A.M. Costa Rica

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These stories were published Monday, July 12, 2004, in Vol. 4, No. 136
Jo Stuart
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Free trade treaty here undercut by uncertainty
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The proposed free trade treaty with the United States is losing ground fast. 

The first blow came when U.S. presidential hopeful John Kerry said that he would seek to have the treaty renegotiated. That left proponents in Costa Rica facing the possibility that they would win legislative passage of the pact here only to have the United States reject the measure.

Kerry is expected to be the presidential candidate for the Democratic party.

The pact is so controversial here that a major political effort will be needed to win Asamblea Nacional approval, and the politicians are not going out on a limb unless they are sure the United States Senate will pass the measure.

Then last Tuesday President Abel Pacheco made several statements that the national press interpreted as signs Pacheco was cooling on the proposal. To counter those statements, Alberto Trejos, minister of Comercio Exterior and the leader of the team that negotiated the treaty, said the pact would be presented to the assembly in August.

Now it looks like Trejos spoke too soon. He met with Pacheco Friday and the treaty’s future still is up in the air. Pacheco said that the first priority for the legislature is the proposed new tax package. And that is tied up in the courts.

Pacheco met with two visiting U.S. senators 

Monday, the day before he voiced his uncertainty about the free trade treaty.  One senator, John Cornyn of Texas, supports the treaty. The second, Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, said he is leaning in favor. But that did not stop free trade opponents from suggesting that the senators told Pacheco something that caused the president to modify his support.

A more simple explanation is that Pacheco is not up for another legislative fight, particularly when this one is likely to be the most contentious of all. Pacheco has been largely unsuccessful in moving his legislative agenda even though his party, the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana, runs the legislature.

Pacheco’s formal request for constitutional amendments supporting the environment have been largely ignored. The plan to raise $500 million a year in new taxes is stalled. An administration proposal to let the United States develop a hemispheric police school here is dead.

Pacheco has less than two years to go as the nation’s president, and his age makes it unlikely that he ever will seek the office again. Under a recent Sala IV constitutional court ruling, former presidents can seek the office again if they skip a term.

That has some politicians saying that Oscar Arias actually is running the country from his office in the Rohrmoser suburb. Arias is the principal beneficiary of the court ruling and is the favored candidate for the 2006 elections.

Tourism institute begins move to La Uruca site
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Instituto Costarricense de Turismo is finally moving to its new building in the northern sector of La Uruca. The move, which began Friday, will continue until July 24. 

Officials promise that the institute will remain open to the public for the entire time of the approximately three mile move.

The new structure costs $2.5 million and is bigger than the space the institute has used, four floors in the downtown headquarters annex of the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social with an entrance from Avenida 4.

According to Guillermo Alvarado, the general manager of the institute, the deal was for no money down. The institute will pay a monthly mortgage of  $19,600 for 20 years. Although it was not reported by the institute, that amount reflects an interest rate of a little more than 7 percent, according to calculations by A.M. Costa Rica.

The institute now pays about $24,027 a month to the Caja, Alvarado said.

The announcement of the move said that the large space would be used, in part to house offices of the Comisión de Marinas y Atracaderos and the Polo Turístico del Golfo de 

New telephone number: 

East side of the 
Juan Pablo Secundo 
bridge in La Uruca

Papagayo, Recursos Naturales and Microempresa Turística. These offices now are located elsewhere. The announcement also said that with classroom-like settings, the new structure could be used for training in programs for which the institute lacked space at the old location.

The new structure has three floors and a basement that will be used for parking.

The new building has 5,272 square meters of office space and 1,788 square meters of parking. The location in the Caja has 2,850 square meters.

The institute, which is similar to a ministry, licenses tourism operations in Costa Rica and generates much of its income from taxes paid by tourists in such facilities.

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Young tourist dies
at Playa Negra

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The unpredictable currents at Playa Negra on the Caribbean proved fatal to a young English tourist, according to officials.

The tourist, a 15-year-old girl identified as Ella Garrot, died Saturday night when she was swept away by a rip tide. The beach is in Puerto Viejo de Limón.

The girl was with two young men but they were not able to save her. Rescue workers found the body by mid-evening.  The Judicial Investigating Organization will handle the case.

