a girl was lowered to nine.  Prostitution, which included any unladylike behavior, was punishable by being put in a bag and stoned or shot to death.

It is always the extremists and fundamentalists of any ideology who take over, not the moderates. Moderates have a basic tenet of tolerance. For fundamentalists, there is no in between. Proclamations replace dialogue.  Good and Evil become the two forces, and Evil encompasses everything that is not following the party line, and, to borrow a phrase, if you are not with them, then you are against them. 

I told the group about a woman who had

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

called into C-Span to reprimand a liberal guest speaker.  She told him to "just read the Bible" and that would straighten him out.  He would realize that the United States was founded on Judeo-Christian values.  What would it be like, I wondered if the U.S. became the Judeo-Christian Republic of the U.S.? Would the Ten Commandments become laws?  What would it be like living in the Catholic Republic of Costa Rica?   Although Catholicism is the official religion here, it does not have complete control over the behavior of the people.

One member of the group had lived in Nicaragua during the time of the Sandinistas where she experienced the abuses of power that develop from single-minded thinking. She told of a discussion she had taken part of in the early 70’s among politically knowledgeable people, and all agreed there would come a change, Somoza would go, but there would never be a civil war in Nicaragua.  She also could understand how the populace — as in Iran — could accept each new horror, each new step in mind or behavior control, without rebelling. 

One of the women called it "the lobster effect."  (Plunge a live lobster in boiling water and it screams.  Start it out in cold water and slowly heat, and it does not.)  Fear also plays into compliance.

I suppose democracy could be considered an ideology, but as long as it is government by the people and for the people, it may be messy and less than efficient (you want efficient, look to the Nazis), but it will never be single-minded or convinced that there is only one way. 

We all felt strongly about the dangers of these governments run by the various ideologies. We should. The first ones to suffer are the thinkers, the artists, the academics  — and the women.


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Corruption blamed
for condition of roads

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Excuse me for arriving late to the comment session on bad roads in Costa Rica, but I just have to add my two cents.

Roger Herrera of Nuevo Arenal in his letter  explaining why Costa Rican roads are bad gives the impression of being a nice person, proud of his country, some what embarrassed by the omnipresent corruption, takes the psychologically easy way out by becoming resigned, and advises visitors to accept the system, drive carefully, and enjoy the hospitality of the "Ticos" and nice weather, of which there is plenty of both. 

Our readers write

I’m sure Mr. Herrera voices his view out of sincerity, which is good, meaning he has no particular ax to grind, but there is a certain ingenuousness reflected in his simplified analysis of how corruption works in the country and the extent.  Too, there is a lot of ignorance shown by him suggesting that free trade agreements are reached because the avarice of developed countries can impose itself on the backs of the low paid working class, but is a story apart. 

Bad roads are always a symbol of one thing: corruption. "That is not so," you reply. "The roads in Costa Rica are bad because the country is small and poor and can’t afford good ones," you add.  I respond, "You’ve just made my point. The level of corruption is so high that the country is poor. What is the condition of the roads in Denmark, Switzerland and Luxembourg?  Pretty darn good . . . and they are small and not poor countries. The difference with Costa Rica? And the roads in Haiti and Nicaragua?"

Let’s look at a moment as to just what is corruption. The short version is that when public officials detrimentally place their own interests above those of the society. That can be from receiving money or other favors or simply keeping their mouths shut to the corruption they see of others. 

When was the last time a whistleblower came out on top in a corrupt system? The country’s ombudsman is questioning right now the extra pay to Presidential House officials receive to maintain confidentiality. Before anyone jumps up and tries to point out corrupt private individuals contribute to the country’s corruption, I will only remind them that corrupt individuals cannot prosper in a non-corrupt system, public or private. 

The public system entails all the facets of governmental function, beginning with how private individuals get into elected or appointed to public office. It is rarely focused on, but that the only publicly elected official in Costa Rica, until the recently created office of city mayor, was the president of the country. Not one single diputado or congressman or woman or single city councilman or regidor is elected by the people. They are chosen by their respective political parties, who put their names on a slate at election time for the voters to choose from. 

Now just where do you think the loyalty of the diputados and regidores lies? With the people of the country or with the political parties who put them there? In the U.S. and other countries with a truly representative form of government, if you don’t like how your congressperson or senator is looking out after your interests, you won’t vote for him or her in the next election. 

If you don’t like what the diputado is doing for your community, and he or she might not even be from your district because the party had commitments to meet other than choosing someone from your district, there is nothing you can do about. He or she won’t even read your angry letters, but he or she will read and act on memos from the higherups in the party.  Now if that doesn’t set itself up for a corrupt system, then what does? 

Mr. Herrera’s  advice to foreigners on driving in the country is sound; go slowly, watch for potholes, bridges with protective rails missing, pedestrians, horses, cows, cyclists, both motor and bi, big trucks parked IN the road, and above all, be resigned to the bad road . . . and the corruption, for neither is going to get much better, if the last 500 years are any indication. 