Officials said the girl was scheduled to fly back to England today.

Rip tides at Costa Rica beaches kill bathers every year. The tides are so strong that even a chain of lifeguards has difficulty pulling out a victim. The tides are caused by surf receding through small channels in the sand. These amplify the force.

Police crack down
on car-theft rings

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators have cracked what they said were centers of car thefts in the Central Valley and in Tamarindo.

In Tamarindo, the Guanacaste beach community, police arrested a Canadian man and said stolen cars were being used as pirate taxis.

An arrest in Heredia late last week resulted in the detention of a man Fuerza Pública officers said had stolen two cars within 15 minutes of each other. That took place in San Isidro de Heredia where the man, identified by the last names of Carvajal Trejos, was detailed.

Unfortunately for the suspect, he celebrated his 18th birthday less than three weeks ago and will be treated as an adult for court purposes.

In San Juan de Poás de Alajuela, police apprehended a woman they said was a principal in the car theft ring there. Some five stolen vehicles were recovered.

The Tamarindo case included the detention of a Costa Rican, who was 20. The Canadian, whose name was not available immediately was 21, according to the Judicial Investigating Organization.

Agents said they recovered three vehicles, including two that were being used as illegal taxi cabs. One vehicle was being dismantled for parts. All three had been stolen in San José in April, May and June.

La Carpio suspect
captured by police

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police spotted a man Friday who has been sought for weeks to answer charges stemming from the May 30 riot in La Carpio.

The man, identified by the last names of Hernández Saballo is 20 and is suspected of being the gunman who pumped shots at riot police as they were trying to control a mob of rock-throwing youngsters. 

Six police suffered bullet wounds.

Police raided the man’s home two weeks ago, and he had been a fugitive since. Friday he was spotted back in La Carpio, which is a settlement west of San José. Police quietly surrounded his location and grabbed him about 11:30 a.m.

He was identified as a Nicaraguan citizen without known employment.

Bolívar’s plan OK’d,
and then it was KO’d

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

For two days in 1823 Simón Bolívar was president of Costa Rica. That was when a citizens’ congress meeting in Cartago briefly agreed to then decided against uniting the country with Bolívar’s Gran Colombia. Bolívar, a Venezuelan, is the "Libertador" to much of Latin America.

Chancellor Roberto Tovar Faja recalled this union last week when he repeated his thanks to Venezuela and President Hugo Chavez Frías for the nation’s support in naming former Costa Rican president Miguel Ángel Rodríguez as the new secretary general of the Organization of American States.

The recognition took place Tuesday, which was Venezuela’s independence day. Tovar met with Nora Uribe, Venezuela’s ambassador here, according to news reports from Venezuela.

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In Costa Rica they  keep the angry cat in a box!
Aqui hay gato encerrado: meaning "here is a cat in a box." As anyone can imagine, if you put a cat in a box, the longer the animal is there, the madder he is going to be when the box is finally opened. Costa Ricans use this expression when we do not trust a deal or when there is more to the story than meets the eye. 

We are very aware these days of the scandal that is brewing between la Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social. This is the social security office, the Costa Rican institution that oversees all the public hospitals. The Corporación Fischel, a large drug distribution firm with big government contracts also is involved. Many of us will say, "Hmmm, that doesn’t sound so good." or "Aqui hay gato encerrado." But saying this does not indicate in any way that we are taking sides in the matter. It just means that there is something suspicious that is eventually going to come to light in a not very nice way. 

Another example of when to use this expression is when we’re offered a deal that really seems just too good to be true, like when we’re buying a car or a house. If the deal seems just a bit to sweet, we might think that aqui hay gato encerrado. Or another case might be when the kids come back from school saying that there is no homework for tomorrow: Aqui hay gato encerrado.

In other words, it may be true that I can get this late model car for what seems like a ridiculously 

way we say it

By Daniel Soto

low price, but I’d better double check before I lay down my hard-earned cash to be sure when I open that box I won’t find an angry cat ready to scratch. 

Another use of this expression is when someone appears to be sharing some gossip with us, when what they’re really doing is trying to get us to divulge some piece of confidential information. Aqui hay gato encerrado because trusting someone who is unworthy of our trust can be very dangerous, like a cat that’s been closed up in a box.

Daniel Soto divides his time between Indiana and Costa Rica, where he owns a home in Santo Domingo de Heredia.

U.S. student visas will get a $100 surcharge starting Sept. 1
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Thinking of sending your Costa Rican grandchild or your employee’s child to the United States for an education? If so, it will cost you more after Sept. 1.

International students, exchange visitors and scholars attending U.S. schools or conducting research in the United States in most cases will be required to pay a $100 fee when applying for visas. The charge is in addition to the fee students must pay to obtain a U.S. visa.

According to a press release from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the fee will help cover the costs of administering and maintaining Student Exchange and Visitor Information System, an Internet-based setup that maintains information on foreign students and exchange visitors to the United States.

The fee applies to F, J and M non-immigrant classifications. However, participants in certain J-1 exchange visitor programs will pay a reduced fee of $35 or be fee-exempt, said the press release.

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New rules would keep mad cows out of cosmetics
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is acting to expand protections against bovine spongiform encephalopathy by banning the use of cattle parts that could carry the disease's infectious materials into the manufacture of cosmetics and dietary supplements, according to a press release.

The press release, issued jointly by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services, said the departments are seeking public comments on additional proposed regulations. 

The Food and Drug Administration is issuing an advance notice of proposed rulemaking requesting public comment.

The interim final rule mirrors those adopted in January by the Department of Agriculture to keep those materials out of meat intended for 

consumption, according to Robert Brackett, director of  Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. In December 2003, a single case of the disease also know as mad cow disease, was discovered in Washington State in a cow from Canada.

Brackett and other officials briefed reporters Friday about new steps the United States is taking to further strengthen safeguards that protect against the agent that causes mad cow disease.

The advance notice of proposed rulemaking raises a number of issues for public comment, including whether to ban all mammalian and poultry protein in cattle feed to prevent cross-contamination.

The proposed rule would require processors and manufacturers of human food and cosmetics that contain cattle-derived materials to keep records showing prohibited materials were not used in their products. This measure is needed to ensure compliance with the interim final rule, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

Cuba grabs wanted Colombia drug cartel member at Havana's airport
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

HAVANA, Cuba — The government has confirmed the arrest of Luis Hernando Bustemante, an alleged leader of Colombia's largest drug cartel. 

In a statement Saturday, Cuba's foreign ministry said Bustemante was arrested July 2 at Havana's Jose Marti International Airport as he was trying to enter the country on a false passport. 

Bustemante's arrest was first reported Friday by Colombia's police chief, Gen. Jorge Daniel Castro. The police chief said Cuba and Colombia are negotiating the extradition of Bustemante, who is also wanted in the United States. 

The alleged cocaine kingpin, also known by his alias "Rasguno," is said to be among the top leaders of the Norte de Valle — one of the biggest cocaine exporting organizations and a major U.S. supplier.

Southern Latin trade confederation accepts Venezuela as member
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

PUERTO IGUAZU, Argentina — South America's Mercosur trade bloc has agreed to accept Venezuela as an associate member. 

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez praised the decision, which ended a two-day summit here 

Thursday. Latin American leaders at the summit also discussed a free trade agreement with Mexico designed to lead to that country's membership.

Associate membership is a step toward full status in Mercosur. Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay are full members of the group. Other associate members include Bolivia, Chile and Peru.

Services are held in Moscow for murdered Forbes magazine editor
By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

MOSCOW, Russia — About 40 friends and co-workers have gathered at Saint Catherine's Church in Moscow at a funeral service to remember the murdered American editor of Forbes magazine's Russian edition.

Editor Paul Klebnikov will instead be laid to rest in the United States. He died late Friday, after being shot four times outside his Moscow office. 

The 41-year-old journalist was the first editor of Russian Forbes, which started publishing in April. He gained attention immediately by reporting that Moscow has more billionaires than any other city and listing Russia's wealthiest people.

Klebnikov also wrote a book critical of Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky, who Saturday told a British newspaper that Klebnikov was "like a bull in a china shop" in reporting on Russia's business elite.

Jo Stuart
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