Walter Fila
Ciudad Colon
Body found in Arenal

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The body of a man presumed to be Palmer L. Reed was found in Lake Arenal Wednesday afternoon. Reed, a U.S. citizen and a long-time resident there, vanished June 18 while on the lake in a boat at La Laguna del Arenal.

A medical examiner will try to identify the body. If it is Reed, the next step is to determine how Reed died and attempt to determine if the death was suicide, an accident or foul play.

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Saray Ramírez Vindas.... associate editor

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of colors

Thanks to the rainy season, the flowers are out in full force.

You walk around a corner and are overwhelmed by displays of colors brought on by recent rains.

The beauty makes the downpours bearable.

A.M. Costa Rica photo

Caribbean delegation will tour Haiti next week
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The Caribbean Community is sending a fact-finding delegation to Haiti to discuss conditions for its return to the group.

The announcement came during CARICOM's four-day annual summit this week, where leaders decided they needed more information about the interim government and election plans before reinstating Haiti. Foreign ministers from five CARICOM countries Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, Guyana, The Bahamas and Trinidad and Tobago will begin the mission next week. 

In March, the group refused to recognize the government of interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue, set up after former President Jean Bertrand Aristide resigned during a rebel uprising. 
Aristide said the United States forced him from 

office in what amounted to a coup d'etat — a charge the United States denies.

According to the Jamaican Observer newspaper, the leaders at CARICOM's annual summit also made progress toward new crime and security initiatives. 

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department has warned Americans to defer non-emergency travel to Haiti. 
The State Department said Thursday that the situation in the impoverished Caribbean nation remains unpredictable and potentially dangerous. 

Officials say the situation has calmed down considerably since earlier this year. But they warn of the continuing potential for looting, the presence of intermittent roadblocks set up by armed gangs or police and possible random violence and kidnappings.  A U.N. stabilization force has replaced a U.S.-led multinational mission in Haiti.

Fox and Chavez seek entry to Mercosur trade group
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

PUERTO IGUAZU, Argentina — Latin American presidents are meeting here to discuss plans for strengthening the Mercosur trade bloc.

Argentine President Nestor Kirchner says the group can help spark a "formidable process" to integrate the region.

The meeting includes Mexican President Vicente 

Fox and Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, who plan to express their hopes to join Mercosur.

Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay are full members of the group. Associate members include Bolivia, Chile and Peru. The summit is also expected to include talks on a trade dispute over Brazilian exports to Argentina.

Argentina is to hand over the six-month rotating presidency of the Mercosur group to Brazil.

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You could call them computer missionaries. These visitors are part of a group of 190 from different parts of the United States, all members of the religious organization Believers World Outreach. 

They brought 50 computers and will set them up in needy schools in the Central Valley, Jacó and Quepos. The group will be here until July 19.

A.M. Costa Rica/Saray Ramírez Vindas

Court says that Pinochet knew was was happening
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

SANTIAGO, Chile — A Chilean court says former dictator Augusto Pinochet was fully aware of human rights abuses under his rule and did nothing to stop them. 

The appeals court issued the statement Wednesday, more than a month after stripping legal immunity from the former president. 

The ruling says Gen. Pinochet was in control of the nation's security agency which is blamed for 

kidnapping and killing political opponents during his 17-year rule. 

Lawyers for the 88-year-old former dictator have said he is unfit to stand trial for alleged abuses because of poor health. They also say they plan to appeal the decision withdrawing his immunity as Chile's former president. 

An estimated 3,000 people died or disappeared after Pinochet seized power in a 1973 coup that was backed by the United States. Deposed and killed was leftist President Salvador Allede.

Supplies for Cuba find route through México
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

A U.S humanitarian group has taken a caravan of vehicles loaded with medical supplies and other equipment into Mexico in an effort to circumvent the U.S. trade and travel embargo against Cuba.

Pastors for Peace says it took the supplies that are bound for Cuba into Mexico Wednesday. 

Executive Director Lucius Walker says the group 

collects donations and has been sending them to Cuba via Mexico for at least 14 years now. 

Walker opposes the U.S. embargo and calls the shipments acts of civil disobedience.

The Bush administration last week tightened restrictions on travel to Cuba. But Walker says his vehicles were assisted across the border by U.S. customs officials and local police from Hidalgo, Texas. 

Mexico issues apology for disrupting funeral of U.S. Marine 
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MEXICO CITY, México — The government has apologized to the United States after Mexican soldiers interrupted the funeral of a U.S. Marine in central Mexico. 

Mexico's Foreign Relations Secretary says Mexican troops delayed Sunday's ceremony to ensure that a ban on foreign troops carrying firearms was not being violated. 

U.S. officials say Marine guards were carrying non-working rifles at the funeral for Mexican-born Marine Lance Corporal Juan Lopez, who was killed in Iraq last month. 

Tuesday U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, Tony Garza, filed a protest with the Mexican government.

Ambassador Garza said the United States had fully complied with Mexican authorities in planning the funeral and asked for an apology. 

Jo Stuart
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